Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Linearizing MMORPGs - part 2

I agree with most of what The Godmother says in her reply to my first post on this issue: Informed choice for players is a good thing. My problem is that as soon as you attach numerical values to a choice, for most people that choice vanishes. Let me explain in an example:

A) You ask a hypothetical adventure guide what to do. The adventure guide knows you like dungeons from your previous behavior. So it offers you two options: The Catacombs of Dread, where an evil necromancer is summoning lots of undead, or the Castle of the Ogre King, filled with goblinoid monsters. Result: Real choice!

B) You ask a hypothetical adventure guide what to do. The adventure guide knows you like dungeons from your previous behavior. It also sees that your current boots are of low iLevel compared to your level. So it offers you two options: The Catacombs of Dread, where you can find Boots +39 for your main stat, and the Castle of the Ogre King, where you can find Boots +41 for your main stat. Result: Everybody goes for the castle, because the reward is 5% better.

In case A a player is assumed to visit the dungeon for fun. Different people find different things fun, so there is no obvious best choice. In case B the player is assumed to do content for a reward, and some rewards are clearly better than other rewards, leading to an obvious best choice. I've been playing MMORPGs in the past where some content was clearly giving out better rewards than other content of the same level, and the result was always that a large majority of players opted for the better reward. And that even in games where the game itself isn't telling you where the better reward is, but you need to find out on the internet or from other players.

So while it was the planned adventure guide which started my consideration, it isn't actually the idea of giving out information in-game that bothers me. Or rather it bothers me only insofar as it might make a bit too obvious slight differences in rewards between similar activities, leading to the activity with the better reward becoming the much preferred one. But the "linearizing" I refer to is mainly the idea of leading the player by the nose with the help of increasing numerical values. We have huge virtual worlds, and instead of using that vast space, we create an optimum min-maxed path through them, along which everybody goes. Go of the path, and you'll be told to "Learn2Play, n00b!". The linear path *is* the game.

While the stat boost will push people toward one over another dungeon, there's another item to factor in: time. People will often go through the path of least resistance, so if it takes 1.5 hours to get that 5% stat bonus versus 0.5 hours for the other one, they'll aim for the lesser bonus because it's quicker.

I agree with the sentiment. But perhaps because of my math degree, I would like to defend numerical values.

If there were no iLevel 39 and 41 on the gear, then which is better would eventually be known. So no numerical entries on gear would not deflect people from the linear path. Just that at decision points you need to browse an OOG website to find the information rather than looking in the tooltips.
@Redbeard, in my experience Time works in the same way that Tolbold described the influence of the numerical gear value when farming points like VP in WoW. All choice is removed as players follow the most efficient option as opposed to the most fun option.

But when it comes to item drops with stat upgrades I have observed that Time has almost no influence on the decision of which path to take. A 0.0001 percent stat loss as a result of taking an easier route makes the player a "drooling slacker" in the eyes of their peers. So the player is still "forced" by peer pressure to go for the item with the extra 2 stats even if it isn't time efficient. The sad part is that this happens even when the ultimate objective for which they need the item (E.g. for raiding) doesn't really require that extra stat on the skill level mode they are playing - E.g. normal instead of HC.

Observe Blizzards frustration at the player base after they found that players were "gaming" the flexible raid system and refusing to invite exceptionally good players (with the HC achievement!) to their flex raids after reaching a certain break point after which additional team members would result in an increase in certain mechanics. Despite that the mode was faceroll easy even at the higher number.

I really struggle to see how developers can make a non linear game that won't be ruined by the players acting irrationally over irrelevant numbers.
The only solution is that different content does not give different level of gear. If the new dungeons would give the same ilvl as the old (even if it means upgrading all drops at all patch), there will be an optimal path, farm the dungeon which is easiest (Evercamp...)

The only solution to that would be taking away all the choices from the player with lockouts and "random" features, forcing him to spread out equally between pieces of content.

The fundamental problem is that if the player is given a choice, he will always choose the optimal path.
Are you trying to win?

If it's not about winning, I'd recommend NOT using items who's numerical structure are clearly about which is better (which 'wins') and instead make items which do various effects that one might find engaging for their own sake (turn the sky purple or whatever, instead of another numerical superiority)

The point of choice is that players might choose the choice that makes them lose. Yes, they make the right choice moronically easy, so even when it's play to win, it's labotomised play to win. They labotomise it so as to appeal to the people who don't play to win and who'd get all in a huff about losing.

Because this is hollywood and we'd rather make money by half assedly appealing to everyone, rather than really nail it for a demographic.
Oops, side note: By recommending to not use them, I'm saying for designers to not use numeracy superiorities if the game is not about play to win. It's a message to designers.
As far as I have seen, the adventure guide is not designed to give loot specifics.

If two activities have noticably different rewards:
A) You are in a cartoon that will feature some sort of moral about greed.
B) It is a trap.
C) You're in an mmo. The better item used to be tougher to complete and take longer to balance out the better stats, but then people moaned that it wasn't a faceroll so it has now been nerfed and you get that reward upon entering the zone.
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