Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Linearizing MMORPGs

I was reading a positive review of a not-so-much noticed feature of the next World of Warcraft expansion, the Adventure Guide. Quote: "people in game need something sometimes to tell them what to do, and where stuff is, and its something I've wanted in game for quite some time. This, ladies and gentlemen is your Adventure Guide, and it tells your character what they're missing in game.". I'm not sure that I would formulate it like that. And I'm even less sure that an Adventure Guide is what I'd wanted in a MMORPG.Specifically the problem I have is with the game telling players "what to do" and "what they're missing". I would rather have the game tell me my options, that is what I could do, not what I should do.

Basically the idea I am not fond of is that at a given level the game determines that I should have a certain iLevel of gear, and that if I don't have that gear for every slot, I must certainly be looking for it. We take Jane Austens "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." and turn it into a "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a player in possession of a good level must be in want of gear.". But must he really? Isn't that again a game design which ONLY addresses the need of the achiever kind of player? What if the player is actually playing for the story, or for meeting other people, or for crafting, or for some other purpose?

I think the concept of "you must want gear" is particularly badly adapted for the endgame. What if a player doesn't like dungeons and raids? An Adventure Guide telling a player that he should do this raid to get that gear totally fails to acknowledge that if the player doesn't want to go raiding, he doesn't really need raid gear in the first place. You only need to raid to raid more. The gear you can find that way is only marginally useful if you are doing lets say daily quests to grind for a mount, or if you are collecting pets. And it is completely useless for tending your farm or crafting.

What I like about MMORPGs is the sense of a virtual world with lots of options. It shouldn't be a linear game where you just follow a pre-determined path. We have gotten to the point where developers consider lots of options to be a distraction, and program in tools like the Adventure Guide to show the players more clearly that there is a linear path they are supposed to follow. Now there are some very good linear games that aren't MMORPGs. If I wanted linearity, why would I play a MMORPG?

[P.S.: Part of an unofficial "Jane Austen on MMORPG blogs" challenge. See Bhagpuss or Zoso.]

Hmmm the way I read it is more like the "level cap quests" which are in Neverwinter, which send you around to find out the things you have access to.
Since there are multiple ways to level, it's very difficult to introduce everything to all players. If you just level in dungeons you have no idea which quest areas are right for your level, if you level with quests you risk not even knowing that PvP exists.
WoW in particular is getting bigger and bigger (bloated?), I usually go by word of mouth from guildies for all things non-raid related, relying on the achievement hunters to feed me the information I don't really care much about. But even this is not enough at times, with little-know recipes, rare drops, pets hidden in weird areas.
A centralized source of information would be welcome: wowhead and its guides mostly fill this niche, but Blizzard probably wants some information to be available ingame (a bit like they added the short explanation of the main class/spec abilities or the dungeon journal). so that people are not forced to read patch notes top-to-bottom or go hunt for guides on wowhead.
During the panel where this was introduced, they mentioned that the activities displayed would be based on things you've done with that character to date, so new raids would be recommended to players who'd shown an interest in previous raids.

As far as gear goes, I think they said that it would let you know if you'd hit an item lvl breakpoint and were now eligible for a new tier of raid finder but there was nothing explicitly saying "get gear to do this".
I spend the last couple of months playing the levelling game in Lotro and I hit level cap just in time for Helm's Deep. I greatly enjoyed progressing leisurely through the game while listening to level capped players grumbling endlessly about the grind required to get an extra 1% of some stat or other. I am looking forward to Helm's Deep but I am a little bit wary of the fact that I will be playing end game content once again and therefore might get sucked into a gear grind. To be honest I will probably play to the new level cap and then take another long break when I run out of fun content.
My first thought when I read the quote was similar to yours. If I want to be told what to do I'll employ a dominatrix. In a MMORPG I'm looking for a strange and unpredictable fantasy world to explore, in which I don't know what to do and what I will find.

That said, the current plan doesn't seem too bad, more like a quest that's better tied to the character's level than one that just depends on you coming in range of an NPC while you are in a certain level range. But... these things have a tendency to evolve.

Ah, evolution. Will we see an end state of MMORPG similar to H.G.Wells's _The Time Machine_, in which the Eloi live a mindless existence in a glorified version of Progress Quest, while a few Morlock's toil in uncomfortable but challenging niche games?
It's a solution to the "lol noob" problem, plain and simple.

The problem with the solution, however, is that we're playing an MMO, so therefore we have more options than that. Like the PvPer who will occasionally foray into questing so that their gear isn't too bad at a specific level, or the crafter/transmogger who creates an alt just to generate gear for gear's sake. If you're constantly hitting AH for mats, is it going to suggest you go out and buy The Wealth of Nations?

I think that the feature is needed at this point in the game. Someone asked over at the MMO-champions forums "I'm level 90, what is there to do besides raids?" and someone responded with quite literally about 14-20 activities aimed at level capped people, and some of the stuff were things easily missed even from veterans.

When a game reaches the point where there are so many alternative options at the endgame, new and completely casual players will get lost. I'm sure some of the people that hit the cap 1 or 2 months ago are completely oblivious of zones and quest hubs with excellent stories, that they would probably like to experience (if only they knew).

And besides, I believe your interpretation of the guide is slightly off. It doesn't point you to rewards, it will point you to content you have missed or might enjoy (based on achievements and armory stats). The gear rewards are just a happy side-effect.
"Now there are some very good linear games that aren't MMORPGs. If I wanted linearity, why would I play a MMORPG?"

Community? I'm not even saying I disagree with your main point, but there's still a difference in being able to play a linear single-player game and a linear MMORPG with a bunch of other people.
WoW's got/getting the whole scaling raids to the number of players - I wonder if they can start scaling it based on their gear too, of course rewards would need to be scaled accordingly too.

It'd require some work, i imagine you'd need most people to be similarly geared for it to work.

Ultimately I think the whole progression thing is what is removing the world factor - imagine how much content WoW would have now if it was all still mostly relevant.

Then they could run more dynamic events where the world is suddenly invaded by X/Y/Z making that the dungeon for the week/month (and potentially even something related to the combinations - eg for the 2 raid instances available this week add a server wide debuff or something that effects the other dungeons)
"Community? I'm not even saying I disagree with your main point, but there's still a difference in being able to play a linear single-player game and a linear MMORPG with a bunch of other people."

I'd argue that with a community, such features can be avoided. Whatever happened to asking? Or helping?

The more dev-driven linearity in an MMO, the weaker the community, since nobody needs to rely on anybody else anymore.
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