Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 31, 2014
MMORPG action combat

How many percent of players do you believe are worse at playing MMORPGs than you are? Obviously a trick question, because most people will overestimate their abilities when answering a question like that. But even if we take the mathematically median player, by definition 50% of other players are worse than him. If you ever ran a damage meter in a raid or dungeon, or saw damage meter statistics reported elsewhere, you will be aware that there is a huge range of differing damage outputs, based on a combination of gear and skill. But how does that matter for game design?

Telwyn is discussing action combat in MMOs, looking for the happy medium between too much and too little action. Everybody would like to have combat which is challenging and interesting, without becoming either frustrating or boring. The problem is that with different people playing the game differently well, there is no such thing as an optimum. If we take the above mentioned median player and design combat in a way that it is challenging for him, it will be frustrating for a good part of the 50% of players who is worse than him, and boringly trivial for a good part of the 50% of players better than him.

Now in principle role-playing games do have an answer to that problem: They can offer opponents of different levels, with different rewards. So the best players can go after higher level mobs, while the worst players stick to "green" difficulty quests. Unfortunately in practice MMORPGs never handled that well. Harder combat takes more time, and the rewards never really scaled well in any MMORPG. Thus even for a good player trying to maximize rewards per hour, "farming" mobs just under his level is better than going for a challenge.

How many percent of players do you believe are worse at playing MMORPGs than you are? Now imagine your dream game with a difficulty level tuned exactly to your liking. And all those players you believe are worse than you won't be able to play, because combat is too hard for them. The game fails to get a sufficient number of subscribers and is closed down after a while. Obviously not an ideal situation. Which is why I think that adding action combat to a MMORPG as a feature is inherently harmful. Either it keeps people from playing, or it is tuned down enough to allow everybody to succeed, in which case even the average player considers it as a kind of boring button-mashing exercise. I have a hard time imagining a system which works for everybody.

I personally don't think action combat is any good for a persistent world. I cannot take it for more than an hour and all of my circle has a max limit of 2 hours.
While we were used to play for 10 hour blocks back in the day, it is inconceivable to achieve that kind of involvement in a action game without serious brain damage.
Unless the mmo is not designed as a "lasting" experience with a focus on keeping the player involved for months on top of short-term time-demanding activities.
Although I am favoring the "action" being injected into MMOs, I agree it's not really a good fit for the MMO core audience, which is looking for a different sort of experience. Likewise, I think the core crowd for action gameplay is already happy with the games they have so may not see much advantage to adding CoD style gameplay into a persistent world because even hardcore CoD players can only take so much constant adrenaline before taking a break.

I do think there's a happy medium for persistent-world MMOs with action combat, but it's a crowd that overlaps with both types of gameplay (me) and knows how to regulate so they don't burn out. Buuuuut....I also suspect I'm just projecting my personal tastes here and those may by atypical for all I know. I just have a feeling there is room in this corner of gaming for more than just Defiance. Based on future releases it looks like a lot of developers are staking their games on the idea that this is the next big thing.
I think the fallacy here is that difficulty settings need to be fixed to rewards. Especially when you're talking about action combat and not a gear check there's no reason why two people in the same party need to be on the same difficulty setting. There's not even a need for other people to be aware of what setting you're on. Play what is fun for you at the time.
Isn't this an argument against having any combat system at all? We could easily say that a turn-based system also has a 50% median; not everyone can handle XCOM either.

Personally, I'm not entirely convinced this is a pressing issue. Killing mobs in WoW is trivial, but it can still be fun/engaging/etc. How many players enjoy picking herbs, mining, fishing, and so on? Everything doesn't have to be a challenge perfectly tuned to your skill level. If anything, that level of engagement is tiring.
You can have hard quests that are optional. Wow certainly used to have a few.
Now imagine your dream game with a difficulty level tuned exactly to your liking. And all those players you believe are worse than you won't be able to play, because combat is too hard for them.

Not only that, but if everyone worse than you quits the game, the remaining people are all better than you, which makes you the worst player!
You are only looking at a very binary "pass/fail" angle. You can have a situation where "passing" is rather easy, but greater skill allows for better outcomes. For instance, maybe dodging isn't required to kill the monster, but it does eliminate downtime. If you suck at dodging, you can still kill the monsters but you have to spend a lot more time resting between fights. I don't think it's all that hard to reward skill without requiring it.

Also, I agree with Azuriel. I don't think I want to play a game that is difficult all the time. That sounds incredibly stressful.
The average will be different in each game. The average Darkfall player, as an example, must by necessity already be well above the average MMO gamer. However, within the context of Darkfall, he's still only average.

Personally, I prefer games with a higher skill bar because I find myself at the upper end of the curve and games without that skill bar lack challenge for me.

The defining moment for me in WoW was when I completed an entire 3 hour raid with 1 hand while talking on the phone to someone about entirely different subjects.

The bar was so low that 1) I didn't need both hands, and 2) I could do it while entirely distracted without any communication to anyone else participating in the raid.

Granted, I already knew the fights and played a ranged class that raid, but even so - that's a very low bar to set in terms of skill.
I was one of the top players in good guilds and the bottom guy in top guilds. So make your own call.
For me, it is a pressing issue: I am not playing Wildstar due to action combat, even though there is so much in the rest of the game that really interests me.

I am on the other extreme; combat is not the most important part of an MMO for me. If i wanted that sort of combat, I would be playing a non-MMO on a console or a MOBA or WoT/WoP lobby shooters.

It also depends on how many customers you want. Narrowly focused niche games get the most enthusiastic responses in fansites. But WoW got so large by having many customers outside the CoD demographic of teenage boys. If the main thing you care about is combat, it seems to me like there are better game alternatives without the limitations of MMOs.

I don't think I want an MMO that only provides difficult experiences, but I absolutely know I don't want a MMO that always provides frenetic experiences.

You're writing as if this problem hasn't already been solved, and the solution implemented in every MMO. But, it has:

A. Implement different difficulty levels.

B. Keep enough social interaction with strangers so that people view themselves in context. Those in the top 50% will see that they are above average, and feel good about whatever difficulty level they can handle. Those in the bottom 50% won't care, or they would study/practice and get better(For most of them, there are always exceptions but they get lost in the crowd of people leaving for other reasons anyway). One could get into a a more micro-level analysis about players clustering around their skill level and how that affects it, but it's not really necessary here.
I have a shoot 'em up game on my desktop that I cannot beat. I keep it there as a kind of trophy.

If a game is genuinely challenging, then for some people being unable to continue in it is a sign of the game working!

Challenge that 'works for everybody ' isn't challenge, it's just a kind of hamster wheel.

Challenge isn't about accepting everyone.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool