Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Repeatability of content

Imagine you had an incredibly accurate account of all the activities you ever did in a MMORPG like World of Warcraft. If you would then make a list of all the content you ever saw in the game and count how often you saw each bit of content, you would automatically end up with two very separate types of content: A long list of bits of content you only saw once or a few times, and a somewhat shorter list of bits of content you repeated quite a lot. To me that distribution suggests that there is some content which is "under-utilized", and other content which is "over-utilized".

Now to some extent there is a justification for that. The list of bits of content you only do rarely will have a lots of quests and other single-player content on it. The list of bits of content you repeat frequently will have more multi-player content like raids or heroic dungeons on it. That is the classical "level solo, play the end-game with your friends" model of World of Warcraft. But that only works to some extent. There are a lot of lower level dungeons, multi-player content, which is rarely used. And there are top-level daily quests that is single-player content which is repeated a lot.

This makes me wonder whether the solo-leveling, multi-player end-game is the optimum solution. How many players do actually follow that model? In a future where you can skip the first 89 levels for money and raid with a LFR system which doesn't require you to make friends, is it still justified to have a part of the game repeated a lot more frequently than the rest? To some extent Guild Wars 2 already addresses that issue by scaling your level to the content, making content you technically "out-leveled" still interesting to play through. You aren't limited to level-cap content if you want a minimum of challenge and rewards while playing your level-capped character.

But if adjusting your level to the content is the solution, do we actually still need levels in a MMORPG? Why not simply make all the content in the game equal, with minor variations to provide easier challenges for less rewards and more difficult challenges for higher rewards, but without the "hard" content becoming trivial as you level up? If everybody always was the same level, we would both maximize content utilization, and the availability of other players to play through multi-player content together.

The original Guild Wars had something close to that.

20 levels, reached quite rapidly, and a lot of content after that for your lvl 20 toon: you can access most of the three "starter" campaigns (which each also included a 1-20 part), as well as the Eye of the North expansion (which needs lvl 20 to enter).

(Of course, each campaign and the expansion need to be bought).

After reaching lvl 20, you can continue to collect XP to get a broader selection of skills (but not more active skills), and there are two quests in game which grant extra attribute points.

And if you make a PvP character, it starts out as lvl 20 (but cannot access the PvP content).
I understand where you are coming from. Most of the games these days are repetitive to the point where people don't call you a strong person in MMORPGs any more, but rather, they call you "dedicated with your game play". Accordingly, player showing off his level within games like Runescape or WoW is merely boasting about the x+ amount of hours that they have clocked in game.
"but without the "hard" content becoming trivial as you level up?"

I may be misunderstanding you, but aren't you essentially removing progression?

Even without levels (or a stagnant level, i.e. the level cap) you still progress. Your character continues to gain power (if not through numeric levels then through item levels).

For example, at the opening of MoP, MSV was difficult, and some of the enrage timers were tight. Now, MSV is a joke.

This progression is a core part of playing an RPG (whether PnP or computer based). That feeling of gaining of power over time is important to see your character grow. Whether you do it with numeric levels or item levels is really an academic question at that point.
There already are games where everyone is the same level, with all content available immediately and similarly utilized. These are games like Halo and Call of Duty. I don't want to play these games.

One of the core defining aspects of an RPG, online or otherwise, is the sense of growth, of overcoming obstacles. A couple hours ago I couldn't do X quest/dungeon/content, but then I worked and improved my character, and now I can. Sure, you can make a game without that, and maybe a lot of people will enjoy it. But I won't, so I'll look for a game that gives me the sense of measurable improvement I crave.

Much as I love GW2, and greatly approve of its scaling content, I have to admit that it comes at the cost of some pretty terrible instanced multiplayer content. Too many of the dungeons rely on 'find the exploit' to go faster, and it's just kind of accepted that this is how things are done. In one dungeon you start by running through an area while npcs are talking to skip the trash that spawns when they finish, kite the first boss to the second boss and terrain exploit so they'll fight only each other, jump around the edge or a room so that a boss doesn't aggro and you can skip him, run straight through all the trash because it all resets when you get to the room before the next boss, and then engage the boss and then run up some stairs because the boss aoe won't hit you if you're high enough in the room. Really, there were vanilla WoW dungeons that were less buggy and exploity. /rant.
I think that list is a bit flawed.

Leveling, at least to me, is a set of about 7 types of quests that have the nouns changed and then pasted into each zone. Maybe it's gore tusk livers or tiger claws, but there's the kill mob X that has a 20% chance to drop Y quest. There's the kill that guy quest. There's the collect crap quest. There's the here's a fun cannon to shoot quest. It's all the same thing. Whether it's in a jungle zone or a winter zone seems trivial to me. So to my mind the single player content is more repetitive because at least with raids and dungeons you have the variation of the people you are with. Maybe they are great, maybe they are terrible. Maybe they are jerks or really nice. So you experience a much wider range of emotions doing the items on your repetitive list than you do churning your way through the task list of the original content.

But that's kind of why I hated leveling.

I like the "no level" solution. Also, I would love a "no class" character customization where you basically choose your path based on what you do (fight? cast spells? farm? never kill anyone? using swords only? playing instruments?).

Everyone would start without a specific "skill", just a set of points to spread over a huuuuge tree made of choices.

Imagine a nice tank-hunter-mage-cook-fishing master.
"But if adjusting your level to the content is the solution, do we actually still need levels in a MMORPG? Why not simply make all the content in the game equal, with minor variations to provide easier challenges for less rewards and more difficult challenges for higher rewards, but without the "hard" content becoming trivial as you level up?"

Answer: EQN.

No levels, just horizona advancement....
I think this a lot, too. All increasing levels do is separates you from new players, and allows you to see new content, but the difficulty never really changes.

The obvious answer, though, is that levels allow a measure of character progression, and a way to make all content non-trivial (it even becomes trivial in GW2, for example) in the process simply has not been established.

The original Nintendo Mario Brothers games are a good example of non-leveling, but increasing content difficulty... but they are also from from RPGs...

And what would MMORPG's be without the RPG?
I've always been on the "levels should go away" bandwagon ever since UO days where skills increase as you use them (and deteriorate as you don't).

That's always been the best system I've found. It's becoming ludicrous in some games where you run into a level 1 moose that you can beat easy only to run from a level 10 moose further in.

The level 10 moose wasn't bigger or had any special backstory or anything. I guess it just grinded more? :/
"If everybody always was the same level, we would both maximize content utilization, [...]"

Does that ever end up being the case, though? It's been a while since I played GW2, but even back during release, "content utilization" was hardly maximized - a ton of people in the starter zones, some people in the endgame zones, and a vast emptiness in the middle.

Even if we envision a completely horizontal progression system (i.e. no levels), I still think most people will follow the path presented, be it overt or subtle. I mean, maybe we could randomize starting locations and forgo all sense of narrative flow for quests, but will that be what the MMORPG population enjoy more?

I honestly do not feel like GW2 solved much of anything, during my time playing it. I was punished less for playing with lower-level friends, yes. But I never much grew attached to any location because they were all much the same, on top of the fact that I was likely better off reward-wise by farming the easier areas.

Having more repeatable content doesn't really remove the sense of burnout for me, as it's still repeatable content. MoP added hundreds of daily quests, for example, but they're still daily quests; doing the same 5 over and over isn't any worse than doing 5 out of 50 options, IMO.
If you remove levels, by what means will you make gear obsolete? Or would you you remove what is one of the points of going through such content (gear collection)?

you stoped to play GW2 after the first month. The game have more than one year now...

There is a reason why EQN is trying to be a better GW2 and not a bettter WoW.
Theoretically, it makes sense. But I have reservations. In particular, progression. I am not saying it is always great but it is quite expected in MMOs.

I am really looking forward to EQN. But I think I read there would be four tiers of gear. I have no info atm but grinding up increasing gear levels is a distinction without a difference between grind up toon levels. We shall see.
The only game I can imagine you being like that is Runescape, but even that has a levelling system (all of which requires you to grind them out to achieve the maximum level)
Add too much efficiency, and you lose any sense of epic-ness and rpg-ness.

I'm glad I played in the days when there was a bit of mystery, a few empty spaces...

you stoped to play GW2 after the first month.

Two months, actually. And I imagine that SOE is trying to emulate GW2 instead of WoW because they already tried the WoW thing and failed half a dozen times.
The idea is nice, but for me level have one reason ; learning to play your character, by giving you slowing new skills, and new tactics to learn.

I do agree it's often to slow, if you played a MMO, you'll always consider the next one to be to slow on levelling, even if the world is nice, you don't have enough skills in your book to enjoy it at your fullest at low level.

I see that a lot on FF14 : you can downlevel on most repeatable content (dungeons and public quests), which is pretty nice, but you lose all your new skills while doing that... it's needed as the level designer made the content without you having these, but still, it feels like you can't play it fully withoiut these skills. Some class change a lot mid level, and at low level it's pretty boring, a lot like old WoW.

Maybe the solution would be to make a entire big tutorial where you level, and after that you're at max with everything... or as someone said, do it like GW1.

The issue with no levels is mostly that 1) it's not look like a MMORPG 2) casuals may not like that, and they are those who pay the more.
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