Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
How to make me play Wildstar for two years

Hagu asked "What do you think your response to "For how long do you expect to play it?" says about MMO development?". Or, in other words, why would somebody like me say that he likes Wildstar, but only expect to play it for the often quoted three months or thereabouts?

To answer this, let's go back 15 years to the original Everquest. The average time it took a player to reach the level cap in Everquest was 2,000 hours. I played EQ for 18 months, and because I had a few alts I never reached that level cap. Fast forward 5 years: When World of Warcraft came out, the average time it took players to reach the level cap was 500 hours. A few years later, due to a combination of people being much better informed about how to progress and several patches which sped up leveling, time to the now higher level cap was down to about 200 hours. And those 200 hours are now something of an industry standard. We also know that the average player spends around 20 hours per week in a MMORPG. That results in 10 weeks to level cap. Add a bit of playing with alts or other activities, and you get to three months. After three months the kind of progress you are used to stops. And what comes after is a very different game offering a very different kind of progress. And the majority of players do not want to play this very different game. So they stop playing after their three months and move on to the next game.

Now I have absolutely no intention to rush through Wildstar. For example last weekend in the beta, I took a level 15/16 character and did all the explorer missions in the second level 6 to 14 zone for his faction with him. Very little traditional "progress", but not only was I having a lot of fun, I also made progress in my explorer level, and in crafting. I fully plan to play Wildstar like that after release. Traditional progress of character level more and more to me feels like approaching the end of the game. Which isn't something I'm keen on. I'm happy about the alternative progress features of Wildstar, but at some point I will have maxed out my crafting and path levels as well as my character level. And I'm afraid that process takes only a few months.

If Carbine wanted me to play Wildstar for 2 years or more, they would have to do like Everquest and give me a game in which I need 2,000 hours to reach the level cap. But of course that while keeping the current rhythm of questing and content. Which basically means a game with 10 times more zones, 10 times more quests, 10 times more leveling content. I wouldn't mind if there was absolutely no "end game" at all at the level cap, if only it took a lot longer to reach that level cap. 2,000 hours at 20 hours a week makes 2 years. The math is as simple as that.

Now of course there are people who prefer the raiding end game over the leveling game. But the current situation is a bad compromise that makes nobody happy: One part of the players would like a much longer leveling game, another part of the players would like a much shorter leveling game. Nobody wants the middle ground. It would be far better to offer one game with immediate raiding without the need for leveling to one population, and a much longer leveling game to the other population than to make a bad compromise.

Many people leave a MMORPG after three months because they simply finished it. Got to the level cap. Game over, even if there is never a screen that says so. Offering them a completely different game at the level cap doesn't work. The lesson for MMO development is that if you want to keep people playing, you need to offer them more of the same content. It is the feeling of progress that keeps people playing, even for 2,000 hours. Offering a quick way to the end just does exactly that, end the game for many players.

Seems like Guild Wars and its sequel took the middle route with their PVP, allowing players to jump right in with max level characters.

I wonder if something similar couldn't be done for raiding, but to get to more challenging raids you'd still have to complete easier ones to gear yourself properly.

Personally, I don't care about raids... but I also don't want to be leveling forever. I'd like to be able to work towards gear which I can use to customize my character without fear of out-leveling it in several hours/days. So frankly I guess the 3 month time frame is alright for someone like me who doesn't care about excessive leveling or raiding.
I don't mind the level ups going away if you have horizontal progress at the tail end. WoW has raiding, PvP and pet battles. Every other item leads to those 3 streams. RIFT, which I played for over 2 years had housing, chronicles, customization and an alternate advancement grid. It kept me more than busy and made Trion some money too.

Wildstar seems to want to go the horizontal route, what with the half dozen activities available. I'm quite curious how that will compare to the leveling portion's reward system
WoW constantly decreased leveling content length, which means they found that most players do NOT want long leveling.

WoW currently has enough leveling content to provide 1000-2000 hours of NON-repetitive leveling. Currently you can reach the level cap while skipping 2/3 of the zones. So they could make your suggestion true without any more content creation.

The problem is that most players don't want raiding NOR leveling or ANY content the MMO provides. They want to hang out with (imaginary) friends, so they are allowed to "catch up" with these friends.

However these groups need anchor players who play a lot so always available and play even when no friends are around (if he logs out when alone, the next guy logging in won't see anyone online and logs out too).

Since the game content is bypassed to "catch up", the anchor players have nothing to do and leave, soon followed by the "for fun" crowd.

The solution would be focusing on the anchor players (who play the game for its content) and the social "buddies" will follow them.
The game doesn't change completely when you reach the cap, unless all you do is solo questing. (Even then, it doesn't end at the cap, WoW had lots of quests at max level.)

If you have been doing PvP and Dungeons a lot, those bits are still there (raiding is basically harder dungeons).

And there are lots of people who happily wander around hunting etc. at max level.
2000 hours to level cap, sure. Unless such a game provides level scaling, there's no way on Earth I'd play it. I mean, it's already hard enough to play with friends, let's just add another barrier to it......

What I find surprising is how important is the "ding! level!" progression to you.

The lesson for MMO development is that if you want to keep people playing, you need to offer them more of the same content. It is the feeling of progress that keeps people playing, even for 2,000 hours.

Isn't it exactly what WoW provides with its endgame? Raid upon raid with boss upon boss fights, more of the same with a completely illusionary progression, since even if the number go up, the relative power between you and the next raid boss is constant.

Or maybe you mean solo-content like quests? Why would you even need an MMO for that?
Where did you get your numbers for EQ1? 2000 hours seem very high to me.

I hit level cap of 50 in vanilla Everquest in ~34 days /played (816 hours) and that was my first MMO ever.

500 hours smells right for WoW. I hit cap in vanilla WoW in 18 days /played (432 hours).
I think this is something that only really makes sense to non-bitter Everquest vets, of which I am one and Tobold appears to be another. There are quite a few of us still around. Some played EQ for a set period and stopped before they burned out and lost their affection for the game, others still play on and off and still enjoy themselves when they do.

Non-bitter Vanilla WoW vets often take a similar position, unsurprisingly since Vanilla WoW was modeled closely on EQ. Although, as per the figures above, their perceptions of what constitutes an acceptable leveling pace are accelerated, they still express a clear preference for a substantial and significant outlay of time to cap.

For people like us, who remember our time in EQ or early WoW fondly, leveling is at the core of that experience. Whether we raided or traded, soloed or grouped, leveling was at the heart of everything we did. Players who have arrived at MMOs more recently are unlikely to share this point of view and neither are the very substantial number of players who were there when leveling was a lot slower and either didn't like it that way or grew to hate it over time.

I'd play a 2000 hours to cap MMO, provided the content was sufficiently engaging and I'm sure many thousands of others would too, but whether such a game could ever attract numbers in the hundreds of thousands in the way EQ did, let alone the millions that flocked to vanilla WoW I very much doubt.

For non-bitter vets of the long game the future is niche.
A mate of mine and I have been having a huge conversation about a fictional MMO with *no* levels. Instead you could have sideways levelling that increased the depth of your gameplay.

That way, when you want to play with your otherwise high level friends, it's no problem. You'll even be useful.

You could still have 'levels' but they would be to gate the content, and dish out abilities, while not changing your stats.

Just a thought.
My personal answer would be "nothing". I guess that being 40 and having experienced lots of videogames (and MMO's) made me "addiction-immune" for more than few weeks.

I am currently playing and loving Diablo III. Blizzard says they plan to hook us for 10 years. Oh please...
Most MMO's dont even begin until you reach the level cap... raiding and pvp and other endgame is the main content of games like wildstar. Cant believe you are talking about MMO's like a linear single player game. I guess if you wish to play solo and just do quests and things - that makes sense. But most people play MMO's for the social and end game aspects
Andrew, by posting that you've exposed that you never played Everquest1.

Which is not so unexpected, that game is 15 years old! But it is kinda the point of this post.
@Gevlon: "WoW constantly decreased leveling content length, which means they found that most players do NOT want long leveling."

Incorrect assumption, I think. WoW constantly decreased leveling content length not because players don't enjoy long leveling, but because the minority of raiders didn't have a 'boost to max' option to roll alts and keep raiding and were frustrated by repeating the same content over and over.

People experiencing WoW for the first time or who are interested in the journey, not the raid-or-die endgame, probably very much enjoy long leveling. And now that raiders have an option to bypass most of that, it'll be interesting to see if we get any adjustments to the leveling game now that the people racing to finish don't even have to participate anymore. (Unless they're too skint to buy the upgrade, so yeah, that element will always be there.)

I think your 'anchor players' are probably the types who would probably stick around even longer if the leveling process was longer, because it would offer greater variety. Especially with alt-leveling, if you've done it recently you might have enjoyed seeing different old-world zones in a variety of orders from a fresh perspective, but are you at all familiar with realize that now you need to go back to BC and you're about to be spending a fair chunk of time in Hellfire Penninsula? AGAIN?

"Whatcha doin'?"
"Gettin' my hunter to 90."
"Yeah, I got my mage there the other day then I stared down the barrel of the rep-grind and sort of bailed."
"What about loot-pinata island?"
"Yeah, I don't log in to play the same zone for hours every day."

Greater variety = greater interest for the contentivore. Even when they've done it all before, more variety means individual zones can 'lay fallow' in one's imagination, to be tilled again later, enriched by the passage of time and disuse.
Just to add: Blizzard doesn't make changes to WoW which are good for the majority of players.

Reducing the leveling experience so that your first character isn't able to finish the quests and stories in a zone because you outlevel it so much you are no longer getting loot/exp? That is not a change for the majority of players.

Blizzard makes changes to WoW for raiders. Because that's all the devs care about themselves, and even though a minority of players raid, those players are the ones that are most important to the devs for some unknown reason.
@Helistar - "Why would you even need an MMO for that?"

Because the 'massively' in MMO doesn't refer to the number of people you can fit in one room to spank a boss.

It refers to the persistent world, which feels 'lived-in' because it constantly has other people in it.

Have you never heard of 'playing alone... together'? This is the reason most soloers will play an MMO in a way that could otherwise be functionally indistinguishable from an offline RPG.

And it's what Blizzard doesn't seem to get, with their 'raid or die' STILL only attracting a dramatic minority of players. The game DOES change at end-game.

The myth about 'you don't need better gear unless you're going to raid with it because raiding is harder' is bullshit. People don't buy sports cars that can go three times the speed limit because they NEED them. People like having the next best thing, incremental increases in power - just like the solo leveling game does - and not being able to do that without slotting yourself into a competitive environment with a number of people that may exceed your own personal internet-person dunbar number is NOT most peoples' idea of fun.

Trying to make it 'more accessible' doesn't actually make it fun, it just reduces the resistance to doing something people don't enjoy to get something they actually want. For a reversal on that process, see how raiders utterly bitched and whined at feeling like they 'had to do dailies' to get the shinies they wanted, when the devs proved over and over again that it was utterly unnecessary if you'd just raid without that gear.

They felt shoe-horned into doing something they didn't like doing, to get something they wanted. Same goes for anyone who raids for gear, not for the joy of hanging out with two dozen people they don't know or especially WANT to know, when their personal comfortable friend limit sits at around 5.
@ Cam. I could not have stated it better myself.

One more thing to add. The idea of raiding was completely foreign to me when I started playing WoW (my first MMO) years ago. As an old school Dungeons and Dragons player, the idea of ganging up on one super powerful bad guy with 25 people seemed absurd. That's part of the reason I hate the concept of raids so much. The other is what you described. If progression in the game is defined by better gear, forcing us to progress by trying to tolerate 24 other internet jerks while dancing around scripted death pools isn't very fun.

I think what we're really all getting at is what Ryan Dancey of Goblinworks stated in a recent PAX East developer discussion: Wildstar will be the last AAA themepark MMO. Stated a different way, the current AAA themepark MMO game design has run its course.
But most people play MMO's for the social and end game aspects

No, they don't. Probably YOU play MMO's for the end game, and commit the usual mistake of extrapolating from that one person to everybody.

Fact is that before LFR for many, many years the percentage of raiders in World of Warcraft was in the single digits. Over 90% of players did not participate in the raiding endgame. LFR increased the number of participants, but that doesn't mean that today "people play WoW for the raid end game".

As Cam said, the large majority of players play MMORPGs in "alone together" mode. As a single-player game surrounded by other people which make the world more alive. All the surveys, all the statistics back up this vision of MMORPGs being primarily used for questing solo.

The issue of "I can't play with my friends if I don't have the same level" is not as clear cut. First of all, if you are at the level cap, you still can't play with your friends if there is too much difference in gear level. And second there have been lots of games which solved the playing with your friends problem by simply temporarily adjusting the levels of the people wanting to play together.
Seems as though the Wildtar approach is multiple horizontal paths starting from day 1.
It is a nice clean-up from the standard model of short level to max then play one or more of x mini-games replacing it with a play x mini-games of which one is level.

I think it is an improvement, but nothing groundbreaking.
@Cam: I'd say that Tobold nailed it in the next answer. Just because YOU play only for the "ding level!", don't assume everyone does. Most raiders don't raid for the improved gear, and only see it as a means to an end. Why would they bother with downing Garrosh HM? Any gear you get from it is irrelevant, since it'll be obsoleted by the next expansion. Still, even out of the world first race, there's lot of guild who are still working towards it.
The problem raiders have is that your picture is not symmetric: end-game and leveling are two different games, but you NEED to go through leveling to be able to raid, while the opposite is not true. This is why raiders complain when raid-gear is available from dailies: we're in for the raids and not for the dailies. I hope that one day Blizzard realizes this and uses the same approach as it's planned for PvP, i.e. stuff which has different ilvl depending on the activity you do, so that you can have your quest-PvE gear obtained by questing, while I have my raid-PvE gear obtained by raiding, both of them useless for the activity they're not designed of.

Ah, I'd also be much more impressed if the people who wish for endless leveling were actually playing the MMOs which offer it (there's several of them), instead of whining about WoW.
Ah, I'd also be much more impressed if the people who wish for endless leveling were actually playing the MMOs which offer it (there's several of them), instead of whining about WoW.

I don't believe you. Are you talking about cheap Asian grinders? That is not the same as a western triple-A MMORPG.
Are we bickering about "you're playing it the wrong way" again? There are players who like levelling and there are players who like raiding. There are also - surprise! - players who like both! Why can't we just get along?

As for wow, no matter what your individual preferences are, I doubt Blizzard is in the business for 10 years to piss off customers.

Sometimes there's a huge difference between what players say they want, and what they actually do. Much like voters :)
I doubt Blizzard is in the business for 10 years to piss off customers.

Blizzard is in the business for 10 years because they served all demographics. On release it had 6 different starting zones, compared to Wildstar's 2. If you consider the customer who plays through all quests and then quits, he would stay a lot longer in vanilla WoW than in Wildstar.
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