Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 12, 2014
Cooperation in MMORPGs

One thing MMORPGs are surprisingly bad at is getting a group of random strangers together to have fun. Jeromai is describing his experience with Wildstar dungeons:
"People say that Wildstar dungeons are fun. And challenging. It really makes me wonder about how and what they define a challenge. Mechanics-wise, yeah, they’re complex and interesting. But learning how to perform them well seems to be much less of a challenge than assembling a properly prepared (read: gear and build) group together in the first place. If one considers the random nature of the PUG as part of the challenge in a difficult dungeon, then I could also say that getting a precursor in GW2 is so fun-and-challenging because one is battling a most cruel RNG in the form of Zommoros’ Mystic Forge. Personally, I’m left feeling less ‘challenged’ per se, and more helpless. It’s the same sort of challenge as the Marionette. You could teach until your tongue turns blue and ultimately, your progress is still at the mercy of someone else not screwing up. It is RNG. RNG you could skew in your favor by joining an organized community – a hardcore dungeon guild, or TTS marionette-running instances, fer example, but still RNG, rather than a challenge that one can defeat through one’s efforts."
There was a time when I was a hardcore raider. But even in a hardcore raiding guild you get this helpless feeling. I've been a healer in a boss encounter where everybody was still alive at the point when the boss enraged, making me feel helpless in view of insufficient DPS. And I have also been in the situation where I didn't play for a while, got invited by friends into a raid on coming back, and felt helpless like the weak link of the raid, the guy being carried. Neither situation is pleasant. You don't want other people to make you fail, and you don't want to make other people fail. But trying to always be with a group that is exactly as good as you are and exactly as well equipped as you are is practically impossible.

Rohan was analyzing the claim that players in EVE Online could be useful on day one, and found that it relied on there being no maximum group size and no scaling of difficulty. Another game where a player is useful on day one would be A Tale in the Desert, because of the same effects: If the group project is collecting a million bricks to build a huge building, every additional player making bricks is welcome, regardless how good he is at that. And to some extent, vanilla World of Warcraft also had that. Decent guilds could run a 40-man raid with just 30 players and succeed, which gave them 10 slots for invites where you weren't too worried about how well they played. But overall dungeons and raids with a fixed number of players do badly in making people feel friendly towards each other, because you always would like to replace the weakest link by somebody better.

Wildstar does some things right by giving full kill credit to everybody who participates in a fight. Which means that if you have a quest to kill a boss mob, and arriving there you find somebody else already fighting, you jump right in. And usually the other player won't mind, and be happy he gets the fight done faster. Unfortunately Wildstar also does some things very wrong, Jeromai calls the game bipolar: "Kill certain mobs or reach a certain area and a Challenge will pop up – asking you to accomplish something within a certain time limit. If you manage it, you get a random roll for some bonus loot. Which I found rather fun, up until the point where I found the area denuded of mobs and unable to progress any further while my clock was running down, because there were five other players in the same area as me trying to do the same thing. (Cue HEAD SLAM and heartfelt CURSE TO THE GODS for the stupid traditional MMO model of competitive nodes and competitive quest completion.)". There is a cow-tipping challenge in Algoroc which sounds really fun, but ends up being one of the most frustrating early experiences in the game because of this design. Hell is other players.

I faintly wonder if EQ Next will have a better approach to cooperation. If there is really a dynamic world where players care whether a village is burned down by orcs or defended against them, there could be a design where the difficulty of the orc attack was fixed, and every additional defender would be a help. That could make players feel a lot better about the presence of each other than current designs do. Here's hoping that some day an cooperative end game design can be found that doesn't make players hate each other.

I was trying out ESO and there are minor boxes/bags/furniture nodes that everyone can loot for simple items. Then I noticed someone mining an ore node and ran over to get some too, and was shocked when it disappeared. Apparently chests and crafting resource nodes are one player only.

I was simply aghast. Why would they do this? I mean, older mmo's did this because of performance factors. It's costly to store whether every player in the game has tried to loot this one particular crafting node, for every node. But they're clearly already doing exactly that for the random cupboards and wardrobes and whatever. So they have to intentionally making it so people have to race for the better nodes, for no reason. With people of your same faction, whom you can't actually fight with for it anyway.

It seems so stupid, creating pointless aggression with fellow players. In a good mmo, when you see another player you should be pleased or at least indifferent. If I see another player in a game and get annoyed, wishing they weren't here so I could have more fun playing alone, then I view that as sufficient reason to declare the mmo poorly designed and go play something else instead.

Sad to hear that wildstar seems to be using these same bad design decisions.
A fixed difficulty simply means that zergs completely trivialize all the content (to an even worse degree than the "scaling" in GW2), so I'm not sure that's a better outcome. I suppose it might not matter if all I wanted is the outcome, e.g. loot. Then again, you start running into the other GW2 problem where mobs die before you can tag them.
"Here's hoping that some day an cooperative end game design can be found that doesn't make players hate each other."
I think that GW2 succeed in this design. Except for some very specific sub-games (ie dungeons) a new player is always welcome. You can dislike the Zerg mentality, or think that too many player trivialize the game, but you never think "shit one more player !", or "f*ck, this player is bad".
In many ways Wildstar takes a reactionary view to diku design.

Much like McQuaid in Vanguard and his latest failure, they look backwards rather than forwards, to the days when only elites get to experience all the content, and when wiping 10x in a row with a pick-up group was... well, I can't say fun without cracking up. But they thought that added something to the experience.

And maybe it did, for them.

This is not a mass-market approach. It won't beat WoW. But again that tool McQuaid had some useful insights-- it's OK to be a niche MMO. It's OK to aim at one group of players and not all players.

I only question whether NCsoft thinks the same way. Wildstar is no SWTOR, sure, but it wasn't an inexpensive endeavor.
I do find it so frustrating when the game design makes the other people undesirable. Still having 2004 ore nodes and quest items in 2014 is disappointing.

re "I only question whether NCsoft thinks the same way" - In particular, after they shut down a breakeven/profitable CoH, I think some question how long they will invest in what seems designed to be a niche not massmarket MMO. If hard 40-man raids were popular with the majority of customers, WoW et al. would still be doing them.

I wonder what NCSoft will consider a success?
I felt the way you did about the challenges when I first began encountering them, and other players were definitely interfering with my ability to finish them in time. The solo player in me got annoyed.

But then I remembered one of the things the Devs had spoken about - the desire to create opportunities for players to work together. So after a few days of grumbling about it, I decided to take a different approach - I invited those people in the area into a group, and we completed the challenge together.

The other thing to keep in mind is that challenges can be attempted again at a later time - when the area is quieter, which I have done a few times too. I like challenges because some of the loot is different - house décor is something I really want more of, and many of those challenges provide that.

I found this approach valuable later on as well. My Esper got stomped by one of the new world elite mobs, and I noticed that other players in the area were getting stomped too. So at first two of us teamed up - and got stomped. So we sent a call out, and slowly added player after player until we had a full group and we then had an exciting fight to take it down.

That kind of spontaneous teaming up to take down tough mobs is something I remember about old WoW, and it was nice to see it happening here again.
I think David hits on a real issue here. I was thinking about it from the post Tobold made back on April 22, 'Designing massively multiplayer games for multiple players'. I have long felt with World of Warcraft that the community has changed from a supportive, cooperative mentality to a rush towards level cap mentality. One thing I keep reading these days in comments and threads is how the game 'begins at 90'.

The game doesn't begin at 90, veterans are playing content that can be accessed at 90 and there is an unfortunate perception that if you aren't doing this content you are missing out on something fantastic and game defining. As someone who has been through every raid and most the 90 content and has been playing since 2005 I can honestly say that for me at least, while I enjoy raiding and so forth, end game content is not the shiny bauble it seemed at a distance.

Sure it's fun to raid but my memories aren't of raiding, they are of the people I play with. Unfortunately such memories are no longer being created the way they used to from simply levelling, because content just gets blasted though and the days of spending hours in dungeons on a Saturday or Sunday are long gone. Forging relationships in MMO's used to be a large part of the game but everything is so simplified now and dare I say it, too easy. There is no incentive to help others, things like bags of slightly better loot are not powerful enough incentives. This is how someone like me, who enjoyed levelling due to the social aspects "back in the day" sees things.

But then, perhaps people are no longer interested in having such social experiences? If the developers need to make an extra effort to get people cooperating and teaming up for quests then perhaps the root of the issue is deeper than game design and shows a behavioural trend, rather than a developer trend.
"I was trying out ESO and there are minor boxes/bags/furniture nodes that everyone can loot for simple items. Then I noticed someone mining an ore node and ran over to get some too, and was shocked when it disappeared. Apparently chests and crafting resource nodes are one player only." -- Michael

That bothered me, too, until I realized just how many crafting nodes there were in the world (and just how large the world is).

I do think it would be better if they were shared, but it's not as big of a hindrance as I found it to be in WoW (for example).

"In particular, after they shut down a breakeven/profitable CoH, I think some question how long they will invest in what seems designed to be a niche not massmarket MMO." -- Hagu

I'm still bitter about NCSoft's treatment of CoH and Paragon Studios. It soured me on Guild Wars 2 (which I had preordered before the shutdown was announced), and it's the major reason I refuse to even give Wild Star a try.

I simply don't trust NCSoft.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool