Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 01, 2014
 
Is MMO group content salvageable in today's AAA MMOs?

Of course I couldn't leave Hagu's "meta question" of yesterday unanswered. Not only do I believe that group content in a modern AAA MMORPG could be salvaged, I also have a bunch of ideas how. The solution is actually quite simple once one understood the problem, so let's talk about the problem first: Group content today is designed in a way that if you group with the "wrong people", your overall reward of your activity becomes negative. Most frequently in the form of "I group with incompetent players, I fail to complete the group content, I wasted my time".

The solution is therefore to make the reward for grouping always positive. You might still want to group with a more competent player for getting even more reward, but as long as grouping with anybody is better than soloing, most of the toxicity is gone. It would be very hard, if not impossible, to implement such a solution in MMORPG dungeons today, but who said that we have to? We can simply make questing in a group give a better reward than questing solo. If grouping with random strangers day to day was beneficial, people would be a lot nicer to each other, and make friends more easily. We could even have levelling guilds, which I sometimes hear advertised in chat, but which under current game design are unable to deliver.

In its most basic form my solution would be a simple multiplier to the reward of questing depending on whether you were grouped when you did the task or not (with your group partner being in the vicinity). Note that this isn't only possible for xp while levelling, you could also hand out better gear; it would also work for end-game daily quests that hand out some currency to buy stuff with. For xp this is easiest, and you can also give more xp per kill done together, which prevents grouping with afk players. With Wildstar having moved the genre back towards somewhat slower levelling, many people would be interested in faster xp.

If you want to expand on the idea, you would have to modify quests a bit. No more phasing preventing players from doing a quest together to start with. And it might be a good idea to have quests with flexible goals: Not "kill 10 wolves in the forest", but "kill wolves in the forest". When you come back to the quest giver, you get a reward proportional to how many wolves you killed, with each wolf killed in a group counting for more.

Note that currently most games, including WoW and Wildstar, are designed to make questing in a group slower than soloing. Which very much contributed to the "massively single-player online RPG" genre that we have today. Change the incentives, and playing together (and thus paying for playing online) actually makes sense again.

Comments:
I have an idea. Make the group content fun enough that you don't need to drive behavior by handing out goodies. Then people will group because it's fun.

Crazy right?
 
Who said that group content wasn't fun today? And whatever the fun level is, how could you ever prevent people from preferring to do that fun content solo or only with selected people instead of groupin with strangers?
 
Well, if it needs to be salvaged it seems to have problems.

MMO discussions of gameplay always revolve around setting the right rewards and incentives to induce players to behave the way you want them to. It's always a discussion of how to get the rats to run the maze you want them to by manipulating cheese placement. If it were a fun activity, and my definition of a fun activity is an activity you would do without the prospect of a extraneous reward, you wouldn't need to arrange the cheese a certain way, or multiply the cheese by a certain percentage. People would just do it.

In the video game world, there is little problem getting people to group with strangers in Call of Duty, or Forza, or well, most video games really, even though the incompetence of your teammates will strongly impact your performance. MMOs are some of the most hateful, snotty gamers on the planet, and they are that way because they aren't there for the fun of it. They sound like people complaining about all the idiots at work. Because that's what it is. Work. If you don't get paid, you don't work. If you don't get rewards, you don't show up in an MMO.

If you started a WoW server where you could go do any content you wanted--- any quest, any raid, whatever, but you never got a reward--- no xp, no gear, no potions, no cash--- that server would be dead on arrival. Because nobody plays the game because it's so much fun. And that's why MMO are just the triple A version of those iPhone games that just try to induce addiction to get people to buy in game items.
 
GW2 actually does quite a bit of this today. They don't quite succeed 100% but they do come quite close. Resource nodes are shared. Hits are shared. More people coming into an event "scales" the event up, often making it slightly more complex / more fun. Even much of the open world "large" bosses don't penalize you for more people.

Dungeons are a bit of an exception -- there are people that want to do "speed clears", and for that you need people that already know that dungeon, have appropriately optimized builds, etc. But dungeons can be run without that, and give out rewards that are equivalent.

In general, it is very difficult to make another player unhappy that you appeared nearby (PvP enemies excepted). ArenaNet made a game where griefing is very difficult, and more hands make quick work. And, indeed, people group up together and help each other, and the atmosphere tends to be the friendliest I've ever seen.

Worth checking out if you are interested in design vs. toxicity.
 
Just wanted to second that GW2 is the closest I've seen to your ideas. Anything you do out on the open world, if another player is anywhere nearby, doing whatever, grouped or ungrouped, it'll always make your gaming experience/enjoyment at least neutral, and often very positive.

It's one of the few games I've played where I've never, not once seen another player and wished they weren't there.

The ingame dungeons are a different thing entirely, and can be completely ignored, imo. Mapping and world content gives you more than enough things to do, compared to other mmo's. People that like wow dungeons should do open world event chains, as the most similar content, not the dungeons.
 
"You might still want to group with a more competent player for getting even more reward"

Unfortunately what often ends up happening in MMOs is that better reward becomes the mandatory baseline and you end up with a bunch of issues. I believe the recent wildstar "nerf" was based on that. The people who mentioned GW2 above are very correct though, that game does an incredible job of making grouping feel more rewarding than soloing.
 
If you give (significant) rewards simply for grouping, you end up with multiboxing and even worse: multiboxing becoming a mandatory. EVE Online is right at this point.

I'd also remind you that the "kill 10 wolves" quests already give 100% bonus for doing in group of 2: both of you just have to kill 5-5 wolves to complete the quest, yet people don't level together. So "significant reward" is probably also game-breaking and makes mandatory multiboxing.

I have a very different approach: how about the game groups you with the "right people"? From your previous performance, the game calculates a "skill rating" and whenever you use a random group feature, you are matched with players of the same rating. Assuming the rating is properly calculated, the players end up in groups they enjoy.
 
I am still waiting for these games to go the other direction. Just admit what they are and make a highly instanced/phased solo experience, including the end game. The content can scale easily if you want to group with a friend or friends, but it isn't required.

Let's face it, this is exactly what player habits have shown that an overwhelming majority want. When are we going to stop asking, "since players don't want to group, how do we force them to group anyway?"
 
"With Wildstar having moved the genre back towards somewhat slower levelling, many people would be interested in faster xp."

This is an important point, because at modern MMO leveling speeds there's no room to offer a faster track for groups. EQ2 had an expansion a few years back that did precisely what you asked for and the result was that the group grinding experience was over in four hours because the solo content was only enough to last for like ten hours.

I have yet to bother with Wildstar, but I'm hearing a number of complaints that sound suspiciously like solo players who aren't willing to tolerate the leveling experience that is on offer beyond the early levels. Not a problem if Carbine wasn't planning on retaining those tourists anyway, but we've yet to see a post-WoW AAA subscription MMO that was actually okay with writing off the solo market.
 
Actually CoX scaled the XP with the amount of players in a team and you had scaling encounters/dungeons. On top of that you could still set the difficulty.
Grouping was very common and the community was awesome.
 
The problem with random groupings isn't just the difficulty level.

It's that it's a completely random experience. Spin the wheel and you could get any of the following:

A guy who ninjas loot. An incompetent. A guy who goes AFK all the time. Another guy who logs off right before the end. A guy blames everyone. A guy who doesn't even chat/respond. A guy who enjoys Barrens chat humor. And so on.

So I'm on the opposite spectrum. I would rather they make the content so difficult that it can't be done by a random group but only by a group that must know each other and know each other's strength.

I fully recognize that this precludes some people from ever doing some content. That's unfortunate, but in my mind, MMO content should be by definition "group" content.

As it currently sits with many games, it's really just a solo "shared world" experience. This is OK at some level but don't expect much more success than what we saw with SWTOR.
 
> Gevlon wrote "From your previous performance, the game calculates a "skill rating" and whenever you use a random group feature, you are matched with players of the same rating.

That's actually a really interesting idea worth exploring. But is is remotely viable & practical? Would such ratings be kept secret or displayed publicly? Is it account based, or character based? Do you need different ratings for different play modes (e.g. dungeons vs. PvP) ? What if you come back after an extended layoff? How quickly does your rating adjust if you overperform or underachieve drastically? Many similar issues are faced by working ELO systems for games like chess and are reasonably effective there.

How complex would such a calculation need to be? Simply counting "successes" vs. "failures", i.e. your win-loss record? Or something more complex, e.g. bases on time to completion / victory, # of deaths, % of objectives fullfilled, etc. ? In which case how does one compare the performance of different roles (tank vs. DPS. healer) ? How do you evaluate connection drops, bailing early, getting kicked by others? Do you completely ignore all solo "performance", even though it probably has a high correlation with grouping? All these and many more aspects need to be considered.

I'd love to see a game attempt to do this, although I'm pretty skeptical about its practicality. The fact that AFAIK nobody has ever done it in an MMO suggests that it's not really possible. Surely devs have had the thought before... Most recently, Hearthstone maintains ELO-like player ratings, although it has far more common with chess than MMOs.
 
With regards to rating players, another obvious concern would be that your expected "skill" in a dungeon you've completed several dozen times already is almost certainly vastly different from one you are entering for the first time. So such a system would almost certainly need to strongly factor that into any global rating. Given sufficient players being queued, it's easy enough to match up dungeon newbs with other newbs with similar ratings, but if there are not that many choices, sacrifices have to be made. For that matter, how quickly does such a system "cave in" and send you in with a poor skill match vs. forcing you to sit around waiting for a good match for hours? If the skill curve has a normal distribution, the very worst & best players will take much longer to find a good match. And in off-hours or on sparsely populated servers it may become virtually impossible to find you a good match. You are now waiting not just for that elusive tank or healer, but he/she must also be a good match skill wise. This quickly breaks down unless you have a truly enormous population to select from. Although with millions of active players and cross-server matching this might not be a problem, a small game would not be able to make use of such a system no matter how accurate the ratings are.
 
@Perkus: these are side issues. If the matching works *somewhat* and *sometimes*, it's still better than "not at all" and "never", which is the current case.

Any criteria that correlates with skill and any attempt before giving up due to no match can be found helps.
 
Lots of complex solutions being offered up so I will state the simple one.

Make group content very easy and offer fantastic rewards.

Sure you lose the 1% toxic niche of hardcore players but gain millions from a wide audience.

If Blizzard could go back to 2010 with 12m customers and some hindsight do you think they would repeat Cataclysm or instead sacrifice the toxic 100k players and keep the other 4.9 million?

Evidence from Wildstar suggests that they wouldn't even lose the toxic 100k as all the forum threats turned out to be hot air.

Wildstar delivered a difficult game during a huge lull in WoW content but very few moved across and were easily persuaded to stay in casual WoW by being offered the amazing opportunity to grind out valor points for 8 weeks to get the 4/4 upgrades.

So yeah, offer the best rewards, make it so easy you can rarely fail in random groups and remove loot competition via a personal loot system. Done.
 
If it were a fun activity, and my definition of a fun activity is an activity you would do without the prospect of a extraneous reward, you wouldn't need to arrange the cheese a certain way, or multiply the cheese by a certain percentage. People would just do it.

No, they wouldn't. Over a decade of MMORPG experience has shown that if you give people the choice between a fun activity without reward and a boring grind with reward, the overwhelming majority will invariably go after the reward. That is why MMORPG game design these days is all about getting the incentives right, so as to lead people to the fun stuff.

Let's face it, this is exactly what player habits have shown that an overwhelming majority want.

Because they always go after the reward, player behavior simply does NOT show what players want (except for showing that they want those rewards). In games with a different design, like for example Everquest, players grouped all the time, because that was the rewarding thing to do. What I propose is a system that would balance the rewards of grouping with the inevitable cost and risk of it, so as to enable players to really express a preference instead of just going for the greater reward.

I'd also remind you that the "kill 10 wolves" quests already give 100% bonus for doing in group of 2: both of you just have to kill 5-5 wolves to complete the quest, yet people don't level together.

No, it doesn't in Wildstar. Wildstar counts in percent, and a wolf killed with a group member only counts half of a wolf killed alone. Even WoW has lots of quests which are "collect 10 wolf ears" which don't go twice as fast if you group, but rather take more time than if you soloed them.

Current MMORPGs actively discourage players from grouping by their incentives structure. And then developers wonder why people didn't make friends in three months of playing and leave.


 
Grouping content works perfectly well. A proper group is nearly always more efficient and enjoyable to play with.
What isn't working is pseudo-grouping where you are one of many individuals have been bundled together to form a group to complete an activity.
 
While I mostly agree with what you are saying, you are missing a crucial element: players will go after the greatest reward for the least effort. Soloing does not provide any great reward, it is simply easier and more convenient than grouping. Even if you don't get any hits on sid67's grouping wheel of chance (which, with 4 other players, you will almost always get something from that list), it is still an organizational effort.

I believe this is an area where many games have failed to replicate WoW's success. WoW did not simply provide greater rewards to make up for a worse experience (although they did do that too), they worked to eliminate a lot of the inconvenience of grouping.

I would very much like to see the breakdown of what players do while leveling in WoW. Because with the inconveniences of grouping minimized, the XP per hour of running dungeons to level is now on par with or better than soloing, and with greater loot rewards. This would be a good indicator of what players want to do when factors are roughly equal.
 
Grouped content is bad because it has been made accessible to bad players. Bad because they are incompetent, or AFK, or unpleasant to be with, or demanding facerolls. Making it still more accessible isn't going to make it better.
 
Samus is right. The issue about grouping is a lot about convenience. If you are here to play 1 hour of your favorite game, the only "group" content you can do anyway is dungeon finder-style. If you want to progress with quests or story, there is no time to organize or set up a group.

The quest/story design of MMORPG is an inherent obstacle to grouping (and I am not even trying to address players having questline at different progression points etc...). In everquest, grouping was also easy because there were no quest. People killed for XP so everyone had the same short term objective in mind.
I am not saying that this is a desirable design to have players grind for XP all the time, but this is to highlight that if we want more grouping, game devs need to provide a better hop-in/hop-out experience to support grouping. No one ever complained World of Tanks was force grouping!

(NB: I had the same argument with Wilhelm Arcturus on EVE online. He was complaining people didn't do enough group content in EVE. Well, doing group content in EVE commits you for a multi-hour game session; hence not many people can afford it)

Lazie Chan
 
Here is a heretical idea: what if various grouping incentives don't work because grouping with bad players is a toxic experience and *not* because they are bad at the game. (which can be masked by making a game very easy)

I've always seen a strong correlation between lack of gems and random AFK-ing, uncontrollable need to chat childish nonsense, fixation on the breasts of the "hot babe of the month" (was Megan Fox when I noticed the correlation), anal spam, l33tspeak, racist and sexist "jokes" and so on.

Let's face it: World of Warcraft isn't rocket science. Someone with average mental capacities should be able to learn "warriors need strength, red gem goes to red slot, no enchants are bad, do not stand in the big red fire". So besides extreme cases, we can't blame bad playing on being medically retarded.

- So why would anyone play bad? Because he can't care less about the game.
- Why does he play hundreds of hours if he can't care less about it? For positive social experiences.
- Why does he seeks social experiences in a video game? Because he can't get it in real life.
- Why not? Because he is toxic and everyone avoids him.

I'm not sure that "forcing other paying customers to spend time with him" is good for business.

My bottom line is: being bad in the game and still wanting to play it with others is a very good predictor of being a very unpleasant person.
 
> Over a decade of MMORPG experience has shown that if you give people the choice between a fun activity without reward and a boring grind with reward, the overwhelming majority will invariably go after the reward.

I've felt this and totally got over this attitude while playing GW2. In GW2 there is an optimal money making strategy. Running around the zone as a big group from champion to champion. Being part of the champ train will almost always give you the most money for your time. And it is utterly utterly boring. There are people who spend most their time doing this, but most don't.

I find that once you accept that you're not going to be taking the most optimal route, once you've made the mental decision to settle for less reward for more fun, it's bizarrely freeing. It really expands what you find fun and enjoyable in the game.

I don't agree with the people who say there should be no extraneous reward at all, for it to be a fun activity. Jumping from some reward to no reward is just as a big a leap as jumping from best reward to a suboptimal reward.
 
FWIW, I've seen more immature behavior and crude comments from the more hardcore/elitist crowd than the idiot/trolling crowd.

I find someone who consistently fails to get out of the fire not nearly as aggravating to deal with as the peeps who run around calling other players betas and carebears because they can't beat him in a duel.

Someone with poor play deserves pity, help, or to be ignored. Someone with good play who trash talks and mocks people around them deserves a smack in the face for such an unpleasant attitude.
 

"No, they wouldn't. Over a decade of MMORPG experience has shown that if you give people the choice between a fun activity without reward and a boring grind with reward, the overwhelming majority will invariably go after the reward. That is why MMORPG game design these days is all about getting the incentives right, so as to lead people to the fun stuff."

I'd argue that there are MMO activities that genuinely qualifies as fun (if it is fun you are expected to do it so many times it becomes not fun) so we haven't actually seen that tested, except in the wider sense of inter-genre competition, a competition MMOs have been losing badly even at it's relative peak of popularity. Off hand, the only think I can think of is twinking in WoW, which was basically pointless (except for the fun!). Maybe pet battles. I've been out for a while.

Let's face it, this is exactly what player habits have shown that an overwhelming majority want.

The overwhelming majority of gamers have either never tried an MMO or tried it and quit. WoW at it's peak had at most 2% of US gamers playing, now it's under 1%. I'd guess Europe would show the same numbers. Hell, most MMO gamers have shown that what they want is anything but an MMO, since they've moved on and won't be coming back.

It's a niche, it's always been a niche, because it's such a fundamentally unpleasant genre. Unless there is a radical change in both gameplay and basic philosophy it's just going to get even worse as Wow decays.

I don't know why I've kept coming back here for so long. I suspect I've grown tiresome. I'm tired of make the same argument once a week. It's been fun, Tobold, thanks for all the entertainment and argument. I think I might wander off now.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool