Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Paying to be the hunter

There is some unexpected comment activity on an old thread of mine about EVE Online, where a commenter now remarked that "I'm not on Eve to be some psychopath's game content." as reason for quitting. I found the remark quite interesting, and wondered whether better game design or a better business model could help.

MMORPGs in general can be observed to have huge differences in power between different players. Power tends to be somewhat proportional to hours played. So as players don't all start at the same time, and don't all play the same amount of hours per week, power levels diverge over time. PvE games tend to try to fix that with level caps, which make power gain per time spent increasingly slower, so that people can catch up. And in a PvE game power differences also have a lesser impact on the enjoyment of the game. In a PvP game, especially if free-for-all and with no level cap, the power differences have a much bigger impact. Some people get stuck in the role of the permanent victim, as the amount of time they spend in the game isn't sufficient to become strong enough or built a strong protective network to fend of attackers. Being repeatedly the helpless victim of somebody much more powerful is not a lot of fun to the victim, and thus it is understandable if he rage-quits.

From a game design point of view the solution could be to eliminate the difference in power level that comes from things like levels and gear. Many other games don't have character power levels or gear, so it is totally possible to create a game in which playing a lot would only make you stronger in as far as you become more skillful in the game. You would not benefit from having higher stats on your character or on your gear than a brand-new player. The added advantage for that would be that any PvE content would be viable forever and never become outdated because everybody has become much stronger through levels and gears.

From a business model point of view I was wondering whether the hunter and his prey should be paying the same amount of money to play. It is said about social networks that if you don't have to pay to use them, you are not the customer, you are the product. People nevertheless use those social networks, because at the price point of "free" they don' t mind being the product. So it is possible that at the price point of "free" they also wouldn't mind being effectively "content" in a PvP game. And the people who use this content, the powerful hunters that chase the weak prey, would be the ones who would have to pay for that privilege.

To me it seems somewhat weird that in EVE as well as in WoW the trend is rather in the other direction: The system of selling PLEX / WoW tokens favors certain veteran players, even if that isn't necessarily the players with the highest power level. For a brand new player it would be rather difficult to make 30k - 50k gold to pay for a monthly subscription, while for somebody with several max-level characters it is a lot easier. And the people who play the least are those who get the most bang for their buck out of paying additional money for in-game currency and buying stuff in game with it. So the people who play less end up paying more, and subsidizing the people who play more. And I don't see the veteran players skilled at making money providing "content" for other players to consume.

That's a coincidence, I was thinking about this only the other day, when that American dentist shot the wrong lion in Zimbabwe.

Perhaps MMOs could sell a "licence to kill", good for one combat only, which allowed you to attack another player character. It would potentially put an end to the rampaging gangs of griefers you tend to get in large, open PvP worlds (such as UO) and if a normal player did get hassled beyond their limit they could buy a licence to attack their tormentor.
Actually PLEX works exactly that way. If you are a PvE player, you are everyone's easy kill. On the other hand, you'll likely make enough ISK to buy a PLEX in-game, therefore playing for free.

On the other hand, PvP players (even outright gankers) have ship losses which they finance from selling PLEX-es they bought from real money. So indeed the hunters finance the subscription of their prey.
First, the suggestion that some random casual EVE pilot is a 'permanent victim' is a fabrication, generally from people who quit for some other reason but would rather blame the boogeyman than themselves. Unless said casual does something to really catch the attention of someone else (rage in chat, etc), no one is going to bother shooting a low value ship in hi sec over and over.

The model you talk about further down is generally how F2P PvP MMOs work, like Atlantica Online for example, where spending a fortune on lock boxes gets you far ahead of those who don't spend, not just in item power but in other ways as well (being able to teleport to fight someone). Outside of Asia that model hasn't resulting in a major long-term success yet.

"And I don't see the veteran players skilled at making money providing "content" for other players to consume."

I'd suggest Alliance leaders provided a great deal of content. In fact, one could easily argue someone like The Mittani has 'created' more content in EVE than CCP themselves, given the size of his alliance and how many others they bring war/content to, in addition to all of their 'grrrgoon' fans who obsess over them. Of course the MMO has to allow such players the ability to have such a large impact, and few MMOs do thanks to small servers and limited ability to interact, but that's just another difference between EVE and most other MMOs.
You will never have "fairness" in open PvP games. Even if everyone was 100.0% evenly powered, you would have people simply gang up on lesser numbered players. Even a one on one encountered can be gamed by one player multiboxing to gain advantage.

The real issue here is players that start characters on Open PvP worlds without really understanding what that means. And that error is exacerbated by "protecting" them from PvP in the early levels.

You cannot set up a game to be overtly "Hunter vs. Prey", especially via pay to win mechanics, as the "Prey" will simply quit. The "Sunk cost fallacy" that keeps people in a PvP world even though they are essentially "The Prey" collapses if the relationship is too obvious.

So, we have a game model that is inherently unfair, and requires "protecting" players until they're invested in the game to keep them as "Prey" for the "Hunters." Making it free for the "Prey" won't fix that.

What is the difference between what you are proposing and pay to win free to play games? In such games casual players can play for free but they will always be cannon fodder for whales who spend real money on gear and upgrades. The popularity of this business model testifies to the fact that it works even though many traditional gamers complain about it.

Your paragraph about eliminating the difference in power between new and established players reminded me of the original Guild Wars with its low level cap and limited number of skills that could be equipped. This system worked very well in that game and maintained a large PVE and PVP population for quite some time. I think it is a pity they chose to go a more traditional route for GW2.
To support Syncaine's point - in WoW, veteran players are often in the position of teaching new players how to raid or PVP.

Some put themselves in that position deliberately, because they believe in the idea that teaching new players the ropes today will result in more veterans to play with tomorrow.

Some accept it as the cost of doing business: you can pretty easily carry several noobs in many pvp and pve situations in modern WoW, and filling a pick-up group with all veterans is not always possible, and/or you face diminishing returns of time invested to fill the group.

And I would argue that this creates content for newer players, because they would not get to experience any more than the first boss (or even the first trash pack, perhaps) with a pack of new players, even if they had appropriate gear levels.

For me, I mostly find myself unwilling to play games without progression mechanics anymore.

(Perhaps perversely, I wish Team Fortress would go back to TFC or even TF1.5 days rather than this modern implementation. I feel like there is no game I can just jump into and play for 15 minutes or a half hour like I did with QWTF/TFC/TF1.5 back in the day.)
An equalitarian MMO where power was actually based on skill would be a disaster. The hook for all these ridiculous time sinks is that it increases your power, however incrementally. A skill based MMO isn't an oxymoron, but it does run directly counter to the core design philosophy of every major MMO, and every MMO I've ever heard of. A commercially viable equalitarian MMO would be so radically different from what we consider an MMO that they'd probably just have a new genre for it.

An MMO like that would look like Call of Duty. Which is fine, that moves a lot of copies, but it's a game you mostly play for four or five months and then move on until the sequel comes out. The population collapse with a game with the power dynamic of CoD and the gameplay of Wow would be epic, except that nobody would buy that turd in the first place.
The most important aspect of MMORPGs is power progression. For better or worse, that's what these games are primarily about.

Players are largely okay with differences in progression as long as there is a feeling of "not there yet, but I will be in time." A level 30 isn't bitter about the power difference with a level 50, because he just isn't there yet.

Raiding kills that for most players. You are in the same potential pool as everyone else, competing for spots with and being compared to more progressed players. Once you fall behind, the best groups won't take you. The mediocre groups you can get will largely fail, so you can't progress much that way either.
I must echo 8f and Samus. The premise of these kinds of games is the same as in D&D. It is the character that progresses, not the player. The fun is not in improving your keyboard skills, it is simply in acting the role of the character, and seeing the challenges from her point of view. As a player, I'm still rubbish at casting fireballs, but I act the part of my character, who is expert at it through the effort she has put into improving her magic abilities (not my keyboard abilities).

It is the character that progresses, not the player.

That is not how a raid guild is run. In the end effective power equals character power multiplied by player effectiveness. As character power increase at the level cap is limited, everybody concentrates on player effectiveness. Blizzard has an official raid design mantra of "bring the player, not the class".

Character progress is mainly important during the leveling game, and in the very early stages of the end game, where the speed of acquiring gear can still make a difference. The next WoW expansion eliminates the effect of gear on PvP. Player skill and progress becomes dominant over character progress.
I'm sure you are right, Tobold, for many guilds; especially those in the top echelons. There are others that don't so much stress in-guild competition, but prefer to concentrate on co-operative play.

Anyway, I expanded a little on character progression in Progression.
If you're right about gear being removed from PVP.... whoooo. That will not sit well with the hardcore at all.
"As character power increase at the level cap is limited, everybody concentrates on player effectiveness."

This is flat out incorrect. Did someone hack your account to post this? These are not the words of someone who has ever played WoW at level cap.

According to current DPS charts, at item level 630 the classes top out at 24k DPS. With best in slot items, it is over 100k. You aren't going to sit at a target dummy and polish up your rotation to get FOUR TIMES the DPS, more like an extra 5%. Item level is almost ALL that matters. Skill beyond basic competency and knowing the fight means very little.

Even if what you are saying were true, and skill mattered more than item level in performance, item level would STILL be the most important factor to success. A raid leader in the group finder has no way of verifying your skill, all he can see is your item level. He will pick the item level 680 player over the item level 650 player every time.
Samus, a raid leader having to choose between an iLvl 680 and an iLvl 650 player is probably a very rare occurrence. It can only happen in a guild with an extremely high turnover. I don't raid, and my level 100 characters are all between iLvl 680 and iLvl 688, which only makes a tiny difference to DPS.

Now look at any forum or blog post where somebody posted the DPS Meter results of a raid. You can see some players doing twice the damage or more while having around the same iLvl. I have raided, with damage and healing meters on, and you never get a flat distribution.
@Samous: while ilvl theoretically matters, since everyone has 99999 ilvl due to catchup and welfare mechanics, it practically doesnt.
Tobold says:
"You can see some players doing twice the damage or more while having around the same iLvl."

This right here. iLevel helps, but mostly in the passive way of greater HP pool and a general increase of DPS.

The encounter devs have designed a game that is tuned for teams of professional players, who would all do the same DPS, but the game is played by casuals who produce an output that's just as Tobold said, the distribution is never flat.

The exception is heals and tanks. Heals and tanks are self-selected, and work at it. of course, some of the DPS do as well, and these are the ones that are always at the top of the DPS chart in every raid.

There are also heals and tanks that perform at the lower level, but these players ALWAYS have a DPS fallback position that they can be told to switch to when the GOOD healers and tanks are available to raid. Their DPS probably won't be any better than their healing, but that can be handled better.

In a "Professional team" the players that perform poorly are sidelined nearly every week. They either learn fast or they are eventually let go when someone hungrier and willing to work is recruited.

But in a "Casual team", which is WoW's bread and butter, you don't have that luxury. You can keep the good tanks and heals as tanks and heals, and have the rest be DPS. Some will do poorly, as they always do, but you're a casual group, not a pro sports team, so that's how you enter the raid.

Here's what I see when I raid: The ilevel ramp helps up defeat bigger bosses in that the "one Shot" mechanics that killed us earlier simply don't one shot the DPS that now have more HP. The trains don't kill them on normal, The Metamorphasized fel guy at the start of HFC doesn't kill 2 or 3 of them when he kicks it into gear. Sometimes it's close, but the heals, who are not subject to the random failures of casual teams, are at the top of their game and can handle it.

Why don't we have a contest to settle this. We can each take a character with 640 ilvl. We each spend an hour at the target dummy getting down our rotation, and see where we are at. You can then spend another 20 hours at the target dummy getting better, but your gear stays the same. I will spend 20 hours getting better gear in a different spec (so I can't practice). Then we compare how much we each improved.

You can pick any starting item level you want, assuming it is not already best-in-slot. I don't think it will matter. I think the improvement in my performance will be drastic and yours will be very little.

Gevlon? Smokeman? What do you guys have your money on? What do you really think is the best way to spend your time to improve your performance: collect gear or ignore gear and "improve skill?"
The flaw in that proposal is the target dummy part. A raid encounter in not a target dummy. A large part of the difference in DPS between two raiders comes from the better raider knowing where to stand and when to move. The less good DPS either stand in the fire and die, or move too much, both of which affects their damage out.

We agree that running a fixed rotation on a target dummy does not require any skill.
"collect gear or ignore gear and "improve skill?""

You have to do both. Gear increases passive performance (survivability and damage potential) while active raiding (Raiding plus performance evaluations.) increases active DPS.

The target dummy is less useful in that it's a single static target.

There is damage potential, movement optimization, situational awareness, spell rotation accuracy, and then the meta where you combine those.

Getting maximum DPS in raid is actually very difficult.
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