Monday, October 13, 2008
Turning your biggest strength into your biggest weakness
I really like the open groups and public quests of Warhammer Online. But MMORPGs are Skinner Boxes, in which we, the rats, are trained toward specific behavior by the rewards given out. WAR is offering a lot of different activities to choose from, more than other games, but players tend towards the activity that gives the best reward to effort ratio. And in WAR that is definitely scenarios. So even on high population servers, after having to queue to get in, you can still press the open group button and find no group with more than 2 players in a 10 minute radius. Needless to say that 2 players can't finish a PQ or take a keep. Everyone is in instanced scenarios instead, even for Destruction they are now starting in fast sequence, albeit usually always the same if you use the "join all" button.
I would say that open groups, making it easy to find people to play with, is one of the biggest strengths of WAR (maybe WoW should copy it). But if you have great group content and players find themselves excluded from it, because there aren't enough other players around to play with, that strength turns into a weakness. WAR has soloable quests. They aren't bad. They aren't special either. And there aren't enough of them. Even Mythic realized that and will allow us to do the same quest several times. Which isn't quite the same as adding more quests to the game. And it isn't the core of the problem, because we only need more quests for soloing because we can't group. The better solution would be to make grouping outside scenarios more attractive and likely.
I suspect that one part of the solution is technical: More players per server. The current numbers worked great when all of us were in tier 1. But now half of the players are in tier 3, and the other half distributed over tiers 1, 2, and 4. With 6 races, 20 chapters per race, and several PQs per chapter, there simply aren't enough players around to man the PQs. It is really crazy to first have to queue, and then have an underpopulation problem. I can only assume the limit is hardware related, not game design related. Or Mythic is limiting the number of players now, so that there aren't overpopulation problems later, when everyone is level 40 and in tier 4.
The other part of the solution is to make scenarios less popular. Nerf scenarios! Simply half the xp and renown earned in scenarios, and maybe give a bonus to xp in PQs, and suddenly players will be back in the non-instanced part of the world. Do NOT assume that players are in scenarios because they are the most fun. Remember, we are just rats, we go for the biggest cheese. If you had the world's best content on one side, and a boring red button on the other side pressing which once a minute gives twice the xp than the fun content, you'd see 90% of your players camping the red button. It is the job of the game developer to balance rewards so that every type of content gives a similar reward, and players can really do what is fun to them. Which won't be the same for every player.
WAR is slowly degenerating into a game that is reduced to a very small number of PvP scenarios: Nordenwatch, Mourkain Temple, Tor Anroc. People figured out that scenarios give better rewards than anything else, and that certain scenarios give better rewards per hour than others, so camping those is all they do. And even if you aren't a big fan of scenarios, you end up grinding them. Because leveling up by questing is so slow, and you can't find a group for PvE public quests or open world RvR anywhere. I'm not really interested in "WAR redux", a game reduced to leveling to 40 by playing nothing but the same scenario for 10 levels.