Tobold's Blog
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.
No way Mythic can address these issues in a meaningful way, as they appear to go straight to how WAR was designed from the ground up.

Tragically, WAR is no friendlier to late arrivals than EQ is, even though EQ was released almost a decade earlier.

I'm starting to believe this genre is hopelessly broken. It seems almost impossible to code around human nature and there's absolutely no indication that MMO developers are ever going to address the core flaws within this genre that were already being identified when Bill Clinton was still in office.

While there's a lot of truth in the "biggest cheese" argument, I don't think it's the full story. For example, you are comparing apples to oranges: PvP (Scenarios) to PvE (PQs). WAR was heavily marketed as a PvP game, so many players probably want to PvP. So if you prefer PvP and get good rewards from it, then the choice is a no-brainer. Making the PvE cheese bigger may be a short-term solution, but players really resent doing something that they hate to get the best reward. They'll still do it, though.

I haven't played WAR myself, so I don't know whether there's any PvP element to PQs. And if there is, is it any better than WoW's silly Silithus PvP?
It's definitely a problem - I'd like to see them try to tie PVE questing into world RVR a bit more. The few times I've run into big world RVR fights so far, they've been a lot more fun than any scenario that I've played. If they had a system that encouraged groups to form to do quests and world RVR at the same time, it might help the situation.

Also, I know a lot of people from Everquest 2 really wanted to see a mentoring system put in WAR - where you can level your character down, with appropriately weaker skills, to group with friends. Mythic didn't want to do this, and it's too bad since this could help offset the level/tier fractures we're currently seeing.

One way to tie PvE and PvP together is to have PvP unlock PvE content in a state-flip set up. That is, whoever controls the zone quest hubs would get access to the PvE quests (with PvE rewards), while those that don't control the hubs are only provided PvP quests (with PvP rewards).

A dominant population would easily capture and control a zone, but would then fall behind in leveling their PvP rank and gear .. and meantime the underdog population/faction would be increasing their PvP capabilities. Eventually the underdogs would overpower the dominant faction ... and the two factions change positions.

The beauty of it is that this a naturally balancing system, unlike what's happening in WAR (a pernicious positive feedback system where the dominant become more dominant).
I managed to do some PQs yesterday on my rank 15 character (ch 7 iirc) and after that some open RvR (failing miserably at defending a keep), so there are players who dont do scens during their whole playing session. That said, Mythic is apparently aware of the immense gravitational force of the scenarios by increasing xp of other activities. Imho open rvr should be made much more attractive though, if necessarily combined with 'nerfing' scens.
"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."

Wow Tobold that is an astounding statement. If it is true it is profoundly depressing. Does this mean that ultimately we are condemned to playing mindless grind-fests?
Excellent post, Tobold.

What you're describing is definitely what I'm seeing on my server in Tier 2.

I thought I'd play a balance of PVE quests, open grouped PQs and RvR, and Scenarios to level my character. That worked great for Tier 1.

I'm hitting my server either before or after prime time -- which I'm sure contributes a bit to the skew I'm seeing -- but now in Tier 2 what I'm getting is:

- timeconsuming solo PVE quests with poor xp rewards (and a lot of the quest chains ends with a champion or hero mob that needs a small group to complete for which no one is available);

- PQs completely empty or small groups (typically 2-3 people) doing the first couple stages but not enough people to do stage 3;

- very, very little open grouping RvR activity;

- mainly one scenario going pretty much constantly which, in the same time it takes me to do a solo PVE quests, provides 3x as much XP if I win or the same xp if I lose.

So, even though, I'd much rather do a mix of game activities, doing scenarios over and over is the only real option if I want to level at any kind of a reasonable pace.

The scenarios are fun but the idea of levelling to 40 primarily by repeating the same scenarios endlessly is not appealing at all. I agree Mythic probably needs to nerf scenario rewards a bit, and, at the same time, significantly bolster the xp and rewards from PVE and open RvR (I know they did a 50% increase for RvR already, but so far I don't see any effect).
@mbp --
"Wow Tobold that is an astounding statement. If it is true it is profoundly depressing. Does this mean that ultimately we are condemned to playing mindless grind-fests?"

Not at all.

It only means that players will focus on that which is most rewarding even if it's not the most fun.

The challenge to game developers is to balance rewards so that players aren't punished for picking the fun stuff.

To rephrase Tobold's example: 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 THE SAME xp as the fun content, you'd see 90% of your players choosing fun.

Mindless grinding is what happens when developers fail at their jobs.
I'm not sure about nerfing scenarios, getting rid of them entirely is a better idea. I thought (hoped maybe) that mmorpgs were about immersion in a fantasy universe not a points scoring e-sports arena. I get little sense of exploration or wonder in WAR, just squashed together quick fix PQs and run of the mill quests.

That said, there has been some Open world RvR on my server around Mandrakes keep in Tier 2. I can just about see the games potential when this happens, but the lag makes it unplayable.

I hope they come up with something different than to nerf scenarios. Why not just boost rewards and XP from open RvR, PQs and other quests?
I hope they come up with something different than to nerf scenarios. Why not just boost rewards and XP from open RvR, PQs and other quests?

Whether to nerf scenarios, or boost the other content, or both, is a question of how fast you want people to level to the cap. Right now I have the impression that leveling by PvE is too slow, but leveling by grinding scenarios is too fast. So maybe the better solution is to do both, boost PQs etc. *and* nerf scenario xp.

Does this mean that ultimately we are condemned to playing mindless grind-fests?

As pidge said, from the developer's side there is always the possibility to make the fun stuff give equal rewards to the grind stuff. From the player's side I think we need to get away from a mentality where we think that everything below the level cap is work, and the "real fun" begins at the level cap. That's why sometimes we dream of a "game over" screen for MMORPGs, because it would punish those who just rush through the game.
"Leveling mindset" considered harmful.

Why should one consider "reward" to automatically mean "XP/Renown/gear"?

I would rather stick to "reward" = "fun" equation. And then I can ignore (well, almost ignore) the "leveling" thing.

You know, there are other PVP games where there is no "leveling" at all, and people play them for the sake of the battle. And this is how WAR could be played and enjoyed with.

Forget about XP, renown and gear. Explore and fight instead. And have a lot of fun.
Nerfing scenario xp would be a bad idea, it's not as amazing as some people would have you believe. At lvl 25 I make maybe 15k in 15 minutes if things are going well. I could make much better xp just grinding level 26-28 mobs, but that would be boring.

I think people level from scenarios precisely because they are more fun.

The rewards for open RvR seem a bit low - especially with the diminishing returns for killing the same player repeatedly.
But based on this statement, it is almost as if WAR is like...


Favorite spots to run over and over?


Innovation I guess is up in the air when players STILL find ways to make it all the same.
Amount of exp is just one factor why people grind scenarios. Useless chat system that prevents us from getting a group to do anything else than scenarios is also to be considered.
Open group system is nice when zone is crowded. But when you have only 20-30 people spread in the zone it's not effective anymore. What you have are 10 groups of 2 totaly unaware of eachother waiting for people to join. After 10 min they disband and join scenario.
I won't even mention how hard it is to get a gunbad group.
An... interesting solution would be to scale rewards for activities scale depending on the number of players participating.

Let's say there's a total pool of rewards (xp, renown, items, whaatever) X. Let's say the average time to finish a scenario is S and the average time to do a Public Quest is P.

There are a total 600 people doing scenarios while 200 are in the world, grouping and doing PQs.

Now, upon winning a scenario, each of the 600 players get 1/600 * X * S of the rewards, while upon finishing a Public Quest, a player gets a share of 1/200 * X * P, thus getting a much larger profit per hour than than if he ran a scenario.

Word gets out that Public Quests are now much more profitable than scenarios, which causes players to move from scenarios to PQs. Now there are only 100 people doing scenarios, and 700 in the world. Now, the scales tip in favor of the ones doing the scenarios, who start getting 7 times as much rewards as the ones doing public quests.

Ideally, the balance would eventually shift towards an equilibrum, with the amounts of players on scenarios and those doing public quests being roughly equal.

Granted, I've never actually played WAR, so I have no idea whether something like that would be feasible. It's just something that popped into my mind while reading your post. What do you think?
I've been playing almost exclusively Tier 1, and been having fun doing that. Seems to avoid most of the issues that you've mentioned because the Public Quests still have lots of people and I can get into scenarios reasonably fast.

It does look like I'll have issues once all of these toons start leveling.
It's not just XP. The gear rewards from scenarios are very nice, and tend to come in big hunks when you hit certain key levels. You are certain to get those gear sets if you keep plugging away on scenarios, whereas you may or may not be able to get the looted gear at the end of a PQ depending on who happens to be around.
'What you have are 10 groups of 2 totaly unaware of eachother waiting for people to join. After 10 min they disband and join scenario.'

Absolutely, that is key. It is not PvE versus PvP so much as open group system versus queue system. In that contest, obviously queue system wins, if there was queuing for PvE noone would be unable to do it who wants to.

The other way, currently, of getting groups is, effectively, the guild system. Unfortunately, that, which is pretty much unthinkingly copied from other games, is really unsuited to the task. As guilds are vertical across tiers, you are extremely unlikely to find a guild large enough to have a solid population of people +/- two levels who have compatible goals, full set of needed class roles, same amount of time available, and so on.

In short: wtb eq2 lfg tool.
That said, there has been some Open world RvR on my server around Mandrakes keep in Tier 2.
I can just about see the games potential when this happens, but the lag makes it unplayable.
..and effect.

When the number of players in the same area increases, the load on the server goes up exponentially. If the number of players is unlimited, you will reach the point where lag becomes intolerable.
Scenarios (read: instancing) limit the maximum amount of players, so the proverbial bar is pretty low, and it's easier to distribute the load to different servers. At least, that's the traditional excuse.
Does this mean that ultimately we are condemned to playing mindless grind-fests?

To me it certainly seems that the rewards mentality that a lot of players have keeps MMORPGs as grindfests, which is too bad really, as there are a lot of fun elements in them, and a lot that could be done with "Large amounts of players online in on world together".

The large amount of players that continue to chase rewards seems ot say pretty clearly to developers "include grind elements to keep them playing", which will keep a lot of the unfun elements in these games, or encourage them to be added (See the Guild Wars titles for example).
I'd like to do more PQs, but I haven't found a group to complete one since Chapter 2, though I'm only up to Chapter 7 now I believe.

Typically, I see if anything is going on in my area and if not (usually not) I queue up for scenarios.

Of course, the scenarios aren't just my second choice, they are a lot of fun. It would be nice to find some other players in the rest of the game world too.
How about a que for a PQ? Problem solved?
This PQ doomsaying has a lot to do with classes that people are rolling imo. Didn't people learn from WoW, the healer is the key. With my Zealot, I've maxed influence in every area I've passed through other than Chapter 9 so far. Give me somebody who can remotely tank, one damage dealer and myself and we can clear nearly any PQ (barring that Plaguewood PQ with a Lord in Part 2). Heck, last night in a Chapter 9 PQ I kept a Squig alive as he tanked bosses in both Part 2 and Part 3. Of course, then I found out that I didn't get any credit for healing a squig but c'est la vie.

Then again, for once scenarios were popping like crazy and I have to admit I spent a lot of time in Mourkain Temple this weekend but that was mostly because while I enjoy scenarios I've had few chances to get into them without long waits. My renown rank was suffering, and it's still 4 levels behind my main level. I found myself going through the next portal and realizing I probably needed 2 more levels before that was a smart thing to do. I'm out of quests in the Troll-Lands so I guess I'll scenario through 2 levels. It's easier than trying to run to the last flight point.
I really like Gates of Ekrund, Mourkain Temple, and Tor Anroc. I'll take Nordenwatch as an ersatz Ekrund. So the current setup rewards exactly what I consider most fun in the game. Score!
I agree that they need to make scenarios less attractive as an xp leveling tool, and PQs more so. If they cut the xp of scenarios by 30-50% and doubled the xp of PQs, I think you'd see more people leveling on PQs and that would a lot of good for the world.

I played a Mourkain temple match last night that we won in 6 minutes. For that fight I got ~10,500 bonus xp. That's 3-5 quests at my level, and I got it in 6 minutes! Although I like getting some xp in scenarios, I want scenarios to be good for raising my renown rank, not the best method for leveling my class.
very very true tobold. Scenarios, while fun, once played ad nauseum kind of lose their appeal a little.
I only play scenarios. I stand in a PQ area so for the minutes between them I can do something other than watch TV. I finally finished grinding the Chapter 6 High Elf PQ at 16 which I started at 12, to give you an idea how little I do anything aside from scenarios.

I am playing WAR solely for the scenarios and the fact that I can play for 20-30 minutes and still get in two scenarios. I don't care much about the rest of the game, at least for now. I get all the PvE I want from EQ2 when I start to have more free time. I like the scenarios. I especially like them when there are a few other people I know and respect in my group. Sometimes I even party with people I know so we'll be in the same scenario.

If they disadvantage scenarios I will probably just plain quit WAR. The first thing I did after subscribing (about a week into the game) was cancel my subscription, so I will need to be convinced to part with my $15. As it stands, I still don't have the faintest clue where to get renown rewards (I'm at Rank 16 and RR16) and I have found the need to constantly mail yourself stuff tedious. I'm thinking maybe I just need to go to Guild Wars instead from what everyone says in the comparisons.
Oh yes, and one more thing. I wish they gave me an option to stop XP gain entirely. I would like to be able to play the scenarios as long as I want without having to level beyond them.
I don't see the cheese. I am still loitering around in Tier 2 and have been involved in a steady diet of PQs, Open RvR, Keep sieges, and solo questiog, with a few scenarios sprinkled in.

Either a whole lot of people are not seeing what the most efficient method for leveling is on Ulthuan, or there are a fair number like me that don't care about efficiency and are just having fun.

Your Skinner box doesn't work if the reward is "fun" and not a number floating over a head, or phat lootz. I still see plenty of people doing what they think is fun, and I am running right along with them. Its not as intense as it was at launch and at the head start, but there are stil enough out there to keep me entertained.

I'm not trying to invalidate what you are saying, but I just don't see it as being quite the issue that you do.
Nerfing scenario XP is silly - instead the rewards for the other activities should be buffed (otherwise levelling would remain uber slow).

What would work much better is if there was a LFG system of some kind, to make it easy to find the necessary number of players to do a particular bit of content, be it PQ's or a dungeon or open RvR
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.

ouch! sad, but true...
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