Tobold's Blog
Thursday, July 09, 2009

I've been playing Luminary for 6 weeks now, but I think I'll stop playing this now. The problem with Luminary is one shared with many Asian Free2Play games: They get exponentially more grindy over time. In one quest series I arrived at a point where to finish a quest I would need to gather over 50,000 resources, which at a drop rate of around 10% would mean killing half a million monsters. The exponential nature of quest series is most visible in sword-crafting quest series I'm also doing, where after making 1 stage 1 sword I had then to make 2 stage 2 swords, then 3 stage 3 swords etc., with both the number of swords and the resources needed per sword increasing.

I assume this is deliberate game design, to make sure everybody arrives at a point where the game is too grindy for him, because then you can dangle the carrot of faster advancement through items from the item store in front of them. Unfortunately the Aeria Games item store for Luminary is still not working. I wouldn't have minded giving them some of my money, I find that having fun with a game for 6 weeks is worth something, and the game company deserves some of my money. But I do know that on the internet that sort of opinion, that somebody providing entertainment should get paid for it, is an extremely outlandish one. And even me, while I would have been okay to pay *for* playing, I'm not going to pay them *after* I stopped.

I think it would actually be a good idea if games became more complex and difficult the further you advanced. But in the case of Luminary the complexity and difficulty remained pretty much the same, and only the number of monsters you needed to kill for your next task went up. It isn't more difficult to kill 1,000 monsters than to kill 100, or 10, it just takes longer. I had the same problem with WAR, where killing a mob at level 20 wasn't more difficult than in lower levels, but it took more and more kills to advance another level. Weirdly the Wrath of the Lich King expansion of World of Warcraft had the opposite problem: Going from level 70 to 71 was relatively slow, but the further you advanced, the faster progress got, and from 79 to 80 was pretty fast (because xp needed for next level only increase minimally, while xp per kill and quest go up much faster).

In WoW, not only is it already extremely easy for a fresh level 80 character to succeed in the average level 80 daily quest, but also it gets easier with time. Whether you raid, craft, PvP, or farm factions, your gear is improving at the level cap, but the quests remain the same. We all like our virtual rewards, but in the end the reward destroys the solo PvE content, making it too trivial. Outside of raids, or PvP if you are so inclined, life at the level cap is extremely boring.

So I do question the idea that "the game begins at the level cap". And I wonder if ultimately Everquest wasn't onto something with making reaching the level cap take much more time. The endgame is a notoriously weak point of most MMORPGs, so why hasten the process of the players getting there? The art is to design a progress curve which never gets so steep as to appear insurmountable, but in which progress also never becomes trivial. Not an easy task, that.
I agree 100%. We just have a different definition of "endgame".
If you want to use levels for endgame that's alright with me.

But if you want to divide the leveling and the endgame and make leveling absurdly easy then I'd prefer just the endgame- without the leveling.
I don't like leveling. At all. I'm a little too goal oriented for a game where you hit the cap, then turn around and start again. I can imagine a game where I don't mind endless leveling, but it would be a game where I just don't care about that so much, I just want to play.

Like Chrono Trigger. I'm playing that on the DS, and I don't care that I am leveling, because the game itself is quite fun. That's fine. But kill 10 foozles, run Scarlet Monastary, 10 foozles, Sunken Temple, 10 foozles, is no way to waste my life. At some point I want to stop all that and get on with the big boy stuff.
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I think, a more important reason for the last levels taking less time in WoW is the fact you're able to fly around to do your quest. Also, you're getting more hungry as you approach your "goal".

Blogger should provide a way to edit your registered comments -.-
Yeah, that's the same reason I stopped playing Atlantica Online as well. After 97 levels, I finally said enough is enough.

But I am glad I got to experience it. I still highly recommend Atlantica Online for its novel ideas and implementation to anyone willing to overlook some minor warts due to its heritage. I hope nDoors continues to bring out their own vision of MMORPG's for years to come.
If you want to make leveling longer, you also have to make leveling better. If you have harder leveling without a mentoring/sidekicking system, then there's very little lowbies can do with their max-level friends, and less incentive to play. I recently re-rolled in WoW on a new server to join some friends in a guild. In the entire time I was leveling, I was very limited in what I could do with my new guildies. I could beg them to run me through stuff, or maybe if I was lucky, they'd do stuff with me on alts once in a blue moon. I could run even lower level alts/newbies through stuff. But I couldn't PvP with them, couldn't do at-level instances with them, couldn't help them with crafting. At a level/day, I spent 2-3 months to be able to get up to do stuff with them. I wouldn't mind making it longer, if there were ways I could work with my friends/guildies while leveling that are mutually beneficial/fun.

I personally think leveling should be shorter. I learned everything I needed to know about how to play a shaman between levels 1-30 and 68-75. If leveling was faster, people could work together with their friends quicker. I didn't sign up for a single-player, world-spanning quest-a-thon, I signed up to socialize and to work in a team.
Everquest, WoW, and FFXI, have different philosophies.

Everquest was a forced grouping game. You COULD play alts. But only for playing with your friends or something. It wasn't something people did lightly. But having a high level toon did make it easier to level a second, at least to a certain extent when you had to get back into grouping. Since gear was level capped, twinking was to speed up leveling. You could drop 100k gold worth of items on a level 1 toon and solo level 1-20 in a few hours (I did it, it was fun :) Changing your role in the endgame involved leveling your alt and was LONG and PAINFUL! Especially on a single account. Having super expensive items helped, but it still was long.

In WoW you can play alts and still reach cap. Multiple times. Especially since crafting is so easy, you can do all professions completely by yourself. A high level toon provides better bags, more potions, scrolls food, etc for a lower level one. That's not quite twinking. A smart player without a high level toon can get those things too. Twinking is for battlegrounds. Its a different game. Heirloom items is the closest thing WoW has to leveling a twink. And that's specifically designed by Blizzard. Switching roles not allowed by your class is as easy to leveling up a new alt.

FFXI has multiple jobs. Your first job helps you level your second job. Unless you want to change races, or create a bank alt, alts are almost completely unnecessary. Different subjobs make you more versitile. You don't twink your alts, you twink your lower level jobs. The more you play one toon, the more versitile you become. "Twink" items are rare drops but are achievable without a high level toon if you are smart or diligent. Changing roles means leveling up a new job. Unless you've already done it, then it just requires a trip home.

Which model do you prefer? Personally I'd love to see a WoW style game with FFXI class system. Especially since achievements were introduced. One toon to play all my roles, achieve all of my achievements, collect all my pets and mounts. Make grouping the best way to level, but keep soloing as viable as it is in WoW today.
Doh! I meant to say in EQ that gear WASN'T level capped.
What you describe with Luminary is what happened with Atlantica Online for me. I don't mind reasonable progression, but when you scale from 10 to 1m, it's tough to swallow. And sadly, as you noted, it's the payment model that sets those standards, not design decisions. I doubt any designer is really thrilled to force people to grind 1m mobs to advance, when they themselves know it stops being fun after 100 if not 10.
That is the difference between progression minded games (like WoW) where the content is mostly PVE, and player created content (or sand-box as they have come to be known).

In progression games the real game does tend to start at the level cap, or end-game. In Sand-box games content tends to be intersperced throughout. EVE Online is a good example of this where you can feel like you playing and contributing to the game as much in the first couple weeks as if you were a year later. There's just more to do (or more to get you into trouble as it were) the "higher" you go.
You could have both. A slow progression and player created content. Add trade some trade, meaningful PvP (consensual, if you want), spice it up with a few dungeons and raids.
Spin it all around a huge, epic story of the world and the characters (no, not just your character. We are grown up. We don't need to be the single hero).
Think about the end of the story and the possible addons from the start.

Recruit a real good QM team, start with only one single beta test server for one year.

THEN suddenly: You got your WoW killer ;)
Slow progression with a vertical progression scheme is a brutal thing. If you keep the power differentials large enough to make leveling worthwhile, you end up with a lot of people frustrated that they can't play with their friends, or that they have to do a lot grinding.

It sounds ridiculous to solve the level grind problem by making levels harder to attain. The problem isn't that they are easy to attain, but that there are too many of them to attain. The reward of leveling up loses its meaning after a while.

Lots of vertical progression doesn't seem like a sustainable mechanic in MMORPGs.
When I wrote slow progression I meant not only a slow one, but also a limited one.

Like: to gain +5% more HP you need to invest 500 hours /played.

But make it have diminishing returns! The maximum difference between a player who has 20 hours played and one who has 10,000 hours played should be a factor of 4 or 5.

If progression of your character isn't everything your game is about (in WoW it almost is), you don't need to rely on progression as the only motivator to play the game. But I'd still like a little bit (open ended + diminishing returns) character progression.
> "but in the end the reward destroys the solo PvE content, making it too trivial. Outside of raids, or PvP if you are so inclined, life at the level cap is extremely boring."

I'm sorry Tobold, but how could you have played WoW for so long and reached the conclusion that the endgame is about questing or solo PvE?? "Outside of raids, or PvP" there is no endgame!

*Of course* solo PvE is boring! WoW is an MMO, the fun is in the multi-player. Some may prefer to PvP while others prefer raiding, but both are forms of interaction with other players. Compared to that, any solo content pales. Not just the solo content inside WoW but in every game.

I used to play many single-player games and I enjoyed them a lot. But now that I play an MMO I will never go back to single-player. I'd rather play Darkfall :D
I guess I'll give the "culture" comment.

Korean's and other Far Eastern cultures love these games. Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

In this case the Chicken came first.

That is the game. They love grinders. There not going to change it becasue they are getting what they are asking for.

So far we have mostly seen Korean games using RMT, because it's the most economical and business friendly for North American publishers to make money.

We'll see more Western games(with the gameplay we enjoy more) using RMT in the future. But for now, it's imported "grinders".

The publishers in the West try to be helpfull and throw in "addons" but the games core can't really be changed from the original devs(who made it a grinder).

Not to bring up cultural sterotypes for negative reasons. But the cultures in the Far East are saying the West is weak and can't hack the work, while the Western cultures call them stupid for making a dumb system.
But make it have diminishing returns! The maximum difference between a player who has 20 hours played and one who has 10,000 hours played should be a factor of 4 or 5.

That's what I'd like to see. Make the power curve flatter so people of different levels can play together. Maybe combine that with some form of horizontal progression (like more skills).
A lot of poeple seem to be overlooking the fact that raiding and PvP are NOT the only elements that should be considered "end game" activities once the level cap is attained.

I'm finding that an awful lot of players are chasing achivements, doing dailies, running older content that they bypassed while leveling...ect. With each expansion and successive level cap increase, Blizzard is creating(intentional or not) meta activities that the majority of MMO developers would love to have designed as an original idea.

The achievements for killing the opposing factions leaders in the major cities has had a profound effect on open world PvP with raids occuring almost nightly on my server. But other than a mount and the associated achievement, there are no rewards for this activity outside of the "fun" of actually causing mayhem inside the other sides cities.

The art is to design a progress curve which never gets so steep as to appear insurmountable, but in which progress also never becomes trivial. Not an easy task, that.

Do you just simply design a game with the notion that there is no end game in this case?

Why not implement the concept of lifepaths, where the player can go horizontal in character development with a chosen profession that actually strengthens their characters attributes/skills without relying on level as a mechanism of limitation? Where is it written in stone that a level 65 shouldnt be capable of defeating a level 70 character that hasnt taken the initiative to also develope their character horizontally?

If you think carefully about it, horizontal character development is one area of MMO design in which RMT, Microtransactions or whatever you want to call it, could successfully be implemented without causing the issues associated with leveling.
I played Everquest a lot, and like most, it was a love/hate relationship. I dearly miss the slow levelling and separation of player base by levels. A max level character was godly in and of itself, even before you get into gear. I feel it added something amazing to the game experience to have something so far off, barely obtainable, to work towards for so long. I absolutely hated the game for the draconian xp-loss on death and corpse runs. Is the best of both these worlds mutually exclusive? I think not; make it so.
I'm not sure why you completely rule out RuneScape on this blog... It's a game with an excellent experience curve. I've been playing it for... Oh, probably 7 years now, maybe 2 or 3 years was break but otherwise I have played that game a TON. There is always something else to do, and I am far from the level cap. There are, nowadays, a good amount of people with at least one skill level 99 (the cap), but it takes a LONG time to get there. On the other hand, the game constantly makes you feel like you're making progress, even if it does take a really long time to raise each level once you get up into the 70s or 80s. I personally think they've controlled the grind nicely.

I haven't played most of the games you talk about on here, but I read your stories and your complaints and think "I'm glad RuneScape isn't like that" - maybe you should give it a try...
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