Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 07, 2009
Why do we play? - Challenge

When looking into the question of what motivates people to play MMORPGs, you could either ask people for their motivations, or observe what they are actually doing in these games and draw your own conclusions. And you will probably find that today's subject, challenge, is the one where the gap between what people say and what people do is the greatest. Everybody says that he is motivated by challenge, but then constantly engages in behavior designed to eliminate it. There is even a good argument to be made that MMORPGs are intrinsically designed for challenge avoidance.

What is so special about MMORPGs and challenge? In most games your chance of success is determined by your skill and random factors. In MMORPGs your chance is determined by skill, random factors, and your character stats, including level and equipment. Recently The Ancient Gaming Noob Wilhelm2451 pondered his daughter's question of Why Does Tetris Get Faster?. Tetris gets faster because that way with every level the challenge rises, so sooner or later every player gets to the point where the challenge is equal to his skill. If you can consistently get to level 10 in Tetris, you are a better Tetris player than somebody who can only get to level 5. Your skill goes up while playing, because you learn, but the challenge goes up quicker, so every single game of Tetris ends with you losing, and the level at which you lose is a measure of your skill. Then you start over, and because your skill goes up, maybe in the next game you get one level further. If you would draw a graph plotting the maximum challenge you can beat over time, you'd see a constantly rising curve, but which is getting flatter, until it levels out at your maximum potential.

Now imagine MMORPGs would work like that. You start with a level 1 character fighting level 1 mobs, and you would *NOT* get stronger by gaining levels and equipment. If your character would always remain at exactly the same strength, and only your skill and random factors like critical hits would determine your success, then the maximum level of monster you were able to kill would say something about your playing skill. Some players would be able to kill level 5 monsters with their level 1 characters, others would maybe be able to kill level 10 monsters. But obviously you'd never see 25 level 1 characters raiding Ulduar. (Note that with patch 3.2 in World of Warcraft you can turn off earning experience, so it should be possible now to try out how far you get in the game without gaining levels or equipping any gear beyond what you start with.)

Instead in a MMORPG your character gets stronger not just from learning how to play the game, but also by acquiring experience points, levels, and gear. If you draw that same graph again, with the maximum level of monster you can beat versus time, you see that it is rising much faster now. It is still totally possible that you learned something in the last hour you played, and got a bit better that way. But even if you didn't, by just killing monsters for that hour you got stronger because you gained a level and found a sword that deals more damage. The curve that plots your power over time doesn't flatten out, at least not until you reach the level cap. Most importantly that means that the game never reaches the Tetris point where it is too challenging for you and you can't improve any further. If during the leveling process you ever get stuck, you always have the option to keep killing the last mob you were still able to kill for some time, until you gain another level or earn gold for some better gear, and then you'll be able to overcome that challenge that blocked you. It is technically impossible to get stuck at, lets say, Hogger, no matter how bad you are at playing World of Warcraft. Beating Hogger with a level 1 character with just the starting equipment is a challenge. Beating Hogger at some point, after having gained both levels and gear, isn't really a challenge, because given sufficient levels and gear anyone can do it.

So while MMORPG players say they enjoy the challenge, what they actually enjoy is the illusion these games offer of beating challenges. It would be perfectly feasible to design MMORPGs that get more challenging with time, where beating a level 40 mob with a level 40 character is much more challenging than beating a level 1 mob with a level 1 character. The original Everquest, for example, worked that way. Add a death penalty, where you lose levels and experience for failing, and you could design a game where people get stuck half way up to the level cap, when the challenge level of the game becomes higher than their skill, and how far you got into the game says something about how skilled you are. But of course getting stuck isn't fun, and would probably lead to players quitting the game, thus losing monthly revenue to the game company. In consequence over the last 10 years death penalties have been reduced to you just losing some time, not levels or gear. And the leveling process has been designed to guarantee that the inherent power of your character regardless of skill grows as fast as the challenge. Nobody "can't get past level X" in World of Warcraft, or any other modern MMORPG. It just takes time, and there is always the possibility of players giving up out of boredom. But if you can beat a level 1 monster at level 1, you will be able to reach the level cap, guaranteed.

At the level cap, especially in World of Warcraft, something curious happens: Your growth of power over time slows down, because you don't earn levels any more, only gear. At the same time the challenge curve gets much steeper. The developers simply don't want you to kill the last boss in the game, because that might be perceived as a "game over" screen, after which you quit. Thus, if we consider vanilla WoW before the expansions, suddenly you could only advance further by raiding, the speed at which your character power can go up by raiding is limited by raid lockouts and loot drop rates, and it became possible to get stuck. Some players got stuck because they simply couldn't pass the hurdle raid organization posed, being available for several continuous hours simultaneously with 39 other raiders several times per week. Other guilds got into raiding, but got stuck at some point where raid difficulty markedly increased, for example at the first boss of BWL, Razorgore.

Since then, the Blizzard developers are trying to tune the end game challenge. The goal, for them, is to keep the maximum number of people playing for the maximum number of months, as their revenue depends on that. Both people getting stuck early and giving up in frustration, and people reaching the final boss and leaving because they have beat the game, diminish Blizzard's revenues. It turned out that initially there were far more of the former than of the latter, so measures were taken to keep people from getting stuck. The organizational hurdle was lowered, with raid sizes reduced from 40 to 25 and 10. For people who still couldn't find the time to raid, alternative content to get similar rewards, like daily reputation quests or PvP epics, were introduced. And raiding was tuned so that the *average* player still could progress quite a bit before getting stuck.

So now we are back to the observation that what players say they want doesn't match what they do in the game. MMORPGs offer a wide degree of freedom in choosing challenge. Nothing stops you from attacking monsters that are higher level than you are. Even in the supposedly so easy World of Warcraft you *could* level up in a much more challenging way, doing only red difficulty quests, fighting only higher level mobs, and so on. You are in complete control of your challenge! But in practice the overwhelming majority of players constantly engages in behavior designed to minimize challenge while maximizing rewards: We constantly try to diminish the challenge of raid encounters by getting better gear or watching strategy videos on Youtube. We overgear for endgame solo and small group content. We twink our alts. In PvP games we organize keep raids at 3 am to make sure there are no enemy players to challenge us. When given the choice between more challenging and less challenging games, we flock to the least challenging ones. Some people even cheat, exploit game bugs, buy virtual gold, or hire powerleveling services, to get stronger and avoid any challenge on the way. In Free2Play games people pay the game company for microtransaction items that decrease the challenge of the game.

In summary, we replaced real challenge by an illusion of having beaten a challenge we in fact carefully avoided. What we had was games like Tetris, where the level you reached was a measure of your skill. What we got now in MMORPGs is a situation where you just care about reaching those levels, faking a higher skill than we actually have by replacing skill with time investment. We keep the outer trappings of success, reaching the level cap, strutting around in epic gear, but avoid the painful process of having to get actually better at playing. We are playing a version of Tetris that *doesn't* get faster, where you get any highscore by just playing long enough, and in some cases even pay somebody else for that highscore. Challenge itself does not appear to be a major reason of why we play. Any attempt to gain customers by designing a game that is *more* challenging is bound to condemn you to a niche market. For the mass market you need to avoid challenging the players, while simultaneously keeping up the appearance that there is a challenge to beat.
Several points:

A challenge is not fun if you had to make it difficult on your own, just to make it a challenge.

Nobody tries to win a chess game while also solving differential equations, because that doesn't increase the fun in playing chess, although it certainly does increase the challenge.

Almost no chess player, however, ignores the rules and just removes the oppponents queen from the game, because, while that would allow him to win rather easily, it's not a challenge anymore. Therefore this is against the rules.

A good game imposes the challenge on you. A good game has rules that make it challenging. The challenge we seek is to win within the rules. If bad rules allow us to remove the challenge, we do it.

It is unreasonable to argue that we do not like challenges, just because we try to avoid them. Avoiding the challenge is the challenge!

There is no difference between beating a challenge and avoiding it. It's the same thing. A game that allows you to circumvent a challenge to a degree that no challenge is left, is bad game, with bad rules.

Blizzard defines a challenge like that: To achieve something now, not later.

It's all about time. While everybody can raid the Black Temple nowadays and beat it, only few can beat 25 Ulduar hard mode now.
The challenge is to achieve it now, not later.

Therefore WoW offers challenges and it is fun to beat them (think of tactics that avoid them).
The challenge in the WoWs leveling game is not to beat the content, but to beat it fast - or to experience it all. It's a different challenge than the once Tetris offers, but it is a challenge - not just an illusion.
Any attempt to gain customers by designing a game that is *more* challenging is bound to condemn you to a niche market. For the mass market you need to avoid challenging the players, while simultaneously keeping up the appearance that there is a challenge to beat.

The easiest way to do this is to actually allow to players to create their own challenge. That is what WoW does!

You can either try to level fast, solve all quests or anything else you can imagine.

Solving all the quests, by the way, is a challenge, because it is very time consuming and therefore few people do it. It requires a lot of discipline. Since you also want to do it in a reasonable time, it's also a challenge to be fast and efficient.

Not every challenge has to have the Tetris characteristics.

It is also a challenge to wake up every morning at 5 am and train your body for 2 hours before you go to work.

It is not hard in the sense that anybody could certainly do it. Just like everybody could solve all quests in WoW. Still it is a challenge, it is not easy - otherwise everybody did it; a trained body has quite a lot of advantages.
"The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand." - Sun Tzu

Considering how many times you've said that FPS games don't suit you due to the focus on perfect execution of tactics, it's a bit surprising to see you criticize MMORPGs for going in the opposite direction. There is skill involved in researching the optimal builds, acquiring the best gear and learning and executing tactics. In many encounters, this can encompass the majority of the challenge, with the battle itself being a mere formality.

Granted, the developers probably didn't initially realize that while a very limited amount of players can fight a boss at once, a huge number of players can work on overcoming the planning challenge together. With enough players, the challenge for an individual player can be negligible.
So now we are back to the observation that what players say they want doesn't match what they do in the game.

In my experience, players will do whatever gives the greatest reward. If challenging content is the most lucrative, then that's what they'll do. If easy content is, then they'll do easy content.

WoW seemed to be specifically designed so that, up to the level cap, easy solo content was most lucrative. Fighting higher level mobs involved significantly greater challenge for only incrementally greater experience. Elite mobs had about three times the hp of normal mobs, and also hit significantly harder, but only gave two times as much experience.

Ideally, MMOs ought to be designed to make rewards proportionate to challenge. If elite monsters have three times the hit points of normal monsters and hit harder to boot, then they should be worth at least three times as many experience points. That way, players will have an incentive to (although won't be required to) take on content that challenges their abilities.
I think your analysis of the challenge in WoW is a bit short sighted.

You use static enemies, that is, the same monster as the example while the player levels. But if you don't use a specific monster, rather, any level appropriate monster as an opponent for the player, the challenge actually does increase as it does in your Tetris example.

Combat at lvl 10 is vastly different than combat at lvl 70. As you level up, combat is made much more complex. As combat becomes more complex, the player adapts and learns about their class and about the combat system. The difference in performance between a newbie playing a lvl 80 and a pro playing it is huge.

The advantage gained through leveling up is negated by the fact that you must fight higher level monsters to benefit from it. Essentially, it's no different than removing the level system from the game and just introducing new monsters and skills to the player.

When you reach a higher level, you can't fake a higher level of skill because encounters become more difficult in their complexity. Also, I don't think reaching the level cap is necessarily the peak of performance. It would be better to think of levels 1 - 80 as preparation, sort of kind body conditioning BEFORE actually starting boxing training so your body can handle the training. Once you reach level 80, skill is apparent in the arena and in raiding. Guilds do monitor DPS charts of members during raids, and healing and tanking performance is obviously affected by skill.
The challenging part in a game like WoW is indeed the endgame. Tetris level 5 becomes a player that has finished Naxxramas, a level 10 might be someone who has finished Ulduar. There's a skill difference between the two players and it can easily be measured.

This content has to be challenging enough. If you can just finish Ulduar in no time, there's little reason to continue playing. We do raid for a challenge and Blizzard gives it to us.

Levelling however, that's just about as easy as it gets. Maybe that's why people prefer to level asap and play the challenging part?

And of course, because levelling poses no challange, you have to find your own challenges. I had some fun soloing zul gurub, onyxia and parts of AQ20. Something that didn't go in one run and posed a real challenge (but sadly, little reward). Others might try to level a naked warrior. Some people like me must prefer more challenge in their game or noone would be doing these things.

I'd personally like to see more challenging solo content. Some tasks you can not finish in a single run. And that offer good rewards.
We need to get rid of differing stats on gear, IMO. Stat inflation throws balance out of whack and makes it almost impossible to tune content for difficulty.

All plate should give the same bonuses, with the only distinction being cosmetic. Players could distinguish themselves through talents, traits, etc, or even perhaps their choice of gear type. Mail has more avoidance than plate but less mitigation, swords have higher parry but less damage than axes, etc.

Achievers would have to make do with titles and cosmetic rewards to make themselves feel special, but they'd benefit from having content that actually was able to test skill, rather than confusing it with a whole bunch of other things.
The challenging part in a game like WoW is indeed the endgame.

There is skill involved in researching the optimal builds, acquiring the best gear and learning and executing tactics.

... and similar comments

There are two major problems to the concept of having all the challenge only in the raid endgame. The first is that there is always very little endgame compared to the leveling game. Every expansion makes the previous challenges obsolete, so we actually have LESS raid bosses now than we had years ago, while there are MORE zones and quests on the way to the level cap.

The other big problem is that the challenge of a raid is by definition a communal one, a shared one. As Gevlon so impressingly showed, it is possible to buy yourself a spot in a 25-man raid. Even more extreme is that only the very first players to encounter a raid boss need enough brains to figure out how to beat that boss. Those then publish their results, and later raiders just need to be able to watch a Youtube video. You don't need to understand how your class works, or how a boss works, you just need to copy a template from Elitist Jerks and be able to execute a rather simple Simon Says type game to kill the boss. And if you suck at that, there is still a chance that the other 24 guys in the raid will pull it off without much help from you, and you'll still be able to roll on the loot if the others let you. In short, a raid is a challenge for SOME participants, but not necessarily for all of them.
The challenge in the WoWs leveling game is not to beat the content, but to beat it fast - or to experience it all. It's a different challenge than the once Tetris offers, but it is a challenge - not just an illusion.

I think that's stretching the definition of "challenge" a bit. It's like Garry Kasparov playing a chess amateur and trying to win in as few moves as possible. Maybe you could call that a challenge, but it's not much of one, and it's an artificial one as well.

Levelling however, that's just about as easy as it gets. Maybe that's why people prefer to level asap and play the challenging part?

If that's true, why not get rid of the leveling process entirely? Or else make it more challenging?

I'd personally like to see more challenging solo content.

I agree.
"Challenge" has absolutely nothing to do with why I play MMOs, or indeed do anything in life. Ithink it's a really inaccurate, unhelpful management-speak buzz-word.

I play MMOs for the same reason I undertake any other voluntary activity in life: it gives me pleasure. To be "challenged" is to have obstacles put in my way, preventing me from enjoying myself. Anything that I enjoy doing is, by definition, not a "challenge".

If I find myself "challenged" in any activity that I have free choice over whether or not to take part in, then I always stop and do something else. I only seek to overcome "challenge" in situations where there is no other reasonable option, as in dealing with bereavement or illness.

None of this is to say that MMOs, or any other pastime, should be simplistic, or should not require attention, thought, care, imagination, creativity or commitment. Neither does it matter if the process is time-consuming. Emotionally, however, the experience should be effortless. Once frustration, irritation or annoyance begin to creep in, it's time to find something else to do.
I pulled this from a friend's blog. It's an opening bit by Craig Fergussen who has it all figured out. While I was listening to it, I couldn't help but sort of agree - to some extent.

The majority of people claim to want a challenge but EVERYONE likes to win. Very few like to lose. I think Blizzard keyed on this and it has changed the genre.
RE: Making solo content challenging

This would be tough to do because each class has different strengths and weaknesses. You could do it, but it would mean certain creatures wouldn't be possible to defeat by some classes while others might be really easy.

You just about have to target the lowest capabilities so they're not excluded or you create content aimed directly towards certain classes. That means less content over all or very specific routes of progression (bonus to that is you could make this route different per class which is nice for replayability).

Think back to EQ1 (or even EQ2 or VG) where some classes could level easily on their own, often better than a group could. Compare a Necro/Mage/Shaman/Druid soloing to a Warrior/Rogue soloing. It was pretty rough.

Also consider WoW and how some classes are easier to solo (easily handle multiple mobs at one time or can easily handle elites) with than others.

It's not easy to do and has a lot of extra costs.
I'm absolutely in favor of removing levels. All I am saying, is that Tobolds definition of a challenge is much too narrow and thw fact that people try to avoid challenges doesn't mean they don't like them (in the end).
Avoiding a challenge is often indistinguishable from beating it.
I've often noticed the disconnect between what players 'say' they want and what their actions 'show' they want. But I've never been able to articulate as well as this article.
Your comments highlight what I believe is a basic game flaw in the design of WOW -- narrow linear progression. They seem to realize this and have since added things like achievements and incentives for levelling alts to keep people playing. But what is really missing in most MMOs and I am sure many readers feel it, is a depth and breadth in a virtual world that allows for more "meaningful" horizontal progression.

Game design is moving away from this though as new games are increasingly "simple". Mass market success usually means appealing to the lowest common denominator. Things like attunements, story, crafting, and role-playing are the first things to get eliminated. Challenge as such is not what the average player wants -- it's reward. They want easy success, not frustration. For evey person that feels a sense of accomplishment from getting a rare quest done, ten others will QQ that it was too hard, the drop rate too low, a grindfest, class-imbalance, or just not worth it.
RE: Making solo content challenging

That is not just a problem of class balance. There is also the curious fact that exactly the same action which is hard for 25 players might be too easy for a single player. A lot of the raid encounters are about "not standing in the fire", which on an individual level is often extremely easy. But something which has a 90% success chance for a single person has only a (0.9^25) = 7% chance to succeed for all 25 members of a raid. It is often the need for synchronous action which makes the raid content more challenging than the solo content.

You will notice that in solo content such "you shouldn't stand in the fire" or similar positional game mechanics are rarely to never used.
WoW's raiding end game is more challenging than your characterization of it. Organizing 9 or 24 other people around a common goal is just the first step towards tackling these encounters. Particularly in the newest content, there is a high degree of personal responsibility expected of each player in order to be successful at even the "normal" difficulty level. Each fight requires group level coordination, personal spatial awareness, and changing targets/tactics through different boss phases all the while performing your class's role to the best of your ability. Gear can increase the tolerances for success, but if you are raiding at the current level of content, there are hard limits to the gear you have access to and thus to the tolerances you operate in. Maybe most don't bother with competitive raiding, but I do and enjoy it quite a lot.
Dead on! I use to love EQ and the challenge but that's because I had no idea there was anything easier. I level toons in WoW not for the challenge of leveling but to have a lvl 80. I like to think that if an mmo had an immersing story I would actually enjoy the journey to max lvl and not rush but who knows. Maybe SWTOR will test that.
There are two major problems to the concept of having all the challenge only in the raid endgame.
Who said that planning is for endgame only? It may be the case now, but only because all leveling content is so similar and the few choices (Gelkis vs Magram, Booty Bay vs Blackwater, Scryer vs Aldor) are trivial. Even the racial differences fade away after the two first zones.

In short, a raid is a challenge for SOME participants, but not necessarily for all of them.
Yes, that's kind of what I said. A static encounter might have been fine in the days where communication between players took place face-to-face, via telephone and via magazines and the maximum player count was two or four. However, now the planning phase needs to be complex enough to thwart the combined efforts of the player base. In other words, a challenge appropriate for a Massively Multiplayer game. Blizzard tried that with bosses like Kael'Thas or M'uru, with little success. Square has had a bit more success with some of their bosses in Final Fantasy XI, though.

An another option is to partition information: Information learnt by one player is useless to an another. But to make the encounters dynamic enough so that the bosses won't just use ability Y instead of ability X is a real challenge (pun intended) for the developers. Blizzard tried that as well with Chromaggus and Ahn'Qiraj, with the result that players simply memorized appropriate responses for both. TotalBiscuit has long been a proponent of dynamic bosses with a huge ability list, but those are a nightmare to balance: The number of combinations goes up exponentially as the number of abilities increases, and all of them need to be balanced for every group composition and skill level. Otherwise there'll be cries of favoritism, with the result that the abilities will be nerfed to the point of irrelevance.
All I am saying, is that Tobolds definition of a challenge is much too narrow and thw fact that people try to avoid challenges doesn't mean they don't like them (in the end).

Ah, I agree with that. I think to a certain extent players want to "win," and will use the most effective strategy to do that.

For example, looking up a raid strategy online is like studying a book of chess openings, or "netdecking" in Magic the Gathering. It might reduce the challenge, but it's really just using an optimal strategy to win.
The only challenge I see that is inherent in the gameplay of WoW for an adult is social. There are player-created challenges, but the basic gameplay of WoW is easy and challenge free. You can say that min-maxing is a challenge, but it's only a challenge if you don't want to follow what elitist jerks have to say. Anyone can pop onto their forums, grab a build/rotation, and follow it. There are even practice dummies so you can train your fingers before the actual raid. The encounters are too similar, and there isn't enough variation in gear for there to be more than one or two builds that are always best for a certain class/role combo. You can also place arbitrary challenges on leveling, but again they are challenges created by the player, not the game. There is a bit of a social challenge in finding a group to play with, and getting along with them. This isn't an easy task even if everyone is already friends. I've never seen a group of people that always gets along perfectly, and has never had any problems.
Great post.

I think this is what divides top end raiders versus the rest of us. They truly want actual challenge. The rest of us just want the illusion of it.

And this is why slow progression raiding essentially sucks*.

Those of us who haven't cleared an instance within the first few months of it being released aren't actually improving as players. All we're really doing is facing the same content and slowing getting better gear until finally we have just enough to tip the scale in our favor.
Good post. I like challenge, and that was probably my favorite part of EQ. However I like challenge when I know there is a chance at beating it.

I know I can't kill a level 60 mob with a level 1 character. However I would try killing a level 60 mob with a level 50 character.
A really well thought out article. Thanks! I just have a few thoughts:

1.) Most MMO's don't really require that much skill, but rather gear/macros/addons/levels/etc - Sure there is a learning curve, but in most MMOs the learning curve ends long before all these other curves end. So to say that I've beaten Ulduar or Naxx or BWL means mostly that you've put in more time to get the gear/levels/addons/macros, not that you are necessarily more skilled.

2.) When people say they want a challenge, it is something that they want to overcome with skill, not with anything else. - If defeating Hogger is not a challenge at level 20, then people do not see the purpose for defeating him at level 1, especially when you get nothing different. One of my favorite quests (and in my opinion my greatest challenge in WOW was the epic hunter quest that has you kill the demons. Now it is trivialized by the level cap, but in vanilla WoW, where my gear did not matter as much, but my skill at kiting/playing my hunter/utilizing certain skills went up. It was incredible the feelings of frustration and elation I felt during the quest. I have never experienced anything even close in an MMO.

3.) A different thought to creating challenges - What if WoW raids dropped loot that did not have any better stats, but rather a different look to set you apart? Would people play? If this was the case, I might still be playing WoW. I get frustrated at the fact that in order to take on a challenge I need to sit through non-challenging scenarios to get the gear to be able to take on more difficult scenarios (gear wise only IMO).

4.) Guild Wars is a great example of true challenges. - Although there are improvements, this level/gear curve levels off very quickly and if you want to experience more you have to learn to play better. The only problem is that to create challenge, you also have to create frustration - and as you point out - monthly subscription games steer away from frustration.
One of the reasons for hypocrisy as to challenge is that in group games, the challenge really comes from getting the team to work together effectively, and not that any individual part is so hard. Therefore, great challenges stress the team, leading to resentment and carping and friendship destroying concern over people "making the cut". Basically real challenge is at odds with the other (arguably the real goal) of MMOs, which is to provide a social context for nerds to develop relationships with other nerds.
I too would like to see a smoother transition between challenge-less leveling and the challenging endgame.

I'm in an "uncanny valley" now where I don't have the skill or time commitment for hardcore raiding, but I'm too skilled/committed for casual raiding guilds who don't make meaningful progress on progression content. I wonder how many other people are in the same boat.

I really enjoy challenge, but will never be an end game raider simply because of the time investment necessary. A real challenge is not a challenge of just putting in the most time, but rather of skill. Raiding requires 90% time and 10% skill.
People say they want a challenge because they don't know any better.

But also your comparison can't be used Tobold. Tetris as a puzzle game can't really be compared to an RPG (mmo or otherwise), at least not completely. Your comparison though is about difficulty increasing (which on a one vs one basis vs mobs your power increase should make a mob of equal level just as hard as he always was. This gets disproportional as you level without gaining new gear, or previously where getting all the latest spells left you without gold and so you wouldn't get it.

But, as you level you gain more powers, more gear, and there fore the challenge is negated, so that on level mob is just as hard as he always was. Compare WoW to any other RPG and the situation should remain the same (though JRPGs the increase in level does more for you than gear does, unless the gear is completely overpowered).

The real issue is that to make WoW be skill based is to make it more "arcade style". You'd have to make it be like an FPS, where you have to avoid the bullets yourself, or like a fighting game, where everyone can block, and if they are sitting there blocking all the time, you throw them.

So while it's easy to compare Tetris to Street Fighter, where how far you get is based on your skill, an RPG cannot be measured the same way, as Skill has nothing to do with progression. Even an unskilled noob can spam Shadowbolt.

Roleplaying games are about making you feel like a hero. And even Superman doesn't feel like a hero when he has kryptonite around him.
I think MMOs are about acquisition, not about challenge. In fact, WoW gets easier as you level. Just think about how much harder it is to kill mobs with, say, a Priest at level 15 than it is at level 55.

MMOs are about providing the carrot to the player and then short burst of satisfaction as the player obtains it. They are about goals and achievements, not about challenges.
Yeah, I think MMOs are more about telling the story of how your character went from a wee noob to a superpowerful godkilling hero than challenge per se. So part of the point is that you get tougher as you get higher level.

Although a game with zero challenge loses interest, there's still plenty of challenge (ie. you can benefit from thinking about how best to do these things) from just navigating the world, figuring out what to kill in which order, and so on.

I don't think everyone needs or wants a twitch fest. And games in general that centre on challenge tend to end up that way.
Chess challenges by its rules and goals (its a game).

After playing MMOs for a while, I've come to the conclusion that MMOs are not games.

In fact, the challenge in MMOs is about effective interaction in a social environment (NOT the MMOs world). This is why it doesn't concern us that MMO mobs are very stupid, because teamwork is the real focus.
I think people are putting way to much stock into how difficult it is to organize 25 people. With all the options and utility WoW gives you makes it nearly a non issue imo. If I can log on from 7PM-10PM 3 nights a week I can be in nearly any raiding guild. That doesn't take much effort for the individual. Further more each person doesn't organize anyting, typically 1-2 people do it. So at the very least if we assume organization and social skills are what WoW raids test then it's really only testing a hand full of people at the most.

To add on that organizing a raid in WoW is laughable compared to when it took 40 people... or if you really want to discuss difficult I use to organize 100+ people in EQ for Plane raids and high end raid encounters.
Nobs, you've never been an officer of a guild if you think its no big deal to run a guild. Half the politics of it is in who gets to go on that 25 man raid anyway. Keeping people from constantly breaking off to some other guild or getting them to show up at all can be quite challenging.
@ Toxic

I was an officer, loot council, class leader, and raid leader in EQ for 2nd best raiding guild on our server for 3 years. We were on speaking terms with a few Fires of Heaven members who shared game strats with us.

I was an officer, and loot council for my WoW guild. We weren't uber raiders but we cleared BT pre nerf. Organizing a raid is only hard for that 1-2 people who are actually do it. 90% of the raid just has to follow instructions. Listening skills aren't the same as challenging gameplay.

Raiding in WoW isn't a challenge for everybody. Mainly the people leading the raid and even then it's a much easier challenge than it was in EQ and DAoC.

Logistics shouldn't be the game feature that makes something challenging. It should be the encounter it's self.

Please don't assume I'm ignorant of how a raiding guild works. I've been in one since I first started playing MMO's 10 years ago.
I stopped raiding when Ulduar hit because I couldn't find a guild matching my skill level that demanded less than three nights a week. I'd really love to see two changes that would make raiding more accessible. One is removing most of the trash so that the majority of raids can be done in one night long before they're on farm. The other is stealing the guild system from ATitD to allow people to create guilds for specific purposes, so I could have one guild that did X raid on Wednesdays and another that did Y raid on Thursdays, or even different guilds for 10-man and 25-man versions. (I could have another solely to be social with my local friends.) I don't know why this isn't more prevalent.
*arrives in a puff of logic*

Will game designers ever learn to recognize that turds aren't diamonds?

Hint: Action, adventure, & strategy games are never going to be role-playing games no matter how many times you put "RPG" after it. Role-playing is always going to be about story and character development not "grinding" for levels/items to beat the next "boss".

A well-designed game makes certain that I'm already "X" level before reaching the next chapter of the story. Ideally, it's designed to transparently and progressively give me the levels I need to continue the story.

If I want an action, adventure, or strategy game then I'd buy one. I despise the plethora of mislabeled "RPG" games.

E-mail, folks, it's the wave of the future. Let the gaming companies know that turds aren't diamonds.
WoW is doing something interesting now that follows the topic of this blog.

I can use myself as an example.

I cant raid new content because I cant find a group that will let me join because of my gear.

I cant get the gear required by the playerbase to raid the new content because the gear resides in the new content.

What does the player do? I cant get the gear to do ICC because the playerbase wants raiders that have ICC gear.

What does the raid do? The raid is there to farm loot as quick and easy as possible. Bringing someone into the raid that would make it slower or have a greater chance of failing goes against human nature.

IMO players, when given the option, do not want to take the challenge.
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