Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
What drives players towards harder content?

When discussing Diablo III on Monday, there were some interesting comments from Gevlon, who believed that the AH economy will be driven by people buying items so that they can play through Diablo III at a higher difficulty level. Quote: "However there will be significant social pressure on the player to keep "progressing" on higher difficulties, and don't be a "noob" who just did it in normal." Now I can see how somebody observing MMORPGs could come to such a point of view. The social pressures to progress to higher difficulties in the form of raiding and not be a noob without epics most certainly exist. But I am not sure that these social pressures are ultimately the reason why people play beyond a difficulty point with which they are totally comfortable. And thus I don't believe the same forces will work in Diablo III.

What I consider the key difference between let's say Diablo III and World of Warcraft is the nature of the harder difficulty content. In World of Warcraft the harder difficulty content is an additional and very different game, the raiding endgame. In Diablo III the harder difficulty consists of playing through exactly the same content a second time with the mobs being tougher. That does not hold the same attraction.

In short, I believe that average players let themselves get dragged into raiding even if they aren't very good at it or enjoy it very much not because they are offered shiny epics, but because they are offered new, and very different content. It isn't as if WoW is offering all that many alternatives at the level cap if you don't want to go down the heroics / raiding route. In Diablo III the *only* thing you can do once you reached the end, is to start over. You only get the choice whether you want to start over at the same difficulty level or at a higher difficulty level. Thus I believe that most average players might *try* higher difficulty levels, but those who don't really enjoy them will rather opt for normal difficulty than going down a path of paying real money for legendary gear from the auction house just to be able to do the same content at a higher difficulty level.
Unless there has been a radical design shift, you will never need to purchase items to do the higher difficulty levels.

One of the biggest driving factors that keeps people playing diablo type games is getting better gear. AT no point in diablo 2 were you blocked from higher difficulties due to gear (unless you screwed your spec, but that problem has been solved for D3).

The beginning of Act 1 Nightmare was comparable in difficulty to late Act 4 Normal and notionally easier than Act 5 Normal once the expansion landed. Gear drops so often that even in regular blues, you could push through He'll difficulty, albeit with more difficulty than if you had better gear. Most importantly, gear was never really the roadblock.

This, of course, changed with the last patch which was designed specifically to keep te existing players still playing by ramping up Hell difficulty, but after being out for so long, that was no surprise.

I cannot see them changing their design to make Nightmare, Hell or Inferno too hard without AH bought gear. They know that would kill their player base. They ALSO simply know that some people will pay to take a shortcut and are thus providing for that with the real money AH.

I am personally looking forward to Inferno difficulty. Having the entire area of the game around the same level for finding the best end game gear will be brilliant, rather than doing endless Baal/Diablo runs like you had to in D2. It means you can play the parts YOU find fun, rather than just the parts that have the highest ilvl drops.
I think your analysis may be off, partly for the following reason.

Who buys good tennis rackets?

I know the answer, having a sister who is a tennis coach. The answer is good players. Sure there are a few clueless rich amateurs who spend a lot but not really that many. Overwhlemingly the good stuff gets sold to the good players while the casuals who have a knock in the park a few times when it's sunny use £10 rackets from the supermarket.

It may be the same answer in MMOs. I think it probably is. So it's not the people who can't get to the higher difficulty who buy it's people who are very good who want to excel, to surpass other very good players.
I expect that Blizzard will be running competitions and stuff to encourage players into the higher difficulties.
The introduction of a Looking For Raid difficulty level in 4.3 will remove the difference between WoW and Diablo.

Higher difficulties will unlock more challenge/loot rather than gating content.
I would think both factors (better loot and new content) play an important factor.
More related to your subject than your post, but Dungeons & Dragons Online just put out an update with a 'bravery' system that rewards higher difficulties.

In case you're unfamiliar with it, DDO is all instances, and you can choose a difficulty level from Casual to Epic. Now, if the first time you ever run a quest (and only the first time) you choose Hard or Epic difficulties, you get an exp bonus. It builds up, so doing 4 brand new Hard quests (even if you fail and die and take a week to finish) builds up the bonus.

There seem to be quite a few people on the forums who are enjoying this new incentive-to-challenge, even though time-per-xp it might still be more optimal to just run the quest on Normal a few times in a row. I certainly have been opting for Hard more than I used to.
Tobold, if you're looking for an endgame in Diablo 3 you're forgetting about the pvp arena. Blizz is bent on promoting eSports, and there are tournaments held for WoW now.

IMHO the main reason for a player to play through the game on the hardest level is to get a maxed out character that would be competitive and endgame PVP Arena. No one will really want to play the Nooby Normal arena. And that will also be a reason to replay the hardest level endlessly to get even better equip. And those wanting to get there faster will use their wallets accordingly.

Just sayin'.
I might be in a minority here, but I tended to move on in Diablo 2 whenever I felt that the content became too easy. Due to the randomly-generated maps, enemy placement and miniboss stats, there was always some replay value if you weren't bored of the enemy types and tileset.
Err... where will the "significant social pressure" be coming from in Diablo 3? The forums?

If the leaked interface video is any indication, the sort of default mode of play in D3 is Friends Only (via invite), followed by Friends Only (at any time), with Public games coming last all the way on the right side. Social pressure is inescapable in WoW because A) you have to group with others to complete non-quest content, and B) it's a persistent world with people running around. This will not be the case in Diablo 3. At most, three human beings will exist in your game world at any given time, and ONLY when you are currently playing. If you have played Magicka, Diablo 3 will essentially be that.
I agree to what Stab said. I always buy from AH the best gear I can, even if it provides me with a slight bonus..I even change my gems if I get a new gear piece to achieve an excellent balance on stats..

I am raiding firelands and I play since vanilla and consider my self a very good player in a very good guild..while I see others that they don't even gem their epic drops from the new zandalari heroics and they really bad players, I mean while they have loots from the dungeon, they still cannot understand the tactics.

I don't want to sound elitist cause I am really not, but I want to say that I agree with stab that is it the good players that seek perfection in every level/ilvl
@Azuriel: your "friends" are the social pressure. You want to impress them, not random guy #1524 in Stormwind.

The fear that he is holding back his friends, that his friends call him a noob behind his back is the reason.
I've got a question related to replayability that I'd be curious to hear your opinion on, Tobold. Do you think that the skill system (i.e. lack of talent trees) will result in less replayability than other games?

Back in D2, I played through countless times on many different characters, often with the aim of trying out a different build - a frozen orb sorceress vs. a fireball sorceress, a javelin-throwing amazon vs. a spear amazon, etc. If you can swap out skills at any time, it seems like there might only be an incentive to play through the game content once on each character class.

I hope that's not the case, though. What do you think, having played the beta?

Except that they specificly stated during Blizzcon 2010 that Diablo3 wouldn't be balanced around PVP or "e-sportyness".
Azuriel's got it right there. Social pressure is going to be non-existent, as only a percentage of players actually use the forums to begin with.

My guess is the majority of players won't go past Hard mode, and even then only after doing Normal mode a few times, and even THEN if they want to restart the game at all. This is a "normal" game after all, and some people just play it to the end on the difficulty of their choice and put it down.

Very early on in D3s development they stated that turning the PvP into any kind of esport was simply not on the agenda, as then the classes would need to be balanced against each other and they a) didn't want to do that because Diablo is a coop game at heart and b) the alternative of having skills act differently in PvP was notwhat they wanted.

Diablo 3 arenas aren't designed with esport in mind. They are developed to give this wanting PvP somewhere to do it properly.
I think you under estimate the attraction of finding better equipment and specifically unique items in Diablo.

Currently (datamined) there are 455 unique items, of which 109 are only available in inferno mode.

Each and every unique will eventually be datamined with stats and even better people will find them and post the stats online for all.

If you're in Nightmare/Hell and facing problems with a boss or area and you know you need better equipment. Its the reason people kept doing boss runs, and it was a learning experience how just a few levels and better equipment made previous hard content easier.

Also, there's just something about killing a boss 10 times with only magic and normal drops then as you get frustrated and on try 11 you get a unique! EUREKA!!! It made the past hour all worth while :)

PS. I like carrots.
Still fogetting, there will be a PVP arena. It will be the fun part of the game for anyone who gets bored by going through the storyline ten times. The PVP will be the "significant social pressure" you're looking for - if you want to play with the best you have to be one of the best yourself. And to do that you either replay the game over and over again to acquire XP/items or buy your way up with your wallet.

So yeah, there will be strong social pressure.
It would seem the priorities would be: make it as accessible to as many people as possible, then make it a great game experience, make the first time last long enough so few feel cheated as to the # of hours for their $50, then make it repeatable and a cult classic.

I dimly recall a Raph, I think, youtube with a slide that there are two motivations: time and shame. My amateurish guess is that the motivations to grind for better pixels and better pixels than others is quite strong in a number of players.

Then there is the impulse sale. While someone might rationally think it is poor investment to spend RL$ for pixels in a single player game, after three straight frustrating defeats, a $5 shield and $10 sword could be purchased right after the heat of the battle.


What drives single-purchase game companies towards Harder Content?

Unlike MMOs or ad-games, I am not sure the motivation for a single-purchase developer to invest that much in the elder gaming. ( 10 players playing for an hour is more $ than 5 players playing for 1000 hours. )
This has become quite ridiculous.

You know what? If Blizzard's production team wants to gear Diablo 3 away from being a single-player or LAN game and into micro-transaction MMO territory, then I'm going to start treating it like a MMO.

And so far it does not appear to stack up. It looks like they wanted their own version of Guild Wars. There are numerous reasons I bought both D2 and GW and years later was only still playing D2. D3's direction takes all those reasons and tells me very clearly: I am not the target market.

So sad, too bad.
I think assumptions about social pressure are probably affecting a smaller ground than people realize. They may be a louder, more vocal, more SOCIAL (I'd prefer to italicize, but caps will have to do) group, but that doesn't actually make them a huge portion of the gaming environment. Silent majorities exist in a lot of different circles, and I'd be willing to bet that MMOs are no exception

Additionally, WoW is inherently a more social game than Diablo was. That may not be true come D3, but we'll have to wait to see.

That said, I'm sure that there will be people buying gear so as not to appear as "noobs," but as the gaming population ages and the skills necessary to get into serious games increase (which they have been for a long, long time. Consider getting into Pong vs. getting into Mario Tennis - or getting into WoW versus getting into Final Fantasy), gamers will be caring less and less about how they appear, as they literally grow out of the age where it matters. They'll always be 14 year old boys gaming, but their percentage of the gaming population will go down in the future.

Great post!
Bezier, they have said there will be no ladder and that means no ranking. The only thing you can see about other players is how many wins they have. Wins doesn't say anything about the quality of players faced though.

You can get just as many wins with bad gear as you can with good gear. The matchmaking system taken from SC2 will ensure each player has about 50/50 win ratio. So it's just a matter of how much time you put in.

That same matchmaking system is also used in PvE with public games. You won't ever go into a game and see a player with tons of epics and there you are in greens. All the players in the game will have about the same quality gear as you.

The only social pressure possible is from friends.
@Gevlon: Again, Diablo 3 is not like WoW where you NEED to work with other people to accomplish your goals. 100% of the content is soloable, 100% of the best gear is 100% accessible to everyone at the exact same drop rates. Grouping does NOT increase drop rates, does NOT increase item quality. We all have "friends" in WoW that may exert social pressure on us to, say, run ICC for three more months than we want to, but we endure it because we cannot raid at all without them. In Diablo 3 there is NO REASON to endure the social pressure of "friends," as opposed to dicking around in co-op with friends (minus the scare quotes).

And besides, the structure of the game itself makes it so that you are unlikely to even make "friends" to begin with. Where are you meeting them? Forums? Bringing them over from WoW? Randomly bumping into them 1-3 people at a time in Public games (which will essentially be LFD * 1000)? It is an entirely different paradigm.

@the "but... Arena!" folks: PvP is intentionally being left unbalanced, but more importantly, there are no PvP rewards. Take the Arena system in WoW, and remove Conquest points and mounts (and titles?). Who would still play it? Some people, sure, maybe the D2 purists or the guys who enjoy being able to drop $50 on an AH uber-weapon and owning face for a while. But the vast, vast, vast majority of D3 players will never step foot in the Arenas, and of the minority that do, the majority of those never do again once they realize the ladder system doesn't give them anything.

I think people are conditioned from six years of WoW into speaking and speculating in MMO terms when it simply does not make sense to. Diablo 3 is not going to have "social pressures" to buy things anymore than there are social pressures to collect all the stars in Super Mario 64 or have the biggest building in Tiny Tower. There will absolutely be personality types that will go nuts with it just like the guys purchasing advantages in F2P games, but "social pressure" in fundamentally a single-player game? No. People endure LFD and the social pressure it engenders in WoW because they have to. If Inferno difficulty required four players and you needed a four-player public game to get the best drops from the final boss, yeah, you can talk about social pressures. But it doesn't, you don't, so you can't.
@Azuriel: you ignore the power of Facebook and other social medias. People used to have real life friends based on location and job. Your friends were your schoolmates, kids from the yard, and so on.

Now we make friends with people of similar interest. We talk about our interests. If Jason and BoB are chatting on skype for hours over various stuff and Jason mentiones "omg I just got sword of uberness, I'm so gonna pwn", BoB WILL BUY the sword to avoid Jason to look down on him.
Your arguments actually support my thesis.

People will play the game through and through, advance and so on. Acquire better and better gear. The question was about the endgame content - and it will be the Arena. People will grind to get items for the Arena, nevermind the lack of rewards. It's the same as in Starcraft2 - you do not get rewards for playing PVP, but everyone does it anyways. The algorithm in SC2 does take more then just wins and losses into account, but that's unimportatnt, because you do not have a Level or iScore in SC2, you just have wins and losses. Not the case in D3. It also doesn't matter there's no ladder - there's still a form of ranking and that is a sufficient motivation to participate in the race. And sure, you can score the same amount of wins with lower score, but let me ask you this: Did you actually believe, that players will settle? Cause I highly doubt it.

My high bets are on the Arena being the endgame for the l33t and the main reason for the high level boss grind/spending cash on high level items.
I think you have a false comparison here. Playing through the game on a different difficulty level is essentially the same experience. Raiding--particularly for the new MMO player--is an entirely new game mode that isn't like anything that comes before it.

I think a truer comparison would be playing through at a higher difficulty vs moving up to the next tier of raid content. While the different raid content would still be "newer"--for MMO vets (or at least myself in particular)--a raid is a raid is a raid.

As for what would push me to harder levels--the fact that I will probably be under challenged on normal mode (at least most of the time), the satisfaction of beating something that is harder, the better loot, and in this age, the achievements.

As a long term project there are XBox games that I would be done with, but for the fact that I want to get all the achievements within the game. (Mass Effect and ME2 are the only games I have "perfected" at the moment--and I am working on Borderlands and Deus Ex.)

In D2 you got better exp and more drops from bosses the more people that were in the game. We avoided grouping with them as to not split exp but now you are auto grouped when you join a game.

So I don't think it's fair to safe playing solo will yield the same rewards.
Dialbo 3 is now very similar to a trading card game. Collectors and Builders will spend more than a normal person thinks is sane. The gold AH would be like trading cards for cards, the RM AH.. well real money for cards.

Just like 1 card may completely change how a deck works, one item in Diablo can do the same. In D2 there was an item that gave teleport (enigma). Slow armor wearers could now port right next to the target or instantly out of danger. Completely changed the game both PvE and PvP for anyone that had it (unless you were a mage).

If items like that are in D3. They will not stay on the Gold AH. They will be bought and reposted on the RM AH by farmers/bots. That process will also cause the price of gold to increase. A perfect storm. Key items for certain builds, or just very good items will only be consistently available in the RM AH.

Normal Players will not be able to win auctions for rare uniques on the gold AH due to all valued items being bought by farmers at inflated prices, so they can be relisted on the RM AH. Gold AH sells to all Players, Farmers, Bots, RM AH sells only to RM players. Buyer competition is highest on the gold AH. The gold AH will be like an average Joe trying to get a deal on a house auction. The other bidders, whom include professional investors, will bid the price up to the point where it STOPS BEING A DEAL. If the professionals are doing their jobs, average Joe can’t come out ahead.

In essence there will probably be "buy it now" "deals" on the RM AH. So items will be listed for 120K gold which will translate into $20), but the same item will be listed on the RM AH for $15. This will be due to people preferring $$$ as the value of gold should be ever decreasing due to supply being ever increasing. Bid auctions on the RM AH for rare items will likely go higher than in the gold AH. Due to the amount of gold a player can accumulate being limited by their play time. Where-as real money is not. That is a player may only have $50 worth of gold so can’t bid higher than that on the Gold AH, but be willing to pay $100. Thus the RM AH is better for him and the seller.
While being respected by ones peers is a huge motivation for most there is also another factor that the old diablo had, exploring builds.

In wow you can't fail the leveling process anymore and once you raid you become an archtype dps,heal,tank. There is no way to stand out.

In diablo2 you had to combine, level, stats, skills and gear to get a character even capable of beating the game. There were plenty of ways to fail and plenty of ways to shine.

I think what drove me to play so much was that it was up to me to make my character shine not the blizzard balance team.

The only impact the real money AH will have is to make it more easy to trade 3 bad items for 1 good item making trade much more fluid.

The only problem I see is that young players who only have acess to the gold AH might not get to enjoy the benefits of this brilliant new feature as the gold only AH won't contain the best of items.

People relate the AH to a wow setting in wich it does not work but in D2 a real money AH would have been perfect.
Social pressure is a driving force in progressing further in any arena, including life itself. A loner in life is much more likely to be content with an average job and an average lifestyle (or below average) than someone who is highly connected by social interaction.

Social pressure WILL be a factor in D3, however I don't think it will be as big a factor as it is in WOW due to instancing. Achievements will provide a level of prestige to a character and therefore cause them to strive for harder content. The driving force in most RPGs is to become more powerful. Leveling up and getting better gear are the two main avenues. Everyone will hit 60 eventually so you will just be left with the gear progression. Getting a newer and slightly better weapon or armor is psychologically equivalent to "leveling up". And to acquire this better gear you will need to do harder content.
@Gevlon: Your argument is laughable at best. How about this for a social argument?

Bob goes: "Haha, I just got a Sword of Pwn!"

Joe goes: "Lol, you paid for that? Sad, bro."

It goes both ways, and frankly, I'm more likely to think that the population of gamers who believe that buying items is socially unacceptable vastly out number the amount of people who buy. The numbers of any F2P MMO support this argument: a vast majority of players will never pay a single penny, while the entire bulk of the costs is paid for by a small percentage of players.

@Bezier: Your argument is completely invalid. Why, you ask? It's because we're talking about average players. Average players who are supposedly "driven by social pressures". You're talking about a completely different group of players there, the hardcore. By default, the hardcore are going to spend money, and that's not what this discussion is even about. Yes, there are always going to be people paying money for items, but to think that they're going to be the majority is laughable.
@Guthammer: That's the entire point! The progression from one difficulty level to the next is only in difficulty for D3, while at least in WoW, new raid tiers bring new raid mechanics for the raid to learn, and therefore content. They're not supposed to be equivalent, because that's exactly what is being compared: no new content vs. new content.

At least in WoW, if I move to the next tier, I'll get to play something new, since Blizzard tends to not recycle boss mechanics too much, while in D3, it would be the exact same thing.
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