Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hard Mode Revisited

Wilhelm2451 recalls playing evil races in TorilMUD:

Your home town was considerably less friendly. Aggro NPCs wandered the streets and more often than not the town guards would side with them if they attacked you. Bam! Dead.

There's a lot more, and worth reading. He expresses his desire for a harder version of WoW.

Would you play WoW (or substitute in your own favorite PvE biased fantasy MMO if you want) if they offered a server where, say, all open world mobs over level 10 were elite and every quest was a group quest?

Just for instance, the proposal to make all mobs into their elite versions over level 10. The first question is: can that be done automatically? Does making a mob "elite" automatically give it more HPs and harder hits? What stuff breaks?

You're going to have separate deployment issues. With this plan, you maybe can avoid having level designers worry about stuff. But the servers are going to be separated, you have to turn on this stuff.

And there's another issue. A game like Will describes would give you the following issue: I just logged in, and there's nobody in my area, so I can't accomplish anything without a long journey to somewhere else. When I get there the group decides to break up, and so on. So I spend most of my evening travelling, and not making much progress. Would you enjoy that game? You're not figuring out how to beat challenges, you're traveling.

So the question is, how many people will you get to pay you subs that you wouldn't get otherwise? Some, I think. For a while. But would you do better devoting those resources to the next expansion? Almost certainly. Extra content appeals to a far larger number of people than this sort of "elite" content.

Games that are ongoing propositions, sports, if you will, have to always be evangelizing, pulling new people in. Which means they can't afford to focus on "hard-core" players much at all. That's a recipe for a slowly shrinking player base.

For myself, the urge for a "harder" game comes from two places.

First, a harder game tends to chase away a good number of people that are annoying. They are annoying in that they don't know what they are doing. The thing is, mostly the annoying people in WoW do know what they are doing, after a fashion. They have a plan, which they don't communicate, and get pissed off if you aren't following the plan in a sort of "everyone knows that" fashion. I don't think harder content will make this better.

A harder game like Will describes will also reward grouping more. That game has been tried and failed. It was Everquest 2 at launch. Soloing was very difficult. I had a lot of fun trying to solo overland and in dungeons. It was hard. I fell behind the pack in leveling, but I didn't care all that much. However, the game was a commercial failure, and they eventually made overland zones much more solo friendly.

The recipe for success of WoW is clear. It will run on anything, it's easy to understand and play, and there's lots to do. Everquest 2, by contrast, missed the mark, at launch on some of these ideas, but it had one core priciple that I think is a really good one. You were always able to do something positive in a two-hour session. Your time will not be taken up by traveling (no waiting for boats) or endless camps waiting for rare quest spawns.

I remember interviewing with a couple of guys who were looking to develop an "in-browser" MMO. They said it was going to be like Everquest "with all the annoying stuff taken out". Like long waits for the boats. I nodded and said that the long travel time was annoying but it also dramatized the fact that the world was big. There were furrowed brows there, at which point I knew I was not going to work with these guys. If they hadn't thought of that, they weren't going to make a successful game.

There are many features of early games that I love and am very nostalgic about, even though I now realize they are kind of dumb. I think waiting for the boat is like that. I loved playing Everquest, it was this completely new, and fun experience. So every aspect, every game feature of EQ is seen through those eyes of love. Waiting for the boat, wow, that's cool. A long boat ride to get to another continent, cool! Wow, there are islands in this ocean slipping by, cool! At last, I'm across the vast ocean, wow! Of course, when other options for intercontinental travel became available, I used them. I'm still nostalgic for the days when we had to ride the boat uphill both ways in the snow.



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2:36 PM  

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