Friday, March 11, 2011

A subscription-MMO must be hard

The PuG update: 5 bosses down this week already, none with my raid leading. That's great!

They took 6 hours. That's terrible. No, not that many wipes, that much downtime. Too slow evaluations, too slow organizing the raid, too much time spent without anything is happening. As a general rule: if you are a raid leader and out of combat you don't write something every 30 seconds, you are doing it wrong.

Also, it seems that raid leaders are too shy to collect gold for failures. That's both de-motivating to non-failers and also send a bad message to failers: their mistake wasn't that bad. It was. We wiped because of it.


Everyone spams about "social gaming" and "accessibility" and "casual gaming" and in the same time Blizzard, the most successful MMO developer publishes Cataclysm which is significantly harder than the previous expansion, Wrath of the Lich King and also refuses to nerf the endgame content. The only nerfs arrived to 5-mans, that are forgotten or just "1 fast run for 70 pts" for raiders. Epics no longer rain from the sky, you have to kill bosses or farm extreme amount of 5-mans to get them. Only 8500 guilds have completed the normal difficulty, counting with 20 raiders/guild and 5M subscribers, that's 3.4% of the playerbase.

Why do Blizzard turns on the trend when the new competitors like Rift allow easy, non-judgmental play for everyone?

The renewed lvl 1-60 zones changed a lot. New trees, landscapes changed significantly new quests and so on. I can't even imagine how much developer and artist work is behind it. While leveling my achievement alt I completed this content in less than 24 hours including leveling up herbalism and enchanting. I won't use this content any more.

Bastion of Twilight on the other hand stinks from fast work: a few rooms without any ornaments or even the slightest attempt to make it look like someone's castle. Karazhan, Zul'aman, Scarlet Monastery, TK, BT and especially Ulduar looked like someone live(d) there. BoT is just an ugly cave with circular rooms with bosses. I'm not a developer but I can't believe that anyone worked with it more than on Elwyn forest alone. Yet, I'm visiting this place every week since december, and if we count just one 3-hours session/week, it's way over 30 hours. And it's far from over as even normal Cho'Gall is there for me.

Again: BoT cost less developer resources than Elwyn, I spent 1 hour in Elwyn and 30+ in BoT. Why? Definitely not for its beauty or lore (as it has none). I go there simply because I have not completed it. I couldn't, because it's hard.

Since no company can create content as fast as players consume, players must be made to repeat content or they run out of it and leave the game. The only way to make them repeat it is to make something hard or long.

If Elwyn monsters would have more HP and more DPS, I would have to carefully single-pull them and eat between battles. If Elwyn monsters and quests would give less XP, then I had to complete more Elwyn quests before I could leave it. My route on leveling was Elwyn, Redridge, Northern STV, WPL, EPL, Searing Gorge, Swamp of Sorrows, Blasted lands. Less than 1/4 of the "old world" zones. So if quests and monsters would give 4 times less XP, I could still level up without running out of quests.

Of course there is a reason why Elwyn is not easy or long: new players must be given shinies or they leave. After they are hooked they can be presented by hard content: raiding. After 85 they must either wipe a lot, or farm lot of 5-mans, either way keep playing.

Now imagine if BoT would be like Elwyn: then I would have killed Sinestra at December and would have canceled my subscription. Why would I keep paying for a game I completed?

The only way to prevent me from completing it is making it harder or longer. There is no other way. Players already say Rift is a mindless zerfest that gets old very fast. Easy games won't be WoW-killers. They can only be free-to-play timekillers that bored people play (but doesn't pay).

31 comments:

Mikra said...

Very true words Gevlon. My guess is that Blizzard had the thought that it would make sense for them to make the content more accessible so that they aren't spending developer time on raids that only 0.5% of the player base see, such as original Naxx. Instead what they found out is that having all content easy and available is in fact bad for subscriptions, as players quit when there is nothing for them to do, they don't quit because something is out of their reach. My guess is that the number of people who quit because they will never get to experience Cho'Gall on hard mode is extremely small, whereas the number of people who quit because they got sick of running ToC over and over was much higher.

Azzur said...

Actually, I thought your theory on MMO success is that the MMO must make the player "feel good" a.k.a. social reasons?

Jumina said...

My guildmates told me there are WoW like interesting 5man dungeons in RIFT. But open world bosses without number of participants limit will be always just zerg fest. Perhaps rifts are what quests are in WoW.

But you are right the content must be hard. There was very big drop in number of subscriptions after players found out there will be nothing after ICC in WotLK.

Gevlon said...

@Azzur: the player actually have to feel good ABOUT HIMSELF while playing. But the game also have to be hard to keep on existing. The solution: boosting.

Azuriel said...

If we go by your sort of numbers, 903,220 players have killed one boss (Magmaw) this tier so far, so... 18%. Just something to think about when imagining how development time should or should not be spent.

While I agree with the premise that someone probably doesn't keep playing WoW after they beat the PvE game (and doesn't like PvP, alts, socializing, getting BiS items, play the AH for fun, etc etc etc), there are difficulty gradients available that Cataclysm has not employed. You talk about 8500 guilds downing Nef, but Nef is only halfway - there are 13 hardmode bosses after him, and killing 2 automatically puts you in top 10% of guilds worldwide. That's dumb. This first tier has been overtuned, and I fully expect Firelands to actually be easier.

Grim said...

@Azuriel

Why wouldn't 2 HM bosses put you into top 10%? How is that dumb?

Hard modes are called hard modes for a reason. ICC hard modes were a joke. I don't want to get back to the point were a current-tier boss can be killed in normal mode while ignoring half of the mechanics and the hard mode becomes the de facto normal mode.

Once the hard mode is normal mode and normal mode is trade pug mode, there is no actual hard mode - THAT would be dumb.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Rift. Main selling point (rifts) become boooring after lvl 15. After 30 I had to make myself to do quests - so boooring. And after 35 I just couldn't make myself to do anymore of those lame quests. Started queueing for warfronts and umping every minute with a macro while I was sleeping/at work. Reached level 50, shard first greenscale raid (only raid Rift has), 5 man experts (aka heroics) and 5 man T2 experts (like super heroics) were way, way too easy. There's no hardcore PvE in this game and there won't be.

And I won't even mention PvP... :)

This game looks amazing only for Aion players, because it's a bit more WoW-like. Ofcourse, if they'd be smarter and leave all their "omg wow suxxx kk" crap behind and start playing WoW, their inds would be blown off. :)

If you're thinking about trying out Rift - just forget about it. Seriously.

chewy said...

"...raid leaders are too shy to collect gold for failures.. Your business men are too shy to collect money ? (Cheap shot I know).

I do agree with you about the content difficulty. What's interesting is that the harder content the more satisfying it is to complete if you're willing and able to make the effort. The problem is how to satsify the effort makers and the television watchers in one game.

Azuriel said...

Why wouldn't 2 HM bosses put you into top 10%? How is that dumb?

There are 25 total encounters. Only the top 10% have downed 14 of them. How is that not dumb? Do you expect 50% of all raiders to down Nef by the time Firelands comes out? If not, then is that not a waste of design resources? The top 10% should ideally be in the top 10% of encounters, e.g. 10/13 or 11/13 hardmode.

Going by Gevlon's premise, Blizzard should be trying to get as many people as possible into raiding, while keeping the horizon (e.g. hardmodes) difficult. The casual hitting the level cap and in full JP gear (honestly, just seeing all the heroic dungeons should count) has ran out of content the same as the hardcore raider who has 13/13 heroic down.

MetaManu said...

actually, from what i read and saw, rift is both offering easy content (public zergfests and fast leveling) and hard content, as the instances are (rumored) to be quite tactic.

I agree that in a few months, the hard content is what will matter.

Ephemeron said...

Bastion of Twilight on the other hand stinks from fast work: a few rooms without any ornaments or even the slightest attempt to make it look like someone's castle. Karazhan, Zul'aman, Scarlet Monastery, TK, BT and especially Ulduar looked like someone live(d) there. BoT is just an ugly cave with circular rooms with bosses.

Actually, it makes perfect sense from in-game perspective.

Remember, the leaders of the Twilight Cult are utterly insane self-hating fanatics who loathe the material world and want to see it annihilated. BoT isn't their home, it's their waiting room for the imminent apocalypse. Decorating it would be as pointless as putting ornaments and frills onto an electric chair.

Ulsaki said...

What keeps many players still playing is an uncompleted challenge that appeals. I let my subscription lapse for this reason: there is no challenge in the game that appeals to me at the moment.

The current raid tier is hard, but I can't bring myself to care about it. I killed the first boss in BoT, and after spending a few hours there I have no desire to go back; I found it that boring.

WoTLK did a lot wrong, but the storytelling aspect was very good in my opinion. 80-85 in Cata is a mess. Sure, some of the new scenery is fantastic, and there are some excellent quests, but it's not cohesive.

It's just "go here, level, then go there". Then you hit 85 and the game basically says "Okay, time to raid. Go and kill these people doing evil stuff. They are evil!"

Compare that to the Nexus War (Malygos), Wintergarde Keep being attacked (Naxxramas), Titan lore in Storm Peaks (Ulduar), and quests in Icecrown, plus the events of the expansion (Icecrown Citadel).

The story made me interested in completing the content. The challenge of doing so (Nax achievements, Ulduar HMs, ICC before the insane buff) gave me a reason to continue playing.

Grim said...

@Azuriel

There are 13 encounters. A hard mode is not another encounter. It is something to do for people who have done all the encounters.

And I do expect 50% of raiders to have downed Nef by the time Firelands comes out.
Welfare epics are coming with 4.1, Valor Points are still not maxed for the casual raider and 2/12 tradepuggers are not raiders.

When you take all of that into account, I'm pretty sure more than 50% will take him down.

Casuals aren't supposed to raid. Not in the current setup. If normal modes are to be given to them and hard modes to the semi-casuals, then there need to be some kind of super-hardmodes for the hardcore.

Blizzard needs to keep people playing. ALL people. There is a lot of slack on the bottom of the difficulty ladder - if normal raids are too hard, do heroics. If heroics are too hard, do normal dungeons. If those are too hard, farm pets/spam anal jokes/try not to die to the practice dummy.

But what does one do when hard mode raids are too easy?

Anonymous said...

While you start out great, you missed the point:

Blizzard spends a ton of resources to make pretty (but easy) early game zones, and little to make hard (but ugly) raiding. Which makes perfect sense. The M&S, casuals and housewifes don't raid, they level dozens of alts. They are 97% of the player base (the 3% raid), and therefore bring in 97% of the monthly money galore.

Blizzard caters to two play styles, and does it well. Hard mode raiders don't really care about pretty dungeons, because you do not look at them at all. You watch bars and timers.

Non-raiders DO look at the landscape. Effort to make it pretty is well spent, as it will keep them playing and getting stupid achievements for another three months.

Jumina said...

@Azuriel:

"There are 25 total encounters. Only the top 10% have downed 14 of them."

Actually this is the same situation as during the TBC. And it worked. The TBC content was nerfed every time a new Tier was coming out. I expect more nerfs to the current T11 after 4.2 is out. But not the easy Firelands.

Ygg said...

There is also the theoretical concept of content of infinite length; something that develops/evolves over time dynamically instead of being statically scripted. Imagine for example if the mobs in WoW possessed real (ai) intelligence, and that they adapted to the environment and also modified it.

Kelindria said...

Rift is actually a little more diverse then you make it out to be. Just imagine elwynn forest with raging mobs trying to destroy your quest givers that are elite and can be up to 10 levels higher then you.

I can certainly say that it poses careful pulling if I enter a major rift that is even 5 level below me by myself.

As for the actual raid and instances I've yet to try them but Trion really needs to push out more content if they think 1 raid will be enough for a long period of time.

The real neat thing about Rift for me is the souls you can choose allow for you to change your style dramatically on the same character. The cleric's for example have a choices between a pally/holy priest, shaman or disc priest like healing or you can grab a pet that throws off heals that keep people topped off without you wasteing your mana. The add a tanking role and a few dps specs and you can see the choices.

I for one would be surprised if Trion doesn't realize that content needs to be challenging. They really seem to be on the ball as far as bugs and balancing go. As for the actual play at least in rift I have to be careful not to pull more then 3-4 mobs...in WoW you tried to pull as much as you can as fast as you can.

Large scale invasions though are a stupid zergfest and would be completely avoided if they weren't so good for gear.

Anonymous said...

RIFT is easy?
I read the article you linked to, and it says the rifts are easy, not that RIFT is an easy game. There is a difference.
Rifts are supposed to be about as hard as questing, and thats what they are, their purpose is to mix up the questing to make it less monotonous, and they do that very well.

Few have reached max level in RIFT as it's a new game, and there is currently only one raid, and that raid is said to be about Naxx10 difficulty.
There are new raids in the making, and they will be harder, this gives RIFT a raid progression path (like WoW used to have before 3.2) but without a great barrier between raids and 5mans like WoW has now.

The leveling dungeons in RIFT are harder than the equivalents in WoW, and amongst other things require CC to be used. And pulls to be planned.

RIFT's invasions are a place where everyone can contribute to the greater good, and this makes players feel good and useful even if they don't raid. However unlike WoW's heroics, reward is proportions to the contribution. And the success of fighting back an invasion can only be ensured by a great number of player working together. However as no coordination is needed socials can be and feel useful too.
It's about the server wide efforts that many MMO players like, and WoW has not had since opening of an quirai.

Some easy content does not make a game easymode.

Some easy elements does not make a game easy.

Townes said...

I agree about everything in this post except Rift. I have only played to level 15, so can't say anything about dungeon or raid difficulty (have to be 16 to do the first 5-man).

The first thing I liked about the game is that it isn't as stupid-easy questing as WoW has become. I recently leveled a WoW mage and it was like your post about using random spells - you can't die and hardly ever lose health. In Rift, from level 1 onward, same-level quest mobs actually take chunks of your health, maybe half! I was in shock after WoW. My chloromancer got beaten up pretty badly every fight before he started to get his healing spells. Even in plate or with a pet class, quest mobs did a lot of damage in the starting area in the beta. Level 4 mobs killing a ranger pet, who ever heard of this in WoW?

The link is just one person's impression of rifts, and I agree that rifts have no strategy. They are more or less challenging depending on how big a group forms, which is pure chance. 30 players, I don't need to heal, 3 players, everyone dies, and fun is in between. My impression as a healer, unlike the link, is that there is no lack of healers. Usually I am competing with another healer on rifts.

But the rifts discussed in the link are just one part of world play. What about dungeons? I can't say yet; only level 15. I am guessing 5-mans and raids have strategies. Maybe you are right that Rift is easy-mode in dungeons, but I think maybe not - a friend who is a good raider in WoW as a main tank is having fun tanking in Rift. And I find it more fun than WoW out questing. It's not Elwynn. If Blizzard has set a trend by making the endgame harder, then Trion is taking the trend a little farther by making the questing at least hard enough that you have to stay awake and not use random spells.

Maybe overall the two games are similar, easy leveling and hard endgame. I have not read about the endgame in Rift yet.

format said...

100% of every new character is going to see Elwynn or equivalent for an hour, then move on to the next zone. This adds up to millions of hours.

3% is spending the 30+ hours in BoT.

Add up the hours and it seems like Blizzard has their priorities right.

In Vanilla all the development attention was on the zones the unfortunate 97% would never see. The rest of the game world was bare and boring.

Backthief said...

Gevlon,

playing RIFT and cancelling my WoW account doesnt mean that i think RIFT is better. I think WoW is a far better game, but i have completed played 90% of the Cataclsym content. I have played this game for 5 years. Its time to move on. How many more are just tired of playing the same thing that long?

I have the choice to either repeat it or move on to something not better, or worse, just different.

Azuriel said...

Actually this is the same situation as during the TBC. And it worked. The TBC content was nerfed every time a new Tier was coming out. I expect more nerfs to the current T11 after 4.2 is out.

I am not quite sure what you mean by "it worked." Worked to keep everyone moving up when a new raid was released? I hope that's not what you meant, because that is not what happened. And please spare us any specious subscription number correlations.

There are 13 encounters. A hard mode is not another encounter. It is something to do for people who have done all the encounters.

Semantic argument is semantic. Is Magmaw an encounter or "something to do for people who have done all heroic dungeons?" Regardless of what you call them, there are 25 "things" in the raiding endgame at the moment, and a rather uneven distribution of guilds through them.

But what does one do when hard mode raids are too easy?

The same thing one does when heroics are too easy but raids are too hard.

By the way, I'm a bit confused about the concept of ZA/ZG being "welfare epics." Does the way you are defining it give the phrase any meaning anymore? JP from doing normal Lost City and buying T11, sure, welfare epics. Heroics that require 346 ilevel to even zone in and dropping seven (7) ilevel upgrades... welfare epics? Not so much.

Andru said...

@Grim

"Casuals aren't supposed to raid."

I'm a casual and I raid.

Last week, I played 10 hours. 7 of them I raided.

This week seems to be the same. I only played 5 hours since Wednesday, and my guild got 3/4 BoT and 4/6 BWD. And BH.

Not to blow my own horn, but casuals can raid. They can go to Gevlon's guild. Or well, they can find non-sucky raiding guilds that raid 2 hours/raiding session.

Content is difficult, sure. Even on normal mode. But I like it that way.

Anonymous said...

Welfare epics:
Welfare epics are epic items available to everyone regardless of skill, therefore if ZG/ZA is as easy as the current heroics, (but more gear dependent), then epics from there are welfare epics.

Getting ilvl 346 is not hard, grinding the nerfed heroics with 15% luck of the draw will get you there, and if a few slots are missing reputation epics will compensate.

I seriously doubt that ZG/ZA will be anything other than a grind considering luck of the draw. It will be like the ICC heroics a few bosses will have a very simple strategy but if one guy don't know it the others can boost him trough.
Items from there will be available to everyone regardless of skill, and so they are welfare epics.

Enk said...

Semantic argument is semantic. Is Magmaw an encounter or "something to do for people who have done all heroic dungeons?" Regardless of what you call them, there are 25 "things" in the raiding endgame at the moment, and a rather uneven distribution of guilds through them.

An uneven distribution of guilds through raid content (if you include HMs) is exactly what you should see if the devs are doing their job, because of the "rather uneven distribution" of skill between guilds of different levels.

The problem is that the skill differential between "the best" and "the good" is much higher than you think. If they make raids that will challenge "the best" WoW players, they are going to be unbeatable by the majority of the population. If the hardest raids will challenge "the good," the best players will be bored out of their minds.

There is no significant plot advancement in heroic modes of raids. They are only there for the challenge. As such, there is no need for the majority of the raiding population to be able to beat heroic raids.

I say this as someone who is just now getting into raiding and know that I will likely never get many, if any, heroic modes down in Cata.

Anonymous said...

1) While Blizzard made some design choices with Cata, it is not at all clear they were good (as defined as "good for Activision/Blizzard Inc shareholders") Certainly Tol Barad shows that, hopefully, Activision does not have its most intelligent designers working on WoW at the moment.

I worked at a number of successful Silicon Valley high tech companies. I assure you that the logic of "We have been wildly successful; We are doing X; Ergo, X is correct" is a sign that the mediocre middle managers have arrived and the company is declining.

I can understand people saying that, for them, cataclysm was too hard or too easy. However, I think there are more arguments supporting the proposition that cataclysm was a poor design decision for Activision's profits.

In particular, there is RIFT. I just assumed that it would be another WH; lots of initial hype, the "WoW-killer" blog posts, and then fizzle. If WoW manages to allow Rift to get a million or two subscribers, then the WoW brand/franchise is worth a billion or two less. The advertising and design efforts are much higher for a cash-cow business with a viable competitor than one without. People should lose their jobs over $billion mistakes.

2) Your comments are correct for "roller-coaster" (not pejorative but rather your gameplay is constrained/channeled) MMOs. "Sandbox" MMOs solve this problem and acquire another. The MMO designers put in the items and "physics" and then what evolves is driven by the players. (E.g. players could evolve that the leatherworking guilds set up facilities in Nagrand without the designers building it directly.) At a certain scale, this is much richer content with much less designer effort. It has no end-game or at least no "final boss for this expansion." The fatal downside is that people used to WoW who start and say "what do I do now?" find "whatever you want" unhelpful.

Anonymous said...

RIFT is basically next-gen WoW. "Rifts" themselves are not hardcore end-game content nor they are supposed to be. They are fun public-quest-like content, so saying rifts are easy is like saying quests in WoW are easy - true but irrelevant to the fun and difficulty of the endgame. RIFT also has instanced dungeons (including heroics) and raids (only 1 yet) but of course it is too early to say anything definitive about its endgame yet.

Seriously, RIFT looks like the first serious competitor to WoW. It's very western in style (as opposed to Korean MMOs), modern (as in has all features you would expect from an MMO today), polished and most importantly fun. After all, WoW is a 7 year old game. I don't see how it can hold the MMO throne much longer.

Anonymous said...

I maintain the issue is with insufficient graduation: normal and hard mode.

If WoW is going to stay the undisputed mass-market MMO, say grow from the current 13 million subscribers up to say 16 million, then they would need content that was easier than WotLK. While the people doing HM cata raids are not a requirement for a successful MMO, they help the cache greatly. There would be less QQ from the top tier if there were content that is at least Cata HM hard.

Look at a normal/Gaussian curve of "skill". Why not have a raid difficulty that 95% of the players can do,
a level for 50%, 15%, 5%, 1%? Unless you have personality issues, why would you care if 95% of the people can get level A purple pixels if you are working on you level D or E achievement?

Jumina said...

@Azuriel

"Worked to keep everyone moving up when a new raid was released? I hope that's not what you meant, because that is not what happened."

Not everybody but still most of the raiding guilds were able to see the content or carry some weaker players thru it.
Of course the raiding guilds are not the majority of players.

Actually the difficulty of current content is mostly caused by design not by some bad tunning. In order to make interesting encounters developers created interesting boss abilities. And these abilities must be handled properly by players. They cannot be easily nerfed because such step would destroy the logic of the encounter. Developers don't have much options. They can stop to create interesting encounters. Or they can later redesign (nerf) old dungeons mechanics like they did in with Magtheridon. Or they can keep the current model where you can see how many people can't use their brains.

Yaggle said...

If you can't do the Deathwing encounter now, then Blizzard/Activision deserves to lose you to RIFT. it is wrong for a company to leave a trail of breadcrumbs and expect a player to follow it, and pay, for over a year. Why should I pay over $200 to play through Cataclysm? No way.

Anonymous said...

As others have said, forget the Rifts as end game content, they are an enjoyable (for me at least) alternative to questing. Try the 5 man dungeons, they are much more difficult than the equivalents in WoW. Going into a level 16 dungeon with concerns that I may die is a refreshing change to the faceroll zergfests of WoW dungeons (until Cata dungeons).

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