Greedy Goblin

Friday, September 23, 2011

There can't be community without difficulty

Spinks wrote that those who want difficult games shall leave MMOs to those who want a social environment, where people enjoy being in a virtual community.

The problem is that pro-social behavior is defined "benefit other people or society as a whole, such as helping, sharing, donating, co- operating, and volunteering." These things assume that other people (or the society) is in need of helping. There is a task to be solved. If there is no task, if no one needs help, you can't be pro-social and there is no need for community. In a game where everything is easy, no one needs help or even mutually rewarding cooperation. Everyone does his own thing, maybe randomly flocking together with others.

Also, communities are defined by their moral choices. In a world lack of consequences, nothing is wrong. If the phone booths and shop windows would just respawn, "vandalism" could not be defined and the opinion on the "vandals" would be "they are free to do whatever is fun for them".

What Spinks actually thinks about is the virtual version of casual chatting in the company cafeteria, or the guys from the neighborhood getting together for a beer. These activities are obviously not challenging. However they are created by the external restraints: you all work in that company and live in that neighborhood. Also, your life is forcibly organized in a way that you have spare time in the same time (all of you have lunch break together). In a virtual world, when people log in at different time, so there is not "we always bump into each other". Every time you log in, you see different "friends" unless you make effort to be online together on time, but why would you, if there is nothing you can't do on your own time?

MMOs must be hard to have a community, as only a hard task makes it necessary to cooperate, to help, to give. The subscriptions grown in Vanilla and TBC, where people banded together. Most of them helped worthless M&S, but still there were communities. In WotLK you did not need friends, you only needed warm bodies so the subscriptions stopped to grow.

The problem of Cataclysm from the community viewpoint is that the difficulty comes from the "dance" that can't be helped. I can't give you dance, I can't carry you over the dance, I can't even help you learn the dance. I can only give you meaningless advices as "watch more videos", which is a solitary activity. To build a community the design must be hard in a way that others can help you. In TBC I could help get gear, I could give advice how to gem, what rotations to use and so on. There was place for social raiding (even if I did not like it at all). Now there is no place. You can dance or game over.

22 comments:

Mick said...

Very true words Gevlon. I was discussing this very thing a while ago and asked people "When was the last time you saw in gchat 'hey guys can somebody help me with xyz' and everyone agreed that the need to help people essentially died out during WOTLK. Essentially the only thing hard in the game is raiding and rated pvp, which means that outside these two things there is zero need to communicate and form societies, friendships etc. Even 5 mans are easier done without friends these days as you don't have to wait for them to log on and they are so easy that it doesn't matter if the people you get from lfg are morons. Sure, Blizzard could point to numbers that *more* people have completed the Molten Front dailies & associated content than, for example, summoned bosses in blades edge mountains, or did a dire maul tribute run. The problem is that these people are essentially completing their tasks as mindless zombies, just going through the daily quest motions because that is what you do between raids these days. It is either that or log off, and there seems to be more & more people taking the log off option.

Leeho said...

Actually you can help others with dance. As a person with a lot of issues with the dance part, i got a lot of help from people in my guild with that. They advice addons, they share addon settings, they explain where to look and how to move, etc.

Also, don't underestimate thinking part. Advices with how to trick dps or healing on certain fights is still very valuable. I was told a lot of tricks for my warlock by a mate from our guild, and that tricks improved my output significantly. I got a whole lecture about healing Baleroc as a druid, and it made me actually do the fight the way that leaded us to the kill. Sure, Baleroc normal sounds easy without lecture, but that was one of my first raids as resto, so advice from someone experienced was the thing i needed.

Anonymous said...

Well, You're still on the quest of converting the slackers into capable players. And by helping them solve part of the problem, you have remove the challenge for them. You help part of the problem with this your chats of command to tell them what's needed to be done. Any good player will be able to do the solving for themselves, and they will therefore be able to be at the correction location in the battle grounds.

However, PVP is always the point where there will be difficulty. For the losers who like being losers, there is no difficulty. However, for everyone else, there will always be difficulty.

Steel said...

Speaking of dances, after all the discussion we had, and with pretty much all the blogs buzzing about how WoW is becoming an arcade game and killing the MMO progression concept, I go to wow Insider, and see this:

"What could wow borrow from console games?"
http://wow.joystiq.com/2011/09/22/breakfast-topic-what-could-wow-borrow-from-console-games/

Remember how I talked about "what if WoW had FPS like targeting and tanks would play like Mortal Kombat?". I should have just shut up...

Anonymous said...

I really agree with your last paragraph.

I doubt we will ever agree on the previous point. While the blogosphere was quite dismissive of WotLK, my opinion was that it was the peak of Blizzard subscribers and revenue. And WoW was undisputed king and able to just shrug off AoC, WH, Aion. While with Cata the subscribers declined and Rift surprised me with its success/#s.

Clockw0rk said...

Kind of depends on the level of difficulty we're talking about; yeah hardcore players want the most difficult tasks, whereas I think the players Spinks is referring to still want _some_ difficulty but the kind they can gradually overcome with their groups....the dance type game doesn't fit that when the dance is set up so that either everyone succeeds at it or everyone fails. But the "output" game as you defined it allows for this, since small great upgrades and practice can eventually mean success...which as you pointed out carries over.

I think you are misrepresenting the social game that Spinks is looking for; it doesn't have to be a game purely about helping other people out, it could instead be a game where it requires a group to succeed and that it is possible to work together to improve. The game desired does not need to be "Show up and get loot" easy, but not "hardcore" level of difficult.

Also, Spink's post was in the context of the World of Darkness MMO, which as a tabletop game (and they say they want to recreate that feel) has always been about the internal politics and intrigue, which is hard to replicate with game mechanics so I for one am very curious to see what CCP does.

Jumina said...

Leeho said it for me. There is a lot of explaining before the fights. You can ask people what abilities to use and when to use them. It is not very different from the TBC model. Only there is more what needs to be explained and understood.

Also the community... well the community. I remember how people were playing only PvP because it was imposible to get into the raid (you have no gear noooob, look at my shiny armor) or those dramas when somebody left for better guild (we gave you all the gear you ungratefull...) and how the people left because of summer or because of exams or... well the community.

The raiding is not harder because of dancing. There is more of it but classes are also more complex. And this creates situations where you must watch three thinks at ones. Your abilities and cooldowns, boss abilities and DBM and your own position. This is what many people can have problems with. This is what fighter jet pilots are trained for and its difficult.

And WoW is old. Very old. Do you seriously expect they could make a game which will grow in size forever?

Anonymous said...

It looks like Blizzard's (unconfirmed) plan to develop/release something new before this cash-cow needs to be retired looks like the winning formula.
Anyone would think they know what they are doing...

Ephemeron said...

Frankly, I don't buy into the whole "every fight has a unique scripted dance that must be learned from scratch" concept.

There is a very limited repertoire of possible moves that are used in PvE fights. Once you learn how to deal with a particular type of attack, you can apply that knowledge to every other fight that features it.

If you can avoid immolation traps on Shannox, you can use the same skill to avoid burnt holes in Bethilac's web. If you can glance at the wave on the panther boss in ZG (or the lava wave on Sartharion) and predict whether you need to move, you can use the exact same skill to avoid waves from Ragnaros's hammer. If your tanks can time their taunts with special attacks on Chimaeron, they can do the same on Baelroc. Your skill at avoiding Valiona's strafing runs will serve you well during Ragnaros's Englulfing Flames. Timing the deaths of Riplimb and Rageface closely to Shannox's 30% enrage is not a challenge for those who learned to bring both Twilight Ascendant Councilors down to 25% at the same time.

Scripted behavior is for rodents and lesser animals. Human beings triumph by analyzing situations, extracting abstract patterns and then applying them to other, similar situations.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the community is an inherent problem with how hard the content was in cata that forced alot of people to change guilds. These people switching didn't want to get left behind so to speak and once they have gained exalted in the guild often feel like they are losing something if they leave. Cata literally ripped guilds apart and reorganized them into who can do content and who can't.

What you want is content that isn't soloable, that is repeatable that was good rewards. It also needs to be easy in the sense that you don't need to go and find a strategy to win. I suppose this would be "rifts" by definition. Pvp rifts literally pit you together with the pvper's of your server to fight your enemies. I know all of the most geared pvpers on my server from these. If WoW was to steal many of these community activities Cata would probably be a smashing success.

What if WoW had of left the difficulty the same in the heroics with different Tiers, as Wotlk? Perhaps adding in raid equivalent mode for dungeons also giving people the easy dungeon and badge gear but giving those people who want a challenge, a challenge.

Overall what you want is enough content made that everyone has something they can do depending on their time and skill. Guild perks need to be redone as a Talent Tree to that new guilds aren't missing those almost required raid buffs to feel competetive. The guild rep thing needs to be completely removed. They also need content to be in the world. We want to play WORLD of warcraft not lobby of warcraft.

Alrenous said...

Taking your idea of having mock boss fights with bots to practice, and combining with this...

Great opportunity for a gaming fourth-wall breaking.

Have a mini 5-man dungeon. The 'reward' for completing this dungeon isn't loot, it's a training room for boss dances. If you fail in a raid, you gather a few friends who help you through the dungeon, and then practice the dance until you get it.

There might be outrage at not just putting the training rooms in town or whatever, but I wonder how real it would be; would they complain but form communities anyway, or would they just rebel? Considering social == sheep, I'm betting the former.

Anonymous said...

What we do to teach people dances is we "simulate" them, eg: For Majo Domo HC yesterday we made a system to minimize the area the leaping flames take up, before the first pull I demonstrated that system using DK DnD, frostrings and such as leaping flames-placeholders, "I get leaped, I move here, I get leaped again I moce here" and so on.
Two players didn't quite get the system and before the next pull I told them to stack on top of my toon and follow me around while demonstrating the system again.
Second pull they already did a much better job and third try they executed the dance flawlessly.

You might have to get creative, spend sometime demonstrating stuff very slowly on "dry land" using players and spells to act like bosses/adds/abilities, but there's a lot more you can do than just "watch a video".

You also "help" them out by letting them concentrate on the dance (and thus failing to do adequate dps/healing/tanking and thus probably wiping) until they are so comfortable with it that they can perform while doing the dance.

In fact I think the wotlk/bc meter obsession has a lot to do with people failing on dances a lot.
The dps and healing requirements of normal pre nerf fl and normal pre nerf t11 were really low but accustomed to having to do "at least X k dps/hps or you suck" people downright ignored the dance that is much more important than doing even 80% of your characters potential dps.

Nearly everytime I pugged during cata people blamed low dps or low hps or low tank health for wipes when actually all of that was much much more than needed for the encounter and it was actually people ignoring, not handling, or at least not really understanding encounter mechanics (prime example being Maloriak where people would interrupt literally everything during phase 1).

BC/Wotlk's "if you wipe it's because of too little dps/hps/tank health" is just hardwired into many players heads nowadays

KhasDylar said...

@Alrenous
Don't be surprised: the 5man practice dungeons exists in WoW, they are called Heroics! You want to practice Baleroc's Crystal dance? Go to BRC to Corla, there you can practice almost the same mechanic. You want to practice traps for Shannox? There are more than one encounter in the 5mans, using similar mechanics (not the very same, but still similar). At some points, even the trash lets you train for dancing in raid. I will not go through the whole list, where you can practice which dance, but you bump into these almost everywhere in current 5mans.
People are either too lazy or too stubborn to learn from these or they just don't recognise the same mechanic, if they encounter it in a different place. The later is a bigger problem: most people, if they don't see the same thing, can't apply any former learned skills, meaning even if they manage to perfectly do the Corla-dance, they fail terribly at Baleroc - just because there's a small twist and their addon doesn't yell at them to get their asses out there.
Of course, if WoW would provide a place where the players could practice raid dances with less people (to keep your idea: in 5mans), then they would just whine, because "Blizzard can't figure out anything new, they only re-use old content, WoW is dieing, I quit QQ!". Let's imagine if raids would have a 5man difficulity version, where you can run the very same instance, but tuned for 5 players, not 10 or 25 (with 5man loot of course).
I have great hopes in LFR and in that difficulity. I really hope, people who want to run non-LFR raids (doesn't matter if 10 or 25man), learn the tactics from LFR runs and come to "real raids" a bit more prepared.

Alrenous said...

KhasDylar,

You can't do heroic bosses twice in a day. It's very bad for practice.

jtrack said...

LFR and LFD definitely both make players more independent. You can see that as a community subtraction.

I prefer your posts where you theorize logical solutions to these issues, we all feel the pain of these problems.

With the long duration of an expansion, unfortunately, if Blizzard's experiment is a failure it affects the game for years not weeks or days. In addition, once you give players something it's nigh impossible to take it back.

Steel said...

I started reading various blogs in order to find some clarity, and found Wolfshead’s “Blizzard’s Smoking Gun Interview that Shows How MMOs Became Games” (http://www.wolfsheadonline.com/?p=5610). It has an interview with Jeff Kaplan that shows Blizzard never intended to make a ‘world’ MMO, and never cared much about ‘community’:

“I think a lot of people got carried away with the concept of an MMO from a very high level of community management, or community manipulation, or an MMO as a social experiment. But what we did when we were working on WoW was focus on the fact that it was a game, and if one person played it all by themselves the game should be fun, and not to rely on traditional MMO thoughts of the time, which was forcing people to interact with each other, forcing a slow progression, and being overly punishing on the players. We just wanted to make an experience that was fun whether you wanted to play it by yourself, or with other people.”

The whole article is worth a read. So now we are in 2011, and Blizz pretty much achieved what they wanted. The immersion and ‘world’ has been simplified and streamlined to extremes, the community has been obliterated (hello 4.3 Raid Finder), so has progression, and the ‘game’ is now either trivial ‘non-game’ leveling, or twitchy arcade/e-sport with homogenized classes, that then gets nerfed into oblivion. And… subscriptions are dropping all over. Which begs the question – was it really accessibility, massively single-player design, and casual friendly (compared to other mmos) that was the key to WoW’s success, as all the ‘mainstream’ commentariat claims? Will 11 million people continue to subscribe to an ‘MMO’ lacking in MMO design? And will Blizz realize this and reverse course (so far it doesn’t seem so)?

That being said – Gevlon, did I read you last paragraph correctly - are you lamenting the end of “social raiding”?

Azuriel said...

The subscriptions grown in Vanilla and TBC, where people banded together. Most of them helped worthless M&S, but still there were communities. In WotLK you did not need friends, you only needed warm bodies so the subscriptions stopped to grow.

Repeating this baseless claim, e.g. there was any correlation AT ALL with subscription growth and community togetherness, does not make it any more true. Less than 20% of players raid today, the Wrath era of accessible raiding content only improved that number to 24%, and there is no reason to believe vanilla/TBC numbers were any better percentage-wise. The vast, crushing majority of WoW players have never been interested in that level of community.

That should be self-evident from Day 1, when you compare WoW to other MMOs of the time. If forced grouping is the magic bullet, where are all the WoW killers? Why was WoW more successful when forced grouping was the norm to begin with?

Beyond that point, you are still wrong. Even in its easily soloable state, it is possible to share/cooperate/etc in WoW and other such "low difficulty" games. It might be less likely because it is not required, of course, but there is always an implicit sharing and community when you participate in activities that others know about.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you Azuriel.
It might be true that a community does not have a positive correlation with subscribers, it however has a correlation with the amount (and type of) subscribers. I am sure that the need to belong to something is a niche that attracts players. If it is missing these players will stop playing.

You also make the assumption that raiding = community. An active community is much more than that. AQ created a server wide community for example. I do not know the numbers, but I would bet that more than 20% did dungeons/battlegrounds/raids/group quests.

The game has changed. The player base became more educated/efficient. A lot of things has been implemented to reduce the community feeling. Battlegrounds are now done in battlegroups, you no longer have to travel to dungeons (a perfect time to chat and develop a social network), dungeons are no longer server based, server transfers became possible. While this has arguably enhanced the quality of the game, it had a negative impact on creating communities.

And tbh, I do understand the casual business model. These costumers play less for a similar revenue (and the content lasts longer for them, so they don't require as many updates as a hardcore group would).

The only thing I never understood is why Blizz focused so much on easy gear/easy raid content, rather than adding unique solo quests/content each patch for the casual demographic.

Anonymous said...

Although I often disagree with you, I think you're more or less right on this one, but I believe there are several points you missed. The lack of keys and attunement or the need for a significant number of consumables also helped erode raiding communities by removing everything other than the raid itself as group activities. Previously your guild or raiding group needed fairly significant effort just to get into the raid, much less actually beating bosses, and it kept people online and playing, and communicating with each other, for things other than just being on time for the raid or chatting while soloing daily quests. Obviously there's still a bit of that left since people need feasts and flasks, but it's much less than it was, and all the free gold handed out for just playing makes it possible to skip those just by using the AH.

Botter said...

The Subscriptions of WoW peaked during WotLK and if people remember very well it peaked in the release of ICC.

WotLK had a similar crap raiding design as Cata, so designers foolishly thought that they made WoW an MMO model for others to follow.

WRONG!!

I truly believe that the main driver is the lore itself. If you played the frozen throne, arguably the best of the original warcraft series then you know how significant Arthas is, you know how evil he became, and he went unpunished "alive, or sort of.. okay undefeated".

Then you had the chance to finally face this ruthless villain and put an end to his evil doings. And the ability to play a Death Knight, being an ex-agent of the scourge taking arms against your former master.

I believe that this is what have driven the subscriptions up the roof, old players who quit the game and many other who know the lore would want to put their hands on Arthas.

So when he is finally down, people were hoping for an even better content, but a question remains, "Who else is there to kill?"

Blizzard seemed puzzled, then they brought up a previously dead character "Deathwing" to be the center of focus in Cata, having run out of living villains i thought that we might have a zombie illidan, or perhaps Fordragon will be evil and will have to face him in a new ICC.

The story should have ended with WorLK, Blizzard seemed to run out of ideas, to the point of recyclying old content, Zul Aman, Zul Gurub, Deadmines Heroic!, Shadowfang Keep Heroic!, Ragnos (or whatever it is spelled).

Recycling plus an Arcade gaming style aimed for 8-12 years old kids who's parents won't allow them to go out to play an actual arcade doesn't fit well.

I hope that Blizzard would reconsider their current approach. The don't stand on fire is fun when it is part of the encounter, but having 90% of the encounter like that isn't very appealing.

Steel said...

1/2

@ Annonymous “The only thing I never understood is why Blizz focused so much on easy gear/easy raid content, rather than adding unique solo quests/content each patch for the casual demographic.”

I believe I know why. I finally got an insight when I put two blog posts together, Wolfshead’s “Blizzard’s Smoking Gun Interview that Shows How MMOs Became Games” (http://www.wolfsheadonline.com/?p=5610), and Gevlon’s “Who are the loud minority” (http://greedygoblin.blogspot.com/2011/06/who-are-loud-minority.html).

A quick recap – hardcore and casual are both relative terms, and the distinction between them is irrelevant. What matters is what they have in common – and understanding of rewards vs effort, and the concept of “this is the game, take or leave it”. If something is too ‘hard’ relatively, a casual will say “It’s not worth it, I’m not gonna bother, I’m having fun with what I’m doing now”, a hardcore will tackle the challenge and spend effort in more gameplay, and more effort in finding a solution. All valid points of view, and it makes all satisfied and content. The problem is the entitled-socialist-M&S. Their mentality is that if there is something, anything “cool” and “awesome” put into the game, it must be available by default “to me”, preferably without any effort or thinking. These are the people complaining that dps queue is too long. Or that call to arms is unfair to dps. Or that the legendary drop rates are too low, Or that helm & shoulders are not available for VP. Or… Blizz listening to this group has got to be the market-research amateur-hour f$@#-up of the century. This group is the textbook definition of a loud, non-representative minority. HCs won’t be complaining on forums – they are busy theorycrafting on EJ and wiping on the 6th boss strat of the night. Casuals won’t be complaining on forums, they are busy at work or taking care of kids, when they’re not just playing the game. It’s the M&S who show up to raid on a red drake in ungemmed gear and then yell at the tank, who play all day but spend it in /trade arguing about how they haz a life and can’t play this game all day, that are the ones who will fill the forums complaining.

Steel said...

2/2

The answer of why Blizz listened to them lies in Wolfshead’s post. It shows how Blizzard original philosophy and desire, and “holy grail” was to loosen up the strict constraints of traditional MMOs, in order to make the game more accessible and available to a wider audience. It appears though that the right balance was hit around TBC, where despite all the “bad designs” that we now see “in retrospect”, the game thrived and prospered, and grew in subs. Yet that desire and philosophy made them extra receptive to all the loud M&S, who constantly fed back to Blizzard exactly what they wanted to hear, that “accessibility” is the noble goal, and that more of it = more subs always. It has led them to the present state where they are absolute prisoners to their most primal fear – that if they make something, anything, “good”, “cool”, “awesome”, “epic”, “memorable”, etc, it will be only seen by 5% of player-base, and then the game will be considered a “failure”(and the forums would erupt with QQs). And so this fear has driven them to make an empty, shallow, boring game, where there is no progression, no immersion, no open world anything, no community, nothing to do apart from raiding arcade bosses with no lore or character. This is why there are no more world dynamic events, or world impact, or instances like Dire Maul or Kara or Ulduar, this is why you have mass produced crap on the philosophy of use it once then it gets nerfed then gets “obsolete” then forgotten, instead of epic, memorable, “replayablility value”. The Gates of AQ, Southshore vs Taren Mill, Karazhan “I will not move when flame wreath is cast”, and even Ulduar have become part of lore and myth. Nobody will remember the Firelands dailies, or the bosses of… Bastion of Twilight?

There is nothing wrong with being “stuck in heroics or Kara for the whole expansion”, or raiding BT when others are raiding SWP, as long as you are having fun, socializing with friends, are immersed in a virtual world, or whatever. Frankly, I would have loved to be “stuck” in Ulduar or even Naxx for the whole of WotLK, instead of being stuck boosting in ICC 4/12 forever. Of course, that means the content has to be well designed, rich in artistic detail, lore, immersion and have replayability. Kara may have had it, BoT/TotFW certainly doesn’t. It would mean Blizz’ “creative team” would have to stop messing around, focus and pull out another Ulduar, but that seems hard now. So far I’m only seeing more digging the hole deeper. The FL nerfs were atrocious, again. “FL progress isn’t what we expected” - what the hell does that mean? I was 2/7 HCs, and didn’t want the bosses turned into lootship jokes. I was working hard on my raid schedule, honing tactics and skills in order to overcome the challenges, and having fun doing so. Here’s hoping they loose more subscribers, and maybe awaken at some point.