Greedy Goblin

Monday, September 10, 2012

MMO "individualism": lack of quadratics

I'm not playing World of Warcraft at the moment, but it will change with Mists of Pandaria coming out. I'm not planning to start any project or doing any form of endgame, just a journey in the game content. Blizzard is famous for creating good content and for screwing up gameplay terribly. WoW isn't a game anymore, it's an interactive movie.

Growing individualism in MMOs became a theme in blogs, including Tobolds and stubborns. They claim that WoW is an individualist game, where one with individualist mindset will win over those who are collectivist. They emphasize the solo leveling as an unquestionable proof of fostering individual play. Tobold said "WoW's problem is that playing alone offers the fastest progression". It is factually not true. There are four kind of WoW quests:
  • Kill 10 wolves: you get kills for the wolves the other guy kill, so if you are N in the group, you have to kill 10/N wolves
  • Kill big bad wolf: all of you have to do HP/N damage into the big bad wolf to die and you all get the kill.
  • Take item from wolves lair: the item is protected by n wolves. In a party of N you have to kill n/N wolves
  • Gather 10 wolf pelts: here you have to kill 10 wolves in group and in solo too. The only problem in group if the zone has less than 10*N wolves because you have to wait for respawn. However Blizzard adjusted respawn times according to players present, so wolves will spawn.
I played WoW leveling only in group, together with my girlfriend. It's even faster than the mentioned 1/2, as we designed our leveling builds that one of us could tank or heal, so we could pull all the wolves and AoE them down. All the mechanics to do that (AoE damage >> single target, holy trinity) were done by Blizzard. WoW leveling is designed to be easy in group. The individualistic design of EVE is stunning by comparison: two players on the same mission can't do it together, the agent gives different locations. Travel time takes much of the EVE mission time, so you are better off doing your missions separately.

I would guess WoW XP gathering is about 70% better in a team of two. Before Tobold would say "no", I'd ask him to do the same test and ask her wife just one hour to speed-level together. He'll see the XP just rolling in.

Why do people still level solo? One would naturally blame the morons and slackers who make grouping ineffective: they do low effort (they kill 2 wolves while you kill 8), they go AFK, forcing you to wait for them or drop group and they are extremely annoying with their jokes and lolspeak. However it's a wrong answer. You'd just have to find people of your own skill and the average players would level together happily.

The power increase from getting a groupmate is quadratic. Simple explanation: the team lives until the enemy eats their HP, time_to_live = HP*n/enemy_DPS where n is member count. They do DPS*n*time_to_live damage, so their overall damage is DPS*HP/enemy_DPS*n2. This equation is written deeply into our psyche, as it was a very strong evolutionary bonus to be able to recognize when to fight and when to run. So anything less than quadratic increase feels lacking.

The quadratic increase is there in PvP. The EVE alliances that focus on numbers steamroll "elite PvP" groups, despite their gaming skill and the value of their ship is low even by their own confessions. It could be there in PvE too, but it's not. Its lack is felt strongly, causing aversion from group play. I mean if you are in a team of two, you subconsciously expect 4x more XP and you get 1.7x more. Then you - also sub-consciously - assume that the other player is leeching on you.

To see the reason, let's return to the equation: total_damage = DPS*n*time_to_live. How much is time_to_live in WoW or EVE PvE? No, it's not HP*n/enemy_DPS. It's infinite. You just can't die. Both in WoW and EVE you can't die if you do level-appropriate quests unless you do something atrociously stupid.

OK, MMOs have to be accessible to different level of players, and a quest that is just OK for one is faceroll to another and impossible to the third. However there could be a solution: the rewards of enemies (XP, items) should be proportional to their strength. The main problem with WoW leveling is not at all rewarding questing into red. If I kill a monster much above my level, I get barely more XP than I'd get from one in the green, deep below me. Since there is no reward in killing hard enemies, there is no reason to try doing hard content, so the game will be facerolling to everyone regardless player skill. The only difference between a topguild member and Arthasdklol that the first facerolls yellow monsters while the second does deep green. I've done some missions for standing in EVE and found the same: there is no reason for a Badger II to fill up its hold with the mission cargo of a lvl 4 distribution, it's better to put the cargo of 4 lvl3s in it.

The solution to design games to be "collectivist" is to provide greater rewards for doing harder content. I mean much greater reward, in the sense that if that two destroyers can do just one lvl 3 together, they should get more rewards than farming lvl 1s all day or in WoW killing a monster 7 levels above you should grant you as much XP as killing 1000 7 levels below you.

No business reports because I'm AFK until Monday evening, can't process comments either.


Sipp said...

"The individualistic design of EVE is stunning by comparison: two players on the same mission can't do it together, the agent gives different locations."

Only one person needs to accept the mission, you can share the rewards (ISK, LP, corpstanding), the only exception for this is the faction standing for storyline missions.

Micko said...

The main flaw in your argument, that leveling speed per group member is quadratic, is that if you did a breakdown of levelling time you would spend at least half of your time moving and looting corpses or items as opposed to killing, something which no amount of team members can speed up.

Azuriel said...

Alternatively, it could be because I do not enjoy having my game experience dictated by strangers when I can help it.

Groups have a social cost. It is not about the M&S effect, and I don't care about leeching - if I kill 8 and he kills 2, that's still faster than killing 10 solo so who cares? What I care about is feeling obligated to not go AFK and tab over to check my email, or sit around when they type "brb bio." I (used to) put up with LFD and raiding with strangers because grouping was required. If grouping is not required, I prefer playing "alone with others" (seeing other people, but not needing to interact).

Is that abnormal? I don't think so. Do you enjoy movies better in the theater or at home? Why do people text on their phones more often than talk on them? Why is Facebook/Twitter/etc so popular? One asshole in a theater can ruin a 2-hour experience. Why take that risk when I don't have to?

Gamma said...

You forgot those quests where the drop chance of quest items from mobs isn't 100%. And those are often the ones that stick. When I'm leveling with my wife I have a lot of these "oh no now comes this quest with the lousy drop chance and we have to do it for two of us" moments. But of course you are right: you are faster in groups. And you still have the option to skip those quests since you outlevel zones pretty easy anyway.

Anonymous said...

If the fastest way to level was either in instances or just killing loads of mobs then you would be right, but when it involves questing then the players need to be absolutely in lock step during the questing process to speed it up. I mean, if one person wants to take longer to read the quest text, likes exploring, and wants to take breaks to catch up with crafting then it won't matter how quickly you can kill mobs together.

People like soloing for the freedom to do those things (or go afk or not have to talk to people all the time) and if you are grouped with someone who often does want to go explore or take breaks, or who gets lost, or forgets to repair, etc then soloing probably is quicker too.

Anonymous said...

Being faster in groups does not mean grouping is faster, especially for people not co-located.

E.g., if you have to wait on them to get there and then wait on their AFKs, and repairs/bag fulls, then some 0% productivity time destroys all your extra gains.

The ultimate is "let's level two new toons to 85" - It is more enjoyable with them; it may go quicker when you are together. But unless you share a residence/schedule (e.g. we are hitting 90 day one) then it is probably slower. All the hours wasted when they are not home yet or away drag down the efficiency.


Regardless, exactly what Azuriel said. Having others dictate when I can bio or get a Coke Zero is not near worth some very minor efficiency gains.

Joe said...

You're REALLY missing the obvious here, Gevlon. Even if grouping is beneficial, it isn't necessarily practical. It works for you because you have a competent and available levelling buddy. If you're levelling, its hard to find someone else at all, much less on same quests, etc.

Anonymous said...

This equation is very rudimentary.

"time_to_live = HP*n/enemy_DPS" - Here enemy_DPS also scales with n (AoE damage and such), so a better equation would be:

time_to_live = HP*n/(enemy_DPS*(k*n))

Where k represents the monster's damage scaling with the number of opponents.

Secondly, total_DMG = "DPS*n*time_to_live" is also not correct, as it assumes that all players die exactly at the same moment and deliver a constant DPS before that. Whereas actually squishy characters might start dropping halfway through the fight, not contributing in DPS afterwards.

Now I know this was not the point here, but taking these into consideration already greatly lowers the 4x multiplier for leveling speed. Also, the equation assumes that all n players play always in the same time, the same quest, and with the same strategy. This never happens, further reducing leveling speed.

I would be surprised if even a linear correlation between player number and leveling speed was achievable.

Samus said...

Your understanding of "individualist vs collectivist" is incorrect. "Individualist" does not mean by yourself, it means you care about your individual concerns, or the individual concerns of your friends and family. Helping a friend pass a quest is still individualist, because it is for an individual goal (not a group goal).

So your example of grouping to level faster is still 100% individualist, there is no "collective" goal, only two individuals reaching their personal goals faster.

Raiding is the same thing. Aside from the very top guilds, raiding is not done "for the guild," it is done for personal gear upgrades. If you leave the guild right after getting the gear, you still reached your goal, which is still 100% individualist.

Examples of collectivist play would be top guilds working for their guild to get a world first, and perhaps elements of EVE (working to hold territory for your alliance, where individual goals are met through high-sec).

Christopher said...

I agree with the above comments re: group vs solo questing, but I like the idea of increased challenge = increased reward. I'd much prefer riskier, faster leveling over the dull plod it's become. I haven't played it, but the GW2 system "xp for everything yay!" seems like a step in the right direction, particularly in how it rewards the formation of temporary on-the-fly groups.

DSJ said...

For those that are against groups you should realize that the "social cost of grouping" works in 2 directions not just one. That annoying asshole in WoW causing you to commit suicide rather than LFR again is an annoying asshole in EVE that can be the connection you need to get into a corp / alliance / private incursion channel / FW fleet / etc.. etc .. etc..

EVE may be a naturally individualistic game but the social cost of NOT connecting is to limit the scope of anything you want to do beyond the simple grinds explained in the tutorials. With no levels in EVE you can easily reach a point where there is no more game to play if you aren't able to be connected to a group. The new players joining corps and running missions together may not be optimizing by ISK but they are getting a return on investment ... one that doesn't pay off until they want to step beyond high sec.

Anonymous said...

@Azuriel, if you are abnormal so I am, I have exactly the same approach to the levelling and questing components.

Basically to me WoW raids and dungeons are multiplayer, and I play there mainly with guildmates and only reclutantly do dungeons with pugs.

Levelling and questing are single player. I don't even quest with guildmates and I love questing/levelling as a tank because you can easily solo even the hardest group quest (the few remaining).

Anonymous said...

@Christoper One of the best things about GW2 is that you are not in competition with other players for kills or resources- everyone who tags a mob gets the kill credit and gathering nodes are shared by everyone.

So if someone is killing wolves next to you it's a no-brainer to kill the same wolves and you don't even have to form a group to do it.

Also in Wow, since 5.04 every party member gets the quest drop from a mob! Every multi-boxer in the game cried tears of joy when this feature was implemented!

Anonymous said...

I agree it's about cost/benefit and the benefit has to outweigh all sorts of non-game factors like bio breaks, random afk etc especially for those people who really dislike grouping so yes the increase in benefit needs to be quadratic (or at least not linear) but i don't think exp works as the main benefit on its own. I think gear is as or more important.

(Warhammer had a solo questing game but no-one did it because pvp scenarios provided exp and better gear.)

In games like WoW you're constantly getting gear upgrades just off random boars and buying even better gear from the gold from the boars - the standard pattern is level 30 characters wearing level 40 gear they bought from farming level 20 mobs. Gear is the big player carrot that isn't being dangled imo.

For me the answer is a hybrid of elements from EQ and WoW (which GW2 comes quite close to).

1) Most exp from mobs.

2) Big, open dungeons (or equivalent) where players can solo if they want but which have sections with named mobs and their guards who drop the best loot and which need a group (or a lot of outlevelling).

GW2 events are close to this but don't really give players who like skilled tactical group fights that particular thing.

(Being able to solo in the group dungeons is important because it means you don't need to form a group in advance.)

3) Solo questing tailored to particular classes. This is close in concept to the GW2 personal story except i'd make it more about the world than the player. These quests would be the other main way of getting the best gear in some slots but most of it would still be from named mobs.

This system would give the groupers a group game from low level onwards while allowing soloers to still solo and make the solo quests better because they could be tailored to particular class skills.

Anonymous said...

Gevlon your memory is short. Back in vanilla wow people often levelled together. but now a days wih all the phasing and crappy single player zones, you basically need a RL friend who never ever plays wthout you to level together.

In vanilla, people would frequently join up with other players in the same zone just to level together and often they would become friends and it helped foster a sense of community on the server.

george said...

Not sure who these mythical people were leveling in groups in vanilla WoW I never saw groups forming except for instances. The only case where I ever saw grouping to grind EXP being better than solo was when doing instances at just the right level, or if you could find an area with high enough mob density of the appropriate levels. Most of the time even solo grinding exp I was limited by mob spawn speed more than having to take a break to recover.

While it was pretty harsh I really miss the old EQ model where leveling took a ton of time to grind out and you had to group to do it at a reasonable pace, unless you were a specific class that was capable of efficient solo'ing. Because grouping was pretty much mandatory people learned how to play in a group early on and didn't have to figure it out in a raid. And while everyone said you had to have a tank a slower and a healer in every group I played in plenty of groups that managed to do it differently. A full group of dot classes with a snare caster killing mobs that could insta gib any caster that got lazy was actually very very fun.