Wednesday, December 5, 2012

WoW and the Theory of Trade of Fun

Yesterday I introduced the Theory of Trade of Fun which says that the value add of the same content being an MMO and not single player game depends only on the freedom of the market of fun between players. WoW lost lot of its appeal over the years and I think it can explained by this theory and fix it.

It's crucial to state that the theory do not address the content of the game. The problem with WoW isn't that it's too hard or too easy or too dancy or too grindy. There are different contents aimed at different people and all of them are valid as long as there are people who like that kind of content. The problem is that the current WoW isn't much different from an imaginary WoW which you play on a server where only you and your guild plays and your guildmates are all your clones: same gaming skill and time schedule. Adding more players to your imaginary clone-guild would not make any difference in your leveling, instance, scenario and raiding experience. Your clone-guildmates are just fillers for group content, you don't give or receive anything from them, they just do their job and pick their own loot.

Trade of Fun allows players of different skill, time and money to play together and enhance each others experience by mutually beneficial trade. In WoW such trade is near-impossible, everything relevant is bind on pickup, it must be farmed by yourself. If an item is grindable (for example a Klaxxi exalted one), you must spend countless hours to have it. No matter how rich or skillful you are, you won't have it. If an item must be taken from an extremely dancy boss, you must learn and perform the dance, you can't get it by putting in more time or money. Generally having more IRL money doesn't help you at all in WoW, even if you use illegal RMT as gold can't buy you anything worthy.

Don't mistake Trade of Fun for simple pay-to-win microtransactions where the developer sells you The One Ring. Here all items are acquired by players either by skillful play or by grinding a lot and they sell their item willingly. If you have 1 out of the 10 axe of ubernesses in the game and you choose to keep it, you'll still have 1 out of the 10 axe of ubernesses if the other 9 owners sell theirs.

To fix WoW no content needs to be changed just all items turned into bind on equip and new "coins" must be introduced: coin of honor, of justice, of Klaxxi rep, of everything. A coin of honor costs 1.5X honor points, can be sold and the buyer can activate it gaining 1X honor. The rep coins needs you to be exalted (the after-exalted cap should be elevated from 999) so you can't upfeed with alts. Weekly caps should be removed. If grinding time needs to be limited to fight RMT-ers, bots or the bad press of idiot kids dying after 50 hours of non-stop farming, account weekly playtime should be limited and not any form of income.

Finally the EVE-like PLEX should be introduced: time cards that are purchased in the Blizzard store and sellable on the AH for gold. To have balanced markets maybe the AHs of the battlegroups should be linked (or servers merged) to have enough players using them. I consider the Diablo III real money trade overshoot as it allows professional game-farming. The time-card trade of EVE is perfect because you can't get out of anything from your gaming than ability to play the game for free or access merchandize.

With the Trade all three kind of players (time-rich grinders, skillful players, rich players) could access game items, so the mindless welfare epic shower can be toned down. The welfare shower became necessary to allow the average players access items. The average player doesn't have the skill to kill HM bosses or the time to grind out all reps exalted and valor capped every week. But with the trade the average player, having average time, skill and money could find "productive" aspects of his gameplay and trade his proceedings for items, gaining everything he wants.

PS: while I leave WoW as soon as my subscription runs out at the end of December, I still play when my girlfriend drags me in and I have to accept that Silvershard Mines is very well-made strategic map (strategic means that the enemy has 2x more kills and still loses with 3x less points).


Anonymous said...

Yesterday's post was fantastic. I cannot agree with toady's conclusions though.

If you look closely, ToF is everywhere in WoW. You can buy pets, mounts, gear (also epic, darkmoon trinkets) etc. from other players. They will boost your arena rating for gold, you can join experienced raid groups for gold (you've done it yourself).

At the same time there are enough possiblities for elite players to differentiate themselves and look down on others/feel superior.

You could say WoW is a good mix of both worlds. On one hand you can join as a new player and have fun/get sucked in (as opposed to other "baby eater" games). On the other hand you can delve very deep into the game and "become somebody", if that is what you want (as opposed to WoT, where you are apparently forced to lose against weaker players).

I would say this is exactly the secret of WoW's success. All those things you proposed today would ruin it.

In my opinion you can always tell a healthy MMO community by looking at the tension between the hardcore-casual crowd. It's always a good indicator that a game is dead when the oldies shower test-week players with presents and gold and beg them to stay.

Steel H. said...

Remove all (most) dropped loot, besides making it bind on equip. Instead, mobs and bosses drop complex reagents - The Blood of This, The Scales of That, The Spark of Whatever - and patterns, and almost all gear is crafted from these reagents.

Spread the reagents along the various areas of gameplay. So The Blood of This only drops in HC raids, The Scales of That only drop of mobs in zone whatever, The Spark of Whatever is farmed only in PvP zones. Spread it around classes too, so one can only be stolen by rogues, another only extracted by some shaman spell, etc.

Now, the sword of uberness will require a bit of all these reagents. Everyone will need a bit of everything. Each type of gameplay will produce surplus of a particular reagent, in excess of what the participants in that gameplay need for their own stuff. The Great Material Continuum will do the rest:

Steel H. - I quit MMOs altogether, too much real life fun happening!

Gevlon said...

@Anonymous: Of course some items can be traded and it's good. But it is a very limited group.

Yes, you can also be creative and buy your way into teams but there are no interface helping it.

@Steel: these would change WoW content. My point is that there is no need to change content, the problem isn't how the Sha of Fear acts or drops but the fact that you can't trade it.

Johnicholas said...

I agree with your theory of trade of fun, and I think it's even mainstream MMO game economy design. As I understand it, the idea is to segment the players (e.g. time-rich, real-money-rich, senior, other categories such as RMT-phobic, skilled at X minigame or aspect of the entire game), and introduce a currency for each segment. Then control the currency exchange that is permitted within the game, either by prohibiting certain trades outright or by exacting greater or lesser taxes / tariffs on the conversion.

There are two aspects of MMO game design that are not well-captured by simply saying "trade of fun". One is Raph Koster's "fun is learning" - games like Super Hexagon or emphasize this kind of fun. There can be this sort of "player skill" fun in fair PvP or in challenging (not farming) PvE gameplay - but in general, I think MMORPGs are pretty terrible at this kind of fun. The in-game modeling of your character's skills and connecting those skills to the rest of the economy via the grind or Eve's seniority currency (skill points) - which I believe is part of what makes an RPG an RPG - makes it awkward to also include player-skill in the game design.

The other aspect is what I call "heft" - for example, to transport materials, ships, or modules from one place to another in Eve you have to go through intervening space. Station to station teleportation would be easier for CCP to code, but it would not give the players a feeling of "there's a there there".

There is often design tension between managing trade-of-fun and heft. If the cold numeric bones of the game design are too visible, then players seem to have less fun. Heft - as well as being compelling in its own right - obfuscates the trade-of-fun bones.

Anonymous said...

The game you describe has already been written about by Neil Stephenson in his book Reamde, although with one slight financial twist to his version.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you can get items with money, Pay top guilds to do the dance for you, or to run you through that raid to get your gear mount, ect.

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