Greedy Goblin

Friday, July 14, 2017

"New" MMO niche (which is probably bigger than the mainstream)

While the recent blog-crawl did not provide a game to play yet (though placed a few on the radar), it provides lots of insight. One is right here:
“Just let me play with my friends” should be a mantra stuck on the monitor of every MMORPG dev’s computer as they code. Some games do this better than others but fixed group sizes and levels being out of sync shouldn’t be a thing in 2017. Put in flexible dungeon grouping, put in mentoring or similar already!

My early WoW projects were rallying against this: I urged people to abandon the "friendly social guilds" and choose progression. Blizzard noticed this (not necessarily because of me) and changed the game exactly as Telwyn said: they made sure that friends can catch up and play together laid back. WoW stopped growing right there.

Before I address this, I'd just mention it as a niche: an MMO which is designed with the idea that the player knows no other players and does not want to find new friends. He just want to find co-adventurers to battle the dragons and "win", no matter what win condition the game has (capture land in PvP, get best gear, kill final dragon). So a game where our characters are interacting and not the players. So here is a list of criteria for such MMO:
  • No catch-up: a new player must walk the path the old ones did. The only help he can get is from other players choose to boost him. This also makes lot of content. Current WoW only have current patch content, the huge old world is irrelevant to the point of practical non-existence (if a pixel tree falls and no player is there, it makes no effect).
  • Competitive: even if it's PvE, it should have people who fail to complete the tasks. Players who play without friends are players who want flow and that needs challenging content.
  • All group combat is designed without "Adam failed, is Betty punished" mechanics. In current WoW raids you can die because someone else placed a bomb on you, ran away from you with a link or didn't kill an add in another phase that you can't even see. Healers are usually stressed by idiots standing in the fire. This is acceptable if you assume that Adam and Betty are friends, not if not. If Adam is the worst possible idiot, Betty should only notice that Adam does no damage and should be able to continue the encounter without disturbance. Sure, the boss might hit enrage since Adam did zero DPS (and then everybody die), but until it happens, Betty should be fine. This also means that failing boss mechanics shouldn't cause heal-able damage because it just punishes healers. Those who stand in the bad should either be insta-killed or given damage decrease debuff or stun or slow. This needs serious rework of tanking mechanics as they usually are around not tanking (tank switching) but there are already implemented solutions like cleaves or multiple bossess needing multiple tanks.
  • Clear player evaluation: there should be a simple in-client method to evaluate the performance of a possible groupmate. For example a damage dealer can be very well judged by the average damage he done to bosses on tries and kills. If there is an interrupt job, then someone must clearly take it (by picking up an item for example) and then he is evaluated by interrupts. Sure, evaluating tanks would be harder but still could be done. With this, players would have an in-client "boss score" that allow building groups even automatically.
I am absolutely sure that this game - assuming industry standard other qualities - would be a success, at least as a niche game. However I also believe that this niche would be bigger than the mainstream. I mean that if Blizzard would release WoW servers which differ from WoW only in removal of catchup mechanisms and introducing boss-score while removing "Adam failed, Betty is punished" mechanics from both WoWs, this "WoW without friends" would be way more successful than the current friendly WoW.

What makes me sure? The simple fact that people who want to be with friends are with friends, at least on Facebook, instead of sitting alone in their room staring at a pixel elf. Sure, some of them are socially starved weirdos who pay for the illusion of having internet friends, but most of them are just normal guys who want to slay dragons instead of more dumb gossip. But there is more numerical evidence:

CCP actually measured the group-engagement of players. And after they realized that there are 4x more players playing solo than in large groups... they did exactly as the large group representatives wanted. If I was a game dev on a market full of "friendly" MMOs, I wouldn't chose this path:


Anonymous said...

So why play with other people in the first place and not just play with bots?

Anonymous said...

Sounds a lot like GW2. Of course, GW2 is on lock-box overload so you would hate that game.
I'd argue that WoW is the archetypal solo-MMO set up to let people play alone together. SWTOR takes that even further with a solo mode for nearly all group content. All they lack is the ability to fail. I don't understand how that could work. How can someone be competitive in a solo-mmo?

Gevlon said...

@Anon, dobablo: you both failed to understand the post - along with lots of MMO devs. These players want to play with other people. They want teammates. They just don't want to play with FRIENDS (people selected for out-of-game reasons).

"I want a skilled tank and another DPS to complete this task together" vs "Me and Adam and Betty are good friends and want to complete this task, despite Adam barely plays and Betty sucks horribly"

Anonymous said...

"All group combat is designed without "Adam failed, is Betty punished" mechanics."

If Betty cannot have any effect on Adam's performance, why have a Betty at all? She could be an NPC. Or a healing-over-time buff. Or an item called "Healing Potion"

If you try to eliminate all player interation then I don't see a reason to make your game a MMO. Wouldn't it make more sense to just have a single-player game with leaderboard then?

maxim said...

Imagine i'm a player that wants a dps for his party to kill dragons, while i tank for said dps, but not particularily interested in social interaction.
Why would i want a game, where i need to deal with humans controlling what i essentially want to be NPCs? Isn't a single-player option preferrable (and cheaper)?

Incidentally, this is the ultimate reason why i quit first WoW and then ultimately MMOs.

maxim said...

Any soulslike is essentially a game that is built arounding failing in solo

Gevlon said...

@anon, maxim: because it allows direct comparison with other human players. NPCs can be tuned anywhere.

But my reasons are besides the point. The observed fact is that WoW players love the LFD raids, which are completely a-social group plays. I want to extend this experience up to the top content by allowing players to quickly evaluate each other.

While I understand the interaction value between Adam and Betty in theory, it's in practice a blame shifting: "healz lol?". Adam's bad numbers should not be framed (or rightfully blamed) on Betty. If Adam did bad DPS, that should only be because Adam sucks.

Anonymous said...

@Gevlon: but why would they want teammates? In your ideal game, what's the difference between 2000dps player and 2000dps bot? That the player would have higher variance(lag, stress, tiredness)? Easily coded in (put random delay between bot's attacks - hell, you could let the player choose the bot's strength level)

Maybe you couldn't simply see player's dps (and you would have to choose by factors like right gear and enchants)? Nope. Even in WoW, you can look up player's logs - sure, it might be inaccurate because they died from someone else's mistake - but that wouldn't be a factor in your game. After checking your team's logs (and accounting for variance), you can tell if you win or lose the fight before you even start.

You could even make a raid finder that would allow for >95% success rate for any player and any boss in the game (you'll just have to wait longer if your dps is bad and you want to kill a strong boss - but once the matchmaking system can find a team with enough total dps, you're pretty much guaranteed a kill)

Shalcker said...

I look at your list and feel like MOBAs fit all points (there are even some MOBAs with PVE like MasterXMaster).

...why make MOBA-like MMO instead of straight MOBA then?

Cathfaern said...

I know it's not a persistent world, so not MMO, but I think Diablo 3 mostly satisfies these points.

Gevlon said...

@Anon: why do cyclists, runners and swimmers perform together instead of just doing their sport alone in their hometowns and compare times?

Besides the feeling of competition, also to rule out cheatings and circumstances like headwind. If you are in the same raid as Betty and damage 10% more, you are better than Betty. If you are in separate raids, maybe you just got better buffs/debuffs, tank positioning while poor Betty spent lot of time running away from loose adds.

@Cathfaern: D3 is a single player/select multiplayer game with mobs scale with group sizes and you just farm gear with no win/loss condition. As laid back and friendly as it can be.

Cathfaern said...

There are so called greater rifts, which you have to complete for a given time. Also there is a ladder for it on the official site.

Cathfaern said...

"If you are in the same raid as Betty and damage 10% more, you are better than Betty. If you are in separate raids, maybe you just got better buffs/debuffs, tank positioning while poor Betty spent lot of time running away from loose adds."

All of these can happen in the same raid too. Also how can you compare yourself to others if you have a special job on the fight? (interupting, debuffing, kiting, etc.)

Anonymous said...

That MMO is called "Warframe", Gevlon. Niche occupied.

Anonymous said...

>I look at your list and feel like MOBAs fit all points

MOBAs usually punish Adam for Bob's failure.

If Bob feeds in lane then the enemy ADC will be overpowered.

If Bob drops wards in the wrong place then Adam gets ganked in lane (or is forced to play much more cautiously).

If Bob walks away after the team has started an early attempt at Dragon/Nashor/whatever then Adam also needs to walk away (or die).

If Bob goes AFK at the start of the match because his favorite hero was banned then Adam is almost certainly going to get a loss.

Let's say that Adam is successfully dueling the enemy assassin, when Bob decides to join the fight despite being OOM and low health. The enemy assassin can burst him down, instantly refresh all of her cooldowns, and then turn the tables on Adam.

maxim said...

The fair comparison argument is actually a good one

WoW players play LFD, but i don't remember anyone actually loving it
It is a quick way to gear and a sort of a way to test raid performance outside of actual raids, but having utility is not the same as loving it

Building the whole game around LFD is not something i can see happening. If the game does not explicitly forbid premades, then premades will always have the advantage over pugs. If the game explicitly forbids premades then you are essentially asking players to compete in an inherently suboptimal environment, which is shooting your own core gameplay aesthetic in the foot
Being able to do your whole dance uninterrupted won't help. Consider a dps-grind like Brutallus where you constantly hit enrages and just don't know where you can get the missing dps from (and no quick evaluations can help). Now imagine a situation where every boss is that

Finally, the only time in WoW when i really had the Adam-Betty interaction experience was during t0.5 grind in vanilla. This one i actually did with a group of friends and it was epic. Since then, the only time anything came even remotely close was t6 raiding.
What drives these experiences is not the ability to evaluate each other, but rather the ability to help each other advance, thus creating shared stories. Obviously, if people are easier to evaluate then it is easier to help them advance. However, working towards a single number on a statboard just doesn't have the same appeal.

maxim said...

D2 was also a "single player/select multiplayer game with mobs scale with group sizes and you just farm gear with no win/loss condition".
It was anything but laid-back

D3 is laid-back because it fails to actually invest people in their own characters and builds the way D2 could

Gevlon said...

@Anon: I never heard of warframe. Any link to a description?

@maxim: no need to ban pre-made groups. The point is when you want to pick someone (either for guildmate or just one raid), you can look at his in-game data and know what to expect.

Players always wanted to summarize each other into numbers, that's why there was gearscore addon.

souldrinker said...

"Adam failed, Betty is NOT punished" is only attainable in single-player games. Group content in modern MMOs is centered around concept that one player's fail punishes the whole group.

If your condition is met, than there is no group content. You can form groups, but if groupmembers failure does not affect you in any way, you're essentially playing alone.

Suppose that X players form group and go to kill the boss. Y players fail and get nothing, and X-Y do not fail and get the reward. How is this different from the situation that X players each face boss alone, Y fail and get no reward, and X-Y do not fail and get reward? There is NO difference, so the groupmembers from the first example are just a decoration.

The group content in modern MMOs is more dificult that single-player content exactly because of other group members. To get the group working, everybody must learn his role, and group members have to coordinate their actions to win! This all takes extra effort.

So if any tries to make MMO with "Adam failed, Betty is NOT punished" feature, the following will happen:
1) the game will be shallow, as group mechanics do not exist;
2) the game will be too easy (if 1 person of the whole group does not fail, he wins);
3) since grouping with the right people is not important (you group with xxxArthasDKlolxxxs without causing problems to yourself), there will be no community;
4) sooner or later somebody realizes that this is single-player game as other players do not differ from bots; and single-player games are much cheaper to maintain.

Gevlon said...

@souldrinker: of course if a member fails, the whole group is punished by longer kill or no kill at all. My point is that Betty particularly is not punished for Adam. Good example: Arathi Basin: 15 players, 5 objectives. 3 of us hold mine and we manage to hold it. Idiots are fighting on the bridge, team loses. But the 3 of us still could hold the mine, and score kills. Looking at the end battle chart you could see our victory points, damage done, killing blows way above the trash. In a WoW raid you can die and have low damage without any fault of yours AND still get a kill.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is your thing, but maybe try Achaea (or a similar MUD, but Achaea is the most popular). It's text-only, but it's free (with microtransactions that give obvious benefits), and highly competitive. People that are killed lose experience and any gold they're holding on to. Cities fight each other regularly and can make an impact by blowing up portions of the other city if done successfully. Individuals that practice and work on their abilities are much power powerful than those that don't, even when those that don't have bought those items that give them a boost. People don't typically do too much out of game with each other, most interactions are strictly in-game.

Anonymous said...

Just to remove the trinity altogether and have only dps (GW2 system).

Anonymous said...


And it meets your scheme:

an MMO which is designed with the idea that the player knows no other players and does not want to find new friends: while it couldn't really drop all the social functions, you're not required to interact on anything other than game-level. If you start a pub mission, you're automatically provided with human teammates also doing this mission. If you need to get a specific thing going, you go to Recruiting chat and howl there what you want, then invite people who PM you with what they have in your squad (or blacklist, if it's another loki-using trash), squad lasts one mission and then you can either repeat with them again, replace people if someone drops, or leave and go next squad-hunting - you have no more reason to remember their names than in LoL.

No catch-up: yes, you still need to farm materials yourself and build all those weapons one by one, since you only gain exp with every weapon type until a limit after which the weapon stops giving exp. And progression is exp-locked more often than not, so you have to follow roughly the same path as people who started 3 years ago, only with more choices.

Competitive: There are leaderboards for weekly scores on typical missions that nobody cares about. There used to be conquerable space (that actually matters, as it offers more exp and resources than other space) which allows you to tax people for using it and pay random people for fighting on your side for it when it is attacked, but that system has been "on rework" for over a year now, after being considered "broken" due to creation of mega-coalitions that just split it up. There are events that permanently store guild-level and personal-level score, with top being awarded unique (mostly, but not always, cosmetic) stuff. There is arena form of pvp which has its own gear almost completely separate from pve, which you can get only there, and it also has leaderboards which nobody has a reason to care about.

All group combat is designed without "Adam failed, is Betty punished" mechanics: if someone fails, he's down, you may revive him, or ignore him and he either revives by himself (4 self-revive charges by default) or dies and loses the loot - you aren't punished for his death. There are healer classes, but the average group won't have them since there's no particular reason to pick healer - every class can do something about heals by himself, provided they aren't morons, as there's enough healing mechanics available to any of them. Raids are different and require no morons and failures, but you don't have to play them.

Clear player evaluation: there is no clear way to evaluate someone before mission, as you're limited to visual confirmation (his class and weapons, levels, relics, dragon key, etc) and profile access (his rank, fail rate, averages which are too average, and event scores). But mission results are fairly clear with damage dealt and taken percentages, and other stats. You can blacklist morons and never see them again.

It is a released game, it has population, and its monetization scheme is best explained as pay2skip - you pay to skip grind, skip waiting for limited time missions, skip dueling RNG, etc.

All loot tables used to be data-minable but recently they used lore leak excuse to stop it, but instead provided all tables to the users in a separate web resource. As far as I can tell, datamined values had no rigging, not sure now though.

Anonymous said...

warframe has been around for a long time. I think you can grab it off Steam too. I've never played it but here is link....

maxim said...

Arguably, that's what D3 did.
As a result, it's laid-back and boring and the only thing that matters is your dps stat.

The most interesting mechanics are that because it is hard to pin them down to any immediately intelligible set of numbers.

Smokeman said...

"CCP actually measured the group-engagement of players. And after they realized that there are 4x more players playing solo than in large groups... they did exactly as the large group representatives wanted. If I was a game dev on a market full of "friendly" MMOs, I wouldn't chose this path: "

Eve numbers went the way they did because it's about as friendly to new players as a beach full of sharks.

So I'm confused. Are you saying you'd cater to the solo players by forcing them to group if they want to progress at all? Because that's basically what you're saying. The issue isn't that playing in a group is "harder" or "more challenging", because it's not. The EASIEST way to do this hard content is stack the team with better players. If anything, this is an exploit, not "challenging game play."

There is nothing easier than being in a group that can easily handle the "hard" content. There is no challenge to it at all. If you want games to be "challenging" this is the exact opposite of the direction you want to go.

Wherein lies the rub of "MMOs"... the primary dogma is that since it's "Multi Player" you have to force people to group to get the best gear.

Here is a counter view: Make the BEST GEAR the result of challenging solo (or small group that scales linearly) play. Then you use that gear to show off in the "casual group content" that was never intended to be all that difficult in the first place, just fun.

Gevlon said...

@Smokeman: you managed to misunderstand the whole post. It's NOT about solo vs group content. It's about designing group content in a way that it allows easy identification of skill of strangers. I believe most solo players would be more ready to group if they wouldn't be subjected to lengthy interviews that are centered on not on skill but "friendliness".

EVE is known to have the hardest group-finding due to full APIs and paranoid corps.

Smokeman said...

No, I didn't misunderstand it at all. I simply rejected the entire "Must be group centric" aspect.

It is absolutely about "solo vs. group" content. The groupers want groups only. The reasons range from the dogma of "It's an MMO!", to "But I'm an extrovert and need people", to "But I'm competitive and need to pwn these slackers!"

You're in that third group, and that filter applies to your every thought.

You need to think outside the box.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed Gevlon.

My wife and I both punched the air when we read this. We've been lamenting the 'social' push for years now. I gave up on CCP for this reason and got tired of WoW being funnelled into the 'interaction' path.

I played Wow for about 6 years and only found one guild and one 10 man team in that guild that I could be bothered raiding with. Once that guild broke up - I couldn't be bothered being social anymore.

I'm glad you pointed this out and as a leader in the MMO field maybe you'll be listened too - but I'm not banking on it. The world is run by extroverts and they think anyone who gets drained from having to interact with others all the time is handicapped and to be ignored.

Smokeman said...

Anon on 16 July, 2017 07:50:

Your path is easy peasy, then. This meta has been fully explored and utilized. In fact, Gevlon here has posted about it.

All you have to do is join pugs. If the leader sucks, you quit. If the leader is any good (Doesn't let people that suck continue.) And, of course... that includes you... you continue and kill bosses.

Doing this is STUPID EASY if you don't suck.

The problem then is that playing with strangers is crap. Herein lies the rub: Tuning your game to be too difficult for 'friend groups' because of a "Groups must be hard!" dogma creates a scenario where gaming the groups (ala impersonal pugs) becomes the norm and your game fails.

souldrinker said...

Gevlon, something about you Arathi Basin example...

Those idiots that fought on the bridge, they surely did fought _somebody_ from another team. And those people who fought with your team's idiots on the bridge - they were not too bright either, were they? They could show up at your mine instead and take it from you.

However, while being other team's idiots, they won anyways. And probably got more honor than the BEST players of your team (because of bonus honor for the win). So Arathi Basin does not handle it much better than the raid.

Gevlon said...

@Smokeman: my point is that "playing with your friends" and "need to play with good players" are different genres. A football or basketball player cannot play with his friends in the stadium, he must play with other good players and these sports don't fail. "playing with your friends" imply "trivial content" as you must be able to carry your totally uninterested friends.

@souldrinker: this is the most common excuse of idiots and was debunked 100000 times. Very short summary: it doesn't matter which group of idiots wins on the bridge, since the enemy respawns. So if 5 idiots are grinding down 4 idiots, then the non-idiots are playing 10 v 11 at objectives. So the optimal choice (assuming you want to win) is always not being the idiot.

souldrinker said...

I was not trying to legitimize bridge-fighting.

I just pointed out that while Arati Basin has scoreboard which shows how good were the best players on the losing side, it is still rewarding the worst players on winning side more than the best players on losing side. I.e. it is as bad at rewarding performance as is the raid where "you can die and have low damage and still get a kill".

Also consider that a random BG where uncoordinated people fight on the bridge is not true group activity. Rated BG with leadership, handpicked teams, voice communication - i.e. situation where people act as a group should be better example.

Doktor Jeep said...

So few people realize that Gevlon is right about Eve. The "golden age" of Eve was when solo play, be it PVE or PVP, was considered a viable part of the game.

CCP went the wrong way. They even took the "hard" content when done solo, like exploration, and made it too easy, then added in new exploration content that cannot be solo'ed.

I just can't bring myself to play it any more.