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Devs are scared of frustrating & punishing players

Today I want to muse on two alarming trends Graev and I have observed in the MMO industry, and highlight the unfavorable outcome we’ve already begun to experience.

Developers are terrified of upsetting or frustrating the player.

Somehow this idea got out there that if something takes effort or thought, and can’t be done with brute force, it must be broken or unintentional.  Developers are spoon-feeding us solutions and giving us powers to take shortcuts everywhere.  Quests are almost at the point of completing themselves.

Fast travel is everywhere; Guild Wars 2 lets players teleport to towns that are literally less than two minutes walking distance away. I prefer a large world that conveys a sense of size.  I remember playing EQ, or even Vanguard and thinking how the sheer distance alone ruled out a choice to go somewhere.

Somehow the “holy trinity” concept of healers, tanks, crowd-control/dps (depending on what generation you started MMOs) is being shunned as inconvenient or a frustration to players.  Everyone heals, everyone can do damage, no one is better than anyone else at any role, warriors can be archers and archers can be rogues because, supposedly, players are frustrated by class roles.

 

Developers are scared of punishing players with mechanics. 

MMOs continue to move away from death penalties.  I think it’s safe to say that death penalties have found their stride as nothing more than re-spawn mechanics.  You die, you have to respawn — and sometimes no more than 30 seconds away at a conveniently placed in areas as not to, once again, frustrate the player with a walk.  Players are too cavalier with death now.  This is death!  Death should be the absolute and ultimate negative end result.

I remember EQ’s death penalty; If you weren’t careful, you could actually lose your corpse.  You avoided areas you shouldn’t be in, and you acquired skill to avoid death.  If you died, you lost experience.  You would even be sent back to your bind point which may be over an hour away.  Say what you will about the severity of the penalty, but it deterred death.

Group dynamics are almost gone entirely.  Developers are scared that players will perceive the need to player with others as a punishment.  We went from heavy group-based gameplay to solo friendly play where grouping could still be considered more rewarding, to a system where if the solo player does not earn experience faster than the groups they’re being oppressed.

 

The least common denominator is dictating the direction MMOs are going. 

Games from these trends breed worse players. MMOs are turning into metaphorical Wii games aimed directly at the ‘waggle’ casual market.  As players become worse at MMOs, and they do from these tends, developers become ever more fearful of striking out and trying something new.  You wonder why there isn’t innovation, or when someone tries something new it fails?  We’re just over two years shy of a decade in this mentality.  Millions — MILLIONS — of players have been brought into this mess and they don’t know any better.  The ignorant see a single step towards the past as some horrific or uncouth act.

In every other genre, mass market appeal games are looked down upon by the players, but somehow MMO success has been attached to a mass-appeal mentality and it’s being directly supported by the players.  I’m not going to suggest any sort of call to action like  ‘vote with your wallet’  because bad game design sorts itself out in the end (see: The 3 Monther).  I strongly believe we can create positive buzz around what we do want to see, and as a result make developers more aware and more inclined to create those games to obtain a greater share of wallet.

The point I’m trying to make here is one of simple recognition and information.  Recognize what’s happening and determine if that’s what you want.  I believe  a richer and more enjoyable experience can be had by playing a MMO that instills in the player a sense of accomplishment, social interaction, and connection to the world.  That’s the direction I want to go.

 

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Comments

  1. I was always partial to the system that was in City Of Heroes back in the first year that I played (not sure if they still have this). Careless play earned you a negative XP death toll and half of all earned XP went to this amount until it was cleared. This penalty also stacked but I do not recall how many times you would penalized before it would stop increasing. Granted, it was nothing major, but I prefer this over the common 3 minute sickness penalty. People can die and just go for a beverage run and come back when the timer is done.

  2. croxis says:

    When I was in high school and collage I had copious amounts of time to play games. Now I do not. One of the reasons I stopped Eve is that it would take an hour just for a small pvp or pve fleet to come together. I don’t want to spend the 40 minutes waiting for dinner to finish cooking to be traveling somewhere or finding a group. I know that my progression will be slower and I wont be able to reach some of the higher level content; I understand that. I also want a deep, meaningful game world even if I can only spend the time playing on the surface of it. It is nice to know it is there. But the time penalties hit my demographic (the 20-40 married 40 somethings with kids) really hard.

  3. I like the GW2 travel system. It’s a solid compromise between ultra-old-school “walk there or don’t go” and modern “sit in a city and click”. Yes, you can map to a large number of points but you have to travel to every one of those points on foot first and open them. That’s an excellent solution. You’re encouraged, nay forced to explore but once you have explored you are excused the need to re-explore. It’s something we saw way back in Luclin-era Everquest when you needed to go to each dragon spire and pick up the dragon tooth ground spawn before you could use that spire.

    Death penalties were always a terrible idea. I lost my corpse irretrievably five times in Everquest. I can remember each incident in detail even now, a decade and more later. I do not consider that to be a good thing. An incredibly intense emotionally scarring experience, yes. And one I could do without. I remember those experiences the way I remember childhood humiliations and horrible relationship break-ups. Is that appropriate for a video game? I don’t think so and clearly neither do most videogamers, since games that have harsh death penalties are widely shunned.

  4. Hah! In my podcast this morning we talk a great deal about this very topic and how a handful of us have started playing Everquest 2 of all things because we find those penalties FUN. XP deficits from dying? Wandering elites in newbie zones? Quests that make you grind mobs forever? Surprisingly awesome in moderation!

    It’s certainly not for everyone, and each player will have a different line of where those inconveniences become too much, but I think it says something that we had to go back to a game created in 2004, before everyone went crazypants for WoW, to get some interesting frustration back in our game.

  5. @croxis: Meaningless time sinks are, of course, terrible. I don’t believe time should be wasted. That said, things like boat rides in EQ or time to travel across continents I would classify as meaningful since they create a sense of space.

    I think older MMOs relied on harsher time sinks. There’s likely a balance to be struck.

    @bhagpuss: I agree that losing your corpse is too severe for a PvE environment where “full loot” isn’t in consideration. However, without any form of penalty the entire meaning of death or failure is lost. Death should mean more than ‘not winning’. Death penalties are an enriching form of frustration.

    Developers are focused entirely on making everyone happy and eliminating any defeat. Result: shallow and near-meaningless play with diminished accomplishment.

  6. MMOkay says:

    I can’t agree with you more, Keen! The LCD is dictating the direction of MMOs and that is why the only hope I have for the genre are indie developers who understand that risks are what makes the game exhilarating. I can’t see a major company bucking this trend.

  7. MMOkay says:

    I forgot to add:

    FAST TRAVEL
    I hate it. It breaks immersion. If you want the world to feel vast and realistic, the idea of distance is created by time. I remember when you had to put thought into where you were traveling and basing your adventures. If you ventured to one end of the world, you didn’t expect to return to the other end for quiet some time. That isn’t a time sink, that is flavor.

  8. I’d suggest you replace “developer” with “publishers”.

    Games costs real money to develop. Lots and lots of it.

    Producers / Publishers see games like any other investment. They expect return on investment.

    How do you get return on investment? By maximising the number of potential customers.

    It’s a double edge sword.

    An indie developer doesn’t have the budget to produce and maintain a AAA MMO.
    Publishers simply aren’t willing to fund “niche” MMO’s any more.

    Gamers aren’t willing to go back to NetHack like graphics, even if it nets them the depth they’re chasing.

    The industry is just growing and changing. Part of that is making gaming more accessible to wider markets. Given time, I believe they’ll find the balance between “hardcore” and more “casual” friendly gameplay. It’s early days yet.

  9. @Anon: The line between publisher and developer has been muddied. EA is no longer just a publisher when they buy out entire development studios. There are only a few AAA MMO developers being 3rd party published anymore.

    I think we have to avoid thinking that indie = ugly or poor. There are many beautiful & successful games, and well-off independent developers out there.

  10. I’ve also noticed an interesting difference between demographics.

    The day will come Keen, when you don’t have the time to invest in gaming any longer.

    When things in real life stack up and become far more important than sinking 40 hours into a game.

    When that day comes, are you going to giveup gaming? Are you going to hang up your boots and say “eh, I’m just too old for this?”. Or are you going to long for experiences that you *can* fit into your busy life.

    Gamers, the *original*, first generation gamers are getting older. They continue to want to play (and more importantly, *pay*) for games. Often they’re income rich, but time poor.

    Those are the players that Publishers are gunning for, because they represent the greatest return on investment. Games are business. That’s the sad truth of it.

    Fun? Enjoyment? Challenge? These are all terms that mean nothing next to the number in the profit margin. They make what sells.

    The mechanics you’re after, they’re niche. They’re dying off because the majority of the paying public doesn’t enjoy them.

  11. @Keen – Oh, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE indie games. But believe me.. compared to EA.. they’re poor. SWTOR cost 300 *million* to develop. There is no way in hell an indie studio could even begin to fund that kind of project.

  12. @Anon: Which is ridiculous if you think about it. 300 million to develop SWTOR when I’ve played games that cost a fraction of that for YEARS at a time.

    I fully recognize the niche status of some of the mechanics/features I want. I also know that they can be modernized and reintroduced. Look at GW2 reintroducing 3 faction RvR and 24/7 territory vulnerability. Tip of the iceberg.

  13. born2expire says:

    “In every other genre, mass market appeal games are looked down upon by the players, but somehow MMO success has been attached to a mass-appeal mentality and it’s being directly supported by the players.”

    I couldn’t disagree with this statement more. Have you played one of the recent Call of Duty games? Lowest common denominator dictates ALL game development now, its a sad fact of our hobby nowaday that publishers are more interested in attracting “non-traditional” gamers then their core market. From MMO’s to COD to Diablo to Street Fighter, games are being simplified or “streamlined” (as the media likes to refer to it), to cater to everyone and their grandparents.

  14. Call of Duty isn’t mass market appeal, though. CoD is just giving players more of what they want, more of the same, and more of what has proven to work for their players just like Halo. I think CoD is very polarizing, and the success of Battlefield 3 and other contenders in that market have shown that.

    As I was talking with Graev about whether or not this topic extended beyond MMOs, we decided to exclude talking about other games because of how much they vary outside of this generalization. Single player games remain a source of difficult and frustrating gameplay — sometimes too much, and sometimes just right. They also have a death penalty like no other: Game over.

    MMO developers/publishers try much harder to attract non-traditional gamers.

  15. Playing the game should be frustrating and challenging. Putting a group together to play the game should not. That’s part of the reason for doing away with the holy trinity. The other reason relates to tired, formulaic game play. If anything, the holy trinity makes things easier. DPS can focus on DPS, the tank holds the enemy, the healer heals. Yawn. In a single player RPG, you don’t have the luxury of relying on other players. You hold the enemy, you heal yourself, you fight. When it came to multi-player, yeah you can divvy up the roles as has been done to death, or you can put some of the responsibility back on individual players and make them find new ways to benefit from working as a team using diverse strategies instead of the usual rinse and repeat.

    And there’s no “supposedly” when it comes to player frustration with class roles? Some of us ARE frustrated by class roles. We don’t like dropping our sexy shadow build because nobody wants to heal or waste a bunch of time searching for someone else who does. Yeah, some people like to heal, but not many, otherwise it wouldn’t be so much harder to fill that ONE healing spot than it is to fill three DPS spots. In any case, we’ve had games with set roles, and shouldn’t fantasy games be less restrictive than reality, not more?

    Some find that anything short of a complete sandbox approach is too restrictive, which is a major selling point of the Secret World. Developers are making these less restrictive games because people have been asking for them for years. The developers didn’t pull these ideas out of their rear ends. Players have specifically requested them.

    As for death penalties, GW2 promised a reduced one but have since added an additional gold sink. Also, there’s not a lot of hand holding, and players die. A lot. Some of us even get caught with our pants down. Literally. The death penalty is still punishing. We’re just not paying in boredom but rather the shame of defeat (and a little bit of gold.) If you make players too afraid of failure, it cuts down on ingenuity because they will be all the more inclined to stick with tried and true methods of success to avoid it (not unlike a similar problem in American schools.)

    Developers can’t win. Reuse the old formula and you get criticized for making a re-skinned version of prior games. Try something new, and you get criticized for not making a re-skinned version of prior games. Thank goodness they still bother and haven’t been too scared of failure to try something new themselves.

  16. “The least common denominator is dictating the direction MMOs are going. ” Calling BS on that one, sorry. Everything you describe are what FRUSTRATE most MMO players…Devs are mitigating that frustration to make an enjoyable, FUN (these are GAMES after all) experience for players. I don’t play games to be frustrated and I would say most people don’t.

  17. Oh, and to the person above me who said playing a game should be frustrating? Wow, just…wow. So glad I don’t live your life.

  18. romble says:

    I agree with Keen on this one. There has to be a fine line/balance between this stuff though. I dont like forced grouping per say but I do believe in harsher death penalties. Travel, well i like the original daoc way. Horses provided travel but it was not instant and you still traversed the real world seeing what was going on around you. Real time had to be factored in..it still took 15-20 mins to horse it from the north to the very south of midgard.

    Look at Demon souls… the game is hard and punishing.. its so popular because it is so fulfilling to achieve in that game. Wow and its clones have none of that.

    @baghpuss losing a body sucks however I recall playing asherons call where i would log into the game with no real plan on what to do.. go off soloing in a dungeon and get myself into trouble deep inside. Die multiple times and have possibly 2-3 bodies with loot on them on the way to get my original body. Basically i was half naked with half hp/stats with no way of getting back there. That is when you ask for help and a guy or a party would help you get those bodies back. It may have taken all night but you made some friends along the way, had a new story to share, made your own content and actually gained xp/loot once the night was done. As well the relief and satisfaction it gave to retrieve your bodies was better than killing a raid boss. I miss those days.

  19. Darkstryke says:

    Welcome to the world of McMMO’s, where everyone is a winner and nothing shall take longer then 15 minutes to achieve.

    If developers would stop treating the genre as just a ‘game’, and instead think of it as a hobby (like it once was), the time investment won’t become an issue. I play MMO’s as a hobby, if I just want to play a game I’ll fire up and play a couple rounds of TF2, Skyrim, whatever.

    WoW did not start out as a McMMO. Seeing what it’s ultimately become is a warning of what happens when you cater to people who play ‘games’.

  20. Developers need to feel scared of frustrating players. Their fear is the only thing stopping them from introducing mechanics that might lose them revenue.

    There are a number of titles with longer duration travel, harsh death penalties and using the holy trinity. Isn’t it admirable that GW2 is trying something new rather than making another cookie cutter MMO?

  21. >>Developers are terrified of upsetting or frustrating the player.

    “Complicated” quests in this day are impossible; a Wiki or Wowhead or some other resource with the full walkthrough is a click away. Developers could make something difficult via twitch skills or requiring 30+ days of dailies or whatever, but you have to keep in mind that games (and especially MMOs) do not exist in a vacuum. Every single MMO released is competing with WoW, competing with EVE, competing with a dozen other titles for a gamer’s time and attention.

    As for your point about the trinity, I think you’ll find people arguing the exact opposite: that the trinity is faceroll, specialization is EZ-mode, and that role-less combat is where the pros are at. I don’t agree with them, but they exist.

    >>Developers are scared of punishing players with mechanics.

    You take for granted that “Death mechanics” were anything more than the blunt instruments of an ignorant age, like leeches and bleeding the humors. Death is failure, and failure is frustrating enough on its own even when it can be reversed with a Quick Load. Death penalties discourage exploration, punish experimentation, breeds paranoia (which isn’t typically what an MMO is attempting to evoke), and can mark the end of a horrible playing session. There can be a noble triumph in overcoming adversity, but the spanking for each wrong answer adds nothing of value to the teaching or the learning.

    As for groups, call it for what it is: clumsy social engineering. Punishing natural grouping is bad, yes, but the value of being social should be being social, not some candy and a pat on the head.

    >>The least common denominator is dictating the direction MMOs are going.

    “Breeds worse players?” I’m sorry, when did we decide breeding “better players” was the goal of gaming? What the hell does “better players” even mean? More like you? I would have assumed more players playing games they enjoy would have been a good thing.

  22. @Darkstryke: If I could highlight your comment in a different color to make it stand out, I would. I agree 100%. I hate when people use the “game” argument to justify neutering everything about MMOs.

    @Bernard: This isn’t about GW2, despite my examples. I agree with you in theory that trying something new to break away from cookie cutter MMOs is admirable. In fact, I really like how GW2 doesn’t feel like the past six MMOs.

    @Azuriel: If players know nothing but instant gratification, hand-holding, and only what it feels like to win then I absolutely believe they are worse players than those who work to succeed and know what failure feels like. It takes way less skill and very little thought to mash keys in today’s MMO.

    Those same ‘worse players’ are the ones resisting the games that try something new, btw. If someone steps out of the box and introduces -anything- to challenge their McMMO way of life, it gets shunned.

  23. Gankatron says:

    @Faine:

    The first time I read “Playing the game should be frustrating and challenging” I was quizzical, but upon thinking about it I do believe it is true within limits. I think a good challenge provides a sense of frustration until the puzzle (all games are puzzles) is figured out through logic and repeated trial and error. I agree that frustration is bad if it is over a poorly designed game element.

  24. Gankatron says:

    @Keen:

    “Somehow the “holy trinity” concept of healers, tanks, crowd-control/dps (depending on what generation you started MMOs) is being shunned as inconvenient or a frustration to players.”

    I think the trinity is well accepted by the newer fast-food gaming crowd (people who don’t read and write in gaming blogs; I am staying away from the term “casual” as it seems to mean different things to people on this blog).

    Removing it is likely more disorienting to non-dedicated gamers as they likely want a familiar and polished WoW clone that lacks complexity and defines a singular role for a given class type.

    Wouldn’t a large variety of play styles be less convenient and more frustrating to a less dedicated gamer than being able to pick a class based upon the hat they normally wear?

    http://t1.ftcdn.net/jpg/00/15/58/30/400_F_15583046_7Odm9vHWYDW8DY8Ke38XF3Y3upYaNhpK.jpg

  25. Death penalties have no place in modern mmos. They serve no purpose. Something can be challenging without penalizing you for not completing it.

    Take for instance the end boss of a single player RPG. It could be the hardest boss ever conceived. If you die, you load right back to when you start fighting it. The fun comes in defeating the hard challenge, not being punished needlessly for dying.

  26. Six of one, half-dozen of the other.

    Fast travel? I’d prefer to have it in the game. It’s my choice whether to use it or not. There’s a time and place for everything — so-called “immersion” included. Sometimes I’m just piddling around or just want to explore and enjoy the scenery, whatever. Then there are the times where either my time is limited and I want to Get Stuff Done or perhaps I have a group forming. I’ve shared my infamous story of Vanguard years ago where it took me 30 minutes to ride to the group, and I even took a fast-travel shortcut! (I think that was before they added the rift-travel or whatever it’s called) There is no way “immersion” should waste everyone’s time for 30 minutes. Include it in the game, let people choose instead of forcing one or the other.

    Death penalties, I’ve never been a fan of. How does it make the game any more shallower than the average MMO already is? Now, I’ll admit back in the early Vanguard and DDO days I would get downright terrified of getting killed because I’d lose so much XP. It was like “nooooooo!” but that also makes you play maybe too carefully? Sometimes it’s just plain fun to jump into a bunch of monsters and see if you can survive it. Survival is the “reward” and isn’t that shallow? So why should I be “penalized” for defeat other than me punishing myself for being silly?

    I didn’t read all the comments, so I’ll just bring this one up: everyone always harps on a “negative reinforcement” such as a death *penalty* but why not a survival *bonus* as positive reinforcement? Champions does this, the more missions you survive, you earn “stars” which give you a minor buff and can stack up to 5 I think? Defeat costs you a star until you’re back to your base abilities if you lose all 5.

  27. Gankatron says:

    @Talyn:

    “everyone always harps on a “negative reinforcement” such as a death *penalty* but why not a survival *bonus* as positive reinforcement?”

    This has always been my sentiment. I think that people have to define why a death penalty is an appealing concept for them; usually it is a feeling of added excitement with the potential risk of loss.

    I see a death penalty as a masochistic way to add a feeling of excitement to the game. I still feel excitement vying for a reward, but enjoy the freedom of not worrying that my attempts will result in punishment if I fail; personally it is more exciting as I will take more risks.

    Given the choice between an ongoing back and forth swashbuckling exchange of fronts and a dual turtle-fest, I will choose the former, and I think I know which of these situations is favored by positive versus negative reinforcement.

    Also getting facerolled by pre-mades, whether in instanced warzones or in open field PvP, is a reality for the pugger, and it is a humiliating form of punishment in its own right; adding a death penalty on top of this is not a way to foster a diverse community of play styles.

  28. I’m in favor of anything that enhances the depth and meaning of the game. Death penalties added a consequence and flavor to the game. If the same can be achieved by positive reinforcement, I’m game.

    @Gankatron: Death penalties like exp loss obviously would not apply to PvP. DAOC’s death penalty was the long run back to the action. That’s a solid penalty — you didn’t want to die because you missed out on the action and the reward. You lost nothing, you just missed out on the positive.

    Whether or not anyone likes death penalties doesn’t change the facts at hand: developers are shying away from penalizing or frustrating players and creating an experience where the player can not lose. I ask people to look at the games of the past 8 years and analyze the trend. If you’re not happy, this might be why.

  29. Cyprus says:

    I think I’ll make a larger post on the forum once I wake up tomorrow or something, but I thought I’d pitch in my two cents and be the devil’s advocate for just one moment.

    The first thing I thought about after reading your article is my current life situation. I don’t have nearly as much time as I used to have to play video games, I play games either on a budget or with an open wallet depending on how my job is going, and I have few friends that can play with me during my weird work schedule.

    All of this basically ends up drawing me closer and closer to “McMMO” games as someone referred to it, and while I don’t like it (and honestly avoid it), these games end up being the most appealing since it fits with how my life currently is.

    As much as I like a huge, open world, I have work in an hour.

    As much as I enjoy a good challenge or even hanging out with real life/internet friends, I’m in an important relationship.

    As much as I’d like to avoid a cash shop, sometimes I just have a good deal of income and I’d like to catch up with my friends.

    I guess what I’m trying to point out is that MMOs (and the Developers of them) are trying their darndest to “grow up” alongside the demographic that got them money in the first place. It’s having very mixed results, and sending mixed signals to the people making our games. I think they know that we’re unhappy and waiting for something big to come out, but at the same time we’re buying in to what they are making. We’re using the cash shops to get ahead, we’re using the waypoints instead of walking, and we skip every single bit of quest text. I have no idea what I’m looking for in an MMO anymore, and it’s my belief that the Developers are just as confused as I am when they’re looking at their data versus looking at their forums and review sites.

  30. I see this (MMOs) as a hobby more than a “game”. Darkstrike said it best. “If developers would stop treating the genre as just a ‘game’, and instead think of it as a hobby (like it once was), the time investment won’t become an issue. I play MMO’s as a hobby, if I just want to play a game I’ll fire up and play a couple rounds of TF2, Skyrim, whatever.”

    I don’t want my hobby mutated because some people don’t have time to participate in the hobby like they used to — maybe it’s time for those people to move on to something else or for something else to be created for them. Heck, I have nothing against variety, but we don’t have variety. There should be a ‘game’ or type of ‘game’ that people can play when they don’t have time to play MMOs, but don’t change MMOs to be that ‘game’.

  31. Gankatron says:

    A good run back in PvP makes sense as there should be some benefit to eliminating an opponent in the short term so a push can be established. I was thinking of death penalties as harsh actions that cause a loss of items/experience/effectiveness.

    I am also against the all win model of game design. I am bored by devs trying to make me feel like one of the few Sith Lords strong enough to have a seat on the Dark Council, just me and everyone else crowded around the GTN terminal also trying to sell stacks of Blue Goo; I have no problem being a capable underling for the NPC Lord of the Keep.

  32. I’ve been saying this for years. The sad thing is is that we won’t see a change unless an Indie MMO comes about. They will be the only ones with the balls to try new, old, or I should say non trending ideas. Once a MMO goes AAA and has huge funding behind them, they literally brainwash the developers to follow certain criteria so the game won’t flop. It’s sad but true. MMO’s are just too much of a financial risk to take chances with, so things just won’t change. If anything we have seen MMO’s trend more to catering to the casual player which is ashamed since they began as the total opposite.

    To be honest the amount of fast travel I saw in the GW2 weekend just boggled my mind for a few mins. Felt like I was in Stargate Universe or something. Definitely not a fan of massive amounts of portals and instances. Anyways the only way I can see a change ever happening is if an Indie company has an inside funder, 38 studios I’m looking at YOU. Kurt Schilling has a chance to make something good, he’s oldschool, knows what he likes, has his own funding and a boatload of talent. That might be our one hope on getting something good anytime soon.

  33. This post has really hit a cord with me on certain levels. I really do agree mmos in general have become far to dumbed down and its a detriment to the community. WAR really comes to mind when I think about this. If you got an organized warband out into the lakes and went against the Lcd soloers or the less organized groups you’d crush them. After a few deaths they’d flee and would avoid you from then on. They would not try to get organized or learn their classes or even come up with new strategies to beat you. They’d flee and stop playing. A more skilled gamer you come back, respect regroup. They’d be back with a new setup to take you down and between the more skilled guilds and players it became an arms race of who can innovate first or preform better. Those fights were the most memorable. But they were not for a majority of players who had no will or ability to learn to fight. They use the specs others adapt, and grind gear. It really frustrates me that a majority of the player base falls into this category. If they to boss to many times or to an enemy class its always “nerf it now

  34. I love this post, and I agree with pretty much everything in it!

    I, too, miss the days of punishment. Okay, that came out wrong.

    I do miss the grind though. I miss MMOs being about sharing in something — working together — to accomplish things, even leveling.

    I imagine there’s a market out there, albeit a small one, of people who are looking for a traditional Everquest-style experience in shiny, new packaging. Me, for example, assuming the game and combat were FUN.

    You’re absolutely right about death penalties too. “I need to go turn quests in… Hmm… too far. I’ll just suicide” should not be a serious option to consider. ><

  35. Zederok says:

    @Keen:
    “Developers are terrified of upsetting or frustrating the player.”
    -I understand where you are coming from but I disagree with how you worded it. Its apparent that you started in the EQ1 phase of MMO’s and as such I understand when you compare things featured in other games, such as fast travel and removal of the Holy Trinity in GW2. But you have to understand that EQ was not the first MMO there was another that came out the same year called Asherons Call.

    AC featured a large landmass that allowed players to use a school of magic (Item Magic) to tie to portals (entrances) lifestone ties, bind stones and towns to use fast travel. This did not remove the overall sense of grand scale that Dereth (AC’s landmass) fostered in fact it increased it. Also AC did not use a Holy trinity, it allowed players to spec into whatever skill they wanted. I played a Axe wielding melee warrior that used Item Magic to buff myself and weapons, Life Magic to buff my armor and resistance ratings and debuff my opponents to make them easier to kill, Creature Magic to buff my stats and skills and debuff my opponents to hit modifiers. I also used Healing skill which used health kits to heal myself in combat. basically I was my own tank/heal/dps/support and it worked.

    Having things that are not EQ like does not make the game easy mode. In fact WoW which is based on the EQ model is the reason why this and many posts like it continue to show up on gaming forums across the interwebs. If more companies took a greater risk of implementing new ideas the MMO market woudlnt be saturated with failed EQ/WoW clones.

  36. Zederok says:

    @Keen:

    Im not happy becasue every freaking game is a clone or a reskin WoW. I miss the old days when UO, AC, EQ, DAoC, and CoH were completely and diametrically different. This sense of removal of frstration and penalties plays no part in it, and according to the 30 some odd responses I think im right on in my assessment. In fact its why I am so eager to post on anythign related to GW2, because heres a company that IMO gets it and is not trying to remake WoW but to shun it in its entirety.

  37. Zederok says:

    @Sikk: This quote is taken directly from Curt Shilling himself over on the FoH forum:

    Bascially I read is that Copernicus is going to be another WoW clone *not reinventing the wheel*

  38. Zederok says:

    EDIT: Copernicus, and as always this is IMO only, will be an amazing MMO, an amazing experience for reasons that I believe MANY MMO players here will find awesome. Some won’t, some of you guys will bitch and will gripe, that’s likely the reason FoH is FoH.
    It will NOT be an ability based sand box game, it just won’t. So those of you that want that need not continue following this thread. Apologies if that was what you were hoping for.
    It won’t reinvent the wheel in many ways, but I do believe it will introduce some things promised, yet never done, and some things thought un’doable’. It may not be your cup of tea, but I am betting, roughly 40mm of my own money, and crap ton of others, that we will change the MMO space forever.
    It will not be a twitched based combat system, it will have classes, it will have things I think MMO players love, and it will do them as well as anyone ever has.
    I do believe we will move the genre forward, how much we do will likely be on you, the players, to determine on your own if we did what you had hoped, or did not.

  39. It all started with the invention of the TV remote control… After that the whole world went down to the abyss !

  40. Canuckde says:

    I didn’t read all the comments, but my 2 cents:

    Fast Travel:
    Horses in DAoC were pretty good, but LDing in one of the long stretches or just a lag spike and falling off: Horrible.

    Asheron’s Call had, imo, the best system. You had to run to, and bind to portals that were shortcuts. You often knew somebody with a hub bind (before the Hub-Bots were everyhwere), and the portals didn’t break immersion, as the “loading screen” was displayed as your flight through the portal. Taking a hub portal, porting out to Fort Sheth and then running out to your hunting grounds, or taking a portal out to the middle of some mountains and then running over 2 mountains to get to the Lugian fields, that was a nice balance between convenience and immersion.

    Death Penalties:
    DAoC: Rez Sickness was only annoying, it basically meant everyone took a break for a smoke/drink of water. Probably a healthy thing, but in a good group it never happened.

    AC: Losing your most expensive gear…. Having to have a bag full of expensive Orbs, Wands and Crowns was annoying. But it sorta worked.

    I really don’t know what would be better, losing my gear, which may possibly perma-gimp your character unless you get some charity, is not a solution, but neither is the E-Z-MODE of modern games.
    _________________________________

    I still think my ideal game would be an open world such as Asherons Call had, RvR in a major central area, with realm gates THAT ARE BREACHABLE, but brutally difficult. The difficulty of the realm gates should be inversly proportial to the success of the realm. For a DAoC reference, the hibs have all the relics and are dominating, so their realm gate should be weaker. The super low level zones should still be unreachable, say another impossible realm gate. (say lvl 35 and lower).

    Death Penalties should be in place, but it shouldn’t mean a simple AFK break, nor should you lose everything of value on your character. Repair bills aren’t bad, maybe some sort of “cheating Death” quest/dungeon to complete, or else you may be randomly “taken” by death after a certain number of deaths?

  41. Argorius says:

    I think it is a very simple relationship…level of positive experience is directly tied and equal to the level of negative experience. In order to have a rich, rewarding, meaningful, and powerful play experience you need the potential for a very dull, frustrating, boring, and horrifying play experience. The greater the potential negative is, the greater the potential positive can be. The problem is that sometimes a majority or a large portion of players experience more of the negative while fewer players may experience the positive. All modern MMOs try to minimize the negative experiences and they automatically minimize the potential positive experiences…in the end..the games aren’t frustrating,boring, or dull but they end up just being meh on the positive side (they can seem interesting, cool, but not absolutely awesome and even if they seem awesome…it is short lived) and they become 3 monthers.

    Are modern MMOs unintenionally defined by what they are not…like…by the lack of negative experiences? (of course features are worded so they seem to be positive play experiences but I wonder if a lot of them are advertising the lack of negative experiences…because it makes no sense to advertise the truly positive experiences because they should be weaker than the more frustrating games from before). Well, I am just thinking that this may be a trend.

    I don’t think you can minimize negative experiences while maximizing positive experiences…

    No developer will ever make their games more potentially frustrating, boring, dull, horrifying on purpose

    To me this is all fun management and sometimes we chose to have less fun or better yet that there is less potential awesome in our games just to make them less frustrating…

  42. There is definitely a market for a hardcore mmo. Problem is an mmo is so expensive to make the investors only buy into the mcmmo any more. The disappearance of Dominus only reinforces this.

  43. wufiavelli says:

    By now i would think tech and tools would be at a spot for more indie games to enter the market to fill the massive voids left open, but it is still expensive. Dominous went under, Wish went under, mortal online is a carwreck. There is still not much in the way of indie games.

    The things you talk about seemed to of come from the business side rather then from the development. until we can make games for around 3-5 million i do not see much hope.

  44. Keen, you sound like one of those old guys who say “in my day, we walked to school 10 miles in the snow” and also remind me of those guys who only listen to 80′s hair band rock because that’s what they listened to when they were in high school. I’m afraid that you’re never going to find a game that reignites the same feelings you had playing an MMO for the first time back in the “golden age”. Expectations of basic MMO gameplay have evolved along with the player base.

    Original Gamers like me (I’ll be 40 this year and have played games since the Atari 2600) don’t have the time or patience to deal with wasting time to get from point A to point B. At one point, before we had the responsibilities of life, it was OK.

    The other half of the equation are the players that didn’t grow up tweaking their DOS boot disk or upgrading their own video card to squeeze more FPS out of Quake. They are the Console crowd. They plug in a game and expect it to work, not to have to go download hotfixes or new drivers. Doing work to make a game run is unacceptable and thus doing work in game is also unacceptable. Maybe in the long run, it does come down to a MMO being a game vs. being a hobby.

  45. Steeldragoon says:

    I realized this going to be a rarely read if ever post, but I would just like to add:

    humblebundle.com = good indie games. :)

  46. Brise Bonbons says:

    Argorius: “I don’t think you can minimize negative experiences while maximizing positive experiences…”

    Argorius has the right of it. The first thing you learn when drawing is to pay attention to negative space. In music it’s the pauses between notes. I think the same is true for games, especially MMOs. When devs force every moment to be relentlessly “fun”, the game becomes an expanse of sameness punctuated by random loot drops.

    That said, as someone with very poor impulse control and too many interests, I agree time-sink games are a real problem. But I don’t agree that modern MMOs are any better for us old farts. Instead of spending an hour to run from Lordaeron to Teldrassil (which, for me at least, is a memorable and exciting use of an hour), I now face nearly endless hours of completely linear copy/paste quests which I will immediately forget.

    I think the solution is to make an Elder Scrolls-like MMO (no, I’m not talking about TES online, keep reading), where the travel is still there, but the content happens unexpectedly along the way – GW2 but without the fast travel. Furthermore, the tropes of vertical power progression and level-segregated content are relics, and impede our ideal game. Sidekicking is a start, but an MMO which eschewed gear and leveling entirely in favor of strict skill-based progression (with no gear treadmill) would be a much friendlier game for people with limited time – as well as the hardcore sandbox crowd.

    See a game like EvE, where a new player can engage in endgame content within a few played hours of logging in for the first time. Granted certain activities in EVE can be very time consuming, but that is unavoidable – a feature and not a bug.

    In short, I don’t think the oldschool sandbox players and the oldschool old guys are actually at odds here.

  47. @Brise Bonbons: I agree overall, and I really agree with your “content happens along the way” idea as a combat to time sinks and linear gameplay. Playing MMORPGs shouldn’t be about getting from point A to B; Gameplay should be about ‘existing’ and ‘living’ in the world — progression is a byproduct.

  48. Shutter says:

    As someone who’s associated tangentially (in a back-office way) with mmo/social develoers, you’re right about the first two points but draw the wrong conclusions, and unfairly pessimistic about the third.

    So first off, developers absolutely are trying to avoid unnecessarily annoying, frustrating, or discouraging their players. For a subscription MMO, the goal is for people to continue to play, engage, and (most importantly) subscribe to the game for as long as possible. A fair bit of thought, playtesting, and statistical analysis goes into identifying the things that push players to stop playing regularly (which usually leads to cancelled subs). When decisions to remove obstacles are made, they’re almost certainly done because the dev team thinks they’re losing the game more subs than they’re bringing in. Which, frankly, is a pretty sensible decision given that a) game population has a non-trivial effect on the quality of experience for players, and b) the ‘casual’ players’ $15/month is worth just as much as a hardcore players’.

    That said, good intentions don’t guarantee good execution, and the methods to evaluate the effect various facets of the game have on player behavior are still very much a work in progress in the industry. Some people get it right, some people get it wrong, and some people get inexplicably lucky/unlucky.

    The bottom line is, there’s a lot less chasing of popular hype in designing these features than you’d think from reading the press. Developers look at what has worked well or badly in other games, what their measurements say people are doing in their games, and what they and their playtesters believe is or isn’t fun/effective at retaining players.

    Death penalties disappeared for precisely the same reason that paid DLC hasn’t, the majority of the gaming public stops playing games with overly punishing death penalties, the same way they have all failed to stop picking up DLC as it’s started coming with price tags.

    As much as I personally think the necessity of humping my ass from Ironforge to Ahn Qiraj for a raid night added to the grand feel of Azeroth, I get that I’m both a minority of gameplayers and that feature commands a minority share of my opinion of WoW. And I can’t see how a dev justifies withholding features from the majority of players to cater to the minority, even if it is my minority.

  49. Darkstryke says:

    Thanks Keen. I find that the hobby analogy makes some people finally *light-bulb* and get it. Just like any other hobby, the experience becomes hollow and cheap when it becomes disposable.

    Unfortunately the genre has become infested with mega-publishers who care nothing about the players, only how much they can make shareholders.

  50. gimpThane says:

    @keen hobby vs game is a good way to put it.. there are dozens of “games” I enjoy casually, MMOs make horrible casual games

    I think to build a game like that you have to keep costs under 10 mil, preferably under 5. DAOC cost in that range and with quality of tools available now should be able to do it for cheaper.

    3 sides with lets say 2 classes each, one “battleground” (DAOC Thidranki). With right people that one month work if that (use Hero cloud). Raise with kickstarter etc. start iterating.

    One big issue is getting right people. Unlike other software industry MMO development is stuck in copy WoW retarded world. I wonder if finding the first 2-3 guys would be the biggest problem. Would anyone who knows Hero engine even want to work on a project like that..? It really should be doable with the tools like that. Problem is horrible performance for rvr etc

  51. gimpThane says:

    @Shutter I been a developer in mobile world for a long time now and excuses are all the same. Except that with mobile you can launch awesome stuff for maybe half a mil(like really awesome stuff, you can do good stuff at 1/5th of that) so sit on your ass and stuff as usual just does not cut it. People innovate and try new things, while MMOs rot.

    MMO players are not one big blob. Same as iPhone users who use cameras are not one huge blob. This is why you have built in camera app, Camera+, Instagram, Pro Camera, Cloud Photos, Hipster and tons of others. Same with MMOs you should be able to do a nice hobby market game (I am partial to a DAOC ripoff but there are tons of other things you could do) that would still have 40-50k subscribers, that’s an ass ton of cash.

    But big studious can not do it, that is not how big companies work 99.999% of the time. Risk aversion, covering ass, researching industry “trends” all this mediocrity garbage is what leads to MMOs of today.

  52. Shadanwolf says:

    I once worked for a person who refused to make decisions.He had managed to survive in business by having others..or events dictate decisions.I think game decision makers….many of them …are like the person I noted.How do I not get fired,yet look like I’m doing things ? And so we get vanilla…boring…..seen that before gaming. SWTOR and RIFT are two recent example that come to mind.

  53. Brise Bonbons says:

    GimpThane pretty much covered my intended response to Shutter. I do agree with Shutter, mind: It clearly makes the most business sense for Blizzard or any other massive developer to use the “inoffensively addictive” model, built on good science as it is. But these dudes apparently never take a moment to study the market and identify where consumer demand is going unmet. Free hint to Suits: I think the demand for WoW clones was already being filled quite adequately. Also GW2 just ate your lunch in the “WoW, but totally better I promise” segment: Move on to the next one.

    And now we’re back to GimpThane being right again: The opportunities moving forward are for small or midsize projects, putting out low budget games aimed at subgroups within the MMO audience. I.e. us. Groups which are often older/hardcore, and have substantial amounts of money or passion to contribute. I.e. free advertising and lots of DLC sales.

    But, again as GimpThane points out, they need to start very modestly indeed, and grow the business and game world as paying customers allow. I think one zone and a handful of classes is a great start. Hell, do your first game in 2D isometric and call it a UO homage. New classes can be added in miniexpansions, costumes can be sold as DLC, while new “adventures module” content and zones are added for free to build good will, and to keep the playerbase from splintering along pay lines.

    Obviously it’s easy to be an armchair developer, but can someone point out why this plan wouldn’t keep a small business going?

  54. Just wanted to add my agreement to Darkstryke’s comment about what happens when MMO developers cater to “people who play ‘games’ “.

    I’ve never thought of myself as a gamer and I consider MMOs to be a hobby. We all use “games” and “gaming” as shorthand but there’s a huge and obvious difference between the hobbyists and gamers in many MMOs.

    There’s a lot of money to be made from hobbyists, but probably nowhere near as much as there is from gamers, that’s the problem.

  55. Gankatron says:

    An ambling preamble:

    As I and others have mentioned before, unique game mechanics are much less likely to become adopted by the AAA companies due to the increased pressure to emulate the current financially successful paradigm, WoW. A stockholder will look at WoW and see $$$; given the choice between a model that has been proven successful and one that seeks to try something new, most investors (perhaps many who aren’t even gamers) will want the former, which they perceive is the less risky option. I think the irony is that these WoW clones fail to reach the financial success of WoW. Failure of AAA companies to successfully emulate WoW could be the impetus for future ventures into non-traditional (non-WoW) game mechanics or simply be responsible for a decline of ambitious AAA projects; I think investors may be more resistant to putting money into the next WoW project even with an IP that has the Force behind it (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ea-sales-beat-targets-star-wars-takes-hit-2012-05-07?siteid=yhoof2).

    I feel the failure of the WoW clones to reach WoW financial success is in part because they seek to take the short track to building a large base of fast food gamers and neglect the long road that WoW journeyed to get to its current enormous subscriber base. WoW was initially supported by the nerd/hard-core/dedicated (choose your term) gamer whose evangelical ardor allowed it to survive over the years prior to the hobby becoming cool and grow to a point where Blizzard was able to afford mainstream advertizing while insidiously shifting to game relatively simplified mechanics favoring the fast-food crowd. In short, the support of the dedicated WoW early adopters allowed for the initial financial stability during the start up phase allowing Blizzard to later abandon them in favor of the larger and more profitable fast food crowd.

    I believe unique game mechanics will have to come from the indies, which the more successful portions can be incorporated into AAA models. The perceived safety of WoW emulation is a strong impetus for devs to start with their fundamental framework and add more subtle changes to define a game’s uniqueness; nonetheless, thinking of a new paradigm will require more than elaborate voice acting.

    Another reason to stick to WoW game mechanics is class balance. Balancing classes even in a typical WoW cookie cutter is a daunting task. Perhaps a new paradigm will involve radically different game mechanics that minimize the need for elaborate balancing acts?

  56. Gankatron says:

    My idea for a unique game:

    The fundamental underlying concept in my ideal game is transient chaos. No one player would need to be balanced against another as power disparities are time limited and randomized; this is how I would achieve it.

    1) Limited lifespan of a server – Each server’s realm would reset every, say 3 months, putting it in the attention span of even fast food gamers. After reset everyone would start from scratch.

    2) No classes – Each player starts their character off with all abilities open to them. There would be a variety of different systems say Magic being one, with subcategories, say fire, water, death, life, etc. They can then choose to progress into a spec with a system that either allows for players to assign points into an area or that has options open up to them the more they use a skill effectively (i.e. not cast into midair).

    3) Ability progression within a chosen area is randomized – Although one can choose what ability area they want to develop, the actual ability opened up is randomized. While some may complain that they didn’t like the ability they got, they will naturally be encouraged to find a use for it. I would allow a player to choose the path they want to continue on; think of something like the Allods grid (or hex or cube) only with unrevealed abilities as question marks and with cardinal directions labeled as to utility (AoE, single person dps, crowd control, etc). So if someone gets a fire magic point to assign they could choose to continue to progress in the direction of their fireball spell for related abilities (i.e. improved fireball, firewall, fireblast), or choose to develop another unknown general fire ability.

    4) Abilities granted have variable modifiers – Even a given ability is unique to that player; a fireball spell for one player may have a greater range, but lower damage, another may have diminished range, but greater splash radius.

    5) Ability progression is synergistically linked to previously chosen abilities – I would like to think of this as a 3D cube, but that might be too complicated. Nevertheless, an ability might only open up if multiple general areas of other abilities were previously chosen; for example having fire shield and improved axe attack might open up immolate weapon, which wouldn’t normally be available to a pure fire magic spec.

    6) Magical weapons have limited lifespans once used – A 2 week lifespan sounds right to me without an option for repair. In this way an overpowered legendary sword could allow one to be an unnaturally powerful superhero/villain on the battlefield, but only for a short period of time. This approach would also support crafters.

    7) Crafted items have variable effects – Much like the abilities grid, a crafter could choose to be a swordsmith and apply a fire effect to an item, but wouldn’t be able to put on a specific effect until they had learned it through a random selection process; even still the actual effects would still carry variable modifiers.

    8) A selection of different scenarios – Normally MMO’s need to craft extensive worlds large enough to occupy a character’s entire stay past reaching cap. A world that exists and then collapses in the space of 3 months can be more limited (fewer zones), which in turn can free resources for different scenario development. Perhaps at launch there would be 3 different general world scenarios with the possibility for more subtle alterations within a scenario type between servers. Variable dynamic events would be present.

    9) Devs as event story tellers – Although each server would have a general scenario type, unique scripted events can be added from a general collection rotating events. There would be no guarantee of a specific scripted event occurring on any world scenario type. Certain unique lore objects could be found in game that contribute to the story line progression; in this case you are actually a recognized unique player that lore can be built around for the duration of the server’s existence.

    10) No level/no cap – There would b no ability cap, just continued spec’ing into abilities. People could choose to be min/maxers or utility players. In addition to unique abilities, ability improvements would exist so spec’ing into a general direction would not be capped (although the improved ability would be randomly assigned to a unique ability already learned). I would make sure that ability progression was not too fast in contrast to most games today and perhaps extensive deep spec’ing might have some limited returns on improved status abilities.

    11) Special ranked competitive events – Characters and their favored weapon sets would be saved after server collapse for staged competitive PvP events.

    12) WvWvW combat – ala GW2.

    This system allows for a highly unique character types without a need for as extensive balancing as there are in effect no set classes or formulas for best specs as ability progression cannot be specifically chosen; while it is likely true that someone who put every point in fire magic would eventually get fireball, the base variability and additional improvements would mean the spell could play differently from their last fire spec’d character. Imbalances due to OP items are accepted as they are not persistent and available to each dedicated player.

    Experiences remain fresh due to the high degree of variability of abilities and items, general world scenarios, and specific rotated scripted events.

  57. Shutter says:

    @GimpThane and Brise Bonbons

    I’m not saying it’s perfect. Partly I just wanted to write to push back on the idea that this is all because of developers wimping out, or ass-covering, or whatever. I’m not a dev or part of a direct game-team (though I am part of the process that provides information into game teams’ decision making process from time to time, so maybe I’m biased) but I don’t think I’ve ever met a dev who’s consciously choosing to wuss out on this stuff, no one wants to make sucky games.

    Also, if you think decisions are made on hand-wavy “trend” research, you’re misconstruing the kind of research that’s being done. It’s nothing so vague as “all our competitors have ditched death penalties so we should too”, it’s more along the lines of “When the death penalty makes players wait more than 30s before getting back into the game, logoff rates jump 20%” (This is wildly generalized, but it’s much more the latter than the former)

    Two last points though. First, it’s a bit odd talking about a massively multiplayer online game aimed at a niche argument isn’t it? It can’t be too surprising that this, out of all game genres, is going to be generally geared towards mass market appeal, as the quality of experience depends so much on a large active population. And it may be that the market for niche products just isn’t as big as the community thinks it is. All of which isn’t great news for those of us (me included) with niche tastes, but it seems to be getting better. I’d argue that GW2 is a niche MMO, if on the larger side, as is The Secret World (which does have a big dev studio and a big name publisher). They may not be experimenting in the areas described in this post, but they’re definitely trying to do some things differently. Similarly, if an independent project like Firefall gets traction, we may see more niche products (I hate to say it, but freemium games probably niche communitites more profitably than subscription games).

    And lastly, thinking critically about this stuff is still pretty new to the industry, which means it’s far from perfected. Personally I think it’s a big reason behind the ’3 monther’ issue. But the tools, and how dev’s use them to make design decisions are getting better. I wouldn’t blame malice or gutlessness when well intentioned devs using a imperfect but improving process is likely possibility.

  58. Evalissa says:

    I disagree that moving away from the so called holy trinity is a bad thing. Tank + Healer + DPS *IS* a dumbing down of the game, when its done in the way modern games have done it.
    The dps just hotkey mashing, the healer just HP bar whack-a-moleing. really only the tank requires some skill past rotation, and in a lot of games even that is minimal.
    It worked in older games because there was more to it in older games.
    Eq1 you had real CC, real pulling, real kiting. you had classes dedicated to things other than tank/heal/dps and that is what made it work.
    Making games that label every class into one of those three roles IS dumbing down, that’s why I am so very happy that GW2 is breaking away from the trinity.
    Allowing Warriors to use bows or rangers to use daggers may be dumbing down a little, but it is far outdone by forcing EVERYONE in a group to pay attention or die

    Now that that rant is over, I do however strongly agree with you that death penalty and travel time are important things that have been removed from modern MMO’s and are two things that IMO GW2 got wrong

  59. I meant the example of removing the holy trinity as just an example of how devs are muddying or blurring the lines to appease everyone who wants to be everything. I didn’t mean for it to come across as the holy trinity being a definitive way of doing class roles correctly.

    UO, for example, didn’t have the holy trinity and it worked just fine. UO absolutely forced you to choose what you were able to do, though. You only had a certain amount of points to spend and when you allocated them you didn’t have points to do something else.

    You make a very fair point, Eva.

  60. Brise Bonbons says:

    @ Shutter:

    I totally agree with what you’re saying in this last post, sorry if I didn’t communicate that well. I have a ton of respect for the data being generated to enable these choices, and I think it’s a fascinating field.

    My point is not that these guys are gutless or craven or incapable of being creative, it’s that they’re trying to make games within a specific commercial structure which makes their jobs incredibly hard – and the guys with the money seem to keep making the same dumb decisions in hopes of making an easy profit, making the job even harder.

    *

    On the other hand, I disagree strongly that a niche audience can’t support an MMO. I think everything about the genre is totally flexible, and we see MMO games take every shape and size, from Eve’s single universe of several hundred thousand players to Realm of the Mad God’s tiny instanced worlds. I’m confident you could design a satisfying MMO experience that took place on one server in one zone with less than 100 people, as long as it had:

    Persistent World
    Community Interaction
    Consequences
    Some Player Sense of Progression

    That said, obviously if your consumer base is that small you need to be running on a tiny budget – you’re basically in mud territory, maybe with crude sprite GFX and a basic GUI. But I think it would still have everything required to be a proper MMO.

  61. Today’s “niche” subscriber numbers are 2-3x what the best MMO had 10 years ago. 250,000 subscribers can support a MMO. It has been done on less. What 250,000 subscribers can’t support are the McMMO inflated budgets from the fat cat publishers wanting ridiculous ROI’s on those ridiculous budgets.

    I guess what I’m saying is I agree with what Brise just said.

  62. Zederok says:

    @Keen: Do you honestly believe that Anet (and I am only using GW2 here as an example since you mention the removal of the holy trinity and not as a rabid fan) are removing the holy trinity as an example of how devs are muddying or blurring the lines to appease everyone? Because if you do then I disagree 120%. Anet is trying something totally different.

    Now if you dont believe that to be so, may I suggest you use better analogies to try and convey your message, because using a GW2 Analogy which runs contrary to what Anet’s Manefesto says is not only a wrong but kind of silly.

    Do I believe some developers are dumbing down their games to appeal to larger audiences? Sure but it isnt always a bad thing, as long as it is in moderation and some sense of innovation is brought about. I think 90% of every MMO developer is afraid to try soemthing new and as such they pretty much copy the WoW formula, that is the problem in todays MMO’s and nothing else!

  63. @Zederok: I absolutely believe ArenaNet is removing the holy trinity to intentionally blur the line between class roles and appease more people. I think they’ve even come out and said something similar in their videos. Making it easier to group up with anyone, everyone heals, etc.

    Don’t mistake that for -intentionally- dumbing down. I don’t believe that to be ArenaNet’s intention at all. I believe in many ways it’s a side-effect, though, and that many other devs -do- intentionally dumb down.

    Like you said, it’s not always a bad thing. In GW2′s case they’re going for something “Different” than the WoW clones we’ve had for years and they’re going to succeed in being quite different in many ways, as we’ve just described.

  64. Zederok says:

    Ill buy that I guess. Though I still think what its making the gameplay alot better, part of “Different” I spoke of. I still feel that the majority of your complaints are more a side effect of Developers wanting to capture that WoW effect instead of being like I stated way up above in the old days(pre-WoW) when UO, AC, EQ, DAoC, and CoH were completely and diametrically different.

  65. wufiavelli says:

    To be honest after trying the GW2 i am pretty sure the holy trinity is not there because it is not the best fit with the combat. Sure you could force it in the appease people, but that would just detract from the combat.

    Basically there is no trinity in GW2 combat because it is not trinity combat. They do say they did it to blur class rolls somewhat, but i think that is more marketing to try and explain it to an MMO crowd.

  66. wufiavelli says:

    Healing classes and War and AOC represent bluring lines. But GW2 represents building something at its core pretty different.

  67. Gankatron says:

    @Keen:

    “Don’t mistake that for -intentionally- dumbing down. I don’t believe that to be ArenaNet’s intention at all. I believe in many ways it’s a side-effect, though,…”

    I think of the term “dumbing down” as an attempt to over simplify something relative to a comparative standard.

    GW2 utilizes 8 different classes each with 30 selectable traits, 5 different primary attacks that change on 2 different pre-assigned weapon configurations, one slot with 3 different healing options, 3 utility slots from which 20 options are available, as well as one slot with 3 elite skill choices.

    GW2 Build Calculator > http://www.gw2builds.org/

    I’ll allow any one who has a calculator handy to do the math, but the number of permutations available for play has impressed me, and does not seem over simplified relative to current MMO models such as WoW.

    Which standard are you comparing GW2 to refer to it as having been dumbed down?

    What you seem to consider “dumbing down” (intentional or not by ANet), I consider increasing versatility. To turn it around, cookie-cutter trinity classes seem relatively dumbed down by comparison in my opinion.

  68. Brise Bonbons says:

    Whether or not ANet consciously used the sort of data Shutter is talking about, I think they are doing exactly what he describes so well: They’re saying “look, people get (frustrated/unhappy/bored) when they have to wait around for a group, so let’s design the game in a way that it doesn’t happen”.

    I don’t think it’s intentionally “dumbing down”, for the reasons Shutter, Keen, Zed, and Gankatron all describe. But I do think it’s a case of trying to engineer an exclusively positive experience. As such I’m afraid there might be unintended consequences, since as we’ve already discussed, trying to do this often results in a sort of “gray” or muddied, undifferentiated play experience in the long term.

    Without highs and lows, everything is just a flat line.

  69. That guy says:

    Derek Smart has no problem frustrating and punishing players.

    That is all.

    TG

  70. Danath says:

    Gonna have to disagree here, some of those mechanics were a chore to deal with, EQ’s corpse runs especially,DAoC funny enough only had an xp penalty and the constitution loss, which I found to be just fine. Penalties do not need to be particularly harsh to help breed community. Punshing players is understandable, the difficulty is determining what level is appropriate for the game you are creating, and it depends on the kind of content and direction the game is taking itself. With the desire to appeal to more people, less painful punishments in order to keep on people who may be more easily deterred by a few deaths seems like a smart business decision at least, even if it decreases the risk of the game. A game that wishes to be a bit more niche and appeal to a certain demographic of players… that’s different, and there’s a few games that actually do have slightly steeper death penalties.

    As for the holy trinity, that’s kind of a new thing, in older games you could have multiple people in multiple classes filling multiple rolls, tanks dps’d OR tanked, healers dps’d, healed, or tanked in some occasions, bringing 3-4 tanks 1-2 dps and a healer was common, so was 1 tank 1 dps several healers.

    While the trinity existed it was far… looser in what was actually required to fulfill the holy trinity, and only more recent games have started this whole “1 tank, X dps, 1 healer” mentality. Heck in DAoC I remmber doing bosses that did so much damage there were no tanks, he just one shot whoever he was attacking, so all we did was spam revive spells and throw ourselves at him till he went down, and you know what… it was fun. DPS and tanks alike would spam taunts trying to get higher “death counts” by taking hits, and we were the most likely to survive more than 1 hit, although healers didn’t bother to heal us, it was cheaper to just revive. I think the boss was the giant statue in ML8 for those who remember who that is.

    And the lowest common denominator thing is kind of elitest, games breeding worse players is due to the leveling game being entirely different from the end game. Additionally the games around lately value the solo experience far too highly, which breaks any sense of community or unification of purpose within the game world and leads to problems when that content runs out.

    None of the problems exist in isolation either, problem A is partly caused by problem B which is in part caused by problem C, but problem C didn’t exist until they started messing around with problem A. Fixing any singular system doesn’t fix what’s broken everywhere else and the same problems will just crop up again.

  71. Danath says:

    Oops, wrong thread.

  72. Faine you misunderstood my point or reading too much into my use of the word frustration, or simply didn’t bother reading after the first sentence. Games shouldn’t be frustrating to the point of being miserable, but if you’re never frustrated, that means you’re never challenged. For me, failure is a frustration in and of itself. That doesn’t mean I should have success handed to me. Regardless, the real point I was making is that the simple act of trying to play shouldn’t be a source of frustration, too. As for my life, it’s quite satisfying and also includes the rewarding frustration of child-rearing. The only way to avoid frustration is to give up all the good it leads to (no relationships, no children, no job, no play, no nothing.)

    Anyway, I came back because of an article on Kill Ten Rats about how people will miss out on a lot of what’s great about GW2 if they don’t put in the time and effort. DEs will be added and changed over time but they won’t tell us. It will be up to us to find out ourselves. It’s more “work” for us, but it’s also engaging. For me, that’s what separates a time sink from playing a game. The game rewards patience and attentiveness. They give us incentive for taking our time, they don’t force it.

    There’s nothing engaging about sitting on a boat or a bird while going from one place to another, not after the novelty wears off anyway. And how often to you need to repeat the same voyage to get a sense of scale? Most people just use it for a bathroom or food break after awhile. Maybe we need a game that still requires a boat ride from one place to another but we actually have to do things to get there, like the ship is invaded or you actually have to help run it. That I can get behind, forced thumb twiddling, not so much.

    I’m also disappointed that my point about removing the holy trinity actually being a source of frustration was ignored. Look at how many players complain after they’ve played such games. They are so used to a set role or relying on others to keep them up, they don’t know what to do. It’s a huge risk taking people used to one thing and going a different direction. And wasn’t there a post here complaining about melee being too hard in GW2? That should be hard (ranged is hard too, more so in solo whereas melee have greater difficulty in groups.) The simple act of trying to play together with your friends should not be. I’m so glad my husband and I can level together no matter what profession we pick, for example.

    As I said before, it’s not about coddling people; it’s about putting some of the responsibility back on individual players and make them find new ways to benefit from working as a team using diverse strategies instead of the usual rinse and repeat.

  73. I always say this:

    If chess decided to change its rules to make it more accessible, do you think there’d be a riot?

    If football decided to forgo tackling, to make it more accessible, do you think there’d be a riot?

    If Toyota decided to change their Camry so a starving college student could afford it, do you think there’d be a riot?

    MMOs are a weird, weird, beast. I get that they make these constant changes and simplifications in an attempt to continue to increase the playerbase, but let’s take a step back.

    There’s a difference between maximizing the playerbase by making more and more ‘natural’ members of that playerbase play your game, and maximizing your playerbase by making people who aren’t naturally a part of your consumer base play your game.

    Take all the people who say they have no time to play games that don’t let them have instant gratification. Perhaps, just perhaps, MMOs aren’t for them? Yet, MMOs consistently, over the years, have catered to that consumer base, because they know there are a lot of people who fall into that category.

    In, of itself, there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. The real shame is the false belief that you can cater to every consumer with one product.

    Niche MMOs will never make the money a game like WoW makes. So, the very first thing a developer who wants to make an MMO that caters to those who have the time to actually participate in a virtual world, verse someone who really doesn’t, needs to find a publisher who is ok with not trying to hit the ‘casual’ demographic. People say it can’t be done. Greed drives all games to be carbon-copies as they shoot for the largest demographic.

    Bullshit.

    In virtually every other consumer-space, you have products that target different demographics.

    The real question is why we don’t see this in MMOs.

    Unlike Keen, I can’t give GW2 a free pass here. I know he seems to think it’s the second coming, but it is essentially streamlining and ‘casualizing’ the MMO genre even more. Which, again, is fine, if you’re the instant gratification market.

    Some of us, however, have no real interest in instant gratification. Where are the MMOs for us? And, before some idiot says, ‘EVE’, let me just say that I don’t consider spending 80% of my time warping through space mining rocks a game.

    I do wish indie (or european) studios would give us more niche MMOs, but again, I’m going to disagree with Keen here. I have not seen a ‘beautiful’ indie game. They are awkward, have bad aesthetics, etc, etc. If you’re going to build a virtual world, graphical aesthetics is important. Even large studios often fail in that regard. In terms of MMOs, World of Warcraft and Star Wars are the only two games I even consider aesthetically well done, and I despite both games. By well done, I mean that characters and creatures move ‘naturally’, and don’t move like they are mannequins (jerking, floating, etc). I could throw in FF 14 as well, but it’s such a horribly shit game in every other aspect, that I hate to pretend there’s anything positive about it. Even GW2, for all its aesthetic beauty, shows its ugly GW head, in the rather ‘cheap’ movement animations that are just barely improved over all the sliding around you did in GW. For me, as strange as it sounds, I’ve found jilted movement in MMOs to very often be deal-breakers. Don’t get me started on the number of MMOs that produce running animations that make me want to tear my eyes out.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that if big studios can’t even get some basic animations done right (something that, strangely, they rarely have a problem with in their single player games), I doubt an indie studio will ever manage.

    I’ve long fallen into a deep pit of despair thinking the only way we get a modern re-envisioning of old school MMOs is if some rich person who spent his teenage/college days playing Ultima/Everquest decides he’s done making his billions and is going to self-fund and self-publish this game without a worry over profits.

    Otherwise, I think it’s incredibly naive to think the MMO-scape is eventually going to come full circle and return to those ‘niche’ days on their own.

Trackbacks

  1. [...]  As Keen notes, recent releases [SWTOR, GW2, TERA] have seen a movement away from heavily punishing MMO players for failure and he questions whether this trend is having a negative impact on the playerbase. [...]

  2. [...] the trend for games to remove or shy away from RPG complexity nowadays as highlighted in a post by Keen recently. I actually think at the heart of this it isn’t just that vast hordes of FPS or [...]