A few weeks ago, when I was writing about themeparks with inaccessible end-games, Graev and I had a side conversation about consistency. We came to the conclusion that MMOS should be hard and rewarding with a sense of achievement all the way through, or accessible and equal. Honestly, I don’t think there’s one right way for all MMOS.
A game like EverQuest should be difficult and rewarding the entire time. As a level 5 caster I would be terrified of the mobs that didn’t con blue, and if I wasn’t prepared to fight the blues themselves might cause me to go running for the guards. I would hug zone walls (Kithicor anyone?), rest until I had completely full health and mana, and literally feel a wave of anxiety wash over me after being poisoned by a snake. These exact feelings never stopped. When I reached the max level and went into the planes (raids) I was in a position of being at the top of my game, yet I was terrified. I remember taking the raft to Kunark the day it launched terrified of what might be there waiting for me on the other side — this being after I was already a high level. EQ never became any less difficult, or any less rewarding. The experience was consistent.
In a difficult game like EQ, everything was an accomplishment. Almost nothing was ‘accessible’, but part of the fun was always striving and trying to take on the next challenge. That’s why I have such vivid memories of clearing Unrest for the first time, or going to Crushbone. Even the infamous Dorn B’Dynn of North Ro, a simple NPC who stood in a camp, was a terrifying menace to just about every player familiar with the zone. I’ll never forget his name because of the challenge he posed.
Contrast that with WoW, a game I technically played longer than EverQuest, and my memories aren’t nearly as powerful. My strongest memories in WoW — heck, my only memories — are of those exact moments when I killed a difficult boss we’d been trying so hard to beat. WoW today is quite different than it was back in 2004. Although it was definitely harder, WoW has always been more accessible. What I have never enjoyed is the transition at the end from being a generally accessible and easy game into something completely closed off to anyone but the top few percent. Needing 40 people, for example, is quite a jump from needing no one but myself since level 1. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a game being easy, but the change kills it for me.
In a game where every moment of every day is designed to make the player feel like they’ve earned something, there doesn’t have to be this push to reach the ‘end-game.’ Every day can be a victory with memories and achievement. On the flip side, when a game is always easy then the player can just jump in and jump out, or have a lot more control over their own destiny.
Anyway, that’s the gist of what we discussed. Almost two topics here, I know: (1) Difficult content, and (2) Consistency. To summarize the whole thing, make a game hard and rewarding the entire way through or make it accessible and easy the entire time. That way players get aren’t surprised or let down when the game changes. Fun can be had either way, but memories for me are always when things are more difficult or at least something I had to really, really work towards earning. Easy games can be rewarding too. I’m done rambling.