Solutions to some problems faced by an aging game

Content aging and becoming less popular and the population of a game shifting to the “end-game”  are both problems that all MMO’s face when they follow even a loose themepark model.  In Lord of the Rings Online, this problem is exacerbated by their storylines being contingent upon completing the prior chapters.   For me, this is one of the key reasons why I do not subscribe to a game if I missed the launch by a large margin.  I don’t want to struggle to find a group to do content that was once the happenin’ place but now a ghost town.

In a design discussion blog entry, Orion of Turbine addressed the issue that they’re facing and presented a possible solution; one that I find to be a very good solution on paper.

“We have a problem. We have this glorious epic storyline that takes you throughout Eriador but requires you, at various points, to find others to assist you. This is all well and good when you are a newer game and the majority of the populace is roughly the same level and progressing at roughly the same rate. However, when you are 2+ years removed from launch and looking at the trends and notice that more and more players are abandoning that rich – focal – part of your narrative game, then there is a problem.

First and foremost we are a game driven by story. Your place in that story. How you deal with elements of that story and interact with the story. Our epic is clearly one of the most important facets of our game. Now, few people are continuing on with it post Volume 1, Book 1 and this means that we have a problem that needs a solution.

The Solution? Moments of inspiration. These are the moments when your character digs deep into their reserves and finds something more. Whether this is drawn from the people around them or from their own sense of purpose these are the moments inspiring greatness.

Starting with Volume 1, Book 2 – completely revamped and restructured in the upcoming release on December 1st, the Epic Book series will be getting treatment to identify key moments in your character’s life. These types of moments will allow your character to don the mantle or heroism and fight against far greater odds.

Inspired Greatness does the following for a player:

Increases morale and power significantly, increases in-combat and out-of-combat morale and power regeneration, increases damage output from melee, ranged and tactical sources, increases healing output for all healing skills.” [Source]

Having played through all of Eriador, I know that I would absolutely never play through it all over again in its current state.  Those story quests were hard enough when the majority of the populous was doing them.  Trying to do them now sounds like my worst nightmare come true!  However, if I were able to start a new character (even an alt) and be able to have these “moments of inspiration” and complete them by myself then suddenly it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable hurdle.

In addition to simply making your character stronger, I think that giving you some super strong NPC’s to fellowship with during these Epic Book quests would be a good idea to offset some of that “I’m all alone pwning Angmar” breaking your immersion/belief in the story/setting.

This sounds much better than giving a huge exp bonuses or simply turning a blind eye and expecting people to skip the content.  More and more games are going to start seeing these problems as many of the themepark games of this age begin to age.   Solutions like this will hopefully allow them to survive and continue to thrive as LOTRO and WoW have both illustrated.   This raises the question though: Would we even have a problem to begin with if the games were designed differently from the start?  It’s an interesting thought to turn over a few times in your head.  What are alternative methods for designing content so that it does not face this problem?  Ideally the solutions would not involve devolving content so that it is all solo-able from the start.   Worth thinking about — and in the case of developers, it’s worth thinking about before your game becomes several years old.

I like the idea a lot.  Kudos Turbine!

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