MMO Reboots

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately: Should MMO’s reboot more often?  When I say reboot, I’m talking about the same type of reset we see when a new World of WarCraft expansion comes out.  Suddenly it doesn’t matter if you’ve played since launch with the best gear in the game. When Mists of Pandaria launches, no one will have an advantage and a new player can join and rise to the top.

Personally, knowing that people have been playing for a year or more with that big of a head-start on me is daunting.  I become discouraged thinking that there is no way I will catch up.  For example, I think about trying Rift again then I realize I am a year behind everyone else, and I figure why bother at all.  If suddenly there was a reboot, a reset, and everyone was on the same footing again, I would be more inclined to jump in and play.

Themeparks with vertical progression benefit from this system the most.  And while existing players who are excelling are technically reset, and in a way brought downward to the beginning again, they are technically free to give it a go once more.  It’s a temporary solution for a problematic model.

What about non-themepark games, though?  Last I heard, Darkfall may be facing a reboot of sorts.  Players have been PvPing and increasing their skills creating a massive gap with haves and have nots.  Aventurine gave players something like 20x skill increases, essentially helping the game to reboot itself, but there are rumors (are they still rumors?) that a wipe will occur to start everyone off fresh with a new skill system.

Something about starting fresh excites me.  I think that’s why every time a new WoW server opened — and they opened all the time back in the day — I would re-roll and start fresh.  That’s how I was the server-first in Molten Core and BWL three times.  I like starting over, I like the life it breathes into a MMORPG, and I like watching how the community established itself all over again.

Here are some fun questions for you to consider.  Would you like to see more MMO’s essentially rebooting like WoW does, and what do you think about MMORPG’s wiping entirely and starting fresh on a regular basis — something you would be interested in seeing?

  • Aventurine’s problem with Darkfall was that they claimed the skillpoint system would degrade when you weren’t using certain abilities…. so that there was a hardcap on total skillpoints allowed. Meaning no one could master everything. If you were a magic user, and then started to increase your archery skills, your magic skills would fall down as archery rose. No one could have everything.

    On launch, they apparently just derp derped as hard as they could, and forgot all about that. No skills degraded, ever. So everyone could max EVERYTHING.

    This forced the current issues they are having about whether or not to reboot. A new player will take months of hard grinding to be even close to as valuable and “leveled” as a veteran. The gap is so astounding that it deters anyone new from playing, once they grasp that concept. In a full loot, pvp-centric game like Darkfall, discouraging new people from getting into the game is horrible. With a niche that small you want to attract anyone you can.

    More onto the overall topic, I personally don’t feel that reboots are great or horrible. If they are necessary, I say do it. If they are not, it can be a community destroyer (perhaps?). Maybe hard reboots aren’t the answer, but soft reboots are ok? Simply adding in skill degredation (using a hardcap system) would instantly balance out Darkfall in the vets vs newbies war. So a full reboot isnt really necessary. But that soft reboot would do wonders.

  • I agree. However, the problem I’ve seen with WoW’s reboots recently is they are too short. The “reboot” really only reboots the endgame. So, when the cap went from 80 to 85, everyone who had an 80 essentially starts over and can rush to endgame for a couple of weeks with everyone else to start the end game heroic/raid progression once they hit 85.

    I honestly wish they would make this take much longer. I think MMOs are most fun when leveling and exploring with a variety of different levels throughout all of the various zones/content areas. I was really disappointed with Cataclysm for that reason (among others such as the ridiculously linear progression path).

    One thing I don’t understand about WoW is why Blizzard doesn’t try some different ruleset servers than just the PvE/PvP distinctions. If anyone can afford to go out on a limb and try something new it would be WoW. Blizzard could have some classic servers, progression servers or even a casual/family ruleset server.

    I think I would jump at the chance to play on a classic or progression WoW server or even just a fresh server with the older leveling progression.

  • I agree on the new server opportunity to start fresh.

    An expansion like in WOW is not starting fresh…
    Like you said maybe if your lvl 80.
    What if you just started and your lvl 12.

    A long lonesome journey by the lack of other newcomers filled with the sadness of instances that you will never experience, because they have come and gone in popularity to the point no one runs them.

    And by the time you get to 85 everyone is maxed out already and you still can not compete.

    In simple browser strategy games it is common to start new worlds (servers) on a monthly basis or so. You can start anew as a newcomer or as a vet that wants a fresh new chance to make it to the top.
    And yes they come with different rulesets as well. So pick the ruleset you like best.

  • I’m a firm believer in resets of some sort, simply to keep things fresh and enable continuous learning and progression.

    On the other hand, having lived through quite a few game reboots, I know a lot of people are unlike me and don’t like too much shake up or changes – they end up feeling incapable of coping, lose interest in playing and each Shattering of the game world takes away from the overall population as some people stop playing, having gotten tired of repeating the grind or the same motions.

    (How much is lost compared to having the game world stagnant and people moving off from boredom, that I don’t know.)

    A Tale in the Desert literally wipes and resets each Telling, which is the only MMO I’ve seen so far with the bravery and design to do that. It does actually help them get a higher population in the early game, though now that it’s on its sixth reset, the overall playerbase is dropping badly.

    I don’t think all MMOs need to do something this drastic. Certain systems resetting may be good enough for them, eg. Guild Wars 2’s WvWvW which will reset and create new match ups at a set interval.

  • Yup, my ideal game would reset every 3 months and be a non-class-based rule set with many random elements allowing for a player to research unique and potentially OP spells/abilities/items (the latter which would be non-repairable and have a 2 week shelf life). Almost infinite random permutations over range, damage, etc. meaning an exciting new experience every day.

    The short-lived nature of the server would ameliorate concerns over balancing.

  • I agree with above posters, a three month reset would be ideal to keep things fresh and well-rounded in the player base.

    If you do decide to come back to RIFT, let me know. I can help you out with some plat and runs through dungeons. It’s actually easier to get up to speed than in any other themepark MMO I’ve played. Normal and expert dungeons are being run all the time because of the daily rewards associated with them; since most players running them are already beyond geared out, the runs go quickly and you can need on anything that’s an upgrade. Pick up raids (instanced tier content), while not ideal, are being run often and raid rifts are easy to get into as well. The barrier to entry is really getting to 50 and picking up your PvP set if that’s your thing — though this may not be worth it if normalization pans out.

  • Interesting idea about MMO rebooting. I could see a lot of Elitist having a cow over it though. I have never been one to worry much about End Game as I tend to be an alt-a-holic. I reach level cap, then start a new class and repeat the process. That is what I did with WoW and I am sure that is what I will do with GW2. My main problem is that MMOs really don’t have evolving worlds like they promise. Even with dynamic events, and in the example of RIFTS invasions, they change the world for just a short period of time.

    Personally I want to see in game nations rise and fall. I want to see huge battlefields that are changing on a day, weekly and monthly basis. I want to see capitals fall and new ones be rebuilt. I don’t even really care about quest givers per say. I want to see random NPC that live and fight along side you. Some that die a quick death others that can end up becoming leaders of other NPC and even PC characters.

    Character progression is okay, but I rather see progression of clans, nations, and the entire world. Of course there hasn’t been a sandbox MMO yet that comes close to that. About as close to that as I can get is a good 4x game like Civ.

  • Resets are definitely a mixed bag. Personally if you are going to have them I like how the Diablo 2 ladder servers rebooted, they simply moved all the characters to non-ladder play. That way you could keep your characters and gear if you wanted to play with it, but everyone also go a level start for the new ladder season.

    I really didn’t like how WoW did it. Each expansion came with huge stat inflation and made all the previous content completely worthless except for gold farming purposes. It may have seemed daunting to new players to catch up all those levels but it really only represented a couple weeks of questing, if that, to catch up.

    EQ did a reasonable job, I thought. I quit around Gates of Discord I think. But at the time the added levels really didn’t affect the overall grind time to end game. And lots of guilds were still doing content that was a couple expansions old because it was still a worthwhile path of progression. The grind time to reach endgame was a bit of an issue but it also made reaching that content more of an achievement. And because grouping was more centrally a part of EQ’s leveling game the switch to endgame raiding was less of a shock to people.

  • I think an Eve Online reboot would be very interesting. Everyone with a few thousand isk, clean markets and a null-sec scramble.

  • Eve Online could be made a lot more interesting by making incursions more than ISK farming events. If they actually could be made to take sovereignty from other NPC’s and Players it’d be very interesting.

  • Absolutely not.

    WoW already reboots with every patch, effectively removing all PvE group content other than the most recent raid/5man cluster from the game.

    And even then, I can’t understand how you could possibly look at a mature themepark and go “they’re way too far ahead”. Surely it should be “hell yeah, I have all this content to play through”?

  • Personally the reboots in WoW bothered me immensely. You want to talk about being discouraged because people are ahead of you, but what about not wanting to even bother because in 18 months or so you will be able to pick up better gear off of quests? Given the amount of time this game demands of people to actually succeed at even a moderately high level, that is absolutely absurd.

    For a game genre that relies so heavily on creating the belief that all these repetitious activities are meaningful, resets seem counterproductive. I think it contributes to burnout, honestly. I guess it doesn’t bother some people, and that would be the sane response since ultimately reset or not anything you do in game is merely entertainment, but I know it bothered me.

  • Toxic pretty much hit the nail on the head.

    Besides, new servers are completely different to new expansions/patches. New servers are , as you say, about new communities, new characters, a new perspective and, perhaps, a new chance at doing things.

    Patches/expansions are watching your hard work go down the drain.

  • Keen if you’re interested in coming back to Rift there are a couple of things coming down the pipe. As Syeric mentioned they are testing the viability of PvP Normalization something long the lines of what GW2 is doing in sPvP. The same patch is starting to remove the faction barrier. Good or bad I have yet to decide. It does give the possibility of getting my dwarf from KFG into my current guild.

    As well we’re looking at maybe 3-4 months before they release their first expansion. While not a “real” reset it will put you on “roughly” the same playing field as others as you level up.

    There is also a crafted set that will help you out as well. Loosely equal to some of the Tier 1 raiding gear if you aren’t already geared up for experts/raiding it will get you there sooner. It is a bit on the expensive side though. In general though you do gear up really fast.

  • Interesting topic.

    I generally agree with the desirability of different server rulesets and I like the idea of fresh servers (with no incoming transfers allowed) being offered on a semi-regular basis. This allows for a kind of opt-in reboot and creates a fresher experience for new players without kneecapping veterans who would rather rest on their laurels.

    I’m curious — have you read Neal Stephenson’s Reamde? It involves a description of a fictitious MMO that seems like the ultimate sandbox game. One of the aspects of the game that I find most far fetched is that there is clearly a ludicrous gap in power between the least powerful and most powerful characters, with some characters possessing almost godlike abilities. I wonder if such a game could actually work in reality. Would new players buy into a game wherein veteran players had a huge advantage in terms of power? Could game systems be designed such that such a discrepancy could exist without ruining gameplay? I suspect that it might be possible but that it would be very tricky indeed.

  • People play Wow, where a guy in top end PVP gear can kill 4 or 5 people in regular gear with ease. At least you use to. And of course a level one player can’t even do enough damage to overcome the natural health regeneration of a max level character, so it’s not really far fetched at all.

  • I was actually talking with my friends about something similar to this about a month ago when I was about to revisit EQ. Anyways we were talking about what classes we were going to make and discussing old memories of why EQ was one of our favorite mmos of all time. Whenever I get to talking about EQ I always think of why it was so fun, what was the magic that took place that made it so good. One of the ideas I have come up with and I feel is a big part of why it was so good, was idea of discovery, due to lack of data available. You could not just google questions back then, or bring up an equivalent of wowhead to find all the information on the game. It simply did not exist in the beginning. There was no quest hubs, no ?’s and !’s leading you on, no instance/bg queues to hop in, not even maps! It was just you and this giant world. This instantly brings immersion, much like the immersion DayZ offers.

    So where am I going with this? Well in todays mmos you simply can’t offer this anymore because of betas and websites dedicated to the games etc. So what I suggest is rebooting not just the characters in the world, but the world itself. What I mean by this is, what if molten core wasn’t the first endgame instance of wow, what if it was more like a level 20 dungeon, and it dropped equivalent gear that might drop somewhere entirely different now. I’m not talking about something that would require a simple button press to reset the characters here. I’m talking about a more in depth reboot, where loot drops off other npcs and maybe npcs levels are changed etc. This would be easier to do in a sandbox design of course since story is usually lacking but it could be done in both themepark and sandbox design.

    What this would do though is bring back the magic of discovery. How awesome would it be to play your favorite mmo again knowing nothing about most of the game, again! If executed correctly it could totally revitalize dead/dying mmos. I can tell you if they did this to any of the mmos I loved playing back in the day I would rebuy them and play them again.

  • Interesting topic. To be honest I have never given it much thought because it really doesn’t bother me either way. I’ve never NOT played an MMO because I felt I was to far behind, nor have I ever been upset when things reset.

    Hmmmmm. I’m actually more surprised about how many folks it does affect.

    I do love the idea about classic servers. It would be interesting to go back to Vanilla WoW (but I bet I would be ready to go back to the real server after a bit).

    One of the things I love about this site. Brings up a nice and wide variety of thinking. Bravo!

  • disagree, MMO’s should be designed not to require it.
    Eve managed, you can be useful early on, with just a frigate and a jammer
    GW managed, you can simply roll a lvl 20 pvp character, or in pve get near top tier gear very fast,
    GW2 is doing it with separate pvp and no heavy gear grind,
    SWG did it, limited skill points with a focus on spreading points out into a few trees
    PS did it with certs/horizontal leveling

    Game designers need to consider ways to allow players to be competitive ‘off the boat’ either with horizontal levelling, low level ability’s that are of use, health pools that do not increase, head-shots or realistic damage models (for fps ish mmo’s)
    stuff like that

  • Resets destroy personal investment in the character. Now people that don’t get attached to their chars have no idea what this is, and think its stupid. But it one of the major factors of long term subscriptions. Look at UO and EQ, still running with a lot of the same people that played for the last 10 years.

    If you like leveling, GO LEVEL, no one is stopping you. Want to see every dungeon play a tank/healer, they can queue up for anything in mins, so its not that hard. Of course this is just in WoW, other games suffer from that problem more then others.

    The problem I see, is that people see a reset and a “oh now I have a shot at being at the top” which is probably not true. You could have started WoW 6 months ago and be at the top now, you could start WoW and in 6 months be at the top, its work, its not easy, its not random, and not everyone can do it. Now EVE this isn’t true, but most treadmill MMO’s it is.

    That all being said, its easier to make friends and be in a guild that is all leveling together. And I think that is what people are after not how far ahead anyone is, there not that far ahead, its a modern MMO.

  • To those that are against resets.
    The people that mentioned it meant it in an optional way just like you can decide if you want to play on a pvp or pve ruleset server.

    They just want to option to be there to join a server that plays like vanilla wow (before expansion packs arrived) or a ruleset that resets the server after set amount of time.

    Choice is good.

  • @Zyler
    That’s a completely different argument than the original topic as I read it.
    Progression servers or simply ‘old game’ servers are fine, imo

  • @Zyler, Evalissa

    The original post is pretty confusing at best, but I went with the assumption that Keen meant expansions and patches rather than classic servers and new servers.

    And, as I said, they’re a completely different kettle of fish.

    One devalues everything the player has achieved, the other provides an alternative, clean slate.

    I’m still waiting for my time-locked WoW servers (dear God how much I would pay for one locked at Ulduar) but I’m not sure the C Team will get around to it before it’s too late.

  • @Sanz: No, I’m definitely not returning to WoW.

    @Evalissa: You mentioned several sandbox games. As I alluded to in the op, the themepark model with vertical progression benefits most from reboots. A sandbox wouldn’t benefit at all, unless to correct a mistake or start things fresh if necessary (Darkfall).

    I agree with your statement that MMO’s should be designed not to need them. SWG is a good example, and precisely what Darkfall should have done with skills.

    @Dril: To address the “hell yeah I have all this content” statement, I have to point out that it’s extremely hard in most games to do content that the majority of the playerbase has progressed beyond. Many raids and dungeons become completely ignored. If WoW never rebooted, and required players to actually do every single dungeon, every raid, and progress normally, it would be impossible — yes, impossible — to ever catch up.

    In general this post is a little scattered; I apologize. I touch on new servers only to introduce the idea of starting fresh and how a reboot feels that way to me at times.

    I don’t have time tonight to write my thoughts on vanilla/classic servers (in a hotel at the moment tired after a 10 hour drive), but that is a slightly different topic. I’m referring to reboots without a choice — WoW doesn’t give people a choice, if Darkfall reboots there won’t be a choice, etc.

  • Personally, I long for the time of Pre-Abyssea FFXI. Where we had a game that did not require reboots. That the level cap stayed at one level and the gear was situational, fun and served its epeen nature.

    One of my dear friends left XI for WoW in 2006 because they had “progression”. He played the game for a year and came to the same realization that I did, “Progression is not the best way to keep players playing. Interesting and fun content with a level of challenge is the way to keep them. We can see how WoW has done since TBC and only come to the conclusion that progression is not the best way to do things.

    Sure, expansions and in particular WoW expansions with their complete overhauls of the base concepts, are a good thing for WoW, but is the perpetual level-up game and the resetting of character strength the way to go? Or would WoW have been better off sticking to a skill based, situational, cosmetic gear grind that was not based in power? A system of character progression that was both horizontal and vertical that allowed casual players to play on the same playing field with the elite, but still gave the elite their due?

    Power resets are a fact of life for an MMO. They reinvigorate the game for a short time, but with each reset you lose more and more players that enjoyed the game as it was and don’t want to work to get to the new higher plateau. It was ok for WoW in with TBC and Wrath. They lost players but gained more players to compensate. With Cataclysm we have seen that they finally stopped gaining new players and have lost millions of the old. Resets do nothing positive for a game in the long run. They will always cost you customers.

  • It sounds a bit like a ladder reset in Diablo 2 to me. I think the best way to do this would be able to have servers that reset on a schedule. Let people who want to play with ongoing progression forever stick to the current servers and let people who like the idea of starting totally fresh every so often also do so. It might also pay to have some kind database which let you look up snapshots of a character at the end of a given reset, so those accomplishments don’t *totally* disappear.

  • Let’s see… Give us yet another annoying gear-grind and a pittance of 5 levels…

    In the mean-time rake in $300 million a quarter. Spend $60 million a quarter to keep the game going. Oh, and sell 5 million units at $60 a pop to cover more than 100% of your development costs… The only thing I’m seeing that gets a significant re-boot is Activision’s profit margin as the WoW junkies flock back to spend another meaningless year grinding up new gear…

    I play MMOs that I like from 6-months to 2-years. Then I’m done. If it was a really good MMO, I’ll revisit it a few years down the road.

    What I want is new, challenging content. What I want are good tools for emergent game play. What I want is meaningful crafting, meaningful exploration, living worlds without gimmicks like rifts and fully-voiced cut-scenes…

    Spend the money on level designers and good quest writers, not third-rate ‘artists’ who are trying to turn games into animated features…