Yesterday’s discussion about level/world scaling and a comment from one of our readers really got me thinking more and more about levels in MMORPGs. Do we really need them? Are they still a core tenet of MMORPG design?
More and more the answer is becoming, “No.”
World of Warcraft has long been without need for levels. Today the patch basically took 120 levels and condensed them into 7. For years online games, MMO, MMORPG, or otherwise, have tried to implement ways in which players of disparate levels can come together. ESO scaled their entire world. EQ2 has had mentoring (and scaling?) for years. The list goes on.
Many of these games are about simply playing and having fun doing something when you log in instead of playing in the one or two zones prescribed. There are positives and negatives with that statement.
In general, progression can still be had without the official institution of levels. We can use skill points, achievements, and alternate advancement in their place. Games can be made where the world isn’t broken up by level requirements, rather progression requirements. This post won’t specify the best route, rather propose there are other routes which may work well, even for people who enjoy the “ding.”
World of Warcraft releases their worldwide scaling patch here real soon. The whole idea of content scaling in MMORPGs is an interesting one that has me going back and forth positives and negatives.
First, let's just get some definitions out of the way so we can all be speaking in context. "Level scaling" in WoW is basically where the player scales to the content (which is actually a little contradictory when people are referring to it as "world scaling"). So basically, someone at level 100 can be in a zone and someone level 110 can be in a zone but their stats and the enemy are all equalized.
Other games have scaling. Some similar some different. Some games scale group members together. Some let a player "mentor" down to another player's level and then that player is scaled down to someone at that level's abilities.
My thoughts are going to be specifically toward the newest and trendiest way of scaling as seen in WoW.
Should the value of a game, or the value the game provides, increase over time? I certainly don't see why not, and I know it's possible because there are several examples of games that I feel have increased in value the longer they've been out.
I'm pretty sure I paid $15 for Stardew Valley on the PC almost two years ago, and today I am shocked to see it's still listed at $15. Since its release, Stardew Valley continues to add content and value. There are new farm layouts, items, and multiplayer coming. I feel like ever couple of months I hear about a new awesome improvement to the game at no extra cost.
Another example of a game that keeps releasing more and more improvements, but I've never had to spend more than a few bucks total. I was talking with a friend on Discord last night who has over 300 hours in Terraria. He even bought the game for a few of our community members because it's such an awesome game and there was a bundle. It's that good, and it keeps getting better.
Thanks to mod support, an active community, and a game that wasn't designed to die off, Minecraft continues to be the game that keeps on giving. Even the vanilla version of the game -- if you never modded or bought expansions to it -- continues to offer more. I think a revamp for water stuff is coming soon.
Skyrim & Elder Scrolls Games
Skyrim is another game that improved over time and due to mods for PC has immense value. I can almost go back and play Skyrim and have a completely different experience (even after multiple play-throughs) because of mods and how the game has evolved.
To a lesser degree, there's a category for games like Diablo 3, Overwatch, Hearthstone, (I realize I'm naming a bunch of Blizzard games), etc., where there are still elements of "pay for more" present, but so much is also created. I often think about the really good MMOs this way too, even though I'm paying a sub the game 6 months later feels so much more valuable to me than it did on day 1.
In a world where we've become entrenched in arguments over microtransactions and DLC, it's intriguing to think about games that sell over 12 million copies and continue to focus on making a better game and experience for the players and no extra cost. Many of these games just do their own thing, focus on their own experience, and take care of the players.
Wouldn't it be cool to live in a world where all of the games were like that? Where all of the games we buy felt like they were worth even more to us than the price we paid for them when they came out? I think so.
Can you think of any other games that have increase in value over time?
Yesterday’s posts about DLC can really be further clarified by looking at value/price positioning. A few basic ones include:
Before we go further, I want to quote one of the comments from yesterday. This is from a long-time poster named Shutter, who I really appreciate being one of our regular readers.
As someone who makes/sells games, here’s my question: If you don’t want us to stop putting out DLC, would you rather have the base game priced at $100, or for us to go back to Xbox/PS2 graphics and fire half the studio? Because those are the options without doing DLC.
DLC and loot crates exist because the current base game pricepoint doesn’t keep dev studios solvent for the non-CoDs/GTAs of the world. Yes it’s meant to get your money, but so is selling the game in the first place.
And as a gamer I’ll say that DLC is good and lets me play what I want at a price closer to where I actually value it. There are plenty of games that I’d like to experience but I don’t want to 100% (Hi Assassin’s Creed). DLC lets me play the game for the 10-20 hours that I care about, but not have to subsidize the people who are sinking 100 hours into the game to find every collectible.
I’ll also add, I’m perfectly happy for people not to buy the DLC attached to games I work on, if people quit buying it, we’d quit making it. But for all the bitching about DLC, the reality is that there’s a solid chunk of people who want this stuff and will buy an incredible amount of it, and they’re subsidizing the base game dev for the rest of us.
I really like this comment because it opens up the discussion for these value propositions. I’m going to use these value/price points in a slightly different way than usual since these are typically used to compare an offering to the competition or the market. I’m going to use them to compare to their base games. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do well enough to illustrate my point.
I usually have no problem paying ‘more for more’. That’s how I rationalize buying Apple products, BenQ monitors, TVs with the good Samsung panels, leather in my car, etc. I will pay more, but I expect more in return.
To me, this is what MMOs do in general. They cost more, but you (hopefully) get more. That’s why I’m okay with a subscription. As soon as that value/price position wavers, however, my subscription usually cancels.
For a single-player game, I’d pay $100 for a great game. Sure. My imagination starts to churn out all sorts of ideas like the next Elder Scrolls game or an even better Assassin’s Creed. I get lots of enjoyment out of those games and would likely pay $100 for the ones I knew would meet that ‘more for more’ value. If we pretend there’s no risk of a bad game, then Yes I would pay an additional $40 for a game with no DLC or mtx.
But since that risk exists, you’d be putting games into the same quadrant on the FCB matrix as an iPhone, and that radically alters my perspective. The purchase decision, for me, goes from almost-impulse to high-involvement. Do we want games in that category? This would make a fascinating blog post for another time.
This is where I always feel like the season pass is a scam. This is value/price trap where I always feel like the DLC never amounts to the value paid. The Destiny 2 DLC is mopped up in an hour or two. That was $20. That’s 1/3 the box price for the full game. Looking at it from that perspective, I just paid more for less. Reskins, pointless levels, and small maps. No thanks.
And to my point yesterday about DLC segmenting the community, the Destiny 2 DLC actually takes away features you paid for in the base game if you don’t also buy the DLC; That’s right, you can’t Prestige Raid, Nightfall, or do Trials without the DLC. They’re essentially locking you out of content you already bought. That, to me, is like ‘paying more for less’ to the nth degree or bottom line ‘more for the same’.
They want you to think it’s ‘More for Less’. They want you to think you’re getting more content for such a low price, but that’s a manipulation, not a correct way of evaluating the value/price position.
As many pointed out — and I agreed — in yesterday’s comments, there are good value offerings in the DLC space. These tend to be more EXPANSIONS than DLC, though. They’ve just been categorized as DLC due to the nature of their release being digital these days. In many ways, I lump WoW expansions into this category. Comparing their value/price to themselves, the expansions are ‘more for the same’ or ‘same for the same’. If ‘same’ was good for you, then celebrate.
Elder Scrolls DLC tends to be be a great value. Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal was awesome value. I remember thinking the Mass Effect 2 DLC was good. Assassin’s Creed 2 DLC was really good — probably the best of the franchise with Black Flag having a good installment. The gems are there.
This is where people like to jump in and say that I was generalizing yesterday. Yes, I was. Generally speaking, most DLC is hot garbage. Most DLC doesn’t fall into the positive quadrants. Most DLC falls into the negative areas. DLC is trending heavily toward a predatory practice — no, strike that, it’s already there. So when I say DLC is just as bad as loot boxes, I truly do believe it. They are both predatory by nature, rarely provide the value and positive emotion, and typically do not benefit the consumer.
Tonight's topic is a carry-over from the conversation had in our K&G community Discord. We noticed how Destiny is pushing hard on DLC lately after only being out on PC for such a short time, and that spurred us into bemoaning games that launch DLC so quickly and frequently after a game comes out.
It was fairly unanimous that DLC is just as bad as any loot crate system for how it impacts a game, its community, and the practices of a company.
We came up with these main points.
It's always hard when you see a game release knowing the DLC is either already on the disc or completed. It makes you wonder why that content wasn't part of the game that you paid full price for already.
Content is often chopped from the game when someone says, "This is good enough to sell as companion content." A personal pet peeve of mine is the episodic content model where they chop up a full game into 4 or 5 smaller games and charge $20 per episode -- like we don't realize that means we're spending $100+ for a game.
DLC can also really segment players. This used to be really bad in the FPS games that charged for maps. When you didn't have a "map pack expansion" you literally couldn't play on some servers. Same thing starts to happen with expansions. In Destiny 2, if you don't have an expansion you're probably never going to play with other people again.
DLC, when excessive, quickly creates a have and have not that extends far beyond the power creep games like Battlefront 2 offer with loot crates.
I know many times in the past I have looked around to figure out what DLC I need to do the main content, and what DLC is just extra fluff. Even tonight we were trying to figure out what certain DLC unlocked in AC and Destiny.
I've had the argument proposed that MMO expansions are no different than DLC. I disagree. MMO expansions tend to come much later after launch. DLC these days is coming 6 weeks later.
MMO expansions typically bring A LOT more content than a DLC pack. World of Warcraft is probably the best example of how an expansion can even be an entirely new game that you'll play for 1-2 years. The expansions are reboots, meaning anyone can jump in at a new expansion and be the next best player.
The same can't be said for a map pack, new dungeon or region, and quests added in a game that came out less than two months ago.
The season passes these days are going for $35-70 or something? That's crazy. Most are a complete rip off. Even the latest Destiny 2 DLC is lackluster for the $19.99 price tag. The maps are smaller than Titan, the enemies and guns are reskins, there's no point in level 5 more levels since all you get are bright engrams, and a Rift-like system right from D3.
Even Assassin's Creed DLC has historically not been worth the price of admission. I love AC. I got the Deluxe edition so I have the season pass. But I don't think it was economical at all. The DLC in the past AC was cleaned up in one sitting -- less than 2-3 hours tops.
I'm over DLC just as much as I'm over loot crates, and can't see why they aren't just as much or more than loot boxes or other mtx systems. I'd be happy to see them on a list of things we never have to see again in games.