Thanks to the rich analytics I have for this blog, I can see where traffic originates from. For my previous article on the two issues plaguing game developers, I found the following take by Zennia on the Old Timer’s Guild forums:
The reason I said I wish it didn’t make so much sense is because the best logical target from a financial standpoint (which he mentions delivering high replayability on limited content) is a form I *really* don’t like at all. :(
I don’t want people to misconstrue what I was saying. IMO it is very possible to deliver a gradually-growing base of PVE content that remains relevant and replayable and is therefore financially viable, but of course that requires the right approach.
Over a year ago on GAMEBREAKER.tv, I shared my analogy of PVE content and the coral reef. The majority of PVE content that has been released over the past 5 years has behaved like a coral reef. The thing to understand about reefs is that the living corral is on the outermost section of the corral. Under than top-layer of coral, you have the husks of previous generations of coral. That is, it’s dead. I’m no marine biologist, but you get the idea.
Game developers often release PVE content that is like a coral reef, i.e. it’s relevant for a period of time (e.g. for some part of an expansion), but eventually with vertical progression (levels and/or gear), players outgrow that content and it’s essentially dead. By the next expansion, the previous expansion’s zones are ghost towns and only visited by those people leveling new characters through them. Over time, what you have is a world where 80% of the zones are no longer relevant, and only 20% is. That is, you have PVE content that evolves like a coral reef, and this is primarily due to the unsustainable nature of vertical scaling. Sometimes developers will recycle or refresh older content, e.g. the inclusion of Heroic Deadmines in the WoW Cataclysm expansion. But it basically requires revisiting existing content. Coral reef PVE development is inherently unscalable (too many resources required to develop), unprofitable (customers only “use” it for a limited period of time), and creates issues when new mechanics are introduced (e.g. flying mounts) that the original content wasn’t designed to support.
So what’s an alternative to vertical scaling, which inherently follows the coral reef model? Let’s consider an example from real life.
People obsess IRL on progression based largely on performance. This is the case in golf (“I broke 80 for the first time!!!”), running (“I ran my first sub-5 minute mile!!!”), fantasy sports (“I was in the top 1% in March Madness for my bracket prediction”), whatever.
Think about it. Runners run the same 5k course many times. They do it not only for the health benefit, but runners who really want to progress are constantly trying to improve their times. Did I run a faster 5k overall? Did I run a negative split, i.e. faster back half than front half? Runners will intentionally run the same course over and over, and they won’t get bored with it, because it provides a consistent context for measuring performance (progression).
As I wrote many times regarding Guild Wars 2 (GW2), you can implement PVE content with the same idea, built around horizontal scaling. Imagine if there were rich statistics and achievements for a given dungeon, where there was tracking at the player / guild / server / worldwide level for:
- Fastest clear of the entire dungeon
- Fastest clean clear of the entire dungeon, where no one died or was finished from a downed state
- Highest average DPS for the entire dungeon
- Highest percentage of hits (i.e. you aimed correctly) for abilities
- Highest percent of aggro held, as measured by damage directed at the tank as opposed to the squishies
- Highest % of boss fight AOEs avoided
…and do this at the daily / weekly / monthly / all-time level
…and make these statistics and achievements publicly available and visible through APIs that then support an ecosystem of apps and web sites so I see how my friends and I are doing.
I believe if you made performance measurable like this, instead of throwing in vertical scaling which causes content to become irrelevant, we could reach the nirvana where:
- The developer can scalably release content, because they know it will continue to be played indefinitely. They can focus on making this content watertight (i.e. bug-free and exploit-free), and
- Players will find reasons to continue playing the same content, because they want to improve their “personal best” performances and climb up the PVE leaderboards
I know some people will be skeptical of such ideas, but look at the massive popularity of WoW Armory and other games where stats and achievements are recorded and made visible.
P.S. as a further tool for horizontal progression aside from the aforementioned statistics and achievements, if you throw in “incomparables” as loot rewards, i.e. gear that has different characteristics but do not introduce raw scaling of stats. So players can collect different weapons for their characters, without the normal pitfalls of power creep where content eventually becomes trivialized