Why PVE Content Shouldn’t Be a Coral Reef


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
  • Etc

…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

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Posted in Business Analysis, Game Design, Guild Wars 2, PVE, World of Warcraft
43 comments on “Why PVE Content Shouldn’t Be a Coral Reef
  1. The only problem is keeping your game alive for the time it takes to get enough of a backlog of content for your game to take a life of its own.

    I always thought part of the good in WOW was the backlog of content you could do, although it wasn’t as hard anymore unless you did it solo or in a small group. When transmog came out it only amplified the relevance of old content.

    I still say the real problem a new MMO faces is the ability to code enough activities to keep a player interested. Even GW2 has stumbled for many players, although Anet are getting people back with the Living World, its taking a while for them to get the formula right.

    Although the way I play games, Im all for games getting a bit stale, but refreshing themselves so I can come back to them later, my Steam account deserves as much of my time as my GW2 account ;)

    • taugrim says:

      I always thought part of the good in WOW was the backlog of content you could do

      OK, you mean backlog as in things to do, not Agile backlog. I wasn’t sure when initially reading your comment.

      I still say the real problem a new MMO faces is the ability to code enough activities to keep a player interested. Even GW2 has stumbled for many players, although Anet are getting people back with the Living World, its taking a while for them to get the formula right.

      I can’t prove to you that I’m right, but I believe a smaller, more highly replayable content base for players is more important than content that a player can run through within months of the launch of a game or xpac and then get bored.

      The issue with GW2 as with most games is that you outlevel zones and they hold minimal to no relevancy at endgame. The concepts of sidekicking and downleveling were really good ideas, but in practice there isn’t much reason for a player at endgame to go back through the lower-level zones, aside from finishing map completion, because the rewards are elsewhere (e.g. Orr). But this is part of the broader problem with GW2 – there are horizontal concepts, but at the end of the day, gear is still a vertical system.

      I think games would be better served with zones that remain relevant throughout the life of a game.

  2. mrmoneda says:

    Have you by any chance heard of how Wildstar [in development by Carbine Studios] is approaching raiding and their “end game” content? It’s suppose to not only have leaderboards for all related accomplishments but the raids will feature random elements that change on a weekly basis.

    • taugrim says:

      It’s suppose to not only have leaderboards for all related accomplishments but the raids will feature random elements that change on a weekly basis.

      Those both sound like darn good ideas to me.

      I haven’t touched the idea of random elements in my last 2 blog posts, but that is something I think is a good idea. WoW had a bit of that within a limited scope in Karazhan with the varying event for the stage boss fight (can’t remember name).

  3. sirgrend says:

    I don’t even think the time trials etc. are needed, although they would certainly help, the removal of expansions as one big reset button and rubber banding of new characters to the current tier would go a long way to solve the problem of abandoned content.

    Horizontal gear progression is something I personally enjoy (especially with the design of current MMORPG combat) and with forward planning I think it could be incorporated into an MMOG without to many problems, the biggest issues arise when developers switch how they design gear/stats à la Vanilla WoW > TBC.

    • taugrim says:

      I don’t even think the time trials etc. are needed, although they would certainly help

      These are simply ideas. Via research and user feedback, companies can determine what is important to players.

      If you look at WoT as an example, they take the simple approach of making publicly available via APIs the same game performance data that you can see from individual battles, but aggregated together at the per-player level.

      the removal of expansions as one big reset button and rubber banding of new characters to the current tier would go a long way to solve the problem of abandoned content

      New content IMO should add to the current world and expand it, not make outdated what was previously there.

  4. Chris says:

    I like the ideas you’ve presented here, but I would like to know what you think about how a public API and ranking system might foster a game environment full of elitists. I know several people in my guild won’t even partake in DPS meters because of the attitude it can foster (even in a guild of people where we don’t require it’s use). While an extensive ranking system and stat system might appeal to certain progression raiders and pvp players, what about the general player population?

    • taugrim says:

      I like the ideas you’ve presented here, but I would like to know what you think about how a public API and ranking system might foster a game environment full of elitists

      Well, ask yourself that question with respect to Armory and Achievements in WoW.

      I would argue those have been popular with a broad base of players. Certainly some players use them as an e-peen measuring sticks. But players will generally find some way of doing so anyway, whether it’s GearScore or raid progression tracking or whatever.

      I found WoW Armory to be a great BS detector. Do you remember the days pre-Armory when some players would talk like authorities on things they were objectively not good or accomplished at?

  5. Irulan says:

    Your right about the coral reef. It is so sad to have beautiful artwork and wonderful adventures become dead zones. How do you solve that? I don’t think by adding a plethora of statistics it’s going to happen. How many of us want to go back to grammar school, high school or revisit anything in the past outside of being nostalgic. The key is an an ever changing environment.. Is this not possible?

    • taugrim says:

      I don’t think by adding a plethora of statistics it’s going to happen. How many of us want to go back to grammar school, high school or revisit anything in the past outside of being nostalgic. The key is an an ever changing environment.. Is this not possible?

      I never said adding stats was a simple silver bullet to make games magically better. What I am talking about is finding things that tend to motivate people, and then building systems around them.

      Let’s change your frame of reference.

      Imagine you’re a studio head.

      Instead of asking for your team to design 20 zones with a bazillion quests and 20 dungeons, this is what you ask for:

      “Build me the 6 (or 10 or whatever) best instances I’ve ever seen, with your best ideas. We’re not building WoW #2 with a crapload of content. Give me quality not quality, and let’s storyboard/prototype/test/refine them. I want these instances to be so good that people will still rave about them a year after launch”

      What happens?

      You launch with 6 (or 10 or whatever) kick-ass instances that are refined and largely devoid of bugs, and players say “these are the best freaking dungeons I’ve ever seen in any game, I love running these”

      Of course these would need to hang in a world large enough to support them BUT NO MORE THAN THAT.

      More is the enemy of good. Game devs tend to focus on more, and we don’t get any good, just lots of content that people don’t find sufficiently engaging to play many times.

  6. Irulan says:

    Let me narrow the view. I am speaking of PVP where a changing environment might be possible. I could care less about PVE and its structured aspect which I find repetitive and oh so boring.

    • taugrim says:

      Let me narrow the view. I am speaking of PVP where a changing environment might be possible

      I think for PVP the models are already out there.

      E.g. leaderboards, ladders, stats tracking, etc. Add on top of this tournaments, spectator/shoutcasting, a la eSports.

      Where people tend to have a harder time envisioning (mostly because they haven’t seen it applied there) is with PVE. But that’s why I mentioned some ideas in my article.

  7. So Leaderboards. Like Rift has had for a year, which are pretty much exactly what you say. Yeah…

    • taugrim says:

      So Leaderboards. Like Rift has had for a year, which are pretty much exactly what you say. Yeah…

      Let’s not be silly and believe think that one thing is the magical silver bullet.

      Beyond that, in 5 minutes of Googling, what it looks like is RIFT has leaderboards in-game:

      http://community.riftgame.com/en/2012/05/17/rift-1-8-infernal-dawn-leaderboards-101/

      From my brief looking, it appears that the follow key functionality may be missing:
      1. making this data publicly available via API, which allows a 3rd-party ecosystem to develop around this
      2. providing this data on the web, which allows out-of-game interaction, such as when players are at work or away from home

      Also keep in mind that RIFT added stats over a year after launch, after a significant % of players had already left, and may never come back.

  8. derSchranzer says:

    leaderboards for gw2 is a very good idea, but the problem is that players always want their “perfect” run, like “oh we needed 8 minutes instead of 7 minutes for that dungeon run, sorry, but you get kicked because your dps isnt high enough”, with leaderboards that show damage and other things to the public, it wouldnt take long for ingame lfgs like “lf dps warrior (5k+ dps)” and guild wars has never been like that. they always tried to to give everyone the chance to play when and what they like (so we dont need special group class combinations to clear a certain dungeon) and they always focused to give even casual players a chance to play their favorite content without thinking too much about their class, equipment, dps or anything.
    dont get me wrong, i LOVE statistics and i always wondered how much damage i deal to a certain boss or in a certain dungeon and how i can get more out of my class with different weapon or trait combinations, but I do that solely for ME. the problem here is that most people arent like that and they dont want “noobs” to destroy their perfect clear time or their maximum loot efficiency. I think its not only arenanet that has to change their perspective but also egoistic gamers and tryhards.
    I think to that point arenanet did a very good job in providing content in which you dont get forced into something you dont want, just to beat that content (even though the citadel of flame path 1 farmruns mutated to full berserker farmgroups where u have no chance to participate if you arent berserker – but exactly that is the problem).

    and just a quick note to API/app/website thing: i’m no programmer and i have no idea what an API is but they recently provided the community with access to ingame server information so that MANY sites already created many usefull apps for the whole community. now there are websites where you can check which dungeon and which orr temple is uncontested on which server, so you can guest on that server to get your group in that dungeon or to buy your items in that orr temple. there are websites that scan the ingame meta events to always give you the latest information about in which stage which meta event is, when the next world boss will spawn and so on. and that WITHOUT the community having to update the website. you can even get ingame overlays for these meta events etc.
    I think they really went into the right direction!

    • taugrim says:

      leaderboards for gw2 is a very good idea, but the problem is that players always want their “perfect” run, like “oh we needed 8 minutes instead of 7 minutes for that dungeon run, sorry, but you get kicked because your dps isnt high enough”

      I think you (and other people) may be looking at this from a perspective of the negative effect DPS meters in WoW had on groups and raids and behavior.

      You can implement systems that avoid some of the pitfalls of previous ones. There is a wide range of options in terms of the extent you provide visibility into performance, including:
      a. in real-time, a la DPS meters
      b. post-facto for a particular battle or instance run but *not* stored permanently, such as the battle outcomes board at the end of a WoW battleground, WoW arena, or WoT tank battle
      c. post-facto and aggregated, which is what a lot of games do, such as WoT where your individual battles roll into your overall statistics

      it wouldnt take long for ingame lfgs like “lf dps warrior (5k+ dps)” and guild wars has never been like that….give even casual players a chance to play their favorite content without thinking too much about their class, equipment, dps or anything.

      Understood, and as I tweeted the other day, Becky Chambers did an awesome job explaining how GW2 is cooperative in nature, and the community has correspondingly been incredibly positive in GW2:

      http://www.themarysue.com/guild-wars-2-the-friendliest-mmorpg-ever/

      To solve for this, for example, PVE instances could have a range of modes to run in, e.g. normal, heroic, mastery. Leaderboards and stats would only be tracked for the harder modes, but not for normal one. Or you could queue up for Heroic because you want the difficulty but uncheck the box for performance-related stuff, in which case you’d get paired up with people who just wanted to run the instance but not deal with the stress associated with performance. Whereas people who want that experience can opt in and be paired up with others who want the same experience.

      This is the key design principle in general: enable players with like interests in terms of game experience to play together, but don’t force the casuals and the elitists into the same context, because the experience together will frustrate both.

      an API is but they recently provided the community with access to ingame server information so that MANY sites already created many usefull apps for the whole community

      An API is simply a list of data and transactions that one can get by interacting with software.

      A real-life example of an API is the menu when you go to a restaurant. The restaurant provides food, the menu is the API where you can see your choices.

      As I wrote in my previous article, I said GW2 missed the opportunity here, not that they hadn’t implemented it. Implementing functionality 8 months after launch, after a lot of players have already moved on doesn’t help retain the players who have already moved on. Hopefully current and future players will enjoy it.

  9. Soujiro says:

    I highly disagree with the solution you provided to the obvious problem of PvE content. People who play PvE are the same people who play Mass Effect once, and then jump to the next new release story-mode game, and wait for Mass Effect 2; and so on. PvE content is flawed by inception.

    What you propose is a way to make PvE a little bit more PvP. People run the same 6 miles every day, because at some point they want to either: A. Race. B. Stay fit/healthy/good looking. Skaters go to the same skatepark every day, and practice the same tricks, but at some point they learn better and more improved tricks, and at some point they will want to compete, or at least gloat to someone about how good they are.

    PvE/PvP hybrid is what you propose. You can just say “omg I am number 1 at DPS in all dungeons”. I would propose these two options:

    Option 1: The progress in PvE has some kind of benefit into PvP, thus encouraging people to PvE each time they want to be better than somebody else.

    Option 2: Make a system where PvE rewards (i.e: gear) loses durability and cannot be repaired, and then get destroyed; forcing people to constantly grind PvE to stay relevant.

    In this two situations, there is little to no need to make new PvE content for the players.

    Or the other possible option is to just make a server that has WoW Vanilla in it, and all the nostalgic players will be constantly playing through it over and over again… Lol.

    • taugrim says:

      PvE content is flawed by inception.

      Well I think the past generation of PVE content is flawed by inception, because it has been delivered in a context (vertical progression) which inherently devalues it over time.

      I remember enjoying some heroic dungeons in WoW TBC over and over, so long as they were challenging. E.g. that dragon/swamp one (part of Karazhan keying) and especially Shattered Halls with the 6+ mob pulls which required coordinated CC, at least until you were Tier 4 geared at which point you could pull the whole pack and AOE tank them and it got boring.

      What you propose is a way to make PvE a little bit more PvP

      I would reframe that more broadly and say that I’m suggesting that PVE should be measurable too, so that gives people a measuring stick to track their progress.

      I would argue strongly that many current titles do *nothing* to actually help their players improve their gameplay, and that this has very negative implications, such as not preparing players for what end up being guild-breaking boss fights.

      Option 1: The progress in PvE has some kind of benefit into PvP, thus encouraging people to PvE each time they want to be better than somebody else.

      Option 2: Make a system where PvE rewards (i.e: gear) loses durability and cannot be repaired, and then get destroyed; forcing people to constantly grind PvE to stay relevant.

      Re: O1, I don’t think you should force players to do both contexts, if they don’t really want to. Otherwise the game feels grindy.

      Re: O2, I think this will create the perception and reality of grindiness. E.g. in Meridian 59, weapons gradually wore down, and repairing would only hasten the rate of decay.

      I think a better option would be to create a plethora of weapons with varying characteristics, so that people can collect weapons for fun and for a wide range of specs.

      • jamesbhevans says:

        Here in lies the problem with the vast majority of the PVE community, they hate competition and they hate being told, your not doing that right or you could do better. These are the people who don’t change any keybindings, walk backwards instead of strafing etc etc. They will all say they want the content to be harder but if you look at the Cata (WoW Xpac) the PVE community blew up saying the heroic dungeons were to hard.

        • taugrim says:

          Here in lies the problem with the vast majority of the PVE community, they hate competition and they hate being told, your not doing that right or you could do better

          I don’t know about not caring about competition.

          During my time in WoW leading or officering a PVE raiding guild, there was so much attention to progression and gear – not just in our guild but outside of it. People want to know how other players are doing.

          These are the people who don’t change any keybindings, walk backwards instead of strafing etc etc.

          Bad keybindings is the industry’s fault for having a stupidly unusable and unintuitive set of default keybinds.

          You are right though, some people don’t care about improving their gameplay, but most of those people wouldn’t be reading my blog.

          They will all say they want the content to be harder but if you look at the Cata (WoW Xpac) the PVE community blew up saying the heroic dungeons were to hard.

          This was Blizzard’s fault for spoiling players with ezmode heroics in WotLK then trying to go back to TBC-like difficulty for dungeons, where things such as CC actually matter.

          I know a co-worker of my friend who was a die-hard WoW player and was very bitter because he felt Blizzard wrecked WoW for casuals with Cata. A lot of players felt that way.

          I actually loved that dungeon runs were made more challenging again, but as Lore from GAMEBREAKER said to me, we’re in the 1% that actually enjoys challenge.

  10. Crazy3ight says:

    Some of your replies are as long as the original post, where do you find the time? That being said, WoW’s challenge mode dungeons do just that – on a smaller scale. When you run a challenge mode dungeon they scale everyone’s gear to a set item level, then measure your clear time, then post it on a leader board. From what I gather the only rewards are x-mog gear and of course bragging rights. You should take a look at it and maybe find out some numbers on how that type of system is working in WoW. It would at least give you some real world figures.

    • taugrim says:

      Some of your replies are as long as the original post, where do you find the time?

      I try to find time to post thoughtful responses. I love the interaction and dialogue in the comments between players.

      That being said, WoW’s challenge mode dungeons do just that – on a smaller scale.

      Understood, but they haven’t blown out their system beyond just fastest clear time.

      Games such as WoT have shown me just how fascinating it is to have much more detailed statistics.

      E.g. type in Taugrim here and you can see how I stack up against the entire NA playerbase:

      http://wot-news.com/index.php/stat/single/us

      • Crazy3ight says:

        Man you should play the Renault NC31 all the time…. Yeah I play more LoL then WoT so
        type in Crazy3ight and you can also find tons of stats. However I would love to see this done by Wargaming.net or Riot rather then a 3rd party site.

        (I’m not the best – but I haven’t been playing LoL that much until this year so)

        http://www.lolking.net

        • taugrim says:

          Man you should play the Renault NC31 all the time

          Tier 1? LOLZ :)

          I’m really enjoying Tier 6+, much higher diversity of tanks and they are much more well-rounded.

          Yeah I play more LoL then WoT so
          type in Crazy3ight and you can also find tons of stats

          Cool to see. I don’t understand what a lot of the stats mean and what constitutes good.

          Are stats a big deal in LoL?

          • jamesbhevans says:

            Depends on the person really, I like to look at my stats to see what I need to work on. I can tell by looking at my minion kills that I need to last hit better. I can also see that when I play Leona support I have a 75% win ratio out of 8 games. Which to gain rank you don’t need to win every match, you just need to win a majority of them. So I can see what champions I fair better with even when I might prefer another champion. Also I saw you had a 100% win ratio with the Renault NC31 – I know its a tier 1, I was just miss using the information on your stats page.

  11. Rob says:

    I hate to say it maybe im just older and stuck in my ways but without the “grind” (Vertical progression) for gear i find all mmo’s boring and like fps games. MMO’s are about community’s within community’s and without the gloating and desire to obtain (insert gear here) you loose that friendly competition. I also loved vertical pve like they had in LOTRO back when you needed “x” to complete “y”. But they made that easy mode and lost alot of players. IMO the main reason why WOW is still screaming 11 mill strong is because it doesnt get dumb’d down it allows addons to make it seem easy but without them its still a on the fly thinking game. I plan on going back to Rift this week when the FTP launches because i heard they reworked the macro system so its a little more skill. Anyways thanks for the interesting topics Ed always enjoy reading them!

    • taugrim says:

      I hate to say it maybe im just older and stuck in my ways but without the “grind” (Vertical progression) for gear i find all mmo’s boring and like fps games. MMO’s are about community’s within community’s and without the gloating and desire to obtain (insert gear here) you loose that friendly competition.

      I think that Achievements, which were added to WoW after Mythic implemented them in WAR, have proven that people will use many things for bragging rights, not just gear.

      A lot of us (including me) who grew up with MMORPGs over the past decade are used to vertical scaling, and it certainly influences our perspective. I find vertical scaling to be incredibly unfriendly in terms of trying out different spec roles and classes over the long run.

  12. TriumphSP says:

    One thing about corral reefs is that they work, it is a self sustaining ecosystem. As long as a vertical progression MMORPG can reach a self sustaining balance it is ok to be that way. Obviously other games have failed where WoW continues to remain a success, but to a large extent vertical scaling still works.

    Horizontally progression is problematic in a lot more ways. How do you make it actual progression without making it vertical? How do you make it challenging if the player is already fully equipped to deal with that difficulty of content and has already progressed through similar content? Finally how do you make it rewarding if it does actually benefit character power?

    The general answer that MMORPGs have come up with to the horizontal progression problem is “you have to get in a guild and bring friends” in order to do the new content. And that forces players into a social centric playstyle. HOW IS BEING SOCIAL IN AN MMO A BAD THING? (generally is the argument) Simple explanation is not everyone is as social as the person in the raid next to them. And depending on a person’s day, they might have already had their fill of social interaction and just want to be alone and play a game.

    So here we are now stuck between Option [A] vertical progression or Option [B] horizontal progression. But I’m not much of a choose either option [A] or [B] kind of guy. I always prefer option [C]. If I was to criticize MMORPG developers on any one issue, it is that they only think in terms of option [A] or [B] and too little in looking for an option [C].

    I supposed I could name a few, but this is already a long post and frankly you have great idea never give them away for free…. right?

    • taugrim says:

      As long as a vertical progression MMORPG can reach a self sustaining balance it is ok to be that way. Obviously other games have failed where WoW continues to remain a success, but to a large extent vertical scaling still works.

      How many examples have we seen of vertical scaling MMORPGs that have been financial successes over a sustained period of time?

      WoW is the obvious example, but I doubt that even Blizzard create launch a new vertical progression MMORPG and have it be a meaningful financial success.

      I guess we could argue LOTRO has been a success, since Turbine made it F2P, they’ve continued to add xpacs. But the LOTRO player base is relatively small.

      There are far more examples of games where despite heavy financial investment in vertical scaling content, the game’s active player base nosedived within 6 months of launch and never reached the active population it had around launch. WAR. RIFT. SWTOR.

      How do you make it actual progression without making it vertical? How do you make it challenging if the player is already fully equipped to deal with that difficulty of content and has already progressed through similar content?

      “already fully equipped”?

      That’s a vertical concept.

      In a horizontal scaling game, once you get a set of endgame gear, there is no power creep, just tradeoff choices between gear.

      You make PVE content challenging by making it require higher skilled gameplay and teamwork to complete.

      The general answer that MMORPGs have come up with to the horizontal progression problem is “you have to get in a guild and bring friends”

      Examples?

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to here.

      • TriumphSP says:

        —<
        "How many examples have we seen of vertical scaling MMORPGs that have been financial successes over a sustained period of time?"

        “already fully equipped”?

        That’s a vertical concept.
        —>

        “working to be fully equipped” so you can do content is the vertical concept
        “already fully equipped” allowing only your skill to gate content is a horizontal concept

        —<
        In a horizontal scaling game, once you get a set of endgame gear, there is no power creep, just tradeoff choices between gear.

        You make PVE content challenging by making it require higher skilled game play and teamwork to complete.
        —>
        Can’t disagree, my sentiment regarding the statement this reply is directed at was that vertical scaling offers a secondary route for groups that don’t have the skill to make it through the same content as really good groups. This happens all the time in WoW where guilds can’t beat the dps timer until they get better gear. This offers a shifting paradigm where a boss can’t be beaten, can barely be beaten, we got this, yawn farm mode…
        Within this framework excellent players are given a chance to push themselves to their limits, and poor players can see impossibility as temporary. A progression truly horizontal could only offer an absolute paradigm.

        —<
        The general answer that MMORPGs have come up with to the horizontal progression problem is “you have to get in a guild and bring friends”
        ********
        Examples?
        I’m not sure what you’re referring to here.
        —<
        Datacrons in SWTOR (never got my +10 to all), farming rifts in Rift, crafting in GW2, PvP in GW2 tournament & WvW, heroic quests in irrelevant open world zones, Rated BGs and Arenas in WoW., heroic dailies on ilum, and special events in Rift with daily heroic quest. Oh and trying to do anything constructive in Planetside 2 except joining a zerg.

        Things like WvW in GW2 is certainly doable as a solo player, but in the long run it is a form of masochism imao. It really is painful and unrewarding.

        Do I expect everything in an MMORPG to be soloable… certainly not. My greatest complaint is that the game developers are utilizing random/consistent grouping as a tool for persuading/forcing players into guilds. They know that players that players involved in guilds are less likely to leave their game. However I think they under appreciate how many players quit their game via their method of persuasion.

        I believe it is a missed opportunity, they purposely decline the quality of solo content causing those players to leave early. My opinion has always been that if you have a MMORPG with such high quality content that solo players love it, social players will enjoy it even more, and even solo players make friends eventually. The trick is keeping them around.

        • TriumphSP says:

          damm most of my post was freaking destroyed. Character limit? Oh and how do you quote with this thing?

          • taugrim says:

            You can use blockquote HTML tags.

            There used to be a Quote link in addition to Reply, but I don’t know what happened to it.

        • taugrim says:

          Can’t disagree, my sentiment regarding the statement this reply is directed at was that vertical scaling offers a secondary route for groups that don’t have the skill to make it through the same content as really good groups. This happens all the time in WoW where guilds can’t beat the dps timer until they get better gear. This offers a shifting paradigm where a boss can’t be beaten, can barely be beaten, we got this, yawn farm mode.

          That last sentence x 1000.

          WoW raids were most fun when you are closing in on being able to down a boss, to the first kill, to getting the strat down right so you know it wasn’t a fluke.

          Within this framework excellent players are given a chance to push themselves to their limits, and poor players can see impossibility as temporary. A progression truly horizontal could only offer an absolute paradigm.

          Understood.

          I think with horizontal progression what you would want to do is create multiple levels of difficulty, e.g. easy/medium/hard, and have players self-select how much of a challenge they face.

          Datacrons in SWTOR (never got my +10 to all), farming rifts in Rift, crafting in GW2, PvP in GW2 tournament & WvW, heroic quests in irrelevant open world zones, Rated BGs and Arenas in WoW., heroic dailies on ilum, and special events in Rift with daily heroic quest. Oh and trying to do anything constructive in Planetside 2 except joining a zerg.

          Things like WvW in GW2 is certainly doable as a solo player, but in the long run it is a form of masochism imao. It really is painful and unrewarding.

          Ah OK understood. You’re right, in a lot of games there is content that requires coordinated groups to clear it.

          That last point re: soloing in GW2 WvW is one of concern to me. As a player that ran solo or a lot of small-groups in WvW, we ran into zergs frequently.

          Unfortunately those games reward zerging.

          IMO rewards from zerg kills should be divvied up across the raid, so that for example:
          solo kill = 100 points
          kill in 2-person group = 49 points each
          kill in 3-person group = 33 points each

          Etc, so that there is no disproportionate reward to zerging.

          I believe it is a missed opportunity, they purposely decline the quality of solo content causing those players to leave early. My opinion has always been that if you have a MMORPG with such high quality content that solo players love it, social players will enjoy it even more, and even solo players make friends eventually. The trick is keeping them around.

          Agreed.

          Games need to be able to retain solo (and casual) players, not create artificial barriers to retention such as forced grouping.

          • TriumphSP says:

            testing 1 2 3

            testing 1 2 3

            testing 1 2 3

            testing 1 2 3

          • Gothic90 says:

            I think GW2 rewarding zerging in WvW is because the rally and out of combat resurrection system really helps a bigger zerg destroying a smaller zerg and allow them to push from that spot without the need for dead players to reinforce, while the losing zerg will often have to run a much longer distance.

            I think rewards only reward zerging slightly; solo or small group flipping nodes or camps still reward a considerable amount of world experience. But the major problems are in design issues that make organized large zergs nearly unstoppable, unless by large, organized zergs of the same size. If there is no down state, or if only some classes can revive people one by one as in WoW (or ToR, non-healer revive has a 10m cooldown), a winning large zerg will need a much longer time to re-organize.

            Cooperative design is nice in PvE, but not so much for the other servers in WvW. Hope CU or TESO can have better design on this issue.

      • TriumphSP says:

        How many examples have we seen of vertical scaling MMORPGs that have been financial successes over a sustained period of time?

        All of them. To my knowledge all MMORPGs have a vertical progression component to them. GW2, the champion of horizontal progression, requires what… 200+ hours or more to level a character and then achieve best in slot gear. That amounts to complete 10 to 30 solo player games. So a lot of grinding upward.

        Certainly it plateaus at endgame, but eventually the day will come when GW2 releases an expansion and all of the players will gleefully level their characters to the new cap. In the end, who are we kidding each time we level an alt or each new expansion?

        In a horizontal scaling game, once you get a set of endgame gear, there is no power creep, just tradeoff choices between gear.

        I’m going to be paraphrasing Josh Allen a little bit on this one from a weekly marmot. The idea of stat tradeoffs to fit your playstyle sounds good, but 99% of the time there is one right way of building your character and the rest are all the wrong ways.
        So good players will research their character and build them the same, and really all you are doing is offering bad/uninformed players options to gear wrong.

        The best example of this I can think of is from SWTOR comparing the Vanguard PVP tank set vs the PVP dps set. I’m sure you remember it better than I do.

  13. Ald Shot First says:

    I never understand why more MMO’s don’t implement more leader-board type achievements into their content tracking. I absolutely love that stuff and feel it adds flavor to what may otherwise be considered repetitive or boring content.

    The player-base had to do this ourselves in Rift for progression raiding. It was a huge hit at the time and drove competitive and non-competitive players to better themselves.

    Now i understand not all players like this sort of aspect, which is fine, but there should be leader-boards for all sorts of activities from exploration and crafting to cooking and RP’ing. Bring the players back to previous zones and levels and allow them to progress in other ways.

    • taugrim says:

      I never understand why more MMO’s don’t implement more leader-board type achievements into their content tracking. I absolutely love that stuff and feel it adds flavor to what may otherwise be considered repetitive or boring content.

      Agreed, and we’ll see more of it over time.

      I absolutely love tracking my statistics and achievements in WoT.

      The player-base had to do this ourselves in Rift for progression raiding. It was a huge hit at the time and drove competitive and non-competitive players to better themselves.

      Yes, it seems kind of silly that the community has to manually track world 1st’s and other concepts, since the game should have that information.

      Now i understand not all players like this sort of aspect, which is fine, but there should be leader-boards for all sorts of activities from exploration and crafting to cooking and RP’ing. Bring the players back to previous zones and levels and allow them to progress in other ways.

      Agreed.

      What we’re talking is taking Achievements and building more systems around them, so that they’re visible and trackable.

  14. NoGoal says:

    Looks like you missed WoW MoP’s Challenge Mode > http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/7401438/Introducing_the_Challenge_Mode_Leaderboards-9_26_2012

    Gear is scaled down so it will be hurt less by vertical progression.

  15. Threnodia says:

    Vindictus has exactly this kind of system: scoreboards at the end of each battle, and a fairly elaborate ranking system showing players’ relative global achievements and performance. I played Vindictus solidly for two years. Most people I played with never bothered to look at the end-of-battle scores unless they were trying to analyze the effectiveness of a particular strategy or weapon. Competing for highest DPS wasn’t really an incentive to play for the vast majority of people I knew. The global rankings were completely ignored by everyone: in two years I looked at the rankings window maybe three times and never once heard any other player mention them either in-game or in the forums.

    The bosses didn’t scale very well vertically either, and don’t seem to do so in any game I’ve played. Adding huge amounts of defense and health to the higher-level mobs just means you have to play with larger and larger groups, everyone spamming the mob when they are not busy healing everyone else. Overpowered bosses get boring very quickly. What kept Vindictus interesting for me was the system of having each battle playable in three modes: ‘normal’ (you can see boss health, bosses deal normal damage, but have higher health), ‘hard’ (you cannot see boss health, they deal higher damage, and have normal health) and ‘hero’ (like hard, but bosses move faster and have elite attacks that deal lots of damage). As you get used to a boss’s moves and attacks, and learn how to predict and dodge them effectively, you can increase the difficulty to make the same boss more challenging. For a level-capped character, even the early bosses are fun when played in ‘hero’ mode — and the higher-level bosses on more difficult settings can be an incredibly fun challenge for two or three experienced players. Then it is all about skill and teamwork, and nothing at all to do with brute force.

    I think this could be the clue to a horizontal scaling system that really works. In open-world, like GW2, you can’t really have difficulty levels. But what you can have are bosses that deal more damage to higher-level players, and which take more damage from lower-level players. To keep the interest up for higher-level players, the bosses might use more ‘elite’ attacks against a given player according to that player’s level: imagine each boss has seven progressively more elaborate/damaging attacks, an additional one unleashed against players at level 10, 20, … 80 (like GW2 traits). Expansions might even add more cunning attacks to the mobs at level 90, 100… etc. The sky (and devs’ imagination) is the limit. You might even want to make the boss visually scarier to higher-level players (fancier armor, longer/sharper teeth, etc. ;-) while retaining the same physics and hit box for everyone. In short, the skill and difficulty (and scariness :-) of the mob increases according to the level of the player fighting it. There’s no reason this cannot work with a lv. 1 player fighting alongside a level-capped player. It would have to be done intelligently, so that there is still a feeling of player capability increasing as level increases, avoiding any feeling that progress made is just negated by stronger bosses and weapons that appear to be less effective.

    Sort of related (while we’re discussing scalability) is the ‘zerg problem': knowing that your 15-person zerg is (with rare exceptions) absolutely going to lose against a 30-person enemy zerg gets old really fast. It’s the same kind of lack of scalability as those grinding large-team fights against bosses with near-infinite defense and health. Vindictus manages to avoid this for a while (up until the dragons and similar raid bosses) by limiting the number of players in a party. In open-world (which IMO is, in almost every respect, better than the instanced Vindictus style of game) suffers greatly from the absence of any sensible limit to team/zerg size. The solution to this might be hinted at in Vindictus, where some battles are against two or three bosses/mini-bosses and by far the best way to survive is to trick the bosses into shooting projectiles into each other (instead of you) by careful positioning and timing. I can’t help thinking that zerg sizes in open worlds could be made self-limiting, and the importance of skill (rather than brute force) emphasized (keeping the game interesting for far longer) if only every player’s (and mob’s) attacks were potentially damaging to every other player (and mob) — whether friend or foe.

    Just random thoughts. Sorry if I inappropriately awoke a slumbering thread.

    • taugrim says:

      What kept Vindictus interesting for me was the system of having each battle playable in three modes: ‘normal’ (you can see boss health, bosses deal normal damage, but have higher health), ‘hard’ (you cannot see boss health, they deal higher damage, and have normal health) and ‘hero’ (like hard, but bosses move faster and have elite attacks that deal lots of damage

      Then it is all about skill and teamwork, and nothing at all to do with brute force.

      That sounds like good game design.

      I found boss fights to be so boring if you could outgear (brute force) them.

      To keep the interest up for higher-level players, the bosses might use more ‘elite’ attacks against a given player according to that player’s level: imagine each boss has seven progressively more elaborate/damaging attacks, an additional one unleashed against players at level 10, 20, … 80 (like GW2 traits).

      This is a novel idea, and it could work as long as the game continually trained players on more challenging mechanics as they leveled up.

      It would also provide more forgiveness to lower-level players as they learn the game.

      Sort of related (while we’re discussing scalability) is the ‘zerg problem’: knowing that your 15-person zerg is (with rare exceptions) absolutely going to lose against a 30-person enemy zerg gets old really fast

      Zerging is also influenced by zone design / lack of chokepoints.

      GW2 recently released the Edge of the Mists map for World PVP, and it’s been a highly entertaining zone. The map has a lot of natural chokepoints and up/down z-axis terrain. The result is that it’s easy to hide from view from larger groups.

      The WvW maps for the most part have very few chokepoints, aside from the towers/keeps themselves, and that’s part of the problem. In an open-area fight (e.g. most camps), the larger side will simply run over the smaller side.

      Just random thoughts. Sorry if I inappropriately awoke a slumbering thread.

      Thanks for taking the time to write, I enjoyed hearing your perspective and about Vindictus.

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