Brief posts: World of Darkness ‘news’, difficulty in MMOs

Posts are likely to be getting more sparse over the next few months since I’m back at college. This is going to be challenging not just because of blogging but also because of Diablo 3 and SWTOR. I’m all for casual gaming but how easy is it to play games THIS casually – we’ll find out!

CCP/ White Wolf made some announcements about their Vampire/ World of Darkness MMO at the recent Grand Masquerade (thread includes comments from someone who was there at the time). I don’t see any clear and actual signs that this game is anything more than vapourware yet. For a start, there’s no actual internet official announcement, just a few interviews they have given to fan sites. And also, the concept sounds … obscured. They want a hardcore LARP style game, but also the possibility to just hang out and chat/ RP socially.

Usually Vampire style games accomplish this by nominating some safe zones (or Elysiums in WW-speak) where vampires aren’t allowed to fight. But a hardcore core game might also attract gonzo griefers like Goons et al, and I can’t imagine them leaving the RPers to posture in peace. Anyhow, still no dates for this one or any demos other than pretty graphics, so I’m comfortable leaving it on the ‘probably won’t happen’ pile for now.

Who are these people who want difficult MMOs?

If you want your MMOs to be difficult in any sense other than socially then you have my permission to leave already and go to a game designed more specifically for ‘gamers’. You won’t ever have to worry about annoyances like story or lore any more.

The one unique selling point for MMOs has always been the virtual world and being able to be part of a virtual community. Pushing hardcore game mechanics on top of that has never really been a comfortable fit. Activities that busy people around the game world are good, especially if they are thematic. This is why we shouldn’t be so down on the concept of grinds. But I don’t see where intellectual difficulty became some holy grail for MMOs – it should be difficulty enough building that community and organising things together.

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40 thoughts on “Brief posts: World of Darkness ‘news’, difficulty in MMOs

  1. Good luck at college.

    Hold your breath on CCP’s vampire game. If the walking in stations we’re seeing in Eve is an indication of where they’re at then even the engine is years off being finished. They also seem to be taking their time. This summer we got an avatar in a small room, last winter we got a character creator, the whole thing has been in development for about 5 years. It’s moving at a snail’s pace even by MMO development standards.

    Regarding intellectual challenge it’s a tradition in games. Chess, Bridge, Crosswords, all are intellectual. If anything MMOs are a departure in that they include non-intellectual “grinds”. And I’d say there was intellectual intent in parts of the design even where it didn’t work out that way in practice. WoW raids are clearly meant to be new puzzles that are tricky to figure out. Sure 99% of the players use Youtube vids but the 1% who figure the fight out are certainly using their brains. Similarly talent trees can be an intellectual challenge. Rift’s talent builds were very difficult to figure out when the game launched.

    Regarding a game based on LARP there is likely to be an intellectual and social challenge based on politics. If they capture the LARP flavour the game will be highly social and highly political full of devious backstabbing players. That’s what the LARPs I know are like anyway.

  2. It is refreshing hearing from another person who isn’t buying into the Uphill Both Ways In the Snow difficulty argument. We have all been in guilds or seen the guilds that implode because people who otherwise get along cannot function together in raid settings – your good friend otherwise panics under pressure, the new guy wipes the raid, and the general stress fractures of progression. The survivors might forge a tighter bond like war veterans, but all the casualties along the way are usually glossed over.

    The selling point for MMOs should be their Big Tent properties (content for every gamer type), in my opinion, not content designed for less than 20% of the population.

  3. “But I don’t see where intellectual difficulty became some holy grail for MMOs ”

    I don’t see you linking to anyone referring to difficulty as a holy grail for MMO’s, so…what’s the problem? Isn’t not seeing what isn’t there a good thing? This kind of incendiary straw man reference confuses me coming from you, I keep thinking Tobold wrote today’s column for you. Also confused by your reference to “some holy grail” instead of “the holy grail”–isn’t the entire point of the holy grail that there is only one? Worried that you’re making some point here that I”m just missing.

      • Well, I don’t agree that is true, and you still haven’t given any arguments as to why you think it is true, so you seem to be conceding the point.

        The reason why I don’t agree that it is true, is that difficulty isn’t a reasonable holy grail candidate. It is incredibly easy to make an unbeatable mob/encounter/situation in an MMO. Or require unbearable length of grinding, etc. This situation is therefore both easily attainable and undesirable, rendering it doubly unsuitable for “the holy grail of XXXX” status. So unsuitable, that I doubt you know anyone who regards it as such. Do you?

      • I have seen bloggers who complain that WoW is too easy argue that if only it was ‘difficult’ that would solve all their problems with it. That’s the kind of line of argument I was thinking about.

      • I guess I’m not sure which definition of intellectual difficulty you are using. If you’re using Tobold’s, “replace scripted encounters by random encounters, forcing players to think on their feet and come up with strategies of their own instead of strategies from YouTube. You would need to design talent trees and combat abilities in a way that every choice has advantages and disadvantages to consider, instead of creating a system with a mathematical optimum talent build and spell rotation which is identical for every encounter.”

        then I’d argue WoW already has done those. Players disliked the random encounters, because all it means is that you have to learn every random permutation ahead of time, then the raidleader yells over vent which one it is and every scrambles to the right position. If he means every encounter is truly completely random, then every encounter becomes the same, there’s no sense of progression/completion. You’d have a range of difficulty, the top 5% of encounters would be either skipped or Youtubed (which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid here, right), the other 95% would be faceroll. I can’t call that anything near intellectually challenging, so if that’s your definition then I’ll bow out of a useless semantical debate.

        If you say that puzzles and the like are intellectually challenging, then I go back to my “intellectual difficulty is too easily attainable to be a holy grail” position, since puzzles that humans can’t reasonably solve are trivial to computer-generate.

      • “I have seen bloggers who complain that WoW is too easy argue that if only it was ‘difficult’ that would solve all their problems with it. That’s the kind of line of argument I was thinking about.”

        That may be true for them–that’s not a generalizable result nor does it approach “holy grail” status. If they love everything about WoW but want some specific things to be tuned harder, then that’s nothing more but exactly what they want. Difficulty being the Holy Grail for WoW would be more like a situation where making WoW extremely difficult would not only solve their problems with the game, but also everyone else’s problems with the game. People who hate WoW now wouldn’t start playing, but they would start trying to date WoW players, or at least sleep with them in a dirty gaming cafe to the folkish strains of Midnight Oil. Playing WoW wouldn’t become a career, but Jewish rabbis would agree that playing WoW is acceptable on the Sabbath, as long as you didn’t work on your professions. You would definitely start playing WoW again though, and you’d reroll priest or paladin, without knowing why.

        –Sounds unlikely that some random stranger on the internet is going to convince them to leave WoW. btw. if they love everything about it except one thing, though. which makes your argument not only unclear and widely misunderstood, but also rather futile.

        This is like the time when I wrote a blog post that said “Everyone who wants to play a non-forced-PvP mmo should just go play farmville”, caused a huge ruckus, then when pressed on it said “oh, I was just thinking about this one guy I argued with on the bus yesterday who said Eve Online needs more fluffly pink ponies, obtainable by /dance parties in Incarna.” I ride on literally the exact same bus route as Epic Bearded Man in lovely Oakland-town, so you definitely know that was a fictitious tale. But otherwise , it’s the same as yours. Just be careful about telling people to leave your game in the future, you should know that the Noisy Rogue copyrighted that line, and he’s a bit unstable.

  4. @Iloveholyshield

    I think Spinks is referring to Tobold’s post yesterday and the post by SynCaine that it references. http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2011/09/not-friday.html

    Both of them are asking for a greater level of intellectual difficulty, in so many words.

    I’m not quite sure how Spinks has translated that as “hardcore game mechanics ” though. I’d have thought it was the opposite. The old virtual world concept seems to me exactly what both Tobold and SynCaine want to get back to. And so do I.

    • Tobold quits every game that offers any challenge, that’s a ridiculous example. If any game designer gave him what he asks for, he’d jump to an easier game, again, and start complaining that it was too easy, again. SynCaine seems to be asking for more difficulty genuinely, but that’s still not near the level of Holy Grail designation.

  5. If you want your MMOs to be difficult in any sense other than socially then you have my permission to leave already and go to a game designed more specifically for ‘gamers’. You won’t ever have to worry about annoyances like story or lore any more.

    Do you assume that difficulty/story/lore/world/immersion/challenges/.. are mutually exclusive? You don’t, do you?

    • No, but I do think that the sort of carefully architected level by level challenges that you get in a game like Portal or Mario can never really be more than a minigame in a true MMO. Those are closer to what I would call an intellectual challenge.

      To me, the challenge in MMOs should be all about interacting with the virtual world/ environment and the other players. Exploring challenges (how do I get to X safely?), PvE puzzle challenges (How can I pull that pack most safely? Which mob should I cc first?), social challenges (how can I get people to vote for me as city leader? how can I set up a friendly guild that will last for more than 3 months?), and even economic challenges (how can I make some gold legally?).

      I wouldn’t say any of those were especially intellectual. That doesn’t mean that you can’t apply intellect to them but they aren’t the type of gaming challenge which has been designed to within an inch of its life. Players should feel encouraged to interact and experiment with the world. Any instance or raid which has mechanics that are wildly different from the outside gameworld is a diversion at best.

      Also, I prefer to see challenges without scripted optimal solutions. Sure, maybe you can solo a boss under level if you time all your moves and kiting exactly perfectly. But you could also bring a few friends, or level up a bit and come back later. I think it’s quite important to the genre that you have those choices, so if you want to take the simpler route that’s valid too. And it’s perfectly fine for players to hang out and have fun in the gameworld and only ever take on encounters that are trivial to them if that’s what rocks their boats. Sometimes I get home from work/uni and am shattered and really just want the gaming equivalent of comfort food and a chat to my guildies, and that’s perfect.

      I think I quite like the level of challenge in LOTRO PvE. I can easily get wiped in a level 1 skirmish at my level on my warden if I don’t play carefully and use regen food, for example. But I have the option to either level up my minion a bit or just key in a skirmish that is a couple of levels below me for an easier ride through.

      But my main point is that I don’t think the main point behind a good MMO has or ever will be difficulty. Yes, there’s a point at which the PvE gets too easy and I think WoW levelling is there already. Part of the issue with such strongly directed questing is that it also takes most of the thought-work out of levelling. You just do what the next quest tells you to do.

  6. Totally ignoring the World of Darkness part (it’s on the radar but even more far away than GW2, argh!)…

    Regarding “intellectual difficulty” I assume you refer to the Tobold article that bhagpuss quoted.

    I think there is a disconnect in the discussion, people talking about the same thing and wanting the same thing but still not understanding each other. For example I want more difficulty in world mobs, no longer just wade through them without thinking. I remember a time where mobs made me run in UO and WoW, and it’s about time that Hogger kicks my butt again. That would add to the game. Right now this stimulus is missing in general throughout the MMO landscape. And it’s not because I am super and/or overexperienced and played MMOs for years.

    • How much of that (your mob issue) is players taking the easier route and playing safe? Not enough linked mobs or a simple agro radius mechanic?

      It’d be nice to see devs move away from ‘more HPs and more damage = harder’ and instead add more resistances and defenses. Even mobs dispelling DoTs or healing effectively. Give them interesting abilities to make them more challenging to counter than just ‘stun and burn’. CC breaks, wake up allies, better positional awareness (i.e. I’m a caster and a player is closing on me so instead of finishing my cast, I interrupt it and root the player, DoT it and back away).

      Complicated encounters? More options available to the mobs; ranged abilities, snares, roots, their own CCs. A better threat model – though this would eliminate the tank since most people ignore the tank and go for the healers.

      There is a definitely a lot that can be improved on for mobs and their AI.

      Of course, it might negatively impact the solo aspect of the game.

      • Speaking of linked mobs, one thing I sometimes miss is a bit more complexity in mob behaviour that would make skilled pulling more of an issue. Because that was always fun.

  7. Do you not think that, outside raiding, WoW is too easy? That was one of the main reasons I left – the levelling and 5 man content was so *boring*.

    How can you believe the world is truly in peril when you blast through everything at 1000 miles an hour, never coming close to dying?

    • Yes, I do agree with you on that. WoW levelling is too easy these days. But I dunno if that’s the same as saying that I want intellectual difficulty in MMOs. And even then it’s reasonably entertaining the first time through.

  8. Pingback: LotRO Tidbits – Good, Bad, and Ugly « Procrastination Amplification

  9. WoW raiding has gotten easy since they recently nerfed the crap out of it. Everything else outside of it is easy.

    Any chance of requiring thought has been eliminated by the vast number of people playing the game and those being vocal about how to play your class.

    How do I spend my talent points? Oh, I’ll just look it up.
    How do I play my class? Oh, I’ll just look it up.
    How do you defeat this boss? Oh, I’ll just look it up.

    Of course, you don’t have to look things up and it can be more fun that way.

  10. Smakendahed makes an excellent point about what *really* has ruined MMOs / games in general: The internet.

    Everything is available by “looking it up”, it’s impossible for games to do cool things anymore. Remember Final Fantasy Legend? How cool was it to have a monster character, kill an enemy and have it drop meat. Then you could decide whether or not to eat it, and you would transform. Well now there’d be a strategy guide with a chart for that telling you exactly whether or not you should eat it, and what kind of character you’ll turn into with detailed stats and abilities.

    I miss the days of ignorance and bliss, exploration and danger.

  11. Sorry for the double-post, but I thought of something else after I hit “post comment”. FFXI – the first MMO I played – did not have tool tips which explained what each stat did in excruciating detail, either. There were no add-ons, no damage meters. People went with what was generally accepted as good, or what “made sense” to them as good. If you’ve ever seen the damage formula (which was finally reverse engineered years later, I think) for FFXI, you’d be pretty impressed that someone was able to parse all that data out. But for years and years you never heard in a group “Your DPS is too low, you should be doing X”. People might make suggestions, but it was based on experience, not what they read on EJ by an ‘expert poster’.

    I miss the uncertainty and community, the most.

  12. The DPS thing is a mathematical requirement, unfortunately, caused mostly by raiding. If the raid doesn’t do X amount of damage in Y amount of time, you hit the enrage timer and it’s game over; X/Y = TotalDPS; TotalDPS/DPSersInRaid = MinDPSperPerson.

    This is often (incorrectly) brought into dungeons. Though some of the more recent Heroics sometimes have non-enrage type timers where the boss becomes too overwhelming if you don’t kill it fast enough.

    There is more than just numbers to consider. DPS isn’t a measure of how good a player is. Sure, you do 22k DPS, but you die 50% into the fight or you never interrupt that ability which is wiping the raid.

    It’s not really the fault of damage meters but rather the ignorance around their weight and value. Much like Gearscore means little if the player behind the gear just bought the account hehe.

    Too much information without proper understanding of its application can definitely be a bad thing.

    (To be fair, there were DPS parsers as far back as EQ, they just weren’t built into the game. They analyzed the logs and crunched the numbers just like Recount does – mostly.)

    • Well, more strictly the DPS thing is a mathematical requirement imposed by a specific mechanic (enrage timers).frequently employed in raid design. Remove the mechanic and the problem goes away; lengthen the timer or reduce the impact of the enrage and the impact is reduced.

  13. “Too much information without proper understanding of its application can definitely be a bad thing.”

    Absolutely. I get the purpose of DPS meters in a raid setting – I was a raiding hunter for awhile. The point I’m trying to make above is really more about the absence of knowledge. When people don’t have clearly defined “answers”, they’re more flexible to try new things. And they’ll take far less criticism for doing so. The spoiler sites and add-ons have really ruined a big chunk of the game for “Johnnies” (of Spike, Timmy, Johnny fame), along with the community’s inherent perception “OMG ur doin’ it wrong” as a result.

  14. Games are fun because the’re challenging, period. If games like Call of Duty, Mario, Zelda, Halo, etc were easy no one would bother.

    Defending quest grinding by saying “Activities that busy people around the game world are good” is ludicrous. Mindless quests are the bane of MMOs today.

    Ask youself this, would you rather completely ten “kill X animal” quests or 1 challenging quest that might take you a few tries to complete?

    • Thing is, “challenge” is a variable. If your game wants a lot of people of disparate skill playing, challenge has to be partitioned off of the golden path.

      There’s plenty of challenge in WoW. You just have to go looking for trouble. Try soloing dungeons. Try going places above your level band.

      Go try to waltz through the Firelands solo with a level 60 character and then come back and tell me you facerolled it. Pics to prove it.

    • re “Games are fun because the’re challenging, period.”

      So 80 million people play Farmville, 12 (going on 5) million play WoW, 0.3 million play EVE and 0.02 million play Darkfall because they overwhelmingly appreciate how much more challenging Farmville is than Darkfall?

      People say they want challenging games, healthy food, sophisticated moves, exercise, and politicians who avoid spin and negative ads. Woe be it to a mainstream business which provides people with what they say they want. IMO, the failure of Cataclysm is an example that what the forum heroes say they want and what the silent majority actually do want are quite different.

  15. I’m totally confused.

    If all you want is a virtual world with community, why even bother gaming to begin with? Play Facebook. Play Google+. Or, if you want a 3d world with anonymous avatars, play Second Life.

    I’m being totally unfair, of course, but I’m being hyperbolic to make a point. You can’t on one hand say, “don’t play MMOs if you want a challenge – go play some other games,” and then take offense when I say, “if you want friends and community on the computer, go play Facebook.”

    • You’re being so hyperbolic that you missed the point and shot off several miles in the other direction. In which universe are Facebook or G+ virtual worlds? do they involve lore, setting, seamless interactive environments that your avatar can move through as if it was a world? Do I really need to describe in painful detail what a virtual environment is?

      (Incidentally, I do count MUDs as virtual worlds. It doesn’t have to be graphical.)

      • Lies! I used Facebook and Google+ to make a point, not to be realistic, thus, “hyperbole”. I can’t help myself.

        But Second Life is totally fair, and totally un-hyperbolic. In fact, it’s everything you asked for – setting, tons of user-created lore, and interactive environments.

        What you’re describing isn’t a “game” though, it’s a virtual world, and the terms aren’t congruous. Games by definition need objectives, and winners and losers. Or at least, they require some kind of failsucceed dimension.

        If you don’t want to fail, and want a virtual world to putz around in, arrange user-created events, marry a virtual partner, etc., go nuts with Second Life. For a lot of people, however, more challenging elements are desired. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that most MMOs these days are giving us less and less of that “challenge” that makes us want to play.

        There’s room for everyone’s tastes. Presumably. I personally haven’t tasted anything I like lately when it comes to MMOs. They’re too … boring, undemanding, easy, and just lack enough spice. I want more spice :)

      • I have no issues with describing Second :Life as a virtual world, that’s fair. And the reason I don’t hang out in it is:
        1) it’s slow as all get out (ie. technical issues)
        2) full of furries (ie. social issues). I know you can avoid them but I also know everyone I know who plays it has a story about some kind of random hookup.
        3) not actually a contiguous consistent world with it’s own background and lore, in the way that WoW, LOTRO etc are. Yes you could stay in one coherent small area but there are elements of scale.
        4) I enjoy the RPG element in MMOs.

  16. Pingback: MMORPGs: More Grinding Please

  17. Alright, I’ll bite.

    There used to be a game show in the UK called The Crystal Maze. It was hosted by a fantastic Richard O’Brien and put a team of 6 contestants against a collection of challenges. Each challenge was Physical (speed or strength challenge), Mental (mathematics, word association or pattern recognition challenge), Skill (agility or dexterity challenge) or Mystery (logical, deduction challenge).

    The point is, there are different ways in which people are challenged and different ways in which people *like* to be challenged. Players would like more of a challenge, but in which direction?

    Also, I played LARP for a long time. Some players are *very* skilled with LARP weapons, while others are incredibly adept at spying and sneaking. Politis is just one of many challenges.

    Finally, I consider Google+, Facebook and even Wikipedia to be MMOs. They just have ill defined mechanics and poor user interfaces :)

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  19. Everyone tends to want difficulty in things they enjoy and are probably above average skilled in. I *want* intellectually challenging MMOs and do not want MMOs that require dexterity or twitch skills. Quick, stupid people would tend to prefer the opposite.

    What annoys me is when posters suggest the game company make the game harder. I.e., “I think company X should make it so fewer people can enjoyably accomplish something in the game and thus unsub and reduce their revenue.”

  20. I’m one of those people who wants more difficulty in MMOs, but not in the way it’s currently described. It actually ties what spinks says together with the idea of difficulty.

    If anyone remembers EverQuest 1 in its earlier days, much of the game’s difficulty revolved around its forced socialization model. If you had friends, the game wasn’t very difficult (when you died, you always got the best rez from your cleric friend(s); when you wanted a group, you had one; when you need a port, you got one; etc) but if you were a lone wolf type, it could be excruciatingly hard (and slow). But as the genre moved toward “casual” (EQ was considered a hardcore game for its time), soloability and self-sufficiency became the order of the day, eliminating the NEED to socialize. So on the one hand, you were forced to socialize in EQ in order to mitigate much of the game’s difficulty and now, things stand on the other end of the spectrum. I don’t think forced socialization will work anymore (Pandora’s Box) but incentivizing it heavily could work. It’ll be hard, given the proliferation of folks with multiple accounts (guilty as charged!) but it’s still possible. That adds a layer of difficulty, but with a social bent, which could work to form and solidify a game’s community. I know that EQ’s community was MUCH more tight knit “back in the day” (when there were A LOT more people playing btw) than it is today.

  21. All the game companies saw what happened to WoW when they upped the difficulty, so I doubt overly hardcore game desgn is going to be much of a problem going forward. All they need to do now is delete forum posts whining about how easy the games are.

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