Can hardcore players destroy a MMO?

I bet anyone who ever played a massively multiplayer online game has come up against the scenario where you realise that someone you are playing with (or against) is putting way more time, effort, research and social networking into the game than you are.

  • Maybe it’s That Guy who undercuts all your glyph auctions half a second after you have posted them. Every single time.
  • Maybe it’s the really powerful and organised alliance who seem to have a zillion players in every timezone.
  • Maybe it’s The Guy in your raid group (or LFR) who is all geared and tweaked out and times his/her rotation to the millisecond.

It’s easy to feel demoralised if you are competitive and you see a situation where you know you don’t want to put in the time/ money/ effort to compete with that. This is one of the big structural problems with MMOs: how do you have a game where a wide variety of players can all play together without breaking the game? Do you encourage the hardcore players/ guilds to be part of a separate more hardcore endgame? Do you encourage players to play alongside others of similar mindset and give them separate instances  to mess around in?

Gevlon has a good take on this in a post about RMT where he muses that if you let players cash out their earnings from the auction house, it would attract a more professional crowd (note: his opinion of professionals is a bit higher than mine).

What effect would it have on the game? Every market fully covered, leaving no trading income to casual/newbie players, only similar professional traders could compete. The simpler income sources, like doing PvE would be covered by real world corporations using minimal wage labor (after all, ratting can be done by half-illiterates), leaving absolutely no in-game income source to the real players.

He even decided to cut back on his own trading, “giving more space to other players to play in Jita”. This isn’t a case where the hardcore would be destroying the economy, it would still function fine. Just there is a theoretical case where there are enough ultra competitive players to mean that there are no niches left for casuals in that side of the game.

There are other theoretical ways in which the ultra hardcore could push a game into a stasis from which it could never escape. You could imagine a turf holding game where all the turf ends up belonging to a few large alliances who have mutual non aggression pacts.

The only way out would be if the ruling alliances deliberately cut back on their expansionary plans (much like Gevlon describes in his trading) in order to promote a more ‘healthy’ ecosystem in the game. Where ‘healthy’ could mean anything from ‘more welcoming to new players’ to ‘more likely to give us some fun territory fights in the future.’

In a themepark game, this is all largely irrelevant (I think it’s mostly theoretical in most sandboxes too). There simply are fewer parts of the game where players would have this much control that a large powerful guild could simply win the game. But it’s interesting I think to compare with RL – sometimes looking to the long term good of the community might be worth more than going for pure domination.

Have you ever played a game where you felt you or your faction dominated so hard that it wasn’t fun any more, or where you gave up because you felt the hardcore players meant there was no point?

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21 thoughts on “Can hardcore players destroy a MMO?

  1. I would think that if a MMO “breaks” like that I would consider it a flaw in the system, not an inherent problem with players being hardcore.

    This post does bring to mind my SWTOR server’s ranked warzones though, which became the exclusive domain of two or three top guilds that roflstomped everything, until a concerted effort was made to get more guilds into ranked play.

    • I can imagine ranked battlegrounds being a bit vulnerable to this if there aren’t enough people playing.

      In general, My guess is it could be quite tough to design a game where things are all quite dynamic and player driven but which is resilient to a large and well organised group of players just dominating. Maybe having a really large player base and really large game world can head this off.

  2. Answering your question, not really, but yes really :) In a game with very long time-based progression (=grinding), craft-based, where I know perfectly well that I will never be able to compete in the crafting arena, simply because I’m not ready to farm/craft 1 zillion objects to level my crafting skill. Result: I can get stuff for pennies which is much better than anything I’ll be able to craft. Needless to say, in a craft-centric game this translates very quickly into “running out of content”……

  3. The first thing that comes to my mind when you mention this is A Tale in the Desert and a powergamer guild that (according to veteran stories) dominated a good part of the game in older Tales, to the point where others grew dependent on them to do all the work of researching Technologies that would ultimately benefit the whole game.

    I came in around the time they were starting to cut back and try to make way for others to step up, and there was still this undercurrent of expectations that they would beat everybody, do it all first, and it would be pointless to compete with them, that sort of thing. They tried officially retiring this Tale, and still faced some drama and hostility aimed their direction when they nabbed a rare resource (gold mines) and maintained a monopoly on it for a time.

    I suppose the key difference is that ATITD is a very small sandbox “MMO” with the necessity for -some- cooperation designed into the mix, plus the entropy of eventual boredom. The small size allows for hardcore players to hold a niche for a good while, but it generally isn’t in their interest to remain solely competitive without some cooperation. Ultra-competiveness is also hard to maintain in the game from sheer force of entropy, a little bit of patience can wait out most players that can’t cooperate at least sometimes.

    For a larger MMO on the scale of say, WoW or GW2, I find it a little harder to believe that a hardcore cohort can dominate it for long. There’s always another upcoming hardcore group that will clash.

    For the casuals though, the reality is that one can never beat someone willing to be more dedicated than you or more focused on playing-to-win than thou. I think the key on developers’ parts is to design the game such that it is within the hardcore player’s own interest to train and teach a subset of the casuals, those that want to ascend to those lofty heights, as well as give the noninterested casuals other interesting things to do or smaller goals to reach, and try to reduce the obnoxious elitism some hardcores love to fling in the face of those they perceived as lesser than them. (Be it by separation, an honor/good behavior system, reputation incentives to be seen as courteous or cooperative, etc.)

    On players’ parts, that’s something they have to accept and not expect things to be any different. Either find bits of the game interesting enough to stay, or vote with one’s wallet and move on if the playing ground turns out too uneven.

    • That’s a really interesting example. And in ATITD people can be members of multiple guilds anyway so if they all wanted to join the big guild as well as their smaller guilds, they could do it. The idea that a guild can hold a monopoly on a resource does tie into this. It could make for a very exciting and dynamic game to have guilds competing for monopolies and then be forced to trade with each other, or it could just end up being demoralising for everyone else.

      I think you’re right that players do need to accept that you can’t expect to really keep up with someone who is way more hardcore, but it’s interesting that a lot of the moves towards making MMOs (ie. WoW) more accessible are all about making it possible for less hardcore players to get stuff like legendary weapons and see all the raids. So maybe players aren’t so willing to accept their place in the MMO social order.

      • Well, they can’t join the big guild if the guild leaders won’t let ‘em. :)

        I don’t believe enforced trading makes for an interesting game, it’s probably more demoralizing as you mentioned.

        However, if it’s visibly beneficial to group or work together, that’s a strong encouragement to do so. The difference is that the other path still remains more or less viable, rather than completely locked out or patently impossible, thus “forcing” players.

        I suspect the move to accessibility is a developer move for player retention, rather. Because players who lose interest in competing or have finished exploring the parts of the game they can, move right along somewhere else. :)

  4. The undercutters could be dealt with by changing deposits, such as making them higher for items with a trivial/no vendor price.

    I ran into that guy in LFR yesterday. He made a comment about how great he was. We made fun of him until he left. Even if he hadn’t left, we’d still have gotten to make fun of him. Either way, we’d have fun.

  5. This is a direct consequence of shoving together players of drastically different levels of progression. No level 20 player would assume they should being doing a level 40 zone, or be upset that they are being outperformed by a level 40 player. But once you reach level cap, you are shoved into the same raid as that tweaked out hardcore raider.

    It’s all psychological. You assume that a player who has leveled for 40 hours would be higher level than a player who has leveled for 20 hours. You certainly wouldn’t demand some sort of boost to reach that same level with less playing. You are perfectly comfortable knowing that “I will reach that level when I have played that long.”

    What is broken is end-game progression. The tweaked-out hardcore raiders should be players you never encounter, doing content you simply haven’t reached yet (but will once you have played longer).

    • I don’t know that endgame is broken per se, but it is a very different type of game. I have fond memories of being in big PvP raids in older MMOs (like DaoC) with a huge variety of player, both hardcore and casual, all out in the frontier taking relics or protecting our realm. So I’m not willing to give up entirely on the idea that players with different playing styles can’t occasionally play together.

  6. Gevlon’s example is broken because I don’t think he understands the concept of comparative advantage – I suspect the EVE economy is too big and diverse for a relative handful of players to be able to control everything. The most hardcore traders will be able to nab the most profitable markets, but while they’re busy with that the little guys will be able to deal in stuff that’s less profitable, but still profitable enough. You won’t be able to become richest guy in the galaxy if you’re not one of the hardcore but you will be able to make a living, and that’s all the truly casual player desires.
    Likewise a few hardcore PvP guilds can only lock everyone out of a territorial conquest game if there’s a small enough territory that they can hold it. If the game world is big enough then there’s room for others out there, or the all-conquering guilds have to be too big to remain stable indefinitely.

    • No, I’m pretty sure Gevlon is right.

      Compare and contrast Diablo 3. Diablo 3 is very much the same as the far more successful and enjoyable Diablo 2 except for the kind of highly motivated professional or semi-professional farmer/speculator base that is the same as what Gevlon talks about.

      • I’m not convinced. Diablo 3’s economy is a far simpler beast than EVE’s (in fact D3 doesn’t really have an economy beyond the auction houses) with far fewer niches to be filled. I’m going to go with “the hardcore CAN drive everyone else out assuming the game is simple enough compared to the percentage of players who are hardcore” but I don’t think EVE is simple enough.

    • I think you’re right that there’s a concept of ‘rich enough’ which is all that a casual should really be aiming for. But if hardcore professional players have taken all the low hanging fruit, it might get quite difficult for that casual player to find their niche.

  7. Eve has seen this in some ways although it has managed not to be ruined by it, Eve’s sovereign game used to be dominated by elitist pvp guilds who would recruit high skill point good killboard characters. They have been out-thought out-numbered and destroyed by coalitions of alliances following the lead of the Goons in being more political and more diplomatic. This has changed Eve to where some fear there is a blue doughtnut crisis – a hole of unclaimable Empire space surrounded by a ring of allied powers all blue (friendly) to one another. Eve is not yet destroyed but some fear it’s days as a RvR game might be coming to an end.

    Another subtler way in which hardcore players can destroy a game is forum and out-of-game politicing. Back in Galaxies the Combat Medic class had a very bad impact on pvp because it could inflict unhealable wound damage to the mind pool. A headache that could only be cured by going to the pub to watch player dancers. It was simply not fun – we’d be having pvp brawls lasting over an hour then along would come a single CM and the other side would lose because zerging from the graveyard would stop being an option. The CM players on the forums were among the most articulate and organised I’ve ever seen so any post complaining about their effect would be responded to within minutes by 6 “it’s fine, learn to play” answers. From the boards it looked as if the majority of players supported something that in the community everyone hated.

    I’m very suspicious of mechanisms which hand over or partner in players as game designers. It’s like asking football strikers to help develop the offside laws. No striker ever thinks it’s fair when he’s given offside.

    • I dunno, every time I think about it I get reminded how hard it would be to find a corps that doesn’t tolerate stuff like casual sexism, pornfleets, etc. And I think, “maybe it’s just not for me.” I like reading about it though.

      • Sadly except for isolated small bubbles I don’t think anyone in Eve has a grip on casual bigotry. Some people don’t even realise that using “jewing” as a synonym for making money is bigoted, it’s just the word.

  8. EVE always makes me feel inadequate, since when I go back I’m always very casual about it. When everyone else is at the very least semi-hardcore, I always get the nagging feeling that I will never be able to get a niche of my own and be somewhat competitive, which bugs me to no end. Which is why I always end up unsubbing after a while.

  9. Pingback: Hardcore Players CAN Destroy a MMO – If The Devs Let Them | Tremayne's Law

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