Simplification or just Dumbing Down?

A post on The Nomadic Gamer caught my eye last week, because I think it touches on something that is on a lot of people’s minds at the moment.

Blizzard recently announced some of the stat changes that will be taking place in Cataclysm. A lot of talent trees will be rejigged, stats on gear are being overhauled, and in particular, confusing stats are being reworked in favour of a simpler framework. And in the midst of this, TNG (link above) posts a complaint that choosing gear will become too simple and that the depth of the game is being reduced. And the rub? S/he is talking about recent changes in EQ2.

This is what we call a trend. In my opinion it’s a great trend, I would love for more emphasis in MMOs to be on working organically within the game. Figuring out complex stat weightings is for the same kind of players who used spreadsheets to generate their old Champions characters. I’m sure there’s a market for that type of game, but it’s hardly accessible to new players, or to anyone who doesn’t want to crunch the numbers. All it proves in the end is who has the desire to go hunting around the internet for someone else’s theorycraft. I’d rather see games find other ways to encourage players to pick sensible gear.

And there are three ways to do this:

  1. Make stats simple and intuitive, make the effect of a new item on a character obvious and unmistakeable. Make it easy for someone who is actually paying attention to gear up in an appropriate way.
  2. Hide all stats. Keep them as obfuscated as possible and find another way to let players know which items suit their character. Maybe give out achievements for collecting sets, more feedback about how skill use changes when a new item is equipped (e.g. the way final fantasy makes your skills depend on what gear is equipped), and so on.
  3. Make it impossible for anyone to equip anything that isn’t appropriate for their character. (This would likely be a less gear based game.) Make it impossible to take any new item that is not also an upgrade.

Of these options, #1 is the only one which current MMO players will want to see.

In any case, I don’t feel that WoW is going to be particularly dumbed down by the changes in stats. It’s more like cutting out the cruft that has grown around the game over 5 years of designers wanting to introduce new and interesting stats to grab player attention.

Farewell MP5, I remember how excited we all were when you were introduced in Dire Maul. But I won’t miss you.

Also farewell, defence. I may miss you just a little bit and will keep one of my old defence trinkets for good luck, but Tobold had the right of you in the end. Gearing for the defence cap was a rite of passage for endgame tanks, and I suppose I will miss that side of things. But no stat cap that key should ever be hidden from the players. They didn’t even have an achievement for it, which would have been the obvious way to point people in that direction.

I guess it would have just encouraged non tanks to get tanking gear. Because if we have learned anything from the whole achievement debacle, it is that otherwise smart and sensible players will do ALL SORTS OF STUPID AND POINTLESS SHIT for totally meaningless achievements that they do not need in any dictionary sense of the word.

((cough. rant over.))

Time till MINE

How long does it take between an item dropping and a player being able to say ‘Oh! That’s gear that is an upgrade for me!’ Or even just ‘Mine!’?

One of the other goals of the stat redesign is to make it clearer which gear is intended for which classes, and to make it more rewarding for players to go with that.

There is a point where I ask myself why they don’t just put a class restriction on gear. If they don’t want plate DPS in leather, why not just make all leather say, “Druids and Rogues only”? Because you can get to a  point where all the bonuses for sticking to your own gear type will lead people to the same conclusion anyway. It’s never been clear to me how Blizzard viewed this, or why. So in any case, they’re going to try to ‘discourage’ characters from taking lower armour types via mastery bonuses, but they don’t want to prevent it altogether.

And it still won’t stop hunters from taking spellpower gear. (Oops, I mean INT gear.)

How dumb is too dumb?

The latest round of Ulduar nerfs has sparked off a slew of posts about games being dumbed down and why you need to be a moron to play Warcraft these days. Gevlon blames social players, riding hard on his regular strawman fallacy that ‘the pure social sucks in everything he does’. Tobold sneers that the game is skill-less.

From my perspective, I still think that current raiding is harder than back in 40 man days. It isn’t really the instances fault that players have several years more experience in playing the game and have seen it all before. It does have some depth but not unlimited amounts.  The hard modes do seem to be providing reasonable entertainment for hardcore guilds while more casual setups pick away at the normal modes.

And when you boil skill down to reaction times, how good people are at watching several graphical effects going off around them, and reading strategies/watching videos – well, some people aren’t as good at that type of video game. Twitch is not for everyone. But WoW-types with their one-size-fits-all endgame are shoehorning them in somehow.

I don’t recall the levelling game ever being difficult (I certainly managed to get to level 60 when the game was new without ever really figuring out my class) so there’s no real point beating it up for that now as if something dramatic has changed. The old days when we walked both ways uphill through the snow to our bindstones were only ‘difficult’ because they were a pain in the neck. Not because they were actually … difficult. Now there are real advantages to having some frustrating content in games (immersion for example, and downtime for socialising) but frustrating is not the same as hard.

Can we just stop calling players morons?

I get that it’s frustrating to play with people who are dragging your performance down, but how about we just quit calling the people you never ever play with names.

Sente has a great post up at A Ding World where he compares MMOs to a virtual pub (ie. a relaxed hangout) and a virtual casino(ie. much more focussed and reward oriented set of activities, owners very motivated to keep you there), and concludes that he prefers the pub.

A lot of people prefer the pub. A lot of people don’t want to have to prove themselves to a bunch of hardcore elitists who will call them morons if they commit some serious crime like … ooo … having the wrong gem in one socket. They’re not morons, and they’re not necessarily ‘pure socials’. They’re just trying to tell you that they’re in for the beer and pretzels gaming and you should stick to your own kind.

Retirement vs Challenge

This week I have committed a terrible crime which I usually try to avoid. I read something cool in a blog post and forgot to bookmark it. So if this came from you, let me know and I’ll add in the link.

In any case, I was reading this article and the writer compared the ideas of Retirement Gaming with Challenge Gaming. This is simple but brilliant. The Retirement Gamer thinks ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want to enjoy it by having the game become easier.’ The Challenge Gamer thinks, ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want more of a challenge!’

The best MMOs cater to both of these viewpoints. And I suspect that most players, however hardcore, enjoy both of them. After all, the whole point of repeating raids is that you get them onto farm mode eventually. If you get good at the auction house, you have a larger pot of money to play with so you have an easier time making still more.

When a gamer gets a new shiny level, ability, or item, they want the chance to go show it off and feel uber. It’s fun to go back to a zone when you’re totally overgeared and take vicious revenge on some mob that bullied you as a wee noob. It’s fun to try soloing old instances after you outlevel them. It’s a very RPG thing to want to do. I did the same thing when I was GMing pen and paper games. In order for progression to be meaningful, the player needs evidence that they have progressed. And what better way to do this than to let them ease through a fight that gave them trouble in the past?

Who is really harmed if older zones become virtual pubs?

The question is, how many people really do want more of a challenge? A lot of people will say that they want more difficulty. But is it true? Gear based games have an easy answer to introducing more challenge – just up the health/damage of the mobs, or throw in some extra adds or a vicious ability on a cooldown. But there still comes a point where you’ve gotten most of the depth from the game that you’re going to get. After that, it’ll be down to twitch skills, knowledge of game mechanics and how good you are at finding X other people of the appropriate class/spec/gear/twitch skill/dedication.

And at that point, you may find that you get more challenge from playing a different game with new mechanics to learn and master. Challenge gamers in an MMO will find that their game has an end, a natural point at which the best way to find more challenge is to switch games.