State of the LFD: Repetition, repetition, repetition

Patch 3.3 in WoW was released in the US back on the 8th December 2009. That means we have had the random dungeon finder for almost three months – my how time flies when you’re having fun.

There’s no doubt that the new tool has been a great success. It has never been easier to find a 5-man dungeon run on any toon at any level than it is right now. Queues are still virtually instant for tanks, and not much longer for healers, which just shows that there are more dps wanting to run instances than there are tanks and healers. So tanks in particular make up less than 20% of the population and a lot of people on hybrid characters aren’t interested in tanking. None of this is surprising. And the wait for dps to get into a group is still a lot less than if people had to form up on their own servers using trade chat.

However, there have been some big challenges for the new tool also.

  • Throwing people with wildly different playing styles together leads to friction. Not only that, but this can put a lot of pressure on new 80s, newer players, and people trying to learn new specs.
  • Cyber-bullying. People find new and interesting ways to grief each other whenever any new functionality is added.
  • Can the hardware cope with the added activity?
  • Burnout.

Throwing random people together into a group can lead to friction, but can also work out. It all depends on the individuals. So it’s a challenge, but not by any means an impossible one. The player base just needs to decide whether it’s able and willing to work together on common goals or not with random people. Issues like rolling need/ greed on frozen orbs, rolling on offspec gear, and the like will sort themselves out in the wash. We won’t all end up agreeing, but we will all end up with some variety of widely accepted compromise.

Cyber-bullying is a larger subject than this post (maybe a future post, or series of posts), and has been going on ever since people have been able to communicate online. It’s nasty and pernicious, but in a PUG you always have the option to just leave and log out. And to put the offender on /ignore, which guarantees not only that you never have to hear from them again, but that the dungeon tool will never group you with them again either.

Hardware is a problem that can be fixed by throwing more money at it. In fact, I haven’t seen a full instances screen at all lately, which makes me think that this is exactly what Blizzard have been doing.

So let’s talk about burnout

People burn out on games for all sorts of different reasons.

  • Run out of goals. You’ve done everything that you want in the game, and you’re bored.
  • Hit the brick wall. There are barriers preventing you from doing your remaining goals in the game, and you see no way to overcome them. And so you’re bored.
  • Repetition ad infinitum. There are goals remaining for you in the game but you would rather skin yourself alive with a potato peeler than set foot into ((overly repetitive content of choice)) ever again.
  • Dramageddon. There are goals remaining for you in the game but you don’t ever want to play with these people again and they’re in your guild, on your server, and you may even know them in real life. You can’t get away from them without leaving the game. But doing stuff with them is driving you nuts.
  • Future goals trump current goals. There are current goals remaining for you in the game, but you choose not to pursue them because it would make it harder for you in future. For example, you choose not to level a new alt now because you want to save it for Cataclysm. So you’re bored until then.

Often many of these conditions apply at the same time. If you are bored anyway because you have run out of goals, you may be more irritable with your guild (and vice versa if many of them are also bored.) Hitting barriers in game also tends to dent the mood, especially if other friends don’t face these issues. (Maybe they just have more time to play.)

Repetition, however, is the game killer. All PvE MMOs rely heavily on some kind of grind, whether you need to grind for crafting materials, or daily quests, or instances, or raids. And for happy players, these grinds are a bonus. They let a player settle into a comfortable daily routine in game, which is fun for a lot of people.

It’s the same comfortable grind which makes so many facebook games so appealing. MMOs aren’t so very far from that mould. It’s just that while levelling you don’t see the repetition so strongly as at endgame. So when a player is bored of the endgame repetition, something’s got to give.

Wrath has encouraged more endgame repetition than any previous expansion in Warcraft. Doubling up of the 10 and 25 man instances has meant many people run the same raid instance several times a week. Ease of gearing alts has meant that people  can (if they choose) run heroics several times a day on different alts. And then raid several extra times a week on those alts too.

So there are plenty of ways for a player to fill in the extra hours in WoW – and even easier if you raid and are on a busy server with lots of pick up raids running. But they are extremely repetitive. The thrill of playing and learning a new alt will wear off in time, and it will wear off more quickly in Wrath because it’s just that much easier to access the content.

So whilst improved access to content is removing some of the barriers which had been causing burnout before — people getting burned out because they needed to run those heroics and raids to gear up but just couldn’t get the groups — instead people are playing more and then hitting repetition burnout.

Bored players, +  5-man random heroics = ???

I’m not saying that everyone is bored, that would be silly.

But increasingly I’m finding that I get sloppy in 5 mans. I can’t be bothered to tackle the pulls neatly, and we’re over geared enough that no one cares whether I do or not (except me) and it won’t affect the result anyway.

This increase of well geared players who simply don’t care as much as they used to is starting to drag the instances down. People still run them enthusiastically, they still want the badges, and they still want to play alts. But increasingly, I’m seeing people very obviously not bothering to play as well as they could. And while it’s fine to chill out in 5 man instance runs when you are over geared, I think that all the repetition is taking its toll.

The LFD tool isn’t doomed by any means. It’s holding up well. But it might not be a bad thing if some of those bored players took a break from random 5 mans for awhile, both for them and for the rest of the player base.

And as for the state of the game? Blizzard are taking the smart step in the next mini-patch with nudging bored PvE players towards battlegrounds, where the repetition is broken up by getting to compete against other players.

Plus a new-mini raid with some dragons, and new shiny loot to entice everyone who isn’t Arthas’ed out on raiding this expansion.

And perhaps more enticing still … hints of new pre-Cataclysm changes, and quests, possibly heralding more content for solo players too.

5 reasons we love in-game festivals

  1. New Content. It’s something new to do that wasn’t there yesterday.
  2. Lore and Immersion. A fantasy culture feels more believable if it has its own customs and festivals. So it’s important that we know the history of the festival and of any local customs that we’re invited to honour. And also that the holiday fits with the feel of the game.
  3. Mirroring real world festivals. Sounds like the opposite of the previous reason but this is why so many games have special festivals around Christmas. Players are celebrating in real life, and it gives us a kick to be able to celebrate in game too. This can fall flat in a multi-cultural environment — a game that celebrated American Independence Day would leave the non-Americans feeling that the game simply wasn’t aimed at them.
  4. More activity in game. Smart designers have learned that an in game festival can help point players at content in game (such as instances, PvP, etc) which means more people around for everyone to group with.
  5. They are time limited. SALE ! SALE ! ONE DAY ONLY ! We love time limited events that only happen for a few days every year. It adds to the air of exclusiveness and excitement if you know there’s only a brief period in which you can get your new shiny title/mount/whatever.

Warcraft is a gonzo game so their events veer more towards mirroring RL than establishing a coherent in game culture (and I’m putting that kindly — Hello Olympic Event? WTF??!!). But in a game like LOTRO, the events really do enhance the organic feeling of the game world.

I never could figure out events in City of Heroes, they all seem very grindy. But since it’s a game that is set in a modern day city, it’s very easy for them to mirror real world holidays and they don’t really need to establish a fantasy culture.

Warhammer, by comparison, is more of a gamist design than an immersive world but they do draw on the rich Warhammer lore to set the scene for their holidays.  I liked the Warhammer holidays that I’ve seen. They get people interested and out there, encourage more PvP, and have some cool lore attached. You can’t really ask more.

Note: I’ve not played EQ2 or Guild Wars, I know they have holidays also but not much about them. I’d be interested to know more about how those fit in and how fun they are?

Same as we did last year

But holiday events are repetitive, which is true in real life too, it’s the whole point. Of course they’re the same every year, that’s what local customs are all about.

If you’ve been playing a MMO for more than a year, this means you’ll  see the same events come round again. This isn’t a bad thing per se, it just means that the amount of play you get from a holiday may be on diminishing returns.

I wouldn’t say I get bored of holidays, I look forwards to my favourite ones and I try to log onto games when they are on. So in that sense, they’re a huge success for me. And opening presents never gets old.

But I’d love to see more support for player-run holidays. In DaoC, we used to have annual fairs and the GMs would help decorate the fairground on our server. Just our server, because we had the in game organisation that ran the fairs and asked them for help. And our server felt as if it had its own culture. Not one that was just created by developers and slapped on top of it. (Well, we had that too.)

In the drive to more user created content, this is the sort of event I’d like more support for. Holidays run by the people, for the people! And each server it’s own organic society.