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.)