Breaking the Bond: things that disrupt a player’s MMO experience

Cynwise writes this week about ‘The Tyranny of Classes’ and wonders what happens when a class you once loved doesn’t feel right for you any more. Maybe it’s because your raid group has a greater need for a different role and you are tired of being the unwanted umpteenth melee dps and really really want to feel needed by your raid group. Maybe it’s because various patches and changes over the life of the game have just changed how it played.

Players I know who have switched mains for raiding or PvP seem to go through certain stages of anguish over this. Every time someone drops a pure DPS to tank or heal, it’s always emotionally complicated. <…> Sometimes it works out well – the new class is a better fit than the old one – but even then there are questions of discarded mains, of emotional attachments which need to be resolved. Rerolling is a tough step to take.

Or maybe your class took some nerfs and another class now performs that role better. It shouldn’t matter as long as yours is still good enough but other players will tend to ram it home to you all the time that the blood death knight is a zillion times better of a tank than your warrior (example picked at random) and how much easier things are when the DK can make raids. And before you know it, you feel unwanted and wish DKs would get nerfed into the ground just so that people would appreciate your efforts more.

I honestly think that for a lot of players, this is their first personal experience of discrimination. People judge you on external attributes that you can’t easily change, such as your character’s class. And it’s not fair because it isn’t your fault you weren’t prescient enough to roll the current overpowered class; you are just as good as those stupid DKs with their overpowered abilities, and why can’t anyone appreciate the great stuff that you can do, even if someone half asleep could do it better on their paladin and with fewer key presses too.

Cynwise is wondering why allowing characters to re-class is such a bugbear for MMOs. I’d say that role/class being fixed is a staple of RPGs because it stops everyone from rolling a tankmage and keeps some diversity of flavour in the game. But the fact is, players often have an emotional link with their main character. If that link weakens, the player feels less of a connection to that character or maybe loses the will to play it altogether, then their link to the game is disrupted.

There are other occurrences that can disrupt a player’s link to a MMO. Having your guild (or raid group) implode or friends leave is one of them. Another is having new content arrive that you feel forced to do for progression, but hate (ie. if a game that had been mostly PvE now ‘forces’ players to PvP for their upgrades). Another might be having the payment model change. Another might be burnout, which typically happens over a period of time, but there might be a single disruptive event that gets a player to realise they are burned out.

Any of these disruptive happenings offer the player a chance to change how they play the game: find a new guild, roll a new alt, learn how to enjoy a different playing style. Or they might just decide to leave and try their luck in a different game.  Because changing how you play may involve a lot of effort and energy – joining a new guild and getting to know a new crowd for example can require a lot of emotional energy, especially if you are naturally quite introvert.

One of the comments on Tobold’s post yesterday rang true with me.

MMO players have a career. They get into it, they play for a few years, burnout, spend another couple of years looking for a new MMO that will do it for them again, and then they wander off and play other games. Whether this is because of the demands of life, family, and career, or they no longer respond to the endorphin release of new gears and levels depends on the guy. But the number of people who are willing and able to play these things for decades is very small.

Disruptive events are likely to move a player along this career trajectory because they encourage change. When do you start looking for a new MMO? When something has disrupted your connection to your last one, perhaps. This is why nerfs are more dangerous to a MMO community than buffs, people don’t enjoy having their characters nerfed even if it was regarded inevitable.

When I think of issues that have prompted me to switch games or stop playing a game, I come back to guild/raid issues and burnout, and changes in game philosophy via patches, but also to classes simply not being what they were when I made my original choice.

What changes in MMOs have you found most disruptive? And did you decide to change or quit?

22 thoughts on “Breaking the Bond: things that disrupt a player’s MMO experience

  1. More MMORPG should do as TSW and get rid of classes at all (or at least do as GW that let you to have a secondary class you can change at will. GW2 seems a step back to me).
    Being able to obtain any ability in the game and to switch role “on the fly” could greatly reduce the drama caused by the usual nerfs/buffs cycle.

  2. I suppose most people are aware of why I ditched WoW in the first place, as it became something of a legendary post on the EU forums. My blog also reiterated that much of this was squarely a problem with “systems” rather than a lack of identification with my character. More than anything else, I became bored with the way Blizzard chose to make their own content redundant, and the fact that Cataclysm promised far too much and delivered far too little.

    But I can totally relate to Cyn’s posting because it’s something I’m currently faced with.

    My entire online persona, even extending outside of World of Warcraft, is based on “Zellviren the Protection warrior”. Unfortunately, my current guild is now running with two warrior tanks in a raid tier where that spec is hands-down the worst for tanking (aside from one quirky benefit on the penultimate encounter). This isn’t the first time it’s happened; warriors were also lousy in 3.3, particularly on Arthas himself. All of this has prompted my GM to assert that he won’t be running with two Protection warriors in MoP, and I find that hugely jarring because it takes absolutely no account of how good WE are as tanks.

    And we are good. I’ll happily blow the trumpet of both Chodal and I, because he’s every bit as good as I am (better, in some cases). As the late-joiner of the guild, it falls to me to find the solution to the problem and I’m essentially being shoved down the route of re-rolling to either a paladin or a monk. It was only because of this recent pressure that I realised just how attached to my character I am, and just how little I want to become someone else – even the advent of shared achievements doesn’t cushion the blow. I’m going to push for a melee spot as Arms, a spec I’ve always enjoyed, but I have to accept that I’m going to be faced with a very difficult decision.

    Either I re-roll another class, or I find another guild that may not have so many people that I like.

    I don’t like EITHER of those options. Both suck balls. But, unfortunately, warriors have been paying for their first three years of dominance ever since, and I see no end in sight with Greg Street at the helm.

    Really torn with this at the minute. =/

    • I do sympathise because although I’ve never had an ultimatum issued by my raid group, I’ve shared enough warrior experience for this to feel familiar. I played Cata as an Arms warrior and I enjoy the spec, but Cata was NOT a melee friendly expansion (at least not the first couple of patches when I was playing) so eventually I just decided it was more trouble than it was worth. I was working just as hard as the ranged dps to gear up, but never felt as useful or wanted; except when they were short a tank and I was able to tank/off tank for a raid but even then I always felt like tank of last resort. (and feeling wanted kind of is important in raid groups, I find.)

      I don’t hear anyone getting excited about warriors in MoP so I assume it’ll be more of the same and I’d be better off playing a DK if I want a tank/melee class. Or monk but I don’t think I could handle levelling another alt through Outland.

      • I think the biggest problem with warrior players looking over the current development at the moment is the “meh” factor; at least incandescent rage is accompanied by depth of emotional feeling, something that “meh” just can’t portray.

        Personally, I find the quiet acceptance of dull design to be worrying. Nothing is more dangerous than apathy.

  3. I stopped playing DDO as I got to a level where you needed to group up lots and I wasnt feling very social.

    I stopped playing Rift as I felt the single player game was very repetative.

    I stopped playing LOTRO as I couldn’t afford to keep up with the changes.

    I stopped playing WOW as SWTOR came out.

    I might stop playing SWTOR if the guild dies and the 1.3 lfg tool isn’t an adequate replacement or I can’t find a similar bunch of relaxed

  4. No matter how easy it is to switch your class it might not be what you want. Making the game better support alts by sharing stuff account wide does not solve this problem. Even if the game would let you switch class at will it wouldn’t solve this problem.

    Sure, it might be nice to change your warrior to a DK for one evening if you like to play a gearded DK that day. But would you like to cast Death and Decay for the rest of the current tier instead of Thunderclap? Probably not. You don’t want a competitive character, you want YOUR character to be competitive.

    • Yeah, pretty much this. If I’ve already chosen my favourite theme/playstyle then I would rather stick with it and have it be properly competitive. Just my experience with MMOs is that you can’t assume this will happen.

  5. I found that if you play a certain type class, healer for instance, a lot of the time people in your group (when you can get one) tend to think they can play your class better. That can be more annoying than the benefits of grouping. Maybe I suck doing groups because I don’t know all the intricacies of the group balance/dynamics, but having someone call me out in CAPS, well, not fun…
    BTW, your comment section doesn’t work in Chrome for some reason.

  6. As long as the feel of a class isn’t dramatically altered all in one go, I don’t mind it much. Certainly the classes in WoW have changed a lot since vanilla, to the point that I don’t know if anyone would recognize the originals: paladins are more active and shamans are dual-wielding. But, these changes haven’t been all at once: an ability here, and ability there. Though the switch to dual-wield and the switch to active prot tanking were perhaps the biggest leaps. A shaman or paladin could keep feeling like a shaman or paladin, just a slightly different one. The relative power of a class has never been a major concern of mine, since unless the difference is absurdly huge, it will get washed out by the variance in skill and gear level.

  7. Past experience has always been, and probably will continue to be, nerfs to the class you’ve worked hard to level up and have become attached. It’s not the sole reason for me to leave a MMO, but it was a significant reason.

    When a developer nerfs your class, for whatever reason (really, it doesn’t matter at all why they’re doing it), you will feel something about it. Sometimes, it’s OK; sometimes it’s NOT OK!

    What’s the point of playing an MMO as we know it today? To become attached to a character and level them up. It doesn’t happen overnight and it takes a lot of dedication and time. When that character is weaker or changes overnight due to a patch, well, the results can be positive or negative.

    But, to be completely honest about it, nerfing a class was never the complete reason for me, personally, to leave a MMO. That was the result of burnout, RL commitments, and/or mechanics of the game.

  8. Thanks for the link, Spinks – I’m glad you found the post interesting!

    There was an article in the WSJ Magazine a few months ago about how companies collect data about you without you knowing – not by prying, but by observing behavior and figuring out trends. They focus on Target, which uses Adobe Omniture and some PhDs to figure out when women get pregnant:

    The article is interesting for several reasons, but the one appropriate to this discussion is why, exactly, retailers are so interested in detecting a woman’s pregnancy as early as possible: because it signals a disruption point in their lives where all kinds of brand and store loyalties are up for grabs. If Target can figure it out first and get the mom-to-be to consider Target her place to go for prenatal care, then other brand loyalties are called into question and they can acquire a customer for years.

    “Disruptive events are likely to move a player along this career trajectory because they encourage change.”

    I think this idea of a gaming career is a good one, with disruptive points throughout which call our loyalties into question. I certainly had one at the end of 4.1, when the PvP gear fiasco was the flashpoint which drove me off my warlock – even though it was a series of changes to the class in Cata which caused it. Expansions are disruptive, but balance patches are disruptive, too. The death of a guild makes you wonder if it’s worth playing at all – something you don’t even question when you’re logging in, week after week, as part of the routine.

    I really enjoyed this post. It’s making me think again about my playing habits, and that’s always a good thing.

    • That is interesting, I hadn’t really thought about when I might switch my shopping habits. I’m kind of coming in from a perspective of what they call ‘crisis intervention’ which argues that while having a crisis can be really unpleasant and difficult to work through, it also offers a chance for someone to really make changes in their life.

      And I think some of the disruptions I’ve experienced in MMOs could just about be described as personal crises (especially when they involve guild drama.)

  9. Mrs Bhagpuss and I once left Everquest because of the introduction of Monster Missions in the “Depths of Darkhollow” expansion. There was a point when it seemed the entire playerbase was determined to do nothing but grind these highly exploitable instances in which you didn’t even play your own character.

    When we came back, inevitably, a while later, the exploits had been fixed, no-one was doing MMs any more and DoD turned out to be one of our most-enjoyed later expansions. In my experience, most MMO changes that seem awful at first sight either get changed, go away or you get used to them.

    • “In my experience, most MMO changes that seem awful at first sight either get changed, go away or you get used to them.”

      It often isn’t that the change is so bad, but that the change provides a break point. When WoW hunters changed from mana to focus as a resource, it wasn’t that the new system was so much worse, but that the change was fundamental to the play style.

      If I’m essentially starting over to learn a new class, if I’m going to have to learn a new system of damage dealing, why not learn it on the shaman instead of the hunter, or even on a Jedi Consular?

  10. Pingback: RotMG: Lvl 20 in 20 Minutes « Why I Game

  11. I always find the discussions about nerfs vs. buffs fascinating, because it clearly shows a disconnect between the developers and how much time they have, and players and their expectations.

    Nerfs suck. Nobody likes being on the receiving end of a nerf. But let’s pretend that the devs couldn’t nerf, they could only buff. If one class is out of whack (say, Frost Mages do too much damage with Ice Lance, so they’re too bursty), the dev could fix it by nerfing the crit damamge on Frost Lance. Or they could make all the other 29 specs more bursty, or give all the other classes/monsters more crit suppression. But consider how much work it would be to fix 29 specs, or worse, fix 29 specs and all the monsters! And on top of that, now instead of fixing one moving target (Ice Lance crit damage), you’re fixing tonnes of moving targets. Adding crit suppression to everyone to reduce Ice Lance damage would affect all of the other classes’ burst damage as well, meaning you’d have to re-balance again.

    Basically, calling for no nerfs is a mathematically impossible game to play. It’s not realistic for any value of never nerf. But I suppose that this isn’t really news that the average person doesn’t understand this concept. Considering most people don’t understand technical reasons for gameplay decisions in general, or why servers need to be brought down for maintenance, or why you can’t just add 30 developers to a project and expect more work to get done, or why just because they’re changing up UI doesn’t necessarily mean they’re taking resources away from something else, like new character models.

    There’s always going to be a disconnect there, and I guess it becomes a marketing problem of how to mitigate negative feelings associated with nerfs and such, since they clearly cannot be done away with.

    • I imagine any change could be disruptive, even a buff. For example, tanking got buffed in Cataclysm and a lot of players found that it was just too easy, it lacked the challenge.

  12. I quit WoW for a variety of reasons, but mostly general system changes (planned obsolescence for raid tiers, dungeon finder, focus on tuning things either for careless random groups or the hardest of the hardcore). I did have some beef with class changes over time though.

    For example I hated it when they changed shadow priests from utility to “proper dps” from BC to WOTLK. I enjoyed having my very own role as the mana battery, and being turned into just another run-off-the-mill damage dealer was boring. I sort of circumvented the problem by becoming a full time healer from WOTLK onwards.

    Then I remember when 4.0 changed and nerfed holy priests so hard that I suddenly felt completely unable to cope in raids. It was really horrifying to have this class that I had loved and played for four years turn into something that I barely recognised, and I did actually stop playing priest for the rest of the expansion, finishing Icecrown Citadel on my druid instead.

    By the start of Cata I managed to get into it again, but whether I was PvPing or raiding, things still seemed to come down to holy never being as good as discipline. I respecced again and I didn’t really like it. Shortly after I quit. I suppose talent specialisations are a lot more malleable than classes, and some people actively love fiddling with them constantly, but I’m not one of them.

    Actually, counter to the point you make in this post, there is also a strong culture that always considers the status quo stale and likes to change things up constantly just to keep things interesting. I get the impression that this is an important mantra at Blizzard too.

    • I feel for you with the class changes. I also wonder if after you have seen it happen a couple of times, whether you stop trusting the devs not to do it again and if that affects how able you are to attach to a new character.

      Frex, at the start of TBC, both the classes I played (warrior and priest) were much weaker in their roles than other classes. Paladins were godmode healers and bears were brilliant tanks. Blizzard probably felt they had to do this because warriors/priests had been THE default tanks/healers in vanilla. But I don’t think I ever entirely trusted them afterwards not to take a character I had loved and make it comparatively inferior (I mean significantly).

    • I’ve left various games for this reason, simply a complete shift in the character I played. Blizzard doesn’t make balanced content in WoW (they did in SC though). Everything seems to be massive pendulum swings and from one patch to another, your entire playstyle might no longer be valid. Mages are a pretty fine example of this over the years, from one week being fire, to frost and arcane, then back to the start.

      It’s one of the main reasons I like Rift’s soul system. The character and identity you have can be tweaked (as has) but the toolset you’re provided allows you to still be relevant in the core concepts of the game. It sucks in WoW when you’re a Rogue and the boss is simply incompatible with melee dps or whatever mechanic that targets an entire playstyle.

      To riff on Diablo 3 along the same thread, pure melee are having a heck of a time finding moderate success to their playstyle, instead finding that they have to follow a specific path for success while their ranged counterparts have quite a few more options. Why let me play the game as a damage whirlwind only to provide me with an artificial wall that requires me to abandon what I was able to do for 20 hours?

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