How will we know if a MMO is too hard?

Let’s assume that a hypothetical game releases a hypothetical patch with new hypothetical raid content. How would we know, from outside, whether or not the new stuff is tuned well or not?

Bear in mind that any time anyone comments that it is too hard, a wave of more hardcore players will drown them out, claim that they are noobs, and thatĀ  the content is fine the way it is. SomeĀ  people who comment that it is too hard may just not have figured out the fight yet, or may not be the players at whom the content was aimed.

From inside (ie. game dev perspective) you can look at the statistics, see how many times mobs died this week compared to projections, and work it out that way. If the bosses didn’t die enough, then figure out the sticking point and tweak accordingly.

This is harsh on commenters who are able to give good, balanced, feedback, because what they say is largely ignored. By contrast, people claiming that a game is too easy get lots and lots of buy-in. Probably because it lets everyone else feel ultra hardcore when they agree.

You could say the same about whole games. How would we know if Darkfall was actually too unforgiving? The hardcore guys it was aimed at will spot weakness in anyone who claims the game is too unplayer-friendly.

But really, how would players know if Ulduar was too hard?

We don’t know or care about who else is killing the bosses. We just want it to be tuned perfectly for our raid. And we won’t know if it’s too hard until we’ve had a few weeks to bash it. Right now, I’d say it’s looking very very good from my perspective. Progress is much slower for us than Naxxramas, but progress is definitely being made. (I’ll talk more about my experiences so far in Ulduar tomorrow or Monday.)

But it does highlight the big problem with raid design:

How can you create PvE content that is fun for both a casual guild with a mixture of players, and a raid guild which handpicks its members?

Hard modes have been a popular feature of video games for years. And again it’s City of Heroes that has been the more innovative MMO in this area, because they’ve let you pick hard modes on instances for awhile now.

I know that WoW and LOTRO both offer heroic/hard modes for 5 man end game instances. In WoW, there have been persistent problems with tuning on heroics. In TBC they were tuned too hard (anyone who doubts this needs to think back to how heroic Arcatraz was when TBC went live). In Wrath, they have been tuned too easy. Also they have had persistent issues with the hardmode incentives — by making them too good, it means everyone wants to do hard modes and the players who’d prefer to play on an easier setting simply can’t get the groups for it.

But maybe hard modes for raid encounters won’t face the same problems. In any case, how will we know if they are too hard?

Blizzard can pore over their stats in a few weeks time and decide, and meanwhile the rest of us will just have to wait for the whines.