Monday, February 9, 2009

Would Warhammer Be Better Without Scenario Exp?

A Thought Experiment
Let's say that you were placed in charge of Warhammer development sometime prior to the game's September launch.

The basic rules are:
- You have foreknowledge, through some combination of thought experiment future vision and/or focus groups/playtesting, of what major problems the game would face when it went live.

- The game's launch cannot be delayed due to harsh financial reality.

- Locking Mark Jacobs in a closet somewhere for a few months so that he can't make promises his game won't be able to deliver on, though potentially satisfying on an emotional level, won't actually solve any problems.

- You can make two types of changes in the game.
The first are things that don't require major coding, such as changing the values of things that were in the game as of September 18th (such as exp rewards), which we'll presume that Mythic could have done freely.
The second are substitutions - new features (or ones that have subsequently been delivered in patches, such as oRVR influence) that require significant programming. These, however, would require reassigning programmers from elsewhere, and therefore cutting a similar sized feature elsewhere in the game.

Is there a single change that could have been made that might have left Warhammer in better shape today?

The Challenges
Two of Warhammer's biggest issues at launch were general client stability, which is presumably too big of a fish to fry for our little experiment, and World of Warcraft (specifically, having hundreds of thousands of bored WoW players slam the servers at launch, forcing the creation of new ones, only to leave those servers deserted when Wrath came out two months later), which is also beyond our fictional control. Cross those off the list, though, and it seems like the largest issue that people were talking about was how everyone was hidden away in instanced scenarios. This meant that no one was out in the non-instanced world to participate in open RVR, or the game's highly touted public quests.

Mythic has since attempted to address the RVR issues with increased incentives for open RVR via world events and a new influence system (though some people have argued that this has led to keep flipping). The public quests have proven a tougher nut to crack, and Mythic ultimately opted to rebalance some Public Quests for smaller groups to allow the smaller than expected outdoor PVE population to cope. However, presuming everything is wrapped up by March, these changes will reach live servers six months after the game's retail launch, and I can't even begin to guess where we could cut six months elsewhere from the development process to have any of them in place back in September.

An imperfect solution?
Those of you who read the subject of the post can figure out what I'm about to suggest here - what if Warhammer's scenarios did not award experience?

The essential issue, which I summed up back in October, is that you can get experience in either outdoor quest content or in instanced scenarios, but you can ONLY get reknown, Warhammer's PVP experience, in PVP content. Reknown doesn't just get you a head start on your RVR level, it ALSO gets you access to Reknown reward gear. This stuff isn't as good as public quest rewards, but there's also no "vegas style loot" roll to see who gets it, and no need to worry about whether there are enough players to beat the boss of the public quest. Just click "queue" and you'll get a group of players and a large chunk of both exp and reknown, win, lose, or draw. Why would you choose PVE for exp and gear when scenarios offered exp, reknown, gear, AND were more fun besides?

(We're ignoring non-instanced RVR for this thought experiment because it was underutilized until Mythic made the changes they made, and I'm not sure what could have been cut to cover it.)

If one imagines that experience from scenarios was reduced or eliminated, it might follow that players would choose to do more non-instanced quests to get levels. These players would then be out in the world in sufficient numbers to complete public quests and attack battlefield objectives. Could this change have made Warhammer less of the scenario grind players complained it became at launch, and more of the balanced game that Mythic had in mind when they created all the non-instanced content that ended up sitting around, underutilized?

The Catch...
For a counterpoint, I'm going to quote myself from last October:
"Meanwhile, they don't want to take an RVR game and force players to spend more time on PVE content (either by nerfing scenario exp or via greatly increasing PQ exp). They're marketing to PVP players who don't want to do PVE content, and, at any rate, boosting exp in PVE content would just encourage players to level to the cap and worry about reknown when they get there (in the process missing the best part of the game in the low-end scenarios).

... The best part of the game are the scenarios, so I don't see why it makes sense to work so hard at getting people to leave them."

Clearly, I would not have liked this change, had it appeared in a patch sometime mid September.

The charge of "forcing PVP players to do PVE" is one that I can't rebut, though the truth is that this may have happened anyway with Warhammer's current system of ward armor. There's also the issue that not having to PVE to PVP was one of the game's talking points in comparison to WoW, and taking away the RVR-only progression path might have encouraged players to compare the two games on solo-PVE content (where WoW generally wins, since that's arguably the game's main focus today).

There's also a secondary issue that many players were already concerned about the experience curve with the game as is, and removing a source of experience would exacerbate that problem. You could kind of attempt to bandage that by guesstimating that the average player gets X% of their experience from scenarios and reducing the experience requirement per level by that amount, but even determining that that number should be might be a more in-depth exercise than our thought experiment would allow us to carry out without cutting something else from the game.

Finally, it's worth noting that Mythic could always have reverted or adjusted this hypothetical change in a subsequent patch once the incentives for the rest of the game were done. "Our latest update delivers a major feature players are asking for, greater experience from scenarios...."

Effects on retention
Last week wasn't the best of times for Warhammer. EA finally released a subscriber number as of the end of the fourth quarter, and it was 300,000. Given that the game had 750,000 accounts by mid-October (and presumably continued to register additional accounts for the subsequent two and a half months, though no one is saying how many), the game's retention rate wasn't great. See a full Book of Grudges roundup for more community details, and /cheer that BOG is back up and writing. ;)

Some of those players were going to leave anyway. Some who stayed might have hated the change I'm suggesting here badly enough that they would have left. Still, the overabundance of incentives for the game's (thoroughly enjoyable) scenarios did not help Mythic showcase the game as it was intended to be during that crucial first month. Perhaps more drastic action might have made a difference.

Does anyone else have a better answer to my little thought experiment?

P.S. This post was inspired by a remark from Snafzg last week, on the game's financial situation:
"I really wish WAR would have delayed for more polish, but given EA’s Q3 losses, their books would have been hit even harder. I wonder if it was worth the trade off from a management point of view. Seems like a catch 22 to me..."


Zizlak said...

Actually I don't see any need to tweak XP from scenarios atm and don't see any positive effect it would have on the game.

The gear-grind/forced PvE-style gameplay is only enforced if you want to do PvE-stuff (e.g City Siege Bosses), with one exception I think.. Fortress Lords. So if you are a die-hard PvP'er who doesn't want to do a single bit of PvE the ward-gear doesn't affect/interest you (In terms of itemization it's a good think to have such a difference between PvE and RvR-gear..) The ward-gear is only important for PvE-Bosses. The RvR-gear can be obtained via RvR-stuff and isn't too shabby...

Scenarios aren't the best XP-source anyways. Questing (solo and PQs) is by far faster in terms of XP and ORvR is not too bad now (though this is definitely no sure source for XP) So there is no need to drive people out of Scenarios for stuff they don't like in the first place... If you do stuff you don't like it's most likely that it starts to feel as a grind and this would lead to negative feelings.. Like the scenario-grind-feeling did back in October/November.
That are newer tweaks. I'm not sure how they could be foreseen or just became visible on contact with a live-player-base. I think it's a normal procedure to tweak such stuff after release.

Imo WAR has/had other design-decisions which are/were questionable, but it would be a too long comment go on ;)

Green Armadillo said...

As I said in my post, I wouldn't have liked this change much back in September and I wrote as much... but that didn't stop me from letting my account run out after the first month.

Perhaps I didn't phrase the question clearly enough. In the game as of TODAY, scenario experience is probably in the right place, since they've balanced the rest of the game around that. The question is whether the incentives were in the wrong place six months ago, and whether changing them would have changed the experience of the literally hundreds of thousands of players who tried the game and decided to leave it behind.

As far as I'm aware - and correct me if I'm wrong on this - they haven't made that many changes to quest exp since very early after the game's launch (I remember them adding some repeatable quests or somesuch). Questing was faster back at launch too, but scenarios were fast enough that players opted to do them instead of questing. Likewise, open RVR incentives have gotten huge improvements over the last 5 months, but those simply weren't ready to go in time for launch.

It's a band-aid solution, and I'm not claiming that I'm certain it would have made the game more successful, it's just a question I'm kicking around on my head - and, though the miracle of the internets, on this blog. :)

Daria said...

Absolutely I think it would have made a difference if they had addressed the exp gain from scenarios back at launch.

Scenarios were exponentially faster exp and renown. People were calling for this change and screaming about it on the forums.

Yes they were fun, but once everyone caught on to the fact that the quickest way to level was via scenarios, people got burned out quickly. Amplified by the fact that only one scenario would pop for each Tier.

You had a lot of disappointed DAoC fans who thought this game was going to be about open RvR, only to find out it wasn't.

Then you had a lot of ex-WoW players who realized the PvE part of this game was weak, and the PvP being played out only in scenarios was something they could have gotten from WoW's battlegrounds, from a more polished game with better reward systems.

WAR suffered from a design that wasn't well thought out and couldn't complete with WotLK. Now it seems the game might have stabilized, and found its niche market.

nick said...

Err, no. I like scenario XP. In fact, I prefer running scenarios on my lowbie toons to doing oRvR, which is much more time-of-day sensitive. I play on a server where prime time is Eastern time, and I'm in the Pacific time zone. Most of the time the only balanced action to be found in the evening my time is in scenarios.

If anything, I'd like to see Mythic increase the XP earned from scenarios in Tiers 3 and 4 because right now it's pretty minimal, forcing you to PvE (a snoozefest) or oRvR (which isn't really an effective way to level quickly.)

Status quo ftw?

Syrana said...

When I was playing Warhammer, I really enjoyed the scenarios and liked that there was XP to be gained there. I'm not sure about having left the XP part out, but maybe had it lower at launch. One of the main reasons I liked that there was XP in the scenarios was it meant no twinks...

But for me, I couldn't stay with the game due to having so many issues with the game in terms of stuttering, lag, crashes, etc. It just got too frustrating.