Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Persistent Reward Is A Lie

The central tenet in most of the major MMORPG's these days is that time investment improves your persistent character. The persistence, not unlike the cake, is a lie. MMORPG's change all the time, whether through balance tweaks, addition of new content, or player behavior. A handful of extreme cases - the closing of AC2 and Tabula Rasa, or the complete redesign of Star Wars Galaxies - are notorious precisely because they drive home the truth that everything we have in an online game is far more temporary and fragile than we would like to believe.

In the last few weeks, we have seen an unusual number of significant mid-expansion balance changes that affect the value of incentive rewards that players have already obtained. Perhaps the changes are necessary, but that will come as little confort to players who already obtained the rewards, and are now about to discover just how temporary they were. A brief rundown:

  • WoW Jewelcrafters will have their profession-specific gems nerfed in the next major content patch, because the current versions are superior to other professions' self-only perks. Personally, I narrowly avoided getting burned by this one, as the gems were so good that I had been considering switching my own profession choices to get them.

  • EQ2 is nerfing procs after finding that the current versions produced more damage and healing than intended.

  • In the wake of problems with players exploiting City of Heroes' shiny new Mission Architect feature, the developers are removing kill badges that players had created custom missions to farm.

As Blizzard discovered in their failed attempt to reset PVP honor pre-Wrath, reducing the value of player rewards/currencies by inflation is far more acceptable than taking the rewards away outright. This puts the developers in a tough spot when they launch content and discover that they screwed up.

Consumer Confidence in MMORPG Incentives
Eric at Elder Game took a look at the Cities of Heroes situation and writes that players aren't sure which content is "safe" to play since the only policy is that the GM who banned you was correct if Paragon wants them to be. The potential effects he describes on the game - millions in support costs, and a constant need for developers to band-aid the Architect system instead of creating new content - sound troubling. However, if the lack of a policy actually undermines player confidence in the whole reward structure of MMORPG's - time invested leading to improvements to your persistent character - that would be more of a Doomsday scenario.

Many raiding guilds already run into trouble at the end of an expansion cycle, when players decide that they're uninclined to invest a large amount of time and effort into raiding for gear that will be reset in a few weeks. The last thing developers need is for players to start making that kind of meta-game decision (are they going to nerf this mid-expansion?) year-round.

5 comments:

Tesh said...

This is exactly why you don't look at the man behind the curtain. Changing things underneath your players is very treacherous ground.

spinksville said...

Yup, it absolutely is a lie. And really, we knew this as soon as the expansion notion really got rolling.

The most persistance you can ever expect is only until the next expansion drops.

Also:
"as the gems were so good that I had been considering switching my own profession choices to get them."

Well, yes. That's why they got nerfed. Is the alternative really better? That one profession ends up head and shoulders above all the others for a whole expansion?

Xtian said...

@ Spinks -

No, clearly the optimal situation is to have balance between the professions. But it also puts the player in a bind. No one is sure whether something will get nerfed (with certain Retpally and DK exceptions), or how long it will take. So players weigh the potential advantage versus the chance something gets nerfed and how bad the nerf is. Even more unfortunately, this makes players wary of "things that are good." And there isn't an established line between what is good and what is waiting for the nerf bat.

sam said...

Well, yes. That's why they got nerfed. Is the alternative really better? That one profession ends up head and shoulders above all the others for a whole expansion?nice justification but it completely ignores that the players are left with no good choice. They are constantly in a game of cat and mouse with the developers trying to figure out what was a mistake and what was intentional as they try not to "WASTE" time in the never ending cycle of keeping up.

Just illustrates the low level of quality control that permeates the entire gaming industry. From messed up single player games that dont get patched up properly to stuff like this.
Its the main reason console games are still on top. They almost always work and except for online PVP situations these types of issues are generally non-issues.

spinksville said...

I prefer things get changed to be better balanced than I end up feeling like a muppet because the option I preferred was vastly inferior for no real reason.

I think players learn to hedge their bets, tbh. You know things can change. You know the overpowered combo may not stay in the game. You have to assess the risks.