Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Warning Players of Irreversible Consequences

Several commenters on my post from yesterday suggested that my idea was flawed because players would be forced to choose their playstyle at character creation - as Jacob put it before they "even understood the consequences of the decision". Independently of the topic at hand, this discussion puzzles me; do developers have a responsibility to warn players when a decision that they're about to make has consequences that the players do not understand?

Irreversible Without Re-rolling
Players have a lot of irreversible decisions to make the moment they click the create character button for the first time. Your race and class affect your gameplay. Your choice of server and faction affects your ability to play with your friends. Even your appearence might affect your enjoyment of a class (I just can't take EQ2's Conjuror's entirely seriously when they have beetles and/or worms tanking for them).

WoW and EQ2 now allow you to change all but your class with paid transactions, but that last one is a biggie. Even if class balance were perfect, with no flavors of the month, no chronically underpowered classes, and none of the latter turning into the former, there are still class roles to consider. Being able to tank or heal - realistically healing in most games I've played - makes a huge difference in your ability to get groups.

Somehow, it's okay for the devs to allow new players to pick DPS classes without warning them that groups will be hard to find, tanks without warning them that your typical raiding guild already has the only 1-2 tanks they need, and healers without warning them about all the social abuse they can expect from unhappy customers. By contrast, in the view of some of my commenters, actually disclosing up front that certain classes won't be allowed to group would be forcing players to make choices before they can understand the consequences of their decisions.

What about wasting time?
There are some merits to the definition if irreversible I used above - current MMORPG's tend to encourage attachment to your avatar, so having to re-roll to fix something you chose incorrectly is never fun. Then again, even the most hardcore exp and item loss mechanics out there don't prohibit players from starting over, so it's actually impossible to lose anything more than time in an MMORPG.

From that standpoint, should there be an in-game means of more fully disclosing the time/reward conditions of content? Perhaps items or achievements that are intentionally so rare that most people will not be able to get them should be labeled as such in the name of full disclosure. After all, what is the difference between wasting the player's time by letting them roll up the "wrong" character and having to re-roll later versus wasting the player's time by having them chase something that they've been misled into believing they can attain?

The guys at Penny Arcade once wrote that the actual gameplay in WoW is merely a means of obscuring the loot table. Perhaps that's a bad thing, especially when abused by a company in the hopes of tricking people into extending subscriptions (though this would appear to be a short-sighted long-term plan). Then again, perhaps allowing players to make decisions that they might regret is actually a powerful and useful learning tool. I suppose that's not the direction that games are going - you'll note that I didn't list any IN-GAME decisions in my list of irreversibles, because there really aren't many these days. Even so, I don't know that you can or should protect players from every wrong choice they could make, even - or especially - if they are actual newbies.


Magson said...

TBH, this is something I've rather been enjoying in my recent foray into DDO -- you can TOTALLY gimp your character if you don't "build it right." And the only way to find out is from other players telling you or from reading it on the forums.

The only thing I can think of in-game as a warning was when I multi-classed a rogue over to ranger for a coupld of levels in order to improve my melee a touch -- my Wisdom score was an 8, and Rangers are divine casters and thus need a minimum score of 11 to cast spells. The trainer helpfully tells you that it could be a problem "later on" (since Rangers don't get spells until level 6), and asks you to verify that you really want to be a ranger. Since I'm only taking 2 levels of ranger... yeah, I'm good. But even there, I've got the character planned all the way to level cap before I even created it.

I can't tell you the number of times people in the "advice" channel are asking why they can't cast spells as a Favored Soul when they've got an 18 Wisdom. Well, it's becuz FvS use their Charisma stat for casting, not Wisdom. . . .yep, they gotta reroll.

Don't get me started on people trying to make a fighter/wizard. It just doesn't work. . . .

Granted, leveling doesn't take very long in DDO -- I got a cleric to level 5 (out of 20) in a single weekend, and I'm a complete newb so I don't know the powerleveling places or anything, so if you mess up your build it's not like you're losing a ton of time investment, as opposed to EQ2 or WoW where leveling to cap took at least a couple of month.

Even so, I'm finding it quite a refreshing change of pace not only in the gameplay, but in the fact that you're free to irreversibly screw up too.

Rumors of "reincarnation" being programmed into the game abound, though, so eventually people will be able to rebuild their characters in order to fix any flaws/problems. Guess we'll see how long it takes to actually be implememted.


So there's the specific anecdote that speaks to your larger point -- developers are trying very hard not to alienate anyone, so even (especially?) a game like DDO, where your character decisions made even during character creation have a huge impact on your gameplay are introducing more and more options to "fix, not replace" the characters that you spend time with and thus become attached to.

Eg - in EQ2 I actually rather despise my monk too. Bores me to death to play solo, and hard to get a group due to low dps, lack of tanking ability, etc. But he's one of the 1st toons I ever made in the game, and hey... I actually have gotten him up to level 60. I'm invested in this character, and won't ever delete it. I'd LOVE to be able to change it to a different class, though, so it's still "the same character" -- even though it's not actually. But that mental idea of "I've had this guy for 5 years, even if he is a [insert new class here] now" is what I think a lot of people have, and devs would rather let someone change class and keep playing than have them /ragequit because they can't keep the character they put so much into.

Though tbh, I would't quit EQ2 over that toon. I just would have it sit neglected in my stable of alts, is all. I don't remember the last time I played my necromancer or warden either, and I actually *like* them.

*sigh* Too many alts. . . .

Stabs said...

I suspect ultimately any idea that makes a great non-mainstream game sounds kind of lame when you just say it without the game to back it up.

Take Eve. Describe it.

OK we'll have this spreadsheet in space style ultra-complicated game where combat is handled by turning your weapons on then going to get a cup of tea and travelling from one end of the virtual world to another takes about 15 hours. Oh and we'll encourage everyone to be douchebags.

Yet it's awesome and a lot of us love it.

I went a bit further down the design idea solo v group at character creation with an industry friend so I'm not at liberty to discuss it fully.

Just let me say it's an idea I got very excited about that could be implemented in an awesome way.

Magson said...

Perhaps scale your character up in power while solo, but put an xp penalty on, then when grouped, get full xp, but only be "group powerful?"

How to balance that would be a nightmare, though.