Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bring the loot, not the fun

"Unfortunately, most people (myself included) are not running heroics for challenge, they are running them to get loot. "
- Anonymous commenter on my Friday discussion post
MMO players pretty universally blame WoW's dungeon group finder, introduced in Patch 3.3, for a variety of social ills; players relying on the "anonymity" of cross server groups to misbehave, class role imbalance, and decreased dungeon difficulty are blamed on the system, and players of games that aren't WoW dread the day that their game gets a dungeon finder. 

I would argue that my anonymous commenter's point, not the dungeon finder, is the real threat.  Daily dungeon quests designed to bribe overgeared players into trivial content they no longer need in order to fill groups for late-comers have reduced a once fun activity into a grind that is only worth the time if the run is quick and successful.  A working dungeon group finder could be the cure to these social problems, rather than the cause. 


Fallout of the Crusader
In patch 3.2, Blizzard abruptly upgraded all the emblem drops in the Wrath dungeon game.  The same dungeons we had already beaten six months ago would now drop emblems good for loot from two raid tiers above the difficulty of the content.  The daily dungeon quest would now drop emblems for three tiers above the content.  (Both drops would be upgraded an additional tier in patch 3.3.)  In the comments of that post, I wrote:
"The issue is that this change reduces the entire pre-Ulduar game into an exercise in maximizing your emblem/time ratio. Players who actually need loot from 5-mans are undergeared, potentially slowing players progress, and therefore won't be welcome in groups. You can't entirely blame elitist players for this - the way RaidID's currently work, you don't get to form a second group and try again if your first group downs at least one boss in the daily dungeon but fails to finish the zone.... Convincing raiders to run trivial 5-man content appears to be the point, not an unintended consequence. "
(I get a lot of predictions wrong on this blog, but I feel pretty good about that one in hindsight.)

The massive item inflation had become necessary because Blizzard was itemizing four sets of loot per dungeon, to accommodate both regular and hard modes in both 10 and 25 man content.  Before this change, it had actually started to become difficult to find groups for five-man content because anyone who raided at all no longer had any need to use the content.  This left fresh level 80's stuck with extremely limited options to get starter raiding gear - some three or more tiers above what they had when they hit 80.  Blizzard decided to approach this problem in 2009 much like they're continuing to approach a variation of it in 2011 - attempting to bribe players (in this case, raiders) to carry newbies to their entry level loot rewards. 

The dungeon finder, introduced a patch later, may have exacerbated these issues by adding the anonymity factor to the groups.  More important, the popularity of the now extremely easy content - a single DPS character in Icecrown raid gear might do as much DPS as all three of those leet 2K DPS players from a year earlier in the very same content - popularized the idea that players should be rewarded for trivial content on the off chance that someone in the group still needs the loot drops. 

Was there another way?
I actually enjoy reasonably challenging single group content.  Blizzard's decision to prevent players from ever graduating from this content removed the challenge not by changing the content itself, but rather by ensuring that groups would be overgeared.  In turn, the system itself only worked because the content was so easy - demolishing these old dungeons isn't that much fun, so it was ONLY worth doing if you were nigh certain of the rewards.  Now that dungeons are hard, the groups are a much tougher sell. 

I've done low level dungeons using the system, and you do sometimes get overgeared players (usually decked out in heirlooms), but usually you get a relatively reasonable group.  The problem was that there simply aren't enough players of a specific level/gear range on a single server to reliably fill out groups. Perhaps a cross-server dungeon finder WITHOUT a daily dungeon quest would attract players who actually need the content but don't overgear it to such an extent that they can afford sloppy gameplay if they wish to succeed. In the long run, this approach might have been the far less harmful solution to the problem. 

14 comments:

Azuriel said...

Why blame 3.2 instead of 2.4, when the IoQ vendor was added with it's BT-level gear from Badges that could be gotten even as solo daily quest rewards? Or 2.3 when Kara become a Badge farming hotspot? People farmed easy heroics for badges way before the LFD tool, and a lot of people seem to forget that in a fit of nostalgic amnesia.

I actually enjoy reasonably challenging single group content. Blizzard's decision to prevent players from ever graduating from this content [...]

The issue I can actually appreciate from Blizzard's PoV is... graduate to what? Daily quests are mindless "content" indistinguishable from the sort of busy-work kids get in most of their school classes. And yet there simply isn't enough meaningful things to do in an MMO without them. Most people don't schedule three hours of raiding everyday, so... why log on during your off-days?

Tesh said...

Or have scaling content. Or give players a difficulty slider. Or make a level-less game where play is the thing, not loot. (OK, that last one wouldn't work for WoW.)

Difficulty and rewards can be balanced without bribery... but even so, the loot-and-level-centric design is destined to be a deathtrap of gear inflation, outmoded content and splintering of the playerbase.

Aracos said...

The sad truth is that if you removed the daily quest and the rewards that come with it, participation in those dungeons would decrease even further. Would the players you would be left with be more of the type you are looking for (ie. friendly, courteous, etc.?) Probably. But the queue times (for DPS at least, which is how this whole thing started) would also go through the roof.

Getting players to go back and spend time in "outdated" content is always a problem, and is always going to require some kind of "bribery" in order to accomplish on a large scale. MMO's are just a microcosm of life, and in life most people are only out for themselves.

Klepsacovic said...

@Azuriel:
Given the 10-25 transition problem, the badges were partially a way to give people something to do while moving up. The heroics weren't structured the same way either, with some being much harder than others (even when geared they weren't all trivial, even if not hard anymore), so to get more badges in a day required taking on greater challenges.

The variable difficulty also meant that players farming badges went to one place while people looking for loot went to others (some overlap, but no one was farming arcatraz or SL for badges unless they were really motivated). That helped to separate players by goal, which made for much better interaction in groups. On top of that, the badges were not ever in any way needed to buy tier sets, so raiders weren't being pushed into trivial content to get loot.

So sure, similar appearance, but due to the implementation and context, much different effect.

Syl said...

I wonder whether we shoudn't completely come away from the concept of "dungeons for loot" in MMOs; if loot plays such a central role in running the place, it really does kill a lot of an otherwise exciting and fun undertaking and the idea of beating a challenge cooperatively.

I don't know, maybe that's horribly "RP" of me, but I don't like the fact that dungeon has become just another word for "lootbag". the devs might as well stop putting effort into dungeon design and just make them a series of black rooms to fight yourself through, if that's all dungeons have become to the playerbase. something is totally wrong here.

Anonymous said...

Why not look for other motivations to bring people into instances? How about crafting mats? Maybe if top end crafting mats (more than just orbs et.al.) only dropped off of instance mobs there'd be more call for participation. Especially if crafting was developed to be more of a time sink with decent end-game level gear, synonymous with raid tier. Does it really matter how you spend your time getting the latest tier? Does it have to be in a raid? Time is time - how you spend it should be your call. And if it's easier for you personally to spend your time for your uber loot by farming 5-man instances, that may draw more people in. Of course, that doesn't really address the original problem of tanks<DPS though... :)

Copernicus said...

In my opinion, the root cause of our current problems was doing away with the raid progression model.

Instead of having people jump directly to the highest tier, dungeons and raids should only give badges for the next tier up. Higher badges could be bought at higher cost (three tier 1 badges buys one tier 3 badge).

I think this would reduce demand on 5-mans and increase demand for lower tier raids - win-win, in my opinion.

Lujanera said...

Copernicus, the progression model works ok so long as you have enough people to support it. But if you've played on a smaller server or the smaller faction on a smaller server (as I used to), it's not an appealing approach. When your faction only has 3 raiding guilds, you're stuck raiding the initial tier because of a decision you made before even picking a class. The current approach in WoW certainly has its flaws, but I think it's a good trade in order to get the kind of accessibility we have now.

Copernicus said...

Lujanera, perhaps I don't mean strictly progression raiding, but keeping previous raiding tiers relevant in some way.

When I was a guild leader, I had a constant conflict between those that wanted to see some of the older content and those who were only interested in the current content. Ultimately, this tore the guild apart, and I just didn't have the heart to rebuild.

My goal would be to allow everyone, even the new people joining late in the game, to see the older tiers of the current expansion, while giving some sort of benefit to those who are more interested in the current content.

Rather than the current model of everyone running heroics to gear up, I'd prefer to see lower tier raids filling some of that role as well. The Dalaran weekly raid quest, on a larger scale.

Shintar said...

But the queue times (for DPS at least, which is how this whole thing started) would also go through the roof.

There's no reason to assume that. If you look at lower level instances, where the reward for running a random is only a (often very crappy) BoP blue item, all roles are in demand at some point or another. Tanks and healers like to run dungeons because they play roles that are designed for grouping, even if there is little material reward for it. Massive queues only start to form when you try to lure all those dpsers into the system that would rather solo.

Nils said...

I agree with Syl:

I don't know, maybe that's horribly "RP" of me, but I don't like the fact that dungeon has become just another word for "lootbag". the devs might as well stop putting effort into dungeon design and just make them a series of black rooms to fight yourself through, if that's all dungeons have become to the playerbase. SOMETHING IS HORRIBLY WRONG HERE.

Tesh said...

Isn't that what tabletop dungeons turn into when you're not interested in the RP side?

Seems like a wetware problem to me.

neowolf2 said...

Raid progression could work by gradually raising the level cap through the expansion. Each raid would be tuned for the level cap during the tier in which it's released. There's no reason why the level cap needs to increase just once, at the start of the expansion.

vrykerion said...

Honestly, I think it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation for Blizz. :( A situation it seems they find themselves in more and more with their ever growing player base, the ability to establish a common ground diminishes.

Personally, I feel the current situation is sadly the only option thats going to leave a majority in a begrudged and reluctant state of complacency. Which leaves lots of room to complain and not a lot of room for viable solutions.