Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gearing Up For Raids In Single Group Dungeons

I've been writing recently about what I see as a conflict between solo leveling and getting new characters to max level so they can join in group content.  Solo players actually want to do the content, while group players find it a dull but time-consuming chore en route to endgame, and I'm starting to feel that both groups are getting the short end of the stick.  Reading Ferrel's post about Rift's Expert Dungeon plaque changes in patch 1.2, I'm seeing some strong parallels. 

From Ferrel's perspective as a guild leader trying to get his team geared up and ready to raid, decreased dungeon token income is a disaster, as it means that the guild has to spend more time farming content that has long since ceased to be interesting.  He assumes that everyone who is farming expert dungeons is doing so for the same reason - to get the gear to be released from this purgatory as quickly as possible. 

The reality is that there is a growing segment of the market for whom single group dungeon content is the end of the line.  There's a big difference between clicking the automated group finder button at a time of your choosing to farm a 90 minute dungeon and committing days in advance to show up to a scheduled 3-4 hour raid.  The old model of high difficulty, high reward dungeons does not serve Trion's long-term interest in retaining this demographic - infrequent players probably won't be able to find groups that can beat the content, and, if they do, they will run out of stuff to farm pretty quickly. 

Developers are in a tough spot here. The majority of the content needs to be aimed at the majority of the customers - which means solo and maybe easy group content - because those customers have plenty of options to take their money elsewhere.  However, taking the very top end of customers and letting them skip the 95% of content that is below their expertise is a good recipe for having those players run out of things to do exceptionally quickly.  The result is what we have now - players forced to do things that they do not enjoy as a pre-requisite for things they would like to do, because that's the way the developers are getting paid. 

Somehow, this does not seem like the best longterm plan. 


  1. It seems like an impossible situation. If devs cannot make content fast enough and they don't want raiders to quit between content patches, how do they keep them around except with what are essentially wastes of time?

    I see only one solution: every MMO company works together to make a shared raiding-only game, pooling their resources to create enough content to keep them around without on-off coming and going with the content cycle. Or just a company that does nothing but raiding content. I wonder if they would actually be profitable, maybe, but profitable enough is probably the real question. Can a company produce enough raid content at a low enough cost to keep the raiding niche to itself?

  2. Klepsacovic is on the right track. The reason we see these problems is that developers are trying to make one-size-fits-all types of games. Just like how television splintered from the major networks into a myriad of niche stations, developers need to start focusing their products for specific populations.

    Can you imagine an all raiding game? Twenty level one characters grouping up to defeat the tutorial encounters? Sounds crazy, but can you imagine how differently you could design a world if you knew everything was going to be a raid? I might not play that game, but there is a population that would, I'm sure of it.

  3. I think the problem is that most developers and publishers have not in a clear way communicated the target audience for their games. All games are targeted to all, and that is not true anymore. Rift is probably one of the few games that seems to be deliberately targeted to the audience that wants a playable fun casual game and that does not want to play WoW/EQ2. The developers have not said that (as always) but what they do strongly suggests this.

    I think that the whole problem is very interesting and I see the solution as a better communication of what the target audience for a game is. Nothing can be designed for everybody and I like to see, real hardcore games and games for casuals. I think Rift is fun and challenging for me, but I also notice a drop in subs from players that plays a lot of hours per week.

    But what customers are buying the product? I believe that parts of the casual market can support several games, if the product is good, at this moment most casuals pays for a game that they can not access fully. The outcry will be horrendous if Rift actually drops for the high end raiders and concentrates on the customers that supplies the majority of the income for the game, and the outcome is not clear. But it will be interesting.

  4. What blows my mind is that people seem convinced that if raiders get to raids "too quickly" they're more inclined to quit. In my experience nothing could be further from the truth.

    My guys are FAR more inclined to quit due to running repetitive single group dungeons over and over again for tokens. Why? Because it breaks the guild up into cliques. We're not doing things together. You have to find your own way. We can beat our heads against the same raid for months but this single group business won't go on forever.

    I agree that for some players this marks the end of progression but at the same time I ask, "Why can't we have both?" Why would Trion shut an avenue for players like us when there is room for both.

    These changes just string the masses along for longer and force those of us who were already in experts into running single group instances over and over.

  5. Actually I believe it is the best long term plan.

    only 1/4 of Activision/Blizzard's top line comes from subscriptions [aka keeping the end gamers busy with "raiding"] (btw I was personally VERY surprised to find this number was that low reading their 8-K)

    out of that 1/4 you have to pay system admins, customer service, cc billing, security, developers for that new X.1 version... and that X.1 version is all about the new raid instance.

    that 1/4 probably becomes much much less after all these costs are added. And then a game designer has to ask I could just drop subscriptions concentrate on getting major expansions out and ignore the point releases that just provide endgame make work (that the raiders CONSTANTLY WHINE about anyway)

    Why bother?

    End Gamers seem to mostly be a minority compared to most other continual content consumers (PvP, Arena, World Events, 5mans etc)

    Why not just dump the EJs off and let them blow through someone elses main game? Why keep pandering to a market segment that will NEVER EVER be happy? AND take all that budget you are blowing on raids that people bitch about... THEN use it to create a NEW expansion pack quicker with more leveling content (like new classes!).

    I think that studios will find out ultimately that selling the box (or the download) IS the best avenue to profit.

  6. I was reading over at gamasutra AND...

    A thought occured to me. What is really going on is something subtle concerning player expectations.
    I believe the idea behind subscription MMO endgame was to keep the story going... You know a player creates a toon levels to max then asks 'is that the end of the story?".

    The developers wanting the player to keep playing (and paying sub fees) came up with "end game" as a manner of keeping stories going for max toons [and I believe keep them busy until another expansion].

    What has happened is that a segment of the playerbase does not want to read the introduction of their story. They want to skip to the end and start a NEW story where they are special and exclusive.

    In essence they want to get to the end of the "little peoples" story and start on "big peoples" tough story bosses. Net Net they want to jet to the VIP room of the game and order their custom content in a custom manner with the velvet rope firmly in place to keep out the noobs.

    Oh and they want to pay the same price for this exclusve content as all the noobs. Thus getting noobs to subsidize them in the gaming status they have become accustomed to.

    Yeah... I think it's time that people quit catering to these special snowflakes.

  7. @Angry Gamer:
    "only 1/4 of Activision/Blizzard's top line comes from subscriptions [aka keeping the end gamers busy with "raiding"]"
    aka you're making shit up. There are a lot of sub players who are not raiding. And there are one-time box buyers who want to raid. Also, why would you separate PvP out from end-game? And why assume that all this content is mutually exclusive? I can remember a long time when I did PvP, 5-mans, and a little bit of raiding. Yes, raiding AND other "arbitrarily not end game" content.

    "Oh and they want to pay the same price for this exclusve content as all the noobs. Thus getting noobs to subsidize them in the gaming status they have become accustomed to."
    What exclusive content? I know it's tempting to fall into the "raiders are bad people" trap, but ultimatey they are people who enjoy a certain way of playing, a certain type of content.

    Beside all that, raiding does give people something to aim for. I'm not saying that everyone wants to raid or that anyone looks up to raiders as some sort of heroes, but the first time I stepped into MC it was damn cool and I'm pretty sure that was a common feeling.

  8. @Klep

    I am not saying that raiders are bad people. I AM saying that by and large they want exclusive content paid for by all players subscriptions. They want to Raid but do not want the plebeians (noobs) to join them.

    Raiders who complain about nerfing and noobs who need to stay out of fire are displaying the same us vs them segregation that many groups espouse to the detriment of communities.

    In short they are spoiled to believe that developers should cater to them.

    Btw I am not making up the numbers that ATIV reports (while you can say not ALL content is raiding... what was added during Wrath? 3.1 Ulduar, 3.2 TOC, 3.3 ICC... that was mostly raids right? or was Ulduar a new pvp battleground I missed?)

    please be informed by more than just your opinions

  9. At a meta level I believe that Raiders today are like heroes that never want to return to the ordinary "lowbie" world.

    to quote someone who inspired George Lucas to tell his stories in a Mythical way

    In Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation, a book drawn from Joseph Campbell's late lectures and workshops, he says about artists and the monomyth:
    What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss."

    George Lucas made a tidy sum listening to this guy perhaps there something to it. I know that in a traditional hero's myth there is no "gearscore" or "noob" check... All heroes are called to adventure. Therefore any game content should be available for all... Or perhaps we could charge extra for the velvet rope raids?

    Yeah the EJ's are probably too cheap, and spoiled as I said.

  10. @Angry Gamer:
    "They want to Raid but do not want the plebeians (noobs) to join them."
    You say that like it is somehow unreasonable. People don't like working or playing with people who interfere with their work or play. Would you want to play basketball with someone who randomly throws the ball out of bounds? Or work with someone who takes your pens and never returns them?

    I'm not accusing you of making up numbers, I'm accusing you of making up "subs are only raiders". Besides, PvP is much more resistant to repetitive environments than scripted PvE. I did AV for years and never got sick of it (though I didn't like that they gutted it, that got to me) because playing against other players gives something new each time. Yes there are trends of behavior, but it's never exactly the same. Also, killing other people never gets old (virtually speaking).

    George Lucas didn't make a MMO. He made movies, so the analogy doesn't work very well. But let's run with it anyway. Have you ever watched a movie again? Notice how you see more the next time? Or if you have a good eye (skill) you may spot more. A film major may see parts of the movie that we cannot even imagine. See how even in your supposedly egalitarian movie business there is still room for more skilled or knowledgeable consumers to get more out of it?


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