Monday, March 12, 2012

Scroll of Resurrection: Game Vs World

While I was struggling with internet access issues last week, Blizzard announced that they'd gone ahead and implemented that crazy idea EQ2's David Georgeson kicked around last year - a free boost to level 80, but only as a promotion for lapsed subscribers.  MMO Melting Pot has two posts rounding up the blog reaction so far, and even this list only scratches the surface. 

The conflict
This debate emphasizes the split between MMO's as games versus MMO's as worlds.  As a game, the correct answer to the question "can I play with my friends?" is always yes.  By contrast, the very structure of the persistent online world is full of "no" answers to that question. 
  • Wrong server/faction?  No.  
  • Wrong class?  No.  
  • Wrong spec/group role?  No.  
  • Wrong level?  No.  
  • Not enough gear?  No.
  • Don't own enough expansions?  No.  
  • Not located in the right location (back in the days when traveling across the world could take all night)?  No.  
For the players who primarily see the MMO as a world, all of these answers are the entire reason to play the game.  What is the point of playing a game where everything you have worked so hard for will be given away for free as the next promotion?  For the players who want to play with their friends, all of theeeese answers are what's keeping them from playing the game.  If there is fault in the new system, it's that it's still too limited - current players need not apply, while even the fortunate former subscribers must grind out five levels and whatever gear they need to join their friends at endgame.

A solution worth trying?
In the short term, I think there are legitimate questions about whether this approach will work or is a good idea.  As Azuriel points out, some of these goodies represent money left on the table for Blizzard, and it's not clear how many of the returning players Blizzard will be able to retain.  That said, I think it was overdue for someone to try this, and Blizzard is one of the best positioned, even after the rough year. 

As long as entire segments of the game - such as solo content, non-raid group content, etc - are reduced to a prerequisite that raiders must complete to be allowed to advance, there will be consequences to the way that players who actually want to use this content are able to experience it.  In Cataclysm, Blizzard expended a staggering amount of resources on new leveling content that even their core demographic for this material - longtime players like myself with high nostalgia value and willingness to roll alts - can't use the content because the rush to level cap ruined the exp curve for everyone else. 

As damaging as paying to skip to max level (the next logical step in this progression) may be to the MMO's, I think the consequences of continued inaction may be worse. 


  1. As you mentioned at the end, Blizzard has continually nerfed/eviscerated the leveling game. I've come to the regretful conclusion that those who said the real game started at level cap have a valid point, and Blizzard agrees with them. (Which may be partly why I quit WoW.) Selling/providing high level characters is just the next destination on that 'slippery slope.'

    I think the better solution to the 'playing with friends' problem is a good mentoring/sidekick system. That's what level-based MMO's need.

  2. As usual with these things there's no reason it has to be Either/Or. The correct solution is Both. Or All.

    An MMO as successful as WoW could, if the will was there, maintain servers with a variety of rulesets. There could be servers where you could make a max-level character geared to raid at will on day one. There could be servers with all of the barriers to entry in your list firmly in place. There could be Raiding servers, Leveling servers, Easymode, Hardmode, Pre-Cataclysm, Post-Cataclysm, FFA PvP, you name it.

    Blizzard could, if they wished, offer a dozen types of server and maintain and develop them all in parallel, judging the viability and profitability of each discretely. If they saw themselves primarily as a Service business rather than a Manufacturing business, that is. But they don't. They are firmly committed to the Produce Product, Sell Product, Move on to Next Product model as their core strategy with Maintain, Service and Upgrade Existing Product for Established Customerbase coming a poor second.

    That said, the real problem comes from the bolting of a Raid Gear Ladder game onto a Leveling and Exploration Roleplaying Game. Every MMO that uses this structure struggles bitterly with it because it just doesn't work. Separate the two parts and sell them as separate games would be my solution.

  3. @Indy: EQ2 has a great mentoring system, but leveling is still almost always a solo affair. That said, apparently SWTOR is going that way as well (raising the question of what Blizzard is waiting for in WoW).

    @Bhagpuss: Proliferation of multiple ruleset servers is the exact opposite of a solution to this issue, as in increases the odds that the person you want to play with isn't on your server because they wanted some perk of some other ruleset. Now, if you implemented Rift's instant free server transfers, or GW2's planned temporary transfers in event of queues, something like this could be attractive, but this also comes at a cost to server communities.

  4. Actually, they should solve the problem once and for all by:

    - killing servers: anyone can group with anyone else for any area
    - killing levels: this does not necessarily mean removing them, just add a slider to my character so that I can set my level to whatever I want. This way, I can group with my level 34 friend with my main character, and by setting the "level slider" to 34 I can meaningfully play with them. Even if I end up being a very well geared level 34 (like a twink), it would be nothing like one shotting anything in sight by pressing random buttons.
    Note that this would also allow to have harder leveling content: since you can set your level to whatever you want, you could:
    - create character, raise to 85, start with some quests and normal dungeons to get ready for heroics/raids a lot faster than leveling 85 times.
    - take my raiding main, set slider to N-5 and go quest in an area for level N, making quests hard.
    - group with random friends, set all our sliders to N (or N-5 if we really want a challenge) and go run some old instances.
    - decide that I want to play in "story mode" (= no challenge), set my slider to N+10 and go in an area for level N.

    With the current approach that WoW has for standardized stats, this would not be that hard to pull off.
    (Star Trek Online already does something similar, with varied results).

  5. I think Blizzard is just struggling with coming to the conclusion that WoW has had it's heyday, and people are moving onto to something shinier and newer; regardless of the freebies WoW is offering.


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