Thursday, March 05, 2009

I pay my money, How come I don't get to make my choice?

The "I Win" button proposed in my last post was perhaps too extreme - effectively boosting you straight to the end of the game. However I do see a role for other time saving options that would allow players to bypass content if they wish.

Why not allows players to start a game at any level they want? Why not give players alternative "easy routes" to unlocking difficult parts of the game?

Such features would be very liberating for players - allowing each individual to choose their own level of challenge and time commitment. I think it would also enhance the longevity of a game. How? Because it allows new players to jump into a game at the latest liveliest part and not have to wallow in deserted five year old content.

Ok so you have some objections. I will try and deal with the ones that come to mind:

1. You need to grind through levels 1 to 80 in order to learn how to play your character. I'm sorry but I don't agree. I think someone who has played mmos before could probably pick up a pre-made end game character in a brand new game and get up to speed in a few days. In fact I fail to see how grinding through 80 levels of solo play prepares you properly for end game grouping anyway.

2. But even noobs who have never learned to mmo will jump to max level. You need the grind to filter these people out. If the level grind filtered out arrogant losers who assume that they are better than "noobs" I would vote for it. Sadly all it filters out is people who have neither time nor patience to get through it.

3. I spent months levelling and equipping my character. You are devaluing my efforts by introducing easy mode for other players. This is a slightly trickier argument. I know that the real value of the pixellated rewards you get in an mmo stems from the effort involved in getting them. I guess the answer to this is that you must decide yourself what challenges you want to take on and you will know in yourself what you achieve and don't achieve. Why do you need to artificially limit someone else just to affirm yourself? I am prepared however to make a concession on this one - I would allow cosmetic differentiation (perhaps titles or fancier looking gear) for those who do it the hard way. The easy mode stuff should be just as powerful but perhaps not as pretty looking.

4. But this is a pvp game. You are giving that new player an unfair advantage by letting them have instant access to high level skills and equipment. To answer this I think you need to differentiate between games where pvp is a contest with no real impact on the game world (like WOW ) or games in which pvp is integral to the control of territory and resources (like EVE). In a game like WOW I do not see any point in pvp contests between players of unequal level. I think that allowing people instant access to full gear and equipment would only enhance pvp in these games. On the other hand in a game like EVE skills and equipment are just another of the resources that underpin the whole foundation of the game so perhaps it would be wrong to give people an easy route to power in these cases.

4. I played a game once that had an exploit that made it too easy. There was no challenege left in the game and I quickly lost interest. With few exceptions MMOs are grown up games for grown up people. you can make your own decision as to what challenges you want to undertake and what challenges you want to skip. I am not saying easy mode should be compulsory just that it be an option.

5. Aren't there plenty of free MMOs using rmt which allow this anyway and aren't they all boring grindfests. Yes and yes. I think there is a fundamental business flaw in the free to play / pay for advancement model. There is a huge moral hazard that encourages game developers to make the free gameplay as boring as possible so that people will gladly pay to bypass it. Games should be made as entertaining as possible so people will pay to play them not pay to skip them. For this reason I think the "easy mode button" has to be free to use.


Lars said...

I wonder if they had specific servers set aside that had so-called "easy mode" features designed for time constrained players, what would you see? My guess: everyone would play there. People are hardcore in theory, but rarely in practice.

Thallian said...

I'd play there. And I'd level from the start just to do it once and then forever after with alts I'd prolly just start at max level. I think all the arguments are founded on pride and elitism and not on what's "fun". I of course don't support hiring someone to level for you or paying for in game power with real money but a free option to start at any level you please would be great. Levels just keep you from playing with your friends really.

Lars said...

Hiring someone to level for you/in game power? No, of course not. But I don't see anything WRONG with it. To me, that's like paying someone to watch the beginning of a movie for you, or read the first ten chapters of a book for you. Then they tell you where they left off so you can read the ending. Kind of pointless.

But the fact that so many people do the equivalent of that in an MMO tells you something is wrong, and that the market is demanding something other than what we are being given.

Anonymous said...

I personally do not think such a game would work. I think most people would take the easy mode route and bypass all the challenges get bored and leave. Because they have no investment in their character. As one of my favorite saying goes 'Something given has no value.' If you just give people what they want they won't appreciate it.

mbp said...

@Anonymous you make a thought provoking point and I fully agree that the "value" of in game achievements is entirely defined by the effort we put in to getting them. However I ask you to stop for a moment and consider your argument. You are saying that we are all too immature to decide for ourselves whether we want to go the hard road or take the easy route. I have actually thought quite a bit about this and I have to say I disagree with you.

In the first instance I disagree with you on principle because I am a mature adult and I am capable of weighing up the consequences of my actions and making a rational decision about what I want to get out of a game.

If that doesn't convince you however I can cite hard evidence of the "difficulty setting" in single player gaming. If your argument was valid then single player gaming would be irretrievably ruined by the option of a difficulty setting. Everybody would just choose the easiest setting and quickly abandon the game finding it has no challenge. I am happy to report that hundred's of millions of players use the difficulty setting sensibly and choose a difficulty setting that maximises their enjoyment of the game. Difficulty setting have been around for many years and single player gaming still hasn't died out due to lack of challenge.

Anonymous said...

MBP you make several good points. And I believe they can both be refuted on the basis that in an MMORPG people do not play alone. What drives a MMO is players interacting with each other, if the difficulty levels are kept to different servers, that you can't trade between, then I feel that it could possibly work. If however the servers are mixed that would tend to drive down the challenge, especially in a reward driven game such as WOW. Since people generally wish to take the path of least resistance to getting their rewards. See afking in Battlegrounds and the various methods of cheesing the arena rating systems in TBC.

In single player games even the easiest difficulty presents some challenge. I generally play on the easiest difficulty for most real-time games and still get my ass kicked a lot.

MBP you may be to choose correctly what is good for you. Most people however are not, look at high divorce rates, obesity, fad-diets, people working jobs they hate.

Stropp said...

There's another objection to the I Win button, the one at the top of my list; it's that a RPG (leaving out the MMO part for the moment) is a journey, and part of that journey is the character development. A RPG is all about the story, getting the player from the day the story starts to the final encounter.

Unfortunately most MMORPGs either don't effectively tell a story, or don't even try (LotRO being the exception) but that doesn't mean that character and story development is worthless.

For me, I don't tend to raid or spend much time in the end game. Going through the quests and the levels is the point. An I Win button would kinda defeat that point.

Melf_Himself said...

I downloaded and clocked Mario 3 on the Wii a couple of weeks ago. On the first world, I received a flute that allows you to skip through to the last world, or to any world in between. I accidentally activated it, and then I was forced to pick a world to skip to.

So what did I do? I re-started the game. I didn't download Mario just to skip through it. Mario is fun, the whole point was to enjoy the play-through, and be happy with the accomplishment of beating it.

Would I push a button in an MMO to allow me to obtain maximum level and gear? Yes! Why? Because the MMO grind is NOT a fun game. I enjoy PvP, challenging PvE content, and the social aspects of MMO's, yet in order to do these things I have to grind through a bunch of boring crap. No thanks.

Now, the part that I would NOT want to skip would be the story itself, should the game actually have one (most MMO's have a pathetic excuse for a story). Skipping the levelling curve is not synonymous with skipping the story - it's not like Aragorn becomes 10 times godlier between the start and end of the LotR movies. He goes through a lot of challenging tests of skill, he romances a hot girl, and he vanquishes some serious evil, and that's what the story was all about (there were also some gay midgets running around, I think they did something too, not sure).

Where was I? Ah yes. If you can't make your game more fun than Mario, you're going to make another fail MMO, and you should probably just go back to design school and save your company several million dollars.

Lars said...

We want an "I win" button not because we don't want challenges but rather because we want to skip through the boring bits, like the commercials, that are otherwise part of the journey of watching a TV show, to get to the good bits. If developers don't want people to skip things, we need to shift the focus from levels and loot towards story instead.

mbp said...

I think we can still cater for "achievement" focussed players after introducing easy mode. Give achievement focussed players fancy titles and cool looking armour sets. This is a model Guild Wars has used very successfully. The key point is to allow players use "easy mode" if they want to access all content of the game.

In fact thinking about it I guess what I am really looking for is for developers to stop using content as a reward for overcoming challenges in the game. To do so by definition denies access to that content to paying customers who for whatever reason cannot overcome the challenge. Perhaps because they don't have the time, perhaps because they aren't interested in that particular challenge, perhaps because they are lazy or just bad players. It doesn't matter - they pay for the game why are you denying them access to the content?

Khan said...

An interesting discussion. I think the idea would be workable depending on some other factors. For those of us with max-level characters, leveling up also gives us a chance to experience the game and, in some games, get titles and a lot of in-game money by leveling. Someone using a /level command would miss out on a lot of that stuff.

If using a /level command would remove, say, the ability to get certain titles or if regular leveling rewarded players automatically with gold (like every ten levels you get in-game gold as a reward) it would make players think twice before using it. (Assuming that using /level would not get players the rewards for leveling.)