Mark Jacobs is gone wild by announcing free levels and gold for their game. The demagogy cannot fail and in fact the players are rejoicing. Not different from real politics where the promise is about less taxes… while all the rest goes to hell. I’m not even sure how exactly this works, even after Sanya’s clarification I still don’t understand if the free level will be gained only if you level once or less each week, but it’s not important from what I want to say. One thing is obvious, the idea is to counter Blizzard’s “rest system” with something similar but more effective. And here’s where they making a big mistake.
Mythic has always been extremely receptive about what happens in the market. They observe attentively and try to learn from what happens in other MMOGs. It’s a very good model and I like the attitude. A pair of month ago they copied CoH’s sidekicking and even if not perfect it was an interesting attempt. Now they are trying to imitate WoW’s attitude about being more casual-player friendly. A crucial challenge for this genre as a whole. This time is not important to delve in the design model to see if there are better solutions or if that’s really the problem to solve. What is important is that Mythic is failing completely at understanding the scope of what Blizzard is doing.
The “rest system” is only a very tiny element of their approach. Perhaps the most striking but surely the less important. Blizzard is planning their game to be accessible from the ground up. Accessible “out of the box”. This means that not only they have silly mechanics like the “rest system” to give a cookie and a wink to the casual player that still need to be seduced by this genre (or mass market player, in Lum’s definition). But they have the whole game built with that aim. It’s cohesive, it’s an “holistic” design that defines a basic principle. It’s not an attempt at solving a problem by adding a workaround. It’s a strongly effective approach that starts from the ground and reaches the top. I’m saying that the “rest system” is only a small part because by playing the game you’ll notice how deep is this idea in the design. The very fist step is about the character creation. It’s obvious how different is WoW from other MMOGs, DAoC in particular. You don’t need to know anything about the game mechanics because during the creation of the character you’ll only choose what you are supposed to know without a strong knowledge of the game: a name, a race, a class and the aspect. That’s all, exactly all you need before starting to have fun. Other games force you to choose the statistics, but you cannot do that without knowing already the ruleset of the game. This is just the beginning because everything is planned to be intuitive and fun. You start on a newbie zone and in a few seconds you have already a pair of quests that teach you the very basics of the game. Blizzard’s work isn’t about a cookie here and there. It’s about an extensive design that involves the controls, the interface, how the zones are built. And more. Because the real, important part is that the ruleset itself is built to be compelling but at the same time easy to understand and master.
DAoC is the opposite. Years of band aids have transformed it in a colossal mess. Too often problems have been ignored or just partially “solved” with ineffective workarounds. This new idea included. Thinking that WoW will appeal the mass market just because it has a very silly “rest system” is a huge mistake. WoW is a lot more, it is cohesive. DAoC is loosing pieces instead. Entire parts of the game are becoming useless and obsolete because they are left out of the design evolution. Mythic modifies a part but another one crumbles. They apply a patch and the wound begins to bleed heavily only months later. Being receptive about what happens around them isn’t enough. DAoC’s body isn’t healthy at all, there are a lot of symptoms and if Mythic keeps ignoring them the game will suffer more and more.
The fact is that you cannot transform a messy game for catasses into a one that appeals the casual players just by adding free cookies. It will be obvious when WoW will be out. DAoC has problems everywhere in the design, from the char creation to the whole PvE and the whole ruleset. After two years I need various hours of reasearch before I’m able to create a non-gimpled character. Even the classes I play have still very obscure parts about how they work concretely. You’ll never completely understand the dynamics involved because they’ll change for each class. Nearly impossible to understand how the spec points influence each style and spell. And those are just a few examples. DAoC is absurdly complicated. Mistakes have been built on other mistakes and the whole game is weak because the design is never coherent even with itself. Rules have been built on broken rules and exceptions have been added and re-tweaked constantly. Real world’s laws are more easy to understand. Even two weeks ago they added overlapping res sickness. Plus the sidekicking system that isn’t documented anywhere, even less in the game. It will be soon forgotten just because noone remembers about it. Half of each of their patch is about mysterious slash commands that 95% of the playerbase will never remember.
Installing Linux and recompiling the kernel is easier than playing DAoC. Linux isn’t mass market.
DAoC needs the design to take a complete different direction. Problems that have been ignored for too much time must be addressed at their core, without waiting more. The deisgn needs a more holistic approach, without loosing pieces along the road with entire parts of the game becoming obsolete. Things like the epic armors must have a role, must be redisigned to provide the fun. The whole PvE needs work to be compelling and interesting. Providing alternate advancement paths is good, but not if it corresponds to dodge the attention over an unsolved problem. I don’t want a new expension to fix the errors of the previous one. I want the errors “healed”, not replaced with a new part built on top of the other.
A MMOG is a living body. You cannot fix it by adding more and more superstructures. You cannot heal it by applying too many plasters or ignoring and dodging some of the symptoms.
The new proposed system won’t make the game more casual players friendly, nor it will solve population unbalance. It will just make more obvious that the game is suffering this design strategy about ignoring problems and adding workarounds at will. When a game with a different approach will be out, all that I’m saying here will become more clear. The players’ enthusiasm about a few new cookies will vanish when something else will offer something really different.
It’s fun that, while Mythic was revealing the plan to the public, their server programmer was explaining during a conference why it will fail.
It’s what makes me smile.