(okay, I’m tired. Sorry for the title, ok?)
I’ll start with a post from Mark Jacobs on their virginal community as an excuse to write down some notes that I was planning from quite a while: DAoC and PvE.
Instancing is indeed a tool which, as it already has been said, is neither good nor evil. It has some very, very good uses but it can be abused. Thus, we will use instancing in a number of ways but not so that they destroy the sense of being part of an MMO.
As to DAoC, yes, we are doing it very well there but I think we can do it even better here.
He doesn’t say anything as always, but there’s that comment about DAoC and the use of instancing technology: “We are doing it very well”.
Wow, that’s a news. I’ve yet to see someone praising these wonderful instances that DAoC is supposed to have, because it would be really a novelty. If there’s ONE GAME where the instances have been abused to the point of destroying the fabric of the game, that game is DAoC.
The technology may be solid, but in that post Mark Jacobs wasn’t commenting the underlying technology supporting the instances, but their use, abuse and purpose in the game. He was commenting the game design. The same game design that is, honestly, undefendable considering the really poor results that those choices brought.
When “Catacombs” (the expansion that introduced the instances) was in development I presented my worries clearly. I didn’t have *any* direct information, and the game was still in closed beta. But those doubts relvealed to be correct.
Not only I was correct but also “optimist”. The situation revealed to be much worse than what I expected. Not only “Catacombs” made the old world deserted (the same world that the new players can access). But it also sucked out the little life the PvE had left. I was expecting the content to be at least good but not only it wasn’t, it was also subpar compared to what the game already had and that the designers decided to replace.
The work on “Catacombs”, beside developing the instancing technology itself, was about reskinning and remodel the dungeon tiles, reskinning and remodel the mosters and assemble/shuffle the two as a bunch of corridors with a row of glassy-eyed mobs in the middle. There is no “content” here, but just a big, gaping hole of nothing. There isn’t anything to offer, any value if not the biggest experience bonus in the game to speed up the treadmill to the maximum level.
No journey. Just reward.
The PvE wasn’t being enhanced, revised and reorganized as it needed, the PvE was being COMPLETELY REMOVED. The part of DAoC that the most needed some “added value” saw the little that was left completely squeezed out to only leave an empty corpse. A remain. “Catacombs” didn’t just move *all* the players inside the instanced zones, leaving the non-instanced world deserted as I was expecting. “Catacombs” OBLITERATED the PvE (the journey) from DAoC:
DAoC is no longer a PvE game. You grind task dungeons until you can do battlegrounds, then you do battlegrounds until you max RPs, then you grind for the next battleground. Rinse, repeat until 50. You can mix it up a bit with your Champion and epic quests, but otherwise it’s TD-BG to 50 now.
You can of course buck this trend, but just try getting a group. To say that the original lands are deserted now is an understatement. There are giants in Cornwall who are at this very moment collecting pensions. You can probably kill them by whacking their walkers with a staff. On the downside their loot drops may not be so interesting. Last one I killed dropped a piece of hard candy, a magnifying glass, half a pack of Pal Malls and a Life Alert bracelet.
The real problem is all in a misinterpretation. All in wrong design assumptions that always plagued this game.
The problem wasn’t about the treadmill being too long or slow. The problem was (and still is) that the PvE experience has very little to offer. Very little value. Mythic needed to blow life in. Not suck it out.
Simply put: a problem of quality, not a problem of quantity.
I wouldn’t say that a complete abandonment of PvE would be a good idea for any game. Very few MMO players want to PvP *all* the time, non-stop, and I think this is why totally PvP games like WW2O or Planetside have limited appeal. Many like it as a sideline, to greater or lesser degrees. And most of those want the ability to say “I am *not* getting ganked today, I’ll just whack mobs.”
But when you have a long treadmill, most of your PvE content is just filler. If it wasn’t intended as such, it will be after the 100th time the players see it. If you have only a certain amount of manpower to devote to building content, and you need a lot of filler to satisfy the demands of the treadmill, then you’re going to have to produce less *good*, interesting, novel content, and you’re going to use up the attractiveness of what you build through sheer player fatigue.
So I would say that what I would be a proponent of would be shorter treadmills, more use of AI-based content creation tools for the filler, and where content is being hand-built that content is high-quality, well thought out, and highly polished.
DAoC needs badly its PvE side. It cannot do without it as it cannot do with it but without value.
Even if the PvE has always been the weakest point of the game, this shouldn’t mean that it should be pushed out of relevancy. This is a terrible mistake that Mythic is paying way more than what they paid with the design mistakes in ToA (which remains Mythic’s most ambitious and most clueless expansion ever).
The PvE is the first consistent part that is presented to new and returning players and fundamental for their “education” through the game. Yes, now it’s possible to move directly toward the PvP. But it’s not possible to expect this to be always viable. The PvE is required as a training ground and to add some depth and consistence to the game. To create bonds and significance. Only then you can expect the players to slowly approach the PvP. It’s a transition and it is the main duty of the game to drive the players along this transition. Gradually.
The most important point is that this part must be fun. It must be reiterated till it isn’t proven fun. Till some true value isn’t found. If the PvE “sucks” the answer is not “Okay, so we’ll get rid of it”. The answer is to ask more questions. Go find out what didn’t work, what is missing, where are the limitations. What are the elements that need to be changed to find that quality.
Is this possible with the resources Mythic currently has?
Shild says DAoC “has no legs” and I agree. From the exodus of players that started one year before WoW and exploded with its release, the game lost around a 40% of its worldwide subscribers. The game is still solid and I’m sure it can still continue to be profitable for a reasonable amount of time. But does it have anything anymore to say in the genre? My answer is still the same: A WHOLE LOT.
Imho, Camelot has always had and still has a huge potential. Not if in the hands of another company, not with a bigger founding, not with brand new, fancy technology. But with the resources they already have available but that they aren’t using at best.
RIGHT NOW an expansion is being designed. For DAoC this is the most crucial moment of the year. But it’s also years that DAoC throws away these possibilities to just slide some more into the oblivion. The game needs to stand up. To revive the interest. This doesn’t mean that it should change abruptly its direction. I like THIS game and I think it has still a lot of potential undisclosed. Adding some more items and a couple of new zones following a pattern that has been consolidated along the years isn’t anymore appropriate. It may be vaguely interesting for the same players the game already has. But it doesn’t add quality, nor it would draw the attention of possible new players. It only translates the game horizontally but without enriching it.
DAoC lacks design. This is the biggest and longstanding problem in every expansion and patch. At their origin. In every step that seems going forward but that goes instead backwards, or aside. Content is being developed and pushed into irrelevancy continuously. The artists have proven to be able to do not just a “good work” but the *best* work, the technology is solid (even if the client is still subpar). DAoC has all the requisites to be able to compete with the latest mmorpgs and stand among and *above* them instead of feeling like a rusty remnant of an old generation.
But it lacks design. It lacks vision, it lack a long term plan, it lack ambition and it lack enthusiasm. It lacks the will to fight its battle.
It lacks verve, drive. It lacks some healthy arrogance to impose itself again on the market as something that cannot be dismissed too easily.
It lacks that “you’ll see”. Anticipation and complicity.
It needs to be streamlined and reorganized to draw the best from its parts. Because the design “wandered around” without a direction. Just following the wind of the last hour. The last trend of the competition. The latest misunderstanding with the players.
DAoC started to lose its verve around the time Dave Rickey left. No, it’s not because the “old times” look always better. Nor because I’m in love with Dave. But because the atmosphere was much different. Way more vibrant and dynamic, more involved. You KNOW I’m right. There was at that time the will to push the boundaries. Right now there’s instead the need to retract to fit slightly better within the shrinking borders.
It’s not the situation that changed and that I’m criticizing: it’s the mindset.
(and I still left out a bunch of notes. I’ll have to go back to some of these arguments)