The Warhammer “grind”

For two days I debated with myself whether to write this or not, as I want to cut down considerably the number of posts about games and Warhammer especially.

Since no one is giving this aspect the relevance it deserves, I’ll do it here. This is a quote from Mark Jacobs recent outburst on F13:

Here’s one damn thing I would change, I would make this game have 70 levels and keep dinging all the way, all the time. I do think that some of the problem is the fact that people think 40 < 60 when it comes to levels and that the grinding seems worse because you have only 40 levels to go to max out.

Imho, that’s one huge misunderstanding of the way game design works.

What’s wrong is in the line that follows:

I’ve played a ton of MMOs and, at least according to the spreadsheet the time to solo most toons is faster here (on paper, I know) than EQ, DAoC, WoW when they launched.

See, it’s rather evident if you read the many posts Mark wrote on this, that they tweaked and balanced Warhammer’s leveling curve not basing it ON THEIR GAME. But on the other popular MMOs out there.

Mark says that Warhammer should be well paced and not-a-grind because it’s faster to level there than in other games. So, the players cannot realistically complain the leveling is slow, IT CAN’T BE. And it can’t be because he has spreadsheets in his hands that state this with mathematical certainty.

What is wrong in that reasoning is that “grind” is not a finite, absolute, portable concept. The feeling of “grind” is relative to the content. A game can feel grindy if it has 100 levels the same way it has 10. It’s not an abstract number, it’s not about an ideal time span between level to level. It’s simply about the novelty of the experience.

Blizzard, for the nearly full year the open beta went on, tweaked continuously the leveling curve. But they adjusted it accordingly to the content in the game. It’s the amount of fun content you have in the game that DICTATES the leveling curve. NOT a spreadsheet that compares leveling speeds of all other games.

You are looking cross-eyed at things that don’t matter. Your game matters. Stop looking at WoW.

It’s rather obvious to me that Mythic’s devs overestimated their content. Especially the novelty of it. If I’m dead bored of Morkain Temple after I’ve done it 50 times I won’t feel ANY BETTER if you put 80 levels in the game instead of 40, and so make me run Mourakin Temple for 20 levels instead of 10.

Players are just monkeys, you can’t fool them with these sophisticate shufflings and deceits. Whether 40 or 80 levels: IT’S THE SAME GODDAMN GAME.

Does this reminds you of something? Yes, it reminds me of D&D Online. Same level of “insight”. They were scared that 10 levels in the game weren’t enough.

This is what happens when a genre becomes so self-referential and unable to see outside the box that all the rules have no real foundation and the game consequently falls apart.

Why Warhammer feels like a grind, or boring for many, many players who are expressing this one way or another (including Tobold, Krones or Cuppy just no name a few)?

Because it’s relying on Scenarios as the dominant aspect of the game. Often on just one scenario for each tier. You are relying on the most repetitive and boring system (the Scenarios) as the main drive through the levels. No surprise that the players are bored.

I’ll repeat that the same happened in DAoC with the task dungeons: best rewards (leveling speed) coming from the worst of the game. Its most redundant, repetitive aspect. Under these conditions you can’t be surprised that the players are bored. You already shrunk the content down to almost nothing. And in particular to just one scenarios for each tier, hence the most repetitive activity there’s in the game.

Scenarios/BGs are awfully boring even in WoW, do not doubt. But at least WoW offers a whole lot more beside them. While Warhammer is becoming a game shrunk to one aspect, and even the least interesting.

It’s not a matter of “Ding!”, “Grats!”. It’s a matter of what you put between them.

There are just two ways here. Either you believe “us” and think the game has a lot of potential that needs to come out. Or you just accept that the game has nothing to offer beside scenarios, and so you just watch the game going on on whatever path it has taken.

From my point of view the game is showing its worst, and players are forming a strong idea about it that will be very hard to dismantle later.

Taking out that potential isn’t simple at all and needs a lot of work. It’s not just about encouraging ORVR as much as Scenarios because ORVR has its own issues (and fighting in a keep is unfun because of the cramped and unlit space, and path rubberbanding of the guards). At the very least it requires the team to be heading in the right direction, and that’s my main doubt.

They do not “read” their game correctly, and so their solutions risk to be inadequate, late, or totally missing the point.

Warhammer: post-launch state of the game

I don’t need to wait Friday to read Mark Jacobs’ own.

Putting aside client performance and stability for once, even if it should remain the very first-priority effort, I’ll focus on the gameplay. Class balance is also an argument on its own that I won’t comment here.

I said before, and repeat again, that Warhammer’s biggest strength is in the variety of gameplay it offers. This variety comes in four different flavours: straight PvE quests, Public Quests, Scenarios and Open RvR.

The game is in the best shape when these four systems are always accessible and equally rewarding (or comparably rewarding). All four of them.

Removing Scenarios doesn’t make a better game, it’s the wrong solution to a problem. Reducing the number of scenarios also doesn’t make a better game since it reduces once again the variety. The main reason why everyone says the game is an awful grind is because the game entered a dead end where there’s scenarios and just scenarios. It’s repetitive, and repetitive is “grind”. And grind means that you worship your exp bar. And worshiping your exp bar means that you aren’t having fun and just hope to reach the “promise of a different end-game”.

This is the state of the four gameplay paths coming from my personal experience in the game and what I read in other players’ feedback:

– PvE Quests yield crap experience, especially in Tier 3 and 4 (or so I read)
– PQs don’t have enough players and bag loot should be improved
– Scenarios outbalance everything else, but should be balanced between each other to be more equal in rewards
– Open PvP is non existent and with piss poor rewards

PvE Quests
I don’t have the data, but I think that the experience curve throughout all the levels should be improved. Things should scale more uniformly and quests, scenarios, PQs, direct kills, these all should scale with the levels following a smooth, predictable curve. Instead I read reports that quests yield less and less experience and something similar happens for scenarios too. The escalation of level requirements isn’t perceived as smooth, and I’m willingly to trust the feedback I read on this.

I don’t have any experience in Tier 3 so I can’t comment the details. For sure the solution is NOT to add repeatable quests to fill the gaps. If the are gaps they need to be removed entirely, not just bridged with fluff. In any case it’s a problem of boosting or decreasing the xp rewards so that even the normal quests make your experience bar move perceptibly.

Public Quests
Big issue. Problems coming from different aspects that aren’t easily fixable without significant coding efforts. Difficulty scaling, to begin with.

The real reason why Mythic is scared about making leveling faster is because the faster the players move to the cap, the quicker the tiers will depopulate. The quicker the tiers depopulate, the less fun the experience for new players. The less fun the experience of new players, the smaller the influx of new subscriptions to the game. With less players sticking, the game has no future.

Right now for Mythic is crucial that the first tiers are vibrant with activity. The band-aid they have for this is to keep the leveling so slow that people “pool” in the tiers for longer, maybe even encouraging them to create alts more than pushing to the cap.

The real problem is that no matter how slow the leveling speed, these problems will arise anyway. The depopulation of the tiers is the big thorn in the game’s side. It WILL happen. Ignoring it now will just make things worse later. It starts affecting mostly the PQs, but later will even affect Scenarios. It’s a game-breaking problem.

There’s only one effective solution, and I’ll point where I discussed it.

Scenarios
I believe that the Scenarios should be reworked even in level design, but I won’t go in the details. For sure they need to add lightmaps and avoid fights in the dark. Not fun, especially when it’s so easy to get stuck everywhere. For this kind of gameplay the zone design shouldn’t get in the way, it should ease the fight. Less stupid obstacles and more visibility, thanks.

Secondly, all the Scenarios in a tier need to be equally rewarding. Make an average of time each required, then compensate the differences through bigger or smaller rewards for completing one.

Open RvR
To begin with: travel sucks. Travel time-sinks have to go completely. Every hub, big or small, should have all the necessary NPCs. Then I’d add at least two flight masters for each zone, one closer to a PvE hub, the other to the RvR Lake warcamp.

Once travel between PvE and RvR Lakes is simpler, I’d go with the following plan:

– Players take a Battlefield Objective (or keep) and cap it (worth nothing for now). Guilds can put a banner on the BO and stack benefits.
– For the time the BO is being actively defended (meaning there are real players in its proximity) it “blinks” on the map for all the players in the zone, for both factions. So that all players know that there’s activity there.
– All the kills (both defenders and attackers) that happen within a decently wide radius from the BO starts to be worth more points (XP, renown). A bonus that should be slightly higher for defenders, to encourage defense.
– For all the kills that defenders manage, some points go into a “bounty pool” in the BO. The more kills, the more this pool increases. I’d also make the BO generate some of these points even if no one is around, so that if left untouched for a lot of hours it actually start to be worth something anyway.
– This means that the longer it takes to conquer the BO, the biggest is going to be the reward, as it increases with the time and makes the prize progressively juicier.
– In order to “collect” these points the attackers need to conquer the objective themselves and “cash” the reward.

This has mainly three effects:
1- The BO works like a magnet, like a natural convergence since the direct kills are worth a lot more when they are closer to the objective. This makes the players know where to go and the action is focused on a smaller area (those who played Planetside know what I mean). This reduces the problem of RvR lakes being too dispersive.
2- The bounty points increase over time, so growing to a level that will likely motivate the other faction to take action. It will also move the “hot” RvR area around instead of repeating what happened with “Emain” in DAoC. It puts variety in the system.
3- It avoids exploits and disruptive behaviors. Points in this system come from direct kills. Handing out a lot of points for just conquering a keep, instead, encourages the factions to just trade the objective instead of fighting for it. It teaches them to AVOID the fight to maximize the reward (we saw some of this in WoW). My system instead focuses on the fight itself. It motivates it and makes sure it is rewarding since it promotes and rewards the activity.

This is how I would fix Open RvR. Some of those mechanics existed in some form in DAoC, but were never implemented in a way they mattered.

Mark Jacobs says:

Look, it’s really very simple and I’ve said this more than once. This is not 2001 and we are not going to blithely make changes to our game just because some people think that we are wrong before they even get a chance to see the changes in action or worse, just because we are getting yelled at by a very vocal minority. We’ll gather the data, look at all the feedback and then make a decision. If we’re wrong, we’ll correct the decision but at least this time we have all the data we need to make the right call and we are not getting swayed either by just the loud voices or a few wrong-headed individuals. So, if you feel the need to talk about canceling in these threads, of course you have that right. Just don’t think that we are going to react to it the same way we might have at times back in 2001, we need to be smarter and react more carefully than that.

Mark Jacobs apparently believes that these complaints about Open RvR are due to “loud voices or a few wrong-headed individuals”.

To what did they overreact in 2001 that made them so scared today? Class issues, maybe. Doing nothing in regards to huge unbalances for a long time, keeping specs completely broken. And then suddenly turning things on their heads. This happened. Right now there are no signs of change. Class issues are still unaddressed and no one knows if when the changes will come they will be searing.

Class issues aside, what I remember from Mythic is not overreacting, but doing very little, too late and never at the root of the problem. How is this different today? As with ToA, they risk to fix things when it’s too late, or never in a radical way. Even at that time Mythic believed that the complaints against ToA came from a “vocal minority” and it take them a long time to acknowledge that this “vocal minority” spoke in regards of the majority. When they did, it was too late.

History repeats, no matter how hard they try to persuade players of the contrary. No matter how much I hope something really changed.

DAoC with the time became more and more a game just about specialized 8vs8 or arranged matches between guilds. The keep battles and sieges became a rarity. For a very long time I was part of the “vocal minority” who pleaded Mythic to bring the “real” RvR back to when the realm was fighting together and the battles pivoted around keeps instead of away from them to avoid interferences.

They did nothing for a long time and when they started adding some rewards to conquering a keep, these rewards were ridiculously low. Does it sound familiar? This is way too similar to what is happening now in regards to Scenarios and Open RvR.

The same happened again with the “Catacombs” expansion. They added private instances that were merely a corridor populated with a row of skeletons. It was STUPID. Ridiculously pointless and dull.

But everyone continued to do them and just them. Over and over and over. Why? Because they gave by far the most experience points.

Mythic had other instanced dungeons that provided a lot more variety and depth of gameplay, also more linked to the various zones. They were completely deserted. No players at all. Why? Because they couldn’t even compare to the fast rewards of the private instances. For a long time I tried to persuade Mythic to make these other dungeons comparably attractive. They never did.

History repeats.

I know I sound like the stereotypical soured player, but I’ve seen these things happening. Over and over. And now I don’t see any sign that they actually learned from mistakes. They say they did, but this isn’t reflected by their actions. I continue to see the same mistakes repeated. The exact same mistakes.

I remember reading an old post from Ubiq who described similar patterns:

In Star Wars Galaxies, I remember, the rewards for killing the flying bat things were better than for everything else (probably had something to do with me being a Master Armorsmith). So because I could choose my own randomly generated quests, I chose the flying bat thing quests every time. Man, I got so sick of killing those, but all of the other content may as well not have existed.

It bears pointing out that most MMOs, rather inadvertently, end up shrinking their own content down in some way. Players are incredibly efficient at finding the fastest way to advance, and designers sometimes accidentally make design and balance decisions that help this along.

What Ubiq describes here is what it happens with Warhammer today. Players do scenarios and just scenarios, everything else may as well not exist at all. They shrunk their game to just repetitive deathmatches. This is what originated the “grind” the players are feeling. The repetition. The dullness.

Bringing back the variety I talked at the beginning would already help to substantially reduce the “grind” even without touching the levelling curve. But Mythic is scared even to touch the smallest thing, because their “metrics” tell them how much fun players are having in Scenarios. The same metrics that told them how fun were the 8vs8 matches or those stupid task dungeons in DAoC.

Mark Jacobs continues to repeat that they’ll only listen their metrics and not those “loud voices and few wrong-headed individuals” I’m sure he would put me in.

The metrics on my account will tell Mythic that when I log in I sit in a warcamp and do exclusively Scenarios. But those metrics don’t know that I’m PISSED, DEAD BORED about them. Mythic instead will take those metrics and see the evidence of how much I obviously love Scenarios since all my play time goes there.

How much I love Mourkain Temple, especially, since I do mostly that one. But those metrics don’t know that I think that whoever designed the Scenario terrain should better move on another job. Plenty of time I get stuck somewhere while moving, the textures are so dark that I see jack shit, and there’s a total absence of lightmaps that makes all this even worse. It’s terrible, but I continue to do it because it’s the most rewarding.

Metrics are dumb. Their “evidence” is a lie.

So I really don’t know what message I should send Mythic instead. Because if I play Scenarios they’ll think I love Scenarios. If I do Open RvR they’ll think it’s ok that Open RvR yields no rewards. Next time they’ll write that they see some more activity in the RvR Lakes because some idiots are trying desperately even if the system is so punishing. Do I boycott them? Do I cancel my account? Canceling my account would tell them that I don’t believe in Mythic, the potential of the game, or that a PvP MMO could be successful. Whatever I do sends the wrong message.

Whatever I do sends the wrong message because on the other side there should be a game designer that UNDERSTANDS players. That is in touch with them. That plays the game himself and sees where the problems are. That plans and fix things for the long term, and not through band-aids. At the root of the problems, and not inadequately.

Instead we rely on “metrics” and whatever twisted, biased use is made of them. To prove “evidence” where there’s only wronged partiality.

I’m having serious doubts about Warhammer

This is not backpedaling, actually it’s realizing how significant are becoming the potential flaws I was pointing out.

I’ve been playing some more these days and experienced concretely those problems. And I think these problems are crippling. I said long term, now I think I was optimistic.

My “fun” has been spotty. The game has a HUGE potential, as the huge potential was always there if PvP was done right. In Warhammer it is done right, but only occasionally realized and well executed. Too many variables affecting the fun, and this means that it’s not consistent and most time the game isn’t fun at all.

1- The client doesn’t have a good performance. It has serious problems with memory management, and even more in video memory management and caching. On new systems these flaws are much less noticeable and the gameplay is smooth, but over a number of different configurations there are PLENTY of players who report a lot of problems. This doesn’t seem a priority issue, but it is. Mass market means that your game HAS to work flawlessly on a wide range of configurations. Conservative graphic doesn’t guarantee good performance. It helps, but the really high number of little and major problems in the game client risks to cripple the sales and subscriptions in a substantial way. Those who can’t play well rarely spend weeks hunting for “magic” trick on the forums or sending feedback, they go back to play WoW, where technical execution comes above everything else.

2- Terrible flow. This basically summarizes all kind of critical problems. The fact that the “fun” is spotty. The zones have too much wasted space. Too much traveling without shortcuts. The death penalty may be trivial but here there are HUGE downtimes due to traveling, waiting for scenarios to pop or running aimlessly for half an hour or more around huge open PvP areas without meeting a single other player. In the last days I’ve been having serious problems to find even ONE open party for Public Quests. Even during prime time. This also gives a very bad perception. I have no idea how successful is the game, but the world feels empty and lonely as if I joined two years after launch. Instead how long is it? Two weeks? It’s all wasted, all those open PvP areas with all sort of objectives. Carefully designed to hold zerg of players. And there’s NO ONE. If you are lucky you see a tumbleweed in the distance. Developer time completely WASTED. Money wasted. And fun crippled.

So what were Warhammer strengths? The variety of gameplay alternatives it offered: normal questing, PQs, Scenarios and open RvR.

Pragmatically, which one of these alternatives are really viable if I decide to log in now? Normal questing and Scenarios when they pop. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, a PQ party that holds for ten minutes only to be wiped at the third phase because it was badly designed and it’s not doable with a single group, escalating difficulty in the worst way possible (from trivial but slow -kill 120 level 10 zombies- to impossible -five linked level 12 heroes-).

I don’t like PvE questing much. So what? Just scenarios, and they grow old after a while, same as WoW.

So that’s the downward spiral. Some deathmatches for shit and giggles and some boring PvE to slog through. Not exactly a masterpiece of game. Not even the WAAAAGH they were claiming it was going to be. You read on the forum a lot of similar feedback, players that try to explain how great was the battle they had yesterday. Sure, it was, but it’s inconstant. You have fun once every few days, when all the celestial bodies align properly. And Mythic’s design doesn’t help it.

I’m back feeling like when I was playing DAoC. Feeling bad because the game is THIS close to *be* a masterpiece.

What if?

What if Mythic planned the server structure form the start not as this prehistoric shard/server division, but a dynamical system where characters are an autonomous entity and where a new zone instance is only spawned when the previous reaches the cap? Think if, no matter when you decide to log in, no matter the server you picked, the zones always had players running around, with lots of activity, where all the PQs have players, where instances pop frequently and where open RvR is active at all time, where faction and population balance are more even than how they are currently. Utopia? Not. It’s vision, careful observation and experience. It’s knowing the right thing to do. It’s about knowing what the game needs to work well and to plan ahead with that in mind. It was possible by just planning the server structure in the way I was suggesting.

What if they actually designed the zones so that the three campaigns had ONE open PvP area for each tier (excluding endgame), like a convergence, instead all that ridiculous wasted space?

What if there was a de-levelling system so that all those PvP spaces were more consistently alive, and more consistently counted in the overall campaign? While also allowing PvE junkies to hunt down their Tome of Knowledge tricks without the fear of outlevelling the zones.

Well, it’s useless to repeat it again, but I was pointing all this out years ago when Warhammer didn’t even exist as a project. Trying to be as loud as possible but obtaining once again no result beside the evidence I was right.

I don’t fucking care if I was right. If it does not make a difference, it’s of no use to be right.

So, since I’m powerless, someone out there PLEASE WAKE UP.

But instead I’m talking to a deaf wall. No matter if I’m loud or not, in the best case I’m seen just as an arrogant idiot, or a troll, or a fraud who is accused of re-dating and rewriting his posts to claim undeserved wit.

I repeat myself I can’t start another of those useless crusades, no matter how much I think I’m right. Maybe I’m not? They say I’m not. So I wait the probable: Mythic to repeat the same mistakes, announcing soon all kind of fancy bonuses to encourage players to reroll on specific servers, obtaining no tangible difference, and later an expansion with some new classes, races and brand new zones to dilute what is already too diluted and wasted.

‘No, it comes with living long enough to appreciate the value of the time you’ve got left. Long enough to recognize the fallacy of a crusade when you’re called to one. Hoiran’s teeth, Gil, you’re the last person I should need to be telling this to. Have you forgotten what they did with your victory?’

P.S.
I truly admire who did art direction for Warhammer. Stylistically I love it, more than WoW. But what the fuck was he thinking about all those white, textureless cloaks? Or the utter lack of variety in the graphic of items?

Of course with the time these issues will vanish, but probably only at the level cap as more shit is added. And this doesn’t make a good game at all. It just leaves a sour taste.

Tom Chilton and his righteous game design

When I first read about this issue I misunderstood it and thought was related to arenas items requiring a certain rating to be used and not just to be earned, which was discussed months ago. Then the second time I got it right: they were putting arena rating requirements EVEN on battlegrounds/honor items.

It was so utterly stupid that I thought right away that it was some unintended beta transition. No way it could make into release.

Instead it’s deliberate.

What a fucking rambling idiot. He was always, but he’s now surpassing every record and even PRETENSE of plausibility. Who the fuck runs Blizzard to allow that this jerk is still around AND a senior designer who continues to fuck and ruin the PvP in every way possible? How it’s possible that most of the rest of the design is so brilliant while this guy can still do as he pleases? Where is the rest of the team? Why no one says anything?

The reason behind the retarded change is summarized this way:

However for now, we don’t have a way to measure “skill” in a battleground in a way that getting the “best” items in the game through battlegrounds would feel equitable when compared to what is required as far as co-ordination and success in pve to get items of equivalent power.

it’s more of a natural consequence of the fact that because we have a way to measure success that feels reasonably balanced against pve, we’re able to put high-end items there, which on its own creates the focus of importance.

They want a “morally right” game where rewards come for “skill” and not for sinking time.

Since in PvE endgame the rewards only come if you “win” the l33t raid game, and if you keep failing you get nothing, they wanted this even on PvP and thought that rewards should only come from “winning” and not for trying, or participating. They don’t want to reward persistence, they want to reward success. You have to be worthy.

Now, as a principle, the idea is even plausible even if unacceptable for a *game*, since players are supposed to have fun no matter of their limits. You know, the best game is the one that makes you think you are very good, not the game that slaps you in the face and laughs every time you fail and makes you feel like you are the very bottom of the food chain.

But let’s put this concern aside for a second. Rewarding “skill” as opposed to time sinks and grinds. Sounds palatable. And maybe it is, if it wasn’t for the fact that the principle of rewarding “skill” through “power-ups” is one HUGE CONTRADICTION. It’s just plain stupid. Unmotivated.

What if for next Olympiads Usain Bolt starts 20m ahead of everyone else since he won this past edition? But, oh, Kalgan replied to that argument:

Of course, I realize that the subject of “skill” is another topic of debate on its own, with many players citing gear quality and team comps as factors in determining the outcome (some seem to go as far as to imply that it’s all that matters). Clearly, those factors do influence the outcome, but not in a way that makes skill irrelevant. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be very hard to step onto the stage with some of the pro-gamers in the tournament and take them down in a match of even gear and comps. However, I can assure you that while I consider myself (for example) a pretty respectable player when it comes to arenas, I and a pair of similarly skilled teammates probably wouldn’t win more than 1 in every 100 games against the top players despite using identical gear and comps. Like it or not, that’s skill.

First. The case of competing with identical gear is not a playable case. It doesn’t happen. And what happens isn’t that players who wear crap are “bolstered” to the item quality of “top-players”. What happens is that those top-players HAVE A FUCKING ADVANTAGE OVER PLAYERS WITH LESS SKILL *AND* LESS POWERFUL.

It’s not equal footing and it’s not even weaker players brought to the level of stronger ones. It’s just giving advantages to who is already ahead, so that this relative situation is preserved.

Second. The implication that there’s skill in the game doesn’t justify in ANY way that those who have the skill must have artificial advantages added on top of that skill. QUITE THE CONTRARY.

Sure there’s skill. Usain Bolt may as well win even if *I* start 20m ahead of him. But this doesn’t fucking justify the fact that HE has the right start 20m ahead *of me* simply because he has that skill. QUITE THE OPPOSITE.

So it’s really a matter of plausibility, not game design. We are far away from any possible game consideration. This is plain obvious: you just CAN’T justify an irritating change in the game as a moral principle. Because the premises of that principle are, as demonstrated, completely wrong and unacceptable. So that justification doesn’t work.

The true reasons why this is happening are twofold. The first well explained on Q23:

A lot of players have simply given up on the arena due to the fact that they don’t find it fun getting pounded 10 times for a meager amount of points. Unfortunately, those lower-tier players are needed to keep the arena ladder functioning properly, since somebody has to have a shitty rating in an ELO system. Instead of finding a creative or rewarding way of luring players back into the arena, Blizzard is simply requiring them to come back in because they can’t get battleground PvP gear otherwise.

The other reason is Tom Chilton and his e-peen.

It’s all about the rewards, and these rules are made SOLELY so that these rewards stay “secured” in the hands of a selected few.

And then I thought it was genius.

Politically it’s the metaphor of capitalism. The concentrated power and wealth in the hands of some limited few and wasted mindlessly, while the rest of humanity has nothing and is treated like garbage. And the “righteousness” of it all.

The game is the celebration of that. The self-preservation of power through rules made by those who exercise that power and self-made morals to justify it. Selfish and blind.

You can’t learn anything more useful than that.

P.S.
Feedback starts from here.

Two quotes on game design

I like to match apples and oranges, then realize they are both fruit.

In practice, it mainly shows that there are no good or bad ideas: only good and bad executions.

If there’s an over-arching theme of our development, it’s that we, like many other developers, believe that ultimate success in this industry comes from iteration. You have to build, evaluate (and have others evaluate) and be prepared to throw things away and rebuild.

This matches my ideal of the core of game design: observation.

And consequently, be out and discuss things openly, encourage feedback and so on.

No ivory tower of supreme knowledge and genius.

PvP rule number one

Just to reiterate:

Systems like PvP escalate and specialize over time. This always means that it gets harder and harder for new players to breach in easily.

Veterans will find ways to stay IN the system, by consolidating their victory margins.

My point is: you need a PvP system that keeps entry costs low *for noobs*.

Where instead Eve-Online’s PvP lowers costs for veterans and makes them higher for noobs (as you are “paid” only when you are moving toward a decent victory ratio).

You absolutely need, in order to make it viable, a system that leverages new players.


Discussing all this I think: why I have to repeat these basic lessons all over again? Because we’ve been through this.

Blizzard, with WoW, already put in practice that rule in a perfect way. PvP is accessible to everyone and maintains low entry costs. So we are already there.

But that’s counterbalanced by the fact that WoW’s PvP is shallow and lacking any depth due to the overall layer being completely absent. Not the meaningfulness of the death penalties, but that of the conquest system and overall cooperation toward communal goals and a degree of persistence.

WoW got one part. Eve-Online has the other.

We got 1 and 1 in two different games. And we need someone who can do a 1 + 1.

Warhammer?

PvP design philosophy

Discussing on the forums the Factional Warfare concept that I criticized here revealed something rather important: I’m ranting about a game that I don’t play.

Moreover, I’m ranting simply because CCP design didn’t follow my own expectations and desires. And obviously CCP isn’t my property and what I personally think doesn’t matter.

So: I’m ranting because an hardcore game is made for its audience, and not for me.

Sure. I anticipated this and explained my reasons on the first post I wrote recently. Where I wrote that my opinion is that Eve-Online has reached its critical mass and if they now want new players they need to start open up their systems. Bridging the early (and dull) game to the more deep stuff.

Factional Warfare isn’t doing that, and I ranted.

This also raised again the idea of a PvP design philosophy. A concept that I would like to see in at least ONE game. But that right now is completely absent from the market.

Which would be then meaningful only if there would be a big market for it. I believe there is. And that it is commercially BIGGER than what we have currently (for PvP). So: design philosophy and personal opinions. Personal opinions that matter not because *I* write them, but because when I write them I also *motivate* them.

This PvP design philosophy is about the progression system. Every decent system needs a progression. And every decent progression needs to be accessible. So that everyone can move through. More slowly or faster, but still move through.

Translating this to PvP simply means: PvP will NEVER be accessible and widespread if it works at a loss. So this is how it should work: if you want a system where PvP is more frequent and fun, then you need a system where people can participate without losing more they can gain.

In a system where the experienced players are MUCH, MUCH powerful than new people who enter for the first time, you need some mechanic to leverage them. Especially in the longer term, when people who are already inside become more and more powerful and the wall to climb for the new players higher and higher. In Eve it doesn’t matter if there’s a corp who decides to take over, new players won’t have a chance if they enter a system where EVERYONE is more powerful than they are.

For PvP to work and be popular and widespread entry costs need to stay low. As low as possible.

In Eve-Online and other “hardcore” PvP games the costs are instead higher to the lower end than the higher end, where you can develop a fair margin of wealth to stay safe. Noobs pay higher costs than veterans. And this creates a gap between players that is harder and harder to fill, in a similar fashion to what happens with PvE raiding endgame. The game becomes increasingly specialized and less and less appealing and accessible for new players. That for a MMO equals to a progressive, unavoidable decline.

So: a PvP system with very low entry costs and at a gain. Where you gain through participation. Progressively.

In EVERY game and PvP systems you die a lot when you enter for the first time. In Eve-Online not only you would die a lot, but you’ll also PAY a lot. So a lot of players shy away because the game isn’t for them, while a smaller subset cling to the mechanic and find an exponential success, because once you climb the wall you can look down at things from far above. And it is rewarding.

But it’s also an overall mechanic that is divisive and that works only toward a minority. A minority that will be eroded over time.

This means it is a choice, and that there’s nothing wrong to make a game that aims at a niche. But you also have to recognize and admit what you’re doing.

I’m not fighting against the idea that hardcore players shouldn’t have their game. But that PvP can be both deep and accessible. And I want to play that game. And I believe it would be extremely successful.

I don’t like the idea that I have to grind boring PvE missions for a week so that I’m able to participate in PvP for an hour. PvE should never be a requirement so that you can enjoy some PvP. I want a PvP system where participation costs are LOWER than the rewards. So that I can stick to it and continue to play and have fun. Without punishing mechanics to push me to the lowest risks.

These are the points I’ve offered for Eve:
* Open/factional PvP should be limited to SPECIFIC battleground systems tagged for Factional Warfare. While secure space should stay secure even if you are signed in.
* Within these tagged systems NPC factions should provide you the “gear” to use. Gain ranks to get access to better gear/PvP sets. If you blow up, you get replacements. As long you fight for them. (free participation costs)
* Forbid players to bring NPC-rented equipment outside battleground systems. So that the gear you gain can only be used inside this system. (not disrupting the current game)
* Forbid you to swap sets. So that you are only able to fly in NPC-rent sets, and not bring a goddamned Titan to a noob battleground.

The last point would allow these battles to be accessible to everyone, both noobs and hardcore, and yet provide equal opportunities as no one gets access to more powerful stuff.

That’s how you “train” people to PvP. By making it fun, accessible and frequent.

To these proposals some players replied that the PvP would lose all “meaningfulness” if you don’t risk to lose anything anymore. To that I replied that for me “meaningful PvP” is about communal objectives. Conquering and holding public space, expanding the empire.

I don’t intend and don’t like “meaningful” as a personal cost.

With that, I hope the argument is exhausted in all its points.

– lowering entry costs
– provide plenty of targets
– create a convergence
– add a strategic communal layer (conquest mode)

Accessibility is a game’s vocation

It’s since 2004 that I push for this term and used it not parsimoniously a zillion of times. Probably the most used term on this site along with “accessibility barriers”, “permeable barriers”, “gated content” and others I used to use.

Accessibility. When WoW launch everyone was ascribing its worth to another term: polish. The word was that WoW was a “polished” game, with a good UI and had a good launch (if you exclude the growing pains). And while everyone was agreeing on the polish I was trying to criticize that term. I remember especially a discussion on Dave Rickey’s blog that I’d link if the blog still existed.

If you call it “polish” you aren’t wrong, but you fail to underline the distinctive trait and the reason why it is so much important. Polish just means it’s glossy, appealing. A good presentation. That’s important, but not fundamental. What I was explaining is that polish is a subset of accessibility, but it’s the accessibility itself being the key.

And accessibility is a broader term that includes many different aspects, all absolutely relevant and important. Why WoW won? Hardware requirements to begin with, but also game design. I complained many times about WoW’s raiding endgame. Everyone out there agrees that while WoW did a wonderful work by removing so many enrooted bad habits in the genre while distilling all that is relevant and fun, it still wasn’t able to do the same with the endgame, both raiding and PvP. With the problem of raiding being, guess what? Accessibility barriers.

The game that will SURPASS WoW will be the one game that removes those accessibility barriers that are still left. I repeated this ad nauseam.

And yes, accessibility barriers are everywhere. On game design and technology. Even bandwidth, stable connections, low ping. One of the reason why MMOFPS are problematic is because of connection issues. They require very fast and reliable connections. They require servers geographically near you. They even require very smooth framerates. Today game designers completely underestimate fundamental parts of the code like the bandwidth requirements. They care if the server overloads, or their own bandwidth costs, but they rarely think about the player’s end.

Voice chat, just as another example, is another fucking huge accessibility barrier.

So “accessibility” is an important term because it goes straight to isolate those problems that are usually underestimated and that instead are the most important. Slash commands, another “first generation” MMO bad habit are another accessibility barrier. I don’t know how many times I ranted against DAoC and its frequent introduction of mechanics only accessible through slash commands. It’s not just because you have to memorize them. The problem is that before you can memorize them, you have to be *aware* of them. You cannot pretend players to read the patch notes to be aware of a new function or possibility. Nor you can pretend that players retroactively remember all that was added along the months. To not even say that these commands are also poorly documented.

Take Guild Wars and the most recent dev quotes:

According to the team, the problem with high-end PvP is the learning curve. With so many skilled players, there’s no way in Guild Wars to gently introduce players to the concept of PvP. Newbies can be brutalized by the experience of letting teammates down as they develop the skills to be competitive in PvP.

Yeah, accessibility barrier. And even GW’s PvP sucks for that reason. It’s not a small problem.

The fact that it’s so hard to meet other players in these games that you meet for example on a forum. Because there are so many servers and you cannot move your character freely to meet other friends you make. This isn’t an accessibility barrier, but it’s still a barrier and one of the most important in the whole genre. One that NO ONE IN THIS INDUSTRY seem to care about.

Levels are another fucking barrier. No one is touching it either.

I described the current situation as an iceberg because the MMO market IS submerged for the most part. Guild Wars MAIN principle was to let players play without the monthly fee. And it’s again an aspect of accessibility. So if you want to reach that large market, you have to envision that part of the iceberg that is still submerged. You have to provide solutions to the problems that ALL the mmorpgs out there are clearly exposing. Instead of perpetuating them to maintain the status quo.

I said it:

The future of the genre is to make these world even more accessible and immersive. Working on the qualities that we already discovered and going to tap that potential that is still dormant. The future of the genre will be about offering *solid answers* to the problems that are now dodged or dismissed. It will be about games that bring the players together instead of apart and that will continue to appeal to casual players, without imposing them unacceptable strains and dependencies. Games that will let you contribute to the “world” without the need to schedule your life around it. Games that are accessible and don’t separate the players in social classes of uberness

Now both Lum and Ubiq returned on the topic about accessibility. Finally admitting it IS accessibility and recognizing its importance (Ubiq by calling it for what it is and Lum indirectly: “you have to have as few roadblocks as possible”).

With both of them I disagree on two points. With Ubiq about the “Uncanny Valley”. There was a long thread on Q23 where I managed to demonstrate better the point. The point was that the problem of the “uncanny valley” is used inappropriately in gaming. There are no games so realistic to fall in that case, while the “uncanny valley” is mostly an excuse to disguise poor art quality.

Instead with Lum I disagree, again, when he says that “bad launches kill games”. This is yet again the wrong perspective, exactly as when you use polish in place of accessibility. It’s not wrong, but it’s the least significant conclusion, the one that doesn’t let you identify what’s important.

I don’t see launches being important. They are “moments of truth”. But I don’t know any game that I think should deserve substantially more or less subscribers than what it has (eastern market aside). That’s it. Take Eve-Online. It is doing fairly well, but I don’t think it deserves more than what it has currently, moreover, I don’t think it deserved more than 20-30k it had at launch, because the game was quite terrible.

So what’s the point here? The point is that a launch is the moment where all the empty promises fall down and the boxes have to be on the shelves. There’s not anymore hype or rumor control. If the game is good, it will succeed, if it sucks, everyone will see that. That’s why a launch is so important. Facts replace words.

Secondarily it’s true that “bad launches kill games” because if a game is terrible at launch, then it means that it will likely suck one year later. More on this: Lum says Eve is the exception, so not a meaningful example of a viable strategy. I say that Eve IS an exception because I haven’t seen ANY other mmorpg evolving and growing that much. And I don’t mean growing subscriptions, I mean growing quality.

So, considering that with a launch the players finally see the game for what it is, and not for what it was hyped, and considering that once released a game usually doesn’t really move anymore in any substantial way, yeah, bad launches can kill games. But the reason why that game dies is much deeper than “bad timing”. Where “bad timing” is just the ready excuse that devs provide to avoid admitting they did a poor job. You gotta be sympathetic toward them.

Bad launches also put a huge mortgage on the possibility to improve the game and gather more resources, while good launches give that possibility, even if those resources are almost always moved to other projects and only for a small part reinvested to improve the original product.

Now “accessibility” has finally became the hot word. I guess I’ll have to thank Vanguard to have revealed again how a good client is important. Finally people are starting to agree with me. On Terra Nova they argue about the term itself. Too generic? Too vague? Doh. You know… Fruit. Apple. Apple is a fruit, one term includes the other. One is specific, the other more generic. Do you really need a linguistic lesson? Terms have distinctive traits. Terms come out of an “use”. So we have a term when we also have an use for it. There are Native American tribes that have more than ten different terms used to define the color “red”. For us it’s just red, but for them those are ten completely different colors. Why? I don’t remember exactly but they had an use for them, while they clumped other colors into one because they weren’t as relevant for them. You see distinctions where you have an use for them.

So “accessibility” is useful and relevant exactly because it encompasses so many fundamental aspects. With all having that distinctive trait in common that I consider next to the “barriers”.

And here we come to the conclusion that leads back to the start.

Why ultimately “accessibility” is this important? Because there *is* a bottom line that excuses the importance of this term.

This bottom line is once again about “learning”. Games are about learning. The three cases. Accessibility is the possibility to be let in. To what extent the lesson is accessible for you. To what extent you are included in the group, or excluded. Winner or loser. To what extent you are in, or out.

Accessibility isn’t a vague definition of a mechanic. Accessibility is the one, only value: the vocation of gaming.

To reach as many people as possible, immerse them, let them be part of something.

Look at the bottom of this post. What you see on top of that list?

Epic battle climax!

Related to the discussion about how to make hopeless PvP defenses a bit more epic and fun.

Music

– Develop a system similar to Lucasarts’ iMuse (music tunes dynamically adapting to the situation in the game). The zerg approaches and you are outnumbered, and a special epic badass music starts to play.

War skills

The Horn

Mechanic: This is a commander skill. It can only be used when the team in a zone is outnumbered. When used it works like a simple trigger, enabling the “Braveheart” skill on all the players in the same team and in the zone. The horn is also a huge physical object that cannot be transported, so a commander must reside at a castle in order to use it.

Metaphor: The horn is played and its deep sound will be heard through the valley. You hear the sound, your realm is calling you. Fight for your realm!

Braveheart

Mechanic: after you hear “The Horn” your “Braveheart” skill lights up ready to be used. When pressed your character is locked into place, building up a morale boost that enhances your stats. If you are hit in combat you’ll be interrupted. This “buff” has a cap, so once filled it won’t pass that limit (you get the visual cue of a bar filling up, so you always know the status of this buff). Around five seconds to go from zero to cap. Your morale will then slowly decay over time and go down every time you deal damage, proportionally to the damage you deal.

Metaphor: You hear the calling, your realm is calling everyone to arms. Your character rises his fist into the air (animation) and SCREAMS THE HELL OUT OF HIS LUNGS (sound). You are answering the calling. In a castle “The Horn” is played and all defenders answer the call by screaming at unison.