Junk and deflation – how to kill a world

In the second part of “Do level suck?” Raph delves some more in the concept of mudflation or “database deflation”, as he defines it. Something that I ranted about on my site rather often, recently after the announce of the rise to the level cap in WoW.

One point that I always underline is that this mudflation isn’t always a side effect of a somewhat broken model that seems to not have a viable solution. Sometime the mudflation is created and used directly by the process. It’s a deliberate choice more than just a secondary, unwanted side effect.

The point here isn’t just about the volume of content required during the peak:

You can think of it this way: When the initial population of players came into the game, it was a little higher than the level of the red box. There was some attrition and some slow levelers and some reaslly fast ones, but these distribute along a bell curve. Then the bell curve moves through the levels just like a wave. The red box is the “high water mark” of this wave of players moving through the levels. In order to provide a lack of competition for resources throughout the leveling process, the developer will have had to provide content that fills the volume shown in the red box, so that the peak population of a level band was always accomodated. But the mature playerbase’s need is only the area under the curve. Compare the area of the two spaces.

I don’t think that the mudflation corresponds to a decreasing usage of content equal to a decreasing number of players around those levels. This is why I use the concept of “function”. In the greed for “more content” the function is often overlooked. What I criticized in the model of the mudflation is the fact that the new content is deliberately created to *replace* what was used before. As I pointed in other occasions the mudflation is an “erosion” of content. A loss. It is negative when the content loses its function and justification and is left just as “garbage” to litter the world. Used and forgotten.

WoW is a perfect example because the upcoming expansion will do exactly this. Erase most of the endgame content that was being developed till now to replace it from scratch. The excuse here is that the players themselves demand for content. But why does this happen? Because at level 60 the “natural” progress was stopped, or, more precisely, it had to change direction. What we discovered is that WoW had nothing to offer beside that constant growth. When the characters reached level 60 Blizzard had to excuse the long term appeal of the game through alternate forms of advancement. So by readding what was apparently removed.

Everyone playing the game knows perfectly how the power curve rises sharply starting again at level 60. You would expect the “power differetial” to even up. Instead it increases considerably (as also written here). This again because there was the need to excuse the character progression through loot and compensate the lack of level up mechanics.

All the raid and group content that was being developed and that the players still feel lacking exists to offer advancement past level 60 and despite no new levels are being gained. Now, with the release of the expansion, the premises that are justifying the content that is being developed right now will simply vanish. Once the dam that is blocking the players at level 60 will be pushed back to level 70, all the content that was amassed at the previous cap will be deserted. We will assist to a migration. Not because that content lost quality or because the volume of players is just shifting (as explained by Raph in the quote), but because its function will be lost. It’s not a problem of decreasing usage. It’s about a complete desertification.

The function of the current level 60 content, both raid and semi-raid, was to justify further character progression and fill the void left by the level up mechanics after you reached the cap. But once the character progression will be plugged back in the game, these two types of advancement will overlap and the current one will lose both its function and value. It will exit the system, becoming obsolete and fading out. This, of course, will have a stronger impact on the new players more than those that already used and enjoyed that content when it had a function and a purpose.

What will happen to those epic level 60 quests for paladins and warlocks to obtain their epic mount when they’ll be able to do them while being powerlevelled in a group of level 70 guildmates?

The risk to comply to the rules of the mudflation isn’t just a risk to “overspend” and waste precious development resources. That’s the lesser, even if more evident, problem. The long-term risks are about wearing off and weaken the fabric of the game, making it age till the point it will start to lose pieces and crumble. Till it will need to be replaced because beyond repair.

If you aim to create a world that can remain healthy and consistent in the longer term and remain accessible for new players, the mudflation is not a viable model to reply.

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