Monday, October 24, 2011

A Proposal for Wowlikes

Game companies nowadays think that players should have instantly accessible content. Well, this content is instantly accessible. No queue times! No hassle with other players you don't like! And yet inherently social.

This is about a feature I miss in every Wowlike I know. That is WoW itself, Rift, Warhammer and Age of Conan. But there are many more which I haven't played yet.

It's not the kind of feature that sells well at a convention. You probably can't win players back by announcing it. But it is immensely powerful once in the game.

Do you remember the Elemental Plateau? WoWwiki notes
”The Elemental Plateau in Nagrand lies north of the Throne of the Elements. It is only reachable with a flying mount. You can find level 70 and 71 elementals of all types here, as well as Pure Water fishing spots. [..]”
This plateau was a little experiment by Blizzard, that was soon given up when team B started to take over. And I can understand why. But the basic idea holds immense potential, in my opinion.

Do you remember my recent post about “How to draw players into communities”? I wrote
”You want people to meet each other repeatedly while doing content on their own. You want there to be occasions that make it socially awkward to not start talking. You want there to be a slight incentive to team up now - and in the future.”
I propose to add a zone to the open world that contains mobs that drop items that are required for crafting. While Wowlikes usually don't have a player-run economy, they usually have some resources, like “essences of air” that are used for crafting. They also all have an auction house. This auction house is very important, because it allows players to access the crafting materials without actually having to gather them themselves.

Now, the Elemental Plateau of The Burning Crusade was a very small zone that was very quickly overfarmed. It also contained only mobs of equal power. Until it was overhauled it was massively overfarmed and very boring. After the overhaul it was even more boring, and still overfarmed.

The proposed zone is huge and designed in a way that it can support a lot of players. Moreover the mobs vary wildly in power. Some parts of the zone contain easily soloable mobs. Other parts contain mobs that might still be soloable, but give incentives to team up with other players. And some mobs in the zone are only beatable in a group. All mobs are clearly distinguishable by the players.

It is very important to understand that for a player who doesn't want to visit this zone ever, nothing changes. He can still buy his materials at the auction house! If properly balanced, the prices don't change! To maintain stable prices it might be necessary to sell prestige items, like mounts, in exchange for crafting materials. This way the materials stay valuable without making visiting the zone mandatory.
Some players will want to farm the materials themselves. They will visit this zone and start killing the mobs on their own.

But the smart designers that we are, it is actually slightly more efficient to team up and farm the more dangerous mobs together with other people. I want to underline 'slightly' here. It's in no way mandatory to do that. It is perhaps 10% more efficient. You can absolutely play the game on your own without any contact with other players.

Moreover, the more difficult mobs are not designed in a way that you need a tank or any kind of holy trinity. Now, this is a bit of a problem for Wowlikes, as a tank/healer combination can probably beat as many mobs as 10 DDs could. But there are ways to design around this. For example, the mobs can have mana burn abilities, penetrate armor and apply healing debuffs. It's a bit of a struggle to fight this inherent weakness of the holy trinity, but it is not impossible.

There are many ways to keep the zone interesting. For example, the mobs shouldn't always be easy to pull. The players who enter this zone managed to play the game for many, many levels up to the maximum level. If they aren't somewhat skilled by now, this is the first thing that needs to be corrected!

The player can play it safe and relax, or try to get that chest over there that is protected by three mobs. (Yes, those chests were good game design *sigh*). Special rare mobs could spawn in the zone that are a bit more dangerous, but give players a feeling of being lucky. The layout of the zone should be interesting. It shouldn't just be a flat grassland, but have some line-of-sight obstacles. To allow flying in the zone is probably a bad idea.

Playing in the zone has to keep the player's mind busy.*

What we get is a zone that gives those players something to do who like to farm crafting materials. We know that these players exist - otherwise there were no crafting materials on the AH.

However, the hidden agenda of this zone is to make players come in contact with other players in an organic way. Since grouping is slightly more efficient, they will eventually create groups with players that they meet every now and then and whose company they enjoy. They will start to talk. And so, slowly, a community is built.

And what is the downside? Well - there isn't any! Players who don't like to farm still don't have to. Goldfarmers will suddenly be met by other players and will be reported more often - but as Blizzard has just recently revealed, most gold farming is done by account hacking nowadays anyway.

The only downside is the development effort to add this zone to whatever island you have. And that's not terribly expensive! You need maybe five or six different kinds of mobs. Of course you can add many more to make the zone feel less boring and more diverse.

Game companies nowadays think that players should have instantly accessible content. Well, this content is instantly accessible. No queue times! No hassle with other players you don't like! And yet inherently social.

Finally, I heard somewhere that players actually like to do something in the open world every now and then (big surprise!). And this is very good content for an open world. Much better than open world bosses that enforce grouping! Just don't make it an instanced zone that players can queue for and are matched with cross-server randoms, please. That might look more convenient, but it completely ruins the idea behind the design.

Keeping a player's mind busy:

Logical (=Planing)
Information gathering (Learning, exploring, watching...)
Educated guesses
Comprehension (Understanding, setting into context)
Coming up with courses of actions
Thinking through a course of action
Decisions, choices (calculations, incomplete information problems)

Tension (Relaxation, climaxes, adrenaline)
Gain and loss (Rewards, penalties)
Anticipation of learning, gaining, losing (Curiosity, greed, hope, fear, …)
Decisions, choices (incomparables)

A lot of stuff !

electronic controllers
physical activity
body control


  1. Do you play level-capped RIFT by chance? What you've described here is very similar to crafting rifts.

    Essentially there's a zone that the playerbase organically decided is the crafting rift zone (the rifts are spawned by players). The rifts themselves involve elite creatures, so it behooves the people doing them to group up in a raid. The rifts drop crafting materials, 90% of which are available on the AH as well.

    Crafting rifts are not competitive, and everyone participating -- in the raid, outside of the raid, from the other faction -- gets something.

    The result is almost exactly as you describe. Doing crafting rifts is relaxing, profitable, and fun. You get to hang out in a big "drop in / drop out" raid group and chat with other people from your server. RIFT has cross-faction communication, so if you can even do a little organizing and jovial smack-talking with the other side.

    It's basically totally awesome.

  2. I only played at maximum level for about two weeks in Rift. It was during March or April, I think. Back then the sheer amount of dailies and bagdes turned me off. And they nerfed the dungeons and added a LFD. ..

    Anyway, I didn't know what you describe. Thanks ! It reinforces my decision to play a bit of Rift until Skyrim.

  3. Although I agree I'd like to add some stuff.

    The feature was not given up. The Throne of the Elements was the predecessor to Wintergrasp. There was a small spot made for farming (which leads to PvP on PvP realms). With Wintergrasp they just tried to force the PvP on us by phasing out the elementals. Making farm contents availability depend on PvP is about as smart as making PvE contents availability depend on PvP.

    And the same thing existed in vanilla, Tyrs Hand. And the balance between "solo possible - bigger reward in a group" was much better in Tyrs Hand.


    And I think it's a failure that everything can be bought in the AH or has to be farmed by the crafter. Some items should require farming by the "item wielder" because that makes those items more meaningful for the owner.

    Farming demonic runes to craft a BoP item was a good example because it showed (to you!) that you created the item because you wanted it and not just because you could afford it.

    WoW needs an interface where a crafter can use BoP items owned by another player to craft an item which will be BoP to he owner of said items.

  4. Some memories of the elemental plateau:

    It was not balanced. The best farmer were Hunters; worst were ret pallies (melee without a charge/sprint.)

    I still remember listening on vent in 2008 to an ex-military ret pally explaining to the 16yo hunter guild he brought to help that the most important thing was to break the will of the other farmer(s). If you make it unprofitable/unpleasant enough for them they will go away, which significantly increases your gold/hour. E.g., they were focusing on minimizing the competitions' gold/hour not maximizing their short-term gold/hour. I later recognized the exact same strategy reading about gold bloggers talk about how to discourage a new entrant into their market. What you described could be done well. But it would be easy to make it merely annoying as you rush around to tag/harvest something before another member of the crowd gets it.

    I do not like much BoP crafting and really, really do not like things like the BoP orbs. There is a small minority who like to raid at end game; there is an even smaller number that enjoy significant crafting. Saying the gear requires both is not a sizable target market.

    I also prefer things that are freely tradeable (e.g. EVE) rather than BoP. Luckily, the D3 AH and the WoW MoP PokiPets are all tradable/buyable/sellable. I hope that is the way the tide is flowing.

  5. It's almost as though you never went to Wintergrasp or Tol Barad.

    The only mistake with Tol Barad was that I don't think it was necessarily the best place to farm crafting mats (other than leather); otherwise, it had daily quests, group quests, easy mobs, elite mobs, no flying mounts, and everything was easier/faster in groups (especially those "micro dungeons").

    Incidentally, Molten Front dailies were like this too, once people realized that you can get quest credit for pinging someone's tapped mob.

    The "problem," depending on how you look at it, is on PvP servers where grouping players lead to ganking. Or related griefing on PvE servers for that matter by just constantly AoEing spawn sites to tap mobs first.

  6. @Hagu, Azuriel, Kring: To add such a feature and have the mobs be scarce is ridiculous. It makes people fight against each other for mobs instead of helping each other against mobs. That's why the mobs need to be many and, well, a bit dangerous. You should want to avoid adding too much, not be sad that you could only DoT 9 this time before the hunter got the rest.

    Blizzard always was unwilling to even balance classes a tiny bit in this regard, by the way. That's why it's not that easy for them to add such a feature. On the other hand, Kring already noted this kind of stuff worked perfectly with Tyr's Hand in classic. I actually used to go to Hearthglen, :)
    I'm not all that certain that it was working as intended by team A. But it certainly worked; and better than at the elemental plateau.

    I wouldn't say that Wintergrasp and Tol Barad are the successors of the elemental plateau or Tol Barad, by the way. They rather were the successors of Halu.

    Moreover, daily quests in such zones are the antidote of fun. They make the whole idea feel mandatory, like you have to do you TB dailies today, to maximize standing with whatever faction you don't care about, to get that trinket for the raid. No!
    What I proposing is strictly on an optional basis. Players do it not because they fear missing a daily quest, but because they hope gaining crafting materials / gold.

    One word on combining PvE/PvP this way. I loved PvP in WoW. I spent many more hours in BGs than anywhere else. I had several Arena teams over the years. But to force PvP on people who want to farm crafting materials is so damn stupid game design, it's hard to even find words for it. To do this in a game where PvP only works if the parties in question have a complete PvP set is insanity.

  7. I really like zones like that and it seems to me that older MMOs had much more of it simply due to the lack of other content. (Farming dangerous mobs WAS the content, essentially.)

    I don't think RIFT's crafting rifts do the system justice. In my experience, drop-in drop-out raids lead to little actual interaction. A raid is way too big to be personal in any way, especially if the content is simply zerged. Small groups are where it's at.

    If raiding the zone becomes the most efficient way to farm, all effects will be lost.

  8. > To add such a feature and have the mobs be scarce
    > is ridiculous.

    That would be even better.

    WoW has many places where the game was specifically designed to encourage grieving that I start to wonder if that wasn't just a "childish design decision" then a necessity.

    > Blizzard always was unwilling to even balance
    > classes a tiny bit in this regard

    The change that mobs are tagged on spell hit and not on first damage was a HUGE change in this direction. (At least from a warlock PoV.)

  9. I have fond memories of the elemental plateau. Farming there on my own provided a certain flow, and I remember bonding with a guildie over helping him farm fire for his new helmet (he was a prot warrior and they took forever killing things on their own back then).

    I never farmed in Wintergrasp because I play on a PvE server for a reason and didn't want to do PvE content with a PvP flag forced on me. But also, I simply didn't need many eternals because there wasn't a single type that didn't already automatically fall into my lap in sufficient amounts while gathering or questing.

  10. More recently I'm experiencing some of this casual/community building style grouping a lot in Rift. The newer event dailies do encourage people at cap to take part in invasions and rifts (rather than just DF'ing random heroics while idling in the capital).

    So long as the rifts are of the right element for the dailies you can guarantee to find people around. Invasions will usually lead eventually to a zerg mind, but that builds up as more people see the event on the map and port over. But for normal rifts I have had many small groups now 3/4/5 with random people I ride past or see near the rift.

    I'm lucky as I'm on an RP-PVE server so it tends to be pretty friendly even cross faction (yes I've teamed up with Guardians to beat a rift before).

    I'm at the stage now of recognising guild names and even character names because I see them as active/positive forces in the defiant community.

  11. A lot of what you say exists in ffxi. That's a very social game. The result of the nature of the content.