Before I start I want you to ponder a moment on a maxim I’ve heard a thousand times. It has been said by game designers, studio leads, guild leaders, exasperated raid leaders, common players and just about anyone who has ever played an MMO at end game.
The leveling game should teach players the skills they will need at endgame.
Now, you being smart, already know that I plan to tell you gating is the solution but please follow my reasoning. Even better, FF14 is currently giving us a masterclass on how this works.
A warning, this is a very long rant and it will probably piss off a lot of people… funny how liberating it can be when you don’t care about blog statistics.
Community, accessibility vs endgame
The big debate started in WoW, first in Vanilla and then continued in Burning Crusade. The caveat was this, players loved the game but when they reached endgame a disconnect happened. More casual player suddenly found themselves without anything to do and felt locked out of great content because of very real obligations like time-constraints.
Blizzard agreed for the most part and worked to make the game accessible for everyone. This happened in a number of ways but one of those was making the endgame content easier so people with less time could complete it. There’s logic here, someone with less playtime should normally be less skilled if you believe that more practice equals more skills. As a long time raid leader I can tell you it’s far from an absolute truth but generally speaking, the more you play and the more challenging encounters you do, the better you become.
This touched other aspects of the game too. With a more top-heavy game, it became a necessity to get players at endgame and barriers were removed or made easier to make sure the max-level population stayed at a healthy level. And you need more players for a bigger community.
Most important were the financial reasons. If more people are playing the game, you make more money and it would stand to reason that more people will play your game if they are feeling less frustrated. To resume, bigger happier community = more players = more money.
It then all becomes a number game. Every decision you make will create a number of happy players vs a number of unhappy players. Evaluate which costs you more and you end up with the decision you should make. Since Blizzard has stated a few times that the most important factor was to make new players stay from a revenue perspective, it stands to reason that most decisions are made to cater to a more casual crowd with less experience in the game.
The famed “dumbing down” of WoW is not a dumbing down, it’s simply the game slowly changing its target audience.
The state of WoW
So WoW got up to 11.5 millions people, which is insane money. Now, let’s go back to the original statement, The leveling game should teach players the skills they will need at endgame.
Well , Wow and some other games like it don’t. In the name of being accessible and friendly to new players, it’s now possible to get to max level without ever talking to anyone or setting foot in any kind of group content. Since all frustrations and difficulties have been removed from the leveling experience in order to speed it up and make it more fun (open for debate), it’s not uncommon to find players with very basic skills at endgame. And why should it be different? At no point did the game require more from them.
What happens? These people reach endgame, start doing LFR, LFD and are generally very bad at it. Again, frustrations! So they make the content easier and figure that the more dedicated players will find guilds and set the difficulty level at what they want. That’s all fine and dandy as long as the old guard remains but over time there’s less and less of these old players remaining and not a lot of replacement coming up.
And why would there be? For the new player coming up, he doesn’t need to step up his game to see the content. He can access all of the story with minimum effort. Why join a guild with schedules and more demanding skill requirements when you can have everything you want with a lot less effort and at the time you want? So unless you find a player who really wants to challenge himself and has a lot more time available, you won’t see him make the switch and the more classic types guild are slowly all becoming ghost-towns.
But that’s not the only effect. By slowly killing off the guilds and established communities, you’re reducing the game overall community. By making your entire game accessible without the need to ever get involved in its community, you are in effect destroying said community. Remember when I said better community = more players = more money. Well, you’re working against that and I believe WoW numbers to be showing that right now.
One last thing before moving on, how long do you think it will take for a player to quit the game at endgame once he’s done the raid if he’s not part of any group?
Sacrifice players along the way, build a better community
I’ve said it often, what is the main difference between an MMOrpg and a classic single player rpg? The fact that you can play it with others.
What is the main condition for an evening dungeon or raid to be fun? agreeable people with a hint of progress.
How do you get progress and people to remain agreeable? By not having a bad player ruin it for everyone else.
Again, I’ve been raid leading for years and the quickest way to destroy a raid and the guild along with it is to have a few bad players prevent all kind of progressions. It might be fun for a week or two but sooner or later the constant failures will sour everyone attitude, especially when the main point of failure is so obvious to everyone. The solution?
The leveling game should teach players the skills they will need at endgame.
It’s not a perfect solution mind you but it would go a very long way. If the leveling game teaches you how to play your class, how to play with other people and how it’s necessary to participate in its community to succeed, then you dramatically reduces the number of bad players at the end. Why?
Because those players will have either quit or they will have stepped their game up.
It sounds callous in 2013 to say such a thing but here we are. I believe WoW to be proof of what happens if you don’t. Endgame is a mess right now, guilds are dying left and right and it won’t be long before WoW becomes simply an RPG that happens to be playable with others when you feel like it.
And if you think that it would be a bad move then take a moment to think back to how WoW became the giant it is now. There was a time when WoW servers were full every night, when I would wait over an hour in the queue to play and when it threatened to turn into a full-blown addiction. That time also happens to be when WoW was at its less friendly, when there was no LFD, LFR and when certain quests and milestones required you to actually talk to other people. WoW did not begin its ascent to 11.5 millions people during Pandaria, it did so in Vanilla.
Proof that losing some players due to difficulty might be wort it.
Gating and FF14:ARR example
The recent FF14 is doing really well at the moment and is close to breaking 1 million players if it’s not already done. There’s queues most nights and people are having a blast. I find myself playing for long hours when I didn’t mean to and that’s something that has not happened since Vanilla WoW. I’m not alone in this and I think its proof that FF14 is onto something here.
And that one thing that jumps to my mind is that it uses gating. FF14 has a main storyline that you need to progress through to reach endgame. It’s not an absolute necessity and someone dedicated enough can grind to max level but he will be missing a lot of features. He won’t have access to the dungeons and raids that make up endgame. He can’t cheat either by overleving the dungeon content since dungeons will scale down your level to the appropriate one.
There’s the first gate. In order to reach endgame you have to do the main storyline and surprise, the main storyline features mandatory dungeons, a few of them in fact. Please bear in mind that you can’t overlevel this content, so what level of skill is needed is decided by the game.
And there comes the second gate, the skill one. FF14 can roughly be split into tiers with corresponding required skills.
- 1-15: being able to play your own class. WoW skill level
- 15-20: being able to play your class in a group setting. Dungeons with minimal mechanics. About one per boss. About WoW standard level
- 20: Ifrit trial. Single boss, involves more complex mechanics (staying out of bad, target priority). In WoW this would be in line with heroics bosses and some raid bosses.
- 20-35: Advanced class mechanics. Resource management, changing battle conditions, being able to know when to take a hit and when to avoid. Being aware of surronding. Dungeons difficulty is around WoW heroics
- 35: Titan trial. Raid difficulty encounter. Multiple phases, abilities, tests all roles.
- 35 and onward: Increasing difficulty and we’re not even to max level!
If this sounds good for you right there, then you might want to look into getting FF14. But let’s continue first. What do you think happens when a bad player stumble upon something he can’t overcome? In this example, Titan is a particular roadblock for many players right now. Well, the bad players has two choices. Either he quits, or he find a way to step up his game.
How does he step up his game? Maybe he’ll go read about the game, improving his game and mechanics knowledge. Maybe he’ll join a guild to find “better” players to play with. Maybe those same players will teach the bad player to be better… it could happen no? And finally, maybe teaching a new player who’s leveling is not the same experience as teaching someone who’s making an entire raid wipe. In either case, the player will get involved some in the community which is ultimately better for the game because it’s that same community that will keep him playing at endgame.
He could even tell other people about the game and how great it is and maybe these people will join… sheer insanity… oh wait it’s not. It’s exactly how WoW got to 11.5 millions people.
I’m not saying that improvements like LFD, pet battles or a slew of others things Blizzard did are bad. I’m saying that not forcing player to play together and work together is the wrong way to go in an MMO.
Let not confuse topics here
Before anyone start saying that gating creates entitlement, that it excludes players, that your 15$ is worth as much as mine and that you’re life doesn’t allow you to commit to long sessions, etc… etc… well you’re right. I often defended that time should not be the deciding factor in your access to a game. That you should not have to be a super skilled player to see the content a game has to offer. I still stand by that.
But I’m going to change my stance a bit here. There’s a limit to how low the skill level needs to go. There’s also a limit to how short meaningful sessions can be. If I only have 15 minutes to give to a game, I shouldn’t expect to make much progress in dungeons. Also, not every game is for everyone and that’s okay. Dark Souls is a very difficult game that’s not for everyone. Most people accept this and the game is stronger for it. Why couldn’t it be the same for MMOs? Why are we having so much trouble accepting that maybe an MMO could cater to a more hardcore audience?
Again, MMOs and group content are, or should be, inseparable. Not all of it all the time but they should be aimed at providing engaging for groups firsts. Or at the very least involve you in a living world and community. If not you’re better off with single players RPGs.
How do you provide great group content, which should be the main aim of an MMO?
Again, my raid leading experience is speaking here but the times I had the most fun in groups were when I was playing with groups of the appropriate skill level for the content we were attempting.
Again, to obtain that you need to train your players.
This means that if someone refuses to improve, then he should not have access to whatever I am attempting to do. Either he will improve and participate in the game, or he won’t and leave.
But if the game doesn’t do anything for that player, not only will he end up at the same spot later, faced with leaving or engaging the community but he might ruin my experience too and end up making two players leave.
So I hope you enjoyed this and thank you for your attention.