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Shrandar

Grind

Rating: 2 votes, 4.50 average.
This blogpost arose as a reaction to a discussion found here:

http://guildwars.incgamers.com/forum...lay-quot-video

More specifically it responds to Alaris last post but in general it consists of musings over grind, timesinks and different viewpoints on these.

Ways WoW's timesinks have been 'improved'

1 Travel times have been improved in a number of ways. Hearthstone (bind to specific location) teleport can be reduced from 30 to 15 minute with by guild achievements . Furthermore the dungeonfinder has enabled the instant teleport to dungeons for your group and also teleporting back to whatever location you were in before. There are teleports between major cities and locations which help you get around fairly easily in most cases. Another guild achievement gives you increased movement speed, at least on mounts.

2 It is true that the crafting is fairly grindy, they tried to counter that in the latest expansion by granting more crafting xp points for certain recipe's. This removes at least partly the infinite spam of lower quality items just to get your points increase and usually gives you gear that you can use while leveling and is generally best in slot compared to many of the items you get during questing. This improvent is across the board as far as I remember so crafting should be faster and more rewarding.

3 For new players there are two major ways to speed up levelling, either start with a death knight that starts at level 50 or have an already playing friend recruit you through the 'recruit a friend' option. This lets you level at tremendous speeds. Also joining a guild with the necessary achievements will give you around a 10% xp buff. While writing this I discovered they added another option through the 'scroll of resurrection' which lets you bring back a player who has been out of the game for a significant amount of time. The returning player gets 7 days free play time, a free upgrade to the Cata expansion and an immediate boost to 80 for one character if so desired.


Endgame and the inflation of the gameworld
The problem with the last point is imo however that its a symptom of a game that has more and more been gravitating towards end game. Wether this justifies letting people completely skip all the previous content is up for debate. A level-based MMO without scaling, naturally suffers from inflation of lower level content over the course of its existence. This is caused by a lot of things but lets focus on some that plague WoW nowadays. First would be that by increasing the xp gain across the board to enable faster levelling (allowing new people and alts to catch up) game play becomes, -due to outlevelling - less challenging and thus less rewarding. A second is the fact that to compensate for less people in the starter zones the content needs to be toned down in difficulty as to enable soloing throughout the majority of it. These first two combined make that the levelling is far less engaging and far more grindy then originally intended/experienced. Now I am not saying that vanilla WoW was so much better, in some respects it was even worse as it was often plagued by the "kill 10 rats and collect their tails" syndrom. With regards to this the Azeroth overhaul in Cata made brought a lot of improvement. Shamefully though the xp gain and the class overhauls were not balanced towards the new setup which in turn again led to a lot of the content (including dungeons) being virtually redundant in terms of challenge.
Turning to GW2 the the overall question seems to me not so much how to let people skip content as in how to keep content viable and fun. GW2 tries this with scaling DE's and story. The effects of that will hopefully be that levelling alts will be enjoyable and that returning to lower level area's will be more rewarding. In more abstract terms this would translate into variety and challenge which in turn should guarantee longevity for both new and existing players.

Longevity and community
This leads me to the other major theme that imo is important in this discussion namely longevity. Imo the common misunderstanding with the b2p model that GW2 employs is that they don't need to implement grinds because they donít need to hold on to subscribers. The credo, if you are bored you stop without a financial aftermath, is without a doubt appealing to players but the idea of people stopping to play after they finished the content without implementing incentives to replay, or providing depth in terms of cap progression is counterproductive to any MMO. The strength of an MMO is first and foremost in its community and a community benefits from long term goals that they can gather around. The most frequent answer to the question why people still play a certain MMO is in 9 out of 10 cases the community they have build up during their time playing.

Community is also, according to Jeff Strain in http://www.guildwars.com/events/trad...7/gcspeech.php the main reason why most MMO's fail.

Due largely to the social nature of MMOs, gamers rarely commit to more than one or two MMOs at a time. This is in contrast to the traditional game market, in which there is room for many games to be successful, even within the same genre. You may play ten different action games this year, but you are very unlikely to play more than one or two MMOs. This means that it is not enough to make a great game Ė instead you must make a game that is so overwhelmingly superior that it can actively break apart an established community and bring that community to your game. In today's market, that is a tall order. Regardless of the business model, the primary factor that determines whether an MMO lives or dies is the size of its active player base.
Later on he states, indirectly quoting James Phinney (lead designer of Starcraft and Guild Wars) that half of the appeal of an MMO is the simple fact that there are other players. Following this the world /game design should be such that it creates a places where players want to be.

It is a truism that MMOs are all about community, and the success or failure of your MMO will largely be gated by how well the community coalesces and feels a strong sense of place in your world.
All this serves to state in a simple truth, we enjoy an MMO because it enables us to play together with others in a persistent environment. Variety and challenge enable us to do so and form social bonds along the way, which in turn makes us want to play longer. It seems clear that no matter what the business model that this is a goal that any MMO should want to pursue and most likely does in one way or another.

Downtime, social time and social engineering
In one of my first articles on MMO design and communities I explored the concept of downtime and its consequences for social interaction. This downtime involved 'activities' that by many people are considered time-wastes such as travelling but also downtime between fights (recovering mana/health). It was a bad article and not worth going into, however the concept is one that has been studied and employed in many online games.
I would like to refer to this article by Raphael Coster who was involved in Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies that provides a better insight in the material then I could http://www.raphkoster.com/2009/01/28...e-more-social/. In this article he argues that socialisation requires downtime. He says

Arguing about whether a game should have downtime in it is arguing whether the game should have those phases within itself, in the environment, or have them elsewhere, in forums and other communities. There are benefits and tradeoffs to each. Either way, socialisation does require downtime.
(Be sure to also read the link he provides to a post he made on the SWG forums regarding convenience and downtime http://www.raphkoster.com/gaming/socialization.shtml)

He goes on to name some different approaches to this when done in-game. Funnily enough, coming from SWG he points out some issues in WoW that in his opinion hinder socialisation nonetheless I think that a lot of the premises also apply to WoW (and GW2 but that is another matter). From this viewpoint I think the argument could be made that a lot of these so called time-wastes are implemented not as easy ways to keep people paying their subscription longer but as 'spaces for socialisation'. Naturally this will mean a healthy pay-off for subscription based games but it is by no means something a b2p (or f2p) game can ignore.

WoW's dunegonfinder as example
The relevance of this issue is also shown by the often heated discussions that changes in xp gain, travel times etc ensue. The most (in)famous example in recent WoW history is probably the dungeon finder, heralded by a lot and despised by almost just as many. The dungeon finder eliminated all travel times by instantly transporting you to the dungeon and eliminated any form of chat advertising for groups through an automatic matchmaking system (which worked cross realm to boot). Clearly it favoured the classes most in demand, aka tanks and healers, and by no means eliminated wait times for dps but all in all it was a very convenient and easy way to look for a group while getting on with other activities in the meantime. While extremely convenient it also changed the social dynamic. The instant teleport encouraged more semi afk hub based online time which in turn significantly reduced traffic through zones. For many this made the world feel lifeless and empty. The cross realm feature itself, while hugely reducing wait-times, often meant bumping into a lot of strangers where chat was reduced to a minimum, often making people feel like they were running the dungeon with a group of henchmen. To add to this, the ignore function didn't work cross realm leaving little tools to deal with ninja-looters etc. All in all the dungeon finder has provoked a lot of debate, both in WoW and other MMO's that came after. Whether for or against it cannot solely be considered as promoting convenience but is a feature which has wide spreading implications on how social gameplay is brought about and managed.


Closing thoughts
I have been going on too long already so ill try to bring this to a close. Social engineering is part of MMO design. Time-sinks and grinds as forms of downtime have among others often been used as a tool for this. GW2 is an excellent example of explicit social engineering as a lot of their game play is specifically designed to encourage group play and cooperation. At the same time they remove or modifies a lot of the time-sinks often found in other MMO's, in terms of travel, levelling and gear treadmills. I am as excited about this as the next GW2 fanboy/girl but these modifications will have consequences for social dynamics, community forming and long term commitment. Whether they are good or bad we will have to see.
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Comments

  1. Alaris's Avatar
    Good blog.

    Afaik, death knight is only available if you already have a char at that level... so you can't skip, rather you can start over. Not that I would want to play a death knight as my main.

    Scroll of rez is awesome... finally.

    GW's economic model though wants us to start getting bored with the game when the expansions start coming out... so that we get the new expansion. Produce too much too fast, people are not done with the old stuff. Produce too little, people get bored and move to something else. But the point is that they need to make content that makes you want to buy it (because it's fun) yet gets completed (so you move on to the next expansion).

    Dungeon finder was awesome. I did only dungeons during one of my free weeks. The tool was great. Unfortunately, I was not so taken by dungeons, as a healer I had less to do than I did back in GW, and in GW I could be a hybrid if I choose to.

    Agreed that you need to keep players engaged, but imo WoW didn't engage so much as trapped you. I was not engaged when I could watch a movie while my character was flying a bird from one city to another. So while it might have worked back when, this is something that I am glad is changing.

    The trick with GW2 will be to remove time sinks, but keep people social and engaged. I think the combo and DEs and all that will help that happen.
  2. supermanboy's Avatar
    Timesinks have a much larger role in pay-to-play games. The more you make people wait, the more money you can milk from them. I have always loathed this. Flying from one area to another was a slow pain in the butt. Between trying to find teams back in the day, running around in town and flying to the zone you could easily spend an hour doing nothing.

    The cool thing GW2 has about it is the scaling factor. The game will always be chanllenging even if you are playing with someone much lower or much higher than you. In GW1, there was no "gear treadmill." Cool term btw. ;) You could easily get useful items, but was the skins that set people apart. This was absolutely brilliant. There will always be status symbols in games, but the difference here is that someone wearing Obby armour had the same stats on it as someone wearing something they crafted in town. In fact, there are some exceptionally expensive items which I don't think look very cool at all.

    I'm also not sure about replay value. In GW2, you can easily try many different play styles/builds. That is what I loved about GW1. You can screw around trying things out to your hearts content. I think releasing an expansion every 6 months is a bit too fast. People are still messing around, having fun and trying different things. Even after all these years, I'm having fun in GW trying new things and doing new stuff.

    EDIT: Great blog btw. ;)
  3. Shrandar's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by supermanboy
    Timesinks have a much larger role in pay-to-play games. The more you make people wait, the more money you can milk from them. I have always loathed this. Flying from one area to another was a slow pain in the butt. Between trying to find teams back in the day, running around in town and flying to the zone you could easily spend an hour doing nothing.

    The cool thing GW2 has about it is the scaling factor. The game will always be chanllenging even if you are playing with someone much lower or much higher than you. In GW1, there was no "gear treadmill." Cool term btw. ;) You could easily get useful items, but was the skins that set people apart. This was absolutely brilliant. There will always be status symbols in games, but the difference here is that someone wearing Obby armour had the same stats on it as someone wearing something they crafted in town. In fact, there are some exceptionally expensive items which I don't think look very cool at all.

    I'm also not sure about replay value. In GW2, you can easily try many different play styles/builds. That is what I loved about GW1. You can screw around trying things out to your hearts content. I think releasing an expansion every 6 months is a bit too fast. People are still messing around, having fun and trying different things. Even after all these years, I'm having fun in GW trying new things and doing new stuff.

    EDIT: Great blog btw. ;)

    Well my point was more that while grind always gets associated with p2p as a sort of security to ensure people to keep paying (what you say basically) that the design as such might also have other purposes that normally are not directly obvious.

    I personally often enjoyed the gryphon rides in WoW, seeing the sun going down over the barrens from that perspective is something I still remember fondly. Might be that I am just silly ofc ;)


    GW1 is a completely different experience. I only recently really got into it (having had it since release ) and I am enjoying it immensely. The quick travel there is certainly a convenience that I appreciate but I personally dont nessecarily think its better or worse then a gryphon ride. That being said, the GW world is so huge that real time travel would get rather daunting ;) The absense of a gear treadmill and the focus on skill acquisition and builds though I do think is a huge improvement over the end game of WoW even though I do still enjoy the raids there for the group play.
    Updated 23-03-2012 at 11:02 by Shrandar