On content difficulty curves

Several weeks before 3.2.0 of WoW dropped, I was discussing the patch notes with both guildies and people in the local RP channel. I was not a fan of the badge changes at the time because it allowed people to skip past the lower level raid content such as Naxx and OS. I was of the opinion that the proper way to do things is to complete progression content in progression order. You do Naxx & OS > Maly > Ulduar. If you wanted to get really specific, you did the 10 man of each tier to gear up for the 25 man of that same tier before you headed off to the 10 man of the next tier, since the 25 man gear was roughly on the same par as the 10 man gear of the next tier. Just allowing everyone to skip the tier 7 content was outright unacceptable. The people in the guild were happy over the changes since it would let them get those last couple of pieces of conquest gear which were inaccessible (our guild is a 10 man only guild because the 25 man raids are a pain in the ass to organize). The people in the RP channel were happy about the changes because it would let them see content they couldn't normally, since many of them were in non-raiding RP guilds.

I admit that my reasoning may have been a bit self serving to my ego at the time as I had worked to get my gear as it came so that I could do the current content, and they were essentially letting people who hadn't gotten that far "cheat". Much the same as I was unhappy about the reduction in cost to the epic ground mount and basic flying mount costs. I'd had to earn all the money to buy those, and now they were handing them out like candy. You spent 2 hours levelling to 20? Congratulations. Here's your mount for dirt cheap that in the past people had to level twice as much, with half as much XP gains, and pay 10 times the price just to get. True that I wasn't in full BiS gear, and I wasn't a l33t raider by any stretch of the imagination, but what I had, I earned and it felt like I was being slapped in the face.

Though I know my reasoning for those feelings was wrong now, I still think the badge changes were a bad thing. It's for the same reason I think the heirloom items were a terrible idea. They allow players to skip vast amounts of content.

Most people would tend to assume that if you see a character that isn't an 80, that they are an alt. So what about these players who are new to the game? The ones who haven't played through and have a decked-in-purples 80? They want to go out and explore this massive (to them) world and when they try to get a group for old instances they are met with silence or responses of "You'll just replace that gear in 5 levels anyways."

To tell the truth, I am thinking of canceling my WoW account. There is literally nothing for me to do anymore. My WoW time nowadays is basically "Log in an hour before raid time, hang out for a bit, raid, log off." On my days when we don't raid, I might attend an RP event or two if they are scheduled, but other than that I log on, do my transmute and throw it on AH, then log off and watch SG-1 on hulu (I missed a lot of the earlier seasons >_>). There is very little content in the "end game" to do. There are just slightly more quests in Northrend than are required to level to 80. The dailies are exceptionally boring and repetitive and I would rather stick my dick in a light socket than do them anymore. The same goes for heroics. I've been sitting at 33 Triumph badges for several days now, and I have no will to do the heroic daily even though one more time will let me buy that stupid Brightstone Ring.

How this relates to the badge changes is this: Unless you are on a nearly full population realm, how many pugs do you see that run Naxx anymore? OS? Hell, even Vault? How many guilds still do this content? A little more than the pugs, but not many. The badge changes have allowed people to get higher level gear just from heroics and no one needs it anymore. Maly hasn't even been run since T8 except for the random achievement run.

Is that what this game has become? Blizzard could remove all of the content in the game except one area which has all of the capitol cities. These would be connected to a long strip of land populated with mobs. The strip would be instanced, and there would be exactly enough mobs of progressive levels to get you to 80. At the end of the strip is Dalaran floating over Icecrown. All the new players? Fuck 'em. They joined too late. They have to run the levelin' gauntlet now!

This is one reason why I feel like vertical content is an outdated form of progression. As the game gets older, and new expansions are released, it becomes harder for new players because there are fewer people who aren't at the end of the ladder. The game becomes a boring single player game, and I don't have to pay 15 bucks a month to play a single player game. That's not to mention that I think the MMO market has changed and everyone is tired of the leveling game, as evidenced by the many games released which are failing or have already failed because players don't have the stomach to play past level 10 or 15.

Why don't we change it up and create games where progression is horizontal instead of vertical? A new expansion becomes an EXPANSION which makes the game world LARGER and MORE EPIC, and not a NARROWATION (which I now declare to be a word) which constricts the game further to its polar ends. Changes to the game do not allow people to skip large amounts of content because it is obsolete; an effect the badge changes have contributed to.

Yes, I'm aware that so many other people on the internet like myself, who are nothing more than armchair designers, are exclaiming the same "Down with levels! No more XP! We want fun sandboxes!" chant. Maybe it's because it's a good idea.

All it needs is the right implementation. It needs to be fun from the get go. The fun can't stop. There can't be an "end game", only a "practical enough to stop working on character development" point at which the game you have been playing simply continues on as though nothing ever happened.

I feel like I'm on the right track with my ideas. Characters that are nearly infinitely customizable and fluid with their development. Characters which do not have a "best build" or even a "five best builds" where every skill or talent has some use and function. Variable difficulties in almost everything that adapt to the player's stats so as to keep all of the content "current".

And if anyone reads this blog and gets ideas for current games in development, please implement! They will only improve a genre which will die out very soon without some major re-innovation.

Posted by Glyph, the Architect | at 10/22/2009 03:36:00 AM


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