Lessons In Success

If you want a sense of how big World of Warcraft is consider that The Burning Crusade expansion sold nearly 2.4 million copies within the first 24 hours at retail. A big number to be sure, but not only did that 2.4 million break the single day PC gaming record for sales, it broke the PC record for sales for an entire month. Let me say that again, The Burning Crusade sold more copies in 24 hours than any PC game had ever sold in entire month. That's how big a deal this game is.

Yesterday Blizzard piled on a few more largely deserved heapings of self-praise, pointing out that the expansion has gone on to sell roughly 3.5 million copies in its first month, expanding the total player base for the game to a staggering 8.5 million worldwide, it is worth thinking a bit about what makes the game arguably the most successful title in PC gaming history. It's the question every developer in the business is asking themselves: what makes World of Warcraft so great?

-- Genre Specific --

Successful Launches – The launch of the game in 2004 may have been somewhat imperfect, a victim of its own bloated succes, though the key point is that the fault lay not in the software itself, but predictably because Blizzard underestimated the immediate and sustained demand for their game. Equally significant is the swift response from Blizzard in launching new servers, and controlling the flow of new product hitting the street. The important point is that once players were in the game the experience was nearly flawless, and because of Blizzard's consistent diligence in putting only finished products on retail shelves, they are rewarded with a loyal and large fanbase.

Perhaps even more significant is the tremendously successful launch of The Burning Crusade, which learned every lesson of 2004. It was taken for granted, particularly in the corners of the net that were anxious to see Blizzard's baby implode, that the expansion would bring the entire World of Warcraft to a tremendous trainwreck of mosntrous queues, server instability and crashes. The peanut gallery topped off their endless supply of peanuts, took their seats and anxiously taunted WoW players to make other plans for all the downtime to come. None of those dire predictions manifest, and even against the tumult of 2.4 million new players, Blizzard pulled off an absolutely stellar expansion launch.

Appeal To Everyone – It's the lesson that games like Vanguard and Everquest 2 stubbornly refuse to learn, though EQ2 eventually conceded many points in a massive revamp. Given the choice between appealing to a minor niche market or a broad consumer base, why would a company consciously choose to severely limit one's market appeal? Granted that World of Warcraft leaves a fractional sliver of players frustrated with the accessibility of the game, often the most difficult gamers to please anyway, but their numbers are so small as to be commercially unsustainable, which is pretty much why successful games ignore their often elitist demands.

This isn't the classic question of pitting casual MMO gamers against the hardcore, though an argument can certainly be made that no MMO gamer is casual. This is about appealing to both, which leads to ...

Content For Everyone – Building on the theme of broad appeal, don't force the dynamics of individual styles of play at your players. It's fun to do the things I like in a game, and when I'm having fun I keep playing. It's just basic psychology here.

While WoW is known to suffer from an end-game problem where those who invest heavily in raid and PvP have an advantage over those who solo, this issue only manifests because there are optional paths leading to both end games. Except for the raiding end-game option, World of Warcraft doesn't favor one style of play over another, and infuses most classes with skill options that can be applied to either method. Blizzard has diligently ensured that every class can be constructed to be viable in every setting, and while Hunters may have an advantage at soloing where Priests clearly have a strong group role, both classes still have their place in nearly every situation.

The concept of the "rested state" alone could be seen to give the more casual player an unfair advantage, but what it really does is encourage the most difficult to retain customers, those who are most put-off by the idea of 'grinding', to keep their subscriptions. It balances the field while keeping the revenue flowing. Don't underestimate its genius.

Zones – This used to be a dirty word in MMOs, and as the genre tried wandering toward the goal of fully seemless worlds, I felt like the only person on the planet who thought that zones were one of the many things that games like Everquest really got right. Yes, it's not very realistic to go from a landscaped of barren and twisted earth to moist, giant-mushroom infested swamp in the matter of a few footsteps, but neither is it particularly realistic to have crossed through an inter-spatial portal onto a mangled world populated by orcs, so my suspension of disbelief is already working in full.

Zones offer designers great freedom to manipulate the landscape and create well-populated and varied points of interest. In seemless worlds, so much time is lost in transitions from one landscape to the next that the sense of wonder at crossing into an entirely new environment is lost. While World of Warcraft's original landmass might not be the size of other MMOs, it is more densely populated with interesting things to look at and compelling landscapes, which encourages players to keep playing.

-- Non-Genre Specific --

Work on Every Machine – I don't care how realistic and detailed a game looks if it becomes a slide show at crucial gameplay moments. Nothing turns me off a game faster than having to endure significant framerate issues, and very little impresses me more than an artistically vivid world illustrated through a well-tuned engine.

Games can be visually compelling without bringing the average gamer's system to an agonized crawl. The recent Command and Conquer 3 demo, assuming it is representative of the final product, is a good example of how maximizing an existing engine with reasonable requirements is, perhaps, better than creating an entirely new engine that exceeds the hardware of an average gamer, as we've seen with Supreme Commander.

Customizable Interface – Gone should be the days of Everquest's painfully constrained UI, and long live World of Warcraft which not only allowed players to customize their experience but developed a UI that encouraged it. I recall how hesitant MMO developers were to even allow alt-tabbing out of the game for fear of modifying their pure vision of how players should experience their game. It was really quite silly.

But, WoW should be an example not just to MMO developers, but other genres, again most notably RTS games. In an age when strategy games regularly populate half a player's screen with bulky and often unneeded interface, allowing players to customize and even improve on the design should be required.

Finish The Damn Game – I'm on record as saying if you can't finish your game, MMO or otherwise, with the funds you have then you either need to find another investor or scrap the project. Granted, bugs are a natural fact of the gaming and PC industry, and I'm not speaking to the unpredictable and minor, but to game makers and publishers that make the decision to generate the revenue needed to complete a game by releasing early.

And, if you as the consumer become aware that a game has been released in an incomplete state, don't buy it!

Blizzard has a track record of releasing quality products that take advantage of extra months of development not only to squash every last bug, but to polish their games to as near perfection as possible. True that Blizzard now has the revenue in place to be this meticulous, but the reason they have that revenue and credibility is because this attention to detail has always been a hallmark of the company.

Conclusion - World of Warcraft has become not just a megalithic PC game, but a cultural phenomenon, and it's hard to think of a developer more deserving of such an accolade. Blizzard has countless Game of the Year and retail awards under its belt as a result of their jealous pursuit of crafting outstanding games. The company and their games have much to teach other developers pursuing similar goals, and the ones that listen, the ones that are disciples to Blizzard's genius enjoy the benefits.

Comments

Elysium, thanks for that post, very nice work. One thing I think that you did not touch on, but should have, is something I think of as:

Varying the Experience:

You can not only approach the game as a single or multi-player, but also as a tactical simulation (endgame battlefields and instances), a trip to the shopping mall (Auction House), and as a damn fine fishing game.

It appeals to folks that like to crunch stats, bunny hopping PVP jockies, and casual and serious roleplayers alike.

Tyrian wrote:
mven wrote:

Maybe I am crazy but it simply feels like people play WoW like it's a single player game.

Actually, you're not crazy. The fact that I can solo successfully is one of my favorite things about WoW.

As soon as I'm forced to group to complete quests, I tend to drop them from my log. I know from experience that I'll probably never finish that chain. It's not that I disllike running in groups, instances, or anything like that. I just prefer to game on my own time, and in my own way.

I actually think this element is one of the main reasons WoW is as successful as it is.

See for me this was fun at first. I liked being able to do my own thing. Then pretty soon I realized all I ever did was my own thing until I got to the point where I absolutely needed someone else to advance (instances/raiding). Every time I start a new character I realize it's just more of the same. Solo to level and then group later for gear. I have 5 55+ characters and probably 30 more 10-30ish. I rarely grouped on any of them. What was the point it was more efficient to solo?! Even if I ever felt like grouping 95% of the other people levelling up have also realized it's more efficient to solo.

After a while this got really really boring. I have never been a big fan of soloing in MMORPGs but in WoW I had enough RL friends playing too that I generally had people to talk to and help out with quests and such to get a little bit of the "social" feel of an MMO. In the end though soloing in an MMORPG is just down right boring. It's neat to watch your level go up and your gear get shinier but really if you are playing by yourself you are basically just playing a really really dumbed down single player game. MMO PvP in the WoW form isn't really fun either. Battlegrounds feel like fps style team death match for {ableist slur}s. MMO PvP only shines when it affects things on the social and political side of things. The more I solo the more I just end up thinking to myself "Why are you paying to play a crappy single player experience?!"

To each his own for sure. If it keeps you amused then play on! For me though an MMORPG is all about feeling "attached" to the world and my characters and the people I interact with regularly. I think my biggest problem with WoW is that nothing held me to it besides time invested. I have no exceptionally entertaining memories of any of my time spent playing... Yet I can recall amusing things from EQ, AO, DAoC, and even Shadowbane with ease and I haven't played them in years. I can remember waiting anxiously for my workday to be over so I could hop on and play. I dunno something just isn't there in WoW. The only thing that made me anxious to get home for WoW was potentially missing raid times. The game was amusing... It just didn't really suck me in and keep me there the way other games have. *shrug*

I think if EA made the same game with the same launch it wouldn't have done as well.

At first, yes. But as fun as WoW is, it would have eventually caught on and been a very sucessful game.

Is Warcraft a lucrative and desirable brand? Definitely. BUT... it's still only a PC game. And that's my troll of the year.

For some reason VG towards then end of its development cycle decided to go "all wow" on folks and began dumbing down the game to appeal to that audience

As a fan and player of WoW I resent being inferred to as "dumb" more so from someone who is saying that VG and EQ2 are somehow making design choices that are "smart" when clearly "hardcore" does not equal "smart" (or in both games cases that appealing a game)

There is nothing stupid about WoW.. in fact all its design choices are really focused on removing most of the tedium and crappy design decisions previous MMORPG's made and allowing people to just play and NOT have to always focus on grouping, raiding, grinding, collecting etc.. sure in the end what makes it so widely appealing is that all those choices are there.. they just are never forced onto the player.

The problem EQ2 and soon VG will have is that its impossible to radically change your games core design after the fact.. WoW works brilliantly because it was designed from the ground up to be at its core exactly how it is today. Not that the developers decided to "dumb" down the game.. but they decided that "oh crap.. I guess we were wrong..lets try and fix it!!"

To break up the love...sure, if you like Nerfs, Care Bears, and babies. Oooo, look at those numbers that popped up over that Viva Pinata looking motherf*cker.

Work on Every Machine – I don't care how realistic and detailed a game looks if it becomes a slide show at crucial gameplay moments. Nothing turns me off a game faster than having to endure significant framerate issues, and very little impresses me more than an artistically vivid world illustrated through a well-tuned engine.

Games can be visually compelling without bringing the average gamer's system to an agonized crawl. The recent Command and Conquer 3 demo, assuming it is representative of the final product, is a good example of how maximizing an existing engine with reasonable requirements is, perhaps, better than creating an entirely new engine that exceeds the hardware of an average gamer, as we've seen with Supreme Commander.

I think this was key for a great deal of people with WoW.. I can't begin to tell you how many people in my guild play WoW on 9800 Pro's or Nvidia 5700FX's with older AMD or P4 processors...

edit -- not my job.

I think it would be prudent to disassociate the initial reasons why WoW got so damn many subscribers so fast from the reasons it's still growing, shall we?

I believe that the initial reasons for WoWs immense success, is the fact that it is a new iteration of an very non-age dependant franchise, now in the hottest new genre, with most of the stuff many, many casual gamers remember from Diablo, coupled with the superb launch, an unrivaled amount of polish within the genre and sheer momentum. Everyone I know who has ever play any computer gamer of any amount, has played Diablo and thus having gameplay elements which resemble Diablo closely (think in skilltrees, grind and item hunting) will instantly give a large portion of non-gamers something to relate to - it's really crucial, from where I'm sitting.

When WoW had gotten through it's first months and the server amount doubled, or more, then it's the longevity of the gameplay, the integration of the social element, as well as the new content being added that had people sticking around. I'm personally pretty disgusted that they release an expansion for a game which they take money for providing new content for in the first place, but the common user seems to be more than fine with it.

EDITED: because it's late and I can't spell, apparently.

TheGameguru wrote:
For some reason VG towards then end of its development cycle decided to go "all wow" on folks and began dumbing down the game to appeal to that audience

As a fan and player of WoW I resent being inferred to as "dumb" more so from someone who is saying that VG and EQ2 are somehow making design choices that are "smart" when clearly "hardcore" does not equal "smart" (or in both games cases that appealing a game)

It never ceases to interest me how someone can refer to "dumbing down" a game and then somehow infer that it means its player base is stupid by association. Dumbing down is a synonym for simplifying, albiet a somewhat more confrontational way to phrase it. Again, simplifying a game does not imply that it's player base is "simple," a polite way to call someone dumb or stupid. Simplifying a game has the direct effect of making the game more accessible to a larger player base. The poster doesn't appreciate that, as they feel that going "all WoW" is unnecessary, probably because WoW is already out there, and some of us that don't enjoy WoW might enjoy something that isn't WoW at the core with slightly different elements.

I find it not only possible, but actually quite easy to both validate and applaud your enjoyment of WoW (who doesn't want people to have fun playing whatever games they enjoy playing?) while still not enjoying WoW itself. I also don't assume you're stupid for enjoying a game that I don't. I can find no logical correlation between one and the other. If I were to use colorful language to describe my dislike of WoW, which has nothing to do with its player base or more specifically, you, would you be compelled to rise to WoW's defense on a personal level rather than discussing the merits of my criticism of the game? If the answer is yes, then maybe something critical COULD be said about you, personally, but I don't particularly see the need to do so in a forum whose topic is so far removed from that subject matter.

The game is simple and it's not simple. It is as in-depth as you want to make it. That is the joy of it's success, and that is why everyone from grandmothers to hardcore gamers can enjoy it's formula.

I know there's always going to be a lot of chest pounding and e-peen waving when it comes to gaming difficulty, but if you only see the first layer of the game, you can't really judge it's complexity until you've dug into the main course. Of course you may not want to, you may scoff at those who do, but I can assure you there are many people who love getting into the theory, numbers and complexity that is upgrading your character to it's maximum potential. And that's just one facet of the game.

I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to this, but I have a current list of goals mapped out for my characters. These include experimental builds, the best gear paths, and the quickest path to achieving my goals. It's a pretty big list but it keeps me active and engaged, and can be quite a complicated flow-chart of progression.

Sure, I can be a grandma, show up and hit a few buttons, and call it a day. But for me, in some sick and twisted way I get a lot of satisfaction from figuring things like this out. Picking them apart and finding the best way to do things. Making things more effective and efficient. I'm certain people who play Sudoku and crossword puzzles achieve a similar sense satisfaction when it all comes together for them.

It also keeps my mind active, entertained and alert. Remember that saying about how retirement is the quickest way to the grave? How when you have no goals or nothing to go for, you pack it in for good? I can only hope there's a pretty neat MMO to wrap my mind around when I'm old and gray and on the rocking chair, I just might make it to 100.

Of course, I might be as smart as the village idiot, and the game really is much simpler than I imagine. I still curl up in a ball from my first experience with Dwarf Fortress Yeah, that's hardcore.

TheGameguru wrote:
For some reason VG towards then end of its development cycle decided to go "all wow" on folks and began dumbing down the game to appeal to that audience

As a fan and player of WoW I resent being inferred to as "dumb" more so from someone who is saying that VG and EQ2 are somehow making design choices that are "smart" when clearly "hardcore" does not equal "smart" (or in both games cases that appealing a game)

There is nothing stupid about WoW.. in fact all its design choices are really focused on removing most of the tedium and crappy design decisions previous MMORPG's made and allowing people to just play and NOT have to always focus on grouping, raiding, grinding, collecting etc.. sure in the end what makes it so widely appealing is that all those choices are there.. they just are never forced onto the player.

The problem EQ2 and soon VG will have is that its impossible to radically change your games core design after the fact.. WoW works brilliantly because it was designed from the ground up to be at its core exactly how it is today. Not that the developers decided to "dumb" down the game.. but they decided that "oh crap.. I guess we were wrong..lets try and fix it!!"

As the post by zmonkey pointed out I am not referring to the WoW playerbase as dumb. By dumbing down I mean simplifying and streamlining to make the game more accessible. It has nothing to do with me thinking everyone who plays WoW is a bit slow. I played the hell out of WoW. There aren't many games I have played more in fact. I know plenty of folks who were "hardcore" players in other games who find WoW enjoyable as they have grown out of having the time to devote to gaming. They find WoW's accessibility a huge plus. People who are new to the genre and might be a bit baffled logging into a game like OG EQ1 where you basically just start out with no real direction or instruction, can pick up WoW and get right into it. It doesn't make them stupid.

To me this simplification if you prefer is a double edged sword. It certainly has a lot of things going for it. Making the games more accessible brings more new players into the industry and generates more money encouraging companies to spend more money making newer and better MMOs. It allows folks who are limited on time to be able to enjoy their favorite passtime without having to kick their jobs, families, etc to the curb as a result. It broadens the market to children and older folks who don't have the patience to get into less accessible games. It's not a terrible thing...

On the flip side though there are people who prefer things to be a bit less accessible. When I play WoW I rarely have to think about what I am doing. I am not scared of dying anywhere in the game because I lose nothing. I don't bother reading quests anymore that aren't a part of an interesting storyline because at no point in 95% of the quests am I required to actually think about how I am going to accomplish things. PvP doesn't even require you to guess at your opponent's actions based on animations and whatnot as you can see what they are casting and how far along with the nifty little cast bar. The game isn't the slightest bit challenging until you get into the end game raiding (which btw I think several of the raid encounters in WoW are awesomely done).

I guess I just miss having to figure things out for myself. I miss being afraid to run into a new area because dying there might be extremely painful. I miss playing in a harsh world where people are almost forced to work together to overcome and advance. I am not an elitist. I love that so many of my friends have found a game that entertains them in WoW. I would never have been able to get these same people hooked on Everquest. I just want a game that isn't designed to appeal to everyone. I want a game that raises the bar rather than appealing to the lowest common denominator to win over the masses. I want to feel hopelessly lost in a game and experience once again the joy of finding my way. WoW doesn't offer this, EQ2 doesn't offer this, and VG also decided towards the end not to offer this.

I know it's unrealistic for businessmen to look at a game like WoW and think "Let's make something completely contrary to what made this game so successful". I understand that I am the minority. It doesn't make me want a better game any less. There is already WoW to appeal to the masses. The industry doesn't need another one. I don't know anyone who is happy with WoW that would feel any compulsion to leave WoW for a game that is extremely similar. I have WoW friends who picked up Vanguard, played it for a while, and said "It's too much like WoW, why would I start over again?". So why do so many people latch on to new games and bitch incessantly until things are changed to be more like WoW?! *shrug*

I apologize if you feel insulted by my referring to WoW as being dumbed down. It's just how I see the game and doesn't reflect my opinion of anyone who plays or has played it.

Good response mven.

I can see where you're coming back. I think it would be pretty cool to have something new which is pretty hardcore and doesn't provide as much hand holding, but there's a huge difference in being hardcore, and being insanely annoying from a design point of view.

I'd love to play a game which throws the player in a field with a stick and says "good luck finding the town, sucker". Where real death is semi-persistent and has a much larger penalty. And yeah, where your stuff can get stolen. But in order for this to work there has to be an incredible amount of thought and attention to balance, and more importantly, enjoyability and fun. You shouldn't have to to wrestle with a terrible UI or sacrifice controls, and it shouldn't be overly complicated just to be an obstacle. If something is complicated, it better be complicated for a damn good reason other than to waste my time.

I tried FFXI briefly and was completely turned off from the terrible implementation. To a newcomer, it wasn't that it was too complex - it was that it was too annoyingly unfriendly to let you know even the most basic fundamental things you need to inhabit the world.

Give the guy a stick, a map and a goal, and try to have the world react closer to what would happen in real life, so you can make a pretty solid connection of what you need to do without fumbling through pages of manuals and online primers.

Swat wrote:

I can see where you're coming back. I think it would be pretty cool to have something new which is pretty hardcore and doesn't provide as much hand holding, but there's a huge difference in being hardcore, and being insanely annoying from a design point of view.

Right. I certainly agree that annoyance and cumbersome game play do not equal challenge. I also feel that a player doesn't have to have every single piece of information and detail they might need to accomplish any goal handed to them on a silver platter. I don't feel that time invested in tedium equals challenge either. Time invested solving a challenging riddle or puzzle or learning how to properly accomplish some aspect of game play is more valuable to me.

Example:

A.) Common quests in MMORPGs these days tend to be of the variety: NPC: "Wild dogs have been making off with my chickens in the night. Teach these wild dogs a lesson. I have placed an entry in your quest journal and set a waypoint on your map showing you exactly where to find the den of wild dogs. Kill 5 wild dogs and return to me to collect your reward." You go kill 5 wild dogs, collect your exp and reward and move on.

B.) How I would prefer the quest: NPC: "Something has been making off with my chickens in the night. Can you please help me track down the culprit?" You walk around the NPC's house and notice a chicken coop with a hole in it. On the ground in front of the coop are some animal tracks and a few feathers. You notice a trail of animal tracks and feathers leading away from the coop. You follow the tracks and occasional feathers and find yourself at a den of wild dogs. You notice that there is a larger female dog with several puppies. The female dog appears to be limping because of an injured leg. (Here is an important part) You kill all of the dogs including the puppies and return to the NPC to collect your reward.. OR You use your healing skills to relieve the mother dog's injury allowing her to again hunt for food for her puppies and return to the NPC to collect your reward.. OR You use your hunting skills to provide the dogs with some meat so they will not have to feed on the easy prey of the NPC's chickens and return to the NPC for your reward.. OR as a skilled crafter you repair the chicken coop and improve upon its design to keep the dogs out and return to the NPC for your reward...

It's basically the exact same quest. The primary difference is the second version requires you to actually think beyond "Must kill 5 dogs for EXPs". On top of that it presents multiple solutions so that players are allowed to solve the problem based on their playstyle. Not simply repeating pattern after pattern to advance. Even though this is a trivial quest there is a big difference between the "dumbed down" version and one that actually lets you use your head. *shrug*

Exactly, mven! Sign me up for option B! You know, though, even the design of City of Heroes/Villains or Anarchy Online is better than WoW, to me. In those games, you can take instanced missions that are soloable, or you can take instances that require teams, and have a fully stocked mission with loot (in AO) or at least customized mob dialog that will often refer to your character by name, and sometimes includes a scripted cutscene (CoH/V). Of course, these games in no way offer the multiple solutions of your example, but they're a step in the right direction. WoW does everything it offers EXTREMELY well, but it's still all the stuff I've done before, albiet in a less perfect presentation. What I DO want to see other companies emulate is Blizzard's unswerving commitment to releasing a finished, fully functional product. Heck, if I didn't know I would pretty much never play, I'd be sending Blizzard $15 a month just to thank them for not foisting a half-finished product on me and fixing it a few months later.

Oh, and I'd almost be willing to include D&DO in this category, but I really didn't care for the FPS meets MMOG aspect of the game. Still, I do consider it an example of the direction I'd like to see MMOGs go, or at least SOME of them... I'm more than happy to see people who enjoy the mechanics of WoW continue to do so.

See my problem with the AO and CoH approach is that they rely heavily upon instancing. I personally see instancing as something that should be insanely limited and preferably non-existant in an online world. To me a living breathing virtual world is one that at any given moment and in virtually any location there is the potential for two characters to randomly meet and interact in some way, shape or form. Instancing simply segregates the world into small environments designed solely for individuals or a small group of individuals. There is no impact on the actual world. You may as well be playing a single player game or something on a LAN. There is nothing "massively multiplayer" about an instance.

However, combining something like the CoH and AO approach with something like SWG's mission system which is actually out in the world... You could probably come up with something pretty impressive... Like such:

You have an abandoned building (that is a part of the world that anyone can enter at will) in town where a small gang of NPC thieves decide to hole up (spawn and move into the building). The NPCs who live in the surrounding buildings start to notice that they are missing things (maybe have some sort of "crime rate" modifier that accrues over time while the building is occupied by criminals). You happen to notice one of them sitting outside their house and strike up a conversation. You find out that several things have been stolen from this NPC and he suspects that the new "neighbors" in the abandoned building are responsible. You go investigate, find the theives hiding out there and manage to get the goods back one way or another (you could have multiple options, diplomacy, violence, stealth etc to find the goods). You return them to the NPC for the reward...

To continue to make this more interesting... Based on how you handled the situation... If you killed all of the theives, the building could return to being abandoned, the crime rate would drop back down, and then the building could eventually be inhabited by something else... If you reasoned with them they might just go back to their old ways... If you stole the goods from them they might retaliate in some way on the local NPCs.

You could do all of this dynamically setting up different groups that could take over these types of buildings, thieves, cultists, gangs, mad scientists, easter bunnies, poor families, etc. There could be benefits to having them there as well as detrimental effects. NPCs would need help or want to help out based on what type of group was hiding out there. As the building is a part of the world and not an instance, a player could simply walk inside, slaughter everything there, and then noticing that there are some random items stashed there take them with them and perhaps talk with some of the local folks and see if they are missing anything for a reward. Or they could just sell the stuff they find.

This is just an extremely rough outline but you get the general idea. Take what was done in CoH and AO and move it out into the world so that it becomes a part of the world and not just some magical dimension that exists only for you.

To me there is so much that could be done with a more dynamic environment that you can't do with static NPCs. Simple scripting and triggers could produce a world that felt way more alive than what we see these days. It seems though that most companies would rather take the easy approach and just use instancing to multiply their content by as many players as choose to participate in it.

That's exactly the kind of thing that I think our next successful MMOG will do, mven. As I said, you're right on track, at least in my opinion. Part of me will always have a soft spot for the instanced maps, though, the ones that are immune from griefers, or at the very least shut off the broadcast channel for a bit if the community is a bit immature. I'm glad you mentioned SWG, as that's a great example of how such a system could be implemented. One thing that seemed a bit odd was how a small base or nest would appear out of nowhere when you got close to your goal, but again, this is how outdoor instanced content was first introduced, at least as far as I remember. Actually, a game that did this slightly better, now that my memory has warmed up a bit, was Matrix Online. In this game, you actually entered buildings in a city to perform your missions, which were accessible to all until you reached the actual mission area. I suppose what would be key to me is ensuring that a random person wouldn't come along and potentially ruin a person's immersion in these far more open-ended ideas you have, intentionally or not.

As for the more involved quests that perhaps involve running around to a few different locations, encompass a particular skill set, or involve skills spread across multiple professions, NPCs could offer such quests to the proper profession and also let you know that one or more other professions would be needed to explore the matter fully (perhaps a thief for lockpicking, a tank type for if things turn ugly, a magician to deal with a book translation or an arcane ward, and so forth).

I do see the value in setting up hubs of activity which might have special quest-starting drops that then lead you to more specialized, personal content, as you've mentioned. This could be implemented via handholding (right click the special item, new quest appears) or by simply having the item in your inventory, certain NPCs might "light up" (indicate they have a quest) based on what you have in your inventory when you approach them. It would be an amazing approach to actually HAVE the twenty goblin ears in your inventory, when you suddenly notice a farmer with an exclamation point above his head and he offers you a reward for those ears that you had originally thought to sell to a merchant, or a seamstress offered to give you a one use pattern to sew those ears into a pouch that would give you a few more inventory slots, or maybe one of those ears had a tattoo that a hunter recognized as the sign of a warchief who was thought to have been killed, but apparently was not, and now needs to be tracked down and finished once and for all.

I'm not quite as interested in the world being transformed through player actions, except perhaps in specialized areas like player cities. I'm far more interested in doing something more robust than glorified rat-hunting than I am in having a statue of my avatar visible for all to see in the center of a town, for instance.

To anyone above who feels WoW is simple.. or so streamlined that there is no challenge.. Try Shattered Halls.. a 5 man readily accessible instance (they key is relatively easy to get).

Here is Blizzard design at its best.. for no matter how much gear or "stuff" you bring to this instance there is simply no way your going to wtfpwn your way through.

with 6 and 7 at a time Orc Pulls.. your 5 man group is forced to use every single possible skill..technique you've spent the last 2 years learning how to do.. kiting, freezing, shocking, trapping, tanking 3 or sometimes 4 mobs at once.. you name it its there..

Its a 2 hour whirlwind that with a good group when your done your both exhausted and exhilarated. And thankfully Blizzard realize that an instance shouldnt just be boring trash mobs and then interesting boss.. then boring trash mobs then boss...etc..

Every encounter here is amazingly well done..and requires all 5 players to be at the top of their game.

The mini "event" where your group is running up a long hallway fighting orcs all the while ducking into and behind alcoves to avoid fiery archers at the end of the hall from plucking away at you. Its an amazing combination of speed.. fighting while running.. and making sure your healer(s) dont die. Hard to explain but amazingly cool to do.

zmonkey wrote:

Part of me will always have a soft spot for the instanced maps, though, the ones that are immune from griefers, or at the very least shut off the broadcast channel for a bit if the community is a bit immature.
...
I suppose what would be key to me is ensuring that a random person wouldn't come along and potentially ruin a person's immersion in these far more open-ended ideas you have, intentionally or not.

See to me this is immersion breaking. If there is a coven of witches performing dark rites in the attic of a local house.. They should be there for everyone. Should someone decide to kill them they should be more than able to despite you having talked to someone else in town about possibly killing them off for a reward... Zoning into my own little dimension where no one else can touch me immediately shatters any "suspension of disbelief" I may have going about being part of a living breathing world. I want to be a part of the world at all times. My ideal game would have FFA PvP which imo does not allow for "griefers" they would simply be considered criminals or murderers...

zmonkey wrote:

As for the more involved quests that perhaps involve running around to a few different locations, encompass a particular skill set, or involve skills spread across multiple professions, NPCs could offer such quests to the proper profession and also let you know that one or more other professions would be needed to explore the matter fully (perhaps a thief for lockpicking, a tank type for if things turn ugly, a magician to deal with a book translation or an arcane ward, and so forth).
...
It would be an amazing approach to actually HAVE the twenty goblin ears in your inventory, when you suddenly notice a farmer with an exclamation point above his head...

See this is where IMO WoW does it wrong. You shouldn't need an exclamation point you can see from 5 miles away telling you "Hey I have a quest for you.." The quest giver shouldn't tell you "You will need XYZ class" at best they should give you hints along the lines of "I need to retrieve XYZ item stolen from me by this band of goblins... I tracked them back to their hideout but unfortunately they have my goods locked up behind a magically sealed door with a large number of guards standing outside..." This doesn't give everything away but lets you know that if you want to help this guy out you will need some means of opening the door as well as some means of eliminating the guards... So maybe have a magician to break the magical seal and a musician to lull the guards to sleep while he does this... Or a few tough individuals to kill off the guards and an engineer to blow the door off its hinges... etc etc. The idea is never to allow questing to be something repetative or streamlined into a grind. Even the smallest most insignificant quest should hint at what needs to be done or what might be needed to complete it rather than simply hand everything over to the player and have them simply grind it out.

As for determining who has a quest or might need help... The NPCs should exhibit signs that something is wrong... Standing outside looking at their broken window shouting curses... Sitting on the steps in front of their house crying... Sitting on their porch sharpening their sword... Standing in front of the fresh grave of a young child... Shouting out "Someone please help me..." etc etc.

TheGameguru wrote:

To anyone above who feels WoW is simple.. or so streamlined that there is no challenge.. Try Shattered Halls.. a 5 man readily accessible instance (they key is relatively easy to get).
...
Its a 2 hour whirlwind that with a good group when your done your both exhausted and exhilarated. And thankfully Blizzard realize that an instance shouldnt just be boring trash mobs and then interesting boss.. then boring trash mobs then boss...etc..

Well as this is an instance imo it falls back into being a simplistic single player/small lan experience rather than a "good" mmorpg experience. Also you are referring to a relatively "end game" experience the way WoW is laid out. I certainly agree that WoW has some pretty cool encounters. They do a really good job on setting up cool scripted fights and such in some of their instances. Unfortunately these are isolated experiences and not the norm.

In my experience every single pre-expansion instance is "boring trash mobs -> interesting boss -> boring trash mobs -> boss -> repeat". Adding in some high level instances in an expansion that break this mold doesn't really do much for the game as a whole imo. I believe I had admited in a previous post that I think some of WoWs higher end encounters were well done so I am not saying the whole game is crap. It's just the game as a whole still feels simplistic. Throwing a monkey wrench in the gears every now and again doesn't really alter this imo.

If you enjoy levelling up, advancing your character, acquiring new items, etc and are happy with that then by all means enjoy WoW. It's simply does not offer what *I* or many people I know want in an online game. I have already done the whole level up, get items, get better items, get even better items, etc cycle in other games. I have already done it in WoW. WoW does this very well. It just doesn't do much else. *shrug*

It's just the game as a whole still feels simplistic. Throwing a monkey wrench in the gears every now and again doesn't really alter this imo.

One would argue that actually WoW does a good job keeping everything in line.. having the game be like a constant Shattered Halls run would prove exhausting and probably turn away most of the audience.

So while perhaps you say that only having experiences like this once and a while is a bad thing.. a MMORPG that your supposed to invest hundreds of hours into would you really want every single hour playing to be that intense?

I suspect what your looking for is either that hardcore an experience every single minute of gameplay which if so I suspect you'd end up with a very small and narrowly focused subscriber base (which is fine if thats all your types cup of tea)

Additionally what your stating in your previous posts simply wouldnt really work in a true massively multiplayer game.. you'd have to limit the world to smaller groups of players.. with strict restrictions on alts and various mules. I'm not saying it couldnt be done and wouldnt be cool.. but to think that a FFA PVP world with no real set boundaries would be anything but an extreme gank and griefer filled world would be silly.. UNLESS of course you severely limited the size of the player base.

Since what your describing did work in IoK in the early days.. but since at most 100-150 people were playing at any given moment it was far easier to "police" ourselves... and PK'ers had their own issues to deal with getting around town and avoiding an organized group of players....especially given how harsh IoK's original death penalties were.

If you enjoy levelling up, advancing your character, acquiring new items, etc and are happy with that then by all means enjoy WoW. It's simply does not offer what *I* or many people I know want in an online game. I have already done the whole level up, get items, get better items, get even better items, etc cycle in other games. I have already done it in WoW. WoW does this very well. It just doesn't do much else. *shrug*

Well as I stated above... it actually does do other things very well.. your simply choosing to ignore them or minimize them.

/shrug

as I said.. I doubt most people want Shattered Halls every single time they sit down to play an MMORPG.

TheGameguru wrote:

One would argue that actually WoW does a good job keeping everything in line.. having the game be like a constant Shattered Halls run would prove exhausting and probably turn away most of the audience.

So while perhaps you say that only having experiences like this once and a while is a bad thing.. a MMORPG that your supposed to invest hundreds of hours into would you really want every single hour playing to be that intense?

No no I am not implying that I or anyone wants constant in your face action 24/7 in an MMORPG. My point was that while there are a very few aspects of WoW that are more than simplified and streamlined versions of what you can find in any other game... They are the exception and not the rule. In a dungeonlike scenario what you describe would be more along the lines of what I would like to see. It does sound like fun. Unfortunately the few instances that provide that sort of experience do not really reflect upon the rest of the game.

TheGameguru wrote:

Additionally what your stating in your previous posts simply wouldnt really work in a true massively multiplayer game.. you'd have to limit the world to smaller groups of players.. with strict restrictions on alts and various mules. I'm not saying it couldnt be done and wouldnt be cool.. but to think that a FFA PVP world with no real set boundaries would be anything but an extreme gank and griefer filled world would be silly.. UNLESS of course you severely limited the size of the player base.

Even in a game with as crappy a FFA PvP ruleset as Vanguard has it's not an extreme gankfest. In a game where dying actually had meaning it would be even less so IMO. The game just has to be designed to properly support PvP. This means: no instances, no safe zones, a death penalty with meaning, player controlled territory and towns and such... Things that contribute to giving players the ability to police their world. Anyway 99% of what I posted above would work fine in a pure PvE game. Having someone kill your quest mob isn't exactly a non-existant occurence in most PvE games either.

TheGameguru wrote:

Well as I stated above... it actually does do other things very well.. your simply choosing to ignore them or minimize them.

I'm not sure what I am ignoring ? I have played WoW. Aside from a few instanced encounters the game is pretty simplistic. I guess I am leaving out the things I consider obvious... WoW has a good backstory and tons of in game lore... It runs beautifully... The game looks good and the characters actually appear to be a part of the game world... Playing the game is where I start to have problems. So speaking strictly of actually playing the game... What is it that I am choosing to ignore?

Am I wrong to want to play a game where my hand isn't being held 99% of the time? It's not like I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who has played a character to level 30 and then quit because it wasn't hardcore enough for me. I have multiple 60s. I have done every single encounter in the game pre-expansion with the exception of Kel'Thuzad and Sapphiron. I have every gathering profession and most of the crafting professions 300+. I have maxed my faction with various groups no matter how ridiculous (thorium bros comes to mind). I have played casually, I have raided, I have PvPed with a regular group and by myself in PuGs. I have been in all sorts of different guilds. I have done countless quests and read tons of lore that can be found around the world. I feel I have given this game a pretty fair shake. I have had fun playing but mostly what has kept me playing WoW is the fact that I was able to get so many RL friends who had never played an MMO to play it and well there really wasn't anything else out that I wanted to play. In the end myself and the RL friends of mine who have actually played other games have lost interest in WoW. I have the expansion, I tried playing it but I just couldn't keep myself interested. I built a new PC and my interest is so low that I can't even motivate myself to copy WoW from one of my older PCs to the new box or reinstall it on the new box. *shrug*

This means: no instances, no safe zones, a death penalty with meaning, player controlled territory and towns and such... Things that contribute to giving players the ability to police their world.

I agree with that.. what made FFA PVP in IoK possible was the extreme death penalty.. basically 3-4 deaths and you character was so useless it was reroll time no matter how advanced he/she was.

I like rogues.

And pie.

I wish there were pie-throwing rogues.

I agree that mmmorpgs and sp games should try and make the worlds we experience more seamless. They should stop relying on meters, numbers and symbols over heads and rely more on natural visual and sound cues instead.

I think that would add more immersion and more unpredicatibility which I think increases tension and interest.

I don't really want a game that's too complicated or tedious, but I also don't like when everything is a bit too straightforward.

Blizzard doing a MMO game = smart design.

Quaid and SOE imitating WoW = dumbed down.

It's so very clear that SOE "doesn't get it." I've talked to a few of the Star Wars Galaxies developers here in Austin, and I knew before that game came out (and long before WoW) that I didn't want to play it, simply because of the attitude of the people making it. You can't look at Star Wars Galaxies, in any of it's 3 forms, and not see it as a colossal waste of the IP. I can't imagine that studio getting to the top of the game ever again. They'll ride their EQ success out til it dies a bitter death.

2 for 1 sale!

trip1ex wrote:

I don't really want a game that's too complicated or tedious, but I also don't like when everything is a bit too straightforward.

Right the idea is to make a game that doesn't look at time spent grinding tedium as the primary virtue for advancement. You want to take "kill 50 of X to receive X" type quests and replace them with quests that require players to puzzle through what has happened and spend a good deal of time involved in solving the problem not boring themselves to tears killing 50 rats. The difficulty here is in finding some way to make the quests a bit more dynamic so that you can't just pull up allakhazam, find a map with all of the spawn points for the quest, and just churn through them to advance. You need some form of time sink as the idea is to keep people playing the game. But timesink doesn't have to mean straight up tedious crap.

souldaddy wrote:

Blizzard doing a MMO game = smart design.

Quaid and SOE imitating WoW = dumbed down.

It's so very clear that SOE "doesn't get it." I've talked to a few of the Star Wars Galaxies developers here in Austin, and I knew before that game came out (and long before WoW) that I didn't want to play it, simply because of the attitude of the people making it. You can't look at Star Wars Galaxies, in any of it's 3 forms, and not see it as a colossal waste of the IP. I can't imagine that studio getting to the top of the game ever again. They'll ride their EQ success out til it dies a bitter death.

I agree with you if by "smart design" you are referring to making money. SOE's problem is they seem to be pushing their games towards copying whatever the current "big thing" is rather than letting them be unique. Vanguard is a depressing game to play in many respects because the game and the direction they are now trying to push it don't mesh up very well. You can see where they had many grand ideas but rather than fleshing them out they have scrapped them or simply ignored them to try and latch on to a market their game was never intended for. I really have no idea what they were thinking. The game could not nor will it ever be able to compete with something like WoW. I honestly have to believe all of this was the result of someone on the business side of SOE pushing Sigil in this direction. I really cannot see any development shop pouring that much into a game to completely change course during the latter portion of their effort... Especially not someone like Brad McQuaid who for years at Verant was standing firm behind "the vision". *shrug*

Star Wars Galaxies was actually one of the ballsiest major MMO releases to date. Love it or hate it the game was certainly different. Of course it had the same problem VG did... For some reason instead of sticking to their guns and building upon the unique world they had created... They decide to suddenly scrap it all and instead move the game to being more like everyone else?! Again I would have to say this was someone in the money making department at SOE who thought up this brilliant idea... They could have had a seriously sustainable fanbase with the first incarnation of the game. Instead? Pie and Jedis for everyone! Let's make people run faster and mouse target! Let's take everything unique about the game and set it on fire and then turn everyone's characters into cookie cutter classes. Let's get rid of skills and throw in levels! People like grinding levels right?!?!

I dunno. I want to play something different.

TheGameguru wrote:

I agree with that.. what made FFA PVP in IoK possible was the extreme death penalty.. basically 3-4 deaths and you character was so useless it was reroll time no matter how advanced he/she was.

Yeah it really doesn't matter what the penalty is so long as it's enough to make someone stop and think before they kill someone else and enough to get rid of the bind-rush style PvP that is possible in WOW, EQ2, Vanguard etc. Combine this with there being no means of trivializing or hiding from the penalties of one's actions and you can have a decent PvP game.

Hey mven. Nice to see you have infiltrated my other favorite gaming site.

I think one of the problems you're having is that you looking for things that just are not possible with current technology and funding. To have such a dynamic and intelligent world like you want, it would be development hell and is completely unrealistic to do right now.

I've said this on other sites, but I think Blizzard did right with the expansion. Not only was it one of the smoothest launches I've ever seen, but they made some great changes. The quests seem a lot more meaningful now. They've finally started giving good quest rewards (no more cloth drops with STR on them lol). Itemization has really been improved for hybrids and such. Raids are A LOT harder than they used to be. And best of all... rep grinds don't make you want to commit suicide.

Oh and GameGuru, you were talking about Shattered Halls. It is a fun and challenging instance, but I think last night I formed the rock to the Shattered Hall's scissors. Myself, a holy blood elf paladin, healing; a good friend of mine, a prot spec blood elf paladin, tanking; two undead warlocks; and an undead shadow priest. Good god. The run took 45 minutes compared to two hours and we only had one dead (the shadow priest when he trinketed/burned cooldowns and the tank had a resisted taunt while i was forumcrafting on my second monitor lol).

But yeah, instances are AMAZING in BC. mven, I highly suggest you give WoW another try. You have to understand, the game you want is a LONG ways away. We don't even have single player games that intelligent, let alone MMOs. You should reinstall WoW, reactivate, and just try it for a month. All your conclusions are drawn from pre-xpac. You really can't form an opinion on the current state of a game when the xpac changed everything.

Oh and GameGuru, you were talking about Shattered Halls. It is a fun and challenging instance, but I think last night I formed the rock to the Shattered Hall's scissors. Myself, a holy blood elf paladin, healing; a good friend of mine, a prot spec blood elf paladin, tanking; two undead warlocks; and an undead shadow priest. Good god. The run took 45 minutes compared to two hours and we only had one dead (the shadow priest when he trinketed/burned cooldowns and the tank had a resisted taunt while i was forumcrafting on my second monitor lol).

Thats pretty damn good.. usually I've seen more crowd control based groups have that kind of success in there.... did you make liberal use of pulling far back and using chain fears? That being said its like I always tell people.. pretty much any combination of 5 can do any instance it just requires good players who know how to play.

I think the BC has done wonders of getting even the most stubborn people out of the "must have tanking warrior, healing priest" mentality for 5 man runs.

I ran Mechanar last night with a tanking Paladin.. first time for me.. and we did pretty good.

TheGameguru wrote:

Thats pretty damn good.. usually I've seen more crowd control based groups have that kind of success in there.... did you make liberal use of pulling far back and using chain fears? That being said its like I always tell people.. pretty much any combination of 5 can do any instance it just requires good players who know how to play.

Yeah we feared the hell out of stuff. Not to mention though, paladins are the lords of AOE tanking.

Mordiceius wrote:

You have to understand, the game you want is a LONG ways away. We don't even have single player games that intelligent, let alone MMOs. You should reinstall WoW, reactivate, and just try it for a month. All your conclusions are drawn from pre-xpac. You really can't form an opinion on the current state of a game when the xpac changed everything.

Eh? Most of the quest suggestions and such I made are already done to some greater or lesser degree in existing games. Having NPCs spawn in a house suddenlt making quests become available from other nearby NPCs is not really much different than having a Mission terminal that randomly spawns a small base of NPCs (like swg) for you to run out and kill. The NPCs you get quests from would be the mission term and instead of the mission term spawning the mission, the mission would spawn first triggering the quests from the NPCs. The crime rate and such isn't exactly a massive AI problem. You just have a number that increments over time. The NPCs giving out the quests have a threshhold for each of their available quests and based on how far along the incrementing crime rate number is different quests and such become available.

Having NPCs actually perform actions based on what they need help with really isn't that big of a deal either. They just associate certain emotes/scripts with each quest they offer and when that is available the NPCs act accordingly. Having quest lines with multiple solutions is no more difficult than having multiple quests.

Designing quests so that the environment/location provides clues as to the solution is simply a matter of adding more detail. It's not like some WoW quests don't have similar things like animal tracks on the ground, large carcasses etc that are there simply as part of a single quest. Making these more dynamic is a tiny bit more tricky but really not that much different than spawning NPCs in random locations. I would assuming spawning a few random textures on the ground wouldn't be too much different than spawning a group of NPCs and a small base.

What I am wanting is certainly not something I would ever expect from a low budget MMO. But the direction these games are taking isn't exactly down the path of low budget solutions. *shrug*

As for the WoW stuff. I believe you that the BC instances are more fun. Having played through newer instances in the pre-expac game I know dire maul was an improvement over existing small group content... And Naxx was certainly a lot more fun than previous raid instances (we'll just pretend AQ20/40 didn't happen because that was like watching paint dry except for C'Thun and Osirian). It's just that I really am not that big into instanced content. I couldn't play Guild Wars or DDO as instancing just doesn't do it for me. I don't even consider those games MMOs.

I have certainly thought about playing some more of BC... I have played around with it some both at its release and when it was in beta... I don't think it really changed the game much beyond putting people back on even more footing again so they can spend another 2 years grinding out new gear and screwing that balance up all over again. Having a few more interesting quests and making instances a bit more challenging doesn't really change the game up all that much imo. Maybe if they had an FFA PvP server or something it could be a bit more interesting. Though even that probably wouldn't work out too well as there is not much worth fighting over in WoW. I guess I could always bore myself to tears farming yet another set of gear... *shrug*