Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A MODEST PROPOSAL

Richard Bartle, a British writer and game designer, was the co-author of MUD, the first multi-user dungeon and according to Wikipedia, “one of the pioneers of the massively multiplayer online game industry”. He is also the designer of the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, which uses a series of about 30 questions to determine the preferences of games players. Depending on their answers, player preferences are divided between the roles of Achiever, Explorer, Socialiser and Killer, with the score ranking indicating the principal thrust of a player’s interest. As an example, a pure non-consensual PvP game such as the recent Darkfall is clearly designed to appeal primarily (indeed, probably exclusively) to the Killer type of player.

A fascinating recent post in Pearls of Unwisdom argues that the current radiance gating debate in LOTRO reflects a long-standing conflict of interest between Achievers and Explorers: “Achievers and Explorers have been knocking heads together for a while now, especially with regards to gating of content […] Achiever types traditionally thrive in content gating situations […] Explorers [are] forced either to join the numbing grind, or to hang up their hiking boots and call it a day.” The post concludes by asking “given that Achievers and Explorers both seem to enjoy raiding, can they both coexist peacefully? Or is there a fundamental conflict between what they both want from the experience?”.

It must first of all be said that the Bartle test does not really fit in very well with a game like LOTRO, which has minimal PvP content – I tried the test, but kept being faced with questions which really had no application to the LOTRO experience, particularly as regards killing fellow players… More germane to this discussion is the fact that I can see a substantial overlap between Achievers and Explorer goals. However, what I found particularly illuminating was the recasting of Raiders as Achievers. The official Bartle definition of a pure Achiever goes like this: “Best, first and most are the favorite adjectives of the Achiever. They love comparison not only against others, but also with themselves. They enjoy setting goals, surpassing previous performances and hitting new milestones. They tend to have lots of high scores, badges, trophies and other concrete evidence of their successful endeavors”.

If the argument in favour of a very narrow gateway to end-content raiding, and therefore to the highest-quality gear, is that there must always be some concrete, strutting-around, high-status evidence of a player’s ability to eventually beat the hardest challenge thrown at him by the developers, there’s an easy way to achieve this without depriving everybody else (i.e., Explorers and Socialisers) from experiencing environments and challenges such as the Rift and Dar Narbugud.

Simple. Widen access to the big, multi-boss instances which everyone wants to experience, not by making the fights easier, but by providing several pathways into the instances: forget radiance gating, and offer alternatives such as crafted armour, drops from several different kinds of quests, and epic book rewards. At the same time, provide another 12-man raid which need not have more than one or two bosses, and which will not require spectacular new settings (scenery is for wimps!), but make it fiendishly, almost impossibly difficult. The rewards for completing this instance should be impressive, even flashy. They should immediately stand out in a crowd, offering instant status for those who crave it, but (and this is important) they must not be in any way functionally superior to the top rewards for finishing the other end-content raid.

Result? Genuinely rare, high-status display items for the Achievers, satisfaction for frustrated Explorers and Socialisers, and, at the end of the day, a level playing field for all.

10 comments:

smogit said...

I commend this idea, make sure that the rewards look unique, but have similar functionality to the others available. Ok so its kind of like a super car, with a family hatchback engine, but at least you get the big exhaust...

(Renkosi)

Alcasm said...

That sounds like a really intriguing proposal and seems quite simple to boot. In a way it almost sounds like a form of the 360 achievement system wherein there is no measurable benefit (seeing as the gear won't be better than other stuff that is much easier to obtain) for completing the content outside of providing a representation of the player's prowess. Obviously there could still be problems with players finding ways around the difficulty of accumulating these rewards (much like certain games on the 360 *cough* Avatar *cough*) but it would be self correcting unlike achievement points because of how specific these rewards would be to the content in question, making it easy for the community to adjust the achievement's status to account for the existence of exploits. All in all, I would love to see LotRO implement something along these lines to help get rid of the gating issue.

ra said...

I took the test and I'm an Explorer type. After hitting level caps in MMO games I tend to move onto other games. I don't know how they could keep me because I can't do that end game grind.

unwize said...

Love the post title :)

And yeah, I think the key is to take content away from the achievers as a way to make them feel special. Instead, give them titles, slightly better armour, feathers to put in their caps, whatever. Just don't put arbitrary and excessive barriers in front of interesting content, because then you piss off a lot of other players.

Bart said...

Isn't that basically how the Watcher (and especially DN) are now? The gear really isn't that much better. The Minstrel gear, for instance actually loses Fate and Morale as you go from the +10 radiance to the +20 radiance set.

There's a slight difference, some things are nicer, but that's because nobody is really a pure Achiever -- when you offer no benefit at all for some fiendishly difficult thing, well, there's no real reason for an Achiever to spend a ton of time/resources going after it unless they're "really" bored. So Turbine mollifies that by providing a slight improvement.

Do the math. The top tier crafted set before MoM compared to Rift armour was actually farther away, comparatively, then Marchwarden armour (former mid-armoured top tier crafted set) was to +10 radiance gear. And now, with the galadhrim crafted set, crafted armour is far closer in MoM than it was in SoA.

The Watcher and DN *are* those extremely tough, very hard things meant to provide a bit of bragging rights to those that complete them and that provide rewards that, while certainly nice, aren't that much better than what's already out there.

Kairos said...

Bart, I agree that there are now armour sets close to equivalent, even in some cases a little better, than the best radiance sets. But the point is that DN represents a large chunk of the LOTRO gaming experience, which those without radiance armour will simply miss out on - so it's not entirely about what gear you end up with.

There was (indeed,there still is, if they want to tinker with it) an opportunity there, by making the Watcher raid the current ultimate test of ability (maybe by making it even tougher!) and opening up DN to all comers by removing the radiance requirement.

Bart said...

I think I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you -- DN is not a "large chunk of the LotRO gaming experience". It's a single instance. It's, at most, two hours in a game where, if you were to really do everything else (all quests, all deeds, all factions, max out your own crafting), is almost uncountable thousands and thousands of hours.

Even if you skip most everything, only doing the quests you need to level, leaving your virtues small, ignoring faction, ignoring crafting, ignoring all the other instances and keys, we're still talking about at least several hundred hours to do "everything else" (even though you're skipping most of the game, like Annuminas, which is still fairly difficult at level 60). For instance, go North down that long high bridge in Annuminas and go in the left hand building at the end. How do you kill those two guards just inside? It took us about half an hour to figure that out (tricksy Turbine, good work).

Do you *need* to ever go in Annuminas when there are level 60 armour sets available? No, absolutely not. But we're talking about Explorers as compared to Achievers who just want to go everywhere and do everything, aren't we?

The game world is huge and there is so much to do everywhere you go. You still have enough time to get your Inn League rep up and collect one of the special house trophies. Go learn how to dance. Put together a machinima or storyboard showing you doing something in game, roleplay for a couple minutes. Learn how to play the different musical instruments and write your own songs. There's such an incredible wealth of things to do in the game and DN is simply one instance. One instance out of many.

DN is less than 1/10 of 1% of the game.

Yeebo said...

That's funny, I thought Turbine intended for DN to be some of the most exciting encounters in the game. It's also the only level 60 12 man multi-boss raid in the game. That does count as "significant" content to me, regardless of what proportion of the overall content it represents.

Bart said...

Any high level extremly challenging content will, by its very nature, be exciting. You're running on the edge, forced to balance perfectly as even a single mistep will pull you down to your doom. It's also unfamiliar and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. That it's exciting in no way means that it was designed to be played by the vast majority who play the game. ;)

So it's the only level 60 12-man raid in the game. It's still just a pittance compared to all the other content in the game. :)

Any "rewards" have to be at least sort of functional or, to the vast throngs, they won't really be rewards. How many people do you know that are excited that they finally hit Ally with the Mathom Society and can now wield the coveted Heavy Cast Iron Frying Pan? Sure, I'm excited about that, but then I generally find that I'm sort of the exception in these cases.

The Watcher and DN (especially) seem to be exactly what the thread postulated -- high level extremely challenging content that really don't offer great rewards when compared to what you can get elsewhere.

For instance, did you know that you can craft level 48 armour that is actually *better* than Rift armour? All part of Turbine smoothing out the level/crafting curve. With the new Galadhrim crfating gear (continuing the trend), you'll be just fine facing any other obstacle in the game. But, for those that really want to spend the time and energy, they can go grind grind grind and go do the extremely challenging instances and get something really cool that they can be justifiably proud to show off... instead of a Heavy Cast Iron Frying Pan. Honestly, how many people spend their time and energy going after that? Other than me, that is.

(Honestly, the first "boss" in DN, you build up aggro on one twin by attacking/taunting the other and you have to keep them apart and you have to kill one quickly after the other one is dead or its corruptions keep piling up but, and, but, and... it's literally an order of magnitude harder than the rest of the game, just like the original post here postulated. And that's just the first boss in DN. And the next time the level cap is raised, most of DN will be obsolete, just like Helegrod now.) :)

Kairos said...

Mind you, "significance" in this context should not be considered as a fixed percentage of the total activity available in the game, because your perception of it changes according to your level and experience. To a l.15 player, DN barely registers as a distant blip on the map. But to an experienced l.60 player, who has completed pretty much everything else already, DN may represent as much as 100% of currently significant content.

BTW, I gather that Galadhrim-made Heavy Cast Iron Skillet, coming with Book 9, is going to be an awesomely powerful weapon...