Destination? Journey? Destination? Journey?

I always feel a mixed set of emotions when something like a double experience event gets announced.  Lord of the Rings Online has one going now as part of their ramp up to the Helms Deep expansion in November.

30 days of bonus XP!

30 days of bonus XP!

That is a pretty long stretch of double experience.  A lot of games will toss that sort of thing out for a special weekend or maybe a holiday or “please come back and play!” event over maybe a week.  But a 30 day stretch seems like a lot.  I cannot recall off hand any other game going for double for quite that long.  I wonder what SynCaine would say?

And when I saw that offer on the front page of the LOTRO site, a little voice within me said, “Wow, I should totally take advantage of that to get a few level!”

I mean, I made it through Moria with my captain on Brandywine (5th server, 5th guild)  and if I just pushed a little bit forward I could actually get into Siege of Mirkwood content that I purchased a couple of years back.

Not here, but I can see if from here

Look, I made it out the far side!

Basically, opportunity!  I should take advantage of it.

Then another voice in my head coughs and says something along the lines of, “Weren’t you just grumbling about how fast leveling is in MMOs these day?”

And I must sheepishly admit to myself that I have groused about how trivial, for example, the 1 to 60 game in World of Warcraft has gotten.   One of my issues in my quest to see the Horde side of the post-Cataclysm world is that I seem to out-level the quest chains in a given zone long before I am done.  The achievement for doing all the quests in Azshara, as an example, shows 60 quests to be completed.  But the zone had pretty much gone gray to me just after the 40 quest mark with one character.  And with another, with whom I did a couple of instances, I was beyond the zone before the 30 quest mark.  In fact, I was so far beyond that the Warchief’s Call board directed me to essentially skip the next zone in line as well.

Likewise, back in LOTRO, I was skipping whole sections of content.  I actually optimized my path through the game to visit some of my favorite zones… The Lone Lands and Evendim being two where I ran down the whole zone of quests… but otherwise leapfrogged until I could get into Eregion and then Moria.  Even in Moria I ended up skipping a big chunk of the content while running through some of the areas.  As it turned out, I think I picked the better areas… the content in Moria is somewhat uneven, with areas in the old fetch-and-carry quest hub model while other areas are in the more recent, more dynamic vein that Turbine has adopted… but there was still a lot left behind.

Of course, I write that in full knowledge of my own hypocrisy.  What is that I have equipped in my pocket slot?

everybody must get stoned

Everybody must get stoned…

What has it got in its pocketses indeed!  A 25% XP boosting item!

Well there’s your problem.

Or at least an insight into the problem, the competing aspects of such games that pull some people, like myself, in contradictory directions.

While seeing the world, experiencing the content, ought to be the part of the package, at the same time level based progression oriented games like this also push the achievement button for people.  As somebody who tends to be very goal oriented, at times I find myself quite caught up in the progress aspect of games.  Pushing on, getting another level, getting access to another zone, another instance, another expansion, another whatever, can quickly become my focus, especially if the content is nothing to write home about.  A series of fetch-and-carry and solve the local bear/boar/wolf problem quests become an obstacle to overcome in pursuit of the next stage of the progression aspect of the game.

In getting my fourth character to level cap in Rift before the Storm Legion expansion, my run became very much a matter of progress over everything else.

Progress, and giving feedback on progress, can be very powerful motivators.  There is a reason we went from the dark ages of TorilMUD, where you had to travel back to town to speak to your guild leader to see where you stood in your progress to the next level (and he would only give a vague answer that you could translate into which 10% segment of the climb you were in), to the tiny little five bubble experience bar in the character window in EverQuest which used to cause people to track progress in pixels (I had a friend who used to take a before and after screen shot every time he played so he could compare the bars and get an exact pixel count), to experience bars that are part of the main UI and which go from edge to edge across the screen, chopped up into nice little 5% increment.

This whole thing is exacerbated by the general “more levels” expansion plan that MMORPGs have been using since at least Ruins of Kunark.  When you start a game and you are staring at 85-90 levels to get to the latest content… presumably the “best” content, or at least the content where most of the population is playing… It becomes just that much harder to ignore progress in favor of content.

And it is not just the fantasy MMORPG where this holds sway.  I was thinking about why I left off playing World of Tanks earlier this year.  In part I think it was because I had hit a point where I was logging on every night to get my “first win” bonus XP with a couple of tanks on trees that I wanted to advance, and then logging off when I was done.  The fights seemed like they were becoming secondary to progression, at which point you sort of have to ask yourself why you are playing.  In my case, that dialog seems to happen somewhere in my subconscious and I simply stop logging in if it comes out the wrong way.  And now that I have picked up War Thunder, which has a similar daily bonus scheme, I wonder if I will end up in the same rut over there eventually.

It is easy at this point to say that we should focus on games without levels and the like.  But we will find our various progress metrics.  There are no levels in EVE Online, but people will track their progress in ISK, skill points, kills, standings, loyalty points, or being in one of the alliances on the sovereignty map.  We do like to have our cut and dried indicators.  And I think if you worked to eliminate all such things, you might just end up with no game at all.

Progress is in these games for a reason.  It can be both a good and a bad motivator.  I like the idea of getting to level cap.  In a number of MMOs my having arrived at that point meant me feeling done, in both a satisfying and a terminal way.  And progress, in my mind, is invariably tied in with the journey.  I couldn’t really get myself on board with SOE’s play to sell the jump to level 85 in EverQuest II.  In part that was because of the mire of skills and points and what not you are handed without any context.  But it also feels a bit like cheating, jumping up all those levels.  That is my own feeling anyway.  I wouldn’t point fingers at those who chose that path, but in my gut it feels like skipping all that progress… even though I have no inclination to do it myself at this point… is skipping the game.

Which sort of ties progress back to content in some odd way in my brain.  But, in the end, do I play the content in order to progress, or progress in order to play content?  And is there a “right” balance in there somewhere?

How do you feel about the balance between content and progress?

14 responses to “Destination? Journey? Destination? Journey?

  1. I noticed the same problem in WoW, being ready to move on to the next zone well before I was done with story quests. It forces the world to take a backseat to progression and that doesn’t sit right with me.

    I think double xp weekends and the like work a lot better in a game like The Secret World, where xp is used for new abilities opposed to straight up level gain.

  2. The ironic thing about the Level 85 jump in EQ2 is that if you were to take advantage of it you’d soon find that all your dreams or nightmares of leveling like it’s 1999 would have come true. 85 to 90 isn’t so bad but from 90 onwards each 10% of a level is effectively a level in itself and takes easily as long to solo as a full level even as high as the early 80s.

    Moreover, if you’re looking at progressing through the given content for those levels by following the questlines offered you will almost certainly find that, far from outleveling the quests on offer you will run out of quests before you run out of levels. Tipa posted a couple times a while back giving some details on that experience, I seem to recall.

    At level 92 (and I got them all the hard way) my Berserker is currently inching through the Ethernere at about 5-10% of level per 60-90 minute session. It seems fine but mostly that’s because I’m taking the medicine in small doses and enjoying the moderately intriguing, if nonsensical plot.

    I agree with you that it’s become difficult, maybe impossible, even to know what one wants when it comes to leveling and the speed thereof. I love leveling and without it or some close analog I doubt I’d stick with any MMO for longer than it takes to see the sights. Consequently I don’t want it to whip by too fast. On the other hand, I love playing a lot of characters and once you’ve raised three or four the journey does begin to lose some of its appeal.

    On balance I think my favorite combination is a fastish leveling speed, a lot of choice in where to go and a wide range of classes to take there. That’s one of the reasons GW2 works so well for me. I leveled nine characters to cap there in as many months and never felt I *had* to do the same thing twice, although there were plenty of things I enjoyed enough to look forward to repeating.

    It’s been a successful model by current standards so I hope to see future games take it up.

  3. I think I’d be just as happy if games got rid of progression, although I would still like some character development. As an explorer, it becomes frustrating when the game mechanics make it feel trivial to go through an area I’ve never been because I leveled up somewhere else. I think this “you must be at the top level to enjoy the new content” philosophy of MMOs is really what hurts them in the long run. Even ignoring my complaints about LotRO’s business model, I have very little motivation to go play LotRO given that I’m about 2-3 expansions behind at this point.

  4. I’d be interested to know how you would rate the progress speed in GW2 and whether you’d be tempted to use an XP boost item there?

    LOTRO is the one game where I happily used every trinket and consumable boost just to speed up leveling. I’d like to think that’s because of the pacing and grindiness in LOTRO which is pretty overwhelming in an oldschool kind of way, especially if you played GW2 right before. for me, the leveling experience couldn’t be more opposed than in those two games and while I had access to boosts in GW2, I never had need to use one. there’s such a thing as leveling too fast for me, just as there’s too slow.

  5. @Syl – My limited time in GW2, which got me past level 20, ended up with me needing to stop and grind mobs or redo events because the “do once” quest line seemed to go up in level much faster than I was. Standing there at another “kill X” quest where the mobs were clearly going to paste me probably drained my interest in the game as much as anything else.

  6. The “Personal Story” was, in my opinion, the single biggest mistake ANet made in the original conception of GW2. In beta there were endless complaints about people either not being able to do it because it was too hard at the level they’d reached. The way it was foregrounded made it all but impossible not to notice and it sat there blinking at you and making you feel it was what you ought to be doing.

    If you ignored it completely and just roamed, all those issues disappeared. Had it never existed then yes, people would still have complained of a lack of direction but getting people to do without the crutches of quest hubs and linear progression was supposed to be part of the USP.

    It seems to me that, at least back then before all the current highly directive achievement content was added, it was the players who most successfully ignored the Personal Story and just went out and met the world as it met them who stuck with the game. I’d guess it was considered there weren’t enough of them, though, because boy, have things gone the other way of late…

  7. If you’re going to play alts, it is nice that your first char doesn’t exhaust all available content. I probably ran three chars through Evendim before I got to see all the quests there for example.

    First time through you feel you’re missing out because you out-leveled so much content, but later times you’re glad there was so much left.

    I’d be pretty happy if LOTRO offered me a new 50-60 region so not every char has to do Moria. It’s strange they ended up with so many things to do from 40-50 and so little choice at other levels.

  8. @Psychochild – +1 for everything you said. I will be paying Sony for a max level character just so I can wander around Norrath.

    Also…I think the original GW had it backwards. If you wanted PvP they should have handed you a level 1 character and made you unlock skills and levels. But if you just want to play the story and campaign, they should have handed you that max level (20 back then) character with a limited skill set and said “have fun.”

  9. Pingback: LOTRO: not wanting to rush | GamingSF

  10. In LOTRO I have always felt that there was too much XP being given out: as mentioned if you do the Epics, the quest lines, the skirmishes and instances you are soon overleveled! In fact I have basically crawled thorugh the game exploring all content on my Windfola charachters for years and my main is level44: the biggest issue I have just found out is that all the mobs are green ie just about to go grey…so am getting minimum XP at all times…Sounds like some kind of solution right? No as the game just becomes too easy!
    This year I started a Captain on Landroval with th simple aim of getting to level cap as soon as possible…(OK my slow play style keeps manifesting itself and I am buy no means power levelling) but by chasing orange mobs and doing quests I have found myself constantly out levelling areas and having to move on fast to newer areas…
    The balance is wrong….it does not spoil the game but it could be better!
    When Riders of Rohan came out I was disappointed to realise even after buying the expansion you needed to get to lv75 to get a war-horse…Why? There is an argument for getting to level cap but it should not be the be end of everything in the game, I also feel with LOTRO that the level capped players effectively vanish from other areas…can nothing be done to increase there presence throughout the game world.. servers with high populations of capped players have some areas deserted of other players…
    Surely LOTRO’s Middle Earth shouldn’t be so lonely an experience, thankfully there are lots of die-hard players who equip xp disablers, RP or just go slow.

  11. Tsuhelm, I think you’re at the extreme end of what people like. If leveling was any slower in LOTRO, most of us would have given up on the game by now.

    As it is a lot chars enter Moria never to see the light of day again.

    Strangely like Tolkien himself, whose writing came to a long halt at Balin’s Tomb.

    But the whole model of leveling in MMOs needs a big rethink. It’s ok when you start out with 50 levels, but by the time you’ve had 5 expansions and the cap is 95, it’s hard to make it work for any type of player.

  12. If I recall right, isn’t there a pocket item in LOTRO that turns off experience?

    Or am I think of that stone in Pokemon that will keep your Pokemon from evolving. I was reading Pokemon game guides last night for no good reason.

    Anyway, I like that such things are available, though I much prefer the EQII plan that lets you route your XP into something else. Then it doesn’t feel wasted.

  13. Isn’t the title of the post about the journey, or the destination ? And then most of the comments are instead about the speed of reaching the destination. Count me as a journeyer, although you do have to have a good destination for the journey to matter.

    Wait, this is going to devolve into metaphysics instead.

    I’m with Psychochild. I want someone to come up with more of an exploring game and less of a level grind – or even eliminate the progression, somehow.

  14. @Mrrx – The title is a reference to the two conflicting aspects common to many games like LOTRO. That is, seeing the content or moving towards the level cap. Journey vs. Destination. Giving a 100% XP bonus is a “let’s get you to your destination more quickly” move. It is also something of an acknowledgement that progression is an important aspect of their game to many of their players as well as reinforcing my ongoing complaint about expansions in that they pile the new stuff on top of the old stuff, thus forcing progression, or at least the illusion of the need for progression, on players.

    On the flip side of all that, I do not think I would play a role playing game the was completely devoid of any sort of character progression. But, as I noted in the post, I can be very goal oriented, something that progression based games feed nicely.

Voice your opinion... but be nice about it...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s