On Making Better Players

MMOs need to strive to help create better players, not engineer the game to cater to the worst players

Quoted in SynCaine’s post “Back to Azeroth

SynCaine’s post was about Rift shifting closer to the World of Warcraft level of challenge (which I am sure Syn would say was almost no challenge at all) via plans by Trion to introduce a Dunger Finder-like grouping mechanism for instances and reduce the difficulty of expert dungeons, which I gather are the Rift equivalent of heroics in WoW.

The quote came from one of the threads on the forums discussing these changes.  I did not see the thread myself, so I do not know if there was more to it.  But the quote itself is simple and seductive, seeming almost self-evidently correct when read.

And like many such sentiments, it is easy to make the general case, but tough to work out in detail.

How do you design an MMO to create better players?

In the comment thread on the post I asked that question.

SynCaine’s response borrowed, somewhat amusingly I thought, an idea from real life theme parks.  He suggested putting barriers in the game the would stop people from progressing until they had demonstrated a certain degree of proficiency.

Or, in my mind, “You must be this tall to ride on Space Mountain.”

Unfortunately, there isn’t much at Disneyland that will increase your height if you are not already tall enough for the ride.

Similarly, in WoW and games like it, there isn’t much that will help you increase your skills to advance to the next aspect of the game as things stand right now.

You start off in the world, an experience that has gone from being soloable to being pretty much a single player experience and which pretty much pushes you into a DPS role.  (It is no mystery to me why there are so many DPS players in WoW.) There is nothing there to teach you how to be a healer or a tank, or even how to avoid pulling aggro as DPS.

But the next aspect of the game is instances, which means being in a group and knowing how to play one of the three defined roles, tank, healer, or DPS.  But the game has really shown you how to play those roles.

And, lest you think that this is just a WoW problem, let us look at EVE Online for a moment.

When you start off in the tutorial and you run missions.  The initial missions teach you some basic functionality of the game.  But if you progress down the mission path you find that what running missions really teaches you is… how to run missions.

You end up with skills and a ship optimized to defeating NPCs.  So I have in my hanger a shield tanked Drake, a speed tanked Cerebus, and my AFK sushi boat, the armor tanked Dominix that can just sit there and absorb damage while its drones go out and pick off NPC ships one by one.

But none of those ships would really stand a chance against somebody with a similar ship fitted for PvP.  And a ship fitted for PvP would be inefficient to take on missions.

So the move to PvP means starting fresh.

Now, somebody will say that of course you have to go do off-line research.  And for refining a PvP fit I would agree.

But why doesn’t EVE teach you thing one about PvP?  To this day a great deal of the fittings in EVE are a mystery to me.  Granted, the game isn’t very good at explaining even simple concepts, like how many missiles your launcher holds, but at least it explains how to fit it, load it, aim it, and shoot it.

So, while I love the idea behind the quote at the top of this post, I haven’t really seen an MMO that fits the bill.

Am I missing a game?  Is there an MMO out there that does have the mechanics to create better players?  And by that I do not mean a system that walls off, impedes, or frustrates the less skilled players so they cancel their accounts and go away.

And how would you go about making a game that created better players.  How would you set things up in-game to train somebody to be a tank in WoW or a 0.0 pilot in EVE or any other example you choose?

There are these different paths in MMOs.  And the starting path doesn’t appear to lead to the next path, and that path never gets close to the following one.  How do you make things so that the paths connect, or at least branch, so you end up with a more skilled player base?

Because the alternatives seem to be to either cater to the less skilled and end up with a game with less challenge or to ignore the less skilled and be content with a much smaller player base and revenue stream.

19 thoughts on “On Making Better Players

  1. SynCaine

    The huge difference between Space Mountain requiring you to be so tall and MMO knowledge is that height is a ‘hard lock’, while anyone can get the knowledge. Now, maybe you can’t (in a reasonable amount of time/effort) get that knowledge solo, but we are talking massive, multiplayer games here, right? If someone really insists on doing everything solo, they should not be catered to in a genre with multiplayer in it’s name.

    As for EVE, given how quickly PvP tactics change, the most likely result of CCP teaching you how to PvP would be a horribly gimped setup that not only gets you killed, but gets you pissed at CCP for “setting you up to fail”.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – Yay! Proving once again why analogies are bad, you spend time attacking the silly analogy used for illustration rather than a moment actually addressing the questions I asked!

    (Also, from your comments, I am going to guess you’ve never stood in line for Space Mountain during the early summer. Your real attack on the analogy should have been that most children would grow tall enough just waiting in that line!)

    And then you pull out the old argument that is now totally flawed: How dare you play our solo content solo! Keep up with the times.

    Finally, I am not suggesting EVE teach you PvP tactics. That would be absurd. But as it stands, EVE doesn’t even teach the the difference between a warp disruptor and a warp scrambler and when you ought to fit a warp stabilizer. Would basic concepts be too much to ask?

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  3. The Alien

    There is a class quest for Wardens in LotRO where you have to help hold a line in a battle. A Spear in the Southern Marches or something like that. The NPC you’re partnered with is like overeager DPS everywhere, so it does train you somewhat. In addition to making sure you are protecting/healing yourself enough, you have to keep the aggro mostly off the NPC. It teaches a couple of important lessons, such as trying to grab aggro as a patrol approaches rather than letting them proximity aggro and then having the dps pull off you before you get up to speed.

    Of course, it can be frustrating for that reason. But at least it’s an effort in the right direction. I think LotRO’s single player class-specific instances are a useful tool for teaching things like this. I only played it for a little while, so I may be misremembering some of the details.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @The Alien – I remember that. Yeah, that class quest takes some work. I failed twice before I got it set. But you are right, it does teach some basic warden tanking skills.

    The skirmishes can also do that, depending on the roles you and your minion are playing.

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  5. SynCaine

    Agree on your point about EVE, that would add some value (but still put you a ways away from really adding to 0.0)

    I’m not attacking the analogy to deflect, I’m pointing it out because one of the true strengths of an MMO is that it allows almost anyone to be a hero (not a WoW hero) if they try. It does not matter how tall you are, how strong, how attractive, how old (look at you! :). If you put in the effort, you will see results. That’s pretty cool.

    And this is not about solo content. No one is complaining about solo MMO content being too difficult or asking for it to be made harder. We are talking about group content, be it 5 mans, raiding, or around the LFG/DF tool. In that context, I’m not buying that “I’m a solo player” is an excuse (unless I misunderstood your point here?)

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  6. bhagpuss

    The best example I can think of of an MMO introducing content that raised the overall skill level of the playerbase is the Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion for Everquest.

    Prior to LDoN there was still a clear fissure between outdoor players and dungeon players. Outdoors wasn’t all solo content, like nowadays, but it was more accessible and required different (many would say lesser) skills. Standing outside Karnor’s in a group pulling passing Drolvargs was considerably less daunting than going inside and breaking and holding a room or three.

    Consequently, many players had very limited understanding of what was expected of their class in the close and dangerous confines of a dungeon environment, where the answer to a bad pull would almost never be “run for the zone”. LDoN did a lot to change that.

    LDoN was an expansion that was nothing but dungeons. As a new expansion it was the hot thing. If you wanted to be doing what everyone else was doing, if, in other words, you didn’t want to be left out and left behind, you *had* to start doing dungeons. Even if you’d never done them before and never thought you would.

    The best part, however, was that these dungeons didn’t just start at the level cap. They began in the mid-teens when the level cap was 60 (iirc). For six months *everyone* was doing dungeons. The dungeons were instanced (an innovation) and relatively easy to get to. Groups were constant. Very little waiting LFG required.

    Because the dungeons used a separate coin system and separate vendors who sold top-class gear (another innovation) even experienced dungeon players wanted to run them. And run them often. And because of EQ’s slower pacing, they had time to instruct dungeon newbies in tactics, practices and etiquette.

    The result was a period when most players not only understood the basics of what to do in a dungeon but had several months experience at doing it. Didn’t remove all the reckless overpullers or slacking, tv-watching healers, but it did mean that pretty much everyone who was interested in doing dungeons to a reasonable level of competence and with good team spirit gained the skills and experience to do just that.

    Could it be repeated? I don’t really see why not.

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  7. Gaff

    In regards to EVE, I agree the game doesn’t teach you how to be a 0.0 pilot, or even a PVE 0.0 pilot. We teach our recruits–doctrine changes fairly regularly (i.e. from sniper fit rails to alpha strike, tengu fleets, etc) so it is an unending process.

    In short, I don’t think the game could teach you how to live in 0.0, primarily because there is such a human component to the area, so corps and alliances have taken to teaching members–FC classes, PI, training ops, etc. This is why only 10 percent of the pilots go into 0.0.

    As far as raiding in WoW or EQ2, I know there are offline resources, but most of what I learned tanking/healing raids in those games came from other players as well.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – I suppose I can phrase it best by going back to the original quote. I love that quote because it really points towards a very desirable state of affairs, MMOs with a much larger pool of better players.

    What can MMOs do to make people better players, and part of that is teaching them roles that exist outside solo, overland content?

    To combine the two points of view we have been taking, would something like a training dungeon with NPC that would teach you the basics of tanking, healing, or DPS in groups be viable? And should you make it a barrier to moving on? You can only join the Dungeon Finder if you have passed the tutorial for the role you seek to fill?

    I speak as somebody who has run a lot of below level cap dungeon finder runs in WoW. In that environment you run into a lot of people who want to be better, but just haven’t been shown the basics.

    @Bhagpuss – Now I want to see LDoN even more on the progression server. Pity nobody is progressing this week.

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  9. TheRemedy

    And if you play shooters they don’t teach you about map control. If you play fighting games they don’t teach you about zoning or the more advanced combos. If you play rts’s they don’t teach you build orders to beat your opponent.

    I’m with Syncaine in that mmos really need to stop catering to the lcd, but the knowledge for everyone to succeed is out there. It’s up to the players to put a tiny bit of effort into improving their game instead of expecting everything be handed to them.

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  10. TheRemedy

    “Similarly, in WoW and games like it, there isn’t much that will help you increase your skills to advance to the next aspect of the game as things stand right now.”

    I reread your post to make sure I got everything and this stood out and I feel like making another comment. Not to insult you as that’s not my intent, but this comment shows your lack of understanding of how the end game actually works. It may not be the best system, but in WoW their is a clear progression of 5-mans -> Heroic 5-mans -> Raids -> Heroic Raids. This is ample opportunity to learn how your class works in a group situation. I know you only play till you hit leveling cap and that’s fine that’s your playstyle, but these games are all now being designed to be played after you hit max. The leveling process is now just the beginning of a character’s progression in an mmo.

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  11. SynCaine

    Ok, so your view is that the MMO has to do SOMETHING to create better group/dungeon players, while I believe it’s something that is 100% player-driven. I can see the need for the request, but why then were UO/EQ1/AC/DAoC communities so much better about this stuff, when they contained even less info about how to play than WoW? Is it as simple as “everyone back then was hardcore”? I’m not sure, but I would not rule it out.

    As for what the content/design would need to be to teach people (if we don’t accept that it’s 100% player-driven), maybe I’ll come back on Monday with that, it’s an interesting question.

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  12. p@tsh@t

    Am I nuts or didn’t DDO at one time (and maybe still does) have some kind of training dungeon(s) that taught you combat basics in a group?

    Maybe I’m misremembering it. I don’t recall running into them in the F2P version.

    Anyone? Anyone? Beuhler?

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  13. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @TheRemedy – At the end of the day, you want a more challenging game, right?

    I’m suggesting that MMOs do something to raise the bar so that the lowest common denominator is higher than it is now. Don’t make the game easier, help newer players get a grip so they can handle a greater challenge.

    Yes, I know how group content progresses in WoW. You will, however, note that my example was learning skills to get into that first group situation. How to tank, hold aggro, pull, that sort of thing. From there on the progression works, maybe, at least until you get into groups of more than five, where there is a more complex dance involved. At that point you pretty much have to be in a guild that is doing that content or you can just go home.

    If you think everything is great the way it is, that is certainly a valid opinion. I seem to have read a lot about how crappy pugs are, how crappy heroic dungeon finder groups are (which is in the middle of your progression), and how there are not enough tanks.

    That has left me with the impression that more could be done.

    @SynCaine – My view is that MMOs *could* do something to create a player base that is better at group content, which would allow that content to be more challenging without the vast outcry we hear these days.

    The older game communities drew largely on people who were already into similar games. We were more hardcore. I didn’t enter and magically learn how to group. I had a good 6 years of TorilMUD behind me, and Gemstone and a few others before that. And crap, I played D&D for a decade before that even.

    And the server communities were generally small enough that you saw the same people, and if somebody sucked, you just didn’t group with them until they either learned better or quit. There was quite a bit of “this game sucks” from people who didn’t have the MUD/D&D background.

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  14. Toldain

    This is all too common a tale from life. In my world, Silicon Valley, everybody wants someone with the mad skills, but nobody wants to be the one to teach them.

    I made a series of posts once on my blog charting exactly how various crunch parts of EQ2 combat worked, because nobody else had done it, and I wanted to know.

    In EVE, there is Eve University. Goonswarm makes lots of instructional videos too.

    If you want better players around, quit complaining and start teaching.

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  15. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Toldain – So that’s a vote for “things are fine the way they are” I take it.

    And Silicon Valley… I’ll know the job market is back to normal when I am once again qualified for a job in the field I’ve been in for the last 20+ years. Currently, the requirement is super duper mad skills in several areas, including at least one with no application to the job listed.

    (I was always the big supporter of just hiring college grads and teaching them my bad habits rather than having to cure them of somebody elses.)

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  16. coppertopper

    Offhand I’d say the answer is: you don’t. Trying to create a better gamer is like marrying someone with the idea that you’re going to change them into something they aren’t. The whole goal of game design should be – how do i make this the best gameplay possible? But I imagine most game dev companies today, when you have millions of dollars of investor money, can only ask ‘how great of an amusement park can i create while squeezing in some good gameplay’.

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  17. Stabs

    Although I spend a lot of time these days creating better players in that I single out our least experienced 50s and drag them off to wipe with me in Rift’s T2 Experts I don’t actually like it that the game forces us to improve players.

    For one you get ridiculous paranoia about performance. I had to convince one of our best dpsers not to give up running dungeons because “his dps sucks”; I’ve read of a WoW tank who refused to pug until he had full BiS raid gear.

    But there’s something unpleasantly Stepford about turning everyone into some perfect button pusher.

    The games need to walk a line between letting people improve and just letting people play. I’d like to see less numerical difference between the best and the worst and uncapped raids so I can solve low dps by adding people not threatening people.

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  18. Shadow

    I don’t know if it’s the responsibility of the developer to make the PLAYER better at their game. A big part of me feels like this should be a natural progression of the player community, excluding players from participation in their successful groups if they feel them to be a liability or hindrance to success. By the same token, it’s rare that I believe content should be made easier.

    What DOES need to be done, is let the information be made available as to HOW things works, and let players reason out the response. It will allow for the type of emergent play that I find to be the true gem of gaming (of course, that gets ruined the second someone releases a guide to PvE – part of why I prefer PvP).

    Take for instance your comment about missile bays in EVE. The information isn’t explicitly stated, but you can figure it out. Get the info for a launcher, and note what the size of it’s hold is, then look at the volume of the missiles you want to load, and do some division. The result is how many missiles each launcher can hold. Noone told me this, noone pointed me in that direction. I was curious and poked about until I figured it out – and it works similar to how many other things work in the game, so a base understanding was there.

    Lastly (I swear), I don’t think it’s wrong to believe that players can/should/will go to out-of-game resources to find out about something. I know that the traditional knowledge is that a small portion of players use forums, but the upcoming generation of players is used to a completely integrated electronic world, and to using tools to find out any information related to a subject they’re looking at. Why should gaming be any different? Isn’t that part of what The Secret World is doing purposefully in their game?

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  19. bluelinebasher

    Would a star/grade system help in any way, rewarding better drops for a better than average effort (factor in things like no wipes, completing a dungeon within a set time, 100% kill/clear)? Would that promote better play? The game is then setting the expectations, but leaving it up to the players to work with each other…is that a fair compromise? Should an MMO include this for solo encounters in all encounters, and grade each battle for individuals (someone with your equipment normally finishes this fight with X health left)? Seems like the stat collection would be easy enough, and seems like this info would be helpful to players to know if they are at least on track.

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