Define Hard: Six ways to make your MMO difficult
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 June 2010, 8:15 pm
The problem with calling something hard or easy is that it's a subjective opinion. What is easy for one person might be hard for someone else.

When I was younger, I had a very narrow definition of things I considered to be important attributes. If you were talented in those attributes, I respected you as a peer.

As I grew older, and particularly as I began managing employees, I learned that there isn't just one set of skills that are superior to others.

People are diverse and can be absolutely brilliant in one area and very obtuse and ignorant in another. As a manager, it became important to recognize these talents in order to set people up for success.

Today, I have a different outlook. I believe that all people are talented, not just in the same ways.

Some people are mechanical. Some people are intellectual. Some people are athletic. Some people are charismatic. Some people are beautiful. Some people are atristic. And so on.

The result of all this diversity is that there is no universal definition of HARD or EASY.

Why is this important for MMOs? Because one thing we consistently do as a group is rate content as either DIFFICULT or EASY.

Types of Difficulty in MMOs
  • Twitch Skills
  • When we speak of twitch skills, this is really a measure of a person's individual skill in executing a specific physical action. It's literally your ability to point-and-click or tap buttons both quickly and accurately. The downside of this method of difficulty is that it favors people who have great hand-eye coordination. Popular among gamers who have developed that coordination over years, but not as popular among the mass-market crowd of stay-at-home Moms.
  • Reactive Decision Making
  • Interestingly, when I think of this type of difficulty, I think about Tobold. He has been a big proponent for more reactive decision-making gameplay as an alternative to twitch mechanics. Challenges presented through this method require a decision to be made in reaction to some other gameplay element. The classic example would be "GET OUT OF THE FIRE" in a RAID encounter. Or, alternately, as Tobold has often proposed -- skills/cards that are randomly provided which you need to make decisions about which to use. The downside here, if there is one, is that players need to be more actively engaged. You couldn't, for example, watch a movie while crafting if such crafting required your constant ongoing attention.
  • Planned Strategic Thinking
  • Unlike reactive decision making, some situations require you to think deeply about the problem before you encounter it. The best example here is min/maxing your damage/healing output, thinking through how your character will progress, making equipment decisions and so forth. The downside here is that it's very easy for others to provide "cookie-cutter" solutions to these problems. The result is a lot of pressure from peers to make use of these "cookie-cutter" examples as the optimum solution. Individuality is crushed by the professional theorycrafters. 
  • Time Consuming
  • There can be no doubt that making anything take twice as long makes it twice as difficult to complete. The downside here is that making something more time consuming doesn't necessarily make something more fun. It's an artificial difficulty that most people, myself included, find cumbersome. 
  • Severe Consequences
  • More severe consequences is an interesting way to add challenge in that it doesn't directly add difficulty to the task. It simply adds consequence for failure which, in turn, alters your behavior in how you approach the task. The effect is that it adds caution to the approach. The downside is that it's very possible to make the consequence so severe that it entirely deters any attempts.
  • Organizational Structure
  • And finally, there is significant challenge in creating and managing an organization large enough to accomplish group tasks. In many ways, I find this is perhaps the most difficult type of challenge because it relies on players to play a meta "social" game to either lead or become part of a group that can work together effectively to complete the goals. The downside here is that the ability to operate as a group is completely independent from someone's individual effort and ability. A talented player with untalented friends may never progress.
For myself, I think I prefer increasing difficulty by making things more reactive and twitchy.

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