Azuriel wants my opinion
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 October 2013, 10:36 am
Well, maybe he doesn't. But he *did* say "I’d be interested in what other veteran MMO players have to say about it". With it being a comment on Reddit saying:
The truth of the matter is, those of us that grew up on the hardcore MMOs, we’ve already done it. Most of us just don’t want to do it again. I don’t want to play a MMO that takes over a year to hit the level cap. I don’t want to play a MMO where I have to stand around for hours before I get to play. I don’t want to play a MMO where I can permanently lose everything I’ve done in the last few hours. I’ve already done that; I don’t want to do it again. The novelty of the MMO is gone. There are better ways to enjoy my time.
So what I have to say about this is that I understand the sentiment, and mostly think the same, but I believe there is a huge flaw in one part of it, namely "I don’t want to play a MMO that takes over a year to hit the level cap.". Because I would very much like to play a MMO that takes 10 years or more to hit the level cap.

Basically the flaw is not in the thinking of the Reddit commenter, but in the design of most MMORPGs since Everquest: There are two very distinctive phases, "Leveling up" and "End game". And quite often the end game has the more interesting content, e.g. being the only part of the MMO which is actually "MM", while the leveling phase is a badly disguised single-player game. But what if there was no end game? What if there was only leveling up, which took forever, but had all the interesting content in it?

Most people don't even understand the question, because they started playing with World of Warcraft or later games. I played Ultima Online and Everquest. And in 19 months of Everquest I never hit the level cap (because I played more than one character), but still loved the game. So for me a game where you don't hit the level cap appears very much possible, and possibly fun. But it *would* require major changes to the leveling up game.

I believe that MMORPGs have only tried the extremes of the options for the leveling game, either "forced grouping" or "soloing is optimal", and have failed up to now to explore the middle ground. I can imagine a leveling game where the xp bonus for grouping is balanced in a way that it makes up for the time lost to find a group, without being so high that soloing becomes impossible. Basically grouping should be advantageous, but soloing should be a viable option. And that would work best in a game where a player is *always* interested in experience points, because he never reaches the level cap.

To those who say that a game without a level cap is impossible, I would like to point out that nobody has ever hit the cap in EVE Online, and the game seems to work just fine. And for once that isn't linked to it being a game about treachery and PvP. Now I don't consider the EVE system a good model for a game without level cap, because advancement in EVE is in real time, even offline. I would very much prefer a game where the developers can gently nudge people towards content by playing with xp bonuses. For example Everquest had xp bonuses for under-utilized zones, which is a good idea. It is great to have the option between "high risk, high reward" and "slower, but safer" zones to play in.

So the game without a level cap would get around the "I don’t want to play a MMO that takes over a year to hit the level cap." issue, and if xp bonuses for grouping are balanced also around the "I don’t want to play a MMO where I have to stand around for hours before I get to play." issue. The "I don’t want to play a MMO where I can permanently lose everything I’ve done in the last few hours." issue is a bit more complicated. On the one side I would want a game to have an option for risk, and risk can't exist without loss. On the other side I wouldn't want original EQ-like "naked corpse runs", level loss, and the possibility of permanently losing all your gear. But again there are intermediate options, like death applying a penalty to future xp gains, with an option to have that penalty disappearing while offline.

Ultimately it comes down to "The novelty of the MMO is gone.". Because while it that is certainly true for the incremental minor improvements of today's MMORPGs, this isn't really an inherent feature of the genre. We *could* have a modern MMORPG with novelty, *and* having some of the advantages of the "old school" MMORPGs. It is just that nobody dares to make a game like that.
Tobold's Blog



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