Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 15) :: Designed for Life

Time to redefine the concept of in-game 'rewards'?

Yesterday was a fruitful one for discussion, and what is becoming increasingly apparent in the particular sphere I rotate around is that effort and reward are important issues to be considered. We're not talking about entitlement here, let's be clear, but instead the notion as mentioned above: the handmade group, not the mass-produced LFG rotation. I see both sides of this as a GM: there are obviously those who have no qualms in just throwing themselves into the mix because levelling in this manner has become the norm. On the flip side, I'm one of those people who's come to hate the rotating door of random people and variable group quality, and now won't LFG regardless. So, where is the mid-point? How does one make the process of grouping attractive to everyone?

Could we already have an indicator of how the Expansion could itself be a portent of a sea change in how people level their characters?

This video's been bouncing around for a while and yesterday WoW Insider picked up the story: the potential to scale back your health at 90 for lower-level content has been something many people have been advocating for quite some time. Linking this into Recruit a Friend would be an utterly genius move, so you really could level 'again' with your friends, but there's a flipside to this. Some people just want to get to 90 as quickly as possible and so a 'boost' (effectively being dragged through an instance) is a far better option. It would also make the business of farming old mounts and pets a far more 'interesting' prospect, but I digress. If Blizzard placed an Achievement in game for completing old content in a  'scaled' fashion I suspect a lot more people would sit up and take notice, even more if (at the end) you got awarded a special token which (if you collected enough of them) you could exchange for a tenable reward. Make it a related consumable, maybe: a flask or food buff that you could use for further dungeon adventures. Maybe enough would get you the Tabard of the Helpful Soul which use would be to automatically teleport you to a random Dungeon Meeting Stone. Do enough gathering and you can pick between a Pet or a Mount... JOB DUN.

Reduces me to tears EVERY SINGLE TIME.

The question then becomes what can you offer as an incentive for people to actually group together. Mr Alt has stopped queuing as a Tank for LFR, for instance, because he does not consider the 'reward' of an extra 'satchel of goods' enough of an incentive. The reward you're given for doing a Random LFG at low levels are sadly repetitive, and frankly no use to anyone levelling with Heirlooms in a lot of cases... so what becomes attractive? Ironically the option to group with people you know may not be an option even when Guilded, and this is why the 'back-scaling' possibilities are making me unreasonably excited, because this would mean I could ask 4 L90's IN GUILD to come do Stockades at L20 with me and we'd ALL get a challenge from it. It would also save the trouble of Blizzard having to 'redesign' dungeons in two forms as it did with SM and Scholo. One form would fit all, just scaled at different levels of difficulty depending on which option you took: Normal, Heroic or Challenge. Doing a Heroic Wailing Caverns at L100? HO YUS. Plus, with gear being redesigned in the Item Squish, you could quite easily have the same item you won at 25 replaced at 100. Gonna make the 5 man options open up at max level too...

This however does not deal with the issue of incentivisation (is that even a word?) but one could argue that actually, you'd not need any if all current content, REGARDLESS OF LEVEL, was offered to everyone and there were no restrictions on it's completion. If the token system we discussed above was implemented the first time you walked into a Dungeon you'd have been collecting things from Day 1, which would be a sizable pile at cap. However, that would still assume you had access to friends to play with, or a Guild to help you with people 'scaling down' to your level as assistance. What about the utterly new player with no idea of how things worked? How would it be possible to train and educate these people to understand how to effectively play their class, and to promote a culture of rewarding them for improving not simply what they wore, but how they behaved?

Original article can be found here.

Add-ons have often been a useful indicator of where the game is moving in terms of requirements: if Blizzard don't offer the options you're looking for, you create your own, and oQueue has shown that there is a demand for the ability to 'raid' Flex without a pool of Real ID 'friends' or a Guild as a starting point. The major difference between this and LFR is the notion you are in control rather than Blizzard simply throwing 'random' people together but the reality is that it's just as hit and miss an affair. LFR has one major overriding advantage: it treats everyone the same, regardless of anything other than the level of their gear.... and this can be easily manipulated. However, Blizzard hold a VAST array of information about our characters, assuming that the system can keep up with what is often a stupidly fast turnover of gear changes at any given period. This is the key I believe to moving forward, and giving players a more intelligent version of the LFG/LFR interface that allows THEM a notion of control over who they play with.

We need a way to not simply use an arbitrary number on gear to be the guide to potential performance. There needs to be an audit on ALL gear (gems, enchants, reforge options) before entry to any group is granted, similar to that which already exists on the Armoury. We should know if players have completed certain tasks (yes, Proving Grounds I'm looking at you) and, perhaps more importantly we need to have people being prepared to list their shortcomings. 'Can Tank, gear needs work' would be useful to know, for instance, but there's absolutely no way currently that can be accommodated with the Armoury setup... but players will have backup sets of gear saved, sitting in bags. Perhaps it is time for the Armoury to list not only a player's Main Spec but Offspec Gear too. The biggest single restriction to this of course would be server load, and I'd venture to suggest we'd probably need a fairly serious re-write of the code and separate servers simply for Instance Play as a result, so maybe this is something for the next Blizzard MMO release. Still, the current system is, according to many, unfit for purpose unless people step up themselves and make a difference. Then the argument becomes less about requirements and more concerning self-regulation... and that's something for another day.


Rewarding people for effort is not new. Making them work is also not new. Making them *think* they're not working when really they are is becoming increasingly difficult when you've already rewarded them previously. This is a psychological thing that I reckon I could write several blog posts on without breaking stride, and is typified by the 'why can't we fly at 85 in Pandaria' argument. Blizzard wanted you to be rewarded for not taking the easy route. It's the same on Lootistics Island. You are rewarded for patience and flying on Honking Huge Seagulls. This is going to be a 'thing' again in the Expansion, of that I am absolutely certain, because the groundwork is being laid as I type. LFR is making people actually have to work, I saw it in action last night. If you want it to happen and you have the means in your possession you WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN. I watched a brilliant Druid Tank, from my server, explain every fight in LFR Part 1 to the party, and they listened. People stood up and helped out, and when we failed people took the time to work out why and made it better. I'm not saying this is typical but this is a change from previous patches in my experience, and therefore it is worth repeating. If people want to make a change it is possible, but not always probable.

Designing a game with the right rewards to want you to play is a thankless task. The best options, by some way, are to remove as many restrictions on how you can play as possible. Scaling content does that. A fair and equal entry process to group activities does that. Most importantly, a consistent and continuous reward system will allow people to plan a path and prioritise rewards based on their own requirements. Tomorrow we're going to see if we can't work out how that should function, for now I'd be interested to hear what you think you should be on the table in terms of active rewards for those people who don't just turn up, but make the effort to take part as well.

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