Monday, October 14, 2013

The Final Countdown (Day 25) :: You Get What You Give

Gear Normalisation, you say? BRING IT!

Challenge Modes have been the unsung success story of this Expansion.

Even if you're not doing them I'll guarantee you know someone who is, and the 'challenge' of running what are considered for many as 'dead' 5 mans for a static set of pretty much cosmetic rewards... well, they're certainly not everyone's cup of tea. The entertainment of course is the timer, and the knowledge you're NOT attempting to better a run set by people with superior equipment to yours... The only issue here is your ability to get from A to B in as quick a time as possible having killed a specific set of mobs. This is the state of affairs that many people wish we had not simply in this part of the game but everywhere, that the constant treadmill of gearing is ultimately detrimental to the longevity of the game.

Should the designers be making more use of such mechanics in the next Expansion?

One of the biggest single reasons I hear for game burnout is the 'repetition' aspect of gameplay: whether it is a rep grind or gearing related, people are not big fans of having to do anything for hours on end... which is odd, because a great many of those same individuals were more than happy to do this at previous points in the game's life. This is where individual perception comes into play: if you are no longer in a position (for whatever reason) to put in the time required to complete something, it won't matter what the designers do, you're still not taking the challenge. I think the reason so many people haven't been enamoured with Challenge Modes is that even though it is a shorter 'run' per se, the amount of organisation beforehand is considerably more focussed on the skill of players and far less reliant on what you're able to gather beforehand (with the exception of Invisibility potions.) There is a pretty delicate balance that is struck in this situation where one person's mistakes can make or break a run, especially as it's only five of you 'playing.' Plus, there is no loot. The only reward is your time, because the cosmetic 'incentives' only show people you're capable, and don't give you any physical advantage over anyone else outside of the Challenge Mode.

Okay... the mount reward's pretty sweet too.

Yes, I'm being silly now. YOU'RE SURPRISED?

If everything was like this in game, if Challenge Modes were the yardstick... there'd be no Warcraft. Basing progression purely on skill might be the Holy Grail for many players but the overriding reason for Warcraft's continued success is the ability to play however you wish, which yes includes badly or as a douche. The problem with using ability as a gate to progression is you will never accurately find a method to exclude 'bad' players, because skill remains only one of a myriad of factors in driving progress forward, and even the best of individuals can have their 'red mist' moments. Like it or not, the game needs to cater to the lowest common denominator as well as the cutting edge. The overriding advantage with Challenge Modes therefore is to give one group of players a greater choice in what they do with their time in game without the need to focus on gear as a priority. That's the part of this that interests me the most, because when the major gripe is the time it takes to be gear capable of running End Game content, this is an issue that could be addressed on a wider stage.

In fact, if we look at Lootistics Island, we see a possible solution to the problem already being used in-game. Here's a zone that simply drops one iLevel of gear, and via a currency that drops whilst farming for said items gives you access to buy weapons. Yes, some of it is harder to find than others (helms, necks, looking at you) but the fact remains that if you hang around long enough, you'll be at a level where all current content is accessible to you. Then it's up to you to make the next step, and in an ideal world that's probably as good as we can expect under the circumstances, short of giving people a pre-made 496-geared character to buy off the shelf. The problem, if there is one, is being able to play the class you're gearing to begin with, and I'm seeing many people admit that having the armour is only ever half the battle. At some point, like it or not, the responsibility devolves to the individual to learn how to play. Blizzard can only be expected to provide so much.

From It's a fair kop, guv.

We are already well aware that a gear 'problem' exists because of item stat inflation. Blizzard have started not simply tailoring quest rewards on a class by class basis, but placing special vendors in levelling zones who provide a complete set of iLevelled gear appropriate to the area in which you find yourself. The path to accessibility has already been laid, but the problem remains the education of players to know where to find these things easily, and to understand what level of gear is needed for each challenge that is placed before them. This is one area in which Warcraft sorely lacks, and we'll look tomorrow at the process of re-education that needs to begin at every level of the game, from the first time you roll a character to begin your journey.

1 comment:

Grimmtooth said...

The whole "Skinner Box" aspect of the game has been discussed elsewhere and I will not drill down into that too deeply other than to state the belief that the Skinner-ish aspects of the game ARE at the moment pretty much what keeps the machine lumbering on. Namely, getting loot - even knowing it will be supplanted by better loot later on - is the mechanic that Blizz appears to rely on to get us to run our little mazes - that cheese.

One attempted replacement strategy is to remove loot altogether. City of Heroes tried this, and I have to say that I really didn't like it, because I've been conditioned by DECADES of RPGs to measure progress by the next bit of improved gear. It's a goal, it's a motivation, it's everything to an RPGer.

Even the folks at NCSoft finally admitted that they couldn't fight years of conditioning without a FEW overt bits of material swag, such as capes. They met the enemy, and it was Zork.

It won't be enough to replace the old gear-motivated game with intangibles like "levels" and "abilities". It's gonna have to be huge, overt, obvious, and MORE motivational than all of the above, JUST to break even.