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The Soapbox

The Soapbox: Better models for MMO endgame progression, part three

Game Mechanics, Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous

There's a climb we can make, if we try.
Today marks the last entry in my better models for MMO endgame progression series, the follow-up to my series on why MMO studios should abandon raiding. And that means providing two more possible models along with something of a thesis statement. But it also means that at this point I'm far more willing to wander off into the woods with these ideas. The first part had slight twists on standard formulas, the second had ideas that was a bit further afield, and this one features two ideas that are still almost entirely unrefined.

More specifically, today's concepts are more about tackling the very principle that progress has to be tied past a certain point to things that you get. You earn a thing and then you're better. But there's no reason that progress can't be oriented the other way, with the gear (etc.) just being a gating mechanism for your actual forward motion.

The funny part is that a lot of these systems aren't really at odds with one another; they can coexist without too much trouble. But then, that's the nature of the beast.

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The Soapbox: Better models for MMO endgame progression, part two

Game Mechanics, Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Crafting

Yes, there must be a better way.  And there are better ways.
If you read yesterday's Soapbox, the first in my Better models for MMO endgame progression series, with a fair bit of awareness, you probably noticed that the models I presented were, well... safe. Normal. Not too far outside of the realm of what we already have in some games, in other words. Oh, sure, they were functional and expanded compared to what you normally see in games, and they weren't reliant on high-end raiding, but they were still derived from the same space, which is part of the point.

But that's not nearly as far as the rabbit hole goes. So let's start moving further beyond what's already common. Let's start heading into stranger territory.

As before, the models presented here are not super-refined balanced labyrinths of systems; they're the outline, the skeletons, the fundamentals of how these concepts could work. And even at this stage, they're able to go in directions you don't find in numerous MMO endgames. So let's jump right into it, shall we?

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The Soapbox: Better models for MMO endgame progression, part one

Game Mechanics, Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous

I don't think the all-bear model is sustainable, though.
Last month, my three-part Soapbox series on reasons studios should abandon raiding as the core mechanic of their MMOs produced no shortage of comments. One of the persistent refrains from the pro-raid side was, as expected, "if you're so smart, why aren't you proposing alternatives?!"

The obvious answer would be that it wasn't the point of the articles. The series was about reasons to drop raiding, after all. But it's also not as simple as "here's what games should be doing" because there are countless alternatives. Tons of alternatives. I can think of at least six off the top of my head.

So for this new series, let's consider models that don't rely upon raiding as an endgame progression model. Some of these are close cousins to endgame models found in games currently on the market, some of them are not, and none of them has been designed with fine details or lore or what-not in mind. They're drag-and-drop, as it were. The point here is explaining the multitude of options available for an MMO's endgame that don't rely upon raiding for their focus. Today's article will cover the first two of six I have in mind.

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The Soapbox: Six reasons MMOs should abandon raiding, part 3

Culture, Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Dungeons

Sometimes you just need to cut away the disease.
In parts one and two of this Soapbox miniseries, I tackled four of the reasons the MMO genre should abandon raiding as a central gameplay element, but one key argument has been left out until now: The social aspect of raiding.

Whatever else is true of raiding, it is definitely social. Communities spring up and keep going largely based on that raiding community, to the point that it's easy to assume that everyone in a game's population raids. There are lengthy discussions about raiding, about how to raid, about tips and tricks for clearing raids. The social aspect of raids is what I think has kept them around so long; it's easy for a designer to look at that sort of engagement and see it as vital.

Yet there's more to the story than might be available at a glance, and the social aspect is not without steep costs. Those social elements do not carry the weight of everything else... mostly because they aren't as strong as they appear.

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The Soapbox: Six reasons MMOs should abandon raiding, part 2

Game Mechanics, Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Dungeons

Time to take on the stock.
In yesterday's Soapbox, I had some things to say about why it's time to dump raiding. I'm writing this before I've seen the comment responses, but I'm willing to bet that a fair amount of angry shouting was involved in the comments because that's what I usually expect. But I wasn't done, as suggested by the whole "part 1" thing in the title header.

For those don't feel like reading the whole thing, the short version is that raiding is too expensive to develop for too small a portion of the players. This is a solid argument, but it's standard: You hear it every time this debate comes up. In some ways, it's the foundation of the argument against raiding beyond the reality that most people say they just don't like raiding.

There's more to be said, though, and there are more serious issues up for discussion. Raiding isn't just expensive in terms of development. It's expensive in lots of ways.

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The Soapbox: Six reasons MMOs should abandon raiding, part 1

Game Mechanics, Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Dungeons

Sorry, Truce.  You deserve better, but you get this.
Raiding is no longer doing MMOs any favors.

I've compared raiding to open PvP in the past, and the comparison still holds up. It's something that a lot of games developed in response to a specific genre-defining game have featured. But it's not doing those games any favors, and it might be time to take a hard look at this gameplay element that games survive in spite of rather than because of. If we learn nothing else from WildStar's issues when it launched into what should have been an ideal environment, it's that raiding certainly isn't driving players into a game's waiting arms.

But I don't want to just say that and let it roll around on the floor. Let's actually break the argument down across a couple of articles this week. Why does raiding need to shuffle off of the main stage, definitely as the default endgame model, perhaps altogether? I can give you six good reasons.

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The Soapbox: This is how reviews actually work

Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, Massively Meta, The Soapbox

Welcome back to the Soapbox, folks. Actually, let's call this a mini-Soapbox, since it's just a wee thing compared to some of the walls-of-text we've previously published in this space. Anyhow, let's talk about reviews, bias, and subjectivity. Whether it be film criticism, concert recaps, book reviews, or game reviews, there's an illogical expectation out there regarding "unbiased" work and -- to directly quote a recent Massively commenter -- "correct and honest" reviews.

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The Soapbox: Let me tell you how little I want to raid

Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous

Nope.
Over the past several years, Blizzard has been very attentive when it comes to making it easier for players to raid. Raid sizes have gone down, then they've moved over to a flex structure. The raid finder was added to the game. Mechanics were toned down, while getting drops has been made even easier. With the next expansion, you won't even need to toy around in difficult instances to get ready for raiding; you can just jump in pretty much from the point you hit the level cap.

All of this in response to a lot of people saying that they don't want to raid -- all of this so thoroughly missing the point of that statement.

This is one of those hurdles a lot of designers can't seem to conceptually get over. World of Warcraft's design team has had years of people saying this, and every response from the team has been missing the point so completely that it's almost absurd. I don't want to raid, at all, ever. End of discussion.

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The Soapbox: Does Trion realize what it has in ArcheAge?

Fantasy, Culture, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, New Titles, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Soapbox, ArcheAge, Sandbox, Crafting

ArcheAge - Two cats watching birds
Can I share how nervous I am about the fact that ArcheAge is finally heading West? Thanks because I really need someone to talk to about this stuff.

I'm going to skip over the F2P hand-wringing, both because I covered it nine months ago and because there's nothing anyone can do about it. And there's plenty of reason to fret about the rest of what's in store for starving western sandbox fans, anyway. Join me after the cut and we'll worry about it together.

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The Soapbox: My hypersexualization conundrum

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Races, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, MOBA, MMORPG, Buy-to-Play

Final Fantasy XIV
Every now and then here at Massively, we receive an email that isn't super nice. I know this may come as a shock to many of you -- the internet is, after all, a place of tolerance and constructive debate -- but sometimes the Massively inbox is no place any sane person would want to be. One reader recently took the opportunity to offer some choice thoughts on Massively staffers. And amidst the jumble of insults and generalizations, the reader levied the ever-powerful "hypocrisy" charge at us for claiming to care about hypersexualized designs of female characters in MMOs while simultaneously playing as those very hypersexualized characters. How could we possibly purport to care about the presentation of women in games if we're all running around in chainmail bikinis?

Generally speaking, I prefer to not have my habits and behavior challenged via ad hominem attacks and false comparisons. But I have to admit that this one particular charge piqued my curiosity. Why is it that the majority of my characters are female? Am I, as a person who looks down on hypersexualized designs in games, committing an act of hypocrisy every time I create a female character?

Let's sort it out. And before we begin, remember that the Soapbox, like most of our editorials, is just one person's opinion and doesn't represent the thoughts of Massively as a whole.

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The Soapbox: Old content should stay relevant

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, EverQuest, Expansions, Endgame, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, The Soapbox, MMORPG

The Soapbox title image
The archetypal themepark MMO model, as popularised by World of Warcraft, is a race to the level cap in order to unlock the best content on offer. New content is tacked onto the endgame regularly, accompanied by improved gear and perhaps a higher level cap. It's a system that's designed to keep people playing by keeping them on a progression climb that's constantly getting steeper. As a consequence, endgame activities render older content obsolete since these outdated activities carry little real benefit for fully leveled characters.

Exploring old content for the sake of experiencing it is not enough of a motivator for many players since this content simply cannot present the same challenge as it once did. Although you can technically go back and play through old dungeons, they will never be as fulfilling when tactics become optional and you can solo once-formidable opponents. In this week's Soapbox, I will mourn the loss of fantastic older content that was rendered obsolete through vertical progression, using WoW as a key example. I'll go on to suggest a solution that I think might allow for both old and new content to exist together in relevancy without significantly compromising the themepark MMO's existing progression mechanics.

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The Soapbox: Novel content trumps novel mechanics

City of Heroes, Game Mechanics, Patches, Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Dungeons, Player-Generated Content

I'm not a malcontent
Action combat. Interactive conversations. Public quests. Voxel worlds. There are many game mechanics that developers of massively multiplayer online games crow about when promoting their games because these are the things that make their games stand out from the pack. Even if they're not the first to do it, they'll proclaim that they're doing it bigger and better than their predecessors. I don't have a problem with any of this.

It's when the developers and their ardent fans gloss over the importance of the actual content these mechanics are applied to that I get annoyed. Mechanics are just a skeleton, and they can't do anything at all without some meat on the bones. Content matters, and good, fresh content will keep players interested long after the novelty of unusual mechanics has worn off.

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The Soapbox: Stop ganking, you ganking gankers

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, Aion, PvP, Opinion, Free-to-Play, TERA, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Subscription, MMORPG, Buy-to-Play

Lineage II
For me, player vs. player interaction is a necessary component of any online game. The urge to engage with skilled human opponents is the reason I spent countless hours defending flags in World of Warcraft and likely the main motivating factor in my slide away from traditional MMOs and toward MOBAs like Dota 2 and Blizzard Entertainment's upcoming Heroes of the Storm. Simply put, I like a good fight.

I especially like a good fight when it occurs unscripted and out in the wilds of the world. If you catch me unaware while I'm grinding out one of TERA's BAMs or plucking gold from an ore vein in Aion, I'll be more than happy to cross swords (or trade frostbolts) with you. Winning or losing isn't important to me; the constant threat of attack heightens my enjoyment of and connection to the game's universe.

Unfortunately, open world PvP doesn't attract exclusively those people interested in fair fights. And in the games that make it possible, a certain small segment of players is working hard to ruin everyone else's good time. I speak, of course, of gankers.

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The Soapbox: MMO 'nostalgia' isn't nostalgia

Sci-Fi, Culture, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Opinion, Star Wars Galaxies, The Soapbox, Sandbox

Elizabeth Montgomery
Here's the Merriam-Webster online dictionary definition of the word nostalgia.

nos·tal·gia
noun
\nä-ˈstal-jə, nə- also nȯ-, nō-; nə-ˈstäl-\
: pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again
1 : the state of being homesick : homesickness
2 : a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also : something that evokes nostalgia


And here's where I tell you that nostalgia is the most misused, overused, and overly simplistic word in modern MMO discourse.

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The Soapbox: The Raid Finder ruined raiding

World of Warcraft, Game Mechanics, Guilds, PvE, Opinion, The Soapbox, Dungeons

The Soapbox title image
I don't typically limit myself to ranting about only one game at a time, but I decided to make an exception this week and speak out against World of Warcraft's Raid Finder mechanic. I was running a small and modestly successful raiding guild when this system was introduced, and my team definitely felt the onslaught of this guild-destroying game mechanic first hand. Raid Finder, commonly dubbed LFR by the cool kids in Orgrimmar, is a system that demolishes the competency barrier that stands in the way of freshly level-capped characters and normal raiding content. The system allows players to join a random raiding group in order to tackle a nerfed version of a normal raid and exists mainly to maximise inclusion in the game's best PvE endgame content.

LFR was quite popular among casual players that were usually passed up when it came to raiding group formation, but it didn't offer much progress to seasoned raiders. The gear gained had lower stats than its corresponding normal raid counterpart, but the LFR tier simply didn't need the co-ordination required of a group tackling regular raids. A void was created somewhere in between the casual masses who could benefit from the LFR mechanic and the hardcore raiders that simply did not need help with progression. My casual raiding guild was caught in the middle and ultimately met its demise at the hands of LFR, which simultaneously depleted the PUG pool and gave our members another way to see the endgame content they wanted without putting in virtual blood, sweat, and tears.

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