Friday, November 28, 2008

No More Leveling Games Please

I didn't like Tabula Rasa because it felt like World of Warcraft with pew pew guns. I didn't like Auto Assault because it felt like World of Warcraft with cars. I did like Pirates of the Burning Sea, because of its skill-based naval combat system and the player driven economy. But the rest of the game, with its quest arcs and lackluster combat was just World of Warcraft with arrr matey, manly women, and boats.

With the recent high profile MMORPG failures, some people might ask if the MMORPG industry is oversaturated. I don't think it is; I think it has plenty of room for future growth. What I do think is: it is oversaturated in quest-arc driven leveling games.

We already have our fill. EverQuest, EverQuest II, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Age of Conan, and now Warhammer Online. I think anyone and everyone who wants to play a quest-arc driven leveling game has found one by now, and its going to take a lot more than sci-fi trappings and pew pew to draw us away.

I think there are probably many, many people out there like myself, who have already found an addiction we're happy with (for me, EverQuest II), already capped a few characters with the leveling, and just don't have the patience or desire to do it all over again.

I think Warhammer Online would have been better if they had dropped the battle rank. Just use renown ranks to give people a goal, but otherwise have people start in the end game, marginally equal (except for the benefits renown ranks provide) with war everywhere, trying to capture the other city. As it is, I just can't muster the interest anymore to grind through its lackluster PVE or Tor Anroc until I get to 40. There should be no need for chickening or other silly game mechanics. There should have been no need for mentoring. Characters could still improve with time invested, but the difference between an RR80 and RR1 character isn't as big as the gulf between a Battle Rank (BR) 40 character and a level one noob.

I don't think you'll see another major success in the MMO genre until you get one that either eliminates the leveling mechanic (replacing it with another carrot, such as collecting, for instance) or flattens the leveling curve such that new players and veterans can play viably together.

Looking forward, the Agency looks like it might be that game; it seems like it uses a collection mechanic (collecting agents) as its RPG advancement "carrot". Other than that, what else is there that doesn't look like Yet Another Leveling Game? Because we've all been there, and done that, and its high time for something new...

... or old? Maybe I should have given Eve Online a chance.


Sara Pickell said...

My whole design for ShatterdWorld, economic advancement, was based off the concept of a skills-less EVE online - real time skill training. So yeah, give EVE a chance. Just find some people who are already playing though and try to get into a good corp, it'll make all the difference in the world.

As to the larger part of the article, I pretty well agree. Even if you enjoy the "old style" of gdiku mud the simple fact is we already have a ton of those. Everyone happy with that, already has a game within that genre that they like. So, for now, it's about finding the people we aren't already entertaining.

Hechicera said...

I liked EVE, but, it does have "grind". The grind is making isk (money). Many corp.s grant newbies some starting money and the redone tutorial gives salable items and decent starting gear. You don't really feel it until you've got 3-4 months of skills trained and try to go buy the goodies you can now use due to those skills. EVE does have many ways to farm isk. Farming a different way each week, and doing some farming as corp. ops makes the isk grind not so bad. But the same could be said of any game with multiple ways of getting experience to get levels, and you'd end up with the same feel.

And in EVE, you're just going to go blow it up in PvP anyway most of the time.

Is it grinding levels specifically or grinding in general that has you jaded?

Lars said...

@Hechicera: Both, really. The main point I was trying to make here, is that there is room for other methods of advancement.

Levels are one of the more ubiquitous design features of MMOs (due to their RPG roots, I realize, but it is odd that they persist since most pen and paper RPGs these days don't use leveling mechanics).

Even if its just a different kind of grind, like grinding skill points, I'd like to see it. Mostly because of the drawbacks to leveling: it splits up the player base, etc.

In Warhammer Online, people are spread out thinly across all forty levels. If they dropped battle rank and kept only renown rank, people would still grind that in RVR or Scenarios, but the flatter power curve between the new player and the veteran would make it so every player could play with everyone on the server. The populations they have now would be sufficient to bring truth in advertising to their "WAR is everywhere" slogan.

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