The Daily Grind: How should MMOs repurpose older content?

Recently World of Warcraft introduced Mists of Pandaria timewalking dungeons, which allowed me (believe it or not) to experience these dungeons for the very first time. What can I say? I wasn’t there for this era.

I actually think that the whole timewalking concept is pretty neat because it always bugs me that MMOs seem to abandon older content when they keep adding new zones, new dungeons, and new expansions. There’s so much potential to reuse areas and systems, and one would think that such repurposing would be cost-effective for the dev team as well.

What do you think? How should MMOs repurpose older content? What would you like to see happen with the long-neglected areas in your game?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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50 Comments on "The Daily Grind: How should MMOs repurpose older content?"

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Little Bugbear

I think re-using old content helps to remind people how large MMO worlds really are. So often we MMO gamer’s get moved to new end game zones never to return to areas of our past adventures. This leaves our worlds feel much smaller and less alive as a whole. I think sending us back to redo old dungeons, to quest in old zone or to gather items for crafting helps players enjoy an explore the vast world’s in MMOs.

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Combat is the hardest thing to deal with here.

For gathering and crafting, it makes sense both in the game world and in game mechanic terms to spread the resources you need out over the world as a whole. No reason why those little peaceblooms you find in the starting town can’t be used in a high level potion. No reason why you can’t have extremely difficult and high level ore mining in your starting town with the understanding that you’ll have to come back for it later. And the major cities would, in real life, be the major crafting hubs. No normal need to only do high level crafting at a specific forge in the depths of a dungeon somewhere. The recipes and trainers can be spread out in interesting places and your sense of advancement can come from advancing your own skill, building up your own mercantile establishment and crafthall in the city somewhere, and increasing non-crafting skills to the point where you can survive an exploration of old ruins out in the wastes somewhere to find an ancient scroll of alchemy or some such from which you can learn new recipes.

Similarly, for things like The Secret World’s investigation missions or Vanguard’s (I think it was them…) political and diplomatic advancement, there’s no reason that can’t exist anywhere in the game world, regardless of how easy or difficult it is to survive there in combat terms. You can scale the rewards of these missions by character level, I suppose, but there’s no reason why a high level character wouldn’t return to an earlier zone to participate in a new investigation or to try and negotiate a lucrative contract at the local viscount’s monthly banquet.

I think the problem comes in when the games are 90% about combat. You want that to feel difficult and dangerous, so you need areas that are honestly difficult to survive in. But you also want to feel a bit like you’re slowly turning into a demigod as you advance, so you want older areas that you substantially overpower. You could theoretically do this in a Darksouls approach where you learn how to overpower an area by learning its monsters and mechanics to the point where you can trivially win most of the fights. But such an approach would probably excise about 80% of the MMO player base, which relies on *characters* increasing in ability much more than *players* doing so.

So I think the real answer is…it’s fine to have content out there that starts hard and gets easy, and I think that a big part of advancement is the excitement of both barely surviving the hard parts and reveling in blowing through the easy parts…but if you want to keep most of the game world populated and visited and used throughout the life of the game, the big thing you can do is provide other fun and interesting things to do other than combat, and then *avoid linking them to combat advancement* (i.e. don’t insist that all the most useful herbs and metals only come from caves guarded by dragons…why would that make sense?). Have those other things center around the civilized parts of the game world (traditionally the lower level areas), as crafting and farming and home building and politics and criminal investigations and conspiracies and mercantile pursuits and all the rest usually would in a real world!


I just want to add that in order to keep old content relevant you do not necessarily need scaling. You can keep old zones relevant without employing any form of level scaling (by mixing high-level content into lower level zones, for example).

imo, the main purpose of content/character scaling is to make it easier for people to play together.

Dread Quixadhal

One of the problems with old zones is that unless you have a World of Warcraft sized player base, they become empty. My attitudes have changed quite a bit from my early days of playing text MUDs to now. Back then, the idea of giving every player race their own starting zone was cool… each player would get their own little story-line and set of challenges and then eventually meet up in the mid-level areas.


WoW did this too, and look at the result. People log in and can’t do their own newbie content if they want to play with their friends who picked a different race and are starting halfway across the world. Anyone remember the fun of running a level 1 dwarf through the wetlands to go play with your friend who rolled an elf?

Even now, WoW has some really nice cities which are mostly unused and empty because of this. My favorite cities in the game are Ironforge and Silvermoon. Ironforge is busy at Christmas for that holiday event. Silvermoon is busy in the spring for that holiday event. At every other point, the only people you see are low level folks who are leveling their alts through questing.

What I would love to see is a Guild Wars 2 style level scaling, where you are scaled DOWN to match the content you are in, but not UP. In that way, you can still wander into tough areas to see if you can handle it, but can also still do quests and story-lines from older zones without just stomping through them.

What I would ALSO like to see is scattering of higher level content throughout the lower level zones, and yes… the cities too. Give people a reason to go revisit those older zones, instead of constantly adding new areas and leaving the old ones to rot.

In many ways, we can blame the dungeon finder for this. In vanilla, you had to go to the dungeon entrances yourself, and thus you’d always see people of all levels running through the zones, and on a PvP server would often have pretty cool battles outside the dungeons or battleground entrances amongst the people waiting for their team, or waiting for the battleground to start.

Once the dungeon finder was in, people leveled through a zone and had no reason to ever go back there. It turns the game from a huge open world into a lobby.

TL;DR version…. keep players together. Don’t divide them up or isolate them. If you have to have levels, ensure that content of various level ranges happens in the same places, and that people always want and need to travel around the world you’ve built so they feel like a part of it.


One of my least favorite feelings is leveling through a zone for a few hours, just for it to never be experienced ever again. These emotional ties that we create to these experiences are just abandoned often times.

FF14 does a decent job of scattering content in a more natural feeling way, rather than just quest hub to quest hub jumping.

Dug From The Earth

depends on the content.

I often miss all the unvisited zones in mmos after the game has been out for awhile. Cata sucked for WoW, but the part i did enjoy was the revamp of ALL the old vanilla zones. It prompted me to play through them all again, and it was great.


“Legendaries now have a 15% chance of dropping of those lv 10 Murlocs in Elwynn Forest!”

…err, just kidding! >.>


Ghetto’ing players and into zones-by-level is one of the more pernicious things WoW established as a standard (they weren’t the first, of course).
Sure, it makes content easier to segregate, and makes sure that – particularly in PVE/PVP mixed games – players are likely to ‘stumble on’ opponents that are comparably-powered.

But it’s:
– unrealistic. One of the key ‘features’ about a real-feeling world is that there’s some content you need to run-the-hell-away from because it will kick your butt. Latterly, WoW decided they did in fact need this, having things like the astonishingly-sneaky King Mosh wandering Un’goro, or Fel Reavers stomping around Hellfire. But they have seemed to drift away from any content now that can’t be solo’d at-level…which is sad.
– unnecessary, if you simply had a pvp system that – against other players only – scales to some unified level so PVP is pure skill. Sure, higher level toons will have accumulated more abilities and have more things like cc’s, but in damage output, players could easily be level-equalled
– led to this article: precisely as Justin points out, the moment you say “this zone” (or instance) is for level 30-35, then after 35, it’s a ghost town – there’s no reason at all to come back.

Fortunately, the WoW timewalking thing might have been a bit of a test for them to make it a more widespread thing? How did people like it? Were the drops adequate to the bosses’ difficulty?

Personally, going back and playing Vanilla wow, I’m finding that players could really use some more practice against tough content all the time.

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I always liked the way FFXI made players interact with the zones throughout the world. You may be leveling through a zone and look off from the mob you are facing down in your group only to see this massively high leveled/geared party scream past you with a purpose of their own in the same zone.

I remember having lowbies whisper me as I was running through Qufim Island to the Behemoth’s Dominion or Delkfutts Tower to ask what we were doing then having them excited to get to that content themselves.

You may not have been going through and doing old content again but you were still interacting with zones you had visited previously for new adventures. Sometimes I would run by a group and just power level them randomly on my Paladin while waiting for the rest of my group to gather. It added a nice layer to the game that kept lower and higher level players together on some level.


“Tours of Qeynos Catacombs every hour. Visit the forgotten adventuring grounds!”