The Daily Grind: When should MMO devs just stop tweaking?

    
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Yesterday’s reveal of Lord of the Rings Online’s legendary item imbuing system struck me as a promising show of faith from the devs but nevertheless a truly terrible idea because they’re just building a new house on top of a shaky foundation (LIs, not the game). It reminded me of something I once read from a very clever Ultima Online player a few years ago on the news that the veteran game was getting yet another item-fussing system intended to balance the last one:

“Why stop with Enhancing, Imbuing, Reforging, and Refining? They should add Improving, Spiffing, Refracting, Adjusting, Tweaking, and Twerking too, each with one or two hundred random items and math problems to solve. Just keep piling on crap until the system collapses under its own weight and we all end up in GM-crafted armor again because no one knows what’s good anymore.”

I am glad Turbine is doing something about LIs, I really am. But if LOTRO’s legendary item system is so broken, why not just gut it or delete it? Why create yet another potentially flawed system to patch its problems? Why do MMO devs, especially the ones working on older games, keep falling into that trap — why can’t they just stop touching it?

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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Caec
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Caec

Maybe, over time, as systems grow labyrinthine, as employees come and go, no one actually knows how it all works when trawling through the millions of line of code, hence the patchwork development process we bemoan.

BryanCo
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BryanCo

My blurry eyes first saw the headline as “When should MMO devs just stop twerking?”  And I wasn’t aware that was a big problem in the industry.

Werewolf Finds Dragon
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Werewolf Finds Dragon

Never.
However, they should extensively test changes on the test server and poll the community as to whether the change should go through. This polling should require an opinion post of X length and only be available to those who’ve been with the game for three months already. These polls should be placed in the launcher where everyone can see them, so they can have time to hop onto the test server and try the changes before voting. This is how you find out which changes actually work for the game and which don’t, and you get a variety of opinions — not just from fly-by-night min-maxers, but people who actually enjoy the game. You’ll receive opinions on how it affects the feel of the game, rather than just the numbers.
You should consider all the feedback, and only then commit something to live. It isn’t the amount of tweaking that’s the problem. It’s the profound lack of peer review. Tweaking video games should be not too dissimilar to science in that it should require a certain amount of peer review. Without peer review, you can’t be assured of the quality of your tweaking, only that it makes certain min-maxing number men happy, but not necessarily those who play the game. As a min-maxer is always going to be a part of a 1~ per cent minority that does this.
And instead of breaking min-maxed builds, provide incentives (through achievements) for not using certain cookie cutter builds or skill synergies. Give people costumes and achievements for coming up with their own way of playing and then balance your game around that.

Neo_Wolf
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Neo_Wolf

Belegorm Neo_Wolf Noble_Einherjar Well if the Massively Multiplayer part of MMORPG meant Grouped.. you might have a point but it doesn’t. 
All Massively Multiplayer means is many players in the same game at the same time.. whether they are grouped or not is not a requirement.  Its a choice.  A choice the player should be allowed to make not one the company makes for them.   And when a game company takes that choice away from you you are going to have people having an issue with it.

Belegorm
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Belegorm

Neo_Wolf Noble_Einherjar I know right?  God forbid you’d be forced to play with other people in an MMORPG!  I mean it’d be just like FFXI, EQ, and those other games from the stone ages before WoW!

Zaeja
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Zaeja

When it’s fun. 
I think often the problem is that design revolves around ‘balance’ and equity, when they are subjective, constantly shifting goalposts at best. Just come up with a system that is fun and interesting, then leave it alone.

Honestly, stat-based itemisation is way overdone, in my opinion anyway. I’m entirely sick of my tools and outfit having a complex mathematical equation that determines more about who I am than my character’s actual choices. It’s like a dystopian future where consumerism literally defines your capabilities.

Denice J Cook
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Denice J Cook

I expect that massive gutting of main game systems would be too resource and time intensive for older development teams to tackle.  As games age, their teams usually undergo strings of layoffs and the like, and some of those teams are small to begin with.  Smaller patches and tweaks are likely all they can do when trying to fix game issues.

Neo_Wolf
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Neo_Wolf

Noble_Einherjar Neo_Wolf If only FF XIV had learned not to Gate story content with forced grouping it would have been near perfect :)

TomTurtle
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TomTurtle

dirtyklingon I have no idea. I’d certainly be interested to see the population spread.

Noble_Einherjar
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Noble_Einherjar

Neo_Wolf Balancing abilities both for PVE and PVP has always annoyed me. I’m no expert, but I think FFXIV found a happy middle ground with PVP-only abilities, while tweaking standard abilities depending on whether you’re doing PVE or PVP.