The Daily Grind: How can MMOs design for both vets and newbies?

    
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This morning’s Daily Grind question comes to us from Kickstarter donor Specus, who asks,

I’ve seen many games where new players have trouble joining a game that’s been out for a while because the noob zones are almost completely empty. How can we keep the veteran players engaged with the new players?

This is one of the core problems of the genre, and solving it apparently isn’t easy. My favorite is sidekicking; nullifying level barriers (or better yet, not having them to begin with) seems the smartest way to bridge the experience gap between old and new players and get them into the same content. Non-combat gameplay can get people mingling as well; every time a newbie sells a stack of copper ore to a veteran, they’re engaging with each other. And let’s not forget overt incentives: Asheron’s Call’s monarchy system and Star Wars Galaxies’ skill-training system directly rewarded veteran players for taking newbies under wing and building them up.

What’s the very best way to design a game so that newbies and veterans can intersect without being bored at one end of the spectrum and overwhelmed at the other?

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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ShiroAsashin
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ShiroAsashin

2 words Albion Online

Craywulf
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Craywulf

Leveling be gone!

Robert80
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Robert80

Ohnix Polyanna  Agreed so very much.  We will always have people who buy multiple accounts to get around such limitations, but the more expensive it is, and the less time it lasts, the less likely it is that people will do so for long.
I will repeat as I have noted elsewhere:  This sounds like some of the indie sandboxes, because it is.  They are going level-less.  They are making skill use be what levels up skills.  They are avoiding combat gear giving stat boosts, and focusing instead on having gear of different types be useful for different things.  They are, in fact, using crafting materials and skill as the determination of how good gear is, and even low quality gear is effective to some extent.  They are using pay per toon models, or outright allowing only 1-2 toons.  They are focusing on play style, while still allowing you to change that style if you wish… all while making those choices matter.
Even better, some of them are exploring mentoring in other ways… either class or action based skill leveling by learning from a tutor.  This allows people to get in, get past the initial grind to get high enough to participate in a particular skill, and be productive playing with friends.  I personally cannot wait for this to apply to more and more MMOs.

Celestia
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Celestia

From the highest mountain top I yell, “City of Heroes Sidekick & Exemplar features”.

Ohnix
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Ohnix

Polyanna  I’d add skill based training to this for activities that the character participates in.  Would allow the player to tailor their character to suit their play style; something akin to ES or ESO but without the leveling.  Have the skills add to capabilities and do not skew stats, hp,, mp or other qualities commonly associated with leveling.  I’d also go out on a limb and suggest that only one Toon per server/account – would help with getting players who have time on their hands opportunity to work with other folks rather than starting yet-another character.  One toon/player also has other perks … see this weeks Bored and Sword comments on ninjas, among others.

But, in summary, you’ve hit on a game design mechanic that I’ve been considering for years.  Level the playing field so everyone can participate.  kudos.

But, in tribute to the subject of this thread, generally we need folks who are willing to interact with other folks in the game albeit friends, guildies or strangers looking for fun and adventure on a frequent basis.

Cambruin
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Cambruin

Auto-lvl downwards. Lord of the Rings Online has a good system; deeds. Completing deeds increase your virtues, higher virtues, higher bonuses. So eventually everyone will want to cap their virtues, which are scattered across different regions, different lvl zones.
Only problem now; there’s no need for the high lvls who complete lowlvl deeds to group up with lowlvl players. down-leveling them severely reduces their dps, which in turn makes grouping up more appealing.

Ekphrasis
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Ekphrasis

@ManastuUtakata
They weren’t too bad.
It was the Perez Park style caves that made me cringe!

mourasaint
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mourasaint

The solution isn’t so much to get veteran players and new ones experiencing the same content (although that is also important, and doable via parity-imposing mechanisms like WoW’s upcoming Time Walker dungeons feature), but to keep improving and refining the leveling content enough to ensure a continuous, steady stream of new players. 

Developers’ tunnel-visioned focus on end-game is one of the most detrimental phenomenons in the genre.

Veldan
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Veldan

Tbh, the best solution I’ve seen is from Aion. When you log into Aion on the Gameforge servers and make a new char, even today you  step into a nicely populated world. The newbie zone might even remind you of an MMO launch at times, so many people there are. 

The way they achieve this is what they call Rookie Server. It’s a seperate server that new characters from all servers automatically start on. Should you want some more peace and quiet, you can simply hop to your normal server in an instant. And to prevent regular server communities from being irrelevant or even gone, the rookie server has a cap of lvl 55 while the game caps at 65, meaning everyone still has to play the endgame on their own server.

Of course, this only fixes population issues in leveling zones, not catching up with gear. I don’t think there really is a solution for that.

Robert80
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Robert80

bossrprouse  This is exactly correct.  When you remove levels for skill tree setup alone (even if you have to work on making your skills max out) you end up with relevance at nearly any point in the game.  When you make gear matter less (aka, don’t throw huge stat bonuses out there, instead work with a variety of combat styles and overall gear quality) you reduce the gap further.
What that means, is that progression has to be different than in most MMOs from the last 10 years, where it was all about the gear, levels, or points earned by grinding enough.
Of course, this also plays into crafting being completely redesigned, as since there are no levels you now simply have materials to work with… and the material type, quality, intended use of item, etc. can all factor in to the end result.
Oh, wait, this sounds like something some of those indie sandbox games are doing… because it is!  :)