The Daily Grind: How can MMOs help you understand endgame gearing?

One of my simmering frustrations about practically every MMORPG that I play is that when my character starts to get to high levels, I am usually clueless as to how to properly gear up him or her. Sure, there are quest rewards and running dungeons, but what about past that? Am I supposed to run different types of instances in a particular order?

And it feels as though developers just stop explaining things to you once you get out of the starter zone. I keep getting special tokens and currencies in most of the MMOs I play at high level, but to find out where and how to use these, I almost always have to go out of the game to look up some guide for clueless idiots like myself. It’s not as though the MMO itself is going to point me in the direction of a particular vendor and say, “Right there, that guy will take your tokens and give you some nice raid-ready gear for your troubles.”

How can MMOs help us understand endgame gearing and progression better? For bonus points, which game do you feel does the best job at doing this?

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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Alex Malone

Good topic!

This is a problem I have never had personally, but as a former raid and guild leader it is a problem I have encountered with many of my guildies. The problem, in my experience, has never once resided with the game itself – the problem has always been with the player. So, my recommendations for how MMOs can solve the problem:

1) Stop pandering to lazy bastards.
This, imo, is the root cause. Remove quest pointers / guides, exclamation marks etc from your games. These “quality of life” improvements have resulted in players being almost entirely disengaged from the game world itself. This makes it extremely easy to ignore / skip / forget the advice you have been given in game.

2) Stop making linear games
In addition to encouraging lazy questing, MMOs are now so linear that the instant a game offers you choice (i.e. a variety of endgame activities), the weak willed panic and give up. This is a case of playing the expectations game. Train your new players right from the start to be inquisitive and explore so that by the time they reach endgame, they won’t be afraid to just explore on their own in order to find the answers they missed earlier.

3) Cut down on currencies
This won’t fix the problem, people will still be wondering where certain vendors are, but we only need one currency – gold – everything else is just superfluous.

4) Implement horizontal progression
If you go full horizontal progression then you eliminate this problem from day one. It would change the entire way in which we approach and evaluate content and progression and should, in theory, reduce or eliminate the concept of endgame. Being horizontal, you might be able to complete the whole game without ever changing gear, resulting in an ethos of “lets give it a try” rather than worrying about being undergeared.

5) Pander to idiots more
The easiest option is just to pander to idiots. Put all endgame vendors in a single, central hub. Create a quest chain that leads players from one instance to the next, from easiest to hardest. Job done.

6) Do nothing
If they can’t figure out where to go, or where the vendors are, and are unable to ask for help, chances are they aren’t capable of completing the endgame anyway. Why waste time on them?

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Jeffery Witman

First, I think developers need to understand the reality of the gear systems they create. So many seem to understate or overestimate how much time, effort, and incentive their systems will require. The gear treadmills can be daunting and tiresome. Making them confusing, ill planned, and/or pointless can really kill a game.

Neverwinter had a good enough system before their gear system overhaul and level cap increase, IMO. Get some basic dungeon gear and move on to new areas every few months that have/require specific kinds of gear to do well. Ice gear in the Arctic area has special protections and buffs to deal with area monsters. Dragon graveyard area has similar rewards that give similar advantages. The best part of this system is that it’s lateral. Each area can be played concurrently. You don’t need Ice gear to go to the Dragon graveyard since it doesn’t help much there. Your standard dungeon gear can be used to start fresh in any new areas that come out. If one is done poorly, you don’t have to grind it out just to progress.

Most importantly, these are expansions of the story. Each area has its own tale to tell. You play for the story and to see the epic battle or final confrontation. You can farm it if you like, but it’s not needed.

The downside is that the developers need to keep making content. That can be difficult. Not every game can manage that.

Still, throwing in a tutorial or some minor missions at the beginning of an end game zone to explain the gear you can get there is easily done. A quick tour of a new area is probably a good idea in general. Why not throw in a few directions about gearing?

Unless it’s a game like TSW where you’re supposed to figure things out as part of the charm.

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Robert Mann

I actually would like to see things be less certain, but with a lot of possible beneficial stats, for the current design. I detest theorycraft and everything being balanced around min/max at this point… so the more completely confounding that is, the better.

Also, can I request some variety in rotations as a possibility? Hitting a set of keys in a certain order over and over again is just not ideal to me. Actually, the fact that 90% of dps abilities are useless in most games… why?

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Schmidt.Capela

If you don’t balance everything around min-maxing, then anyone that does successfully optimize their character will have a big advantage. Potentially a game-went-from-hard-to-cakewalk advantage. So, if you want supposedly hard content to actually be hard, then you need to balance around min-maxing and expect all competitive players to do it.

Anyway, obfuscating the formulas, or even the stats, doesn’t deter theoricrafting, it merely slows it down; there are fairly good ways to obtain useful information from closed systems. I should know, I studied a number of those methods in college.

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Robert Mann

Yeah, it slows it down, and makes it less of an issue for a while at least.

Here’s the thing, if you balance on Min/Max everything else becomes too difficult, relatively. So now you take all the abilities that don’t quite make it… and they may as well not exist. You offer no options at that point. On the other hand, if min/max isn’t where you balance, the only people with a problem are those who min/max (if they consider it a problem.) Nothing forces people to go with min/max stuff, except balancing to it.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want in a game is to be locked to rotation X with gear Y and not the stuff I want to be using. I understand people want to be effective, but at the same time there’s nothing that kills fun faster than that. Which is why I detest min/max balancing.

I would imagine that the people who min/max because they can (rather than having to, effectively) and who also want a lot of challenge at that point are… a tiny portion of the playerbase. I’m tired of them dictating how the rest of us must play the game.

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Dug From The Earth

Im not sure the game can really do much to help the player, since its players that typicaly lead the charge in how to best gear. In fact, most devs may have certain ideas in mind when it comes to gearing, but players almost always find better and more efficient ways of gearing, that trump whatever the devs had in mind.

Thus, new players who are trying to figure out how to gear, are best helped by those online web guides, designed by players, who lay out which stats, gear, etc that they should have.

The ONE thing that I think ALL games can improve on, is informing the player on what to do and HOW to get end game gear and items. Some games have so many systems and methods for how you must go about getting end game stuff, and dont explain a word of it to the player when they hit max level. For example, the number of players ive met in WoW, who have NO clue that you can get high ilevel gear from doing mythics for the weekly chest, is mind blowing. Or in marvel heroes, the number of players who had no idea that you could raise the level of your unique items MULTIPLE times or even how to get the currency to allow you to do so.

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wandris

After playing many games where endgame gear is simple and straightforward I find it much more interesting to play games where there are no simple answers and requires planning, experimentation and effort. In particular I like black desert where almost all information has been speculative since day one, and no definitive specifics only general data the community has put together. It makes endgame gearing a process which rewards more with individual experience, knowledge and time. Other games which have had enjoyable gearing have been darkfall and eve. With darkfall there was a lack of data in the early days, and eve so much data it is hard to really wrap your head around it.

The real question should be, “Does making things easy and obvious actually add anything to the gaming experience?”

Take classic MMO like WoW for example, they have reduced gearing to a very simple ilvl/power comparison with very definitive answers that come down to is item one better than items two and outside of some very minor gearing options/choices there is almost nothing you need to know. They essentially reduced understanding endgame gearing to a pre-school level that is almost instantly understood by everyone. All this has really accomplished is to make gearing a stream of bland incremental upgrades which have almost no value and get replaced almost as soon as you get them which is very unexciting.

plasmajohn
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plasmajohn

There was a discussion in one MMO’s forums about why primary and secondary stats were so obtuse. The developer response was that it was intentional to give the theorycrafters something to do.

And people scoff when I instantly go for the cookie cutter builds.

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rafael12104

Hmm. For min-max zealots, it will always be outside of game. Let them crunch the numbers to get the exact points. It’s their thing.

But in general, a combinations of things are helpful. First, tool tips. You can do simple things like when you hover over a stat a little tool tip pops, gives you info and perhaps, best suited for class.

Character information screen: It should be more than just your portrait. It should have detail stat output information with tool tips with recommendations.

Upgrade Path GUI: This has been a god send in BnS. They added a tab you can easily access that shows you the upgrade paths for everything including tracking your progress, what is needed, and where to get it. And since it is an info-graphic, you can look ahead at what is next as far as you want. It is a flow chart.

Pretty damn awesome actually. Just follow the yellow brick line. The left tells you what is required. The right, the gains from the upgrade.

The result? I don’t go outside the game to understand what I need to do. I do go outside of game to min max once I get there.

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Oleg Chebeneev

I never had this kind of problem in any MMO. Its the same pretty much everywhere. To get gear you do dungeons/raids, buy from crafters or participate in PvP. Im not sure what devs have to even explain here

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Sally Bowls

I see the meta question is:

Do you expect proper gearing to require an external website or tool?

1) If yes, it doesn’t matter as much. The site can compare pieces and show you upgrades and the source for them. There are usually gearing up guides there as well.

2) If no, then there needs to be some immersion breaking dialog somewhere that mentions dungeons, raids, fractals, crafting, dailies, pvp, etc. What they provide and the prerequisites.

In particular, if you erroneously believe players can figure this out in game without sites/tools, then what is the point of all these stats instead of a piece of level 136 armor that is always and obviously better than 135? Are they there for any other reason than a noob-trap for people who don’t go look it up?

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Dušan Frolkovič

So basically lets just continue with the level progression, if the game stops at max level 50, lets have the items just start at 51 and go up. Simple enough and nobody needs to know the numbers behind the curtain.

Ocho
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Ocho

In my opinion if you have to leave the game to find information on how to progress in the game, that’s just bad development. And yeah, I feel ya’, having to leave the game to find builds, or crafting end-game gear, or anything like that is rampant. Guild Wars 2 is one of the biggest offenders. Trying to figure out how to craft legendaries (which is essentially the end game content) just can’t be found in-game. The best, I would probably give to Neverwinter. Haven’t played in a while, but I remember they have a system where it specifically told you where to go next for your next gear upgrades. Props also to Star Trek Online (you just craft anything past Mk 12 to Mk 14, and everything can increase in rarity), and Secret World Legends (you just keep getting smaller items to infuse into bigger items), as their systems are more perpetual and straightforward.

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Dušan Frolkovič

STO is anything but forthcoming with info about builds.
Enough to start yes, but the well goes so much deeper if you look beyond the game and into wikis.

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Ocho

True, but STO there isn’t really much push to go beyond the “start”, it doesn’t really have an “endgame”. I mean if someone is a min-maxer, sure, but min-maxers generally have no issue with going outside the game to wikis and whatnot, so this article isn’t really talking about them. But for your average player, getting up to Mk 14 is generally good enough.

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Dušan Frolkovič

But the same can then be said about GW2. You can do all the content with exotic gear no problem. Legendaries are just a complete status symbol.