The Daily Grind: Which MMORPG features the most ‘hostile design’?


Last week, the Extra Credits crew did a feature on hostile architecture aka unpleasant design – a way of papering over a problem in design instead of actually fixing it. In urban planning, the tactic is used to (for example) oust homeless people from an area in such a way that the general population doesn’t even realize it’s being done. The lead example in the video is Seattle’s move to erect bike racks under a bridge destined for demolition, not because the city wanted to help cyclists but because it wanted to get rid of the homeless folks camping there. Similarly, Heathrow Airport is designed with too few public seats for all the people moving through the terminal; instead of solving the problem by building enough seats, the city just built high-priced restaurants with plenty of tables, basically to make some extra money off its own (intentionally) bad design.

The video apologizes for not being expressly about gaming, but I bet you folks can immediately summon some examples in MMORPGs of this very trick. Designing excessive grinds and then “solving” the problem by putting grind-speeder-uppers in the cash shop is one.

Can you ante up more? Which MMORPG features the most “hostile design,” and what is 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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I think Hostile Design is probably the perfect terminology to describe “convenience” items that games offer for sale. A lot of people will mislabel them as P2W but that just doesn’t really fit right where Hostile Design fits perfectly.

For example the basic activity in Black Desert Online is AOE grinding. However where as many other games where you kill large groups of targets will include an AOE looting function to go along with that BDO does not. While you could certainly manually loot the things as you go (stand in the airport) instead you could buy pets in the cash shop who will loot for you (pay to sit in the airport stores). Oh are you grinding and all that loot heavy? Well here’s some weight in the cash shop for sale so you don’t gotta go back to town. Hey your gear looks pretty broken if you bought this Tent you could just repair and not have to go back to town. Wanna buy that item off the auction house I got a maid here that will let you buy one item every 30 minutes.

These features don’t really let you win per se but rather the systems are designed in such a way where they’re inconvenient in order to sell you a convenient solution. That’s how hostile design pops up in the gaming space.

Barnoc N'Draak

Yes, absolutely! This is exactly what I was getting at with my comment.

F2P/B2P games are at their best when you are having fun, and are willing to impulse buy something to increase your enjoyment. They are at their worst when they put the screws on you to make you spend money.

Take my ESO example: Getting loot goes from being a fun task to an inherently annoying one. They keep coming up with new ways to get us to log in, but being excited about the game is what makes me more likely to spend money.


This is why, when deciding whether or not to purchase a game, I will scour its cash shop and take notice of any convenience item I consider a must-buy, adding their price to the game’s base price when evaluating if the game is worth the asking price, and disregarding the game outright if any of the must-have convenience items must be purchased once per character.

(With offline games I’m a bit more extreme; I will only ever consider purchasing an offline game if it comes with all current and future DLC, considering the price to get such a package as the game’s base price. As a result I believe it has been a decade or more since I last purchased at launch any game with planned paid-for DLC.)

Zen Dadaist

Pay to Ease The Pain is basically this.


WoW took meaningful progression and threw it under a bus.

Bruno Brito

Anything Allods related. Having to spend thousands of hours/money to get runes. Getting store pop-ups when you arrive at mid-levels because the game exp takes a nosedive, clearly to “encourage” you to pay money on xp scrolls.

God, Allods is pure frustration to me. Love the game, hate the cashshop, yet, you cannot play without it. No f*cking way.


So many examples!

(1) Cross Server Group Finder
This is typically used to cover up the fact that the core games design segregates players and makes it really hard to group up for meaningful content. Rather than fix the problem and help create a healthy community, let people group up with players from other servers and act like assholes towards one another.

(2) Stat Inflation (vertical progression)
This is typically used to cover up the lack of design talent within the team and the fact they cannot think up a way to give players actual meaningful progression. So, just dump more stats on players and make it look like progression.

(3) PvP Only Stats
These are generally used because the designers couldn’t think up a way to properly balance pvp and pve. They didn’t want raiders stomping pvpers, so instead of fixing the problem of stupid stat progression and unbalanced progression paths, just create a new stat and force everyone to grind out a new set of gear.

(4) Nerfing content / solo content until endgame
Instead of fixing the difficulty of finding a group whilst leveling, or fixing the issue of players struggling with challenging content and getting blocked, developers have instead just making everything solo and trivially easy, solving the problem short term but creating big problems with retention.


Ah, well… ArchAge is a perfect fit when discussing hostile design. It was a convergence of design flaws, bad management, and bad systems. Things maybe better now due to some late changes but hostile design nearly destroyed the game. Here is a brief list of some of the hostility.

1. Convinced that “emergent gameplay” was the easy more profitable road, devs had an anything goes attitude initially. Griefing, stealing, scamming, blocking, you name it, was all permissible. This led to the most toxic environment of any game I’ve ever played. The hostility was literal and dismissed by devs as fun.

2. Design flaws made the game a hackers paradise. That compromised every aspect of game play. Devs papered this over with blanket bans which nabbed the innocent along with the guilty.

3. Pay 2 Win. It was the centerpiece and still is. Throw that ontop of 1 and 2. The excuse was that it was a necessary evil so that AA could remain f2p.

4. Justice system compromised by the Pirate system. In summary, there was a justice system that included a jury trial by peers and even temp ban time. However, the pirate system required accruing crime points in order to become a Pirate. How do you maximize crime points? Be found guilty in a jury trial. See the problem?

Trion has changed their tune now in some respects but at a great cost. AA could have been a real WoW killer but… alas! For the greed of an instant buck the game is not even be an also ran.


“1. Convinced that “emergent gameplay” was the easy more profitable road, devs had an anything goes attitude initially. Griefing, stealing, scamming, blocking, you name it, was all permissible. This led to the most toxic environment of any game I’ve ever played. The hostility was literal and dismissed by devs as fun.”
Fuck ya…this was a big reason I quit when Kholan (I long forgot his position with the company) used “emergent gameplay” when defending the sudden appearance of cart blocking at bridges etc…douche move.


“Hostile Design” being synonymous with “Cash Shop”

Bryan Correll

Neverwinter keeps me away with it’s absolutely obnoxious monetization. I could probably overlook the lockbox crap and just play the game if a system message didn’t appear in the middle of my screen anytime some yahoo with a name taken from Game of Thrones gets a rare mount.
I think I read that Ultima Online has some hostile design elements to keep Eliot out.

Bruno Brito

Also, you would have to reroll everytime you achieved max level, because f2p games tend to have their endgame completely entwined with their cashshop.

Wildstar is the only f2p game i would recommend nowadays for endgame progression.

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GW2’s design of requiring me keep rolling alt characters to experience content otherwise locked to me.


ESO’s material storage is so annoying that people are honestly saying a subscription is worth it just for the crafting bag. Also their arbitrary distinction between chapter and dlc just so they can charge more for it.

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Peregrine Falcon

While I agree with points people have made about BDO, I’d have to say that selling UI elements is the most hostile design that I’ve ever encountered.