Global Chat: MMOs need to do ‘difficulty’ right

    
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A thinkpiece that we had back in April about the difficulty levels (or lack thereof) in MMORPGs sparked some interesting discussion among gaming bloggers as they grappled with the concept of challenge levels and how MMOs should improve in presenting them.

GamingSF thinks that there is much room for improvement in offering players varied challenges: “I also want to see more MMORPGs introducing non-combat challenges through puzzles and quests that require thinking to complete (e.g. following lore clues).”

And Inventory Full chimes in with this distinction: “I also strongly agree with whoever it was who said that gamers these days equate difficulty with time spent. Indeed, more often than not when someone complains that something is ‘too difficult’ what they really mean is it takes longer than they want to spend doing it.”

Continue on for this week’s Global Chat, as we look at Lord of the Rings Online’s Mordor, feelings concerning Defiance 2050, the whole Daybreak mess, and more!

Swanky.

Occasional Hero: Walking into Mordor

“I am also once again reminded of what a great job this game has done with its worldbuilding. Granted, as much of it as is reasonably possible is pulled straight from the pages of Tolkien’s books, but I think that master wordsmith would be proud of what Turbine/Standing Stone has added to his legendarium. And the attention to detail never ceases to amaze me!”

Superior Realities: Defiance 2050 — maybe?

“Normally replacing a classless leveling system with traditional classes would get the stink eye from me, but in this case, I think it might add some actual depth to the game. It sounds like Defiance 2050 will have a greater emphasis on active abilities — Mass Effect style — instead of just being a pure shooter. That would be most welcome.”

The Ancient Gaming Noob: Daybreak and all their sins remembered

“There is a lot of resentment and feelings of betrayal when you look back down the road the company has traveled. Every game shut down, every bad decision they had to reverse on after announcing, every upbeat demo or announcement followed by months of silence, every update that didn’t meet expectations, every bug that lingers for year after year, every nutty side project that ate up dev time only to be abandoned… it all adds up. Also, that ProSieben thing. How could I forget that?”

Like, seriously, you should know this.

Heals N Heels: The price of rewriting history

“Blizzard took a huge risk back in Cataclysm when they decided to wipe the slate clean and redo Azeroth. It’s something almost everyone wishes they could do but can’t — and for good reason. We don’t get do-overs sometimes. They in effect, rewrote history by erasing some of it — and the question I have long sought to answer out loud: Was it worth it?”

Nomadic Gamers: A weekend in ESO

“It’s exciting to play a “new to me” MMO that I haven’t really delved into before. The quests and stories are interesting, the landscape new, and I’m discovering points of interest that are both disturbing and fascinating. I may only be level 11, but I’m eager to see how this goes.”

Aywren Sojourner: Tales from tells — ask and ye shall receive

“I pondered how to answer this, since I didn’t actually know why. Then, me being a writer who loves words, I became curious and decided to Google it. After reading through a quick article, which I thought was pretty interesting, I shared the info with this questing soul.”

Every day there are tons of terrific, insightful, and unusual articles posted across the MMO gaming blogosphere — and every day, Justin reads as many as he can. Global Chat is a sampling of noteworthy essays, rants, and guides from the past few weeks of MMO discourse.

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ghostlight

Yeah, hard to please everyone with this one for reasons that are all too obvious.

Some recent experiences with difficulty:

More than a few of the main boss fights in the GW2 Living Story are over the top difficult until you figure out the fight mechanics. Hidden Arcana, the volcano fight in Flashpoint, and the main boss fight in Precocious Aurene come immediately to mind. In fact with Aurene it wasn’t until I kind of cheated by periodically hiding behind a nearby pillar that I finished it. One of these days I’m going to hit a brick wall in a GW2 boss fight and uninstall the game! ;-)

Tried playing Total War Rome 2: Empire Divided as the Palmyrians at normal difficulty, which is one up from the lowest level and three down from the top I think. I knew that Palmyria was not in the best strategic position as it is surrounded on all sides by active and potential enemies, but as a long time strategy fan I thought it would be no big woop. For me, however, it turned out to be a Kobayashi Maru nightmare! The AI does seem much improved in that game from its state at launch, and as an experienced strategy gamer it ranckles my pride to dumb the difficulty down to the lowest setting. ;-)

plasmajohn
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plasmajohn

MMO’s have so much repeatable fight oriented content often with selectable difficulty. Adding hard as nails fights to story instances are yet another developer troll. The fights are not what I’m doing story instances for.

There are far more challenge fans that like story than there are story fans that like soul crushingly hard fights. Asking for help is a non-starter. I’ve learned that my pace is often wildly different than everybody else.

Thankfully GW2’s story instances are more or less optional.

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

Lets just adjust the difficulty a little bit … hey where did everyone go.

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Bruno Brito

How to make difficulty right in MMOs:

Make the majority of the content cater to EVERYONE.
Rehash content in a bigger difficulty for the hardcore crowd.

Done. If someone ask your company to “make some stuff only Hardcore only because they deserve it”, tell them to shove it, and say that they deserve it.

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thalendor

I’m sure we can get difficult just right as soon as we can all agree on what “just right” is…

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Schmidt.Capela

That is why single player games often have difficulty settings.

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thalendor

Even then, you’re not going to please everyone. I’ve seen complaints that easy is still too hard or hard is too easy, and both of those for the same game. And then there are those who think easy shouldn’t exist and ya’ll should git gud or those who think they’re entitled to win on hard so they can get the shiny acheivement. You’re not going to please everyone no matter what you do.

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Schmidt.Capela

Not everyone, no, but you do please more people when you let them decide the difficulty they want to play at.

(Though, truth be told, I prefer solid modding capabilities. This lets me tune not just the overall game difficulty, but the relative difficulty — as well as the required effort — for different mechanics and aspects of the game. It’s no coincidence that in games with modding support and a solid modding community I often use over a hundred individual mods, including a few of my own devising.)

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Arsin Halfmoon

I think the playerbase’s expectations is the problem.

We’ve put ourselves into such a way of thinking that every minute we spend in the game needs to be spent getting some kind of reward. Losing is such a pain in the ass for MMO players because that means they wont get that weekly currency in the allotted time they gave themselves. Self guided victories like soloing PoTD to floor 200, which is a challenge, but since one won’t get much acknowledgement, it falls to the wayside.

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Sray

If the problem is player expectations, you have to keep in mind that developers have created that expectation.

It’s a numbers thing: you can’t reasonably expect millions of gamers to change their behavior, but a few hundred/thousand developers here and there can reasonably do just that; and when it’s the developers who are creating the expectation to begin with, then it’s on them to change.

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Arsin Halfmoon

Yeah, I totally agree, it is the design. Our current MMO paradigm is way more marketable, so it makes sense the MMO is going this way. And yeah, we can’t just retrain the playerbase to expect anything else but to get the reward for doing the content. We really just need more variety in our MMOs and one of those modes needs the difficulty of a raid with the accessibility of a small group dungeon.

Some randomization would go a long way too. I was playing Left 4 Dead on Expert mode the other day, and that was some exciting stuff. They don’t change the maps, just the mobs. I’d personally love eating a random tank buster just to screw up the party’s flow you know? The difficulty shouldn’t just be in raids, there’s nothing wrong with mixing it up you know? And adding randomized attacks and mobs can’t be as painstaking as making HM dungeons that totally changes the dungeon (like in ffxiv)

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Robert Mann

We keep just getting one or two types of difficulty. The worst IMO is HP bloat. Yes, the foe needs to be tougher. But I really get bored with everything just taking longer to kill, without anything else done. I’d much rather get obliterated by relatively weak (non-boss) foes that are a step up in difficulty if I make a few mistakes, than spend an extra 5 minutes killing a quest worth’s of them.

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Sray

Just a random fly-by on the site and wasn’t planning on posting, but I just had to chime in on the difficulty thing with a couple thoughts.

Not.only is there a large number of players who equate difficulty with time spent, but there’s also a large number who equate difficulty solely with depth (skill point builds, ability interactions, complex crafting) while solely ignoring execution (aka twitch skill) which is also form of difficulty. Most people who complain about games in general being less difficult are only factoring decreased depth and ignoring increased execution, which does the entire debate a huge disservice.

Online games need to be made for a lowest common denominator: the more difficult a game is (regardless of how you measure difficulty), the less accessible it is.

And, if games are less difficult than they used to be (which is open to debate), you have to keep in mind that is largely thanks to the proliferation of smart phones, we’ve become addicted to multiple simultaneous streams of information , and most of us would be hard pressed to actually play intensely attention demanding games like Super Mario Bros while also watching YouTube, reading Wikipedia, and shopping on Amazon.

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Robert Mann

I don’t think anyone is actually ignoring it, merely stating that it isn’t what they are seeking. After all, many people are also playing MMOs for an experience that isn’t quite as action oriented even as many want more action in the combat of MMOs. There can and is room, as always, for more than one setup. That said, twitch in MMOs seems a little less poignant than in other genres… the path is all telegraphed out, all you must do is execute. Complex thought processes and calculations of distance by guestimate? Na, we went with simple AOE avoidance. Then messed up the telegraphs a little too big or small, because exacting measures of graphics are apparently very tough.

As to lowest common denominator? To a point. There are several potential ways to get around that, my favorite being ‘easy to contribute, difficult to master.’ AKA, you can make progress easily, but doing things better gives you something more. Of course, I also want a game world with less vertical power, less combat focus, and a wide array of options for things that are at best afterthoughts in our MMOs right now.

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Sray

We seem to be in agreement on a lot of this, we just intellectualize and verbalize it differently.

However, there absolutely are a lot of players who flat out do not acknowledge difficulty of execution as a factor: in your post you’re fairly dismissive of the degree to which it impacts gameplay. Regardless of whether or not it’s “what they came for”, it’s still very much a factor; and to somebody like me, who only ranks difficulty by execution and not depth, MMOs have never been more difficult. I’m not saying they’ve become inaccessible, but it’s become a huge factor in the difficulty of modern MMOs like Wildstar and DCUO that gets ignored or tossed aside in this discussion.

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Schmidt.Capela

The fly in the ointment when it comes to difficulty of execution in MMOs is the team aspect: you can lose, even if your individual execution is flawless, if someone in your team messes up. That is acceptable when you are a part of a fixed team, who will learn and improve together until the content is mastered, but the players that are part of such a team are a tiny minority; when the content is done with a random group, where you aren’t sure if you will ever play with those same people again, failure due to someone else’s fault becomes a source of endless frustration.

This is why I really prefer when group size relates to difficulty in the inverse way MMOs do; I want my solo content tough as nails, and group content that I can still beat while goofing around and having fun with random people.

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Sray

Right there with ya, SC. That’s what I used to love about City of Heroes: soloing was slow and kind of tedious at best, and really tough for certain classes; but group content was generally exceedingly easy and quick. I don’t know why, but the idea of “many hands make light work” is something that doesn’t generally make its way into MMO design anymore; it’s more “misery loves company” when designing group content now.

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Tamanous

“Online games need to be made for a lowest common denominator: the more difficult a game is (regardless of how you measure difficulty), the less accessible it is.”

That is what killed the industry.

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Sray

“A lowest common denominator” is not the same as “THE lowest common denominator”. It’s fine to have a bar that says you must be this tall to ride, in fact every game should have one. However that doesn’t mean “one size fits all”: the range of skill requirements through most online games have become the same from game to game. Homogeneity is what your real issue is with, not accessibility.