The Daily Grind: What’s the most important example of death spiral development in MMOs?

    
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A couple of weeks ago, Justin reminded me of a Guild Wars 2 panel from many years back where ArenaNet addressed Charr armor clipping.

“A Charr player wanted to know when the team will fix the armor for the race. The devs said that because fewer people played Charr, fewer resources go to that race, but that they’ll ‘do you justice’ in the future.”

Now, to be clear, I am not in any way saying that Charr armor is leading to a death spiral of Guild Wars 2; that would be silly since it was said five years ago and the game is just fine. What I’m referring to here is the development cycle itself that seems to happen so often in MMOs: Here, Charr armor is broken, so fewer people play the race. This allows the studio to cut back dev resources on fixing it – why fix what nobody’s playing? This in turn leads to even fewer people playing it, and then even fewer resources on fixing it, and on and on in a death spiral, until only weirdos like me are still playing Charr (because Charr are the best).

I can think of lots of other examples that are a lot more impactful on the game than racial cosmetics, of course – I’m thinking of how some sandboxes will throw everyone overboard in pursuit of PvP players. Or how World of Warcraft perpetually chases endgame raiders with endgame raiding content while chasing off millions of former players who liked WoW for all its other things, thereby justifying the decision.

What’s the most important example of death spiral development in MMOs?

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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Jellozz
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Jellozz

The WoW raiding thing is something that has always been a struggle for me as a player since vanilla. I say a struggle because it’s always been a one step forward one step back kind of thing. There have been times in the game where there has been solid non-raid activities that also offer good character progression (be it via ilvl increases or just story/collection type stuff) but then for some reason they just don’t continue that style of content.

Outdoor content is a great example. They experimented with tons of different types of outdoor content in MoP and then despite finding success with stuff like the timeless isle, how the story content was handled in the 5.1 dailies, and the more group based grind of the Isle of Giants all of it was dropped never to be seen from again. There has never been a good infinitely replayable sandbox zone again, there has never been another daily hub that offered a new meaty story quest chain every 3-4 days, and we’ve never had another zone built more towards group (or coughbloodDKcough) farming.

Even in Legion which imo had pretty solid outdoor content (especially as the expansion matured) it was largely built around world quests, a currency grind, and drip-fed weekly story content. All the good bits of the MoP world experience was largely forgotten, or relegated to smaller content that wasn’t as long-lived (for example the Dalaran Sewers offered an experience similar to the timeless isle on a smaller scale but they never added anything to it after launch to let it grow and mature.)

And now we’re in BFA where world content has once again just completely fallen into the gutter. With the removal of Legion systems (legendaries, followers with equippable items that effect WQ rewards, emissary chest, paragon reps (I know this one is coming back)) World quests feel completely unrewarding, and, the big new endgame zones, Warfronts, might possibly be the most embarrassing attempt at an endgame zone I’ve ever seen in a MMO. A zone with a handful of quests and rare spawns that you can do roughly 1 time per month. It’s so incredibly baffling how this actually made it into the game, even for WoW which has been very hit and miss with outdoor content this takes it to a new low. Design-wise this feels like something I would have expected back in vanilla honestly. It just blows my mind thinking about it.

Really the only saving grace for non-raid stuff in WoW currently is with M+. Love it or hate (I am a massive fan personally) it has been very successful and given players a chance to make real character progress in a fun ever changing environment outside of raids. If it was not for blizzard putting a focus on making dungeons relevant again at the end of WoD (when they introduced mythics and titanforging gear) I probably would have played each expansion (even Legion) for about a month before unsubbing until the next one.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

First we had dungeons in GW2, where a restrictive Meta lead to whole classes being excluded from dungeon groups, ANet’s Metrics showed a lack of participation because of that which lead to their development death.

Raids get introduced in GW2, the dungeon community becomes the Raiding community which lead to another restrictive Meta with another wave of acrimony between the Elite and the Filthy Casuals that pay the bills, notice that the Meta still has restrictions even though each class is viable though some classes stay Optimal because they’re broken such as Druid and Chronomancer; while Raids are still being developed I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the releases take longer each time such as the 10 to 11 month Gap between Wing 5 and Wing 6.

Once ANet releases a Fractal type update toward Raids then Raids will die the same death as dungeons.

laelgon
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laelgon

Any game design based around nostalgia for the “good old days” of MMOs.

Step 1: Announce your “old-school” MMO.

Step 2: Add all sorts of old-school features that your old-school fans are demanding.

Step 3: For some reason, market your game as anything other than incredibly niche game for people looking for a more classic MMO experience.

Step 4: You average gamer find the the old-school mechanics inconvenient and frustrating, because they are.

Step 5: Desperately try to balance said mechanics, to appease both groups. Make everyone unhappy.

This isn’t a fresh take, but people seem to confuse the inconvenient mechanics they put up with, with their fond memories of the experience they had. Who actually enjoyed losing experience on death and having to do corpse runs? What was fun about waiting on world boss spawns at 3am because they might spawn then? I think we miss the sense of community that formed because we had to put up with those types of mechanics, not the mechanics themselves.

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Schmidt.Capela

Not saying that it’s the most important, but the one that most directly impacts me is focusing on raiders. As soon as I reach a point where progression either requires raiding or is absurdly slower to those that refuse to raid I’ll likely leave the game, and that assuming I was playing in the first place; nowadays I tend to not even give MMOs with raiding a chance in the first place.

The ironic part is that devs look at how raiders tend to keep playing longer and seem to think that if they can just convert regular players into raiders they will have greater retention, leading to higher revenues, without noticing that the most likely result from pressuring a common player to become a raider is for the common player to leave instead. Which makes their own metrics on retention show common players as even more fickle, leading to an even higher focus on forcing common players into becoming raiders, causing more non-raiders to leave, and so on.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

That also extends to “everybody loves levelling” and “everybody loves pvp”. Levelling metrics are skewed because that tends to be required. Developers love to push the pvp narrative because it’s a lot easier to develop pvp content.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Spot on. That’s one of the big problems I have with WoW right now. It’s all about raiding and making the progression outside of raids so lame that if you don’t raid, you might as well not play. That’s an easily decoded message. Hence, no BfA expansion for me.

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Arktouros

GW2 is the most familiar mind to this where they’ve had multiple death spirals of game content. I really miss the game’s focus on open world content and events personally but they kinda spun out of that with the new zones with each living story update.

Also most of my favorite looking characters are Charr.

charr.png
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rafael12104

The most important example? As Ironwu pointed out, it is Wildstar.

Why is it the most important? Because the game never did recover from it, despite it’s best efforts.

You guys know the story, but it is important in this case to point out, that the slippery slope started well before the code was baked.

And the steepness of the slope was due to selective memory and nostalgia. If you are making a game for yourself then by all means. But if you are cranking out an MMO, a AAA MMO, as a business, you need marketing and data. Empirical data on what your target market wants.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

It’s not that Carbine didn’t want to develop for non-raiders, it’s that they didn’t know how to. They truly believed that their open world content was teh shiz. Look how long it took them to green-light veteran (end-game) shiphands.

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rafael12104

I don’t disagree with your know-how argument. But I remember interviews where they clearly stated that the goal was a “vanilla” raiding experience that would sell Wildstar to the masses just like WoW did back in the day. LOL!

Heh. Their plans were drastically changed before the first fiscal quarter ended because they were way off on what they thought would sell the game. That they were going to miss was well known too by analysts and journalists. I remember coming here to MOP and reading the warnings by several of the staff.

And by the time Carbine realized they had a problem they were too late to right the ship.

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Schmidt.Capela

I believe it was a combination of devs who truly loved hardcore raiding with confirmation bias, compounded by a lack of experience managing projects; people who love a certain activity tend to believe the number of enthusiasts of that activity is far larger than it really is, and management failed at either identifying that false assumption or forcing the dev team to face their bias, resulting in a game that was developed under the premise that most players either already loved hardcore raiding or would truly enjoy it if they only tried it.

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Ken from Chicago

Carbine did know how to develop and market to non-raiders. It was just that late in developed they SWITCHED messaging from the inclusive, innovative marketing of paths, of new combat styles, housing, etc. for players to that “hardcore” raid-centric, no-carebears-allowed marketing that only appeals to a very minor, though very vocal percentage of the fanbase. When it turned out all the loud cheering produced few players, they tried to appeal to the more casual player–too late. That’s what made their self-inflicted death spiral even MORE tragic.

Same for starting out subscription-only, without even an *option* for F2P. Even WOW has F2P up to level 20.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Carbine had to learn that lesson the hardest way possible. While their messaging changed and they dialed back a bit on #hardcore it still took far too long for them to figure out what sort of content appealed to folks that weren’t into low reward, face-meltingly hard content.

Even if they hadn’t misread the demographics there were still fundamental game play issues that were chasing people away including the “git gud” crowd. Gearing was a disaster. Severe regressions were another. Completely thumbing their nose at AMD processors. Not just stingy but hostile customer service. Level 3 (That one’s on NCSoft)

While blaming a sub-only funding model is The Thing To Do™, just like with every other sub game that failed there was just too much wrong with the game for that to be a root cause.

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Ironwu

HARDCORE, CUPCAKE! GIT GUD OR GET OUT!
Pre-launch death spiral in Wildstar.

For post-launch, I would nominate the Anarchy Online for planned/promised infrastructure and graphics updates. So many folks would have continued with that game if Funcom had spent the time and resources to improve the game. What they eventually delivered was way to little and way to late.

ALL games that are increasingly implementing RNG heavy mechanics instead of direct player agency mechanics. Really sucks and detracts from the fun factor of MMOs, I think. Even worse when tied with RMT Lootboxes.

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starbuck1771

This reminds me of the lack of clothing and armor for Ithorians and wookiees in swg as well as the Trandosian bewbs debate. 😛

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Utakata

That’s happened with TERA in a big way too. As it seems to be the devs bottom line to dole out new class to the most popular races…and genders. So the game ends up with the Elin having a billion classes to choose from, where most other races are stuck with the standard classes they where given back in Vanilla. /le sigh

Polyanna
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Polyanna

Right now, Blizzard’s fixation on slot machine loot models, time gating, and continual progression resets so that everyone feels equally rewarded, nobody ever falls behind, and you can never be finished with the game, or any part of it. That’s probably the most important because of the huge negative impact it is having on what probably still is (or was) the largest single player base in the industry for any MMO.

Every design decision they make now fairly screams that it is driven entirely by attempts to tweak metrics like MAU and ARPU. And I assume that someone, somewhere, thinks that what they are doing makes the game feel more welcoming or accessible for anyone, regardless of their play style or time commitment. But really it seems to have just made it feel pointless to actually play the game for everyone.