The Daily Grind: Do you think seasonal play in online games is worth the absurdity?

    
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If you didn’t catch the Diablo-themed Penny Arcade comic from a week or two ago, you should. Instead of taking the low road and bashing Diablo Immortal, the authors pick on the way the game – and other online games like it – handle seasons. The Barbarian toon in the comic is basically blowing off essential elements of the game story, including the looming threat of Diablo himself, because he’s “only got a few months to open monster skulls and lick out the looty filling.”

“We don’t gotta find shit,” our smarmy protagonist says to the little girl sobbing about Deckard Cain. “This is seasonal play.”

MMO do this all the time. Many developers spend literally years crafting storylines, imbuing quests with pathos, only to upend the whole thing the instant there’s some leaderboard or holiday, dumping immersionists overboard. It’s a pretty rare studio – ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2 are coming to mind – that do a decent job of layering new episodic content with the old. So maybe we shouldn’t expect as much from OARPGs like those in the Diablo franchise, but the way seasons work right now, it seems absurd not just from a story development perspective but from a design perspective – it’s like the devs dump a totally different game on top of the old one and ask us to ignore what came before.

Do you think seasonal play in online games is worth the absurdity? How could online games that follow Diablo’s path do it better?

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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Yaner

In most games, no. I think it’s just a gimmick to get you to keep playing the game. Path of Exile is the only exception, they make changes to every season with new mechanics and features.

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Roger Christie

I loved Christmas at City of Heroes to death!!!

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Castagere Shaikura

The whole seasonal thing in D3 always sounded stupid to me as fake new content. And the fact that the player base is ok with it made just hate the game more.

Eliot Lefebvre
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Eliot Lefebvre

I mean, considering seasonal play in D3 exists chiefly because they want player base retention like an MMO but don’t want to actually update like an MMO, maybe the schizophrenic feel of how it interfaces with the story is the point.

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McGuffn

In fairness the campaign/story in d3 is tedious (time wise) and awful (story wise)and I wouldn’t want to play it over and over knowing that they’re killing off not only the best and just about only continuing character in Diablo but its presumable replacement as well.

I imagine this is one of the reasons (laziness is another good one) that Diablo immortal is a prequel.

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kalech

I feel like the way they’re doing it already is the best way considering you have to make a new character. I don’t want to be forced to play through the story every new season, because I’ve already seen it.

However, I wish they could find a way to improve the whole season system. Personally I would’ve liked it if they let you pick your own season when you make a new character. And perhaps instead of X number of months, it counted X amount of time spent in-game instead. Sometimes when real life is very busy, I end up not being able to play as much as I’d like and I miss out on interesting seasons.

I do understand that its meant to make players stay with the game and a time limit is kind of important to entice players. But perhaps they could just let you redo old seasons or something. I just wish in general that the system was improved and made more flexible and accessible.

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McGuffn

I would prefer it if they made seasons use your existing characters. The problem with seasons is I have literally never played my “main” non-season account for more than a few minutes, because the endless season grind occupies all the time I put into the game.

There is zero forward progression in the game, because all those fancy sets and items and paragon points I bank up during the season might as well get flushed down the drain (and sometimes they do because I forget to get them out of the mail).

I would like to use my accumulated paragon points someday, if only they’d make it worthwhile. Yes, the current season structure makes it so everyone theoretically starts of evenly, but there are ways to powerlevel that other people don’t use which makes it pointless.

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Paragon Lost

In mmorpgs like WoW, I don’t mind it and actually usually find it amusing. WoW has always been tongue firmly thrust through cheek and totally absurd. I find it less enticing and enjoyable in mmorpgs like SWTOR, LotRO etc.

rahkeesh
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rahkeesh

Penny arcade was slightly confused when making this comment and this post is even moreso. The question is just misformed.

Diablo 3’s “Adventure mode” is what really lets you cast the story aside and just do random stuff. Instead of following the linear story, you can jump to any point in the world chasing random bounties. Yes it makes zero sense that you are killing Azmodan for the 500th time, but there it is. The comic was inspired by how happy Gabe was to ditch the boring story he could never make it through, and just explore and kill things now without much context getting in the way.

“Seasonal play” just means you start a new character every few months. You can take it through the linear story if you want, or the adventure mode, doesn’t matter. The character reset is far from the most bizarre or immersion breaking thing going on.

GW2 has settled on handling their story by mostly freezing each zone in a particular spot in time, which is also how GW1 mostly handled it. You do only the personal story once, but there is still lower-key story baked into the endlessly repeating events and NPCs. There’s definitely some higher immersion to be had by making the whole world evolve instead of stuck in a time loop, but I think their solution is far better for themepark-style MMOs to build up a good repository of content, instead of constantly throwing it away like they did in the first season.

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A Dad Supreme

The first playthrough of any Diablo/PoE/Marvel Heroes dungeon hack/slasher for me is always about the story.

Why am I going through this world? Who needs my help and why do they need my help? What is the big, evil boss behind all of this misery and how can I get to him to smash his face?

After the first playthrough and I beat the boss, I no longer pay attention to helping any NPCs with another class when I reroll. I already know what my motivation is.. loot. I’ve killed all the mobs, beaten all the small and large bosses and saved all the cows.

I don’t really need “seasonal play” to make me ignore the storyline after I’ve already gone through the storyline once through. I ignore it automatically whether seasonal play is there or not.

This is why I never last longer than a month or so in any type of dungeon crawler game. I simply don’t care to reroll new classes when the end result is the same regarding linear stories.

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Arktouros

I mean there’s a real basic difference. Seasonal play you basically gotta start from scratch. So comparing that to something like GW2 that’s layering content on a big story doesn’t really apply because you don’t have to restart your GW2 character each big living season. So when you’re doing a season you’re just re-hashing the same story the Nth time. The closest MMO equivalent would be a fresh start/legacy server and, sure, on your first you might read through the text/listen to the story but by the fifth or six fresh start you’re going to be spamming that next button and getting on with it.

POE is no different. I don’t care about the story anymore than the fact it’s literally gating my way to maps and if there was an option in POE like Diablo to have “adventure mode” and skip Acts 1-10 entirely I think most people would 100% take it.

Jellozz
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Jellozz

Yeah I was a bit confused cause seasonal content in something like GW2 means something entirely different than it does in a POE or a Diablo. I can’t really think of many MMOs (or games on the cusp) that do that style of seasonal play. Even in a lot of the games with legacy/new server stuff usually it’s just a way to start fresh, it’s still the same game.

But yeah I think seasonal stuff in a game like Diablo is fine as is, I mean technically in D3 no one is actually playing the story mode during seasons anyway (unless a certain achievement asks you to do it) thanks to adventure mode so the situation is already fairly detached from the story.

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Robert Mann

Personal opinion, seasons are basically a way of extending the game through different goals, with less coding work than a proper story expansion of some sort.

For those who like that, great. Personally, just give me more actual gameplay. I can make up odd goals and weird things to do for myself if I want. The only difference is that I’m not being told “If you dance three different dances on 20,000 different dead opponents, we will reward you with X, Y, and Z.” TBH, doing the objectives seems (from my viewpoint on the outside) like it’s just more grind with an excuse.

Of course, I may not be the best source on that, as I don’t really play games that do the ‘seasons’ thing.