Vague Patch Notes: Accessibility vs. relevance in MMORPGs

    
36
Tell me lies

You know that old chestnut about how the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist? The greatest trick Guild Wars 2 ever pulled was convincing people that it never raised its level cap.

Before you go back and double-check, yes, I’m making a point here. That statement is, at face value, completely accurate. The level cap was 80 when it launched, and it remains 80 now in the game’s second expansion, and it’ll probably be 80 in a decade when we’re on the third expansion. (I jest.) Numerically, the level cap has remained fixed.

The thing is, though, that there are still just as definitely endgame areas and higher-level areas, and the game’s universal and ubiquitous level scaling doesn’t change that fact. So let’s talk a bit about relevance, what it means, and how something isn’t relevant just because you can’t out-level it. You know, light and simple stuff for the day after a holiday.

That dancing might be alluring, but it ain't getting you artifact power.Unlike “meaningful,”Β relevant isn’t a word that has gotten marketing forces to do a tap-dance on its grave repeatedly, even though in many ways it’s far more important. While we laid out criteria for something to be actually meaningful, we don’t need to hit three points for relevance. Something is relevant if it contributes at a reasonable rate to your overall goals in the game.

To use a classic example from World of Warcraft, spending half an hour doing a dungeon has a chance of getting you loot, will definitely get you money, will earn you experience, and has a chance at some other rewards. Spending half an hour dancing on a mailbox has, at best, a very low chance of someone tossing you some coins. You wouldn’t talk about the latter as relevant content; it’s not something you engage with for any reason other than your own momentary amusement.

That’s actually important to consider. Things can be fun without necessarily being relevant. Heck, sometimes they’re just things you want to do with full knowledge that they’re not going to be particularly relevant. If I spend a bunch of time going through a dungeon in Final Fantasy XIV as a roleplaying expedition, I’m doing so without worrying about its overall relevance. My goal is to have a certain experience not fettered to thoughts of reward structure.

But it still shouldn’t go on the back of the box as a marketing point. My roleplaying might amuse me, but it doesn’t make the dungeon more fun to do and it isn’t going to enhance the actual rewards from the dungeon. It matters to me, but it isn’t relevant content.

Now, let’s step back to Guild Wars 2 again. Let’s say you have your max-level character from launch. Can you take that character down to the Asura starter area and still have things to do? Yes. You can absolutely do that, it’s totally possible, it’s right there. But do you have any reason to do that?

Barring personal rationale and unusual circumstance, no. There’s no way that it’s going to provide you with more meaningful stuff than a higher-level area, and there’s even less chance that you’re going to get half as much out of the game as if you go to the new expansion areas and focus on those. There’s a better rate of rewards and more stuff to do, plus if your character has been around since launch you’ve likely already cleared the maps you care to clear.

GW2 has ensured that all of its content stays accessible forever, yes. But it hasn’t ensured that this content stays relevant. Most of it is downright irrelevant; the stuff that matters is the latest expansion maps, Fractals, and raids. Everything else is worth visiting for style and not much else.

If it sounds like I’m picking on GW2 here, well, I am a little. But it’s in service to a larger point, and in this particular case there are far worse offenders, as well as games that have at least tried to do something to head this problem off at the pass. For example, let’s talk about Star Wars: The Old Republic.

For a long time, lower-level planets in SWTOR were wholly irrelevant content. By the time we were on to the (seemingly endless) Eternal Empire arc, things had been changed up, and players would scale to the planets while also gaining repeatable daily quests. These quests were useful right up to the level cap, usually doable alone, and gave players a reason to travel back and forth to these earlier planets to track down quests and take on challenges. It didn’t make everything relevant again, but it did help.

Maybe not as relevant.

Or let’s look back at FFXIV. Sure, once you’re at level cap on every combat job you don’t have much need to go back to lower-level dungeons… unless, of course, you want to get roulette rewards, which can often be substantial. And since the game has 15 different combat jobs right now, this content stays relevant for a very, very long time. You don’t level past it as quickly. For that matter, many of the game’s systems seem designed to ensure that older content remains relevant, even if it’s in new contexts; the addition of limited jobs seems in part to be an effort to make the original zones more relevant all over by having people hunt for Blue Magic.

By contrast, let’s look at WoW. Here’s a game that has recently implemented level scaling across the board, in every game zone. It’s all relevant forever! At least, until you level out of the level band in a given set of zones; then it’s irrelevant again. Yes, everything has a certain point when it stops scaling up, which is kind of silly.

Even more than that, though, once you’re high enough level to leave it, you never have any reason to go back to places like the Deadmines. There’s nothing there other than perhaps a few appearances to farm up. Which means that the vast majority of content in the game becomes irrelevant as you approach the level cap.

Perhaps the one smart thing in this expansion is having Warfronts in existing zones throughout the game, making at least some of the game’s map relevant again in small doses. It’s hardly enough to fix the overall trajectory or having last expansion’s content become wholly irrelevant for anything but cosmetics, but it’s at least something.

Why does the distinction matter? Because how much content is technically present means far less than how much content is relevant. And this even extends beyond things you may wind up outleveling. If you have two dozen different difficulty settings for dungeons, for example, but only one of them produces meaningful gear rewards? You don’t actually have two dozen different settings. You have one. Everything else is, at best, busy work to get ready for that one.

Content in games doesn’t solely exist for rewards, no. But when someone is talking about how much a given game has to do, that is the context in which you have to consider it. And if there are only two ways to get rewards, how much else technically exists in the game is immaterial.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.

36
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
atatahir
Reader
atatahir

Wow pretty much everything said in this article about GW2 cannot be further from the truth. It is like this article is trying to convince us that it is night when the sun is out and day after the sun is set.

The biggest complain about the latest expansion is precisely that the older content still has relevance in terms of rewards. Any one who has played GW2 would know that almost all content is relevant in terms of rewards.

I spend most of my time in base game followed by HOT and then the latest expansion. I m pretty sure that more players spend time in HOT than in the latest expansion.

The players play in older maps for crafting materials, world bosses , current events and collections that they add after every few releases, guild missions, events, map rewards etc.

Outside of rewards many players find older content relevant purely due to the FUN factor.

You have players doing jumping puzzles, events, exploration (not map completion), listening for NPC dialogs, or just sight seeing for fun in GW2.

Recently when the latest mount for GW2 was released there was a rush of players to old maps to try out the mount just because of fun. There are racing guilds now that go to old maps to find the most FUN racing routes.

I think this article show how some MMO players are so traumatized by playing games with mind numbingly boring content like WOW and FFXIV that they cannot even fathom that there can exist games like GW2 where developers make the open world content fun and where MMO players can play and find content relevant just because of the FUN factor.

Some MMO players are so used to treating their MMO as a job where they will only do the ‘job’ if they are given a ‘salary’ that they cannot understand that in GW2 many players exist that actually ‘play’ GW2 without demanding a ‘salary’ just for the fun of it.

The level scaling and horizontal mastery progression system allows these players to continue having fun in all content making all content relevant.

Reader
McGuffn

I disagree with everything said here regarding gw2. The latest expansion and its maps are completely irrelevant to me. I dislike them, the core PoF maps are basically singleplayer adventure with some multiplayer events and discrete, unique, but for me, undesireable rewards. The living story events tied to PoF are more of the same.

HoT is much more relevant to my interests. Metamaps with good, nearly universal rewards and multiplayer that go off like clockwork. And its living story maps provide predictable and repetitive but easy to get and fairly desirable rewards.

One thing gw2 could do better is with its lower tier rewards. Lower tier crafting mats are very desireable, and gw2’s recent solutions have been to make it easier to get those mats by doing newer, higher level content. It’s certainly easier to get many of these mats by doing the high level stuff than randomly killing low level mobs hoping you get lucky with the loot drops. That said the map event bonus system they added a couple years ago is far more rewarding in all of the vanilla 30-80 zones than in any of the maps tied to either expansion.

Mordyjuice
Reader
Mordyjuice

Some one’s never heard of the World Boss Train, current events take place in old maps, legendary collections encourage you to return to older content, collections such as Broken Calagbolg (Green Jesus’s sword) requires you to go to older maps. Old map Metas can be run for mid level materials which are actually the most valuable materials in the game. I’m sure there are other things that can come to mind.

Line
Reader
Line

But content is not remotely relevant in FFXIV.
Dungeons certainly aren’t. The “hand out” tokens at the end are. The empty corridors, rushed in 15min tops, pack the mobs and AoE? Not at all.
Without even talking about all the game world which is made irrelevant while you are level appropriate.
Since, again, the outside-of-game rewards from the UI (XP, in this case) is massively better than anything else that you can do.

Keeping content relevant means having it as a source for the players to use in game activities, be in crafting or otherwise.
Not sending them back to 2010 content to get rewards that will change every patch because you need the daily grind.
Especially stupid when you consider that the difficulty level doesn’t change (no issue criticizing the scaling in WoW, isn’t that right? Scaling bad, but not in my game). You get “better” gear that will make you… not any better actually. But in three months, you’ll get a different, even better stuff to become… identical and replay the same thing.

Very relevant indeed. Almost as much as a clicker game . As least in a clicker, it looks like something different.

The greatest success of FFXIV lies in its players.
They promote shit mechanics and zero content as better than the alternatives. And I thought that Stormblood and its ridiculous one endgame dungeon and one raid was the cherry on top.
But now it’s all the old trash that is the real content. last time, it was leveling up all the other classes, so I’m not sure why I’m even surprised.

miol
Reader
miol

Guess who didn’t want for old zones to stay relevant through Living Story season 1, because you guys didn’t want “an dev/artist’s precious work” of said old zone to be changed?!

You did, you did and you did! Most of you did!
But that’s ok, some like museums! ;P

Line
Reader
Line

In this context, relevant means never changing instanced content that you replay for no benefit at all.
You know, for tokens obsolete in three months.

Making the game world useful and fostering a play economy is secondary to gaining MOAR stats.
That literally do nothing when you replay the aforementioned content.

Reader
Skoryy

Eh, the argument I remember loudest were those who didn’t want to lose the old and temporary content before they had a chance to see/play it. Which kinda made sense, though I still think LS1 is the best one of the four.

Reader
Ironwu

A very meaningful and relevant article. Ok. Sorry about that.

But really, I think a lot of MMO burn-out is directly related to this problem. Coupled with the current trend to fast-track leveling to cap makes it even worse.

Given the current type of player that most MMOs seem to attract, I am not sure if there is a solution to the problem, at least not for the mass-market type of MMO that most companies seem to be making.

Perhaps the new, smaller development efforts that are more focused on the world, the social aspects, and the journey will provide some examples of alternative ways to approach relevancy over time in MMOs.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

the mmo genre is having a harder and harder time finding relevancy in general let alone portions of content in individual games vs other portions of those games.

and for marketting purposes publishers and devs know how toxic a word “mmo” is to audiences. look at the absurdity of todd howard desperate to call fo76 anything but mmo while the mmo social media community even more desperate to stuff the game into an mmo shaped hole. and despite that backlash the game selling quite well… whens the last time an mmorpg sold copies in the numbers fallout76 is selling?

world of warcraft. that’s when.

it’s a more and more common story these days. the market is speaking volumes no matter how deafening the roar gets on social meda – from bloggers and youtubers influencers and would be reviewers.

it’s not really even a matter of relevancy. it’s a matter of survival.

no more mmos.jpg
Reader
Skoryy

I have questions.

Did the term ‘MMO’ become toxic because of the genre, or because the consumerist gaming audience continues its downward spiral into the cynicism abyss and will commence circlejerk at any term that gains marketing traction? Of course, ‘por que no los dos’ is a perfectly acceptable answer, the world is a complicated place.

But also, what MMOs came out with the pedigree that Fallout76 did? Off the top of my head, I have Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Final Fantasies, and, yes, World of Warcraft. From where I’m sitting, legacy does count when it comes to hype and the taking of money.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

you realize both swtor and ff14 sold a fraction of the copies at launch that fallout 76 has? with both benefitting from massive hype and marketting campaigns? (swtor in particular)

while fallout 76 has been slagged by influencers and the press for months already?

πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”

nevermind the fact that fallout 76 has sold boatloads more than teso did at launch so there goes your theory i guess eh?

πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”πŸ€”

Reader
McGuffn

When’s the last time an MMO was reduced in price 33 percent one week after launch? Final Fantasy 14 is a close and relevant example. I know about Free to play and all that but still, that guy that wanted his money back at the gamestop is looking slightly better over time.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

if theres a video game theres a guy mad he can’t return it.

i’m not just talking about fo76 tho. i’m talking about all the ubisoft games and so called mmo lites that have been obliterating the mmo market in sales volume for years now.

the audience that once fueled the money printing machine that was the mmo genre has largely moved on.

and why wouldn’t they. the sins of the mmo industry and it’s fandom go far beyond some guy wanting a refund from gamestop.

you know about ff14 and all he free to play examples that innundate the gerne BUT WHAT ABOUT FALLOUT 76?

this is the classic russian whataboutism m8

this genre and it’;s fandom ate itself. and turn s out fewer and fewer want to put up with the mmo genre and it’s fandom’s bullshit year after year. weird. i can’t imagine why…

Reader
McGuffn

It’s not whataboutism to talk about box sales of fallout 76 and mention the drastic price reduction for the same game box after a week. Something is clearly rotten in a state other than Russia.

I’m not surprised that mmo-lite games are eating into what would have been called an MMO 20 years ago. Online games and “massive open world-ish rpgs” is a crowded category now. There is much more competition and different genres, particularly if you’re boring down into details like classic mmo features such as character or account progression. Everybody is doing it.

What I would take issue with is that people are sick of the sins of the MMO industry when all the games you say they’re flocking to have repeated and adopted those sins themselves. Microtransactions up the wazoo, lockboxes, pay 2 win, even subscriptions (https://www.paladins.com/battle-pass) they’re all there.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

you dont get it. you dont get what ppl are tired of in the mmo genre. thats all.

you dont get that people are tired of the dictatorialness of this genre. and how these other online open world games give the players something the mmo genre progressively has not – freedom and agency and self determination.

enjoy your might as well be corridor rpg-lites. its fine thats thats what you like.

its just not what ppl want from persistent openworld online games anymore.

Reader
McGuffn

Well, your criticisms and preferences are very vague but if you like denuded sandbox games that’s fine, but don’t pretend that there are much earlier games out there much like that which called themselves mmos.

Do you dislike MMOs as games or simply the term itself?

I’m also not entirely sure what that has to do with “all the Ubisoft games” which have things like storylines and level gating which take away your freedom and agency and self determination.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

you don’t get it. it’s not about what i personally like or don’t like.

you also seem somewhat confused about the typical ubisoft the game the past few years.

Reader
McGuffn

It is about when you group lots of games together and complain about random sins people are fed up with but don’t bother to explain what it is and say FO 76 et al do everything so much better without saying what’s better about it.

It’s like if moses came down off the mountain with one commandment that said Don’t Do Anything I Don’t Like.

I mean, I know from your past comments that you also like/play Star Citizen or Elite Dangerous or something like that but I’m not sure what connects them all and you’d rather be a bit smug and enigmatic about it all.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

you really have no clue.

Reader
McGuffn

That’s okay. The only thing you’ve clearly indicated that you care about is how much money its made. My fault for instead of thinking that maybe you prefer something substantive about the games themselves like the genre or gameplay. I mean, I like open world sandboxy survival games too, and I can see why others like them as well. But instead I’ll just go away thinking that the sin you think MMOs are committing is that they don’t make enuf money and what the other games get right is that they make lots of money. Cheers.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

keep projecting.

Reader
Cosmic Cleric

and despite that backlash the game selling quite well… whens the last time an mmorpg sold copies in the numbers fallout76 is selling?

Fallout 76 is not selling well. At all.

Fallout 76 sales down over 80%, compared to Fallout 4 from Fallout

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

thats still better than any mmo in the same period that isnt wow.

imagine that.

Reader
Cosmic Cleric

thats still better than any mmo in the same period that isnt wow.

It is? Citation, please.

Kind of a weird stat to hang your argumentative hat on. /shrug

imagine that.

Yeahhhh, about that …

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

https://www.engadget.com/2012/02/01/ea-reveals-swtor-subscription-and-sales-numbers-beats-financial/

swtor one of the best selling mmo’s at launch of all time sold just over 2 million copies

gw2 took just over 2 weeks to sell 2 million copies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guild_Wars_2

i can’t find actual sales figures not even for the uk alone, but it’s blackfriday/cyber monday and fo76 is #13 and #15 for top selling video games on amazon.com.

this game is selling quite well despite yall taking offense at it’s existence.

Reader
Cosmic Cleric

this game is selling quite well despite yall taking offense at it’s existence.

Actually, I have no dog in this hunt. I was originally just replying to your “the game selling quite well” comment, when its incredibly obviously to most that it is not (as my post, as well as other news stories, shows).

I personnally don’t look at Survival games the same as MMOs. I make my statement based on what sales/profits were expected for the game, vs what was achieved (so far, assuming no miracle happens in the short-term). The sales are WAY behind expectations.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

so you’re just here to troll me? gg

Reader
Cosmic Cleric

No, I don’t troll. I’m an argumentative son-of-a-biotch, but I don’t troll.

Attacking the messenger, however, because you can’t win on the merits, is truly a troll activity.

Anyway, we’ll leave it at ‘agree to disagree’, and move on. Take care.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

none of yalls arguments have merits beyond demonstrating you have no reasoning skills beyond reading headlines.

but suit yourself. play the victim. it’s not like you just spent several days piling on someone who was ranting into the void because you took offense or anything.

Reader
Cosmic Cleric

You know, you can just admit you’re wrong, it won’t kill you, or upset the balance of the Universe, or anything. At the end of the day, your opinion on Fallout 76 doing well is just plain wrong, on the merits/facts, ridiculously so at this point (think at this point it has a record for how quick it got discounted by sellers).

But hell, if you want to be in denial, go ahead, live in a bubble citizen, more power to ya.

Good day.

deekay_000
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_000

i get it. reading beyond sensational headlines is hard, vomitting on the keyboard at people venting to no one in particular is easy.

Reader
Skoryy

As one of the resident Guild Wars 2 residents, I have technical quibbles.

For starters, well, there certainly is leveling after 80: Elite specs and masteries; fractal, WvW, and PvP levels; and, of course, achievements and Fashion Wars. The definition of ‘raising the level cap’ really depends if you’re only sticking simply to vertical progression with regards to levels and gear, and not the myriad methods of horizontal progression.

And as for the relevance of older zones, mid-tier mats are essential for ascended gear. So the mid-tier zones still have relevance for iron and wool farming and such, as well as if they wind up on the daily list. The starter zones, not as much, but they do pop up on the daily list as well. The end result is you rarely find a zone as empty as, say, the Ghostlands.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
Paragon Lost

Great read Eliot. I was just thinking about this the other day while doing the old world bosses in WoW. I kept thinking, man I wish I had a reason of some substance to come back to these zones. It’s been years and I have fond memories of them.

What I think makes mmorpgs different or what is supposed to make them different is that it’s a whole world of immersive things to do. Sadly mmorpg developers have focused on end game, cap activities and don’t design from a “whole” game world package.

Anyhow, not much more to add to your awesome points, other than adding that it’s been on my mind as well. Well written Eliot.

PlasmaJohn
Reader
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
PlasmaJohn

What I think makes mmorpgs different or what is supposed to make them different is that it’s a whole world of immersive things to do. Sadly mmorpg developers have focused on end game, cap activities and don’t design from a β€œwhole” game world package.

When the design creates population stratification of course the focus is going to be on the part of the game with the biggest concentration of players. The focus shouldn’t be on forcing designers to pay attention to levellers it should be to get them to mitigate the stratification far better than they have in the past.

Reader
Efithor

So, I guess there’s a number of ways to handle relevancy in MMOs:

* Don’t. Instead just wipe all existing relevancy from the map and release sequels every so often, but call them “expansions”.

* Scale everything, though that might mean a loss in terms of a feeling of long-term progression.

* Make the progression too high to actually climb/only present for the most obsessive players, and then release content for high/med/low players as you see fit (RS is pretty good at this).

* Opt for a horizontal progression model (EVE, Warframe).

* Make the game friendly to running multiple characters (PoE, RotMG).

*Rework the progression paradigm completely, though I don’t know what that would look like.