Say you’re the developer of an online shooter, but you really want to add something that challenges the players in a world where they can basically solo a raid and are hungry for community activities… like group puzzles they can’t just brute-force. Oh, and you want to really incentivize people to do that puzzle, so you you lock a bunch of content behind it, effectively gating it. And you put a timer on it, just to make everyone really hyped. And then you make it insanely hard, just so they can’t beat it too quickly.
Yeah, actually maybe don’t do that. Learn Bungie’s lesson: That’s what it did with Destiny2’s Bergusia Forge and its associated Niobe Labs puzzle. And most people found it all so hard that nobody actually solved it. Oops. Anyhow, Bungie’s rectifying all that.
“While coming together as a community to solve puzzles can be fun, setting this puzzle up as a gate between you and new content that you want to play has not been an ideal experience,” Bungie writes. “As such, we will be decoupling the puzzle from the final offering of the Black Armory. All Annual Pass owners will be able to experience the Bergusia Forge when the puzzle is solved or when the deadline expires – whichever happens first. We realize that many of you have been working hard to solve the puzzle of the Niobe Labs. Whatever the outcome, it will remain open for Annual Pass owners who still want to test their problem solving skills. There is a Ghost and an Emblem to earn as evidence that you completed the challenge.”
All right, so that’s solved. But really, it’s not as if Bungie was experimenting in uncharted territory here. As veteran MMORPG developer Raph Koster noted on Twitter, this is nothing new in the MMO industry at all; he says similar mechanics were attempted in now-dead 2003 MMO Star Wars Galaxies and deemed problematic.
“We experimented with this sort of thing on SWG,” he tweeted. “It had similar issues: only a tiny subset of players can work on solving the challenge; not bc of level but bc of skill required & access to a guildful of collaborators. We had tasks for everyone in the game, with alternate rewards, but many still complained. The puzzle was solved in less than 48 hours, though; best practice in ARG design does seem to be ‘make it WAY harder than you think you need’ so it’s interesting to see a ‘too hard’ case! I think it still has huge potential, just there needs to be some understanding of/with the audience. Use it as an alternate way to play; don’t have one playstyle gate another’s play; provide many ways to play the game. Basically, classic old MUD/MMO lessons.”
Free lessons for anybody paying attention, there for the taking.