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The F-Words of MMORPGs: Fairness

July 5, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[In this, the first part of a three-part series, MMO economy expert Simon Ludgate examines the concept of fairness -- how the economy of a game, and the way items function, can keep the player base convinced that the game is fair, and thus, satisfying to play -- and how some games have either maintained or destroyed this delicate and abstract concept through their designs.]

Late last year, I wrote an article about Virtual Economic Theory. It was fairly broad, covering a number of basics and a few specific case studies. This series of articles go beyond the basics and examine major current issues in MMORPG economies, with the help of some of the people who brought those systems into existence. If you haven't read the original article, give it a skim over; I'll try not to duplicate much of that material in the pages that follow.

Joining me are a few of the legends in MMORPG history (listed are the games which we discussed):

  • Brian Knox, Senior Producer, En Masse Entertainment. TERA.
  • Cardell Kerr, Creative Director, Turbine. Asheron's Call, Asheron's Call 2, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online.
  • Jack Emmert, CEO, Cryptic Studios. City of Heroes, City of Villains, Champions Online, Star Trek Online.
  • Lance Stites, Executive VP, NCsoft. Aion.
  • Richard Garriott, Co-Founder, Portalarium. Ultima Online, Tabula Rasa.
  • Scott Hartsman, Executive Producer, Trion Worlds. EverQuest, EverQuest II, Rift.

There are three major F-words in today's MMORPGs: Fairness, Faucets, and Free-to-Play. As it happens, these three systems are very tightly intertwined.

In order to better understand the dynamics of MMORPG economies, consider the far simpler example of single-player games. In a single-player game, everything about the game is within the domain of the developer's control. The developer makes all the rules: whether or not monsters respawn, whether or not they drop coin, how much inventory space you have, what things drop and when and where. All of these details are determined by the developer. Indeed, all of these details are carefully crafted to produce a planned game experience.

"When you're creating a solo player game, whether you're talking about advancement in your character's attributes or advancements in their wealth and what they can buy with that wealth -- the next armour or equipment -- those are quite controllable, quite containable," explains Richard Garriott, when describing his work on the Ultima single player RPGs.

"We can very tightly constrain the ways that players have to earn money so by the time that they reach a certain point in the story we can know with pretty good authority what we call the relative scale of money they have in their pocket is. You can increase the scale of wealth and the scale of where they are in the story and you keep them in quite close lock-step."

Scaling is an important element in maintaining the sense of challenge in a game. In an RPG, the challenge of an encounter is directly proportional to the difference between your level and the level of your foes. If you are level 10 and your foes are level 10, the challenge might be normal; if you are level 12, the challenge might be easy and if you are 8 the challenge might be hard.

If you are too low -- if the challenge is too hard -- the usual player response is to backtrack and "level up" by completing easier challenges. This "grinding" is something many older players of JRPGs from the '80s and '90s will be intimately familiar with. However, if you are too high and the challenge is too easy (and you haven't been grinding all that much), the game just feels poorly designed. Shouldn't the developer have expected me to be level 15 by this point in the game?

One of the major changes in single-player RPG design has been the somewhat controversial implementation of dynamic content scaling. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was famously criticized by a portion of "hardcore" gamers for scaling every encounter throughout the entire game to the player's current level. Every dungeon you visited, even if you had previously encountered low-level monsters there, would have monsters at the player's current level.

You could never encounter a challenge that was too easy or too hard. That barrier to exploration, the sense that, at some point, you'll be strong enough to go somewhere, does not exist in Oblivion.

Bethesda's follow-up RPG hit, Fallout 3, used the same scaling to set the initial level of encounters, but "locked" the level of monsters once players visited an area, alleviating some of the annoyances with complete level scaling in Oblivion.

But MMORPGs don't scale. They can't, really, because players of all different levels might wander into the same area at the same time. You wouldn't want a game that would spawn a level 50 monster right next to a level 5 player just because a high level player was riding past. Thus MMORPGs scale their content in the same way that classical JRPGs did: monsters of various difficulty levels are intentionally painted over the landscape. Here's one of my favorite examples of this: a map of Dereth, the game world from Asheron's Call, showing the relative levels of monsters.

What does this have to do with fairness? The point is that the distinct graphical layout of monsters in Asheron's Call meant that players could directly associate areas with accomplishment. When I first set foot in the Obsidian Plains -- when I finally joined the elite ranks of Tusker-slayers who roamed the black heart of the Direlands -- that was an accomplishment. And any time there's a sense of accomplishment compared with others, there's also a sense of fairness.

Fairness is a very important concept in developing MMORPGs. That's because fairness doesn't exist in their single-player predecessors. "Cheating" and other forms of rule-changing in single-player games is not only acceptable, it's encouraged. Many games have difficulty settings or cheat codes that allow players to tailor the experience to suit their desires. Does it really matter that you beat the game on easy instead of hard? Only to you.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Michael Lezon
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This was an interesting article to me and I can't wait for the next article. It's more interesting now that F2P/microtransactions are starting to take off here in the west. I remember people raging years ago over pay to win scenarios but now a lot of games are doing it right and are successful for it.

Bart Stewart
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An important point about the "binding" of powerful items to characters is that this isn't so much a fairness fix as an economy hack.

The previous excellent article on MMORPG economies ended without getting into the operational issue of inflation and deflation. In particular, it didn't discuss "mudflation," which is the process by which powerful items trickle down as gifts to newer and weaker characters, making gameplay challenges easier than they were originally designed to be.

Item binding was implemented as a quick fix for mudflation. The thing is, while it does prevent items from trickling down and disrupting challenge levels, it also has the undesirable side effect (if broadly implemented) of weakening the game economy by taking lots of objects out of circulation.

So while developers or players may characterize item-binding as a matter of fairness, I think it's more accurate to put that one down to economy management.

A note about fairness that could have been made was the decision by Sony to create "Station Exchange" servers. These are servers where RMT is supported by Sony itself, with the important point being that these are kept separate from non-RMT servers: a character created and leveled on a non-RMT server can transfer to an RMT server, but not the other way around. And this rule exists purely to maintain the perception of fairness.

Overall, excellent article, and I look forward to the next in the series.

Darcy Nelson
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I thought that's what the minimum skill/level-to-equip was for?

Felipe Budinich
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That mechanic breaks as soon as there is a best equipment set or combination per skill/level-to-equip.

Jim Perry
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"So the grind is inescapable in game design..."

I disagree. What was said is that "the level grind works astonishingly well". That doesn't mean it's inescapable. It's just easy, and therefore, cheaper. But if it means people aren't playing your game as much and not paying as much, is it better? There's probably a balance point in there somewhere between easy to develop and developing non-grind gameplay that will be attractive enough to players to make them decide to pay to play, instead of pay someone else to skip past it.

The grind is the reason I don't play MMOs any longer. After the initial newness wore off, there were games that were actually fun to play that I decided to spend my money on.

Simon Ludgate
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Free to Play is the topic of article 3; Faucets and drains is article 2... so I don't want to give out any spoilers ;)

The topic of gear binding is complex; I'm sorry I wasn't able to cover it in as much depth as it probably deserved. It seems to me that there's a lot of different reasons for implementing it, but one that you mention - mudflation - seems largely negated by level requirements to equip gear rather than binding of that gear. Consider FFXI, where most gear doesn't bind but gear also has level requirements to equip. You can hand a super-duper level 75 sword to your brand new friend, but he can't "cheat" through any pre-75 content since he has to be 75 to equip it.

Binding was more of a solution for a different problem: the problem of gear permanence. Scott Hartsman explains:

You have to have a lot of items that are only usable once, by one person, otherwise you never get an economy because there’s no such thing, unlike the real world, where items wear out; items don’t wear out in MMOs. So you end up making a choice, which is either: you have a system where items don’t have permanence, or you have to make a system where items can’t be recycled infinitely. And, of the two, making systems where items can’t be reused infinitely is far far far more palatable to the average person – actually, I’d say the vast majority of people – as opposed to “Oh, I just got my rare item that I busted my ass to get and, oh look, it broke.”

That the grind is inescapable might have been a bit of a dramatic exaggeration ;) But the grind isn't all bad; I've previously argued that grinding can be a fun part of a game:

Jack Kerras
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One example that's very rarely brought up is the earlier-on magical items in DDO. I'm VERY fond of the way that these things are usable, tradable, sellable, and generally fungible, functional currency. When repairing items in DDO, there's a chance that their maximum durability will be permanently degraded. Not a big chance, but enough of a chance.

You can bind an item to you by magical means in order to remove that chance entirely; you can never repair it, but the degradation will be halted by soulbinding the item. Non-bound items degrade. If you use your +1 Rapier of Lesser Reptilian Bane until its max durability reduces to 68 from 75, then resell it, you'll make some money, but not as much as if you sold an undamaged one. Bind it to yourself and it loses all value in trade, but will never break. I think it bears mentioning.

Robert Chen
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With regards to Free to Play, Korea's Nexon was the first to pioneer this business program.

Veterans from the Korean gaming industry should be invited as guests in the next article as well, sort of a cultural exchange and what constraints are currently being faced by the Korean giants.

Bruce Mills
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A lot of this article worries me, and sets a dangerous precedent for the future of MMOs if this is where developers are planning to go with MMO gaming in upcoming titles.

Grinding may be something that every game has, but when grinding is at the forefront as much as it is an MMO it’s a complete slap in the face to the player when the developer allows the player to supersede it for cash.

I’m surprised that Richard Garriot, who brought us Ultima Online which in its outset did NOT have a time = progression model even remotely similar to other games such as Everquest (and the other games that followed in its wake) does not have more to say about what I’m to elaborate on:

The original UO had a model that time = progress, but the world by and large was a flat design. A new player could grab up a halbred and start swinging it around, but the halbred would only be fully effective in the hand of a player that had put the time into developing the skill to wield it.

This is at the core of what separated the UO from other MMOs, you were not hard coded to be locked out of participating in anything. You could run up to a high value monster as a complete new player. While you could be eaten for breakfast, under certain circumstances (ie: you lead the monster to another monster it hated) you could survive the encounter.

That form of gameplay is gone with the level based progression that many MMOs have today. You are hard coded to fail regardless of what you do based on the level of encounter, and/or the gear of your character.

This time = progression model is blatantly present to many gamers today and why gamers notice it so much to the point that they call it “grind”.

You must do something over and over again to the point that it is pointless to do. You’ve mastered the mechanics of the game, but now the game has turned into an endurance test to see how long you can put up with doing something you’ve mastered to get to the next shiny piece of loot/level.

If the developer allows the player to buy their way out of doing this grind, how is this supposed to be fair? If you the developer determines that the level grind can be skipped with cash, then why is it there to begin with?

One would think that the grind is there to waste the players time: They’re not enjoying it, they’re highly conscious of it while they play, and now the developer is saying they have to pay more money to get rid of something they don’t like to begin with.

The minute a player realizes this they’ll drop your game entirely, or crack open the pocket book. The game stops being a game at this point, it becomes a pyramid scheme. Now that cash = power, you’ve destroyed the integrity of your game.

No matter how you dress it up, selling game progression for cash cheapens the game. It also bars a lot of new blood from coming into your game because some of them will immediately see this enormous gulf that they’ll have to pay their way through or “waste” enormous amounts of time doing content they don’t want to do.

Leveling mechanics that are not open ended like the early UO result in cash = progression talk like this. Instead of the complete game world being used by the players, one part of the game world becomes a ghost town because the content there will be useless and seen as something to blow through as fast as possible.

It seems a complete waste in the long run, many millions were spent on low level areas and in the end they’ll be seen as nothing more than trash because there is nothing of value there for the long term player. There is no such thing as infinite content, the designer that comes up with a MMO model that develops a circular world instead of a linear one will be the one that will break the current trap that many MMOs design into.

It saddens me to think that MMOs will continue down this path. Even if developers can make a ton of cash doing these cash = progression models, to continue to do so will ultimately mar the future of MMOs. It does not capture the spirit of what a game should be: something where players through their playing ability succeed at various game tasks in a group environment. Not by time spent, and definitely not by money spent to supersede spending time.

Chris Daniel
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"No matter how you dress it up, selling game progression for cash cheapens the game"

You nailed it.

"Free to play force to pay" games are weak and can never provide the enjoyment like a well designed cohesive game.

Because good games are based on ideas and what happens if you translate an idea into payment segments? It breaks the idea apart.

Nick Harris
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I really liked your post. I don't play MMOs and knew nothing about Ultima Online's approach. How would you feel if combat required player dexterity (like a beat 'em up or FPS), rather than the "dexterity" of the avatar they were role playing? I've played Oblivion and thought that the combat mechanics were inarticulate - seemingly relying only on statistics - I would have liked there to be a mix, so that players who had reactive skills could level up faster against opponents that would be too hard for the regular RPG player who would just have to grind.

Also, I wasn't sure what you meant by an MMO with a "circular world". Do you mean a wrap around map like Asteroids? A really large map that is actually on the surface of a sphere, i.e. a planet?

Bruce Mills
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What I meant by a "circular world" was a gameworld that was still challenging no matter how high the player went up in level. A game world that required a player to concentrate on early areas with the same thought as advanced.

Level/stats would be a key to accessing higher challenges/areas but they wouldn't necessarily make your character much stronger. That way the developer could still use the earlier areas the player had already passed as a source of content.

The developer wouldn’t have to make new areas all the time; they could instead work on how to reconfigure early areas/zones to have more difficult challenges for advanced players:

The orcs a player was fighting at low level could be back, but now the player fights the advanced versions that execute more varied skills, or have different lieutenants and bosses.

Changing enemy behavior instead of their stat values could allow this, but it would require a stronger concentration on AI which is already hard enough. That’s one of the reasons why MMOs have to rely on bumping enemy stats to make difficulty.

There’s only a finite amount of content that can be made in a game before it starts to blend together and seems to be nothing more than palette/model swap. Finding ways to make players come full circle to familiar areas and new challenges would seem to be a better way to use development assets.

Elliot Rock
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Great article Simon,

It hits on a few points that I have been researching and more.

I enjoy the closing paragraph as it gives direction to unique wide game design within MMOs - fair And fun ones. I personally like the motto of "Doing what I want" in MMOs which is hardly the way MMOrpgs are designed. Grind or repeatable fun gameplay (sounds better) should reward that activity each time a player does it - it shouldn't be forced and should be avoidable if a player doesn't enjoy/care to do it.

Thanks for bringing Lotr into the picture, as I really enjoy what they have done with the game - especially killing myths of pay to win.

Thanks again, I am looking forward to the next installment.

Elliot Rock

Simon Ludgate
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@Jack: I was talking to Cardell about the lack of explicit "bind on pickup" or "bind on equip" in DDO but the durability or optional binding never came up. I wasn't aware of those mechanics. Instead, it seemed that the sheer variety of possible combinations of magical effects, along with the viability of each particular magical effect, meant that players would need a lot of different weapons, thus keeping the market from being saturated with "just one ultimate weapon" for everyone.

@Robert: Unfortunately, all three articles have already been submitted to Gamasutra. Part 3 on Free to Play was written from primarily a North American perspective. It would be interesting to write about the Korean perspective, but all my contacts are on this side of the ocean; I'm not sure how I'd identify, get in touch with, and tackle the language barriers to interview Korean F2P vets.

@Bruce: The particular problem with the reliance on grind came about from Everquest and its ilk, rather than its contemporaries such as Asheron's Call. The particular problem from which "grind" arises is the numerical reliance on level comparison between player and monster. This became very notable in WoW and most recently Rift, where players lose 50% chance to hit and 50% of their damage against a monster merely 3 levels higher than them. Thus, player access to content is highly constrained by their "experience" level rather than their gear, skill, or anything else, driving that particular statistic far into the forefront of the game.

@Elliot: I'm glad you enjoyed it :) The "Freemium" model that DDO and LOTRO have adopted are far less "free to play" and much more "pay for content". I think in a true F2P game all the content is available for free; which isn't the case in LOTRO. There are other "F2P" models, such as energy-based "Pay to Play More", convenience based "Pay to Skip", and luxury-based "Pay for Perks" that I talk about in part 3; I largely try to stay away from power-based "Pay to Win" models.

Sting Newman
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If your game is not fun to play WHILE grinding then you did not spend enough time making sure the battle system was fun to begin with.

The whole idea of grind is a misnomer and misunderstanding to begin with - there are TONNES of games that have "Grinds". Hell metroid prime is one big grind from start to finish by finding all the stuff you lost at the beginning of the game by grinding your way through color coded doors (using lazers/missles to open them instead of keycards).

All games have "grind" the point is to design a game that's interesting enough that people WANT to grind in your game. There is a reason Civilization coined the whole concept of "just one more turn".

Civilization is a game about grinding start to finish but it rarely gets old - it's because it is a good design. I would rather see more talk of how to keep things players must and will repeatedly do interesting then to throw out vague and random words like "grind".

Simon Ludgate
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Absolutely. I've been leveling alt after alt to 50 in Rift because I enjoy the core combat mechanics and that thrill of spending one more soul tree point. I just kind of wish it didn't involve "kill 10 rats" quests; I much prefer those long hack-and-slash levels, like cleaving a swath of destruction through a Diablo level or even a trek through Asheron's Call's Obsidian Plains.

Will Brown
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In your definition in which "grind" almost means "any progress ever", it becomes slightly meaningless - given the uniformity, mindlessness and repetition that the word grind implies, it should only really apply to activities that have those characteristics.

To take your example of metroid prime - in my experience, being able to blast your way through a previously unopenable door is a repetitious activity (in the sense that it happens more than once), but it's accompanied by the thrill of finding something new and is often hidden away which stimulates all the neurones in your curiosity lobe (I dropped out of brain surgeon school). Those don't really fit the feel of grinding in the same sense that MMOs tend towards.

Simon Ludgate
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By "grind" I don't mean "any progress ever" but rather certain (or, at least, highly predictable) progress. "Open a door" may be repetitive, but reacting to what is on the other side of that door is unpredictable, uncertain. In an MMORPG, "kill 10 rats" is pretty much an absolute certainty; as is the experience of leveling up. You see all your spells and ability on the trainer, waiting to be trained; you see all the talents you can train, right there in front of you. This is why it is perceived as a grind: players "see" the end of the road - and every step along the way - before they start their travels.

One of the other major reasons MMORPGs are perceived as grinds is because there is no meaningful way to fail the tasks set before you. In most themepark MMOs the task of slaying monsters is trivial; more importantly, there is no meaningful death penalty in these games. If you die, you revive and continue the quest.

Of course, the player's perception of what, exactly, the task before them is plays a large part in determining whether or not they perceive it as a grind. Consider two perceptions of the "quest grind":

"I'm going to do these quests because it's the most efficient way of getting XP"

"I'm going to do these quests to see what sort of exciting storyline unfolds."

Ultimately, the nature of "grind" perception comes down to whether or not the player is performing the repetitive task in order to gain access to some other aspect of the game (grind-perception) or for its own sake (enjoyable gameplay).

raigan burns
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Amazingly interesting article!

@Simon: '"of the two, making systems where items can’t be reused infinitely is far far far more palatable to the average person – actually, I’d say the vast majority of people – as opposed to “Oh, I just got my rare item that I busted my ass to get and, oh look, it broke.”'

As long as you allow for some sort of resource-draining "repair" functionality, wouldn't that serve the same purpose while solving the "my awesome weapon will one day break" problem? Items would only be infinitely reuseable provided an infinite amount of money was being spent on their upkeep.

Simon Ludgate
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The problem isn't a drain of "some" resource but specifically the drain of the equipment itself. The only way repair would be viable as an equipment drain is if it increased in cost every time it was invoked: eventually, it would be cheaper to replace rather than to repair. The goal is to get equipment out of the market in order to stimulate demand for new equipment, which in turn stimulates the crafters or the adventurers who produce or acquire that equipment and try to sell it. More on that in the next article about Faucets and Drains :)

Michael Lezon
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Final Fantasy XI suffered a lot from this problem. I can't wait to see what you discuss in the next article.

Belial Veldrin
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The cost to repair an item could be in terms of equivalent items. In order to repair your rare quality sword, you must destroy a rare quality axe. This could preserve the drain of equipment from the economy, while also making a much wider range of items desirable, instead of just those with a particular stat combination.

Fiontar McEoghan
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I think one of the reasons so many MMORPG titles flounder around is that the genre has lost it's direction; players and designers alike. You used to play MMOs to enjoy the content as you leveled. Now, too often, leveling is considered a chore you have to complete before reaching "endgame". For me, the whole concept of "End Game" is what is killing the genre. It's fine for the portion of the audience for whom end game activities are the reason they play, but it's been horrible for players who enjoy experiencing the game world unfold over months or years.

I guess it's a lot easier to design a bare minimum of world content, then plan out schedule of just adding more and more Raids, but that's not the game many want to play.

Why not split the genre? 1.)Traditional MMORPGs, with much more world content, longer leveling curves and a plan to extend the game through continuing additions to the game world and the level cap, rather than "end game" Tier based progression. 2.) Massively Multiplayer Online Cooperative and Competitive Games, with a shortened tutorial leveling ramp to an easily obtained level cap, (with tutorial content more relevant to what the meat of the game is all about, rather than being completely different), leading to the main focus of the game: PvP, RvR and/or Raiding.

By trying to combine the two in one title, content for people who prefer gaming in a large virtual world and could care less about "end game" has been suffering more and more as time has gone on. As the "chore" of leveling up to reach endgame has been has been lessened, game and world design have suffered and most fans of traditional MMORPGs are left wondering what the heck has happened to the genre!

One thing I don't get is that dungeons, which are less resource intensive and easier to churn out than complete game zones, have been woefully underutilized as standard PvE extending content. Save the Raids and Tiered gear grinds for MMOCCGs. Use dungeons to greatly increase the amount of standard content that can fit into the standard MMORPG game world. Why hasn't anyone thought to combine expansive multi-zoned world design with hundreds of small group/solo-able dungeons (a la DDO) and an extended leveling curve SANS end game Raids?

Michael Lezon
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I agree. For a lot of MMOs the level has stopped being an indication of power, experience or what you are capable of. Instead it's become a road to the game itself(end game or whatever you want to call it). Like you said, a lot of games under utilize pre existing content when new content is being introduced. Instead the old/vanilla content just kind of stagnates and takes up hard drive space.

Maximilian Lundsten
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@Simon Great article, I found it very interesting.

However I disagree with Simon's suggestion that stacking tiers of pve content a la WoW is fundamentally flawed. The current system of keeping gear exclusive to skilled and organised players for only the current tier of gear, while all below are easily available is very effective.

I honestly am not in the slightest bit worried that players today can easily get the Tier 11 gear I've been wearing for months now, because it is no longer relevant, and my gear will quickly become mostly T12 gear which they will likely not obtain any time soon if they do not start raiding.

In fact the system helps players actually play together sooner which can at times be a surprisingly tough challenge in MMOs, and it importantly lowers the new player's barrier to the 'fun'.

I certainly know I would not be playing WoW today if Blizzard had kept the old tBC or even worse vanilla loot systems. It's not fun for anyone to be on either side of spending time gearing up a new raider, or being the one just trying not to get in the way while hoping for your drop.

Jimmy harrod
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Great article Simon. Looking forward to reading more.

This is a particularly sticky point in MMO game development today, especially with the sheer numbers of MMOs on the market. Providing an experience for players that feels different from other MMOs is a sort of Holy Grail. The tough part is providing that experience in a way that you can quantify that you will be successful. Meaning that behind game design is the business, and MMOs are not cheap to make. I think that it's less risky on many levels (pardon the pun) for developers to follow an established design method such as WoW, which has a more linear path of progression and is easier to keep the game mechanics "in the box" than to create an environment such as UO, which is more of an open ended environment where players are just sort of tossed in and the paths they take are completely up to them.

I often wondered though how much of the modern Western culture would be accepting of a new MMO with an open ended system like UO. UO has been around for a long time, and arguably is a testament to an open ended system approach for the long game, but it's player base is a lot older than many other MMOs. Would younger players know what to do with an open ended system where there aren't such things as levels?

Thanks again for the thought provoking article, Simon.

Guy Costantini
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I liked the article. I do however agree with a lot of the posters who identify the "grind" as an un-necessary step in character progression. A successful game is one where you are engaged in activities because they are fun, not because of their outcome. The reward for your FUN struggles should be the cherry on the cake.

I however also disagree with standard concept of fairness that is attributed to time spent playing the game. I feel this is kind of like a union worker being angry at the new recruit because they perform better and are advancing at their job, making everyone else look bad. While content should and is being sold in chunks, the ability to progress should be based on individual player choices. I think this is very elegantly done in League of Legends.

I think that the shift from pay to be subscribed to pay for content will become more drastic as competition between MMOs intensifies. This is inevitable since MMOs cost a lot more to put in place then to maintain, which will lead to players wanting to participate in multiple storylines where the game content is fun and engaging, while allowing them not to have to give up their day job/family.

rant /off

Brandon Waters
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Great article.

I did want to make a quick clarification, while there was certainly a large amount of gear that was desirable and did not bind in FFXI the majority of "notorious monsters" effected by RMT bots and exploits dropped bind gear as well as rare materials for crafting high end gear.

There were some inherent design flaws in the game itself that made this an almost game breaking issue.

FFXI made the mistake having essentially "hot-swappable" raid groups (in fact it was mostly mandatory for very high end fights); to encourage this or accommodate it, party members could be swapped in just prior to loot drops. This made it so RMT could swap in a buyer at the end of a fight and give them the Bind on Pickup (Ex) gear; the design issue wasn't the fact the gear was not BoP, it was a loot system and general "raid" design issue.

The other mistake FFXI made was that there was essentially no scaling of gear or content. For some jobs (classes) a lvl 58 piece of gear was one of the best pieces of gear until more than 3 expansions later. This meant that 3 expansions later, there were still desirable/required pieces of gear from previous content. This made it so that the price and need of certain gear or crafting pieces from said notorious monsters were ultra rare and very big targets for RMT value. This was also partially an issue of the jobs system - while brilliant and inviting - it also ensured that competition for loot was immensely high, and gear was almost never 'wasted' given that someone could use said piece of gear for another job they had at max level on the same toon.

Much of this was addressed very late in the life of the game (with the monsters being farm-poppable rather than timed spawns), when Square had already lost the majority of its subscribers for more Western MMOs. One of the amazing things about FFXI was it allowed for players around the world to play together through small translation systems. The problem was that it was almost impossible to carter to both Eastern and Western play styles.

David Lindsay
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I overlooked this article for a whole year! Damn, this would have been helpful about 6 months ago. But still, great read and while I agree with the majority of the replies on fairness, that is not the future of MMOs.

I have to completely agree with the time = money concept, and that character progression can be purchased, TO SOME EXTENT. Of course, you don't give it away all for free. But if it's something that can let a paying player catch up to his free playing friends (who maybe have all day?) then it's a rule which can greatly extend the lifetime of your game.

Plus, financially for a game developer and publisher, it just makes sense.