Should MMORPGs Be Simpler?

As Tobold points out, with the release of Cataclysm Blizzard will be simplifying many of the stats that are currently in the game, including things like Spell Power, Attack Power and Defense. Check out his article for a full list.

I’m in two frames of mind about the whole thing. I agree in principle with what Blizzard are trying to accomplish (making the game more accessible and streamlined) but I also wonder if it’s taking away a lot of what we love about MMORPGs – choice. Part of the fun and drive of these games is to improve your character through itemisation and by removing statistics and components like Attack Power, Defense and Armor Penetration, they are effectively reducing the pool of options available to us.

The flip side of the coin is that statistics will be a lot more instantly recognisable and players won’t need to rely on stat calculators to determine what item gives them the best increase. Blizzard are also being careful to help simplify the gearing process in groups and raids by making sure that plate wearers will only want plate items and won’t be tempted on rolling on leather or mail items just for the stats. It’s a clever move which should help eliminate a lot of squabbles.

Overall, I don’t think this move will have a large impact on me as a WoW gamer as I’m just a very casual player of the game. Still, it does make we wonder where the balance lies. I want my RPGs to be fairly complex as, traditionally, they have always been that way and required a little bit of thought and foresight in order to gain the best benefits. It may also remove a lot of choice from the game and make items a lot more samey and less interesting. However, saying that, I also understand that some statistics are just silly and unnecessary and complicated for the sheer sake of it.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out with the release of Cataclysm. Undoubtedly there will be the usual cries that Blizzard are “dumbing down” the game and, well, that is hard to argue with in this case. But is it the right move? Will it improve the game? As Blizzard are often the trendsetters in the MMORPG universe (with new games copying their approach in order to try and recreate their success) we will likely see a lot more of this in other games. That’s the most worrying thing to me: seeing Blizzard’s approach mimicked poorly in the next wave of MMORPGs, leaving us with games that lack any sort of variety or complexity.

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16 Comments

  1. Petter says:

    It’s a good and valid question. Personally, I think Blizzard is going to far with this “improvement”. They’ve done it before and now they are doing it again – at some point they have to reach critical mass. I hope this is it. The further we go, the more hollow it becomes. If we take it far enough, which they of course haven’t done yet, we’d just have a single stat for every class or build – it’d make picking gear easy, but the fun of actually theorycrafting your prefered style of play would be gone.

    We’ll see how it plays out. As you say, as a casual player it probably won’t affect you much. As an old raider, I’m not sure that it will be very much of a big deal either. But it’s the actual step that’s a bit worrying, as the “dumbing down” obviously continues when it comes to World of Warcraft.

    I don’t think it will be that much of a big deal when it comes to future MMOs though. There will always be games with mass-market appeal, while smaller games can find their own complicated niches. What I am interested in is Blizzard’s next MMO. Where will it start out? Where WoW is now, difficulty wise, or somewhere else?

    • Gordon says:

      Getting stats right is difficult. We need enough stats to give us plenty of strategy and decision making yet we don’t won’t ones that are complicated and redundant. I can see sense in removing a few of the stats in WoW but still like Spell Power and replacing it with Int? It might make itemising a spellcaster pretty dull…

  2. Longasc says:

    I wanted to say they are in danger of dumbing down the game, but you already predicted that answer… grrr….

    But yeah, this is the danger. May I introduce my new stat system: Two stats, the names are self-explanatory: Attack and Defense. This eliminates entire concepts like different damage types, strong armor but low hp, armor ignoring attacks, etc. etc. It will for sure make number crunchers and optimizers unhappy – if things are obvious, they are not needed. This does not matter much to the casual player, but it takes a bit away.

    Still, I am all for making things simple. Simple in the way it is easier to understand what this or that arcance stat changes or is useful for. But no MMO designers should ever reduce choices! and the general complexity of the system for the sake of clarity. As MMO players we get more and more awful as gamers. The UI allows for much automation and we get warnings, arrows guiding us around and all that. Actually, we should hire some dumbass to do the menial clicking for us in our “adventure”.

    I remember when they created Spellpower. More power to the hybrid – intentionally or not. Healing Gear vs Damage Gear did not exist anymore, everyone rolled on the same piece of cloth. This made things easier for the designers, and easier for the Joe Casual kind of gamer. In LOTRO, all one-handed and two-handed weapons now swing at the same speed, same dps for all of them, minor special bonuses depending on the kind of weapon you use. This did not hurt anyone, in fact it also eliminated a strong bias towards slow but hard hitting weapons.

    All in all, both these changes did not hurt players too much, despite many concerns of the playerbase before this happened.

    As long as the game retains choices and just makes things more transparent, a consolidation of stats is okay. But if it takes things too far and takes choices away, it will be a bad thing. In general Blizzard does not make major mistakes, so I am quite confident. Though I am afraid the ongoing catering to the casual gamer crowd and ever simpler farm-tasks will drive me totally away from MMO gaming. I left Guild Wars when it became all about farming stuff and had nothing else to offer, I left WoW already in WOTLK because things got too easy already, now where shall this end? This imagined “casual gamer” cannot be such a dumbass, they cannot design compelling games with the image of a total moron in mind!

    • Gordon says:

      I agree that Blizzard don’t make mistakes so I’m sure this will work out fine. And it’s not a drasatic overhaul by any means…. it will be interesting how it affects other new games in the genre though.

  3. Fremskritt says:

    I don’t see how this change will affect choice at all. There has always been a “best” way, everything else will get you ridiculed. This might not be true in other MMOs, but in WoW it certainly is. On the surface it looks like the current system gives choice, but once you sink your teeth into it you realize that there is only one way to be “best”. So I don’t think this change will remove choice at all, at least not if you want to get the most out of your gear.

    But yes, this change will make the “morons” stand out even more, at least amongst the plate, mail and leather wearers. Hunters with intellect armour anyone? This change will make the “nøøbs” stand out even more.

    What this change does is make it obvious that the illusion of choice is just that, an illusion.

  4. Kiseran says:

    I like this specific change. Nothing against choice, but if I need to consult an Excel-Spreadsheet to find out if an item is an upgrade for me than something is wrong. This isn’t anymore about what stats benefit your character more, its about “getting 5 points of stat x more leads to stat y being stronger than stat z which means you have to redo your whole set until you reach 50 points of stat a which leads to stat b trumping everything.
    I also like that you can’t just roll on everything anymore. I laughed my ass off when some DK complained that he couldn’t roll need on the spellpower necklace that our healer needed.

  5. Andrew says:

    This is the third wave of WoW stat consolidation. Each change has rendered the gear selection meta game easier, which makes me sad. Maybe I’m a rarity, but I always loved poring over all of the gear out there and deciding which was best, and how I wanted to tune my character.

    @Fremskritt:

    “I don’t see how this change will affect choice at all. There has always been a “best” way, everything else will get you ridiculed.”

    That is extremely wrong. Even as recently as WotLK there was still choice in how to tune a character. For example, melee-based toons (like a feral druid) could pursue the hit & expertise caps, or else ignore them to stack damage. Both paths were viable, and practically speaking neither was superior. (Number crunching made damage stacking APPEAR more attractive, but it assumed average rolls, and machine-like reflexes.)

    Further back different approaches to gearing were even more prevalent. Perhaps you’ve just not played WoW long enough to have seen this?

  6. I think this is a good change, personally. Turing TBC I saw the stats starting to get out of hand with my Feral Druid. I preferred base stats, but trying to figure out which item was an upgrade on the fly was a pain in the ass. For example, assuming you’re wearing the Waistguard of the Great Beast and the Bladeangel’s Money Belt drops. Which is an upgrade for you? Quick, the Rogue also wants to roll on it and the group needs to move fast to beat the timed event! (Funny enough, the answer at the time when those were good gear depended on if you were “raid buffed” or not.)

    For me, I wanted upgrades to tackle higher content, but I didn’t go out of my way to find “the absolute best” upgrades. I did what I thought was fun, and going over spreadsheets of gear to find out what would give me 1% extra DPS/survivability/healing just wasn’t fun. So, I think going back to a simpler stat system makes more sense for me as a player. (Not that I’m likely to go back to WoW at this point.)

    It’s interesting, because as Longasc mentions, LotRO made some changes as well. They introduced a lot of new “ratings” to replace raw percents. On the other hand, they standardized weapon speeds. I suspect in a few years we’ll see LotRO do a similar simplification as the current system sags under the complexity.

  7. Occam says:

    EQ2 is going to be doing the same thing with Sentinel’s Fate, although to a lesser degree apparently. There are various types of critical modifiers (ranged, melee, magic, etc.) and they are going to be condensed to one. In moderation, I don’t see anything wrong with this, and it’ll help avoid making things way too complicated for beginners.

    For a while now I’ve been wondering in the back of my mind whether an MMO with *hidden stats* could work. About the only number you’d see is your level, but leveling wouldn’t be a matter of “obtain x experience points”…it would be hidden, complex,perhaps even random. You would simply have to play the game, then at some point you’d level up, reflecting how much of the world you’ve seen. I suppose armor would have to be differentiated based on realistic things, like what it’s made out of. A steel breastplate would be better than a rusty tin one, and at the high end, something mithril-esque (valyrian steel?).

    Anyway…I’m sure there are a multitude of reasons why it wouldn’t be feasible, but it would be cool to see someone break from the standard D&D style mechanics and focus more on lore and storytelling.

    • Gordon says:

      I remember EQ2 consolidated a few stats a couple of years ago. In fact, I think they did it soon after the game launched as well when they removed the class achetypes. All of the changes were positive improvements and streamlined things without dumbing it down. Hopefully the next sound of consolidation will be as good – as you said, I don’t see the need for different crit modifiers for melee, magic and ranged etc.

  8. Stabs says:

    WoW was originally a game with very simple stats.

    Strength, Agility, Constitution, Spirit and Intellect. That was just about it.

    Haste only existed on a single mid-level enchant. Crit was on a few rare and highly sought-after items. Armour penetration did not exist. Defence, weapon skill, mp5 only existed on high level raid loot which most people in 2005 would not see.

    The reason extra stats got added was to make the game more interesting through complexity. But is it interesting to plug numbers into a calculator?

    The number of people who actually enjoy working out whether 12 Armour penetration rating is more useful than 8 Haste rating by actually analysing damage outputs and solving equations is tiny, well under 1% I’m sure. (I’m one of them and in four years of playing I almost never met anyone who wanted to go deeper than “EJ says 1.1 haste = 1 crit”).

    Most people either use a calculator site like Rawr or go with a half-understood EJ meme (eg “haste is always best”) or just pick something that looks like it has bigger number (eg 12 ArP is better than 8 Haste because 12 is a bigger number than 8).

    Blizzard has said they don’t want to do content for < 1% of players in the context of raids. So why would they want to do mathematical complexity stuff for <1% of us who love equations?

    It also feeds drama. “omg, hunters don’t need haste” and all that bollocks.

    It’s a system that kinda grew immense by happenstance – a game that was originally planned on a “how can we get people to buy boxes and re-sub after the first month” basis has gone on and on and designers have scratched their heads thinking “how can I make MY raid special and the loot it drops good?” It really is crying out for rationalisation.

  9. Dustin Moore says:

    I’m not qualified enough in WoW alone to give my comments about the WoW-specific examples (level 39 rogue and growing). However, there are many times that this blog post title comes across my mind.

    How many times (if you are like me) have you been hooked on a simple game? How often have you wanted to do the same thing over and over, hours on end? You don’t need complexity to have spec options, however a little choice can be nice.

    P.S. Be careful in this topic when choosing between the words “easier” and “simpler”. They mean completely different things here.

    • Gordon says:

      That’s a good point about the distinction between easier and simpler. I guess for a game like WoW, simpler is the key because there is actually a lot to absorb if you are not familar with the genre. The game does require quite a lot of assumed knowledge and doesn’t teach people much of what veteran players take for granted.

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