Striking A Balance

I don't know whether or not to feel disturbed or aroused by this image

I don't know whether to feel disturbed or aroused by this image

The Internet notoriously polarises opinion and reflects everything in either black or white, often with little or no room for the grey in-between. We see this a lot in how MMOs are reported and commented on by fans and it’s why we have those big debates such as “casual vs hardcore” or “WoW does/doesn’t suck”. The games themselves also try for one strong audience in particular and we end up with either ultra-hardcore, better-off-punching-yourself-in-the-face, games like Darkfall or super-easy-breezy, I-heart-carebears casual ones like World of Warcraft. It’s all very strange though because real life isn’t a single extreme but rather a combination of lots of factors , good and band, all mixed together. So why can’t our MMOs be more like that?

People talk about modern MMOs becoming too simplistic, too accessible, not challenging enough, not rewarding enough, not risky enough etc and, yes, they are absolutely right. But a return to the dark ages of MMO design in which every action has an equal and opposite masochistic reaction is not the answer either. But why do we have to go down one path or the other? Why can’t we cherry pick all of the best aspects from across every MMO ever made (I’m taking innovation out of the picture here)? Why not combine the hardcore qualities of Everquest with the casual ones of WoW to makes some sort of, oh I don’t know, well balanced MMO?

I like harsh death penalties (death should sting, it is the ultimate end after all), wide, vast worlds that beg to be traversed and large, sprawling dungeons open to anyone and everyone. But I also like the intimacy of instance dungeons, the safety of sanitised PvP in battlegrounds, and the convenience of a Looking For Group tool. Do these things have to be mutually exclusive though? I don’t think so.

Maybe I’m in the minority of players who like a little piece of every game and enjoy the newer, more casual MMOs as well as having appreciated the older, more time-consuming ones. I love some of the new mechanics as much as I miss the old and I would be ecstatic to see the best of each combined into a single game. I don’t think a MMO needs to be labelled as either ‘hardcore’ or ‘casual’ and the developers shouldn’t feel like they need to streamline every mechanic to fall into one of those categories. Surely each gameplay device should be examined and merited individually and not just dismissed or added because it fits in with the theme and style of the game.

Of course I’m assuming that combing all of these different mechanics into one game would actually work and not render the entire thing unplayable or unappealing to everyone. Maybe the notion of having a harsh penalty just wouldn’t gel with a game that offers accessible PvP, for instance… or maybe it would and it’s just waiting for someone crazy enough to give it a shot. I’d happily volunteer.


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Related Posts

  1. Game Life Balance
  2. Defining “Casual” And “Hardcore”
  3. Hardcore Elitism
  4. How Do Developers Determine Class Balance?
  5. There Is No Such Thing As Casual Or Hardcore


  1. Klepsacovic says:

    You’re a fucking retard if you think the Internet polarizes. It strikes a perfect balance between all sides.

  2. Windsoar says:

    The only problem I’d have with a harsher death penalty is that I don’t feel it balances well with feeling I am required to random with complete flubnuts. One of the big reasons I’ve stuck with WoW so long, is that while it may be missing that sharp skill level of some earlier, and even later, games, I feel like I have the most control about playing at my own pace without feeling like I’m falling further and further behind the curve. Sometimes I’ve got a few hours to plunk in front of the game and burn out a major objective, and sometimes I have half an hour. Most other MMO’s I’ve played disallow solo or quick and accessible group content in a shorter time frame once you reach a certain level in the game.

    • Gordon says:

      “The only problem I’d have with a harsher death penalty is that I don’t feel it balances well with feeling I am required to random with complete flubnuts.”

      Yeah, that is an issue. Although I wonder if imposing a tougher death penalty would actually help improve the community and player skill because suddenly there’s actually a consequence for failure or bad play.

      • Garumoo says:

        I don’t mind playing with total flubnuts in LFD … but that’s because I’m either playing my hunter or my rogue. Both have excellent “get out of jail” cards I can play when the flub hits the nuts … even so, conditions sometimes work against me and I still die.

        Which I think highlights the problem with putting harsh death penalties into a game like wow: death, when it comes, is swift and brutal. Getting two-shot by trash just doesn’t give me any time to avoid the death penalty.

        Consider though if you were to take your lvl 80 into Stockades or Rage Fire Chasm … and it was tweaked such that mobs would aggro at a greater range, and there would be lvl 80 loot if you completed within a short time without a death. Stack the table like that, and it’s hard to say a harsh death penalty there would be unfair.

        Contrast with: flip a coin, if heads you die, you lose a piece of gear, 50% of a level, and kicked out of the game for 15 mins. Totally unfair and totally Not Fun.

        So … can we please have a conversation about how a game can be designed such that death isn’t so swift, arbitrary, and brutal? Painful, yes; instagib, no.

        • Gordon says:

          I suppose it all goes hand-in-hand that death should sting but shouldn’t be arbitary. I felt that way in Everquest because death wasn’t very common and was a big issue when it did occur. People fought hard to survive and created a real sense of camaraderie and team bonding. The real issue with WoW is that because no one has anything to loose, they have no reason to try.

  3. Richard Bartle once explained MMO design as such: there are some things that are good in the short term for the player, and things that are good in the long term for the game. Think of it as candy and vegetables: candy is great because it gives an immediate sugar rush, but vegetables are what are needed to remain healthy. Players are like kids who just want to eat candy and not their veggies.

    The problem with most compromises is that they’re kind of like coating vegetables in candy. Kids aren’t going to eat caramel-covered lima beans and parents aren’t going to feel good serving their kids that type of meal.

    This isn’t to say that the old-school way was perfect and that we should just go back to that. Hardly. But, I think that in order to move forward we might have to investigate and play around with some of those older mechanics to see if we can advance them instead of simply discarding them.

    • Gordon says:

      Very well said as usual, Brian.

      Compromising can be tough and, as you pointed out, I guess the risk is that you end up with a product that is neither one thing nor the other and thus appeals to no one at all. Still, agreed, I would like to see more MMO game mechanics judged independantly for the qualities they bring to a game rather than just being discarded because they’re too “outdated”.

  4. Longasc says:

    I would be content if there would be world PvE mobs that are dangerous. They existed. But they are extinct by now. Today people would probably post “mob X takes too long to die”.

    IMO we are too much on the easy and convenient side nowadays. But taking the opposite route and going “hardcore” for the sake of making everything very hard can’t be the solution either. For some reason these games are often labelled “PvP MMOs”. As if PvP and serious death penalties would be enough.

    It’s like with beer, wine, whiskey – the right mix is tasty, not going for 100% alcohol. Our problem today is that our soft drinks of MMOs have around 0%. I apologize to all anti-alcoholics who did not like the comparison. :)

  5. I don’t think MMOs need to be labeled as either “hardcore” or “casual” either…to me, these labels are also very archaic when applied to players. I know we just use them make sense of the world, but in truth, the terms mean very little. It’s so subjective and everyone has their own ideas of what’s hardcore and what’s casual. Whatever’s out there, balanced or otherwise, someone will always find a way to interpret it in another way than someone else. One of the most hilarious things I saw once on a forum was two huge threads debating about the same feature in the same game. One was titled something along the lines of “This game is too solo-friendly” while the other was “Why should do we solo’ers always get shafted?” You just can’t please everyone :P

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe, exactly! No one can ever agree on anything! So why should developers even try to target one audience of the other? They should just make games that can be the best they can be without worrying about satisifying a large subscription base.

  6. Carson says:

    I’ve always attributed WoW’s unprecedented success to the fact that it tries harder than any other game to appeal to a wide ranger of player types, and mostly succeeds.

    I’ve played WoW with people who hated PvP, and people who hated everything except PvP. I’ve played with people who loved to group, and people who refused to group. I’ve played with terrible players who were enjoying themselves immensely in the easy levelling game, and with hardcore players who were well challenged by the endgame raiding. People who play ultra casual, and people who pursue the most tedious and punishing reputation grinds, etc.

    There is plenty there that is “super-easy-breezy, I-heart-carebears casual,” but don’t forget this is the game which gave us the original “shiftworkers playing 24-7 or GTFO” honour grind; the unkillable C’Thun; the original Four Horsemen that the best guilds in the world banged their heads against for many weeks; the “Insane in the Membrane” feat of strength; and more recently Yogg+0 and hardmode Lich King.

    • Gordon says:

      WoW has definitely tapped into a large market although I’d argue that it’s more due to their casual appeal than anything else. It’s been able to get players who would never had looked twice at a MMO before and that’s a remarkable feat. I don’t think Blizzard would’ve succeeded though had WoW been any more difficult than it was at release.

  7. Bronte says:

    “I’ve played WoW with people who hated PvP, and people who hated everything except PvP. I’ve played with people who loved to group, and people who refused to group. I’ve played with terrible players who were enjoying themselves immensely in the easy levelling game, and with hardcore players who were well challenged by the endgame raiding. People who play ultra casual, and people who pursue the most tedious and punishing reputation grinds, etc.”

    This is precisely why WoW shines. Regardless of what type of player you are, you are bound to find a large base which is willing and able to do precisely what you want to do.

    That being said, and going back to Gordon’s point about death, one of the things that does irritate me immensely is the senseless penalty (or lack thereof) for dying in the game. You die, you eventually end up paying 3-4 gold in repairs per death. Given that a daily quest, which you can complete in about a minute, will give you 12-18 gold, repair bills are made utterly trivial.

    I remember a time, especially in vanilla WoW when dying was a bad thing, not only because of the fail factor, but also because you sank so much of your pitiful small reserves of gold into repair bills, especially on learning new boss fights that death was a dreaded concept.

    In a contemporary WoW which showers you with gold at every turn, dying is effectively pressing the reset button inadvertently with no tangible cost associated.

    • Gordon says:

      Totally agree and it’s why I think a harsh death penality is important. It’s like disciplining a child – you need to punish them for being bad as well as rewarding them for being good. Reward them too much and you spoil the child.

  8. Susan says:

    I miss alot of the old game design thats been set aside. These days it seems no matter what game it is, its filled with meaningless quests. In the beginning of the mmorpg there weren’t enough quests and in response to that all the games added thousands of meaningless filler quests. It feels so wash rinse repeat that its rediculous. What happened to the really cool difficult quests that gave great rewards. And to add insult to injury they have made killing monsters less experience. There is no reason now to kill anything thats not in your meaningless quest book. Its destroyed the reason to adventure and made the games very linear. Where is the sense of exploration? On release there is usually not enough content and a billion quests. The games have gotten side tracked and almost exclusively worry about graphics versus content. I like good graphics like anyone else but set a standard, stick to it and work on contents.

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