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Starving Wolves: In Defense of the Balancing Act


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#1
dengar

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So there's been some discussion about ArcheAge's dual-audience as a problem, mainly coming from the hardcore pvp side once again. Several issues come up, but the two most common I've seen are:

1. "Trying to appease both audiences will only lead to disappointing both."

2. "Without item drops or xp loss, pvp will have no meaning."

As usual, I'm going to assume that nothing new will happen between now and AA's release. It's an extremely conservative perspective, but given what occurs with most games (and the fact that I sadly don't have an ear on the inside with AA), the most realistic way we can talk about an unreleased game is to talk about what is already in it.

First, there's some extra credit reading some people may want to hit. Hardcore Casual discusses a little thing often attributed to Richard Bartle: the idea of "wolves" and "sheep." Wolves are pvpers, sheep are their victims, but HC mentions that there's a bit more to the two sides than this simple model.

Next, we have Dr. Bartle's discussion of the 4 player types. If I need to go through too many details here, you probably haven't been around the MMO/MUD block for long. Bartle has done a lot of work in MUDs, the precursor of MMOs, and Bartle is very knowledgeable about social gaming in general. His "4 player types" are a pretty good way of understanding player habits and drives. If you need to understand one thing about Bartle's 4 types and MMOs, it's this: an MMO filled with killers/wolves will die.

So, let's do a quick comparison between World of Warcraft, Darkfall and Eve online. WoW is the pop music of the MMO world. It's nice in small doses, but it's depth is a bit... lacking. Highly instanced environments water down potential for meaningful social experiences, end game content being watered down to ease access to it occurs fairly often, and rewards for failing in pvp plus "welfare gear" ensure that there's simply different levels of winning. The game's successful among the masses, but us grizzled veterans crave much, much more.

Darkfall is a good idea. Calling it a success would be a bit of a stretch. People love to try it and talk about how great it was, but there's a reason many of us don't play it any more. It's the other side of WoW in many ways. Though I'd argue that both games lack in-depth customization, WoW's focus on rewarding everyone is completely ignored in the world of Darkfall. There is very little safety for players, and death means losing everything. Heck, even when you win, combat costs durability, and you may end up breaking a favored sword or ship in the process. In WoW, you're fighting for gear, while in Darkfall, you're fighting for what and your enemy has- winner takes all.

Finally, in EVE, you have a bit of both. It's got all or nothing, but only in the deepest regions of space. You can technically live out your days without pvping, and maybe even do quite well if you know how to network and manage a business (though don't hold your breath ). You can get insurance to help minimize your losses for when you do pvp, and there's greater rewards for those who do actually go out there, but again, it's not forced upon the players. Oh, and there's a decent amount of customization in EVE. WoW's choices are fairly limited, and Darkfall allows you to have anything... and everything, which leads to characters all being nearly identical, especially after you've played the game for a long time.

In WoW, pvp is meaningless because, eventually, "we all win." You can't lose anything but rating for ladder matches, and to be blunt, this seems more like an RTS/FPS feature than an MMO feature. It reeks of instancing. I think most of us play MMOs instead of FPS/RTS games because we want a large, open, seamless world.

However, I'm going to argue a bit that Darkfall has a similar problem. While people may drop items on death or, at worst, lose their city, I remember asking myself "Who cares?" The population dropped to the point where cities had little value. You grinded skills, grinded materials, and then killed people so you could grind a bit less or more based on the outcome. There wasn't a lot of "glue" to keep you there unless you owned property. Even when towns and cities were valuable, it felt more profitable raiding them at times. No building costs, no maintenance, and to be perfectly honest, they weren't really "our" towns. Hitting the NA-1 server and just taking towns built by others almost felt like cheating. Towns/cities were a puzzles to be solved, not custom built player property. When we finally did get individual housing, it was... a bit of a let down. Losing it only occurred if you didn't pay rent. The worst someone could do is claim your village stone, break your door, and take some resources from your tree. It sucked, but it was no big deal.

This is where Eve comes into play. Having a ship you can build (and customize a fair bit) but lose gives you a reason to play. Being able to get a bigger and better one encourages you to risk your life, and money. It's still too hardcore for the WoW crowd, but part of that comes from the meta-gaming.

Where does ArcheAge, Hardcore Casual, and Dr. Bartle fit into this? Well, first of all, people who play WoW aren't all "sheep." I currently play WoW because my friends do. I ditched them for a little more than a year to play Darkfall. I had a blast, but towards the end, I realized that I wasn't really playing for much. I got my skills up, I fought, but I didn't feel attached to the game, and eventually the people I played with. I can go kill people in any game, but I needed something to tie me there. I'm a "sheep" at times but, as HC hints, some of us have teeth. I love the option of beating an enemy with my words, or, better yet, getting him on my side to fight a bigger and badder wolf. When I a wolf, I'm not looking to just kill sheep and run off. I'm looking to attract the herd's attention. I want the ganking to escalate into a real shit storm. In order for this to happen, we need Bartle's 4 player types: socializers to attract other socializers and to share epic tales of ganking and counter-ganking; achievers to drive groups towards greatness; explorers to document and bend the limits of the game's design; and yes, killers to make sure we're all on our toes. The minute killers take over, such as in DF where there was no room for socializers, too much punishment for achievers to get anything done, and explorers got bored, the game's full drop pvp lost its meaning. Only by attracting a large, varied audience can a game hope to achieve a long life, but we don't just want a bunch of socializers like in WoW. We need killers.

This is where point 2 is addressed. Customizable housing that can be lost through pvp gives non-killers a reason to make risks, and gives killers an objective to take from them. I remember subscribing to Asheron's Call for 2 or 3 months without really playing it, just because I loved my house so much. It took a whole game to finally make me give up on that house- not boredom, not being driven off, just finding something that wholly suited me better. In Darkfall, despite the fact that our city was a pre-built town that just needed us to fill in the blanks, I had a real attachment to it for a long period of time. We lost it, won it back, and lost it again. It wasn't until I really started looking at other towns that seemed radically imbalanced (impregnable fortresses with awesome resource locations, good spawns, and unique town bonuses!?) that I really looked at DF and said "It's a dev-built map we have to rebuild."

ArcheAge is attracting both hardcores and casuals- sheep and wolves, if you will. Like EVE, it shelters players at the start, giving them relative peace to play the game, but holds strong incentives to go out and PvP. It supports player customization and allows non-killers to invest in the world, but forces them into a situation where the killers can have their fun too. This makes sure there's a good amount of content for the "sheep" to stay happy and want to fight the wolves, and gives the wolves a limited quantity resource to take and hold over the sheep, building a true motivation for pvp. While it may not be as punishing as EVE, AA is following a similar formula but tweaking it to bring in a larger pool of players. Sheep will do what they can to own property (not just fill out blue-prints devs created), and wolves will do whatever it takes to take it from them. While it may be fun to loot a "Gargantuan Bone Mace of the Ages" from a nub, I think most wolves can agree that nothing says pvp more than property damage, and when someone's especially proud of that property, it's even sweeter.
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#2
ArcheAdmin

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I'd give you an inside ear, but I don't really have one either. :l

#3
Eligor

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An enjoyable read and a nice article. And I like how you focused on all the mmos people try to relate with Archeage and then on what Archeage tries to achieve. If nothing changes, ofcourse.

Though even if something does change, unless there's an outcry from the community the game won't veer much off course. There is a vision in every developer, and they try to make a game out of that vision. Archeage is Jake Song's vision now as is his game.
Let's all pretend there's something really important written here...

#4
Zil

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I think the best way is to please one audience... it makes the world a happier place. No player disputes in-game and on the boards, players who try it and aren't pleased simply leave knowing the game won't change for them and the target audience actually get to enjoy a game that will evolve around what they love with a game that simply goes into one direction.

I even believe that all those MMO's that tried to do it all and failed were just cheap and were aiming at pleasing a too wide and diverse crowd to get as much profit as possible.
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#5
ArcheAdmin

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I think the best way is to please one audience... it makes the world a happier place. No player disputes in-game and on the boards, players who try it and aren't pleased simply leave knowing the game won't change for them and the target audience actually get to enjoy a game that will evolve around what they love with a game that simply goes into one direction.

I even believe that all those MMO's that tried to do it all and failed were just cheap and were aiming at pleasing a too wide and diverse crowd to get as much profit as possible.

What happens when that one audience you pinned all your hopes on fails to materialize? When the hardcore PvP crowd moves to a different game because they didn't get everything they wanted fast enough? Then you're screwed. Same with the PvE crowd, probably going to GW2.

#6
Shinaji

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Or create a new market.
Heck there are people who like liberal doses of both.
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"As instanced dungeons became popular, the whole world of MMORPGs became an entrance lobby to instanced dungeons. In my opinion, today’s MMORPGs are like theme parks – guaranteed fun with limited choices." ~ Jake Song

“Great ideas are often opposed by violent reactions of mediocre minds.” ~ Albert Einstein

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#7
Zil

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What happens when that one audience you pinned all your hopes on fails to materialize? When the hardcore PvP crowd moves to a different game because they didn't get everything they wanted fast enough? Then you're screwed. Same with the PvE crowd, probably going to GW2.


Then your game was probably boring and launched too early? That and if you do it for hardcore players only you can make it damn hard, that way no one ever gets to end-game :)
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#8
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Developers love to toss out words like "next generation mmo", "sandbox game", "the game has taken inspiration from wow" and "westernization" but usually its just empty words to get the hype going. What looks good on paper may fail completely while they create the game. In the end what matters for a games success is if the game has a good foundation to stand on, knows its targetted audience and is polished.

To me it feels like they know which audience they target, themepark players that looks for a game with a diverse sandbox endgame. They are bored with just logging on to the game to play instanced PvE and PvP and wants something outside the typical wow-formula at max level. The risk is that the sandbox features don't provide the needed depth for the game to be different enough from other themepark games.

Archeage could very well become a success in asia and tank in the west, but it is independent of which audience they target, instead its a cultural clash. Westerners has a problem with the asian animation style and korean games has a tendency to substitute levelling content with mob grinding, and hate minimal droprates from bosses.
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#9
Azhidaahaka

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Westerners has a problem with the asian animation style and korean games has a tendency to substitute levelling content with mob grinding, and hate minimal droprates from bosses.

Always interesting when people generalize about the western market so much. It's not the whole western market that has the kind of views that you mentioned, a pretty decent amount of the western market actually likes the asian animation style. And when you say "leveling content" I could only imagine you mean either boring quest grinding or instanced dungeons, which shouldn't really be in an MMO to begin with since the game should really be just an open world and not open world with the ability to hide in your instanced portion of it.
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#10
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Always interesting when people generalize about the western market so much. It's not the whole western market that has the kind of views that you mentioned, a pretty decent amount of the western market actually likes the asian animation style. And when you say "leveling content" I could only imagine you mean either boring quest grinding or instanced dungeons, which shouldn't really be in an MMO to begin with since the game should really be just an open world and not open world with the ability to hide in your instanced portion of it.

Meant to write "a lot of westerners", but its fitting to generalize a market because a markets preferences can be the difference between a hit and a miss. When I speak of levelling content I mean content that has a function and/or story, instead of randomly placed mobs on a field that you kill xxx times,. Having a task to kill 30 of those randomly placed mobs is equally dull.
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#11
Azhidaahaka

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Sadly that's what most "leveling content" is when it comes to quests is just go kill 30 randomly placed mobs. Which is why I hate quest grind games so much, I'd rather be out grinding mobs instead of needing to run back to town every 5 minutes to turn in my quests and pick up new ones. Only reason I do the quests in most games is thanks to the fact that they tend to be the best way to get gear which pretty much makes them mandatory and if you're not doing them then you're doing it wrong.

Not really against questing either, but they need to be quests that aren't random or stupid.
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