Angst and Frustration
Yesterday World of Warcraft released an announcement about patch 6.2.3 and the twitters collectively lost their shit. Essentially the patch felt like a thinly veiled batch of carrots to try and string players along for a few more months. It also sent the sign that maybe just maybe Legion beta would not be ready for Blizzcon, and more than likely players are going to see another significant lag between expansions. I even joined in the frustration for a bit until I realized… that it no longer effects me. World of Warcraft is like a bad breakup, that you can still get upset over years after the fact. I am not playing the game any more, so honestly while I still have “disappointed parent” moments over the game that has not really lived up to its true potential in years… in no longer actually has any effect on my play time unless I let it. All of that said… it did start me thinking about a problem that most MMOs have. When a game gets to be as old as World of Warcraft it has just silly amounts of content available to the players, but most of it is largely invisible to players. I’ve talked about in the past how MMOs are horrible at telling players how to get to new content, but they do an even worse job of directing players towards “old” content.
Unless you have been playing since November 2004 and have been a rabid completion-ist… chances are there is still a lot of old content that you have never seen in the game. The problem being that there is no real way of notifying players other than the achievement system that this or that area of the world exists… and might be worth looking at. Additionally most companies have this problem of trying to pretend that the past is behind them, and that only the new and fresh parts of the game matter. If this were not the case we wouldn’t see quite so many “boost to level cap” schemes out there. The problem I see with this is at least in the case of World of Warcraft… their best content is ALL from the past as far as I am concerned. Trying to till it under to plant new seeds does a great disservice to the awesome experiences that could be had doing past content. The problem once again is there is no really good way of letting players know what they are missing.
Exposing Old Content
There are some games out there that try really hard to wrap systems around this. For example in Rift you have the Instant Adventure system, which will port you to somewhere in the world, scale your level down, and give you a mini quest chain to follow along with a bunch of other players. This is an insanely enjoyable way to level, and they even introduced a version of this that allows for the exploration of raid content. It is something less like LFR and more like a world event that just happens to take place in a raid zone, and the bit of it I have played has been ridiculously fun. That said… this system is super limited in scope and still misses out on some of the quest content that happens in these zones and other things to do. Essentially we have all of these systems around grouping, but no real time has been devoted to helping players come up with things when they aren’t grouping. Sure you have facebook game like systems of the Garrison or the Shipyard, but eventually you reach a point where you realize that you are only playing the game to log in and fiddle with your house for a few moments before logging out again.
What I propose is a new kind of system that essentially takes a look at all of the content a player has completed and then suggests something that they haven’t. No game on the market does not have a robust system of tracking player achievements and most of them even go to the finite level of tracking every single kill the player has gotten… and occasionally even what they have gotten as drops. What I am proposing is a join between the list of “what is available in the game” and “what the player has completed” and then packaging and presenting literally anything the player has not done… in a quest form. Now I remember a time when there were threads on the Blizzard forums that you could post your profile, and someone would “assign” you an achievement that you had not completed to go and work on. What I am essentially suggesting is creating a formalized system for just that. Now since Blizzard still does not have a level scaling system, that is going to harm some of the enjoyment… because in a perfect situation it would scale you down to a level equivalent to the content. My idea would be to have a series of checkboxes in the UI allowing players to particularly avoid things like PVP, Raid or Crafting items if they don’t want to do those.
The really important thing about this however is that players need to feel like there is a reason. Ultimately I think that is what players are saying when they say there is “nothing to do”. At least for me when I say these words what I really mean is “nothing I want to do, that has any bearing on my modern game play experience”. There are ALWAYS things you can do, that has never been the problem, but there are often times a loss of things that you want to do that give you some sort of reward that you actually care enough to chase. The itemization of this “Mission” system would need to be right, and my theory is that we could do something like a loot bag upon completing the mission. Maybe even make it so that when you get a mission, it is being given to you by one of the old world factions relevant for the content you are being asked to do. The loot bag would contain rewards equivalent to the sort of achievement you are being asked to do… and most likely for 90% of the bags opened would just be a little pocket money and maybe some consumables or crafting materials. However there would need to be the chance of obtaining some ultra rare items, like mounts or cosmetic items in order to make it worth the players time.
Sure it is rehashed content, and there is no denying it. It does however give players a way to essentially mine more enjoyment out of content they have not completed… and get rewards for doing it. Largely this idea hit me while thinking about the events of yesterday, and the problem of having a decade worth of content but no real way of getting players to go back and consume it. Additionally I have been playing a lot of Destiny, and that game is the master of giving me little mini-quest sand events, largely in the form of patrol missions that give purpose to what is otherwise a bunch of wandering around the shooting random shit. It struck me how much more enjoyable for me it is to kill a dozen Vex when I have a quest asking me to collect items from them, than it is just to kill a dozen Vex on my own. The act is the same, but in one case I have a false sense of purpose. Ultimately I think that is what most unhappy customers lack, is a feeling of purpose in the things they do. After all you can only log in for so long without doing something meaningful without realizing that you are essentially paying for an expensive chat client. I am not saying this is a system to stop games from hemorrhaging players, but it is something. I absolutely think I would use something like this because I would know I am working toward two things. Firstly I would be slowly inching up my achievement score, which give me a bit of a false sense of satisfaction. Secondly I would know that maybe just maybe there is a chance that upon completing one of these many missions I would get awarded something really awesome and special.