WOO II An Exploration in Design -
- By Stoneghost: Dalaran
WOO II - Update for Mists of PandAria
I'm finishing the editing on WOO II as MOP has released for the current game. There are some interesting developments:
- In leveling my Pandarian Monk (Alliance), I found that I got about halfway across Westfall before I leveled enough to head for the next zone. In addition, I was 14, almost ready to start doing raids or PvP. So the leveling problem still persists ... namely, that much of the world never gets experienced because players are focused on using quests as a leveling tool.
- In battlegrounds, at least, there has been a big increase in the use of "bots." For more on that, look here.
- The Lorewalker reputation quest series strikes me as a good example of the kinds of things that could be done with Questing if it didn't have to provide the means for players to level their characters. The tour of Pandaria is striking ... there are some absolutely top-flight graphics in this expansion ... and the stories that Lorewalker Cho tells are gripping and meaningful. Imagine how interesting it might be to have a full complement of quests devoted to telling such stories for the entire game space.
- Self-healing has advanced significantly with the introduction of Life Spirit and Water Spirit. Life Spirit heals a character for approximately 50% of its health over six seconds ... basically a medium speed HOT. (Water Spirit does the same for mana.) With a cooldown of a minute or so, they gives any character the ability self-heal, even while in combat, thus shifting some of the responsibility for healing Damage characters in Raid and PvP venues to the characters themselves. This is good because it reduces the need to have as many healers in a Raid, and it takes some of the pressure off PvP healers and should, in time, reduce the "kill the healers" mentality. WOO II would move it from an enhancement substance to a basic talent and integrate it fully into the game.
- The introduction of seeds and vegetable farming into cooking is a good step in the direction of WOO II crafting. I had no idea the current game would develop "farming" this way, but it makes sense. Sooner or later the creation of materials needs to move from Gathering ... which takes a lot of time, creates conflict, and invites "farming" ... to Farming, which puts the creation of materials under the control of the players. WOO II suggests that an important next step in this direction is to extend the Farm to include all materials while removing "nodes" from the game, and to make the Farmers and Crafters as relevant to the game as the Raiders and Fighters.
- Brawling and Battle Pets are a step in the direction of Theme Parks and Fun Houses. The problem with these, however, as was the problem with Argent Tournament, is that they are not sufficiently inclusive, and they are not packaged in a way that will attract huge crowds. By putting all the marginal PvP and PvE attractions in one place, and by including vendors and other services, WOO II's Theme Parks and Fun Houses become places where people can go, anytime, and be sure that they will find a crowd and something to do. That different attractions take differing amounts of time lets people use the facilities as "wait stations." And with all the attractions clustered in one place, game designers can add and subtract events to maintain variety and player interest.
- In some other ways, the move towards integrated character management has advanced. Pets and mounts are now account-wide, for example. But there is still a long way to go before full integration is reached.
The Trouble With Harmony
The introduction of Spirit of Harmony has not been well received, and the reasons for that reception illustrate a number of WOO II principles.
Because the Motes and Spirits of Harmony are character bound, Crafters are forced to do a huge amount of farming in order to acquire recipes and produce certain items. This especially hurts players who have created separate characters for Raiding, PvP and Crafting. Either they will have to give up crafting, or take time away from their game play in order to farm Harmony. This violates the prime directive ... game play shall not be boring ... as nothing is more boring than killing random NPCs in order to get an item that drops only periodically and which has no use except to make you spend the time it takes to get it.
Harmony also makes character management much more complicated. Currently, for example, a player might have one character that does mining and herbalism, another that does alchemy and inscription, and a third that does blacksmithing and engineering. The first character collects the materials for the other two. This means that the player only needs to level one character to the highest level and equip it for combat ... the other two can be as low level as possible while still reaching the desired level of professional training. This arrangement no longer works. The "producer" characters cannot function without Harmony, and to get Harmony, they must each go out and farm the highest level of NPC.
Two additional problems involve fairness and distribution. Because dungeons normally require a lot of killing, players who like to raid may be able to pick up their Harmony while doing something they enjoy. But players who like to PvP or Craft are stuck. This violates the rule: don't force players to do things that they don't want to do in order to obtain something that they don't really need.
Distribution also comes into play during group play, especially in larger groups. Since Harmony is not fungible, it belongs to whoever picks it up. This means that it has to be handed out at the point of acquisition ... it cannot be collected, by the group leader, for example, and handed out later. Nor can Guild teams collect it and use it for Guild purposes.
At the time I'm writing this, there has already been considerable discussion of the "Harmony" issue in Blizzard's forums. You can read those if you need more details. The points I want to make are more general:
- Anything that can be farmed will be. While scarcity can promote value, work is not scarce. If an item drops from a boss once in every thousand kills, it will seem scarce, but if it becomes valuable thousands of players will dedicate themselves to kill just that one boss ... and it will die millions of times.(And in this case Harmony is just going to spawn a huge number of farmers doing a lot of killing to get what they need.) Players will do whatever work is required ... but they won't confuse work with fun.
- The game designers get to decide what features the game will have, but the players get to decide what they will do with the features. It is a bad idea for game designers to try to control player behavior by manipulating the parameters of a feature. Crafting in the current game is supported but not allowed to occupy a fully functional position in game play. The right thing to do is to try and make Crafting as extensive and powerful and fun as possible, and then let the players do with it what they will.
Harmony can be farmed, literally, by high level "Tillers". This is a step in the right direction. However, the Motes are still character bound, which greatly reduces the value of the process by forcing the player to generate Tillers.
In any economy work creates value, and online game economies are no exception. The right way to do this is to let the Tillers produce ALL the Harmony - let them sell it to the Crafters who need it - and let the Crafters make and sell their goods to the Players who want them. This lets everybody do something that they enjoy and also lets everybody benefit. The Players play for fun and currency, the currency feeds back into the economy and after a time, it finds a point of balance.
This leaves only the question of value, which cannot be settled by cooldowns or imposed scarcity. Value comes from demand, and in the current game demand starts out at a very high level when new chapters appear, because everyone needs new gear. But that quickly cools. Long term demand comes from the existence of unusual items that are relatively hard to obtain. This demand, too, begins to tail off as more and more players manage to accomplish whatever feats are required to obtain the items.
The better solution is to have a high variety of desirable goods, so that the buyers have choices and spread the value around. The current game cannot achieve that without generating a huge number of items. WOO II would do it by having a small number of basic gear items whose slots can accommodate a wide variety of enhancements. The goal being to encourage widespread individualization, and to generate value from that demand.