Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Theory of Raiding and Retaining the Hardcore

I can't help but think the showdown between World of Warcraft and Warhammer is going to finally prove or disprove some long held theories about MMO design. In particular, developers have long justified spending a disproportionate amount of time on raid content to hold onto hardcore players. The theory goes that hardcore players have a huge influence on other players and are directly responsible for keeping a large playerbase in the game. Thus it makes sense from a design point of view to spend more time on raid content. Even though this may be true it also seems to cause a schism to form between players who have the time to play with an organized guild and those who can only play in small blocks of time.

Based on the design changes to Wrath of the Lich King it seems obvious that Blizzard doesn't believe in this theory as strongly as it did in the past. This could be related to the large number of raiders that disappeared when arenas and battlegrounds started giving rewards equal to raid encounters. Whatever the reason, it looks like Blizzard has decided to make raiding more accessible by creating smaller 10-man versions of every raid zone. It's been proven that larger raids take more time to organize so Blizzard is hoping that smaller versions will increase the number of players that can access raid content. The larger raids will still have the better rewards and hopefully this will be enough to hold onto the hardcore raiders.

Mythic on the other hand decided to entirely skip the concept of large scale raids. Warhammer instead has large scale activities revolving around RvR objectives, but these are not exclusive instances like most raid content. Smaller groups and solo players will be fighting right beside the large guilds for the most part. Players who spend large amounts of time in game every day will have an advantage, but it won't be as insurmountable as the one found in raid centric games. The only problem I see is that the theory about hardcore raiders maintaining a large playerbase might be true. Both EverQuest and then later on World of Warcraft maintained very large player populations and heavily focused on raid progression.

So while the initial success of Warhammer is probably assured, the long term success depends on the theory of (more raid content = more hardcore players = more overall players) being untrue. If Warhammer can grow its subscription base after Wrath of the Lich releases then it pretty much means the theory is disproved. Since the two games are similar in quality, graphics, and playstyle it really will be the focus on either RvR or PvE raiding that will be the deciding factor. A growing playerbase for Warhammer means either hardcore players find RvR just as much fun as raiding or that most players are not influenced by the hardcore leaving a game. Either way it would probably mean that future MMO development would focus more on PvP content then we've seen in the past.


Eric said...

Perhaps I'm an anomaly, but even though I have 150 days played on my main I don't raid. I don't care if there are raiders in the game or not. I just want to PVP and have fun.

When DAOC introduced their second expansion it included legendary items which had to be leveled through hard core raiding. This is when I stopped playing.

WAR is focused on PVP while WoW is PVE. Since I play to PVP I will invest my time there.

Scott said...

When and where did this theory that hardcore raiders make up a large percentage of the population suddenly appear? It's been shown time and time again they are but a very tiny (but vocal) part of the overall pie. Which is precisely the reason why Blizz continues to lower the raid size - to get more people involved. WoW was made by a lot of former EQ players, and EQ was a raiding game. Hence, WoW is a raiding game, despite the fact the whole "Warcraft" thing screamed it should be about PvP (and I don't mean arena sports).

DAOC proved that PvE raiding royally screws up a PvP end-game. That's not to say Mythic couldn't have learned from those lessons and fixed things for WAR, but that doesn't seem to be their focus. And that's fine. If WAR was "just another raiding game" I doubt many people would give a damn.

The real trick is for Mythic to actually convince most players (and most are PvE) that PvP and RvR is actually fun and something they'd want to do.

Green Armadillo said...

I don't see this as an either/or situation. I think either model is viable, provided the underlying game is solid. The raid model is hard because it, in principle, requires you to release new content on a semi-regular basis (though Blizzard seems to be doing fine on a twice a year model). The PVP model is hard because the game has to actually be balanced, which takes time that the developers won't have if they marketed the game to the venture capitalists by saying that it's PVP, players will reuse the same battleground indefinitely so they don't need content.

The other issue is that a large portion of the market thinks that WoW PVP (which players do primarily because Blizzard bribes them with gear) is the only way to do PVP, and that a game that has some of the basic UI elements of WoW must be a WoW-clone (whether this is true of Warhammer remains to be seen).

Relmstein said...

It should be interesting to see what lessons Mythic learned from DAOC and if they will make similar mistakes. I'm almost 100% sure they'll avoid releasing a raid centric expansion for Warhammer. Hopefully, no buff bots either.

It's not that hardcore raiders make up a large percentage of a game's population but rather some developers believe they heavily influence other players into sticking with a game. If RvR in Warhammer turns out spectacular then I sure word of mouth will convert some of the raiders.

Green Armadillo:
Ahh, but it's hard to know if PvP is a viable end-game model when so few games have been able to pull it off. PvP based games have almost always had either limited appeal or been bugfests like Fury. Even Ultima Online quickly lost subscribers to PvE centric games like EverQuest and Asheron's Call as they came out.

I mean at the moment PvP wise there's only DAOC and EVE Online for the most part.

Openedge1 said...

I just hope it finally ends the argument if PvP is really the game people want or not.
I prefer PvE as PvP has pretty much sucked in most games.
If I feel progress is not being made thanks to someone else ruining it for me, why would I wish to play that game in the first place?
Now, of course I have not raided, but I have done some major group based quests, and enjoy that (Guild Wars missions and dungeons and EQ2 HQ's)
Still on the fence for WAR, and am waiting patiently to hear what people say.

Green Armadillo said...

Quoth Relmstein: "it's hard to know if PvP is a viable end-game model when so few games have been able to pull it off"

And that's the real theory that could be tested here, presuming the game hidden behind Mythic's NDA isn't terrible. Eve is a very different critter from your typical fantasy MMORPG. Meanwhile, its skill training system (and utter free-for-all rules) make it seem unapproachable to newbies. Fury flat out sucked.

If Warhammer is accessible as WoW but with no raids and better PVP, we can draw some interesting conclusions. If RVR isn't all it's cracked up to be, then we won't have learned all that much from the Warhammer experiment; whether or not a raid game is the best use of Dev time, having a raid game and mediocre PVP is definitely better than not having a raid game and still having mediocre PVP.

Eric said...

I’m excited about the PVP potential of WAR. I have always played to PVP, even in UO. I didn’t realize there was a difference until the TOA expansion for DOAC came out. Up till then I just felt that the PVE experience was a necessary adventure to prepare you for the end game battles that would be PVP.

When WoW came out I fully expected it to be a fully engrossing PVP experience. It wasn’t. I didn’t appreciate that WoW forces you to PVE to PVP, but I continue to play because there is at least some PVP in the form of BGs and Arena.

The other day I found myself wanting to play WAR, but couldn’t so I elected to go to Quel Thalas and started ganking every Horde I saw up and down the coast. I stopped and watched as the horde and alliance quested dailies side by side in cooperation. I felt bad about my little gank fest and left.

I have waited 10 years for a decent PVP game. I’m hoping WoW is it.

Thallian said...

*WAR you mean ;)

Openedge1 said...

I have waited 10 years for a decent PVP game. I’m hoping WoW is it.

The problem is, when playing WAR, this above faux pas statement may not be far from the truth.

I found it amusingly ironic actually.