Thursday, July 5, 2012

Making Content Last

Some games have lots and lots of content. Some games… don’t. MMOs, for the most part, need to have not just loads of content, but they need more content that their players can readily access. Let’s take SW:TOR, Guild Wars 1 and The Secret World as our samples.

In Star Wars, there were three, what I’ll call layers, of content. First, you had planetary epic quest lines. Second, you had your class storyline, which followed, geographically, the epic quest line fairly closely. Third, you had world-wide dungeon quest lines (False Emperor, etc.), along with chaff quests which, while sometimes interesting, didn’t really mean much to the world. This is, in theory, a lot of content. It took me several months to play through my class story, but I’m not as dedicated a gamer as some people. Some people were finished their class and epic quest lines by the end of head start.

Likewise, you’ll have max level pandas probably by the end of the week, if not earlier. I know we had max level, non-race changed, Goblins in that time frame. They had raid gear.

Guild Wars 1 trades off a personal story for longer epic storylines, with some nifty events like the War in Kryta. To expand its content, we have title grinding, actually well thought out, competitive PvP, and “Hard Modes.” This is standard for most games, with World of Warcraft adopting Heroic dungeons as well. In single player games its “do it faster,” achievements and high scores. People had trouble burning through content, solely because of how strictly gated it was at release. Now, people can get runs to most anywhere, though Factions and Nightfall remain gated and hard to skip.

The Secret World trades out your personal story for a faction story, along with very detailed individual and epic quest lines. Like Guild Wars, you are kind of an empty shell who does things to move the plot forward. This is fine, as it is an interesting plot. Yet, by the end of headstart, people were at max quality level doing lair bosses.

So, how do you stop people from burning through your MMO content? Logistically, it is going to be hard. Designers cannot create content faster than you can complete it. This is a truism for any game. Maybe with ARGs they can, provided the puzzle is esoteric and un-Googleable. Maybe.

You can create locked doors and broken bridges that require a character to play through content; but this only slows the initial rush. Future players have the benefit of being powered through. Remember beating Shiro and the Lich? It used to be hard and difficult; worthy challenges to end the campaign. Now, they are stomped, relatively easily.

Extra difficulties can expand the life of your game; that helps by cannibalizing old content while your designers work on new things. But, realistically? The people who blew through normal mode in a day are going to speed bump along harder modes in about the same time. Diablo 3 was cleared on hardcore Inferno by, what was it, mid-June?

You could backlog your release; which is what SW:TOR and, to a lesser extent, what it looks like The Secret World are doing. They released with loads of content, but they also kept some in reserve for quick after-release releases. This buys you a few months of good will as even the people who finished content before you released to the general public wait patiently. But, eventually, they will overtake your developers.

The Matrix tried live events. That did not end well.

You know, though, something that might help, but no game studio would dare try? Stop having open betas before release. Keep a very tight closed beta community; limit what they test harshly. Both SW:TOR and The Secret World suffered in longevity because of this. Some players had completed whole zones during beta, and there is no way to slow them down except through artificial methods. If people had to play each new game without the benefit of weeks of pre-game beta play, maybe you could get those weeks of time back. To maybe develop more content in time for them, which you can’t.

So, just accept it. Dedicated gamers will fly through content. You can’t stop them, and you cannot produce fast enough to satiate them. Were I a full-time game designer, I would accept them as what they are and not expect them to remain subscribed or playing my game beyond the first few weeks. These are not people who dislike the game, but people who are done with it.



The power is back. Regular posting will continue.

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