MMOG Crowd Control

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WhiteTigerShiro:

Thing to keep in mind is that he IS playing as a Bard. I don't really know the mechanics of LotRO or how its classes are balanced, but I've played enough MMOs to know that when one class can rip through something like moist paper, another class will feel like he's punching through a brick wall. Heck, having gotten both a Mage and a Paladin to 80 in WoW, they were completely different experiences. My Paladin could easily solo his way from 70 to 80 when the last expansion came out. Meanwhile my Mage would have to pause at any group quest and try to find a tank, or at least another DPS class or two for an attempt at a "Kill him before he kills us" sort of affair. Sure it took a little while for my Paladin to solo those mobs, but he'd still get the quest done faster than it took for my Mage to find a group and then kill the mob at a faster pace.

He's actually playing a Minstrel, not a Bard(believe it or not, there's actually a difference in the game). A Minstrel is the purest "healing" class, much like Clerics are on other games. The reason for this is that instead of Hit Points, you have "Morale", which means that after a certain point of fighting and getting knocked around, you end up getting defeated and run for the hills. The reason for this is to keep true to the in-game lore- although healing magic may exist, it's still a long-term recovery prospect, there are no instant band-aids and almost no one comes back from the dead.

A Hunter can solo pretty well, as long as you can pick your fights on your terms and not get surprised. I'm not sure you'd have traps to help you rescue Gerberet at level 8(is that the fight at the tobacco farmhouse?), and I've always done it with at least 2 so I don't remember it very well. It's also been a long while since I played a Minstrel, but I don't think they are going to be very good against multiple opponents on their own, as they don't have traps, crowd control at those levels, or AOE.

Now, as to the point of the article, a number of "Fellowship" quests can be done solo by a player who's a few levels higher than the quest, but that brings up the point that at that point, the rewards are no longer appropriate. As a side note, there are no "real" Fellowship quests in the low-level starter zones, and there weren't even back when the game started. Unfortunately, "Mini-Fellowship" wasn't a term that got used until much later, and they really didn't go back and change "Fellowship" to "Mini-Fellowship". The difference is that mini-Fellowship quests can be done with 2-3 people, so it's not unreasonable to assume that a mini-Fellowship quest can be done solo by being 5-10 levels higher. However, you're still dealing with the issue of doing a quest where the rewards are junk by the point in time that you complete it.

However, I'm not sure that I agree with the article when it talks about the different starter zones. Those zones don't really go further than level 15, there are very few Fellowship quests and you should be able to solo just about everything there if you're about 3-4 levels higher(the only exception I can think of is the final sortie into Rath Taraig, unless they've made that easier). The gear would still be less useful, but at least the quest should be fresh in your mind.

For me, the problem with a lot of the group quests is where I would not be able to go back and complete them for weeks or MONTHS, and those usually appeared in the Lonelands and beyond. Try completing some of the group quests in the Misty Mountains, or Evendim, the Trollshaws, much less Angmar. Even though it's a full Fellowship instance from the get-go, it's also very hard to find anyone to do Fornost. Finally, my wife and I were never able to complete Volume One(we were on Book 13 or 14), because the quests required Full Fellowships and NO ONE was ever working on them. Not only would no one respond to our requests, we never saw anyone requesting those quest chains either.

WhiteTigerShiro:
I've played enough MMOs to know that when one class can rip through something like moist paper, another class will feel like he's punching through a brick wall.

This.

Two words, people: Death Knights.

@lluewhyn: my sympathies for not getting to finish volume one. :| I'm going through it solo at a relatively good pace now that they added the inspiration change (or was - I went ahead to Moria for a while to upgrade legendaries; left off on book eleven, I think), but I couldn't even finish book /five/ before that update. Freaking escort missions. >.<

I'm not sure about whether places like Fornost should be accessible for soloing or not. Dungeons like that really do feel like group territory, unless you're stealthing through it, which isn't the same thing as fighting your way through. It'd probably feel...odd to be able to just solo a dungeon at level. I dunno. It'd be interesting to try it, though. Certainly better than never going because no one is interested in grouping for some mid-level dungeon run.

Say what? Maybe it's the server you're on. On Elendilmir you'll ALWAYS be bumping into people of similar level. I just started a month ago, and have never had trouble getting groups together for low-mid level quests.

Developers only need to focus on those who will be there a year, two years, three years down the line. Focusing on the short term isn't going to get you anywhere. This is where Warhammer Online screwed up.

Mortal Online has it right so far. They don't care about you. They care about those who care about the game. You build upon your crowd. You don't try to steal it from some other place. It doesn't work.

Here's a simple thought experiment on why:

You've spent 2-5 years playing a game. You've dumped a lot of time and effort in to it. Obviously you have some form of attachment with the world, the game, and your characters.

Suddenly, a game comes out which is very similar to the one you're currently playing but has better graphics. It promises to fix the shortcomings of the game you're playing.

In the long run, what do you do?

You'll go back to WoW, that's what you'll do.

MMO's have to do something different. They can't step on the toes of others without being an INCREDIBLY superior product. It has to be better in every single way. It has to make you look back at your old memories as bad. It has to be earth shattering.

Before the MMORPG Tibia (Yes, I do realize it's in isometric 2D, sod off) started to sink all their power into trying to look and play as much as WoW as they could manage, they always had a very good feel going on. It's honestly the only MMO i've really gotten into, because there was no immersion-breaking quest logs telling you exactly what you'd need and what level you needed to be, and how well you fared in the game was honestly down to SKILL rather how many hours you had grinded to bring yourself to your current set of levels, professions and equipment.

Since that game started out as a university project, there was some stuff like a room full of demons with no way out, where there were a few chests with riches that was placed there for ONE TIME ONLY at the time the server was started. It was a great challenge, and you could acquire a truly unique and excellent item (even though it did not break the game by being overpowered, but the immersive roleplaying of it all made it very prestigious to be the only person to own that certain item).

You could pop in and take them all on by yourself if you felt lucky. Most didn't pull it off, but went in with huge groups of friends with massive coordination and still failed.

Later on, the obscure notes riddling to treasure were replaced by NPC's to be fair to a growing amount of players. The one-time items which only the most clever and skilled of players could locate and acquire was replaced by quest-boxes which held an item for every single player.

Soon the immersion drained out, when the mythical world that really felt like one, was replaced by what is clearly the work of someone who has money to earn.

Um, I've kind of forgot where I'm going with this. Anyway.

If you build your entire game around that the player should NOT be limited by how much time and money he's prepared to sink into the game, and instead focus on skill and wits, you will not only get rid of obnoxious problems with the newbie feeding belt which only serves to put them in linear paths to try and be the best without being a part of the world, but instead can make them -want- to explore and socialize with other players, trying to find solutions to riddles and overcome challenges in a truly challenging world, and grinding for levels and money becomes secondary.

I should make an MMO some day.

I dont think it is possible to the even out the massive disparity of player density across an MMO landscape. As you say, MMOs tend to go through waves or "booms" of players. This tends to happen on occasions of peak time marketing. So for instance, you will have a boom at release, then at the first expansion, and then every expansion or major patch after that. So unless youre bringing out a massive, marketing hungry patch every couple of months, it'll be very difficult (/impossible) to keep the measure of player sign ups at a steady and non-fluctuating rate. Therefore, the situation of perfect player density in any area will be relatively rare to come by in an MMOs life span.

However, here are some off the bat solutions (freshly made up) for limiting, or counter-acting the loss of gameplay enjoyment as a result of this.

1) allow some sort of sliding difficulty adjustment to make group content accessible, depending on what the density of players is an a certain zone. i.e. in the quiet "middle" area of the game, perhaps reduce the number of players required to do certain dungeons. This would probably mean reducing dungeon difficulty in terms of enemy health and dps, or perhaps buffing players.

This system would maybe work on a week by week averaging if how many players of a certain level are in a zone for prolonged periods of time throughout that week.

2) Simply create a larger player pool for people to potentially group with - ala WoW's cross server dungeon finder. Pretty simple - although does much mean that you will never do normal world quests ever again. I just went from 16 - 60 without really ever leaving orgrimmar.

3) maybe implement some sort of bot support system? pretty much along the same lines as idea number 1... probably wouldnt work though - dungeons would either become insanely easy or ridiculously hard.

4) Lastly, potentially have variable XP gains depending on server balance? So if there are very few level 30-50s then give a much larger XP boost to those that are in that zone.. just basically by way of saying "sorry for the inconvenience, we'll boost you to an enjoyable part of the game ASAP". This'll probably even further detract from enjoyment to be got from those areas.. but still, perhaps a reasonable sacrifice if we agree that MMO enjoyment is primarily about being with other people...

This is actually what made me stop paying attention to quest text in WoW. At first, I was actually reading and following the storylines behind what I was doing, but they kept ending in group quests. This was even shortly after launch, and it was still hard to get groups to get them done. So, I stopped caring, and just scanned them for the location info. Now it's all about UI mods that remove the need to read quest text altogether.

They since fixed the problems, mostly, but it's too late. It's hard to start caring again.

Personally, I think the key- and the next big MMO might be the one that does this well- is to allow low level players to play with high level players without eliminating the rewards for leveling. Kind of like Eve, where newer players can still be of some use in battles (although Eve has other things that keep it from going mainstream).

matrix3509:
Man, Shamus stop spying in on my thoughts already! I just finished up my LOTRO trial account about a week ago and I certainly remember how empty the low level areas are. Every time I came across one of those forced grouping areas, I thought, "Why are they making me group when there is nobody around?"

I just signed up for a WoW trial account on the weekend because I am sick of my friends bugging me about how good it is and have I absolutely have to start playing it... and this is exactly right. I felt completely underwhelmed. For a game as MASSIVE as this, there were not very many people hanging around. I assumed the amount of people would be somewhere in the vicinity of MAG x 1000. Needless to say I have stopped playing and will go back to waiting for Diablo 3 to be released.

WhiteTigerShiro:
Long-story-short, MMOs don't really need to go (as mentioned before, I have fun with WoW), but I hate how blatantly dragged-out they are for the sake of more subscription fees.

I have never, ever understood what kind of crack they're smoking about this. The point of a game is to have fun, let off steam, be your mental floss, whatever. The point of paying an online subscription fee is to do the exact same by playing with other people. Which in itself is a different experience from single-player and is the only justification for paying the fee.

So how did game companies get from "make me a fun game and let me play it with other people for money" to "we have to get everyone on a treadmill chasing a carrot in front of them, or we'll lose their sub money"??

As long as I am having fun playing with other people, I will keep paying the small monthly fee for the ability to log in when it's convenient for me. When I am not, I don't pay the small monthly fee. At this moment, I do not pay anyone a sub fee, because they got all crackheady about trying to keep me logged in and I just don't need someone trying to turn my play time into "second job I have to pay for" time.

Kwil:
How to balance? Easy. Permanent character death.

Oh wait.. you mean how to balance and keep an audience? Hmm.. that's harder.

Well even that well-puller off could work. Just make it slightly harder to get killed. Like lowering enemy attack points) and raise the health a porportional amount. Bt thats a whole new set of problems.

I would make the world alittle larger. make finding otehrs to team easier. and just making it harder in pockets of gameplay. FOr instance levels 1-10 will be harder 20-30, etc. and make the easier portions, 10-20 etc. scramble up every once and awhile.

Very tough problem to get at.

XinfiniteX:

I just signed up for a WoW trial account on the weekend because I am sick of my friends bugging me about how good it is and have I absolutely have to start playing it... and this is exactly right. I felt completely underwhelmed. For a game as MASSIVE as this, there were not very many people hanging around. I assumed the amount of people would be somewhere in the vicinity of MAG x 1000. Needless to say I have stopped playing and will go back to waiting for Diablo 3 to be released.

The whole concept of an MMO is kind of a lose-lose situation for people whose time is an important commodity. Either you sign up on launch day, and deal with the massive crowds/game imbalance in exchange for keeping up (level-wise) with the main crowd, or you sign up later, and deal with early forced grouping quests, with nobody around, in exchange for better game balance.

I think it's one of the only thing that Champions Online did right. Instead of multiple servers, you have one server divided in shards. So, the population in an area will be divided and you change the number of shards depending on the number of people in an area. (ex: If 100 people can quest in Miilenium City without overpopulating the area, you generate an area for each 90 people and divide them evenly between the areas. The 10 people left are for friends to get easily get in the same area.)

That way, if an area is "overpopulated" it only has more shards and if it's "underpopulated", it has less shards.

I think it's important that all shards share a chat channel to ease group finding. In CO, it could be tough to do group quests when the zone chat was shard only, but when the zones shared the same chat, it was a lot more lively and easier to get someone to do group quests.

Another thing that CO did right about this was to include a xp and cash reward to help someone do a quest you already did.

There was some annoying things with the way CO implemented those ideas (like mixing a level 10-15 area with a level 25-35 area (ex: Canada Wilderness)) because the population of the area was divided between the two groups. The limit was also always 100 even if the area was a lot too large for 100 people.

Rather than forced grouping, why not just have an NPC merc team you can hire?

What should be done is to make all quests compatible with any number of players, and have a quest scale its difficulty by the number of people in a party, so you can finish it no matter how many mates you have around.

I've been thinking about this and I think the key is to separate character progression/development from the story, insofar as stats and skills are concerned. Currently, leveling up a character and experiencing the story are inextricably linked, meaning that significant additions to the story will always require things like raising the level cap and offering different sets of gear and whatever. This generally works fine because people like to feel they're improving and that their characters abilities reflect the time they've spent in the game. But with MMO's like WoW, you inevitably have a very top-heavy population squeezed into the later zones. Often times, people will create alts and eventually ignore the story anyway. By making the story optional in a way (although still necessary to the completionist), you free yourself from the typical necessity of leveling.

At its core, leveling serves as a way of directing story progression by directing characters to zones that they can handle. It also acts as a barrier between newer and older characters. Content is accessible based on level. But why? Aren't there other ways of moving through story and experiencing progressively more challenging/interesting content? In WoW, what fundamental difference is there in how you handle monsters at level 10 and at level 80? Aside from new abilities, the combat is generally the same, the difficulty proportionally similar. I suggest that unlocking new content should be handled through other means. Story can be unlocked as you complete certain quests and meet certain requirements. New PvP options can be unveiled and new crafting opportunities unlocked. Character development changes from vertical (1-80) to horizontal (improvement across a wide variety of areas). This would need to be complemented by a combat system that stresses skill (and a little luck) over stats. Gear becomes mostly cosmetic and a measure of status (pretty much what it already is) and abilities offer improvements in gameplay and combat that improve one's effectiveness, but don't make you impossible to beat by a newer character who gets lucky (basically the FPS mechanics mentioned already). It's like when you play an RTS online. Everyone has the same tools available to them, but experienced players know how to use them better. Easy to learn, difficult to master. Essentially, you create an MMO with both a story mode and a multi-player mode, except that they exist in the same space and story mode can be co-op. Let people choose how they want to play and progress.

tl;dr- Don't make story and character progression so completely intertwined. Make progression lateral, not vertical.

Snowalker:
Well, guild wars.. screw it.. every MMO debate I get into I always bring it up. Guild Wars does it correctly, well, if you want an MMO with a story it does. If not, well... you're probably playing WoW, no?

Its true, they did do alot of stuff right, that's why I'm still playing it now :)

With a low lvl cap and most of the game based on what skills your using and how you've set everything up between the party to compliment each-other, most of the game (I'd say 80%) is "end-game" ofc there are the more difficult areas to compliment most of the game being lvl 20 zones. Starter areas are usually pretty full, Kamadan is the trade hub so you'll always see people there, and lots of people just like pre-sear and Shing Jea.

008Zulu:
Rather than forced grouping, why not just have an NPC merc team you can hire?

The hard part about that is then once you have that, people will start to only use that. That's what happened in Guild Wars, people used henchmen to fill empty part slots, it worked fine. Then they added heroes, which are like customized henchmen, people don't play with others nearly as much anymore.

I think what Blizzard did was extreely smart.
Random Group instance tool, that allows people to find players cross realm to fight dungeons in.
This made old instances that were totally forgotten since release of The Burning Crusader. But that renewed only small part of the total explorable content, the areas that reguire questing solo and groups outside the instances are still dead (Kalimidor and Eastern-kingdoms. But blizzard got good and cheap idea of redo the old areas with changed areas and environment in The next expansion. This is good and bad at the same time. But the old Areas Outland and Northend will be forgotten again and will end up be Just and only leveling areas. And me as a long time player since original vanilla times miss those old 40man instances that blizzard stop supporting in TBC, miss them.
But we will see. I think Ill still keep playing b's of the good people around me.

In theory this has already been solved. In Champions Online there's only one server which creates server like "shards" on the fly. At the start of the game it creates 100 shards of the lowbie zones so you don't have too much overcrowding, then when it gets sparce it cuts down to 2 or 3 shards.

Since no-one plays Champions Online though it's become kind of a moot point. But the idea should work very very well. It does mean a fractured community and forces mechanics to the forefront where they probably don't belong but overall it's a very elegant solution.

An idea I've been playing with (for pen & paper) is to have a game where character levels aren't a permanent measure of power. Let's assume normal MMO stuff: higher level enemies are worth exponentially more XP; higher levels cost exponentially more XP to attain; very powerful equipment requires a high-level character to wear; high level spells cost more MP to cast than a noob has, etc, yadda yadda.

This way there's a risk/reward element, you're NEVER overpowered for lowbie combat because a player wants to maximize their earned XP most of the time. I'll leave my guy at level 1 to walk through Bunny Meadow and pick flowers or whatever materials I need. If there's a noob or two I'll help with a tough fight or something. Crossing into Scary Woods I'll pump my guy up to level 5 and use a bigger sword that I brought for the occasion, that way I'll be able to beat through the spiders. When I get to the Terrifying Dungeon and meet up with my raid buddies we all crank it to level 45 and out come the monster hunter swords and full bling plate of blinging.

Phantasy Star Universe and FF11 had the opposite system. Certain challenge quests in Phantasy Star had their own reduced level caps, and you had to maintain a good set of equipment for those levels in order to have a good chance at winning. I think you can lower your effective level joining a party in FF11 and earn proper XP from low-level monsters as you help mid-level friends out. Those are cool options for making mid-level gear desirable and encouraging grouping between high- and mid-level characters, but I think having characters be level 1 unless they're burning XP would allow for very distinctive world design and combat game mechanics.

Shujen:
Simple solution:

Get rid of leveling.

The idea that the wolves in THIS forest are ten times as deadly as the wolves in THAT forest is ridiculous. The idea that Villager #4 in Town #2 can beat up everybody in Town #1 one-handed, including the huge bully you needed a group to tackle, is insane. A top-level player can kill everybody else endlessly without breaking a sweat.

Forgetting what it means for group quests, it means also that 99% of all content in an MMO, no matter how huge the MMO is, is totally pointless to visit by a top-level player - especially if his equipment never gets lost, loses durability or is otherwise impermanent.

All zones should have something worthwhile for a top-level player, be it resources to exploit (trees that only grow in one area) or politics and commerce to exploit (logs that fetch a good price in one area).

There should be a plateau that is easy to get to, and that plateau should be extremely difficult to transcend, except by politics (clan/guild effort), and the rewards of such should be communal, not individual (a support network, not better gear).

I'm thinking UO, EVE and the upcoming MO. We need more sandbox MMOs.

That's roughly what I was thinking.

I quit WoW in Burning Crusade. I was sort of enjoying my time up until that point. Changing to Boomkin was endless fun. Except that Outland was terrible. I took too long to level in a barren, boring world.

I hear that Northrend is really exciting. Except that to get there, I STILL have to struggle through Outland.

People tell me the experience amount got lowered. Sure, it did. Still takes me hours of my time doing things I hate to TRY the end game.

People tell me, "WoW is all about the endgame." Wait, so I have to give Blizzard at least a month, often way more, of subscription time just to TRY the game I bought?

And if, after grinding to be viable in PvE raiding, or arena, or battlegrounds, or any of the other high level content, I remain bored, how much money and time have I sunk to try a game?

The early leveling areas need to be demos. They need to get you to the point where your friends are at quickly. I think that the WoW system of pure loot once you've reached max level is also problematic, however. After you're at max level, there should be incredibly slow bonus talents and attributes that build up over time.

The Death Knight quests seem to be the right idea. A few sessions and you're up to 80 with your friends. Start everyone that way, basically.

Silly Shamus. Don't you know cinder blocks are hand-wash only?

The solutions are simple. They are staring MMO devs in the face, but they just simply refuse to wean themselves off Everquest.

Get rid of levels. Or to be more exact: get rid of level-based stats. Levels should only affect what abilities you have; not stats. Re-balance everything: zones, mobs and items and use the same model for levelling that Dawn of War's Last Stand mode had. Now, every zone is a zone viable for anyone to play in.

Blizzard learned, way too late, that regularly scheduled world events have good participation. They could have learned this prior to their first ruining of world PvP in World of Warcraft when they introduced the instanced battlegrounds which they then neglected and the broke-ass PvP honour system. The Tarren Mill VS Southshore battles were the apex of world PvP at the time. Blizz could have analysed it, accommodated it and then expanded it. But they were too obsessed with instancing and Jeff Kaplan's pet raid dungeons.

Two solutions there. If there is a senior MMO dev reading this: do it. DOOO EEET!

EDIT: AAARGH! Should have read the whole thread! Someone scooped me!

Man, this problem is a pain in the ass for MMOs, and in my case LOTRO. I've been playing the game about 6 months now, and its not just the lower level areas that have this problem. I'm currently in a level 50 zone (Eregion if anyones interested) and I can't find anyone to level with, so what usually happens with this type of thing is I complete all the quest chains apart from that final group quest, which I stockpile with the rest, hoping I'll meet someone who also has those group quests. Even on the rare occasion I have met this person, the group quests are greyed out and just don't interest me. Everyone has gone to Mirkwood and aren't likely to come out any time soon, and until I can level up with them I'm stuck exploring the dark depths of Moria on my own. Yay.

This type of thing is why I NEVER play an MMO without a friend or two with me. That way, I know theres someone who I can actually count on to go these quests with. However, my LOTRO companion bailed on me JUST as I was made kin leader, so I'm stuck here now. Not that I don't enjoy the game, its just annoying having to leave so many quests unfinished. Plus everything is more fun with friends.

EDIT: I searched the Escapist for a LOTRO group, and couldn't find one. I'm quite surprised at this (maybe my search is broken?) but just in case, I set up my own LOTRO group

Simple answer - remove questing and levels. UO never had any issues with level restricted zones or certain quests mainly because it had neither.

Darkfall, another smaller fairly new MMO, has a similar style and it also doesn't have level restrictions (can't remember if there were quests though, but if there were, they were moderate).

Too many MMO's are relying too heavily on questing and "instanced" content these days. Just give us a functional world and a character to play; we'll do the rest!

Well, City of Heroes had an interesting system of sidekicking and exemplaring. With exemplaring a low level character could bring a high level character down to their level, taking away the powers that were too high and lowering their stats. I'm not sure if the XP was changed relative to the character, but the XP debt payment was quickened for the higher level character (you got XP debt when you died, requiring you to pay it off before you could get normal XP to level) and at least if friends were a much higher level than they were, it allowed the lower level character to get help with quests that needed a group without eliminating the XP gained.

The opposite was called sidekicking, where a higher level character could raise a lower ones stats to match the high level ones. It wouldn't grant them any new powers, but again, at least they would be able to quest and gain XP from something much higher than themselves.

It didn't help completely, but it did help a little, and it meant that you weren't completely alone when doing missions just because you were a lower level than a majority of the players and it also meant that the lower level quests could still be a challenge to higher level characters. Of course, CoH didn't have gear or items, everything was based on powers, so I'm not sure how that would work, but it's still a starting point.

Encourage "alt-itis", so experienced players can be found in all levels and all zones.

Build reasons for high level characters to be in the starter zones, so the neophytes can see the vets, and can see their cool stuff.

Introduce a "team leveller" system that allows all members of a team, no matter the level, to be challenged and rewarded in the same mission.

This game already exists. City of Heroes/City of Villains.

It already had the sidekick/exemplar system, which I'm surprised every other MMO didn't steal.

Not satisfied with the best, they improved it to the "supersidekick" system. Makes teaming a breeze. No level jugggling required.

I saw Final Fantasy 11 brought up before, but the user didn't go into just how SquareEnix helped solve their leveling quest problems. For starters, FF11 came out before WoW and LOTRO, and is an Eastern game, rather than a US MMO, its key focus was making players work together. You -can- solo in it, but it does not cater to the solo crowd in the least, if you intend to get anywhere in the game, you form a party, join a linkshell, and quest together with people from around the world.

For a while though, there was the issue mentioned in the article, where players would just come across barren wastelands and not see another soul for hours. In a game that keys in on making players work together, that spells doom for anyone who didn't join near the launch of the game. What they introduced last year was a great surprise to everyone involved, the "Level Sync" system. The system works by allowing a fully geared, high level player to join a party with a player of any level range, and activate 'Level Sync', in which their level will be lowered to the highest level of anyone in the group that's in that level range. Their stats and weapon skills, as well as their gear, is all scaled down to that level, and they'll actually receive experience and skill points while partying, since the experience point system scales upward as well.

This way players could play through any dungeon at the level range it was meant for, and get rewarded for it, while helping their friends or even someone they didn't know in the least.

As for WoW, I think it's a shame that so many of the early raids and dungeons aren't even touched anymore. It'd be awesome if a system could be implemented to have scaling dungeons, so you could do a level 80 Strathholme, or a level 70 Black Rock Depths. The loot may not be the top end game heroic stuff, but a token system could still be put in place like there is now, to continue to reward players even if they want to go and enjoy the old instances.

Boo, I hate RPGs, they are so stupid. Burn them in a fire.

Ok, so aside from throwing out the RPG mechanics I think I can weave a lot of these suggestions together without making too huge of a workload for the area designers (it's big enough as it is, you want these things to take even longer to produce?)

This won't totally appease the "get rid of levels" group but it would address the huge gap between players. No mixing of max level characters and low level characters. At first this sounds like I have totally missed the point of the article but here's the turn around: there's a snapshot of each character every ten levels or so that they can go back to.

This handles another annoying issue in MMOs. Although you've killed the pack of wolves that was harassing a town the people are still in a state of having been recently harassed by wolves forever after- and you may even see other players killing those wolves. If each snapshot applies to not a particular location but rather a point in time then the world can be very different. The starter areas can be safe bastions at a point in time when none of the other faction had fought their way into it but later stages can have the same geographic location be war torn or an active battle area.

This doesn't really encourage people to go back to earlier areas except to help out friends/guildies, and now with it being harder to do. Well, here's where the level cap can be blurred a little. Ten would be the obvious point to move on to another area and should ideally require maybe 1/3rd of the quests in the area (maybe even having three general quest lines to follow.) After that there could be an 11th and 12th level available. Reaching the 11th would take several times as much experience as the march from 1 to 10 and the twelfth would really just be there for anyone with way too much time on their hands and definitely not be practical for normal players (nonetheless that addictive experience bar would still be present...)

There would be two motivations for keeping people around for the 11th level of the zone. The first being that this would give some small but noticeable bonus to later stages and the second would be that there can be new raid content for these levels at each stage. For the Icecrown Citadel raid in WoW, Blizzard has started applying a percentage buff that makes killing the bosses easier and in a very similar way fighting the big bad of some newly released raid at max levels could be made more doable with raid specific buffs for having foiled his plans in a much level raid. To mitigate the hassle of grinding through the quests of an area reaching level 11 in the earlier raids for that tier would probably be reasonable, especially with the going through them so many times set up. To actually make sure that these levels don't impact the balance of raid difficulty they wouldn't even need to give any stat gain, they already have a reward in other time periods.

As this essentially distributes end game content through all areas so there will always be players around and then with there actually being more content to see and rewards for doing so players have additional push to participate in group quests. I think at level 10 it would be alright to just allow them to get experience for quests they had already completed (though perhaps slightly reduced?) so that they should help players doing any quest rather than just ones they hadn't seen yet. If players want to grind for the small benefit to other levels so be it; so long as the benefits don't outweigh skill, as in things should be tuned so that a well oiled group of 10th levels can accomplish hard mode style bosses without even the buffs from earlier raids, then it becomes a method for less skilled players to make it through those challenges, but with the drawback that they had to go to all that effort to prepare better for it.

EVE Online manages it. There's free 14-day trials at their site. Try it, you'll be amazed.

This is an old article but I re-visited it due to a link from the recent CO-play-a-thon thingamabob.

I think a point that is being missed is that group quests, especially early ones, are intended to try and encourage socialization, and to get people to meet each other. This is to prevent everyone from simply logging in with IRL friends or people they know from othe games and online RPGs and remaining more or less cloistered from the rest of the community of "newbs and losers". The problem being that without these dynamics it would be easier for someone who doesn't have any friends (or at least none that play online) to become entirely isolated from the game enviroment.

While I admit I do tend to work with very specific people nowadays in MMORPGs, I met a lot of the people I work with specifically through group quests and working through those storylines.

What's more I will be honest in saying that even when unpopulated (relatively) the newbie areas do tend to have people running around and working on their "lowbie" characters. If their other friends are busy, this creates a situation where new players are going to meet more experienced onces, especially if they cool their jets and wait to solve quests before moving on. This helps them break into the community as a whole.

The problems with MMORPGs will never be entirely solved (the problems described in the article) because it's always difficult for an outsider to break into an established community and/or "go native". That will never change since it's integral to humanity.

Breaking up the group quests into solo quests, or heck, just allowing entire MMORPGs to be completed solo, would basically destroy any kind of social or community dynamic. I mean if you want to play solitary all the time, why not play a single player game which is probably going to be paced better and have a narrative for exactly that kind of thing?

Over the years my thoughts have waffled, and while I do enjoy my solo play in these games (and do it quite a bit) I admit that the actual experience that MMORPGs provide that makes them unique is getting together with five to forty (or more) other dudes and working in concert to do something epic.

When it comes to in game economies and such, that's a touchy subject as most attempts to limit such things have ended in disaster (like Early UO's "resource bank" system).

I also think you need to have more active moderation of games, as I think problems with the enviroment are created by real money intruding on the gameplay beyond subscription fees. Either encouraged or discouraged by the creators (those games set up to provide an avenue for real money to enter the game to begin with tend to be among the worst problem wise, look at say EVE and what the PLEX system did to it). The issue isn't so much people ruining the economy with gathering, but the enviroment for that to happen being created by people who don't play the game for fun, but as a job to farm gold, and then sell that money to lazy people who would rather pay real money than put in the effort to get the cash they need to operate. When some guy can pay like $4 per 1,000 gold in WoW for example, a lot of people are going to do that so they can jump right into the "good stuff" without actually playing the game. That leads to the inflation of prices, and ironically the cost of the goods also being controlled by the people selling the gold who are making that gold by a combination of farming and selling.

Also the increasing "everyone is a lowbie, there are no newbies" attitude born of paranoia over being scammed out of charity doesn't help when it comes to established games. One of the problems I also think needs to be addressed are people who sit around and say demand large piles of gold to do group quests or pwn early dungeons for people. I've always thought that lacked class.

Truthfully, I think the first game to develop some way of preventing almost everyone from becoming totally mercenary to each other (with rare exceptions here and there) is going to go places.

City of Heroes/Villains seems to have the proper approach to this sort of thing. First, there are very few missions that require a team; even those that normally do for difficulty can be soloed by particularly strong characters, even at an equal-level to the challenge (I've personally soloed an even-level Arch-Villain, one of the hardest challenges a character can face; superseded only by Giant Monsters and some unique enemies).

But the key innovation in City of Heroes is the side-kick system. The system was good to begin with, where low-level characters could fight at higher levels with their allies, but the new system kicks the whole "mixed levels" problem in the teeth and then throws it out a window. Every character is near the mission owner's level, regardless of actual level, meaning low and high level characters can team together and do so all the time. Sure, it is still advantageous to be higher level (since you have more and better powers) but many people like to try out new builds or character concepts, so there are always low and mid-level characters running around. That they can all team together so fluidly helps keep the whole game together.

Personally, I really liked the FFXI answer to this question. In FFXI you can lower your level but still skill up your abilities and skills with friends of what ever level you need to be at that time. It is still challenging because you face the same problems you did at that level and you still get to be with your friend/guildmate/random-person-you-met.

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