Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Progressive MMO Design

::Enable Armchair Game Designer Mode.::

Problem. The current design of many PvE MMO's is getting tired and boring. It usually goes something like this: Level to cap, Raid Treadmill, repeat. As other have said, it is essentially 2 games. It also has the side effect of mudflation and trivializing of old content.

Solution. Traditional MMO's have a progression, but it is all back-loaded in their raid treadmill. Instead, I think the progression should be dispersed throughout the game. To accomplish that, my MMO would used "staged releases."

Let's use WoW as an example. When they launched, they had 60 levels and a raid. Naturally, many wanted to get to the raid and sped through. Seems to be human nature.

What is a staged release? My design would only have the game launch with the starting areas and maybe another zone. Then, 2 - 3 weeks later another zone would open. A few weeks after that, another.

Lets say Westfall is the highest level zone at launch (for the Alliance). Deadmines would still be there, but now it would be the end game dungeon/raid for a length of time. It should be available in 5 or 10 man versions. All dungeons and raids would have their time as the end game instance.

Over a year period you would dole out the content one chunk at a time. An 'epic' story would be crafted to guide players to the new zones/frontiers. After a year, expansion pack time and you continue the trend.

As the game is released in stages, new players should be able to catch up pretty easily. A mentoring system would be required and would also help keep older instances alive. More on how to non-trivialize them later.

Pitfalls. In order to keep players from getting bored, horizontal content would be very important. The game would need Achievements, Crafting and Collections. At every stage, more of that horizontal content would be added. It should be enough to keep the 'average' person busy until the next stage.

Itemization may be an issue as the raids would be spread out and not at the level cap. My solution to that is tokens and level adjustments. All dungeons/raids would drop tokens (in addition to loot) to players of the appropriate level. These can be traded in for gear and such.

EQ2 will be introducing a level-reduction system, so you can lower yourself to make content more meaningful. That would work great here, so you can go back and run old instances and get the tokens to spend on new gear. Hopefully this will keep many of the old dungeons/raids alive for a long time.

Conclusion. Players love new content, but it is not easy to keep up with the demand. Using a Staged progression, a MMO will always seem new and dynamic as there is not long to wait for something new. Gone would be the days of sitting at the level cap running that raid treadmill. With this design you would constantly be progressing while keeping the old content useful.

::Disengage Armchair Game Designer Mode::

Well, that is my MMO design idea. I'm sure it has some flaws, but it sounds fun to me and I'm not even a big PvE person.


Typical blogger hive-mind. :D I was just thinking how content is currently being released mostly with the content-locusts in mind, those people who plough through content purely to get to the end of it, and who then stand around bellyaching because they have nothing to do. I'm not even sure they're the majority playstyle, and yet they're defining how all MMO gamers are being offered content: in gigantic chunks, not very often.

The problem is, that's become the accepted way of releasing content, and it might be difficult to change. Asheron's Call used to come fairly close to your "staged content" idea with its monthly patches. It wasn't actual adding of zones and stuff, since AC was essentially all one zone, but the basic idea is the same. Course, not all patches had a whole lot of content to them, but there was *something* new to do and discover almost every month. It was a lot of fun.

These Idea is not new. In fact some mmo-producers try this at this moment. The problem is... do it frequently!


If you are interested in staged content... take a look to fallout. not an mmo-rpg, but a solo-rpg with staged content.

Kind regards from germany,


its a good idea. I used to think Turbine would do this with Lotro but they've become more and more like Blizzard and less and less like their old selves.

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