Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

17 February, 2007

Weekend Design Challenge: Long-standing problems
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:28 PM

Inspired by my two olde tyme posts, Acting Casual About Casual Gamers and Why Socializers are our Comrades, this weekend’s challenge is this:

What long-standing problems do you still see in online games? Now, go a step further and propose a solution.

Have fun!


  1. Problem: Get rid of the ‘gold’ economy.

    Solution: Remove the connection of gold to item worth, attach it instead to character tests. Just don’t worry about inflation nor worry about people being millionaires. Gold is nothing but a big number that players increase. All items have a token amount of gold to buy them but the amount is so low that gold is basically not needed to allow you to own an item. I don’t care if you get the mega sword of death, I only care that you can use it when you should in the way we planned.

    The ‘gold economy’ is one of the biggest bits of misty thinking currently infecting MMO games.

    Comment by Paul Barnett — 18 February, 2007 @ 7:43 AM

  2. Problem: Groups of friends that level at different speeds can’t actually complete meaningful content together, since someone is either too low to go play or too high to get rewards for the given quest/area/instance/dungeon. Mentoring and level-lowering systems don’t help much since the high level player won’t get meaningful loot.

    Solution: Remove the enormous power disparity between high and low level players and put more emphasis on status items for “high levels”. Instead, base encounters around using the correct choices from a large number of skills effectively (think Guild Wars set in a non-instanced world and sans any levels). This way, less advanced players would effectively be blocked from “higher” content, but all content would be accessible and still somewhat challenging for someone of any skill level.

    Comment by Cameron Sorden — 18 February, 2007 @ 11:09 AM

  3. In regard to Cameron’s comment, has he (you?) played City of Heroes/Villains? There you can lackey and malefactor so that you can meaningfully play together no matter how divergent the levels are.

    Comment by Anne Toole — 18 February, 2007 @ 9:07 PM

  4. Problem: Encounter difficulty is increased primarily by making the numbers larger. Higher-end encounters have more hit points; do more damage; resist more damage, etc. This drives mudflation and discourages tactical thinking on the part of the player, instead encouraging rote manuevers.

    Solution: Use environmental factors and scripted events to drive challenge more instead of simply increasing numbers. For example, fighting a boss on a narrow walkway over a pit of lava instead of in a big open room. Or perhaps the creature that you’re fighting does something unexpected partway through the battle, such as stepping through a magic portal and appearing behind the party to attack the rear. To date, this sort of thing has only been done on rare occasions, usually for raids. Blizzard used techniques such as this in some single-group instances, but it is still the exception rather than the rule. It should be the rule, and the goal should be to force players to adjust tactics to achieve victory rather than simply relying on higher levels and better gear.

    Comment by David (Tal) — 19 February, 2007 @ 6:00 AM

  5. Problem: Raiding is considered the ‘how-to’ of endgame. Big bosses, Lots of People.

    Solution: Focus content on skill or pattern learning. E.g. a ‘zelda style’ boss for five people. Simple example a hydra that has 3 heads and 3 special moves. One might require a player to jump up to avoid it, another to duck, and a third to stand in specific places to avoid injury. The aim is to take down one head at a time. Alternative use of skill: a room with ‘timed’ traps that must be avoided.

    Alternative Solution: Provide interesting, longitudanal quest lines, soloable or groupable. Blizzard did this with the tier 0.5 armor, but unfortunately made the quest line about getting gold to buy things. Maybe make these repeatable. Maybe even include puzzles, or problems where multiple people need to act together e.g. pushing two buttons at the same time.

    (I’m with David (Tal) on this one it seems!)

    Comment by Jpoku — 19 February, 2007 @ 6:42 AM

  6. Another Pet Hate:

    Problem: Epic Items require Epic Amounts of Time. My experience is that this create’s a game where all the people who raid often (usually a relatively small percentage of the server), have nice sets of armor and sparkly weapons. The rest of the server just lusts after them.

    Solution: Let everyone have nice things. I’ve heard the argument that if you have PvP loot, Raid Loot, Soloable Loot, Group Loot, then inevitably people will go after the easy group/soloable loot. This means that people don’t want the Raid Loot/PvP loot anymore. So it’s bad. My argument is that this means that Raid/PvP are bad rather than the loot.

    Comment by Jpoku — 19 February, 2007 @ 6:57 AM

  7. To follow on jpoku’s comment above. One of the things that single-player games have been doing well for years is building in challenging/fun puzzles to their “dungeons” MMORPGs could benefit immensely from more of the “to get through to the end room you need to find and activate the three statues hidden in different parts of the dungeon” style of area design.

    Again, this has been used in instances occasionally in various games, but it is still very much the exception rather than the rule.

    Comment by David (Tal) — 19 February, 2007 @ 11:17 AM

  8. Problem: The most important gameplay choice made when playing an MMORPG happens before you know anything about the game. The Class choice is based on whimsical descriptions of the designers intentions with how it is supposed to work, even on a visionary level.

    Solution: Allow Class selection to be dynamic and within the game, my personal preference would propose making a class system where your characters class/role defining functions are enabled by making choices about which type of story you want your character to tell.

    Consequence: Be ready to nerf individual skills rather than classes, set up proper data mining to understand which things people use that drive class selection.

    Comment by Wolfe — 20 February, 2007 @ 4:53 AM

  9. Homework: Long-Standing Problems

    [...] Anyway, a few days later, here’s my take on this week’s homework: Inspired by my two olde tyme posts, Acting Casual About Casual Gamers and Why Socializers are our Comrades, this weekend’s challenge is this: What long-standing problems do you still see in online games? Now, go a step further and propose a solution. [...]

    Pingback by MMOG Nation — 20 February, 2007 @ 2:59 PM

  10. Problem: User created content has generally been unavailable in standard MMORPGs even though its a perfect fit for tradeskills.

    Easy Solution: Allow a wide assortment of sliding options for making any tradeskill item. Options with cooler visuals or better stats cost more money and require greater stats to build. A sword could be comprised of a blade and hilt with many options for the different types of blades and hilts. Basically allow the player to combine different parts of all available textures to create their idealized sword.

    Difficult Solution: Allow a workbench system in the game which would allow customization of item textures. Basically the workbench provides the 3d models of the availabe items in the game and the player could draw and change the textures on top of the model. They could add their own runes, scrollwork, color shading, and particle effects. When the process is finished the workbench would do a skill check, charge a fee, and provide the blueprint which any crafter of the correct skill could then learn.

    Comment by Relmstein — 21 February, 2007 @ 1:40 PM

  11. Problem: MMOGs are frighteningly expensive to develop.

    Solution: Reduce the necessary amount of asset production by shifting focus toward replayability. The online multiplayer modes of Diablo 2 and Neverwinter Nights proved a widespread interest in replaying sufficiently-varied content in an online social environment. Player retention isn’t necessarily dependent upon long-lived characters (many players enjoy creating multiple alts, afterall). You can retain players instead by offering them unique, memorable experiences in briefer character spans. The trick is implementing replayability in such a way that the gameplay experience remains world-like and doesn’t become too arcade.

    Comment by Aaron — 23 February, 2007 @ 3:48 PM

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