Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

16 July, 2009

The problem with interdependency
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:40 AM

After taking a look at grouping last week, I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the topic. Let’s take a look at the larger topic that makes grouping feel like a drag: interdependency.

Interdependency is when the game tells you, “you must rely on someone else to accomplish something that helps you.” In general, this is frustrating because other people aren’t always dependable. So, let’s look at this from a designer’s point of view.

The social fabric

I’m making one very big assumption this (and my previous) discussion: developer want players to become part of the social fabric of our games. This is one of the most important things we can do, because the bonds people form in the game become bonds with the game. Relationships can continue outside of games, but a relationship formed inside the game is a good thing for a developer.

The plan: make people rely on others

A common goal seems to be to make people rely on others. A direct example of this is the encouragement in EQ to group together to tackle a majority of the content. It took specific classes, specific content, and a lot of player skill to effectively solo in the game, so most players had to rely on others. This is the “forced grouping” we read about. I do not know if this was a specific design goal, or a side-effect of other design goals in the game.

For the most part, this did encourage interdependence. Players formed groups and found people they enjoyed playing with. People would remember (and/or make notes) of others they found who they appreciated; this later grew into the “friends list” in games. Some relationships were collected into formal structures (guilds). The raiding content in the original EQ eventually required much larger groups and guilds focused on this type of gameplay. Players created tools like DKP to help keep track of who participated in an event.

But, there were also problems. The most obvious is the backlash against “forced grouping” and the rise of the solo player. Being required to group with another person to see a majority of the content in the game just won’t fly in modern games aiming for the mass market.

Messing with crafting

This desire for interdependency carried over into the design of crafting. The first experience I had with this concept in crafting was in DAoC. I took armorcrafting as a profession; making heavy armors required components that only a tailor could make. The goal was probably to get you to make friends with a tailor to have an constant supply of materials. The reality was that people bought additional accounts and created additional characters to log on at the same time to create components at cost; the rest of us had to pay some markup which drove our costs up. The first person I know of to earn one mithril coin in wealth (it was a lot of money back then!) was someone who made armor and had a second account for crafting the tailored components. (This was before an error was discovered where crafters were making too much money from the crafting jobs, of course.)

EQ2 took this to new levels when it launched. In addition to a unique interactive crafting system, most of the components were created by other professions. I didn’t play back when the original system was in place, but as I remember reading: A scholar required ink, paper, and a quill to create scrolls. A scholar could only make paper and had to get the other components from other crafters. Even producing something like ink was a complex multi-step process: you had to process dyes then make the inks. If prices weren’t good (or you didn’t just roll an alt), it could be brutal for a crafter. Most serious crafters had alts that made the materials and passed them along through shared bank slots.

By the time I had started playing, this system was replaced with a more standard “harvest raw materials, put into system, get final object” system we know and love, mixed in with the interactive part that already existed. It was a lot less painful.

In a modern game, we see LotRO has some elements of this. The Tinker vocation (the only one that can take the Jeweller profession) has the Cook profession. But, cooks generally need the food grown by Farmers. On my Tinker, I’ve pretty much ignored cooking as a tradeskill; instead, I had an alt pick Yeoman which has both Cook and Farmer and worked those up together.

The problem: alts

The main weakness in each of these cases is that it’s almost always easier to craft items yourself than to acquire them. The system works better for drops (and some high level crafted items) because it’s harder to plan drops than to gather generic materials. In all three cases, players found a way to have a character they owned give them the goods. (In DAoC, of course, this involved giving more money to the developer, so that could be considered a win from the developer’s point of view.)

This is related to my previous post about punishing grouping. The problem is that the friction of working together is greater than the benefit. If, as a crafter, I’m willing to spend the and in-game resources (which also represent time) to craft, I’m probably not going to think much about spend a bit more time in crafting. Expectations just change so that some professions that require multiple characters are just seen as requiring more time in order to have another character to work up the supplementary abilities.

Restricting alts really doesn’t work too well, because as my experiences in DAoC showed, people will just buy new accounts. And, as a developer using the subscription, that’s not necessarily something you want to discourage!

Solutions

So, can we really get players to work together in a game? There seem to be two different solutions:

Make it more difficult to do it all by yourself. This is the “forced grouping” solution. Players have to rely on each other because doing it all would be so painful. Playing multiple characters is difficult for most people (but not impossible). Increasing the difficulty of crafting would probably just drive people away from crafting in general and potentially the game if they are disappointed with crafting.

Reduce barriers to cooperation. This is what I focused on in my previous post. Having people automatically group and not punish people for being in a group by reducing each person’s xp or loot gain. In crafting, this could mean having an highly efficient system: being able to put in “buy orders” on the auction to purchase supplies at a set price would be one huge step forward, for example. But, this still doesn’t tackle the issue of it being cheaper to have a character you control (and therefore has no profit motive) do your work for you; the best solution would need to present some increased opportunity cost for doing it yourself beyond time, which people are going to spend anyway if they want to play a game!

It’s not all bad, right?

I don’t think interdependency is really a bad thing in a game. I think it’s reasonable to have some expectation that some of the things you do in the world may have to involve other people. The problem is that these systems often frustrate people who play them “the right way” and reward people who use alts.

What do you think? Looking beyond “forced grouping” being bad, how can you get players to work together in all aspects of the game? Or, is that concept just doomed by having players just roll alts?


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21 Comments »

  1. I like your buy order idea. One way to combat the use of alts is to prevent trades between characters on the same account. If the player dual boxes and pays for a second account, that is a different situation and I’m not sure that the MMO operator doesn’t have a conflict of interest there.

    Comment by Dave — 16 July, 2009 @ 3:23 AM

  2. I think interdependency is a good idea, and I certainly agree with the entire post. The key to next-gen MMO interdependency is going to be reducing those barriers to cooperation. Players want instant action. There needs to be a lot of behind the scenes work going on to facilitate smart automatic grouping. Open groups need to be advertised; power differences need to be less significant (or nullified, like FFXI’s new level-sync system). Roles need to easily filled.

    Rather than making crafting more difficult to do by yourself, why not just make it less efficient to do by yourself? Don’t pigeonhole characters into professions; allow them to specialize on their own. Player skill should come into play so that the realistic question of “I need item/service X; can I produce X efficiently and sell it to others, or should I just buy it?” is pondered. In the real world, if a hotel can’t sell a laundry service to other hotels in the area, they should just buy the services of the local cleaners.

    A way to make it less efficient might be to require machinery and capital. You can even turn Manufacturing and Capital Supplying into a craft. Allow players to own or rent capital from other players. Your armor still needs the materials from the tailoring realm, and you can even make them yourself, but you don’t own a loom. You can buy one and operate it, but perhaps it is more efficient to just buy the cloth on the AH.

    And about your multiple accounts issue: I don’t think there is a way to combat multi-boxing with game rules. It doesn’t remove the interdependency of just crafting, but also leveling.

    Comment by motstandet — 16 July, 2009 @ 7:02 AM

  3. Has any game that built interdependency into crafting ever been fun (for crafting at least)?

    I remember in DAoC my character was a tailor. I had a friend who was an armourcrafter and needed tailored linings to make chainmail. There was no way to send items via mail in the game, so for him to make armour it needed me to sit next to him making up to 50 odd linings and then trading them so that he could make his stuff. Sure, we could sit and chat, but there’s no way that the crafting was ever going to be fun. Ever.

    But one thing that was fun in DaoC was that originally the high level crafting materials were only sold in frontier keeps. So the crafters would tend to cluster around while they were crafting, occasionally an enemy rogue would jump in and try to nab a quick kill and the assembled crafters would grab weapons and repel them. If a low level character wanted to craft, often higher level crafters or guildies would help to escort them to the frontier crafting keep.

    So there was a level of interdependence that helped to build a community feeling and kept the crafters geographically in the same place, but without the same level of frustration as total dependence.

    Crafting just seems to naturally be a solo activity, and I don’t think players want or need more interaction than can be gotten via consignments or an auction house. It probably would be fun if you could set up consignment quests and let other crafters fill them. But it won’t be the same sort of interactivity that you’d get in groups.

    The other big problem with strong interdependence is … what if there isn’t anyone around making the pieces that you need? Or what if you built up a relationship with someone and then they left the game? I think designers tended to assume ‘that’s ok, this world is MASSIVE and there are loads of players around. The law of averages says some of them will be doing a bit of everything’. But I feel that over time this is less likely to be true. Players are herded towards current content. So if you’re levelling a craftskill a couple of years behind the curve, there’s really no guarantee that the crafters you need will be making what you want.

    Comment by Spinks — 16 July, 2009 @ 7:44 AM

  4. I think you’re missing an option of the sort that was taken by EVE online. Namely allow all the crafting to be available to a single character, but make it deep enough that specialization pays off and have a very efficient large market (not auction house – that should be for specialist items not the bulk stuff you usually need to do the mechanics side of crafting) in order to support the cooperation side of things. As far as cooperation goes the market system you put in your game is the mechanism for cooperation between crafters. If it’s not big enough and efficient enough that a crafter is advantaged by voluntary specialization, you end up with the alt-itis we see in most of the MMOs out there.

    Comment by Letrange — 16 July, 2009 @ 8:12 AM

  5. As with all things in game design, encourage the behaviors you want through rewards. Your article last week regarding ways to improve experience in groups is really just an application of the “use more carrot and less stick” method of positive reinforcement. Continuing down that road, we simply find more carrots to use in order to encourage more grouping and interdependancy.

    For one thing, your idea of removing experience splits or penalties for grouping is a great one. One of the little known facts about early Everquest II was that there was no penalty for duoing – monsters would provide 200% experience when duoed as opposed to being soloed. If both characters in the duo were roughly the same level, they both received the same split – which worked out to the same amount of experience either of them would get if they were soloing anyway. Build on this concept and then some. The bonus doesn’t even have to be much…but it should be significant enought to overcome the idea that you’re sharing loot.

    Integrate “smart loot”. When I would run tabletop RPG’s years ago, I’d tend to keep my players in mind when I built up the loot they could earn in a particular adventure. If the group didn’t have a bard, I generally wouldn’t drop a legendary flute. If the group didn’t have an archer or ranger, I wouldn’t typically put much time into creating the perfect bow. I’d tailor the rewards to match their group, with the occasional red herring tossed in for selling or trade. Tailor the loot system to match this concept in game systems – increase the amount of loot drops when either as the group grows in size or as the group encounters monsters/groups that would be harder to solo.

    Remove the idea of quest “drops”. If I have to collect 20 Macguffins for a quest and you have to collect 20 Macguffins for a quest and Macguffins are a dropped item, there’s little incentive for us to group together and cooperate since we still have to collect 40 Macguffins. However, if a single Macguffin drop counts for everyone in the group, you’ve provided additional incentive for cooperation. In other words, remove the quest grouping stick.

    Integrate bonus experience for starting and leading groups. Call it leadership experience (classic EQ) or command experience (Planetside) if you want, but provide a different type of experience reward for anyone who leads a group. After all, most players tend to look for groups as opposed to forming up new groups. It’s easier to join someone else’s group than to go through the effort required to form a new group. Reward that effort. If more people are encouraged to form groups, then it stands to reason that there will be more groups for more players to join.

    Build your system around progressive group buffs. Instead of building a “tank” class, shift the paradigm and build a class which simply reduces damage for an entire group (passive tanking instead of the traditional active hate management which doesn’t make much sense anyway). Build a soldier/warrior type which reduces physical damage and a mage/sorcerer type which similarly reduces magic damage and a …well, you get the idea. Additionally, build in buffs which increase in power for everyone the more people are involved – a sort of command bonus (similar, but more effective than EVE). Imagine a group which gets more action points/stamina/mana as more people join in.

    Similar to the last system, build in a “morale” system. One of the first concepts I had to deal with in tabletop wargaming systems (Napoleonics, Warhammer Fantasy, etc.) was the idea that the more people I had available to me in a unit, the less likely that unit would break and run. Morale is a powerful real concept in today’s world – utilize that concept to point out that your stats get better when you’re around more people. How many times have we heard or read the “safety in numbers” cliche in the stories we enjoy most? It’s a cliche mostly because it’s true. Represent that in our gaming systems. Over and beyond typical class buffs, build in a morale system that improves overall character abilities on the whole the higher the meter goes. More damage, less health lost, lower downtimes, faster healing, more attacks – build it in to grouping.

    Interdependacy on crafters should be built into augmentation or efficiency boosts for end products. Any Wadger can produce Widgets, but to get better at his Widgets he needs access to Woozits which can only be made by Woozles. Precious cut gems for sword pommels – it increase the value, but the smith can still make the swords without such things. Finely etched and worked leather may make for a better grip on a staff, but a woodworker can still make staves without such augmentation. Perhaps a carpenter is requested to make a better loom for a weaver, but the rugs could be woven by hand if needed.

    Comment by Kendricke — 16 July, 2009 @ 8:13 AM

  6. I don’t recall if Ralph Koster brought up the topic himself or he’d linked to it from somewhere… All players need alone time. The need downtime where they’re not racing off doing things but what I call my tinkering time. I think crafting is more enjoyable when it’s considered the players tinker time. As such, it shouldn’t be designed for interdependency at all. When you do, as you’ve noticed many players will just roll alts to do the whole thing for themselves anyway. I do like your suggestion of placing buy orders on an auction house which is how EVE Online handles the situation and it works out quite well.

    As much as I enjoy soloing more forgiving group mechanics would encourage me to group more. WAR PQs at launch are a perfect example. Simple things like not making collection quest items that drop have to be looted individually by each participant as you mentioned in your earlier post. When I’m doing one of those types of quests and someone asks me to group, my immediate and permanent answer is NO. Why would I group when doing so will now cause me to spend 50% more time completing the quest with just one additional person and it only gets worse from there.

    I think the model in place in WOW is a good one for content design, the end-game aside. Instanced content is designed for groups. I would love to see the group size drop to duo or at least, trio but the divide I think is a fair one. Open world content can be done solo. However, if you decide to group, your XP and quest objectives aren’t negatively impacted. I’m not a fan of required grouping for “normal” level quests as I found in LOTRO and still prevail in EQ2.

    Comment by Saylah — 16 July, 2009 @ 8:22 AM

  7. I like helping people a lot more than I like depending on people. Generally, the best way I can do that is to be self-sufficient, which inevitably means using alts in a system that tries to force interdependency. (And soloing when dealing with idiots is a painful experience.) If the game economy is inept, it’s especially attractive to “altsource” the workload.

    It does come down to the old “carrot vs. stick” approach, as you note in the end. Punitive measures do tend to force the desired output, but it’s a sledgehammer approach that ultimately limits the audience.

    So how do you make it more attractive to work together? For me, you have to make it more fun, largely through unique gaming experiences. Puzzle Pirates does this well for ship crewing, at least to some degree. You can just go putter around on Navy ships and do your thing, or work with some friends in more dynamic encounters on the open seas. (Of course, soloing your own sloop or duoing it with a friend is yet another experience.)

    I’m not sure that translates well to crafting unless there are game mechanics to crafting that involve more than the “get stuff, AFK craft” WoW mentality. There aren’t enough “verbs” to play with.

    If I had to count on someone running the bellows, someone timing the ‘smithing, and someone getting the leatherworking timing just perfect as all parts work together like clockwork to make a time-sensitive piece of armor, I’d be more likely to want other people at the helm rather than trying to dual box it. Sort of a “crafting raid”, as it were, where the orchestration of a big combat encounter could be roughly paralleled by the active crafting system that requires cooperation.

    …but then we’re back to the stick approach, rather than the carrot approach.

    I don’t think there’s any way around it. Some people will inevitably want to optimize their gaming, and other people introduce uncontrolled variables. Other people just don’t like dealing with idiots. Others have schedules that don’t allow them to commit to playing with others. (There’s a tangent; can short session gaming create good multiplayer experiences? I think so, coming from PP, but the WoW raid paradigm is hostile to short session gaming.) That’s just what happens when there are many different people playing your game.

    Comment by Tesh — 16 July, 2009 @ 12:46 PM

  8. It turns out I had a lot to say about this. (Wow, what a surprise!) In short:

    There were two changes to EQ2 crafting, one which removed interdependence, the other which reduced crafting time. I think this showed successfully that there were two different problems with the initial crafting system, which I leveled to mid 30′s under, by the way.

    There are some recent successes in EQ2 in introducing a form of interedependence back to tradeskills: The Tradeskill Epic quest required interdependence, and the tradeskill missions allow it, and reward it. Both are worth a look.

    Most of the interdependence problems can be viewed as market failures and economic problems. The design of off-line selling factors in here, it often acts as a barrier to selling, rather than a facilitator. Especially when there are pre-paid posting fees and limited-duration auctions.

    Comment by Toldain — 16 July, 2009 @ 3:35 PM

  9. I think the problem with building this sort of strong interdependencies is that you always run the risk of stalling any given player’s enjoyment of the game at no fault of his own.

    Take the crafting example we’re talking about and while it’s nice on paper to have the dependencies set up like that (think LOTRO where no vocation can be 100% self-sufficient) you have to be very careful building it up because you really don’t want to place too much of the player’s progress and fun in the hands of other players, which is what dependencies ultimately do. Yes it looks great on paper to have this system where players will look to other players for their needs, but that works as far as there are other players to be found, who can fill that need, at that time and at the right price. Most of the time that doesn’t happen and, as correctly stated above, it’s much easier to “breed” an alt to fill that need than to waste precious time and energy trying to depend on other people.

    Which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing, if the purpose was to connect players with other players. There’s no research needed with this; we know this is the case – players by large will tend to groom an alt than to waste time with other people. There is no economy direclty being served, there’s no community being strengthened here.

    When a player depends on other players to progress (x), and other players cannot be found, the fun for that player stops. I don’t know if we should really be asking players to take one individually for the team, to pause their own progress, just to have a neat dependencies system in place.

    I would imagine at this point in time that a sort of hybrid system for crafting would be ideal. One which would allow players to be completely self-sufficient at the lower tiers, but as crafting skill progresses more and more of others is needed. But there still should be some degree of self-sufficiency in every tier, even the top ones, and even if it’s small. We shouldn’t be penalizing players for things which aren’t their fault. A hybrid system of increasing dependency would also (I imagine) soften rampant altitis, as it makes no sense to make crafting alts for the lower tiers since they aren’t needed. It should be a major time and resource commitment to groom a crafting alt to the required tiers. True, some people will always undertake that and have a few alts like that anyway, but many others won’t. By changing the cost/benefit relation like that we are actually encouraging them to go out and seek others in the community.

    As long as we make it easier for them to have crafting alts than seeking other people, they will have crafting alts. It’s not rocket science. The question is what do we want more? To give more “fun” to players individually or to strengthen the game’s community by “gently encouraging” them to go out and forge bonds? It’s not a binary question, but it’s borderline there I think.

    Comment by Julian — 16 July, 2009 @ 4:04 PM

  10. I think encouraging people to work together is a good thing, but it’s much better to “encourage” than to “force.” I didn’t like the LotRO system at all; it felt very contrived and more of a nuisance than anything since, as you mention, it could be circumvented using alts.

    For crafting specficcally, efficient market mechanisms help a lot. For example, many people prefer crafting to harvesting (or vice versa), and an efficient market allows people to do what they like best and then exchange their services with others. In EVE many people choose to focus entirely on one stage of the crafting process, like mining.

    One thing that Vanguard proposed (although I don’t know whether they implemented it) was some sort of group crafting system. The idea was that big-ticket items (like ships) could be crafted more quickly working in a group. It was an interesting idea, although I don’t know how it would work in practice.

    Comment by Scott — 16 July, 2009 @ 5:21 PM

  11. I think as long as you are creating dependencies in any degree you’re essentially creating group crafting. Just time-shifted, in the sense that you don’t need (n) players activating an object or an interface at the same time, but done in different stages by different people in different places.

    Yeah I suppose you could think of game economies as a whole as “group crafting” because things have to come from somewhere and we know the guy putting up that copper for auction is indirectly “group crafting” with the miner who smelts it, whom in turn is “group crafting” with the weaponsmith that buys that and creates a final product. Wonderful, but we also know in practice it doesn’t work this way because of alts.

    I find it funny that we give players all the tools they need to roll their new alts, give them the appropriate crafting professions they need to make a network of essentially self-sufficient crafting, enable them to sidestep the middle men -and- the auction house/trade channels… and then we turn around and act surprised when they do exactly this. We’re basically telling them “Hey, here’s the shortcut”. It’s not their fault when they identify and follow the path of least resistance.

    This is one of the fundamental disconnects we’ve been having since forever when we create these virtual worlds; we’re attempting to make simulations of real world elements under different conditions and sometimes naively expecting more or less the same result. In real life the Ford Motor Company made cars and existed for a century or so mainly because (a) Making a car takes a number of skills most people do not have, (b) It takes time and materials most people do not have and (c) People do not just find Ford Fiestas assigned to them when they turn a corner or lift a rock. That’s basically it. How long would Ford have lasted if people got the skills needed to build cars from a five-minute class, found all the materials needed in a 30-minute run around their house and were able to create a small army of clones to do this work?

    We’re copying structures from the real world (which is fine, because it’s what we know) into these virtual worlds but without a redefinition of the rules or a redefinition of the things we’re copying, they will break down and will not work as intended.

    Who’s gonna have the balls to tell people “No, you can’t make alts” in your favorite neighborhood AAA mass market MMO? I have no idea, but I’m sure the saints of gaming will reserve a special place for him after he’s summarily executed.

    Comment by Julian — 16 July, 2009 @ 7:26 PM

  12. Relating back to your reference to the original style of EQ2 crafting, I just thought I’d mention a couple of things:-

    First of all, the ‘scholar’ you mentioned should be a Sage (to create scrolls). The Scholar is the Tier 2 (10-19) combination of Alchemist, Jeweller, Sage, so he could certainly make his inks (for that tier), though he’d have to source his paper and quills elsewhere.

    Secondly, I happened to enjoy the sub-component aspects of EQ2 crafting when it started out. That said, it was a real pain at times. But the worst hassle was with WORTs (Washes, Oils, Resins, and Tempers). Every crafter needed these but only the Alchemists made them, and as a result, the prices sky-rocketed. So of course, people started making alt Alchemists of their own to self-supply, which is the first step towards the alt-sourcing of all a crafter’s component needs.

    I’ll try to write a longer response later (it’s something I’ve thought about for a while now, but since I don’t currently blog, I’ve not written it up before).

    Comment by Elkestra — 17 July, 2009 @ 12:05 AM

  13. A few comments.

    Letrange wrote:
    I think you’re missing an option of the sort that was taken by EVE online.

    I think this falls under the “making it more difficult to do all by yourself” system. One could theoretically level up different characters with different focuses, correct? Or, CCP hopes, buy more accounts?

    Spinks wrote:
    But one thing that was fun in DaoC was that originally the high level crafting materials were only sold in frontier keeps.

    I think that was actually added in later. Originally you could only get the materials from breaking down items made of the material. It was a pain in the ass, and where I finally hit the wall as an armorcrafter.

    But, this is another interesting perspective. Players could go solo this, but it was much safer to do it as a group.

    Julian wrote:
    I think the problem with building this sort of strong interdependencies is that you always run the risk of stalling any given player’s enjoyment of the game at no fault of his own.

    Yes, but as I’ve said before, without the risk of failure there’s less chance for victory to be sweet. You could say the same thing about watching a movie, hitting the bar, or a lot of other activities beyond games. Somehow, the fear of someone else messing the evening up doesn’t stop most of us. If someone does disrupt us, we adjust and deal.

    Elkestra wrote:
    First of all, the ‘scholar’ you mentioned should be a Sage (to create scrolls).

    Heh, that’s what I get for playing too much LotRO where Scholars are the ones who make scrolls. Sadly, my main on EQ2 was a Sage, so I should have known better. :)

    Keep up the interesting discussions.

    Comment by Psychochild — 17 July, 2009 @ 2:17 AM

  14. I like the idea of interdependancy but it’s very difficult to properly achieve as per the reasons outlined in your post.

    Personally, I like the idea of allowing any form of play and making anything possible (within limits) yet use gentle curves of reward and punishment to encourage people.

    For instance, if Blizzard increased the group bonus and dungeon exp in WoW to make it greater than that recieved through questing AND prevented any exp from grouping with high level players (and possibly introduced a proper EQ2 style mentoring system) then the effects on social interaction and grouping would be drastic and immediate.

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 17 July, 2009 @ 8:59 AM

  15. One thing that would help to encourage grouping, especially in a dungeon crawl instance, is to make them shorter. Not necessarily easier, but faster, quicker, doable in less time. I have been with too many raids that dragged on for hours and hours while everyone planned for ‘just one more try’ against that end boss. There are not so many folks online anymore who are willing to sit by the computer for eight hours of Molten Core.

    Comment by Mikyo — 17 July, 2009 @ 2:08 PM

  16. I think that we need to identify the source of the problem here. Personally, I love crafting as “tinkering”, so, in any game I try to level my crafting as I level-up. However, if I play on a server that is at least 1-2 years old, the prices on the resources I need from the other professions are not affordable for my character and even bigger then the price of the product.

    It happens in every game: players already have top-level characters that can grind epic amounts of gold for them and when they decide to create a crafting character of alternate profession they buy resoucres for much higher prices that system was originally designed for. On top of that, there aren’t many players gathering these resources on such a server already.
    So, there are really two main reasons for that situation: first, the progression of actual cost of gold for the players of different levels, and, secondly, the connection between the crafting and level progression.

    Let me explain it a bit further. When you first start playing, for example, WoW, you aquire your first gold piece, let’s say at level 5. You at level 10 you earn 1 gold per hour, at level 20 – 2 gold per hour, and at 80 you can get hundreds of gold during one day of play. That example, of course, is far from accurate (I haven’t played wow for a while), but you get my point. Of course, such progression makes sence and creates a beliveable world for a player – but, as soon as he levels up his first character to the top-level, it’s broken.

    Another thing that leads to such problems is the classical concept of level (and craft) progression. EQ1/2, WoW, LOTRO that we’re discussing here are content-driven games in which character gains a lot of levels with a little time on each. By gaining a level the character gets more powerful, he needs more powerful crafting gear and, in the end, the products of low-level crafter aren’t needed by anyone except a few alts.

    That problem can be addressed in a number of ways. Firstly, we can rely on items that are not tied to some parameters that are growing with level. It can be social items that aren’t actually connected to the combat balance in any way like fancy outfits or fireworks, or some items that are equally useful for players of different levels – like “heal 20%” potions or items that affect character speed (since combat speed balance doesn’t increase it’s scale every 10 levels).
    In fact, I’m in the middle of designing the crafting system for the browser-based f2p MMO – so, instead of just leaving some ideas I can describe the actually working systems. Sorry for the awful lot of text here :)

    Firstly, we don’t have the content capabilities of the big MMO titles; instead of that, we have to introduce the traditional “end-game” gameplay to the player right after the first couple of hours. On the other hand, we don’t have to create rapid level progression: we have currently 18 levels in the game, where 18th level can be acquired after 2-3 years of intensive every-day play. We launched in the end of 2008, and our top-level players are now at 7. Players spend a lot of time on the each level, and the whole player audience forms something like a pyramid with the biggest part of the players at the 3-4 levels.

    Secondly, we don’t have the geometric money value progression – we sell the in-game gold for the real money, so it would make no sense and ruin our monetization. Of course, there is some, but it is much flatter.

    Thirdly, our main principle in economic balance is “time is money” and when we award the player with something, we balance it according to time that they spend to acquire it on a constant rate. It is especially right for the gold farm activities, where players spend their time on the game to gain something that they could buy for their real money.
    Lastly, our PvP system relies mostly on the consumables, and big part of them is %-based, like “heal 20%” that I described before.

    So, with these design ideology the craft system is really predictable. Players with gathering professions spend some time to get resources, and the time is balanced according to predicted price of these resources (which is predicted according to the actual price of the end product). After that the player with the processing profession makes materials, and with another recipe he makes the product from that materials. There are two gathering professions, two processing professions, and player can only get two. One material requires resources of two different gathering professions and one product needs materials from two different processing professions. That way to create every crafted product every profession is needed.

    So, the interdependence is here, but, I hope that thanks to different design ideology that lies behind that things we will be able to avoid the problems you described. Of course, if you want to create something, you need the help of other players – or you can just buy the items on the auction house. But if you earn 1 gold per hour by farming mobs and the resources my alt can farm per hour cost 1 gold on the auction house – then I’ll just go and buy them there, instead of creating the second character.
    I’m sorry I can’t prove my point yet, but I hope that I will be able in a short while, when that system will be implemented in the game :)

    Comment by golergka — 17 July, 2009 @ 3:01 PM

  17. Yes, but as I’ve said before, without the risk of failure there’s less chance for victory to be sweet. You could say the same thing about watching a movie, hitting the bar, or a lot of other activities beyond games. Somehow, the fear of someone else messing the evening up doesn’t stop most of us. If someone does disrupt us, we adjust and deal.

    Agreed, but I think we’re kind of talking about different things. I don’t think the average crafter, or even a serious crafter, sees crafting in victory and defeat terms. A raider has that outlook towards encounters, a pvp player has that outlook towards his opposition and so on, but I don’t think crafters see the being unable to craft as “failure”, instead it’s more like aggravation.

    And sure, we go out and do all sorts of things even though there’s always the chance of them being disrupted. We know it and we accept it. We do those things. But I think we do it because we also know the disruption chance is very low. There are all sorts of laws, codes and behaviors that minimize real world disruption. If the chance of disruption was much higher, people would not do these things so much. If I knew that I can’t go to bars because on any given night there’s a 50/50 chance I won’t enjoy it because of disruptions, if I have the means, it won’t take long until I open my own bar, under my own conditions and free of disruption. This is exactly what people are doing in virtual worlds where there aren’t as many systems to regulate disruptions: They go and do their own thing. Why? Because they can. Why they can? Because we gave them the tools.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing for taking those tools away. That’d kill any game. I’m saying we need to distinguish between failure and aggravation. We can have our players fail a lot, but we can’t aggravate them too much. The difference between failure and aggravation is that failure tends to be closer to the player’s control (a bad pull, inadequate gear, a bad connection, the selection of a bad group, etc). Aggravation usually isn’t that close, and it’s not something most players can do anything about. Failure is accepted because it can be learned from; aggravation teaches very little.

    Comment by Julian — 17 July, 2009 @ 7:54 PM

  18. Actually, Eve had some other aspects that made it hard to solo craft by yourself… including harder resources that were guarded (and you couldn’t fight well at all in a ship built for mining). Mining ships had little cargo space so you needed someone to haul for you to be efficient. Manufacturing was done over time and could be done a single person, but you had limited slots and it cost a lot of money. Again, more people = greater efficiency. So they didn’t necessarily penalize you, but they encourage you to get more folks.

    Comment by JasonM — 24 July, 2009 @ 10:26 AM

  19. Well, if you want to destroy crafting mules, tie craft level to job level. You cannot get level 75 woodworking until your main job is level 75. If you can cap a craft as a level one player, you will see many many mules. You can’t really expect players to camp the auction house for a rare crafted ingredient when they or a friend can make it themselves by farming or buying the raw mats.

    For party interdependency you need to avoid the bard problem. In FFXI you need a bard. In virtually every experience point system, a bard will increase exp gained beyond every class due to a very huge boost in attack and incredible chain pulling. You don’t have a bard, especially at 75, people may fake disconnect on you.

    Pretty much that is saying don’t design mechanics that are vulnerable to imbalance. If you want players to work together, but they can’t because their favorite class is gimp, or because no bard is seeking, they will get annoyed very fast. I think a lot of the solo backlash is due to this, the imbalance in grouping.

    I really wish developers would get off this kick that failing a lot is meaningful or adds spice if there is a good risk of it. If i need to get 18 people up over the course of six hours to do divine might, and we wipe, all that design theory goes out the window, and people get annoyed real fast. Especially if they need to spend more time replenishing the item that lets you do divine might, and spending hours farming meds or waiting for two hours to recycle.

    If I am in a party and I fail the pull, people are not going to find it makes their experience more meaningful, they will bear it to a point and then kick the noob.

    When you look back with nostalgia, you think that the risk added flavor, but during it not really.

    Comment by Dblade — 26 July, 2009 @ 7:28 PM

  20. Dblade wrote:
    I really wish developers would get off this kick that failing a lot is meaningful or adds spice if there is a good risk of it.

    I don’t think anyone says that players need to fail. But, the risk of failure can add that meaning or spice. The problem is that a fake risk is no risk at all, so failure does have to be an option for this to work. If failure is a possible option, then some people are going to fail. It’s just the way it works, and I think it’s overall a good thing because it makes the successes all the more exhilarating.

    It’s not merely nostalgia, either. It’s a very noticeable effect as you’re playing a game or watching someone play a game. I’ve only had the same PvP rush I got regularly in M59 a few times in WoW. Why? Because it wasn’t just reputation on the line, it was a major setback to my character if I lost. The problem in the PvP scenario is that every winner needs a loser, so after a while it wears on the loser. In PvE, the monsters don’t mind being the punching bag most of the time, and don’t say nasty things about your mother in global chat. :P

    Comment by Psychochild — 27 July, 2009 @ 1:29 AM

  21. Psychochild said – “I’ve only had the same PvP rush I got regularly in M59 a few times in WoW. Why? Because it wasn’t just reputation on the line, it was a major setback to my character if I lost. The problem in the PvP scenario is that every winner needs a loser, so after a while it wears on the loser.”

    This is why logoff ghosts in Meridian are such a great and unique dynamic. For those that don’t know, Meridian characters can quickly log off during combat, saving themselves from death – but if they don’t log back into their ‘ghost’ in ten minutes, they suffer penalties that increase with each successive use of logging off during combat. Logoff Penalties also don’t have the embarassing public message, so their reputation penalties are less. This also has the side effect of creating multiple PvP combats, where guildmates (or the person themselves on an alt) have ten minutes to try to save the ‘ghosted’ character.

    Anyway, this system creates multiple levels of ‘losing.’ Often, the same few people will fight each other dozens of times (the loser suffering the smaller logoff penalties) before a player screws up and dies for real. This means that players can PvP for an entire night, alternately ‘losing’ and ‘winning’, with the risk of M59′s debilitating and embarassing death the entire time (the risk giving the jitters and enjoyment), but without actually dying (which typically ends PvP for the night, as the dead person has to regear, rebuild, and suffer through embarassing smacktalk).

    Developers should remember that creativity can help overcome any problem, even the ‘wearing out’ effect of PvP.

    Comment by Gar — 28 July, 2009 @ 10:21 AM

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