Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

20 July, 2009

MMO irritants
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:33 AM

Some things in games just get under your skin. Yes, it’s a game and things don’t have to mimic the real world, but sometimes things happen that just irritate you because they’re so senseless.

Let me list some of my favorites.

Note that while some of these come from LotRO, that’s just because it’s my game of choice at this point. I’ve seen all of these in other games as well.

It’s patch day! You know what that means…

Yeah, it means you probably aren’t going to be able to play. Maybe your custom UI won’t be updated for a day or two (and the default UI is too hideous for words), or maybe instances will too laggy by far (but your guild still wants to raid). Whatever the reason, it’s best to just not even log in most of the time if its patch day.

On the other hand, you’ll miss being able to exploit a bug for the few hours it’s available, and you’ll miss the downtime for the emergency hotpatch to fix the exploit.

Nerf shotgun

Your class (or favorite skillset) is found to be too powerful in some situations (such as PvE, PvP, raiding, having infinite mana, etc.). You get smacked by the nerf bat even though you aren’t going to be in that situation anytime soon.

Bonus points if the developers assure the players that situations other than X won’t be affected… much.

Sudden, unexplained death

You’re fighting a monster, running over to help your friend when BAM! You’re dead. What happened?

Oops, looks like you didn’t know that the water in this area was deadly, did you? Don’t expect any information from the text area, either. You’re just supposed to know that this water is deadly, whereas that other neon-colored water over there isn’t.

Your next quest: go makes some fast friends

Yeah, getting that group quest after a long series of solo quests still irritates me.

What do you mean that gear is on layaway?

There’s some nice equipment rewards from a reputation grind or raid in an area you’re adventuring in. Too bad nobody does that grind or raid anymore because the level cap went up. It probably made more sense when this was the top-level area in the game before the expansion.

Of course, by the time you’ve completed enough of the grind or gotten together enough people interested in doing the raid, you’ve almost outleveled the expansion content, too.

Is that a quest target or a random goodie bag?

There’s an elite monster over there among a bunch of normal monsters. They often carry some nifty bonus treasure, so you decide to get your friend and go after it. After a tough battle, you only find trash loot.

Oops, guess that was really a quest monster! Of course, to add insult to injury….

I already did that, damn it!

Yeah, that elite you took down? The guy at the next quest hub asks you to go kill him. No, the fact that you just did it doesn’t matter. The beast is only a horrible menace meriting a reward after you get the quest, not before.

Extra bonus points if the quest monster is in a hard-to-reach area where you just had to go for a previous quest. “Thanks for throwing the One Ring into Mount Doom, Frodo, but we need you to go back and throw this Trinket of Malice in there, too. So sorry for not telling you in the first place.”

Now fetch me a herring! It’s next to the place where you found this shrubbery.

Speaking of previous quests, get ready to visit that place a few more times. Seems new threats pop up there all the time. Just try not to aggro the elite guy that you’ll have to kill for the final quest too many times, okay? *evil chuckle*

Enjoy crafting while you can!

You do some crafting because it seems like a neat way to make gear for yourself. Or, maybe it’s a fun little game in its own right. Too bad the high level content, the newest tradeskill, or some feature in the latest expansion has made your tradeskill obsolete.

And, never, never, EVER stick with a stupid tradeskill hoping it’ll get better. It never does.

Ninja items or abilities, but the awesome kind

You’re going to be given some super, class-defining items or abilities. Getting these items or abilities will be a definite enhancement to your character and let you define your role in the world.

It’s really a shame there’s no in-game explanation for how to acquire these items or abilities. Hope you visited the right third-party sites or have some informed friends in the game!

There are 10 of my current favorite irritants. What are yours? Try to stick with things developers can control. For example, guild drama irritates me as much as the next person, but developers haven’t been able to patch the fact that people are broken.


  1. “I already did that, damn it!”

    Yes thats numero uno for me.

    I also hate having items in your bag that you have no idea what they are for, so are afraid to trash them. Old quest item and if so which quest? Collectible and if so who do i need to turn it into and what do i get for doing so? Crafting material and if so which profession? I know this would take hundreds of man hours to update, but i hope future games take this into account!

    Comment by coppertopper — 20 July, 2009 @ 3:42 AM

  2. Some of the things you list are the quirks of MMO play that add to enjoyment for me. The more wrinkles get smoothed out, the blander it all gets, so I am in favor of running back and forth and having to get proof again of something I already did. Makes me chuckle. Shouting at NPCs for their idiocy is a significant part of the fun in itself.

    I don’t like patch downtime, and playing on US servers on a GMT schedule means I’ve had more than my share. I generally have a second game on the go, or characters on servers in a different region, or Test servers, so it doesn’t impinge too badly.

    That solo-quest-turns-into-group thing is just poor game design, though. Designers rarely worry about logic or realism elsewhere, so why they feel the need when it comes to the conclusion of a long quest chain I have no idea.

    What I personally hate is having any old kind of mobs drop any old kind of loot. Why even think of putting coin drops on animals? Just have em drop claws and fur and let us sell it. And is it really so hard to correlate the spear a goblin has in his hand with the item he drops? If he’s carrying a spear, let him drop a spear. How hard is that?

    It really annoys me because it’s so easy to do it well. Some games do – Rubies of Eventide, original EQ for example – and it is such a boost to enjoyment. All those fun times chasing decaying skeletons becasue you could see they were carrying a staff and it might be a Cracked Staff that would sell for 10 times as much as any other weapon at that level. Such an easy win for game design, and now so unusual to find.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 20 July, 2009 @ 3:42 AM

  3. Hope you enjoyed the first couple of levels fighting boars, bears, bandits and rodents of unusual size because you’ll be seeing them again… a lot… in fact, we are going to use the same models all over the place, though sometimes we might make the monsters smaller, or larger, or tint them another color (not actually change the skin/texture, just tint it). Welcome to the level cap! Lets go fight more boars, bears, bandits and rodents of unusual size!

    In some games, I’m a heavy explorer, not because I want to see everything but because I’m tired of seeing the same stuff over and over, and there have to be new models used in the game somewhere. There just have to be!

    Comment by Jason — 20 July, 2009 @ 3:53 AM

  4. “solo-quest-turns-into-group thing” — I find this only works in areas which are very popular — which means in the first 20 levels, it probably ONLY works for the first month or two, thus providing an illusion to the developers that it’s a working mechanic. One year later, and it’s now a horrid bastard of a mechanic, but the focus has moved on to the later levels.

    I want an MMO optimized for two-player play, darnit! One player play is fun, two player is great. Three player requires three people to be online and wanting to play at the same time, which is surprisingly hard for casual gamers.

    Five with friends requires you to not have lives.

    Comment by Trevel — 20 July, 2009 @ 6:17 AM

  5. If I’ve learned anything from WoW, it’s to not kill any named mob until you get the quest to do so. This is so very silly.

    Comment by motstandet — 20 July, 2009 @ 8:45 AM

  6. “And, never, never, EVER stick with a stupid tradeskill hoping it’ll get better. It never does.”

    Or else it gets improved about 2 weeks after you dropped it.

    My current bugbear is why plate always costs so much more to repair than cloth armour. Surely it should also get damaged less. (Also, cloth casters get a zillion ways to avoid being hit so not only is their armour cheaper to repair but they get hit less in the first place.)

    Also, swimming in platemail.

    Comment by Spinks — 20 July, 2009 @ 9:37 AM

  7. I’m going to go with mob abilities that take away your control, stuns and disarms being the two obvious ones.

    Firstly, most of the time their use is entirely arbitrary. Mobs of a certain type will have the ability and use it during a fight. The use is guaranteed, the timing is arbitrary.

    Secondly, they’re almost always entirely pointless. Very rarely are they used to actually defeat you, most of the time their effect is balanced so that they cannot single-handedly cause you to lose a fight, you might just be unlucky and get stunned when you’re low on health, but any half sensible player who has experienced the mob before will know this and have given themselves every opportunity to survive such an ability, by healing themselves early, for example. In the day-to-day motions of combat they seem to be nothing more than a thumbed nose from the developer, and purposefully designed to annoy the snot out of the player.

    Thirdly, don’t take control away from your players. At the very worst, if you have to take control away, give them a chance to avoid it. Not a dice roll behind the scenes, an actual honest-to-goodness Attack/Response button press that allows them to avoid the loss of control. Otherwise all you’re doing as a developer is laughing at the players as you show them that at any point you can ruin their day if you want to. Players do not want to be reminded that they are in an artificial environment where the fights that they win are strictly controlled by a lot of rules behind the scenes that are generally set up in the player’s favour (MMOs would be pretty dull if it was the other way around and you lost 99% of the fights instead).

    Anyway, I have another post on LotRO lined-up, and funnily enough it’s about combat. It may sound very similar to this comment.

    Comment by Melmoth — 20 July, 2009 @ 9:45 AM

  8. The worse thing I have encountered in LotRO were the boar quests in Lone-Lands. Go kill boars then boars again, then boars someplace else (with a spawnrate that made you jump in joy if you ever did see one) then collect boar stomachs from said incredibly rare boars with an incredibly small drop chance.

    I recently re-did those quests on a new character after they altered the spawns/drops in one of the patches. Behold! The boar stomach quest took me 5 minutes to do instead of 1+ hours…

    The second thing which irritates me are some of the changes to come at “endgame” raiding when you suddenly get your 2 year old skills changed because a new raid encounter becomes too easy if class A and class B use skills X and Y.

    Still: Rant. Drink. Adapt.

    Comment by wicked — 20 July, 2009 @ 2:27 PM

  9. My, you have been playing a lot of The Lord of the Rings Online™ lately. Not that these are LotRO-specific, just that some of the phrasings clearly are.

    Comment by Zubon — 20 July, 2009 @ 3:08 PM

  10. Escort quests in general very much top my list of annoyances.

    Comment by Julian — 20 July, 2009 @ 3:17 PM

  11. 1. Killing mobs for parts they all obviously possess but rarely drop. This is a sick joke that needs to stop now. Some @#$@!# is off in a corner laughing every time a player does those quests.

    2. Escort quests. I want to know who really strolls along when their life is in danger, so much so, that they need my help and protection. They run toward every mob and aggro it. Note THEY RUN INTO DANGER, then back to where they were before AND START STROLLING AGAIN. I could kill devs for consistently implementing that stupid behavior. I refuse to do escort quests.

    3. Duo instance/scripted content. It’s time is well WELL over due.

    Comment by Saylah — 20 July, 2009 @ 3:35 PM

  12. bhagpuss wrote:
    Shouting at NPCs for their idiocy is a significant part of the fun in itself.

    Different strokes for different folks, I guess. I guess you get a lot of fun in many games. :P

    I just find it silly that if I killed a hard-to-reach boss monster before I officially get the quest, I have to go do it again. The reason I dislike it because it seems like a penalty to exploration, or a penalty for not following the narrowly defined path. I love seeing new areas, even if I have to fight my way there. I hate being directed to go back there to do exactly what I did a few minutes ago.

    Spinks wrote:
    My current bugbear is why plate always costs so much more to repair than cloth armour.

    That’s a good one. I didn’t play a plate class in WoW (tanking in leather FTW!), so I didn’t get hit with this too badly. I’m not fond of the “equipment damage as a money sink” design decision, though. Getting an upgrade shouldn’t make your first thought be, “How am I going to afford repairs?” (LotRO has a cute quest that references this!)

    Melmoth wrote:
    I’m going to go with mob abilities that take away your control, stuns and disarms being the two obvious ones.

    I agree in general. At least my Champion in LotRO can counter-act being disarmed once every three minutes. It kinda sucks that enemies that disarm tend to come in clumps, so you’ll get disarmed more than once every three minutes.

    One thing I will say is that sometimes these types of abilities can form interesting traps. In LotRO, I thought the slug “slime” effect was just annoying and pointless. Until I aggroed a slug and a worm at the same time in Angmar: slug slime + worm fire breath = OH SHIT! I learned my lesson after that one time.

    Julian wrote:
    Escort quests in general very much top my list of annoyances.

    I can’t believe I forgot about those. They are just annoying. I think it’s as Saylah points out, the system is just not well thought-out in general. The NPCs move too slow or (rarely) too fast. They aggro on stuff that isn’t even normally aggro to you. The quest spawns enemies which then aggro existing enemies, too. Gah!

    Zubon wrote:
    Not that these are LotRO-specific, just that some of the phrasings clearly are.

    Yeah. My biggest current irritation with LotRO (besides the punishment of exploration as I just described) is the legendary ability books. I had no idea how they worked, and now my level 54 character is having to go slum it in order to find the books and/or pages. One book seems to be really rare and is selling for stupid money on auction. Then you have to go grind for pages. Don’t get me started on the level 50 quests that are supposed to lead to an additional ability; yet again with the solo quest turned group quest, but with the added fun of an epic quest stopping you from actually going into those areas, and seemingly nobody wanting to do those quests. Grr! See? I got started.

    Then again, I realize that a lot of the old school games do this, too. One of the most powerful items in M59 is the Robe of the Disciple and the best way to get one, besides praying for a random drop, is from a quest flagged for newbie characters only. Quests in M59 are pretty well hidden unless you know what to look for, so most true newbies will probably pass this by.

    So, yeah, all us developers are guilty here to some degree.

    Comment by Psychochild — 21 July, 2009 @ 5:26 AM

  13. One of the things that bug me about escort quests (in addition to all the aforementioned quirks) is how they work in complete opposition as how an escort works in real life. In real life when something is escorted it means a force multiplier. Protection. A deterrent to attack. And it works, because in order to attack that target, the opposition has to commit more force and the target becomes a harder target.

    Escort quests should be the easiest type of quest in virtual worlds because of easy force multiplying and easier logistics, but instead they are complete aggravations because of aggro rules, poor AI and sometimes even poor feedback. I don’t know what’s the point in creating them if they can’t be created right.

    I for one, I just skip them on principle.

    Comment by Julian — 21 July, 2009 @ 3:16 PM

  14. My biggest irritant, is that 98% of MMOGs currently avaible utilize a design very similar to all existing MMOGs. I’m tired of running from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ in world ‘z’. I don’t want to deliver pies. I don’t want to slay 25 worgen. It gets old.

    Comment by Septa Scarabae — 21 July, 2009 @ 9:43 PM

  15. Oh Brian, I feel your pain!

    1) Sudden, unexplained death

    You made it to Angmar I take it? Heheh, those big nasty statues that kill you when you get close until you have completed epic quest X.X. Yeah, that sucks. I died a LOT Of times thinking it was a trick and trying to get around them. Nope, its just an area of death.

    2) Your next quest: go makes some fast friends

    Agreed. Fortunately I had a friend and we could do most fellowship quests by ourselves (Guardian/Champ is a great combo).

    3) I already did that, damn it!

    This is the worst, and I’m not sure how to get around it honestly. But it happened to me earlier today. There we are, Champ and Guard, fighting spiders and we get jumped by an Elite Master (for those non-lotro players thats an Elite-Elite monster basically). We killed it, only to be told later that we have to kill it again for the next quest. Suck.

    4) Enjoy crafting while you can!

    Ah, the joys of a crappy WoW-style crafting system. I hate it and the only part in either game I took part in was the gathering (to sell on auction).

    5) You didn’t bring this up, but Elite Monsters in particular are my pet-peeve. I’m great with a harder class of monster and more difficulty, but I want two things from it:

    a) I want it to be colored and to aggro like it should. i.e. when I am level 57 and I see a Level 50 Elite it SHOULD NOT BE GREEN or GREY. Because it doesn’t fight like a level 50 non-elite.

    b) I want equivalent XP for its difficulty, not its level.

    c) I want equivalent reward for its difficulty, not its level.

    Not having these made me avoid Angmar for 10 levels (I just started going back at level 56) so that I could wipe the floor of most stuff in there.

    Comment by JasonM — 24 July, 2009 @ 10:11 AM

  16. Just a few pet peeves about MMO’s design or lack of time effort in to it.

    Horses… We all know why they are treated like a spell and less and less like an animal in the world – its easier. But why in the world can’t we have a horse that is a little more alive and apart of the world?
    EASY – When we get off of it, it will stay in place and eat grass or other eatable foliage until we return to it. We don’t have to feed it, we don’t have to allow it to drink, and we sure don’t need to groom it. We have buy full titanium armor for it – cause its easy mode. You can’t steal it because its not yours.
    MODERATE – When we get off the horse it will eat food and find drink in the very local area, unless we tie it up, and then it will only seek what it can reach. We will need to make sure its got some food and water from time to time to help keep its stamina up for those long runs. It can wear a host of armors and bags. It can not be stolen and can’t be attacked (while your not on it), but mobs and use it to determine of players are near (oh wait, mobs are dumb, never mind).
    CHALLENGE – We can’t make games that are a challenge (like EQ type challenge) because it must have been deemed unfail and unusual punishment of a playerbase.

    Bardism… Why has EVERY class since EQ become just like an EverQuest Bard but with different named songs, spells, and skills? I mean who did the pole and asked EQ players which class they loved the play the most? I doubt that the majority was ‘Bard’.

    Some quick others…

    1. Single Player Nature of Design from Quests to Difficulty to Combat to almost every things else.
    2. Each ‘new’ games feel just the same as the one I just left (in the game genre High Fantasy / Sci-Fi / Etc…)
    3. ‘Quest Hubs’ where NPC’s don’t give a darn about how long it takes you to finish the quest… and that its already been given and done 1,000,000 times that very day. And player just go in and collect as many as possible, without any need to read them – cause they can either ask in general chat and bug every one with their lazieness or they can just look at the quest box on the main UI to see the ‘key points’ of the quest. Such as kill 0/10 spiders or Talk to NPC Y.

    Comment by Boon.Smith — 24 July, 2009 @ 8:28 PM

  17. DDO had/has some very well done Escrot quests.. but that is because they can control the battlefield since its an instance for just your party. Also the game had some mean traps and other goodies to where a person out on their own could very quickly become over powered by mobs. So you tend to move through the dungeon at a slower pace (unless you all know the place very well – lack of content in the game lead to rampant repeating of dungeons) and then I know our groups would always leave one behind with the NPC set to follow them, as the group moved back through the dungeon to clear the back trail… once cleared, the guy escorting the NPC would move forward…

    While it will not be everyones cup of tea, it was done a whole lot better than most MMO’s where the NPC’s run on his own and you’ve got to keep up / keep alive / and keep the NPC alive too.

    Comment by Boon.Smith — 24 July, 2009 @ 8:32 PM

  18. Don’t get me started on the level 50 quests that are supposed to lead to an additional ability; yet again with the solo quest turned group quest, but with the added fun of an epic quest stopping you from actually going into those areas, and seemingly nobody wanting to do those quests.

    Just a note here, but items which you’re expected to obtain from these quests are tradeable and thus can be acquired simply going to the nearest auction house, no trips, groups or epic quests required. Though availability and price will be affected by server population, of course.

    Comment by tmp — 25 July, 2009 @ 7:10 AM

  19. Jason M wrote:
    You made it to Angmar I take it?

    Oh, yes. I really am not fond of Angmar. I realize it was a high end zone back in the original game, but it is mostly painful to trudge through with all the high level people gathered far, far away. Luckily the dread statues don’t do item damage on defeat, otherwise they would have really sucked. My GF and I tried to run through them a few times before we finally gave up and happened to find out the 6th book was all about getting past that.

    tmp wrote:
    Though availability and price will be affected by server population, of course.

    On my server, I could buy a few kinship houses for the amount of money the items my GF and I require sell for. I’ve make a good amount of money, but the market seems to have slowed down a bit lately and that much cash seems a bit much to just splash out. There’s also the point that we want to actually enjoy the content ourselves instead of simply grinding for cash.

    Comment by Psychochild — 26 July, 2009 @ 4:03 AM

  20. /AFK – July 26

    [...] Psychochild’s list of MMO pet peeves are so on the nose that I kept nodding [...]

    Pingback by Bio Break — 26 July, 2009 @ 6:08 AM

  21. Angmar was a pain back in the original game too. It’s one of the big reasons I quit. (Ah, happy memories of there not being a horse route to that ranger camp in the north so every time you died, you had to ride back).

    Comment by Spinks — 26 July, 2009 @ 6:41 AM

  22. When it comes to Nerf shotgun don’t forget the most important thing Developers say! “If we over nerf a class we’ll just bring them back up.” Of course they fail to mention that the bring them back up portion won’t occur for six to twelve months. I’ve long complained about how nerfs are done. If a class needs a 10% reduction they do it 40% to be sure. Why not do a nibble at a time? I would prefer to nerfed slightly for 10 patches in a row than to be over nerfed in one and have to wait for a fix.

    Comment by Ferrel — 26 July, 2009 @ 7:43 AM

  23. Ferrel wrote:
    If a class needs a 10% reduction they do it 40% to be sure. Why not do a nibble at a time?

    I agree. The reason is the structure of patches in large MMOs. They require a lot of planning, verification, and approval before you can get them from concept to actually appearing on the live server. So, if developers notice that players are complaining about abilities X, Y, and Z, they might decide to nerf all those abilities when nerfing one would be sufficient. When major patches are at least 2 months apart, only addressing “part of the issue” seems like a very slow process. If all three of the abilities above needed nerfing, then it would take at least 6 months to fix all the abilities if they need fixing. During those six months, everyone else will still probably be complaining that the unnerfed powers are still too powerful.

    Having a faster patch schedule is nicer, but harder to do with a larger game.

    Comment by Psychochild — 26 July, 2009 @ 2:25 PM

  24. Pet peeves:

    -four hours: Don’t ever make any potential game activity take longer than 4 hours to accomplish, spent logged in. (even if AFK.) If you want to make more involved activities, either split them up into a chain of them with completion or “save” points at ever 4 hours, or reduce the spawn time of a mob while also reducing the drop rate.

    -long haul: If you make a raid situation requiring 12+ people, make fast travel available to location start. Developers never seem to understand how long the simple act of gathering people takes.

    -under 6 please: Please make no milestone quest or non-raid quest like level limit breaks take more than six people. Trying to shout for 18 people for a fight when you have 3 friends in game is ridiculous.

    -your players are noobs: Just because the playtesters can beat your new quest chain on the first try doesn’t mean your players can, and things that playtesters or the beta players may steamroller might be too hard for the general population.

    -third party pvp: If you make a monster that spawns every 8 hours and has a low chance to drop job-defining rare item, you have just created third party pvp. Your players will hate every minute of having to camp against each other in the same way they hate fighting each other, and like it for the same reasons. So please be careful of setting that up.

    Comment by Dblade — 26 July, 2009 @ 6:55 PM

  25. Personally, I find the most irritating thing about MMOGs is our ‘language of the developer.’ Sure, phrases like ‘stuns, blocks, roots’ and ‘plate classes’ allow us to instantly communicate about ideas and mechanics despite a wealth of varied in-game contexts – but it also pigeonholes both design creativity and player interpretation. Developers and players that hear phrases like ‘twelve distinct classes’ or ’1,000 spells, 2,000 items, 5,000 monsters!’ immediately jump to mental comparisons to games they already know. They expect more of the same – they even want it. Games are negatively evolving.

    I see it as two groups of people trying to market their product – a developer trying to market his game, and players trying to market their own ‘game position’ to their internal self-esteem, friends, or the online community. It’s fun to achieve, explore, socialize, and compete… but only if one is doing so succesfully. MMOGs today specialize in providing not only easy-to-master environments (spend enough time and you win!), but also in providing virtually identical experiences that are cosmetically different, allowing players the illusion of ‘mastering’ another game without the painful trials of being new and actually having to learn new skills. Success is critical for players to ‘market’ their achievements and feel good – so they seek out games they think they’ll be good at, which usually means more of the same.

    For their part, developers are intelligent, creative people that are unknowingly chained by the ‘language’ we’ve developed through active symbiosis with players. Developers compete on having the most ‘balanced class system’, or ‘the most items’, or the ‘least boring leveling experience’, because those are the things that players look forward to and talk about. Those are also the things that everyone else is advertising, and, being game developers instead of marketers, developers simply assume that ‘this is the development world’ and continue to churn out those 98% of MMOGs another poster talked about – all identical, all cosmetically different, all ultimately flawed and destined to live the same short-lived growth/maturity/decline life cycle.

    Funding plays a large part in it, too. People that don’t know jack about game design are in charge of funding decisions, and it really feels like they take a printout of your website and a printout of a competing game’s website, put them next to each other, and compare. “This other game has 10,000 spells,” they note, looking at you in unhappy confusion. “Your game only has 5,000. Get that up to 15,000 spells and we might get you some money.” The entire system – funder > developer > player > funder – is terribly set up. It simply destroys any chance at creativity.

    So what bothers me about the ‘language of the developer’ is that it is almost an unconcious nod of subservience to the current system. Every ‘quest’, ‘class balance’, ‘level system’, and ‘crafting system’ a developer talks about supports the current terrible system a little more. ‘Run from a to b and kill z’ is terrible – it’s a complete waste of human effort. Tens of thousand of items, monsters, and spells, are pointless – all players recognize that a monster is a monster, and a computer is not a tough challenge. Classes are a substitute for good character design. Levels are timesinks designed to keep players on the treadmill and oblivious to the complete lack of an end-game in all current MMOGs. And yet, most every game has all of these elements, and you can’t get a game made without them.

    As creative, intelligent, and determined developers – how did we end up here?

    Comment by Gar — 28 July, 2009 @ 7:48 AM

  26. “During those six months, everyone else will still probably be complaining that the unnerfed powers are still too powerful.”

    I think this is part of my problem though. If they nerf all three than it can be six months waiting for the “fix.” How many customers might be lost in that time?

    What I really want to get at though is smaller patches. I’ve read the “large game” argument many times and it is quite valid. That said, compartmentalization would be wise. To use a recent example: Warhammer Online had some minor but annoying bug that occasionally held up the progression of a quest (I don’t remember the quest in question). The entire patch was delayed while the final tuning to the class changes were done (this is what we were told at least). If a fix is ready why wait? The notion that “we can’t patch daily” seems silly to me.

    If I patch three things only and the game breaks I have a pretty clear idea of what in my code did that. If it works then we can get immediate feedback and watch. So I’m not really looking for the “huge patches” more frequently. I’m looking for tiny patches more frequently. Narrow focus!

    Comment by Ferrel — 28 July, 2009 @ 8:53 AM

  27. Gar wrote:
    Personally, I find the most irritating thing about MMOGs is our ‘language of the developer.’

    I’m not sure it’s just the language of the developer. I think part of the problem here is that players are used to talking about games in a certain way so the language, while perhaps originally created by a developer, has been co-opted by the players. I think the players do more to restrict games than developers. Most developers I know who have an IQ above room temperature have crazy ideas for interesting games. The problem is that if players can’t communicate the concepts of the new games well, it’s hard for them to get friends excited. A game, at the very least, has to absorb the current “state of the art” and extend that. Going with something wildly new just alienates players. And, they aren’t paying for anything they don’t understand (or that their friends can’t understand).

    Ferrel wrote:
    The notion that “we can’t patch daily” seems silly to me.

    Heh. Did you not read that one of my annoyances was patch day? Do you want every day to be patch day?

    There are a few logical reasons why games can’t patch every day. First, you want some planning done before patching, and that takes time. Fixing the three problems from my example in three sequential daily patches doesn’t necessarily help, because there’s no time to see what the effect of the change is. Second, it takes time to patch. Even on a “small” game like Meridian 59, our team spent a heroic amount of time patching on patch day. We came in early and had dinner ordered in for us. That’s a lot of resources to be throwing toward this problem. Finally, there just needs to be some days when players can just play and not have to worry about the vagaries of patch day. Even if a specific class is overpowered, at least you know what to expect for the next few months while the developers are working on the next patch. Some stability is fine, and really bad problems will be hotpatched anyway.

    My perspective,

    Comment by Psychochild — 28 July, 2009 @ 6:19 PM

  28. Except in the Sony MMO’s, they can and do make single file changes because the system is set up for that. Even being able to hotpatch client-side exploits is amazingly valuable.

    The group/single quest thing…I can see a choice of 2 quests, one single and one group. The single one gives you AI henchmen, but has a slightly lesser reward.

    Comment by Andrew Crystall — 29 July, 2009 @ 10:18 AM

  29. I understand what you mean about hating patch day. I did read that! I’m also not trying to go counter to your experience but from my own with dealing with my own products. I’ve never patched something as large as an MMO and I wouldn’t even dream of pretending otherwise. I will say though that if every patch day is done in the way you describe, yes it will be like that.

    Everything was built up around a big patch day that would consume a ton of resources. I’m not advocating doing that more often at all. My point is more that it doesn’t actually -have- to be that way just because it is that way. I think what might be a better way to explain what I mean is: there is no patch. Just a lot of hot fixes that aren’t hot. So… cool fixes more frequently.

    Patch days are big because of the huge amount of changes that effect huge portions of the game. If you cool fix in a single change to one ability of one class you will not be looking at those kind of resources expended.

    Comment by Ferrel — 30 July, 2009 @ 11:04 AM

  30. Some irritants off the top of my head:

    More Than Anyone Asked For: This is the developer tic of, when only some small thing needs to be tweaked for better gameplay, making a radical change that completely eliminates not only the minor problem but all the good stuff that surrounded it.

    Monster Patches: This refers to designing the patch system so that patches are distributed in a single enormous 100 MB (or even larger) file. Why not distribute patches as numerous smaller files so that people who still have 56k modems can download them? There are still plenty such gamers whose machines are capable of running the typical MMORPG — why leave that money on the table unnecessarily?

    Buffs as “Gameplay”: Buffs — temporary passive enhancements or protections — are poor game design. They’re what you come up with when you’re too lazy to imagine or too cheap to implement actual active gameplay features. Gamers should demand better.

    Miracle Buoyancy: If you’re going to put large bodies of water in your game, heavy things (like characters, regardless of whether they’re wearing plate mail or not) ought to sink. Obviously not every law of physics can be implemented as gameworld behavior, but for me this one crosses the line from understandable to inexplicable.

    Class/level Myopia: For the love of little green apples, when is some developer going to make a AAA online game that dispenses with the “leveling-up” fetish? The time is long past for a game that features a highly detailed character creator and a gameworld in which all the content is “end game” content. No more Skinner boxes of “grind for XP, press reward lever, collect new level pellet, repeat,” please.

    Tank/DPS/Support Blinders: And while I’m on the subject of unnecessary developer tropes, could we finally see some major online games where the designers start with a clean slate, creating the grouped character gameplay that is optimal for that game’s unique IP regardless of whether it fits into the “holy trinity” roles or not? Where is the evidence supporting a belief that consumers will reject a game with great gameplay merely because it didn’t mindlessly recapitulate the combat-specific roles from fantasy-based online games and slap IP-related names on them?

    I Prefer Combat But They Made Me Design the [Crafting|Economy|Chat|Guild|etc.] System: If you can’t find a designer who is honestly enthusiastic about the opportunity to imagine an entire non-combat system, then either fire your recruiter or drop that feature from your game — possibly both. Designers who don’t enjoy what they’re designing produce gameplay that players won’t enjoy playing.

    I’m a Producer, But What I Really Want to Do Is Design: Please, if you’re a Producer, Senior Producer, Executive Producer, or Senior Executive Producer, stick to, you know, production. There’s plenty of work to do managing staffing and schedules and budgets and PR; you have no business inserting yourself into gameplay design just because your title gives you the power to do so. You presumably hired a Lead Designer or Creative Director to do that stuff — so let them earn their paycheck. If you really want to make the decision as to whether the game should be in first-person or third-person perspective, not to mention the eleventy-thousand other such design choices, then let someone else be the Producer who’ll actually concentrate on doing that difficult job well.

    Dang. Now I’ve gone and made myself grumpy. :)

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 30 July, 2009 @ 4:24 PM

  31. Ferrel wrote:
    My point is more that it doesn’t actually -have- to be that way just because it is that way.

    It doesn’t have to be that way, but it is for good reasons.

    In business, you have two types of costs: fixed costs and variable costs. Fixed costs are costs that you incur no matter what you do. Variable costs increase as you do more business (usually creating more goods). If I want to press CDs for my game, my fixed cost is the equipment to press the CDs, and my variable costs are the actual materials (discs, ink, etc.)

    The “problem” with MMO patching is that there are a lot of fixed costs. Getting manager approval, for example. It’s going to take about the same amount of time if you are fixing one issue or if you are creating a few month’s worth of content. Proper testing is another example, because MMOs have a lot of moving parts and you should test everything possible; the amount of existing content is so huge that testing is practically a fixed cost given the overhead for proper testing. (Yeah, “proper testing” and “MMO” don’t often go together in the same sentence. But, QA departments work hard in an impossible situation already, let’s not cut their feet out from under them.) Even taking the servers down and starting them back up is a fixed cost for most games, not to mention archiving of save games/databases.

    Doing more frequent patches still incurs these fixed costs. Instead of signing off on changes once ever 3 months or so, now they have to sign off every few days; this is important because you don’t want just any content being thrown into a game when a programmer feels like it. Usually. Instead of doing the multi-hour database backup process once every 3 months, now it has to happen every few days; this will require more workers and hardware to handle. If you have a game that is localized into other languages, you have to package up the changes and send them to translation services every few days instead of every few months.

    So, it’s not just developers not able to be bothered to patch more frequently. It’s because it’s significantly less efficient.

    If you cool fix in a single change to one ability of one class you will not be looking at those kind of resources expended.

    True, if you’re willing to allow individual developers to add content without as much management oversight, without extensive testing, without new content being translated on an equal basis, etc. Most companies aren’t.

    I agree with you. I have fixed M59 rapidly when we owned it through NDS and it wasn’t the big production that it was at 3DO. Then again, it was a very different environment and I wasn’t just a developer, I was the owner. The fast fixes didn’t make our German licensees very happy, though.

    Comment by Psychochild — 30 July, 2009 @ 4:37 PM

  32. GameSetLinks: Flower, Sun, And Fame

    [...] Psychochild’s Blog » MMO irritants Totally fun list, of course, from a veteran dev. [...]

    Pingback by GameSetWatch — 31 July, 2009 @ 12:44 AM

  33. The “blandness” that bhagpuss talks about in comment #2 is, I think, an admission that MMOs aren’t really that interesting. The more flaws you pare away, the more it becomes obvious that something needs to be done to replace them.

    “For the love of little green apples, when is some developer going to make a AAA online game that dispenses with the “leveling-up” fetish? The time is long past for a game that features a highly detailed character creator and a gameworld in which all the content is “end game” content. No more Skinner boxes of “grind for XP, press reward lever, collect new level pellet, repeat,” please.”

    Most of the MMOs I’ve seen that do dispense with progression tend to be absolutely brutal for new players. Single-player games get around this problem by controlling what the player does, and this is hardly a good solution because people want to create a character, jump in and play with their friends. There’s room for improvement in the design, undoubtedly, but I simply won’t play any game without the ability to solo, because I’m Australian and it’s going to be extremely unlikely that the game will be balanced for the Australian online population. If I can’t do something fun on my own, I’m probably not going to get very far.

    Comment by Merus — 31 July, 2009 @ 2:53 AM

  34. Just thought of another irritant:

    How can you ride if you have no horse?

    Travel is a mess in most games. Why do I have to wait until a certain level to get a horse (or other “fast” mode of transportation)? Especially on alts: I’ve pounded this ground before, thanks. Suddenly you get to the special level and you get a mount. (Note that WoW is starting to give mounts sooner, though.)

    The corollary to this is when you get your mount taken away. I was cranky in WotLK when I got my flight form taken away. Or Moria’s reputation grind to get a new goat mount. Stop taking away things I’ve worked for, damn it!

    Comment by Psychochild — 6 August, 2009 @ 3:16 PM

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