Insert X skill to continue

Over at Rohan’s blog there is a discussion between him and Spinks about whether the different skills of a raider are correlated or not. Is somebody who is good at maximizing DPS output also likely to be good at moving out of the fire etc.? The purpose of discussions like these is the old question on how to measure skill or performance in a MMORPG endgame. But I think that discussion completely misses the real point!

Imagine measuring skill would be possible on an absolute scale. Even after having overcome several impossible problems to arrive at this point, we are still left with two far more fundamental problems:

1) If your skill is not X or better, you cannot access content Y.
2) If your friend’s skill is not X or better, you cannot visit content Y with him.

Thousands of developer posts, patches, and discussions on blogs and forums can be summarized as such: Modifying the value of X in the above 2 fundamental problems. Only that of course modifying X doesn’t really change anything. The choice of X is completely arbitrary. Make it higher, and less people can access content, but they will feel better about themselves for being so exclusive. Make it lower, and the exclusiveness disappears, but you get more people able to access the content. In reality there is no good value for X, every possible solution excludes some people from playing, prevents some from playing with their friends, and isn’t exclusive enough for some others.

This has gone on for so many years that people don’t even realize any more that this is far from the only possible way to handle an endgame or even a competitive challenge. If you play darts in a pub, you are unlikely to be kicked out just because you aren’t very good at it. You just have to live with a lower score on the board. Why shouldn’t that be possible in a MMORPG raid? You and your friends go through a raid with no chance to “fail”, and at the end you’ll get a score how well you did. If you want to be “server best”, you can still find a guild of like-minded people an go for the highscore. If you just want to goof with friends, you can do that, without your rather nice but a bit slow buddy Earl being excluded.

That gets even more self-evident if you think of a MMORPG as a form of entertainment instead of a competitive sport. Imagine your TV had a remote brain-scanner attached, and if you didn’t pay attention to the movie or weren’t intelligent enough to understand it, the movie would stop, and you would be forced to watch it again from the beginning until the system determined you fully understood the story. Does that sound like a machine anyone would buy? And still some people are surprised that those not having X amount of skill rather stop playing a game and move on to another.

Nothing has done more harm to the community of massively multiplayer online role-playing games than the idea that grouping with the “bad people” will ruin your fun, with “bad” being defined on such an arbitrary skill measure. Even the “insert coin to continue” idea ultimately makes more sense than “insert X skill to continue”.

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20 Responses to “Insert X skill to continue”

  1. Tobold says:

    Do I understand the point of view post correctly — is it basically "you shouldn't need any skill at all to see all the game — basically like watching a movie where the only requirement is not to fall asleep"?

    That is not at all what I said. I said that skill should not be an exclusionary factor which decides who can see what content, and who can play with whom. Just like my darts example nothing stops you from being very good at darts and seeing a highscore there as a challenge.

    Challenge simply doesn't have to be binary, either you can achieve this or not, but could be done on a sliding scale on which everybody can find his personal sweet spot.

  2. Daniel says:

    Certanly, i would love it if there was a way for everyone to raid at a level suitable for their skill and desiered challenge level.

    Unfortiently this is a bit unrealistic atleast in WoW, however i don't think having more then 3 difficulty levels is impossible.

    How to scale the loot/rewards might be a bit harder but as i posted previously i woulden't mind if the main difference between difficultys was more in the realm of cosmetic rewards, cool looking items, mounts and achivements instead of higer ilvl loot. With that type of reward system it would also be easier to switch to a higher or lower difficulty if you have the skills since skill would be the limiting factor instead of gear.

  3. Solf says:

    Oh and where did 'subscribe to topic' button go???

  4. Solf says:

    Do I understand the point of view post correctly — is it basically "you shouldn't need any skill at all to see all the game — basically like watching a movie where the only requirement is not to fall asleep"?

    If so, then I will say that you're flat out wrong. In the specific sense that there is segment of population that wants nothing to do with such approach to 'gaming'. If nothing else, this segment consists of me.

    So any such 'game' would lose me as a subscriber, whereas game with smoothly rising series of challenges (and with those rising high enough that I will not reach 'the end' for a loooong time) will get me as a subscriber.

    So no, making all 'games' to have no challenges whatsoever is not the ultimate answer.

    We can argue loads as to what segment is bigger and which one is more profitable to monetize, but the fact of the matter is that "no challenge for the sake of social chat" is not the "one fits all" answer.

    And having 'difficulty levels' (e.g. raid finder difficulty + normal + heroic) is nowhere near as satisfying as having rising level of challenge of different content (for a certain segment of population consisting, at the very least, of me).

  5. Tobold says:

    If you pay to be a party of a Soccer team you certanly should be allowed to participate in some tournamnets on a sutable level for your team but you shoulden't expect to be allowed in a national or international championship.

    Thus you agree that all 12 million WoW players should be allowed to raid at the lowest difficulty level, while the 25-man hardmode raids would be reserved for the "pros"?

  6. Daniel says:

    @Toblod
    "How many pro tournaments have 12 million participants? The idea that a MMORPG with so many players can be a pro level competitive sport is absolutely laughable."

    Helistar compared HM raiding to a Pro torurnament, not WoW itself.

    Soccer has over 250 million participants and still has Pro tournamnets.

    If you pay to be a party of a Soccer team you certanly should be allowed to participate in some tournamnets on a sutable level for your team but you shoulden't expect to be allowed in a national or international championship.

    In the same way you should demand that a game you pay for offer a difficulty level suited for for your guild. (raid difficulty if raiding is your goal.) But you shoulden't demand that that difficulty is the highest or the only difficulty available.

  7. Hobart says:

    @SolidState: Raiding in itself is not a competition. It's working together toward a common goal. Trying to down something worldfirst is competitive, but thats a user-generated goal. Think singing contest. Singing is not competitive naturally.

    @Tobold
    I think you can divide WoW's content into three categories as intended by the developer:

    1: Competetive & skill related
    Arena, Battlegrounds, anything PvP related

    2: Solo/Multi skill related
    Leveling up, Dungeons and Raids

    3: Fun Stuff, not skill related
    Holydays, Roleplaying

    Many players like number 2 for the challenge. Your solution (make it trivial and let the interested compete) means shifting 2 to either 1 or 3. But thats not what players want.

    I recently completed the first stage of the legendary dagger quest on my rogue. I found it really hard, had to try different strategies but finally overcame the obstacle and now I'm really proud of that. You'd take that away, if you made the event easier. No challenge = no sense of achievement.

    Clearing an easy encounter is NOT FUN for many many players. (try talking some t13 geared players into doing City of Tol'Vir non hero just for the fun of it -its booooring. even if you made it a competition how fast you can do it [because its pointless])

    Blizzard has found a good solution in gradually nerfing raid encounters.

  8. Tobold says:

    Would you bring a random friend at a pro tournament of a sport/game he knows nothing about?

    How many pro tournaments have 12 million participants? The idea that a MMORPG with so many players can be a pro level competitive sport is absolutely laughable.

  9. Helistar says:

    Well, it must be my reading skills failing (or your writing failing), but it seems to me that you completely missed the point of Rohan's posts and went on a tirade which, BTW, off the mark.

    Of all MMOs, WoW pretty much allows you to play at ANY level, just choose the activity which suits you/your friends best. Would you bring a random friend at a pro tournament of a sport/game he knows nothing about? No, he would be laughed out of the place. So don't bring him in an HM raid with a hardcore guild. Go with the raid finder, go do some normal dungeons, go wandering around doing some quests. Nobody kicks you out of random quests :)
    And if he really wants to do some HM raiding, just wait: the content is nerfed over time, while gear goes up, so there comes a moment where the hard modes are a lot less hard and even someone who is not dedicated can do it.

    I really don't see where the problem is.

  10. The Renaissance Man says:

    This isn't anything new to multiplayer games. If your friend sucks at Halo, you aren't going to make it through Co-op on Legendary, and you probably won't make it anywhere in Dark Souls Co-op. If your friend sucks at rugby, they're gonna get benched, at best, if they try out for the club team at college. If a player can't stay out of the gutter, they're getting replaced in the bowling league. They don't lower the rims in basketball just because you can't dunk.

    Hell, even in non competitive group activities, kill acts as a barrier at times. In casino rueda, the caller is unlikely to avoid specific calls just because you can't dance, and if you screw up enough, your partner will probably find someone else to dance with.

    The fundamental flaw is that certain content in games is built to be approached not as something that you just pick up and go, but as something to be approached more seriously. Think of it not as a game, but as a hobby. The moment that you start blocking off multiple hours of time consistently in your schedule, you've left behind any claim to not be taking an activity seriously. If you spend every Thursday afternoon in the park playing Chess, the local players will very quickly expect you to actually figure out how to play chess. If you go to rucker every friday, the locals will expect you to know how to dribble.

  11. Daniel says:

    The choice of X is completely arbitrary. Make it higher, and less people can access content, but they will feel better about themselves for being so exclusive. Make it lower, and the exclusiveness disappears, but you get more people able to access the content."

    While exlusiveness might be the driving factor for some people i can't say i have seen much of that. For most raiders i have played with and talked to the interesting thing is challenge, if there was a good way to make content acessable AND challenging(at a good level) for everyone i don't think that many people would complain.
    The problem with the current model in WoW and similar games is the limited number of difficultys, with only 3 diffuculty levels to choose from the odds of any of them beeing just right for you/your group is quite small and any adjustments made will affect a large part of the community eather by making it to easy for the people who found it just right or to hard for the pople who found it just right.

    An other problem is the rewards in a game with item driven progression, if Higher difficultys only gave Better looking (Or just diffrent looking) gear, achivements and perhapse a mount or similar
    instead of gear with better stats more people would probably be satisfied with doing the lower difficulty and not feel preasured to progress to a harder difficulty since the rewards wouldn't be needed for character progression.

  12. Azuriel says:

    The problem isn't the exclusiveness of the content at higher difficulties. The problem is that once X goes below your own personal value, the game gets boring.

    You can imagine a raid tuned to the median level, and yet your group just one-shots all the bosses. So… what now? Hopefully there will be enough difficulty segmentation such that you can go do heroic mode or whatever, but the problem persists if your buddy isn't as good at the game. There is no real solution – just a choice of what kind of game design you want to promote.

  13. Bhagpuss says:

    Having played darts in pubs for many years in my youth I can tell you that your example is badly flawed. This may have changed, but when I used to play the general rule in most pubs I visited in several cities over several years was "winner stays on".

    Any player of any standard could get a single game. You marked your name on a board or told the person who was keeping the list (for pool you would put your coins on the side of the table). When your turn came you would get to play your one game but unless you won it would be your only game until your turn came round again. The person who won, however, would immediately get another game as he or she played the next opponent.

    Skill in darts led directly to playing more darts. Lower skill made for fewer games. Barrier to entry dictated by skill.

    Leaving that aside and going back to MMOs, what's wrong with practicing and getting better? If your nice but dim friend Earl can't get sufficiently better then he can't play with you at this particular activity. In real life he wouldn't be getting invited along for activities with you and your friends that required skills he doesn't have. You don't do all things with all friends. You do a subset of things with different friends.

    Raiding in MMOs is a specific subset activity. No-one is saying you can't play MMOs with you less-skilled friend, just that when you do you have to choose appropriate activities within them.

  14. Callan S. says:

    My friends used to play cricket – they had grades, I think starting at D and going up to A.

    D was pretty much whatever, while A was pretty damn serious and the in between grades went from one extreme to the other. In A grade, yeah, you don't cut it, you don't play. In D grade, you turn up, you play in some way shape or form (probably with a beer in your hand at the same time).

    The thing is, why is 'seeing the content' such a big deal?

    In terms of your low scoring team example, why do they need to see the content? Why's it a big deal for them?

    Or is it that some of them don't care, while some do?

  15. SolidState says:

    @Tobold, to boil down your question to basics, you're asking if competition and personal relationships mix well. The answer of course is an emphatic no :)

    To be more precise in my answer – if *I* was competing with my team and the team kept losing because my friend/wife was the worst player in it – I wouldn't kick them. I'm playing in the little league after all, the prize is a cheap little statue made of plastic and anyway the team , well we're mostly not about the competition but about the beer and laughs anyway. But I'd probably lose Joe, since he's actually a very good bowler and is aiming to go with a team that's competing at the state level. And I might lose Laura, since she's pretty competitive too, regardless of the actual prize. She hates losing to other bowling teams and we lose, pretty much all the time. And that's OK, since my relationship with my friend/wife means more to me than my team/winning/prize. But I don't expect all people to have the same outlook on this as me.

    So if the above is an accurate representation of RL, why would you expect WoW to be different? People are the same after all, it's only the name of the game that's different :)

  16. Mika Hirvonen says:

    When talking about darts, X is the ability to hit the dartboard. If you can't hit it at all, the pub personnel will ask you to stop before you cause damage.

  17. Tobold says:

    @SolidState: So if you plan a fun night of bowling with your friends, you would be willing to kick one of them out because he isn't very good at it? What if that one player who isn't very good is your wife?

  18. SolidState says:

    If you play darts in a pub, you are unlikely to be kicked out just because you aren't very good at it. You just have to live with a lower score on the board

    I don't think this is a good comparison. Playing darts has no goal, therefore no failure criteria. A better comparison would be, say, a bowling team that plays in the local bowling alley. Here there is a goal, that the team as a whole beat the other teams. Now imagine if one of the players is a bad player, low bowling skill. How long do you think s/he will last on the team? … In fact this is true in any RL activity where there is competition, the lower-skill players simply don't do as well. If this is true in RL why shouldn't it be true for MMOs?

    That gets even more self-evident if you think of a MMORPG as a form of entertainment instead of a competitive sport.

    This is in fact the basis of your whole post Tobold – that MMOs in general, and WoW in particular, are just forms of entertainment and don't have a competitive element in them, or shouldn't.

    Yet nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, WoW (and many MMOs) is broad enough to encompass both game styles – entertainment and competitive. I'm sure you can think up of many examples of both styles, all valid, all ultimately bringing fun/satisfaction to the person doing them. So it is certainly not true that competition is the only currently valid game style in endgame WoW.

    Furthermore, I would claim that games *should* have a competitive element in them and that those that don't are generally more boring. People love competition, they seek it out – think of every RL ball game you know like soccer – the competitive element is huge there.

    But I think that discussion completely misses the real point!

    So my point is that WoW offers both game styles and that your post which dismisses the competitive style is the one which misses the point, not the original discussion! Sorry if that's harsh, but I guess there's a competitive element in discussions about WoW too :D

  19. Rohan says:

    Right, but that discussion came from a previous post, where I was contemplating giving your friend a personal buff that varied according to skill. That buff could push your friends "Effective Skill" over the mark X.

  20. MagrothJ says:

    Well said.

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