Taking heat for dissecting a game

Over the last couple of days there has been a bit a stir in the MMO blogging community, mostly because of a post on Wolfshead Online where he decided to take a critical look at EQ2’s first 15 minutes. I love this kind of post, because I enjoy when people really look at a specific aspect of a game. Another example of such a dissection is Oli Welsh’s “Ten Level Test” series.

Now the case in question this week is one in which Wolfshead focused on his opinions the impressions a player new to MMOs or (coming from WoW) might get from EQ2’s first 15 minutes. Its a very narrow focus of study, and that focus is something people seem to be missing when they discuss the content of his post.

I believe he uses WoW in his examples because it is widely recognized as the MMO that reaches more new MMO players than others.   It is not ment as a direct comparison of WoW to EQ2 for players who are experienced in player various MMOs or even players that have only played EQ2. If you forget his focus, then you miss the whole point of the post.

Now for the record, I don’t know Wolfshead, or any of the bloggers that disagreed with him, and my comments below I did not make to defend Wolfshead. I am making these comments because the online discussion prompted me to ask myself what I thought, and I started this blog to record such thoughts.

I keep hearing people harp on him for bringing up the ESRB logo’s size, and I shake my head. Why wouldn’t he? I cannot count the number of times I have complained about the amount of time it takes to “get in” a game, passed all the intro screens.  Thus I completely agree that SOE could improve the user experience by getting players in faster, and eliminating a screen.

Background on the loading and log-in screens.
I have not personally seen the EQ2 screen in a long time, and I am not sure it really matters. If you are a new MMO player and go to log into wow for the first time the Lich king log in screen really does not relate much to you, anymore than the EQ2 screen does for new EQ2 players.  I think what is more important, is speed. How quickly can I get from the time I click the icon to the time I am at character selection screen. Faster is better.

Character selection / creation background image.
Ideally I think the background should represent where you last logged out, or where your character will be “born” . Thus I would say both games fail. Outside of that, I really don’t think there is any impact to new players.

Character models.
This is a big one. Everyone drop your personal opinions over the side of the boat, we have rough sailing up ahead. You may think the original EQ2 models were good , or you may like the new models, or heck you may think the WoW models are better than both. I don’t care, and I don’t think Wolfshead really did either.

His point was that new players should be presented with a consistent. Even though I really like the look of my first EQ2 character I agree the original models are not very consistent in look or feel.   The new models are better, but wow’s art team nailed the art direction for consistency.  Oh and he’s also right that while the player should be able to create an ugly model, the game should not do it for them. Random models options, should probably not be completely random.

Character customization / options
Then wolfshead jumps in to the actual creation options. Another place I think people simply can not separate themselves from their own opinions. Too many options are close to universally bad in game design. Is the City of Heroes Character / costume creator one of my favorites? Yes, it is but I also think they could improve it by hiding options of newbie players.

Wow took the accessible route, and made it simple for players to create the characters look, and I agree SOE might want to find a to hide some of those choices on an advanced tab, maybe create sever default “sets” that are available for a newbie to select from. Then they can chose to customize that template.

Edit: Listening to the ChannelMassive Postcast 98, has prompted me to add something. I really do not believe Wolfshead is against having lots of options. What he is against, and I agree with, is having lots of meaningless options does not help a game win over players.  I really believe that WoW limiting the options it provides at creation was a very smart move, for that type of game. (City of Heroes and Champions need a lot more options at the start)

Class Options
Way back at the start of EQ2 they had a 3 tier class system. One where you selected a base roll, and played a while in that role, then moved on to a narrower role and played for several levels before finally selecting your specific class.  In theory that was a great system to keep player choices limited and to give them time learning as they developed.

In practice rolling alts was boring and repetitive to the point that SOE ditched the system. Now you can select your specific class from a list of 24. Geesh, I agree with Wolfshead; too many choices for the newbie. I believe once you pass about 12 classes , you have too many.

Again for the newbie.  Not for someone who has been playing various MMOs and can id and enjoy the subtle differences between classes. I am not trying to pick on EQ2, personally I love all the different classes, and would have no problem if they added more. But for a someone new to that sort of game, you are overwhelming them with options.

I would have to give EQ2 a fresh look for myself before I could really comment on their default UI. I remember thinking it was not as fresh, crisp, clear, or customizable as WoWs, but I also recall it being more a style choice and not something that functional reduced my ability to enjoy the game. Â I don’t take mods/addons into consideration simply because most newbies wont either.

Starting Quests
The last time I played EQ2 I tried a fay, and started in their newbie area. I do recall throughout the game EQ2 has lots of quest text, which I personally don’t mind reading, but for some reason I remember it not presented in a very easy to read fashion.    *shrug* Since I don’t recall for myself, I am going to have to simply say that you can have too much text. It is possible, most new players want to play and not read.

I think its funny that no one refutes Wolfshead statement that at those early levels combat can be a bit slow. No instead they state the obvious; its a design choice to allow for the application of AAs.  Of course it is. But the fact remains without AAs some parts of EQ2 combat feel a bit slow. Where I disagree with wolfshead is that I believe the just slightly slower casting in combat might be good for new players. Heck I think spending a bit more time on each combat is a good thing for allowing players to learn and orient themselves.

As for number of new abilities. You would have to do some serious data mining such as; looking see how many times a player that stopped playing a character before reaching X level used each of their abilities. I do believe you can overwhelm a player with options, and I basically agree in that 1 new combat ability each level is probably enough for a new player to grasp.

I don’t recall ever not know when I was in or out of combat in EQ2, but ideally every game should make it very clear to the player.

Crafting/Gathering introduction
Again I agree and disagree with Wolfshead. I agree that if combat is the main activity of your game then introducing concepts that are not combat related early could simply confuse a new player. On the flip side if trade skills are an intricate part of your game, then I see no problem introducing them to the player early.

When I say introduce, I mean lead the player by the nose. Before they can pick up resources of craft they should be led to a quest giver that can teach them about the activity and then ask the player to demonstrate their understanding.  Make those quests part of the core quest line a new player would follow. You might even make it the very first thing they do.

“Hey soando, welcome. We really need some extra hands around here, our supplies are running short and we need more XXX. You can find them here and here. Please gather # and take them to YYY. Then come right back to me.”

Then you can have popup or tutorial messages explaining the gathering system as the player runs out to do their first quest.

Oh look I have an opinion

Yes, yes I know you love EQ2 you think its a grown up MMO. It has depth and complexity and if you don’t get that than go away.   We don’t need WoW’s casts offs in our game, and we don’t want our game to become WoW.  I get all that; really I do. I actually agree with you to some extent.  I do think there is room in the industry for different levels of depth and complexity, and don’t think EQ2 has to change any that.

I also believe is the first 15-30 minutes of a game are crucial to gaining new players, and new players who stick around and pay would be a good thing to SOE. (They are in the business of making money after all).  Thus any studio should be constantly re-evaluating the start of their game to see how it can be improved and I also believe it is a good exercise for designers of any level.

But I suspect many of the bloggers out there completely missed the point(s) (and maybe I did too) of wolfshead’s post and thus you have been trying to counter it, when there was no need.  I thought about going to debate other people’s statements, but in the end doing so would solve nothing. And it would make my post read like an attack on people, when it’s really just a recording of my thoughts.

But what I will do is link , for reference, some of the blogs that have discussed this. I would grab tweets also, but I am lazy today.:)

One response to “Taking heat for dissecting a game”

  1. I’ve said plenty already, but I’ll repeat what I said about the ESRB rating: It’s not just a bit of frill that prevents you from getting into the game faster. It’s one way that the game industry de-fangs politicians and people like Wackie Jackie when they start screaming about games “harming children”. Yeah, sure, maybe you don’t have kids ore are smart enough to know that EQ2 maybe isn’t suitable for 8-year-olds, but not everyone is as informed as you are. The large ESRB rating is one way that EQ2 makes sure that parents can make informed decisions. This information needs to be provided to parents for them to make the right decisions.

    Especially since Wolfshead is a game designer like me, I took him to task for complaining about something that is intended to let us do our jobs with less government interference. Maybe the ideal situation is that the government butts out of our work, but the self-enforced ESRB ratings are the best solution we currently have.

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