Monday, October 27, 2008

Introducing Static XP

Wow. This comment in a previous post deserves a second here in the spotlight:

Hatch said:

I just get annoyed when one ridiculously easy activity gives a good enough reward that it makes other fun activities not worth doing. For instance, I find raiding more fun that PvP in WoW, but since TBC there were many times where BGs or arena were by far the best reward for the time/effort investment. So tons of people ended up getting pushed into PvP when they didn't really enjoy it. Same with scenarios in WAR currently. With this system, I'd feel obligated to set up a deal with a friend, and I'm tired of having more obligations in the game due to reward imbalances. I'd rather everything reward roughly evenly, and then I can just choose the more fun activity for me.
This isn't anything new, and has been said a million times before, but Hatch gets the golden cookie, because as I was reading his comment it clicked, and made me think of a basic idea that could solve all this crap: What if you earned XP by the hour, and there was no 'best way to level'? I know it sounds stupid, but let's give it a rundown.

I've always hated twinks in BGs for the simple reason that NOT earning XP in WSG at level 19 seemed to completely defeat the purpose of calling them Experience Points at all. How is swinging your sword while hitting another player less of an experience than swinging it to hit a boar outside the city? I could see that killing level 1 boars all the way to level 70 shouldn't be an efficient way to grind, and killing level 1 players at 70 shouldn't reward rampant gankage, so let's take that train of thought a step further. Taking the 'tier' system of zones found in WAR, where there are different areas broken into level ranges (tier 1 = 1-10, tier 2 = 11-20, etc), and different BGs associated with those level ranges too, why not just have XP tick as long as you physically reside in 'your current tier'? Go pick flowers, stir up some world PvP, quest or queue for scenarios / BGs. There's no best way to level faster, so people will go about doing whatever they enjoy doing.

Fun activities that aren't as efficient no longer get penalized, because every activity yields equal reward.

Let's look at possible downsides:

People who can spend more time online will level faster. Uhh... do I really need to point out that this is the case regardless?

People will just AFK in their current zone for free XP: Make an 'idle hands' debuff like Warhammer has in its BGs that stops the ticking if you're just standing there, or autorunning into a tree. You have to be active to get XP, but it works for whatever it is that you decide to do.

What about quests? Quests will still reward gold and gear, just not XP. There will still be incentive to participate in other parts of the game (honor/gear for Arena, gold/gear for quests, rep/gear for dungeons) but Actual Experience is rewarded by experiencing the game itself! Go out there and do... whatever!... it all counts, and no playstyle is superior to another.

People would gravitate towards activities that were actually fun to partake in, be they public quests, scenarios, Arena, or tradeskilling. As long as you were doing anything, the 'no XP' debuff is removed for another 5 minutes. That way sitting in town making bracers, or posting auctions isn't a huge 'waste of time', but you can't just sit in town doing nothing.

The ONE inescapable downside I can see to this is playing catchup with a friend. There would be no way to accelerate your leveling to 'catch him' unless he logged off and let you. But that problem exists anyway. If you're ten levels behind your friend and he continues to play, the gap remains. Then again, if he's in the next tier, he could voluntarily come back to your zone (cutting off his XP), and help you play there until you were both even levels again.

On the upsides, there are plenty: No one could powerlevel to the end cap in 37.2 hours of your game being released. Everyone thats playing is leveling up at the same pace, and only those who were capable of not logging off for 2 months would reach the level cap. WoW had these kooky timed events like the gathering of Runecloth Bandages for the An'Qiraji war effort, or the farming of Sunwell Rep to open the armor smith on Sunwell Isle, but events like these would happen naturally given static XP. People would be reaching level 40 at roughly the same time as each other, and it would naturally allow the first groups to finally venture into Scarlet Monastery. Hitting level 56 to 57 would mean you might as well run Scholomance, because you won't be hitting the Outlands tomorrow if you grind grind grind.

I mean, right?




Crimson Starfire said...

I like your idea. It's kinda leaning toward a time based leveling system (aka EVE online). You might need to flesh it out a bit more, but it sounds like it has potential.

Krimspins said...

Hrm. I can't say I'm in favor of this. Part of differing a better player from a worse one is the knowledge one gains from playing. Even with mods like quest helper out there knowing the fastest xp path you can take is a separating factor. Just like being skilled enough to PvP your way to good gear. Arena is the first instance in WoW where greater skill rewards more than greater time commitment. Going backwards from this idea seems silly to me. It makes little sense to me as someone who has leveled every class, twinked at nearly all brackets, gotten gladiator in all brackets with multiple classes and done so from both horde and alliance to have to spend my time grinding out levels because the game would require it. I've done my time, please don't make me do it again! ;)

Lotharius said...

It's an intriguing idea, that's for sure. I think we can only speculate about how it will work. Not just for the teeming millions, but for ourselves too.

On the surface, I can't really pick holes in it but the rewards-investment-satisfaction-competition-human-mind relationship going on in MMORPG's is a very complicated thing. Would we really feel as satisfied if we got a flat amount of XP per hour? We'd always be acutely aware of the sense that we're getting the same reward whether we try or not. You could sit in a raid trying your very best, busting your add-ons, manipulating those complex macros and giving things your full attention and you'll be getting the same amount of XP as the guy who's sitting there picking his nose, watching TV and refreshing his DoT's now and again.

I think people like the idea that their can bolster their returns when they need to. If I do a fairly straightforward questline, I get a fairly average XP reward but sometimes you'll do a massive questline and get a massive reward at the end and it's part of the satisfaction.

Sure, you could just make it a massive item rewards and not XP but would you be losing some of the incentive/satisfaction?

Also, if you still allow gear rewards from certain activities than participation will just be driven to those activities, won't it? People will do whatever improves their character the most. Whether that's the best XP or the best gear, in a game that is progressive by it's very conception, popularity of activities will be dictated by the greatest opportunity for improvement. So what if we get the same XP in town as we do in this dungeon, this dungeon has EPIX!

So it may well fail to achieve what it ultimately sets out to do and it's quite possible we would lose some of the rich tapestry that keeps us running on our treadmills like good little hamsters. I can't really put my finger on what those are but a distant instinct tells me that there will be something less satisifying about it. If I want more XP for a bigger challenge then I can do that, if I want something not so challenging, I'll get less XP. It's nice to be able to 'kick it up a notch' if you’re in the mood for it.

I think it would be much better to just bring the activities into line in terms of rewards. It's an ongoing job but it's not impossible. Take Warhammer, I left because I was sick of being forced into scenarios, and my min/max personality wouldn't let me settle for reduced progression rates. If they made PQ's and quests award a very similar amount of XP as scenarios than that would be hunky dorey and I'd probably still be there instead of back grinding out achievements and gold in anticipation of Northrend. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE scenarios and BG's but I don't want to do them 24/7 because mob and quest XP is a joke and PQ's are deserted. I want to change as I see fit. Spice of life and all that.

I think balancing the rewards is the answer, not standardizing them even if I can't quite articulate why. Homogenisation is a dangerous path to tread, IMO.


-A notaddicted refugee.

John said...

I would like to see no XP. No more levels. Just upgrade weapons. Quests can upgrade the gear. For Casters pages with spells on them can drop from certain dungeons.

Wow is kind of like this. It is (was, I stopped playing a few months ago) Make it where quest rewards are gear sets and weapons drop from bosses in the first dungeon. To get to the Second Dungeon you will need more health and DPS and it would be wise to get the gear from the previous dungeon. Or even get an item that would be soul bound to your toon that will let you into the next dungeon. So on and so forth.
I know it is vague and can see the grind for gear, but it would remove the grind for XP and that is one grind that seems to take the fun out of the game for me.

Hatch said...

I like the idea. :) It seems to add more pros than cons.

I'd be very interested to see what kind of game WoW would become if people just did whatever they thought was most fun. Would we be surrounded by level 80 characters who had never killed a boar or another player, but had max professions and thousands of gold from the AH? Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?

I once tried to get a friend into the game. We had some issues because I was active at max level and he was leveling a new guy (before recruit a friend). It was exacerbated because he would much rather spend time on the AH and farming cash than doing quests to level. I'd log in hoping that I'd find that he'd gained 3 levels, and instead he'd be the same level, out farming grey mobs for cash and linking me all the cool boe blues he bought on the AH.

And he kept buying melee weapons with strength on them, no matter how many time I told him that they aren't good for hunters.

If stable xp were in place, maybe he wouldn't have quit...

Ixobelle said...

Just like being skilled enough to PvP your way to good gear.

This wouldn't really affect arena at all, since you still need to be level 70 to even have an arena team. It's mostly affecting the 'road to 70'.

You could sit in a raid trying your very best, busting your add-ons, manipulating those complex macros and giving things your full attention and you'll be getting the same amount of XP as the guy who's sitting there picking his nose, watching TV and refreshing his DoT's now and again.

But alas, this is the case anyway ;) Raid or 5-man XP doesn't vary on your place in the DPS or Healing charts.

I do agree that this isn't a blanket solution, but it would be a much simpler approach to even out leveling than trying to tweak every reward from every quest to entice people out of scenarios. I keep applying it to that current situation, but it applies across the board, regardless of what game you play (grouped XP versus solo, raiding vs 5 mans, AoE grinding vs actual questing).

Tom Phoenix said...

First of all, nice blog. We are going to have a lot of interesting discussions. ;)

As for the topic at hand. While I am all for having various means of progression, I do not think a time-based leveling system would work out well. While it does attempt to basically take a middle between hardcore and casual players, it really does not end up pleasing either. Hardcore players would be upset with the inability to speed up their progress while casual players would be upset with the fact that their progression is based on how much time they can afford to spend playing the game.

Lotharius provides an excellent point in that people do not just want to be able to choose how they level but also AT WHAT PACE they want to level. If hardcore players want to breeze through the process, they should have that option. Likewise, casual players should be able to level at their own pace without being severely hindered by their limited playtime.

Rather then having one single solution, I think this problem would require several changes in order to resolve it:

- A greater use of the Rest system. I like the Rest system as it prevents casuals from being seriously hindered by their lack of time. However, the amount of XP you can rest for should be increased slightly.

- An action-based XP gain in Battlegrounds. Rather then earning XP for AFKing in a BG, players should obtain XP from actually fighting and killing the enemy. Bonuses, based on the earned amount of XP, would stem from completing BG objectives and actually winning the engagement.

- More options for gaining XP. Basiclly, there should be more ways for one to earn XP. That way, one could either earn XP solely through that activity or use it as a supplement to his other activities. For example, there could be faction quests which require craftsmen to create and/or gather a specific amount of material for the military (or some other organisation) and they get professional training in return which is represented through XP reward.

- A secondary time-based XP system. This proposition might seem strange as I argued against a time-based system. However, my proposition is slightly diffrent.

Like with the original suggestion, you basiclly get XP for every hour of play. However, the primary way of obtaining XP would still be activities (Questing, PvP, Crafting etc.). Furthermore, the bonus XP from this would be meager. This means that it would be so small to not make it worthwhile to AFK through the entire process while still giving a person a slight incentive to play.

By the way, does anyone read the recent older entries (such as those about trade skills)? I wanted to reply to those, but I want to see if anyone actually reads those comments before I spend my time writing a reply.

Ixobelle said...

I read the older entries to see if anything new has come up, but I can't gauge traffic for other users. One of the biggest things I miss about Not Addicted is the fact that stories can be tracked according to account, and when I log in there I can see "Story X was read 400 times, has 7 comments, one of which is new". I think regular users could see the "X comments / 1 new", but probably only admins could see the times a story was actually viewed. In a blog setting, there is no "click the link to go the actual story", it's all just laid out here on the index... it tends to make longer posts kinda clog up the front page, but I guess there's always the right hand navigation pane if you want to jump down to a diff story.

On the top at hand (!), yes I agree it would frustrate people, but I think it would really slow down the leveling pace, which is a good thing, and probably its best feature. A lot of times, people can't be bothered to run a dungeon more than once or twice (unless it's end game), because they know they'll outgrow the drops there too quickly to care really.

Is forcing people to slow down and smell the roses really the solution, though? I dunno.

Lotharius said...

"You could sit in a raid trying your very best, busting your add-ons, manipulating those complex macros and giving things your full attention and you'll be getting the same amount of XP as the guy who's sitting there picking his nose, watching TV and refreshing his DoT's now and again."

/But alas, this is the case anyway ;) Raid or 5-man XP doesn't vary on your place in the DPS or Healing charts./

I manage to fluff up my point here a bit. Let me clarify.

If I'm in a group fighting the toughest beasties in the land and wiping is a real possibility so we're all having to be on the top of our game I would get the same XP reward as the level 70 Mage who is meleeing level 1 Boars.

That would be the reality in this situation. Sure, the Mage isn't going to get any awesome loot this way but he's going to get the same XP/hour and something seems wrong with that.

I remember back in AC when they first introduced Valley of Death. It was seriously dangerous but it was great XP. If you got yourself a tight group then you made XP a lot faster than what you could solo but then soloing was easier, there was less risk of death and you could do it whilst having a conversation with your girlfriend without risk of a trip to a lifestone. This is back when grinding mobs was really the only way anybody levelled (we're so spoilt now really).

The greater risk and effort had a bigger reward - does that not seem fitting?

These games are about progression in as many facets as possible.

XP - increases our level
Gear - increases our ability
Farming - increases our gold
Achievements - increases our e-peen

These progressions are further broke down into sub categories

Gear - increases

A) collecting honour
B) collecting Arena points
C) collecting badges
D) collecting raid tokens
E) farming rep

Basically, the very premise of the games we play is progression. To slowly add to a pool that slowly increases our characters. The challenge for the developer is to hide these time sinks behind as much 'fun stuff' as they can. The less we see of the grind, the happier we are but I think we intrinsically need it because it's essential to these games, it's essential to any game, really. It's been around for ever it's basically just the 'high score table'.

By making XP flat you're removing part of this score. Everybody is scoring the same! You're taking away one of these essential progressive paths which seems contrary to the idea. If anything, games have been adding in MORE of these things (achievements, tome of knowledge etc) because it is ultimately what we want, as much as we moan about grinds.

I think my key point is overlooked too, this wouldn't make everybody do whatever they thought was fun they'll gravitate towards whatever had the best gear - the only remaining 'high score' under a stable XP system.

So let's take this to it's natural extreme, why not stabilise gear? If you want everybody to just do the activity that is fun for them without feeling they're missing out and without being compelled to do something that offers greater rewards, this would be the only way to do it. Say once we hit various XP numbers we get our new gear from a vendor.

Would such a game be anywhere near as cool?

If we came to this point we'd lose much of what separates us from games like FPS titles.

I think that outlines an issue with what you're proposing at the very concept level.

Tesh said...

In addition to the concerns expressed thus far (especially about pacing and players wanting control over it), isn't this just one step closer to selling XP for cash? It's also going to make the "have more time, have more success" factor. Yes, it exists already, but when you could just find the cruise control sweet spot and go play something else while the game client is running (coming back every few minutes to click on something), you're really not encouraging good behavior.

Also, writing a script to make characters autorun in circles or click here and there on the screen is pretty trivial work. You could even do it mechanically, so there's no way to trace it from Blizzard's end.

Melf_Himself said...

Seems similar to Eve's system.

I'd go a step further and just remove levelling altogether...