Friday, July 20, 2012

Uncapped PvE Content and Prestige

Spinks pointed out the irony of WoW's 10-man raids: namely that the raids are too small to sustain a guild around a 10-man raid team. Raids were reduced in player count because of logistics and accessibility concerns. Now they are so small that they cause logistics and accessibility issues. /ironic

This reminded me about uncapped PvE content. WoW used to have uncapped encounters in the form of world bosses, and it will be getting some new ones in Mists. Rifts are uncapped, as well as other forms of Public Quests. PvE content in Eve has no player count limit. Many of the original raids in EQ and FFXI were also uncapped.

It's important to note that there are no "balance scaling" mechanics in these systems. Mobs don't receive extra HP with every player at the fight. Nor does more money or gear drop depending on the raid size.

There are some advantages to unrestricted PvE encounters:
  • Bring as many friends as you want. No one has to be second string or on the bench.
  • Bring as few friends as online. You don't need to cancel the raid if one player doesn't show up, because the encounter is not necessarily attuned for X number of players.
  • Risk and Reward are inherently balanced. Larger the party, the less risk involved, but fewer payouts per person.
  • Challenge is self-ordained. Make the fight as easy or hard as you want.
  • Pick-up-groups could do any content. ++Accessibility
I see four reasons that players raid:
  1. Story/Content
  2. Power (e.g. character progression, money, gear)
  3. Challenge
  4. Prestige
Players interested in fulfilling the needs of Story, Power, and Challenge will have their needs met by the uncapped system. Players can easily experience any content they wish; they simply need to bring enough bodies. They can toy with risk and reward to modify the power payouts. And they can adjust the difficulty by inviting a different number of raiders.

Those seeking Prestige, however, will not be happy with an uncapped raid. If the encounter were a signal of prestige, and because of its challenge or accessibility, predicates that the access or completion of the content is rare, then Prestige players would want as few people in that elite club as possible. The scarcer the resource, then the more valuable it is deemed. The rarer the achievement, then the more distinction it bears. 

Some times there is confusion regarding the difference between Prestige and Challenge. Prestige certainly can and often does derive from Challenge. If a task is difficult, then fewer people are capable of completing it, thus making the success rarer. But Prestige can come from a time commitment: e.g. level 99 in Diablo 2. If everyone were dedicated enough to reach level 99, it would not be prestigious (like level 85 in WoW).

The Achievements you unlock, the gear you wear, and the stories you tell are trophies that signal your prestige. The more people with those trophies, then the less special they are. But the players seeking content, money, and challenge will all be having fun.

From a development and design perspective, less time needs to be allocated to meticulously balance and rebalance fights. Obviously the encounter payouts need to be in line with other content so that players have an actual choice. But there is no need for a scheduled nerfing or complex algorithms that adjust the difficulty based on the number of players. Let us decide our level of risk, reward, and challenge.

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