Monday, October 25, 2010

Howzabout: Voluntary Difficulty Tradeoffs

In the wake of an underwhelming Blizzcon, I wanted to throw out an idea for criticism and analysis.

One of the main sources of arguments in the MMO blogosphere seems to be the differences between traditional old-school MMO values and modern WoW-espoused MMO values.  MMO traditionalists put immersion before ease, and quality socialization before mass market appeal.  Modern MMOers prefer to optimize their enjoyment -which is derived primarily out of advancement- but also respect the fact that MMO's are a business first, and thus are more likely to make concessions to immersion to support a broader audience.  Neither the Traditionalists nor the Modernists are small enough to ignore -particularly because the blogosphere contains more vocal Traditionalists- so its a tough proposition for devs to fulfill the needs of both without failing on two fronts.

One form of compromise could be found in a system of Voluntary Difficulty Tradeoffs.  During character creation (or possibly in game) a player would be able to customize the gameplay experience to meet their needs for immersion and difficulty, and rewarding sacrifices appropriately.  The basic idea would be a two column menu, with sacrifices on the left side and benefits on the right.  Sacrifices would include things like:

-Semi Realistic Inventory: a sword doesn’t fill the same amount of space in a bag as a scroll does
-Realistic inventory: you can’t carry five swords, period.
-Movement affected by inventory: the more you carry, the slower you move
-Language differences (Dwarves can’t understand Humans, etc)
-No Insta-travel
-Vendors only buy items that they would realistically need or want
-Increased enemy AI (or at least randomly varied responses)
-Racial drawbacks:
 -Little types can’t carry much
 -Large types can’t move very fast
 -“Smart” types can’t learn physical skills as quickly
 -“Dumb” types can’t learn magic as quickly
-Generic “+Difficulty” for combat: Monsters have higher stats, know more skills, react smarter
 -And of course my favorite: Permadeath.

Each of these drawbacks would have an associated point value, so whichever combination you selected would allot you a total amount of points which you could then spend on Benefits such as:
 -Better loot drop %
 -Faster rate of advancement
 -Extra tradeskill slot
 -Access to Epic events, quest chains and locations
 -Faster movement
 -“Elite Flag” that serves no purpose other than to advertise that you’re a masochist

This allows players who still crave traditional “immersive” limitations on gameplay to scratch that itch and be rewarded for doing it old-school, while allowing modernists to play exactly as streamlined as they want.
This also plays into the idea of a difficulty slider, where a player can make combat more or less difficult at any time (outside of combat and dungeons), with an accompanying increase or decrease in rewards and experience.  Group difficulty would simply be the average difficulty rating of the entire party.

Disclaimer:  The bare bones outline for this idea has been sitting in my inbox since December 15, 2009, which means I don’t remember 100% if this is entirely my idea or is based on something someone else wrote.  If this looks familiar to you, please let me know so I can give credit where its due.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely, yes, let players define their own pain tolerance. I'm baffled by those who want a game to punish them, but there's no good reason to ignore those players.

    I have no problem ignoring players who want the game to punish *other* players, but everyone should be able to define their own masochism level. the same time, though, it's exceptionally easy to do a lot of these things with a little self-control. Permadeath, for example, is easy to do; just delete a character if it dies. There are guilds in DDO that thrive on this. Institutionalizing some mechanics for these playstyles might understandably not be a high priority when players really can punish themselves if they want to.

    Making it into a tradeoff, where playing in permadeath mode means 50% more XP, well, that might be worth investigating. But would it be worth dev time to implement? I'm not sure. That might depend on the game.