Tag Archives: Darkfall

The evil of homogenization

In most games, players generally expect all players to have an equal chance in winning from the point of view of game mechanics, the end result being mainly reliant on the skill of the players or sometimes simple luck.

This expectation is not easily justified in the world of roleplaying games, where winning alone is difficult to characterize. Some would go as far as arguing there are no winners or losers in RPGs.

Despite this, a lot of very competitive gamers play massively multiplayer online roleplaying games. They create pressure on the developers, pressure not only to make games more competitive, but to make what little competition there already is in these games more fair or balanced.

Balancing is always important, even if a game’s playerbase isn’t particularly competitive. As a developer, you want different options of gameplay to be at least viable, even if they aren’t optimal. If you implement different choices but they are never utilized, you are wasting development time (or alternatively, attempting to trick players with false choice).

Even in a non-competitive game, balancing can still be a fairly complex deed. Making characters and playstyles varied, not too similar to each other yet still viable, is a demanding task. It is easy to imagine then that balancing in a way that makes different options not only viable but also equal in terms of performance is very difficult.

Traditionally in RPG balancing, complete equality in terms of performance has not been a goal, because it hasn’t been needed or called for. The players don’t expect it. A lot of players don’t even want it. But again, the player base of the MMORPG is different from that of other RPGs. These players often have a history in competitive online gaming and expect completely different things.

So we can see that satisfying both, players’ demands of fairness and of variance are very challenging to simultaneously achieve. What can the developer do?

While going for the lowest common denominator isn’t usually the best recommendation, I think the safest answer to the question would be to aim for a middleground. A game doesn’t need complete balance, but options don’t have to be extremely far from each other either in terms of performance. If you are giving players the option to play a gnome warrior or an ogre warrior, it’s fine to let the ogre be more powerful in the job – as long as the gnome is still playable despite some possible difficulties. If the gnome tries hard enough, maybe they can reach almost similar levels of performance as the ogre. Or maybe the gnome has a special ability, like being able to move silently. This approach keeps some level of variance and choice in place yet doesn’t go overboard with homogenization.

Talking about homogenization, this is the big problem with balancing. When developers try too hard to make performance equal for all the possible options, homogenization tends to happens, and unfortunately it has the capability of diluting gameplay. We can see this in effect in a couple of games. Darkfall made all the races use the same model to unify their hitboxes. World of Warcraft’s developers got stuck on looking at damage-per-second numbers and little by little made most of the classes of the same role feel very same-y – things that were unique to some classes, such as rogues’ crowd control or paladins’ strong multimonster tanking capability, were either given to everyone or removed.

My strong opinion is that the latter is bad design. Yes, greater balance and fairness is achieved, but something is lost on the way, something that is very close to the heart of the RPG genre. Variance in gameplay, immersion (the gnome and the ogre shouldn’t have an equal Strength score), the feeling of playing the character you chose – you know, roleplaying.While loudmouths on your game’s forum will never seem satisfied, in the end my belief is that it is better for a game to keep true to the genre, at least to a reasonable extent. Overdoing balance and homogenizing things along the way has the problem that in time, even the majority of the more competitive sorts who have been asking for fairer gameplay will come to realize your game has become bland, lost some of the magic that originally drew them in. In the end, diversity is a very big part of the draw of RPGs.

Carebears playing PVP games

Inspired by recent small-scale discussion in certain blogs on the subject of PVE servers in games centered and balanced around the idea of free-for-all PVP and player looting, I came to think of trying to put my finger on what makes a game of this type appeal to players who don’t do PVP combat at all – the carebears. The fact is, just about every game of the described type has those players who never fight it out with others – what is it that draws them to these games?

The economy game

Its well known there is a vocal group of people who are very strongly against any type of unconventional PVP in MMORPGs. I believe these people to be in the minority. Much like the PVP advocates who feel every game should be all about free-for-all PVP combat, I view this group as a niche. The majority of genre players probably fall somewhere in between the two extremes, as is usual with divisive features.

Just because a player does not want to engage in PVP does not mean they dislike it. EVE is a perfect example, as has been pointed out time and time again – warfare drives the economy, but participating in the economy in a very meaningful way does not require direct participation in combat against other players.

A meaningful, well balanced economy is interesting, and to a lot of people, reason enough to play an MMO. In the case of games where killing other players is possible and looting or partially destroying their stuff equally so, PVP helps to both drive the market forward and balance it, to the benefit of also the merchant who might not have an interest in direct conflict at all.

Ignoring the bad for the good

As gamers know all too well, the perfect game does not exist. Even our favorite games have their flaws which we look past because the rest of the game draws us in. Especially in the current market this is more true than ever, for the genre is not new anymore and people more or less know exactly what they want. Combine that with the fact in recent years the supply of MMORPGs has mainly consisted exclusively of the post-WoW themepark -subtype and we’re left with a situation where if one wants to play a new game, it is likely they’re going to have to look past a lot of features they personally dislike to get a piece of the good stuff.

ArcheAge is a very good recent example of this: a lot of FFA PVP-minded players are known to be playing it despite the game having many features they dislike and lacking others they would find suitable, simply because there is not much else for them to play out there in the current market.

Just like the free-for-all PVP crowd playing ArcheAge have to settle for “good enough”, so must many high sec EVE players. To a different extent of course, but in the end, FFA PVP is just a feature amongst others – just because it exists in a game doesn’t mean its the only thing to do.

Players will play a game the majority of which they like, even if they dislike some of it’s features. However, if some feature is especially offputting to a certain group of players, the features that group actually considers interesting should be of particularly high quality. Take Darkfall Online for example. A common argument to hear on why the game always had such a low population is that it features open world PVP and full looting. I would argue that this is only part of the problem – the real problem is that the game’s quality does not meet the expectations of players and the game lacks in just about all of it’s content. There just isn’t much else to do in the game but to endlessly murder others.

Just having a free-for-all PVP system doesn’t have to turn a game into a murder simulator. I feel a game with the feature can well be designed in such a way it is still interesting to the carebear. Its also important to noteĀ  that a game of this sort could still well include quality PVE content. And lastly, balancing the economy of a sandbox title without PVP seems like a pretty tough nut to crack to say the least.