MMORPG Theory Discussion - Level Discrepency/Griefing?

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Not for any planned game as of yet, but I've been hitting up a few MMORPG's recently including my first, Everquest as well as reading various posts here on MMO design.

One of the main draws of an RPG I believe is a sense of reward and progress ... doing what the game wants you to do rewards you with some form of 'experience points' which make your character stronger, tougher. As well as earning money to buy new and better equipment (or being rewarded with equipment itself). Part of this reward is being able to venture further afield and fight deadly monsters.

Personally I feel this falls down when you bring the 'MMO' part to the party. Friends can out level you and you wont be able to play with them in the newest dungeon because your to weak ... or on the flipside your waiting for your friends to progress to join you. Than there is the idea of PVP, the more powerful player can run around ganking weaker ones with little threat from them.

So I suppose what I'm looking for is a 'Have your cake and eat it to' solution. Is there a form of progression that keeps players at least on an even footing while stilling letting them feel like they are progressing? So at level 5 you can play with your level 15 buddy and both have a fun and exciting time without certain threat of death due to being low level. Or that ten or so level 1's CAN fight off a level 30 player.

The other topic that comes to mind that can dampen fun is PVP ... either you have it and a few ruin it for everyone because all they do is gank the helpless singing trololololo all the way or PVP is removed because of this leaving those who legitimately want to have proper battles with other players out to dry. So wondered if there was a middle ground, fighting territorial battles for power and glory is promoted while "pwning n00b3" who are happily making elf cookies is punished?

I guess this is a very old horse of a topic, but I wanted to see what people thought these days on it? Can you have open world game, PVP, mechanically rewarding RPG gameplay and level player footing? Or is this the unreachable dream?

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[quote name='All Names Taken' timestamp='1356661337' post='5014949']
So I suppose what I'm looking for is a 'Have your cake and eat it to' solution. Is there a form of progression that keeps players at least on an even footing while stilling letting them feel like they are progressing? So at level 5 you can play with your level 15 buddy and both have a fun and exciting time without certain threat of death due to being low level.
[/quote]

I've never played a solution that scales players up (out in the world; in specifically set pvp areas (battlegrounds), that approach arguably works), but there have been some that would scale a player down (scale a lvl 10 down to a lvl 5 when he's in a lvl 5 zone) so you would be able to play with your lower level friend.

[quote name='All Names Taken' timestamp='1356661337' post='5014949']
Or that ten or so level 1's CAN fight off a level 30 player.
[/quote]

This is all just a matter of how you scale players as they level up. I recall a friend telling a WoW story of he and about 20 other people around level 40 going up against a level 60 paladin. He said the paladin won, but the paladin was easily the most survivable class in the game at that time. It seemed like no other class would have been able to survive that fight. I think if you're wanting this kind of thing to be viable in a game, you have to find a balance of making the player feel their power grows a respectable amount by leveling up but making it so that the numbers don't inflate so quickly that somebody being 2 or 3 levels above somebody else is an automatic win.

[quote name='All Names Taken' timestamp='1356661337' post='5014949']
The other topic that comes to mind that can dampen fun is PVP
[/quote]

For that statement, I feel you should be reminded that for some people it can dampen the fun; for others, it is literally the only reason the buy/install the game.

For the larger question of can this be done at all... I think it can but that is a very tough balancing act and is something that will take lots of staying on top of what your user base is saying about different features and you educating them (so that hopefully they accept your reasoning) or making changes that alleviate their concerns. If it were easy, I suspect lots of companies with very clever and experienced designers and developers would have put it together and copied the formula over and over. But as it stands, there seems to be a pretty significant challenge to putting together a collection of experiences in one world that keep pve players, pvp players, explorers, crafters, social/guild-type players, etc all satisfied.

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Leveling is a broken concept that breaks a lot of RPG games. I've played well over 100 RPG games, and I've never seen it a leveling system that was well implemented without tons of flaws.

In single player games it either artificially impedes your progress, or it causes other oddities that happen when they try and scale everything. This flaw eventually ruins all the elder scrolls games, and Final Fantasy 8.

In MMORPGs, it stops you from playing with your friends because you all end up in different ranges. And it makes players unable to compete with other players.

At it's core, RPGs are about people playing characters who have certain abilities, and cooperating with other characters who have different abilities to solve problems. Usually this involves trying to get through dungeons filled with traps, puzzles, and enemies, to find treasure at the end.

You have an intelligent character (tech / magic), a quick stealthy character, and a strong character. None of this requires leveling up.

A lot of competitive FPS games have leveling systems, but a level 50 character and a level 1 character are still on different footing. You simply get access to perks, and new weapons. But the new weapons aren't stronger. They newer weapons will tend to specialize on certain techniques, while the lower level weapons are more well rounded, for unskilled play.

You can do the same in an RPG. You can always have 100 HP, and just get better at certain things.

Your rogue can go from a simple thief who can break locks and disarm traps to someone who can sneak and scout ahead, or track animals, or any number of things. You design it like the COD weapons. A level thief is all round, but a high level thief has to play his style and cover the weaknesses opened up by his choices.

Your wizard can be the same. Starting out well rounded, but progressing to the point where they really have to rely on their magic abilities to not get damaged. That might be manipulating time so their attackers attack slower, casting regen, or using magic armor (depending on upgrade path).

A warrior can gain access to better weapons, but like the FPS system, they specialize. A big hammer is nice, but it only does blunt or bashing damage, and they have to pack a much weaker secondary weapon that can do slashing or piercing damage.

This way higher level players can enjoy a higher level of play, but they are not actually any stronger than level 1 players. They only have more specialized options. A room full of goblins is always just as challenging in a face to face meeting, and any group of players can be competitive against any group of players. Edited by Daaark

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So at level 5 you can play with your level 15 buddy and both have a fun and exciting time without certain threat of death due to being low level. Or that ten or so level 1's CAN fight off a level 30 player.

If you're looking for an example, Eve online does a good job of this:

- you can always bring a "lower level"  (smaller ship, less skilled) buddy along in your harder missions (to shoot smaller ships/get combat experience) as long as the higher level player is tanking, and the lower level player knows how to get out when they take aggro.  As well as this, high and low "levels" can go PVP together just fine.  Smart players will always take out the low levels first, but the low levels can still provide a valuable roll by holding down the enemy while the bigger ships get into range.

- in addition, in PVP, sheer numbers can always trap and bring down even the largest ship, although tons of the smaller ships will die in the process, and the bigger ships' tank usually gets stronger as the fight goes on, or allies get called in, etc.

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You could make it so that instead of getting numeric advantages, you gain more skills and are able to do more things. If you want to improve, then you could add equipment-based improvement so that you could make yourself stronger, but not extremely stronger (i.e. a tier 12 armor set would only give twice or three times as much health as a tier 1 set), and so that your friends could try to help you catch up. This way, your character can get stronger without depowering new players or relying on unreliable twitch-bsed combat.

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The problem with RPGs is when you set them in super competitive battlegrounds with a cap on the number of people per side. Of course no one wants to have more lower levels in a game with a maximum number of players allowed.

Its the player's fault for wanting to play MMOs as if they were fighting games or MOBAs.

Imagine an MMO battleground with a level cap and not a player cap. You can have 400 levels and not 10 level 40 players. 40 level 10s, 10 level 40s, 20 level 20s. Assuming of course the game was balanced to be that way. And the matchups might be random so you never know what you will get.

Of course everything is easier in non player vs player situations. Single player coop, large size coop, the computer side will never complain that its unfair or spew forth endless excuses about how the player side had 3 mezzers and they only had one and such.

Designing games to be serious competition always cripples fun and creativity.

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The other topic that comes to mind that can dampen fun is PVP

For that statement, I feel you should be reminded that for some people it can dampen the fun; for others, it is literally the only reason the buy/install the game.

Well as I mentioned it can be a dampening also if it is omitted due to its weaknesses ... unless your saying for some the draw is to grief, in which case I personally would have say they aren't the ones I want in my playerbase anyway. I was more thinking of how to have a system of PVP that rewards fun challenging combat between players and punishing abusive behavior.

AltarofScience: As far as competition I see your point, I've never really liked the idea of fanatical hardcore competition and rather versus situations between players is aimed more towards fun, although I know by its very nature some competition is always going to arise.

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I just really dislike that hardcore competition bleeds into other genres when it should stay in e-sports and MOBAs.

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The problem is that no matter how you approach it, griefing is "game content" for some people, and they will do it. It does not matter much how you try to tackle the problem:

Say a level 15 guy can easily kill a level 5 guy: They will do it. Penaltize them by flagging them "red" or "skulled"? They can still kill the level 5 guy and any number of friends that he brings for retaliation.

Say a level 15 guy can't kill a level 5 guy: Now there is no real incentive for levelling. But worse, griefers will now just use a low level character to circumvent any kind of penalty that you might come up with. They can kill someone with one of their "noob" chars, no need to take penalties on their "main" character.

Say three level 5 guys can kill a level 15 guy. Hooray, here come the zerg. A griefer might just multibox, too.

The only solutions that have a chance of keeping it to a reasonable level are not to offer PvP at all, or making griefing highly unattractive, while allowing normal PvP. Giving player guilds/alliances a way of reacting to excessive killing can be successful. Full loot, level loss, or permadeath may be successful.

But again, beware... anything you build in will likely be abused, and the more extreme, the worse. It's something that needs to be very carefully balanced.

For example, if you punish player killing by making a character perma-killable for an hour (a good way to prevent griefing, right?), you can already predict what will happen. Griefers will find a way of tricking others into attacking them so they lose their character forever. Total character loss? It can't get much better for a griefer. Edited by samoth

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The problem is that no matter how you approach it, griefing is "game content" for some people, and they will do it. It does not matter much how you try to tackle the problem:

Not really the case. The problem is the greifers are able to get something for their time invested in griefing.

Left 4 Dead had no time for Griefers. You HAD to help your teammates and stick with them otherwise you died and failed horribly. The game was designed well enough that the offending player was going to be the one to get taken out first, and have to spend the rest of the round watching the survivors play properly. If someone in L4D is being an asshole, it takes about 3 seconds to kick them from the game (even with a 360 controller) and have an AI bot take over their character until a new user comes in.

So just like the movie genre that the game takes all it's inspiration from. It's the asshole that get eaten alive first!

---

Demon and Dark Souls have great communities. Griefers are usually power gamers too. And has it turns out, the easiest way to gain souls (which are experience AND currency) is to help other players with difficult parts of the game in the form of a ghost. You get to keep all the souls for anything that is killed, and if you die, you lose nothing. While the game doesn't point it out, it's always in everyone's best interest to cooperate.

You can also PVP with people, but the tone of the game and the community tend to keep it to honorable dueling. If you feel like someone acted dishonorable, there is an item that adds their name to the list of wanted players. Then the online community, and especially those in the guild dedicated to hunting down these players will come down on them.

It means that anytime they make themselves visible to other players, they open the floodgates to be invaded by other players looking to teach them some manners. So it's in their best interest at that point to stay undead and not make themselves visible to other players. They lose the perks of not being undead, and they can't help others or get help, which only makes life more difficult for them, and blocks out some of the unique items which come in the form of NPC invasions.

It also helps that the game doesn't let you choose who you are playing with, or even chat with them. You can only communicate via hand gestures. So all your encounters are pleasant ones. When someone enters your game, you wave, bow, point to your objective, and get to it. Once the boss is dead, or the host leaves the area, the ghost player returns to their own game. It's often the case that the player being helped will say thank you, and leave an item. Which goes nice with all the risk free souls.

It's simply not worth your time to grief someone, and the game doesn't offer an interface to make it easy or encourage it. Acting like an ass means you'll face swift retribution or cut yourself off from lots of perks trying to avoid it.

***

You can ALWAYS combat bad behavior in games.

eg: If someone in an online racer drives backwards to crash into other drivers, disqualify them once they have driven backwards far enough for it not to be an accident, disqualify them. Then damage their vehicle (in single player too) so they have to go grind to earn \$ to repair it, and block them from online race entry for 15 minutes. No one will ever try it twice. You don't even have to make mention that the player was behaving badly. Just let their muffler explode and their tires get ruined. DQ due to equipment failure. ;)

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