Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Raiding Paradigm: part II

Yesterday I mentioned the two core assumptions that make up the WoW model:  the endgame paradigm, and the myth of parity .  In that first part, I describe Blizzard's endgame perspective that says that only raiders are allowed to level their character past the numerical level cap and achieve the true maximum levels in the game.  Now, I'd like to talk briefly about the other basic assumption, the myth of parity.

In this case, 'parity' roughly means equality.  The myth suggests that there are three basic activities in an MORPG: PvP, Raiding, and Questing, and all of them are about equal in terms of their importance to the game and the number of people participating in each of them.  These are the three "things you do" in MORPGs and the number of players enjoying each of them is about same.  So in order to maintain a well-rounded game that serves everybody, each of these populations must be served equally.

The problem with the myth of parity is that it is a myth in the classic as well as the common sense of the word.

In the common sense, it is a myth in that it tends to be false. There is some evidence to suggest that more players are active in the questing and leveling portion of an MORPG than in the raiding or PvP sides of things. Certainly this is true in the Sapience quote we referenced yesterday. LOTRO is specifically rejecting any concept of parity in its game.  Raiders do not make up even one-tenth of Lord of the Rings players, and in fact the number is down around 3%.

For other games where the developer hasn't made such a public announcement, we simply do not know.  Attempts have been made over the years to look at WoWProgress, or other raid tracking sites, and try to derive raid participation but each methodology has flaws. It's interesting to note that the estimates are typically around 15%, from pro- and anti-raiding factions alike.  I see very few stat-based claims that a third or even a fourth of WoW players are actively raiding current-tier normal bosses.

Not just a myth but a Myth
Parity is also a Myth in the classic sense because it has become ingrained in the basic assumptions that players make about the game, and they begin to simply take it for granted as being accepted fact and a universal truth.

Sapience came out and told us plainly that the percentage of raid participation was in the low single digits.  But in a testament to the power of the myth, you immediately heard the response from gamers everywhere, "That can't be right..."  Sapience must be using some weird definition, or he's lying to us, or he wants the game to fail.  "While his stats might be true for LOTRO," others were quick to jump in, "Don't make the mistake of applying that to other games.  It's just wishful thinking."

As a Myth, it can be very useful to developers but also quite destructive.  It can be useful when the myth gives developers cover for producing the kind of content they themselves want to play.

On the other hand, we see the presence of the Myth in derogatory terms like "Welfare Epics" because epics rightfully only belong to raiders.  We see games making design decisions based on the Myth that later need to be re-visited when they subsequently find that player opinion and player behavior are sometimes quite different.  SWTOR PvPers became frustrated because they just assumed that all MORPGs would make PvP a priority, and Bioware simply didn't for a long time.  Even commentators who never PvP began to feel uncomfortable because they felt that pvpers "deserved content just as much as the rest of us."

It is the Myth that causes players to brand a game as 'failed' or 'incomplete' if it isn't released with all three prongs of this unholy trinity, even if the reviewers themselves don't PvP or raid.  And it is the Myth that keeps devs from developing other content to fill the endgame space.  'We can't develop scenarios, for example, beyond their current state without losing a tier of raiding.' 

We are reaching a point however, when game developers are questioning, and in some cases rejecting the myth of parity and the raid-first endgame design as underlying assumptions for their game.  We're As game developers step away from these two assumptions, they are freeing themselves from the things that bind them to the shadow of WoW.  It is only at this point that MORPG innovation can begin again.

Post twenty-two in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

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