Content is King

Posted: October 5, 2007 by Xeavn in Everquest 2, General Game Concepts
Tags: , ,

 Extra levels, more quests, news lands to explore, new abilities, new races, and sometimes even new classes. To sum it up, more content. That is what I would like to take a look at today, additional content, and how the companies that bring us these games make that content last.

Are expansions essential? Do we need this additional content added to the MMO’s we play? I think we do, after all you can only play through the existing content so many times before you start to become bored with it, and move on to other games or other activities. So in an effort to keep people playing, and to bring players back to their games, expansions are created.

Now lets examine the different areas to which content is added. I would like to start with levels. All the other content being added revolves around levels. Abilities and new areas are added to make the new levels feel unique, and to add things to do at these raised levels. I personally consider levels a necessary evil. Most expansions in Everquest 2 have added an additional 10 levels. From a players point of view this looks great, you get to gain another 10 levels, become a bit more powerful, probably gain a new ability or two. On the flip side, all that great content that you had at the previous max level is way too easy. It should be way too easy, after all your character has grown. The downside is now you need all new challenging content at your new max level. You will need new armor sets to go questing after, new dungeons to battle through, and new raids for your raiders to hit. All that previous content becomes only useful for the brief time a character is in the appropriate level range on the way up.

So the real question becomes how can developers release enough content to keep players entertained until the next time they release content? Well in all honesty they can’t. Players are always going to play through and devour content quicker than it can be released. On top of which those same players will demand that you release polished, bug free content. If you actually made the content hard enough that it couldn’t be completed until the next time you have an expansion ready, a majority of the players would quit or complain that it was too difficult. At the same time if the you make the content too easy everyone will blow through it and become bored. To make this even worse the correct level of difficulty varies from person to person. Developers are left trying to cater to the widest selection of people that they can, or having to pick a specific group to tailor the content to.

Now I want to look at a couple of things I think can be done, and have been done to help extend content life a bit. I am mostly going to take a look at Everquest 2, since this is the game I am currently playing.

  • Slow down leveling a bit. I am not talking about for the previous 1 to 70 levels, just going forward. I would expect that as I get higher level it should take longer to get a level. What seems to happen instead is that the amount of experience to reach a level is raised, but so is the amount of experience you gain from quests and mobs. This results in leveling taking about the same amount of time as it did for the previous levels. If we are only going to have an expansion once a year, it seems like it should take a little longer to level than it does. Hopefully all the old EQ players won’t kill me for saying this.

  • The next thing I think is a good idea is reusing old content. Sony did this with the Splitpaw Den. It scaled up to the players level. I didn’t manage to explore it until around level 40, and I went in expecting it to be all gray. To my surprise the mobs were at my level, and I had a lot of fun exploring it. World of Warcraft had a very similar idea when they put in Heroic versions of all their new expansion dungeons in the Burning Crusade. It was was exactly the same dungeon just much harder and tuned to be challenging at max level. On top of that there were some very good, level appropriate rewards for running these scaled dungeons.

  • The third area that I think can help players stay interested in a game is content that isn’t directly related to making their character more powerful. This is an area that I think Sony does quite well at. Stuff like player housing and furniture. It does my character no good to have a nice looking house. I could just have some sale boxes stacked in a cheap house, yet I have spent well over 10 platinum buying items to decorate with. Collection quests are another good example. There are some that give pretty good rewards, but a lot of them are just there to give you something to try and find. This is an area that not all players may enjoy though, and still takes time to develop.

Well those are my thoughts on making the content that is added last longer, and be more entertaining. I am sure these are not the only ways, and I would be surprised if someone doesn’t come up with something more innovate in the future.

  1. cyanbane says:

    Nice write up. I think the biggest thing they could do is your area #1. Make it tough, but make it fun. Thats a win win scenario in my book.

  2. Curious George says:

    I think I agree with everything you are suggesting. I know that when I played the trial for Burning Crusade I was amazed at how quickly one could level despite being level 60 to start. I was level 61 in a ridiculously short amount of time.

    But I had more problem with Blizzards so called “expansion”. I think it was over priced and overblown. What you actually get when you compare expansions between Burning Crusade and Echoes of Faydwer is a picture of a company that doesn’t understand (or perhaps even care) what an expansion really is and another of one that does.

    I could have even forgiven Blizzard IF their next “expansion” was actually worthy of the name but Wrath of the Lich King looks to be a let down as well.

    I could also have forgiven them if they had charges a reasonable amount for BC but to charge full price for what you actually get was outrageous. Highway robbery even. Thankfully I didn’t fall for it and probably will never for back to WoW again (though I may play a future Blizzard MMO when World of Starcraft comes out 😉

    Like you have pointed out SOE seems to know what they are doing with expansions. Sadly I don’t think they necessarily provide all of the right packaging options that they could. While I believe the All-in-One options should cost full price I do think they should allow optional pricing so that someone with base EQ2 could “upgrade” to Echoes of Faydwer for less than the All-in-One price currently. The same for when Ruins if Kunark come out.

    Sorry for partially highjacking your discussion about what would make for a good expansion but I have been playing trials of EQ2, WoW, and SWG looking for a game to go back to and a comparison of what they included in their expansions and what they charged has been eating at me. (Sorry for the run-on sentence too).

  3. Kendricke says:

    The thing about the all-in-one pricing is that it’s the same price you’d normally pay for a separate expansion. Most of us old timers paid a same price for just the Desert of Flames zones or the Kingdom of Sky zones as we did for the entire Echoes of Faydwer expansion.

    So it’s not as if we’re paying for additional content…it’s the same price it’s always been. We’re just getting the older content for free at the same time.

  4. Xeavn says:

    What is it about Burning Crusade that you dislike Curious George? Where did you think they went wrong in comparison to EoF? To be honest, I do think that the leveling curve was way to quick in Burning Crusade. It was considerably easier to get from 60 to 61 in BC than it was to get from 59 to 60 in the original. That really was my only complaint though. I thought all the zones were relatively unique. I thought that a lot of the quests were very inventive. I really enjoyed the dungeons that I did run. They added a full 6 zones of all 60 to 70 content. Arena’s, new tradeskill professions, 2 new races.

    Granted compared to the original game which was much longer, and had many more zones it was probably overpriced, but then again so are the Everquest 2 expansions. I do like Everquest 2, at the moment I think Everquest 2 expansions have been pretty good. At the same time I think Blizzard is trying to set the bar pretty high.

  5. As a newbie to EQ2 and a small group player, I would be more inclined to ask for more avenues to the level cap. Right now I see a myriad of ways I can reach level 30 through the couple zones I am familiar with and if I get to a point where the content becomes too hard for our small group, I would have no qualms about starting again because I know the content would be fresh and new to us all.

    I guess the question I have for you about #1 is: If the developers slow down the leveling curve a bit, wouldn’t that mean they would also have to invest that much more time in adding content to satiate the player during this time? Sounds like the snake eatings its own tail.

  6. Xeavn says:

    Really it depends on how much content is already in. A lot of zones as I leveled up to 70 felt like they had more than enough content to support a slightly slower leveling curve. In fact numerous times I would have half a dozen quests go grey as I was spending time working on them. The question then becomes if there is more than enough content to support slightly slower leveling, more than enough quests to do, and plenty of bosses to kill, dungeons to explore, how come I am leveling so quick? Granted I could turn off kill xp and artifically make it harder on myself if I wanted. Still I am not sure I want to make it that much harder, and I don’t want to get left behind as everyone levels. If I am still 71 and everyone else is 75 then I will likely miss out on some guild groups due to the fact that turning off kill xp just makes it harder for me.

  7. Illuminator says:

    Contrary to what my enemies may say of me, I am not opposed to new content. I just feel that the tiering-and-con scheme of EQ2 is way too vertical and obsoletes content well sooner than it needs to. Granted, your character grows more powerful with each tier increase, but only more powerful in relation to prior content. With the game’s bad habit of rapid planned obsolescence, and storytelling that IMHO pales in comparison to my favorite console RPG’s of long ago, there is minimal incentive to utilize that power. And it starts to feel like a shallow matter of keeping up with the Joneses.

    If I felt that this was beyond repair, I would throw in the towel once again. But deep down I feel I’m right, that this can be changed, that market economics are on the side of people who feel the way I do, and that it’s worth me fighting for.

  8. Kendricke says:

    I’d agree with a lot of that, Illuminator.

    I was thinking about this a lot over the past weekend as I levelled yet another character up through the ranks. Even as I became more and more powerful as a character, I noted that even the monsters I fought were basically the same as the ones I’d been fighting.

    Deer? Bats? Wolves? Bears? At every tier and every level, I can find those monsters over and over again – apparently they’re levelling up, too.

    Why am I still fighting wolves at level 70…when I was fighting them on the starter Isle? And in Antonica? And in Steppes? And in Enchanted Lands? And Rivervale? And Everfrost? And Lesser Faydark? And Loping Plains? I would guess that if one were so inclined, one could level up on nothing but wolves the entire distance from 1 to 70.

    We’re not even talking about wolves that look different here, either. We’re talking about the same basic model of wolf, sometimes with minor shading differences, all the way to level 70. That’s not exactly “fresh content”, is it?

    At what point do the monsters in a new tier become simply more powerful?

    In the RPG’s we all played in yesteryear, groups I gamemastered weren’t exactly fighting the same creatures week after week. The “grind” was replaced by questing and adventuring. Discovery trumped killing, and sometimes the group could actually get more experience through alternate methods of success that didn’t involve hack and slash.

    I want quests that give choices – choices that matter in the long run. I want harder choices to result in perhaps greater rewards, but which require greater effort or risk. I want monsters that feel heroic, and which don’t make me feel like Norrath’s #1 exterminator.

    Even raids are infected with this idea of kill, kill, kill trash just to get to relatively interesting scripted named targets. Many of the problems we had with original Everquest raid zones are coming back to haunt us here in Everquest II.

    I look forward to Rise of Kunark, but hope the levelling curve is not TOO quick…or we’ll simply lose a lot of the “new” feel of the expansion before the new year rolls around.

    …and it’s a long time till November ’08.

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