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[Video games] Why MMORPG must get rid of the avatar health pool increase if the genre wants to survive

World of Warcraft was my first MMORPG. I began playing it to understand why this game was attracting more and more millions of players. It was a great exploration but something felt wrong right from the start: a player can’t be useful to others unless he is roughly the same level (WoW has 85 levels now). Since most players are at the level cap this means playing regularly (often rushing) for maybe two months just to have the privilege to be of any use to your friends.
This simply is not sustainable anymore in the era of social networking and social gaming (Facebook games, Zynga) were hundreds of millions of new players are used to interact with each others online right from the start.

Character progression in MMORPG

As your character gains experience he gains levels. Each new level makes your character more powerful (hits harder) and developers then increase significantly your avatar’s health pool to enable you to fight equivalent level NPC or players. It also have the benefit to direct the player exploration in an open world; you will soon learn to go away from zones of higher levels you are not meant to explore yet.

All this progression (character power and spatial exploration) is relying on only one variable: your avatar’s health pool. It could sounds like genius but as a developer it is simply a “dirty fix”, a technical term to indicate a temporary fix that you shouldn’t build on. It fixes the problem for now but you know it’s not sustainable.

So what do we lose (for example in WoW) because of the convenient “dirty fix”?

1) A new player rarely can play with his real life friends. In the past you often made friends with strangers but that expectation changed drastically with the rise of social gaming were gamers are used to play with their real life friends right from the start.

2) All previous content (roughly 90%) is rendered obsolete leading to empty zones, empty dungeons and raids, tons of stories, artworks and game design (bosses mechanics) forgotten as players re-do in loop the only endgame level-cap activity for reputations or boring pointification.

3) An unfair game. The difference of health pool and power between players is so huge we couldn’t call this a “game”. An army of new player wouldn’t be able to kill a naked caped player even after stabbing him in his sleep forever. Does that make you feel heroic? really? It’s like if a new chess player played against Gary Kasparof with an advantage of 10 billions moves in favor of the champion.

4) It break consistency, a major requirement for immersion. Why depending of where they live, a regular wolf can be 10 thousands times less powerful that another regular wolf?? It just doesn’t make sens in a coherent world.

If you combine all this it is pretty obvious that the dirty-fix heritage of #MMORPG, based on health pool increase, is not sustainable anymore. The strange thing is that the whole industry is still based on it in 2011, the good thing is I doubt it can last long.

If I had money to invest in a MMORPG, or time for play, I would check:
- Is there more than 100 % health increase between a new player and caped players
- Is there more than 100 % “power” increase between a new and cap player

If any - or two - of the above is true then this MMO is a bad investment of my money or time and I don’t see it sustainable long nowadays.

#wow #mmorpg #gamedesign
Rogier Kamer's profile photoFrancois Schnell's profile photoChristine Søvig Gilbert's profile photo
Hi Francois, 
I do understand you explanation about the Dirty Fix Healthpool. But what I am lacking in this post, is what 'they' can do about it. 
Hi Rogier. You're right, I planed to do a following post at the time and didn't do it.
There are some elements of answers though in that post here:

Also there's another way to do an horizontal progression while still keeping a vertical feeling to it like Arenanet is doing it for Guild Wars 2.

The leader Blizzard can "feel" there's something wrong with vertical progression nowadays but don't get "Social" yet (they succeeded before the Social era) and they just think it's an aesthetic problem:
Blizzard even say: "If your answer is that stat budgets don’t have to grow so much in order for players to still want the gear, our experience says otherwise"
What they don't realize is that their data mining don't only measure player activity but also their own rules (people play by the rules); one would think that losing 3 millions players during the last expansion would wake them up but not yet.

Even if Guild Wars 2 fails I expect it will mark a transition in the MMO industry with "Social ready" MMOs. I'm going to test their sidekick system very soon since pre-access start this evening.
I want to also investigate Age of Wulin (huge chinese MMO coming in EU/US) which seems to have an horizontal progression but not 100% sure. 

In the end I compare the MMO industry to the Web2/Social industry (will probably do a post about it soon).
1) Is it easily accessible?
(web2 is mostly "free", accessible in a simple browser, sells convenience/aesthetic/services)
2) can real friends interact together in a meaningful way?
(in web2 people can still interact not based on servers/factions/levels)  
3) can people have a minimal "write" feature?
(some people like to consume content but some also like to share or even create content like Minecraft => User Generated Content)

The reason I sound "angry" about the MMO industry is that I'm convinced there's a huge untapped potential and that this market should be 10 times bigger and not bleeding like it is right now.
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