[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
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