Evergreen Content

After some technical difficulties caused by the fact that my upstairs computer appeared to have come back in a half alive state after what I can only assume was a power blink caused by last nights storms…  aren’t run-on sentences awesome?  I am finally sitting down at the computer to write this mornings post.  Additionally I am drinking the sweetest cup of coffee ever… because in my half awake state… I dumped the Splenda designated for my wife’s cup into mine.  The end result is a cup of coffee with like six packets of sugar in it.

Evergreen Content


One of the things that has always frustrated me with MMO design is the fact that the higher up in level you are, essentially the fewer options you have for where to spend your in game time.  What I mean is that usually games spend a good amount of time to provide alternate starter zone experiences, and then those usually funnel into shared zones for your faction before dumping you out into a ladder of zone progression towards the “end game”.  Once you arrive at the end content you experience the same thing… everyone is pushed towards the same few content items.

When an expansion is released the same thing happens again but even more limiting.  You are pushed out of the “old world” content and into a much smaller new world with the same very vertical progression path.  Everything about the old content becomes completely disposable as it is immediately replaced by the shiny new things from the expansion areas.  Not only is the new content separated by distance usually, but it gives players absolutely no incentive to ever return and revisit the older content.  As a result each time an expansion is released the players are ultimately throwing more and more content in the dustbin.

A Better Way


Granted some games do a much better job at addressing this problem than others.  In Rift when mentoring down you receive xp and rewards as though you were doing content at your level.  The same is more or less true with Guild Wars 2 and its always mentored system of scaling the player down to the content level at all times.  But in neither system do you really address the problem of lost dungeon and raid content.  Ultimately you can get rewards similar to what you could earn at level, but you will never actually be able to progress your characters in the same way unless you are always doing the latest and greatest content.

With the advent of systems like StoryBricks that allow for smarter AI encounters, I keep wondering if this is now the time to have a much better system.  Ideally this would work better in a system without hard level ranges, and more a “tiers of gear” approach like The Secret World has in place.  What if a mob could perceive you as a greater threat based on your “tier” and ultimately fight “smarter”.  This would make the old content scale to whatever level you happen to be at the time.  The old encounters would be evergreen in that beating them at Tier 1 would be significantly easier than beating them at Tier 4.

Horizontal Progression


As a result you could continue to “pay out” the best tiers of gear, because all content would essentially scale up to meet the level of the players taking it on.  In a mixed level group it would get far more tricky.  You would have to do some sort of an average level for the encounter, but ultimately the base idea is that as you level your character you continue opening new doors to experience, rather than constantly closing permanently the doors behind you.  I feel in part that this is so enticing as no amount of hard worked content provided by the designers would ever be considered “throw away” or “leveling” content again.

This of course is a massive pipe dream, and I am sure there are all measure of technically limitations to what I propose, but I have always wanted a world that scaled to me that I never outgrew.  We can have this concept in single player games like Oblivion, I just think its time that we see a proper implementation in the MMO world.  One added benefit is that being able to progress regardless of the content you are doing… incentivizes players to do the right thing socially… and assign their friends and guild members through that “old world” content.

Socially Beneficial


Being one of those players that regularly helps out the “young-ins”, it can be frustrating knowing that you will not actually progress your character while doing this thing that was “socially” the right thing to do.  Games like Rift or EQ2 provide alternate advancement paths that make it much more enjoyable, since you know you are ultimately still making your character better in the process.  However… would it not be that much cooler if you could provide a system that allowed for both the low tier player and the high tier player to receive the best type of rewards they could get… together in the same group?

It is always awesome watching a new player get their first really awesome item, because you grouped up with them to help them through a challenge.  Would it not be equally exciting for them to watch you getting the same because you chose to help them?  I have had a mantra for awhile… “anything that prevents me from playing with my friends is bad” and this is exactly the opposite of that.  It makes sure that playing with my friends will always benefit me in the same ways it benefits them.  Sure the content might be ultimately more difficult when you have 3 tier 1 players and 2 tier 4 and the end difficulty level is something in the middle…  but as group you will be able to work through the challenges.

The Problem


As I sit here to write this post, it feels like it is coming out super esoteric… and as a result I am hoping to place it more firmly on the ground.  In my office on the wall are lots and lots of maps, and many of them are from MMOs.  There is one above my monitor that came from the Kunark expansion to the original Everquest for example.  As I look at the glorious landmasses that are all these games… I am bit sad thinking that so many of those zones I will never have a valid reason to return to.  They will never again be truly important to me, the same way they were when I was first leveling through them.

I would just like to see a design scheme that makes it always valid for us to return to the content we know and love and have conquered and find completely new challenges.  This goes double for dungeon and raid content.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could zone into Blackwing Lair in WoW with a group of friends… and get an encounter tailored to fit YOUR level… and not a “roflstomp” soloable mess?  The worst part about the “e-sport-ification” of raid content, is that we are constantly having to throw away fun experiences for whatever the newest tier happens to be.  Sure you can always return to the older stuff, but it has been trivialized by the progression you have made since then.

I would just like to see something that fixes this.  So that a zone stays epic regardless of when you tackle it, and that there will always be new and more exciting challenges and rewards to be found there.  With the construct of scalable AI and encounters…  I think that maybe finally this concept is ready to be explored.  I have no desire to stay in the starter zone, grind boars, and become amazing like they did in the South Park spoof… but it would be awesome to be able to go back to that low level content and have a reason to be there.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to wrap up and get on the road.  I feel as though I have laid out a huge rambling mess.  Hopefully this will make sense to someone.  It has been a concept bouncing around in my head for awhile and all the talk of Storybricks and EQ Next and Scaling Mob intelligence has dislodged it enough that I wanted to try and put it down into words.  I feel like I am fairly grossly unsuccessful at doing so.  I hope you all have a great day, and I hope you can grasp the crux of what I was trying to say.

11 thoughts on “Evergreen Content

  1. I am curious what things you’d consider good reasons or incentives to go to old zones? is it just the challenge? is it crafting? is it the fact that you know that you could protect newbies from gankers? etc.

    I understand it’s hard to come up with specifics but it would (I think) further the discussion. For me for instance a robust crafting system that makes no material worthless supplemented by a system of exploration that feeds into acquiring quests into how you get certain recepies etc. would be a good incentive.

    • @Roguekish

      Ultimately I think that is up to the designer to determine how to make the content stay valid. I love it when a game causes me to go back into an area I felt I was done with… and uncover a little secret hidden there. It could be that in the tradition of Metroidvania or Zelda games that there are certain areas of content that cannot even be reached until you have accomplished something in another zone. Or it could be simply that an encounter reacts to you a different way if you are much higher level, in that the mob now sees you as a threat whereas previously they did not. The concept of moving past a zone and never returning to it just feels odd to me. I would love to see worlds built in a way that they retain their value, rather than as a series of completely disposable “levels”.

  2. The issue I see with having content and mobs scale to you is that every single mob feels just as tough as every other mob. After a while, that becomes ridiculously boring. Kinda like how GW2 feels when it downlevels you. Instead of feeling more powerful, it feels like the same level 2 mobs are the same strength as level 30 mobs. TSW does do it right, with increasing difficulty of mobs to coincide with gear, and then having a horizontal progression of giving you a bigger toolbox to pull skills out of. But having content scale to you just makes the game… kinda blah.

    • I guess for me, nothing kills a game for me more than being herded into a corner of high level content and having no where else to explore. If the whole game was open to me… I would keep returning to places I enjoyed in the past. Granted you can do that with mentoring… and I do regularly… would just be nice if there was a more official way of doing it. I feel that you can still progress against mobs with the mobs scaling to your level. Gear and player skill become the difference, not the physical level of the encounters.

  3. Sorry Razamis you are flat out wrong, not because you diagree with Belghast, but you can’t distinguish between fact and opinion. Nor do you realize that an opinion by definition can’t be wrong. Nice try using argumentum ad populum fallacy, too.

    In the end, I don’t think we completely disagree however. Bel’s ultimate goal is that content not become trivialized by player progression. It’s one thing to become stronger. It’s another thing entirely to become so godlike that you could one-shot all of Elwynn forest, if only your AoE had that range.
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  4. No, sorry the author of this post is flat out wrong.

    If the content scaled to match your gear level, then what would be the point in achieving the new gear in the first place?

    You finally put together a brave group of adventuring friends and take down that very tough dragon lord, for which you are rewarded an upgraded better sword, only to find the wolves outside of the starting city have all got stronger against you and life is just as tough or tougher then before you had the sword. Meanwhile you watch a brand new character exit the city gates and kill the wolves just as quickly or perhaps more quickly then you.

    Any sense of accomplishment is completely lost. That is a game myself, and dare I say, most others would not stick around in.

    Vertical character progression is a good thing. Content becoming out dated completely is not. However there are ways of allowing character progression without invalidating content.

    Lets say a character started with 101 life at level 1. The game had 50 levels, each level gave you +1 life. At level 50 you would have 150 life.

    You would still have the sense of progression, the feeling of accomplishment at every level and at the milestone of level 50, yet your character would not be so much stronger that the content would be invalid.

    The point is, vertical character progression is key to a game, but it can be done right, or done wrong. I would submit that if the power curve is kept in check, (which it hasnt in almost every MMORPG so far), it can be a very good thing.

    • So firstly… no opinion is ever wrong… it is an opinion. Saying someones opinion is wrong just makes you come off as a troll. Here is an example for you of a game that does content scaling well. In Oblivion, all the content in the game scales to fit your level, yet you still feel an accomplishment by going and doing and exploring. You can get new gear, acquire new skills, all of which improve your overall ability to perform in the game, yet at the same time if you go back into a dungeon you cleared early on in your journey the mobs will have scaled up to meet your current level. So while there is vertical progression, you are not out leveling the content around you as it moves up with you.

  5. I agree with you Belghast my point was merely that added difficulty is not the strongest or most succesful motivator and that mostly the dungeon running culture would stil bel a lot akin to what we see in other MMOs.
    That’s why I think the incentives to run dungeons even at a slightly decreased difficulty and at max level (essentially you can’t earn more character progression points (SP or AP in TSW for instance)) whould come from sources that are more easily used by players a lot even at max level; like crafting or different progression paths in raids.That ofc would mean you want a crafting system where copper is still used at all levels of crafting with the newer high grade materials etc.(and that crafting was a serious form of obtaining good gear besides raiding and PVP).
    I was merely afraid that added difficulty would while still beinng beneficial to groups that love to run certain dungeons that these groups will still be a very small minority as the big crowd will not see the point of redoing a slightly harder version of content they have already done and seen.

  6. Part of the problem is of course the “leveling” game. If you had a system wherein player characters did not become obscenely powerful, you would not of so much trivialization of “lower level” content. On occasion, and this was especially apparent in certain WoW raids, the trivialization of content also strains the Lore of the world. End-game bosses that once took 40 people now can be soloed. And the new end-game bosses wouldn’t necessarily be any more powerful, and sometimes less powerful, than the now trivial bosses. Even in supposedly level-free games like TSW, you still the early areas becoming much simpler to navigate because your skill and maybe gear has increased.
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  7. the problem I see with Raids attuning itself to Tiers of gear is that it hs the same problem the normal, Heroic and nightmare mode system have. There is rarely any tangible reason for me to want to do those raids in a more difficult mode as I have already completed them on an easier one.
    I like the idea that every zone should be useful at all times in the game but when it comes to raids PVErs need some sense of progression to feel a form of accomplishment. What you probably could do is though in the case of an expansion is to reduce the “greens are the new epics factor” and give alternative advancement paths to the entry raids: one being parts of old raids and another doing the new content. So concrete example: You could do the Kara atunement through Khadgar’s quest or maybe assembling Medivh’s staff iin Naxx lets you get the same attunment differently. or since atunments are a one time thng only. you could make it so that defeating Nefarian in BWL gives you access to equal gear you could find in Blood Furnace or a new ection of Zul Aman?

    In the long run you can never have 100% evergreen content as players want a sense of progression but you can slow down the wilting of the old content by providing incentives to run it instead of the newest stuff

    • Players would ultimately HAVE the sense of accomplishment of beating content as it was put into the game. It would just be nice that in doing so… it did not immediately invalidate all other content in the game. I like going through dungeons… I often return to them even when they grey out because I like doing content regardless if it is useful. It would just be nice if it always was at least somewhat useful.

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