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The Question on Everyone’s Lips

October 20, 2012

Dear Reader,

So as the debate on dailies cools down, the question that I see repeated over and over is: if not dailies, what?  I had several commentators here ask or imply varieties of the same question:

Rimecat:

I honestly don’t know how to keep a contentivore happy, other than to suggest playing a group of games in succession. Finished MoP? Go do Storm Legion. Done with that? Check out Rohan…

But the daily gives it some structure and micro-goal.

Krel:

It’s a themepark game, by default the content is going to be consumed rapidly by some people. Maybe there’s another way to do it other than repeated content? Dunno what that would be though.

Matticus:

Doing old school dailies is akin to playing your SNES or N64. You might play it once in a while to finish something you forgot (like the stupid Water Temple), but most of your time is probably spent on newer consoles and games. Final Fantasy 3 is an awesome game, but I’m playing that on my DS then my SNES (plus, it has new dungeons!)

Roguekish:

I for one like them but it should be possible to offer several paths to the same goal, it would also benefit the replayability of the game. Personally I liked dailies in the situation that I wanted to play WoW, but did not know what to do so I’d just put on a podcast and do my dailies. I treated dailies as the “insurance for a rainy day” in the game when there was nothing to do. That said, how would I solve the situation, where players just grind through content without resorting to dailies?

Azuriel:

Thus, while near 100% of daily quests are trivial, rote exercises, I would never actually call them chores as such. Maybe it is a semantic thing, but chores have a negative connotation, as if you would prefer to not do them if able. Dailies, to me, give me an excuse to continue playing a game otherwise conquered. The only excuse, really, because while I still find/found WoW combat fun, I need a “point” to the killing of mobs to actualize said fun. Daily quests provide that excuse, and are thus fun by proxy.

If we judge fun by the length of time engaged, removing dailies would make the game less fun for everyone.

All of these valid points hint at a longing that’s being filled by dailies.  How well filled, though?  And, again to the question at hand – if not by dailies, what?  I’ve decided to concern today’s post with analyzing the problem and a few options.

The core problem comes from the speed at which we consume content.  On one end, to use Rimecat’s word, we have “contentivores.”  They consume things very rapidly and have  a low tolerance for repetition.  What’s on the other end, then?   Well, I’d argue that the spectrum isn’t simply a single axis, but an intersecting axis, a typical graph, if you will, that looks like this.

So in one corner, we have contentivores.  Their polar opposite are casuals, who play as they wish for reasons personal to themselves, be it to kill time (so repetition is fine) or just to socialize (in which case it doesn’t matter what they’re doing, repetitive for not).  In another corner we find Dilettantes, who simply dabble here and there in various video games, always looking for new experiences, but not rushing through them.  Their polar opposite are the hardcore, who’ll do whatever it takes for however long to really squeeze the maximum life out of a game.

How, then, do we find content that appeals to all four quadrants?  The casuals are easy; they want to play with their friends on their own time; simply giving them options with social possibilities pleases them.  WoW’s done this very well, adding in farming and pet battles on top of the achievements, LFR, and RP opportunities that were already present.  The truly hardcore are actually pretty easy, too.  Their high tolerance for repetition means that if you allow difficulty to scale high enough, they’ll stay engaged.  Blizzard does well here, too; heroics followed by hard mode raids already filled this spot, and the later addition of achievements and now challenge modes in dungeons will keep the hardcore happy for days to come.

All of this relies on a tolerance for repetition, though.  Blizzard does well as long as that’s true.  The question of “if not dailies, what?” peels away that simple solution and asks for something more for those of us who want new experiences.

One of the commentators  mentioned player-generated content.  WoW already has this: it’s called PvP.  The maps may be Blizz’s doing, but strategies are individual fights are player-generated.  For PvE, though, we have very little.  The commentator argued that it wasn’t practical, as some guilds would create “loot pinatas” with easy content, but I disagree.  There’s no reason player-generated content needs any rewards of that type at all.  The “reward” would be the opportunity to design a dungeon yourself or to play in a variety of dungeons and avoid repetition.  Blizzard could set a single “bag” reward (similar to your daily dungeon bag) for completing a player-generated event that met X requirements (number of bosses, etc).  I’ve written on this before, in fact, here and here.  I absolutely believe this idea would work, as it has in Star Trek Online; in fact, about the only consistently good thing you hear about that game is that it allows players to generate content.

But okay, that’s an idea that’s been done.  Let’s assume for a moment that Blizzard is run by control freaks who would never allow outsiders to generate “their” content (it’s not far from true).  We’d need a something repeatable but changing.  Why not use procedurally generated maps?  Plenty of games do this, and there’s no reason Blizzard couldn’t integrate a set of dailies – or daily scenarios or dungeons, for that matter – into the game that use procedurally generated data.  Phasing or instancing would allow a group of players to travel to a remote island somewhere and experience a set of ruins/dense jungle/vast icy wasteland/etc that shifted on a daily basis.  The task, too, could shift.  Locate something, fight a boss, survive a gauntlet battle.  The mobs inside could change, too.  Blizz could design it so that the chance of getting the same overall “quest” would be infinitesimally small.  It could be scaled to take about 15 minutes, and there could be a set of them so people could choose to do more than one a day.

That’s what I’ve got, dear reader.  How about you?  Let’s be problem solvers, instead of makers.  Bringing a solution to any problem you mention is a good way to get ahead in life, so why not in games, as well?

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and procedurally generating ideas)

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2012 12:00 pm

    How did Diablo 3 work out for ya? Because that is basically what you described.

    The disconnect, for me, would come from the fact that the reason I play would not change. In other words, the sort of proposed random scenarios would have to have progression-worthy rewards for me to queue up at all. I need to know I am working towards something, an excuse to keep playing WoW (instead of a newer, single-player game).

    And besides, how much different would those random scenarios be from daily quests, in your mind? Are you bored with the actual repetition part, or the “required” part? If it wasn’t required, would you play it?

    • October 22, 2012 11:09 am

      How’d X-Com work out? Pretty damn well, and it’s a procedurally based game. It doesn’t feel repetitious because the variability of each mission is deeply affected by the vast number of options put in. Yes, a poorly made procedural game gets boring quickly, like D3, but simply because one game failed to do something well doesn’t mean the whole category of games should be abandoned. Syndicate as a FPS stunk, but we still get FPS games.

      That said, I don’t think that this content would be for “you” anyway. If you’re happy enough doing the repetitive stuff, then you’re already being seen to. Your tolerance for repetition makes it easier for you to stay attached to a game, which is a blessing, as it means you don’t feel the need to game hop over and over. However, if you’re just looking for an excuse to keep playing, maybe it is time to move on.

      In my mind, the random scenarios would be significantly different from daily quests. With enough variability, it could be months before you’re mathematically likely to end up with the same exact scenario. With differing types of mobs, different environments, different bosses, and different goals, the mixing would be quite different. Consider for a moment the sword-retrieval quest from the Argent Tournament. Even that – with only 3 options – was a big step above a same-every-time daily. Now imagine it with 50 options, which is a VERY low estimate for variability for procedural content. It would make a huge difference.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • October 22, 2012 5:47 pm

      Thing is, Diablo 3 is the better comparison because of its persistence. You might be playing XCOM 1-3 months from now (360 hours?), but you won’t be playing with the same squad/weapons/etc that you accrued during that time-frame.

      There is no question that daily quests can be improved generally – I’m not convinced procedurally generated maps/enemies/etc are the way to go. Just because there may be 10,000 different configurations doesn’t mean the 9,999th playthrough is just as entertaining as the 1st. Once you conquer the sort of logic behind a system, the randomness is mostly irrelevant.

    • October 23, 2012 11:02 am

      Ok, how about Daggerfall, Morrowind or Oblivion; they had a large, static game world with procedurally generated dungeons integrated smoothly. That’s essentially precisely what we’re talking about. Those games were wildly popular and led to big bucks for Bethesday. Additionally, it has more persistent characters, though I’m not sure that’s really that important; I’m not sure in 3 mos you’d be playing the same d3 character; probably, you’d have stopped because it was so lousy! (;

      And you’re probably right; the 9,999 playthrough would probably not be as good as the first, but the 30th – a month of dailies, would be a damn sight better than the 30th time you kill 10 scourge for the argent tourney. Maybe even the 90th – 3 months of dailies – when a new patch hits. The time to conquer the system is highly dependent on the game experience of the player, too, which is why I keep getting into these situations; nothing’s really that new any more; I’m just trying to spice up something that holds no more interest for me at all. And I’m not alone; the first few lines of BBB’s post yesterday are the same: he hit 90, got asked if he was going to do dailies, and felt like unsubbing. Something needs to be done, which I think we both agree on.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Samus permalink
    October 20, 2012 12:37 pm

    I think City of Heroes demonstrated the problems with both procedurally generated content, and player generated content.

    It quickly became obvious in City of Heroes that procedurally generated content did not mean “everything is new and different,” it meant everything was the same. Once you had seen a theme a couple of times, all the missions with that theme felt the same. I think there is something psychological about not paying attention to the layout and where things are, because you know that is incidental and going to immediately disappear when you’re done. It doesn’t feel like an actual place somehow, just generic, “gamey” content.

    For player generated content, the “signal to noise” ratio was just way too low. Hundreds of thousands of missions created by players, and the vast, vast majority of it was crap. It just wasn’t a good place to find content because it was so hard to find something good. I think if the process allowing players to create content is so simplistic that “any idiot can do it,” you should expect the content it creates to be something that “any idiot could do this.”

    • October 22, 2012 11:17 am

      I don’t know enough about the game to comment about CoH, but I will comment on the two specific problems you mentioned. As I said to Azuriel, just because one game does something badly doesn’t mean the entire idea need be abandoned. X-Com is a procedurally based game and is fantastic. There are plenty of good procedurally based games out there that work. I also don’t know if CoH was ALL procedurally based or not, but I’m not proposing we eliminate the static content, only supplement it.

      Secondly, a simple rating system can help reduce the noise of good and bad player-generated content. You finish the scenario, you rate it 1 to 5, and you move on. The top ranked stuff will get a lot more attention, and people interested in teh development of poor stuff can play through and leave comments about improving it. It helps cement a interactive community, something sorely lacking in WoW right now, where the interaction is frequently two people yelling at each other without actually communicating.

      So I agree that those are both concerns, but not ones I think couldn’t be pretty simply addressed. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Samus permalink
    October 20, 2012 1:46 pm

    So I guess I should answer the actual question, things that I think *could* work.

    Player generated content works if you have the right model. The one I would point to is L4DMaps, player generated maps for Left 4 Dead. This is not something that I, or most people could attempt. But a few dedicated players who really put a lot of work into it have made some great stuff. Maybe a dozen maps are every bit as good as the official ones from Valve, and a few dozen more are quite good. Translate that to WoW, and you have players making entire instances or zones. Stick them on the test server and let players vote for their favorites. All Blizzard has to do is pick out the best ones, check them over for bugs and exploits, add proper rewards, and insert them into the game.

    I would also like to see the return of progression 5-man instances like in Burning Crusade. Part of the burnout/repetition problem with instances is that you are expected to blow through 7 of them per week. I would like to see some harder 5-man instances with a week long lockout and respawn, like raid instances. Also like raids, these would not appear on the dungeon finder, you would need to manually form a real group. This helps with repetition, because you will only go through 2 or 3 of these a week, which means by the time you have gone through all of them 10 times or so, the next patch is coming out.

    Another thing they could do to fix the “chore” feeling of dailies is to make a daily phased zone out of it, with a different story to play through each day. Something like the Worgen starting area, but each day you are fighting off a new enemy. For instance, today could be that you need to fight off the pirates attacking the town, root them out of the nearby forest, find and destroy their encampment, and then take the fight to their ship, eventually killing the pirate captain. Tomorrow, the hill ogres are worked up. You would need maybe 6 or so of these “scenarios.”

    The last big thing they are missing is PvE arena, where your team is matched up against instance bosses. Form your team of 3/5/10 and hit the ready button. Obviously there’s no waiting, it immediately matches you up against a boss based on your team rating. Similar to PvP arena, you can see your opponent’s name and have a short time to prepare (apply buffs, switch specs or gear, talk strategy, etc.). The doors open and you get one shot, just like arena there’s no rez other than battle rez. Rating and rewards are handled just like PvP arena (only for PvE gear, obviously).

    • October 22, 2012 11:20 am

      I really like all of these ideas. I was going to suggest a “contest” to help reduce the crap to quality ratio, but I figured it would be too much work. If it’s worked for other games, though, then I’m all for it.

      I like all three, but my favorite of these is a PvE arena. What a great way to practice mechanics, build a solid team, and spend some time doing non-repetitive stuff. I like that idea lot!

      Thanks for the follow-up!

  4. October 21, 2012 1:43 am

    The only solution that I think is viable for those who dont’ want to dailies is to bring back the tabard rep. Then they can dungeon all they want for their reputations instead of doing dailies.

    About the other stuff… I agree that there is enough content to keep people busy, and Blizzard was right to put those things there. Pet battles, Farmville – these things have become immensely popular and a great distraction for all!

    But I have little complaint. I’m too busy enjoying myself.

    • October 22, 2012 11:22 am

      I agree that removing tabards was foolish. Blizzard has never learned that it’s better to hold back something than to give it and then take it away. Basically every expansion has “taken away” something, and even when it was a good idea, people don’t want their “stuff” taken away. Goodbye, my lovely keys!

      I’m enjoying it for now, too, but I would like to keep enjoying it. I really liked the story line in Jade Forest, and I hope that kind of thing continues on, but I wonder once I hit 90 how motivated I’ll be. We’ll see!
      Thanks for the comment!

  5. October 21, 2012 5:42 am

    I think the problem here is thaat everyone is tryinng to answer this problem with 1 (one) solution. As the graph clearly deemonstrates we have several abstract defnitions of how players play the game,and within those definitions we have even more diversity (afterall the world s not black and white). This means that the only viable soluton to this problem is generating multiple avenues of gaining X (we can call it reputation). One could be through dailies, one through specific dungeons and raids (like in TBC the tabard rep just does not work from several standpoinnts, immersion being one), add on top of that some form of explorational task that gives you, reputation and a task that you can perform with crafting & gathering and we already have 4 avenues on how to gain reputation. All these appeal to different groups: Dungeons are social but (can be) hard and time consuming, dailies easy and not time consuming, exploration appelas to people sick of questing, but who dont want to do dungeons and crafting not only enhances the place of crafting in the game but also appeals to the crafter subtype. By haviing multiple avenues of gainng X you can also switch ones you get burned out from lets say dailies. Most importantly it recognises that we as players are different and have different needs and gives US the choice of how to do the more repetitional part of the game. If you couple this with a slower paced gameplay and reward system, then the game would feel less repetetive as you would earn less rewards in a set time span, thus becoming less aware fo yourself doing the repetitive stuff (after all we only become aware of how much repetition something requred after we got the reward, while working for the reward we are completely finne with the repetition, because the carrot is still there).

    • October 22, 2012 11:26 am

      I wholeheartedly agree. It seems that as WoW opens itself up to more and more player subgroups, older subgroups are getting less and less to do. I like all the additions for this patch, even the ones I didn’t think I’d like, but I don’t like some of the subtractions. It seems Blizz has a hard time finding the balance between giving new things and not taking away old ones.
      I also agree that diversifying your play time can help things feel less repetitive, but at the same time, you mention dailies as “not taking much time.” The truth about dailies is that often, if you’re doing one of them (which wouldn’t take a lot of time alone), you’re probably doing 10 or 20, which takes an enormous amount of time, reducing the chance for diversifying your play. Someone just recently wrote about the inability for a lot of MMO players to do things “partially” (I’ll find the link and probably respond to it tomorrow), and I think that’s part of what plagues me personally. If I’m going for rep, I’m going all-out, hog-wild. Is that my choice, well, sure. I’ve never blamed Blizzard that I’m hard to please, I just wish there was more there to please me!

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. October 21, 2012 12:22 pm

    You are correct that there are multiple types of players and, ideally, content should be generated that satisfies all types. However, I think that this needs to be discussed in a non-generalized fashion. WoW is so large, and so old, that much of the discussion needs to be tailored to that environment.

    Consider something as generally well accepted as player-generated content. You may be correct that this was well received in STO, I wouldn’t know. I’m one of the large number of players who never game a chance after the Champions fiasco, and this is from someone who played Star Fleet Battles from the ziplock bag days until the political commentary become too offensive. How many players does STO have? Does it have the same sort of competitive guilds as WoW? I expect that, unless there was no reward (or at least nothing that qualified as ‘progression’), you would see “challenging player content” in WoW that was as simple as possible just to let the guild get a slight edge over the competition. If the reward was just the experience of running content or some minor item that wouldn’t appeal to a raider the idea would be trashed in the forums as wasted development hours. In other words, the precise discussion ongoing about pet battles, archaeology, and cooking/farming.

    We are likely several software generations away from being able to implement algorithms that create decent procedural content. For WoW that would require considering up to 25ish classes (a Hunter is basically a Hunter but a Druid is one of four classes), a wide range of iLvl equipment, and the need to coordinate adds, boss abilities, space for the encounter, and threshold conditions. I cannot imagine that WoW will ever be able to incorporate that sort of system into the codebase. And this does not consider lore, which may not be important to the more cutthroat players but does matter to quite a number of us. Maybe they could design Titan around the idea, but I expect that will go the other way toward a more simplified FPSMMO style game.

    To generalize – his is where other games should be trying to capitalize on market. Stop attempting to be WoW and get 12 million subscribers, it is not going to happen. Decide what you are going to do well and do that. If your game is not based around PvP do not be bullied (as Turbine was) into adding it into game. On the other hand, if you are going for an old-school full-loot PvP sandbox do not be bullied into adding safe zones or lots of quests. There is a great deal of player diversity, use that to your advantage rather than making it a negative by trying to be the game for everyone. Note that this doesn’t help the contentivore, they are still hosed until someone comes up with the quantum computing system needed to churn-out good content. Or, perhaps, a game emerges that is based on the idea of players creating new content.

    One note on your chart – you may want to find other labels for ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’, they are so loaded in MMO conversations. I consider myself casual – I’m not going to set my schedule or my activities by the guild calendar, but I still burned two characters to 90 in about a week and have pushed all available reps to at least Revered. By the chart I should be hardcore and, trust me, I’m not.

    • October 22, 2012 11:36 am

      My first comment here is on your last. I agree that those are loaded words, but I’m not going to prevent myself from using perfectly good terms simply because others abuse them. Also, I think that players often move around on that axis as they play; it makes perfect sense to me that a lot of “casuals” moved more towards “hardcore” for the first week or two of an xpac, just as many “hardcore” slowly slide towards “casual” in the last months before a new xpac. I don’t think we’re stationary dots.

      I would expect that player-generated content wouldn’t give super-useful PvE or PvP rewards. It could either generate very little of a useful resource with a cap (such as 1/4 the amount of JP you’d get from a dungeon, which still would count in the weekly cap) or simply bags full of “fluff” goodies, like tanks or healers get from the LFD rewards. I’m sure that it would be “trashed” by hardcore players. I agree that ideas that don’t appeal to the vocal minority are often trashed as “bad ideas.” Again, like the words “hardcore” and “casual,” I’m not particularly worried about what a lot of forum-goers think. I’ve learned to stay away from the forums, as many of the people there are too stupid to understand that my liking something different isn’t an attack on what they like. I’m sure that all of those things have been trashed, but they’re also well liked by some players (well, maybe not archaeology. I’m not sure about that one). That means that regardless of the squeaky wheels, the time wasn’t wasted, nor would the time to develop some of these ideas be.

      I don’t know enough about WoW specifically or even game software in general to know how close or far away we are, but there’s plenty of games out there with good procedural content already. I assume you mean WoW specifically from the rest of your comment, but the same was said about flying mounts in the old world – until they did it. The problem with that kind of argument is that it’s always too hard until it’s not. I’m not saying you’re wrong, only that it will invariably eventually happen, but that it’s up to Blizz whether they make it happen or another company.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • RimeCat permalink
      October 22, 2012 3:25 pm

      What games would you recommend for auto-generated content? I’ve not seen any that didn’t bore me very quickly, other than Diablo 2 and that was really a moment-in-time thing. Without the good memories from a decade ago I don’t think I’d do much with it after the first run. Much like Diablo 3.

      One thing to remember on flying mounts is that they had to rework the entire Azeroth map set. That huge use of resources is one of the things blamed for the thinness of Cataclysm. This would be worse as they would have to touch just about all the code. It may be possible, I’ve certainly been wrong before, but I just don’t see how you could execute that kind of change without a full rewrite and as a PM I can’t even begin to imagine trying to justify that kind of change.

    • October 23, 2012 10:57 am

      I think we may be miscommunicating; I don’t mean to rewrite Azeroth with randomness; that code itself would remain as it is. I’m talking about having instanced areas, like islands in an archipelago, where the players “port” to for the procedural stuff. It would be new code, but it’s interaction with the old code would be limited to player abilities and sampling whatever the “random” elements might be. I don’t believe that would require a total rewrite, but what do I really know; I’m an English professor.

      As for your first question, I’d suggest X-Com. The old Elder Scrolls games, too, got famous for the procedural content (I’m not sure if Skyrim used it or not; I don’t believe it did). The dungeons in Oblivion, Morrowind, and Daggerfall were mostly procedural (all but the main quest dungeons). That’s probably the best model for what I’m talking about; a large, static game world with some elements of procedural content, and look how well they did and famous the series got. It is doable.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • October 25, 2012 5:51 am

      @Stubborn But then again didyou not complain about TSW being too instanced? Granted that was single player instancing but I am still leary of anything that adds more instancingto the world. part of the reason I still “inhabit” (note: not play but inhabit through RP) WoW is because its the only MMO out there with a seemless non-instanced world. Instancing zones just leaves a bad taste in my mouth (as does phasing)^^

    • October 29, 2012 5:26 pm

      I did. but my complaints were about the single-player nature of those instances, not that they were instanced in and of itself. I see no reason why instancing can’t be party-friendly.

  7. sam permalink
    October 21, 2012 1:08 pm

    You missed a key point on the casuals. Casuals want to play with thier friends. Friends don’t always fall into the same playstyle. Therefore even casuals have a hard time playing with thier friends because thier friends don’t always play the same.

    • October 22, 2012 11:38 am

      They certainly can. I think that more of then than “having a hard time playing with their friends,” it’s more often that they end up doing things they don’t want so they can play with their friends. I guess that’s where the “tolerance” axis comes in; if ALL YOU WANT is to play with your friends, you will, regardless of what you’re doing. If you want to do your own thing but also kind of want to play with your friends, then you might end up playing alone so you can avoid whatever content you don’t like.

      Thanks for the comment!

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