Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some brief thoughts on shard design and AoS:R

We've been working on AoS:R for over a year now. The first account created is 370 days old! Granted we've had some big breaks and periods of inactivity, but we've been consistently developing, brainstorming and improving, and I think we're getting very close to being able to release a shard that is actually ready, not just a beta disguised as a proper release. I'm hopeful we can get something that actually works, long term. I'd love the shard to be something that's still running in 5-10 years. I've enjoyed the process of designing the shard immensely, and I know the guys all feel the same about the aspects they've taken control of.

I recently came across this post, by the designer of a shard that didn't come to fruition. It's very relevant, and I feel we have - inadvertently - addressed most of the issues it discusses.

"Quick skill gain, tends to equate to the following characteristics and trends:

Low attachment to the created character, most people value things they work for, either by spending cash to purchase said thing, or investing personal time and energy into obtaining, creating, or cultivating the desired thing. When you're no longer paying out cash which most invest time and energy to obtain, and you aren't spending personal time and energy instead, you simply have a character that you often have no or little attachment to.

This of course also means your attachment to the world in which your character exists tends to be much weaker. Simply put people that invest, don't like to generally lose their investments so they stick around. Quick skill gain creates an often continual roller coaster of less invested players, coming and going, and also tends to even have your veterans skipping around from offer to offer. (This can be prevented some what by creating very demanding end game systems which require heavy investment, and thus attachment, to utilize/advance in, but these tend to also be optional, and thus usually effect only a small subset of players.)"

We do have quick skill gain, and we do allow macroing. However, we're lucky in that we are basing our design on the P25 ruleset, which means we have something else to create attachment to character and shard - powerscrolls. The need to aquire these, after GMing skills requires significant effort, especially as we have reduced the frequency of +20 scroll drops, and have added a cumulative scroll use requirement - meaning players cannot use a +20 scroll until they have used both a +10, and a +15.

I believe this is giving us the best of both worlds. We have the easy skill gain, removing the requirement of the 'grind', whilst still hopefully creating the attachment to character and shard via the difficult 'finishing touches' of hard to achieve champion scrolls.

"The rise of mules and alts, in a world with quick gains, multiple characters become the quick norm, whether legally allowed, or illegally acquired, they quickly lead to most people being self sufficient, which harms the economy, and the community at large."

With players only being allowed two characters, we've addressed this issue in a way unrelated to skill gain and character progression.

"The next major path of advancement found within almost all MMORPGs, is of course the wealth grind, earning gold, and obtaining items and resources, and well that is about where that ends. In item based games like WoW this can of course be stretched to infinite scales, but within UO which is primarily by default a crafting oriented game with very few levels of actual item advancement, wealth ends up having usually little real reward.

For many it is but a stepping stone to obtain a base level of supplies, and perhaps to purchase a house, after this, there is almost zero reason to have gold or wealth. Obviously there is such things as rare collecting, but this is a very small niche in general as well, and doesn't touch on usually the bulk of the player base."

 In part, this is a problem that can never be addressed in UO - there simply isn't any real use for large amounts of gold once players are established - unless you constantly add content which then poses problems for balance and a risk of moving too far from the actual era being replicated.

I think a few of our changes will make a huge difference, though. The main one being the removal of BODs, and the repositioning of Runic Tools as an NPC vendor purchase. The high costs make them a great gold sink, and they are something players will never have enough of.  Players will always be looking to improve their items, or just create great items to sell. Players will wish to invest excess gold in these, even if it is just in a desire to 'speculate to accumulate'

We've also added other gold sinks. Warhorses are no longer faction mounts, as factions do not exist on AoS:R. Instead the four-colour warhorses are available as prestige mounts, to all players. For a still to be decided sum (at least 5 million gold) players can purchase faction warhorses for themselves.
Other NPC gold sinks include the 8th and 9th anniversary (as well as some shard unique) decoration items.

"When you combine the general lack of meaning of wealth in UO, combined with finished character creation, or limited character advancement such as ROT, what paths of advancement are actually left in the game?

Usually the answer is very little to none, and this of course is why commercial mmorpgs now adays, often choose to itemize their games, as they can continually have you working to obtain new wealth and items. They also tend to continually up the level cap, so that character advancement can continue marching along at the same time.

Historically UO also went down both of these paths, with actually quite some success, power scrolls which were a means to extend character advancement, became extremely popular as they were also needed by pvpers in order to compete. Likewise AOS re-wrote UO to be item based, and continued to extend this leaps and bounds with things like artifact drops. Ultimately much of this destroyed the UO that many of us loved, but it was never the less successful for them as AOS did see the highest subscription rate ever for UO at 250k accounts active."

As we've already decided that power scrolls and 'itemisation' are good for our vision of UO, there's not a great deal to discuss in relation to the above, other than it provides some more confirmation of our belief that we've picked the 'best' era - or at least the one that offers the best long term possibilities for a succesful server if done right.

It's a very interesting, well written and relevant post, and if I felt we hadn't already addressed the issues discussed, I'd want to try to.