I have gradually come to the conclusion that DDO is no longer a Role Playing Game (RPG). I am not sure what it has become instead: a racing game? A fighting game? A social network?
I am not even certain this is a bad thing, although I suspect so. Later I will introduce some ideas that might change this state, assuming change is desired.
- Five ideas about items
- Four ideas about experience points
- Two thoughts regarding content
- Two ideas that advance the player position rather than the character*
*And thank you to guild mate Yvonne for providing half of the player position ideas.
This is going to get pretty long. Hang on, here we go.
Definitions: End Game
The present DDO end game consists of:
- Epic questing for Epic loot
- The most difficult and rewarding raid, currently Tower of Despair (and perhaps the Black Abbot?)
- Epic version of the latest content release, currently update 6
There hasn’t been a lot of pressure for Turbine to revamp the end game, or even to pay much attention to it, as the stream of F2P players has been a larger and more profitable focus area. But now even the casual F2P players are starting to enter the end game: this issue is going to become more and more critical to player retention, word of mouth/viral appeal, and one would assume, to profitability?
According to Wikipedia*, an RPG is a game in which “players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development”
* I acknowledge that Wikipedia is hardly the authoritative source for any definition, but it doesn’t require a credit card and that will have to be authoritative enough
Refining this concept, computerized role-playing games (CRPG) are defined as subgenres of video games but with origins in pen-and-paper RPGs. Again consulting Wikipedia: “The player in RPGs controls one or several adventuring party members fulfilling one or many quests. The major similarities with pen-and-paper games involve developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion.”
It is possible to derive criteria from these entries and apply them to determine if the DDO end game is indeed an RPG or a CRPG.
Attribute DDO? Player acting No, one cannot realistically role play running the same content endlessly * Structured decision-making No, although this applies the first time a quest is learned it does not apply to repeat runs Character development No, characters at end game are capped and no longer develop Story telling and narrative No, repeating content prevents encountering any new story or narrative Replayability Yes Immersion Yes and no, very subjective and dependant on player opinion
* One could come up with a heavily-contrived time-traveling scenario (or maybe alternate realities?) and role play the metagaming too, but otherwise this is a non-starter
The end game of DDO passes only one of five objective criteria. I posit that disqualifies the end game from consideration as an RPG or CRPG.
This is the one criterion that I expect may draw disagreement (assuming that anyone reads any of this at all). “But wait” I can hear you say, “you do advance your character. You get better magic items!”
What is character development? In literature or media, it is the gradual exposure of a character’s core being to the reader/consumer. In an RPG, it is a gradual increase in character ability and capability and a matching increase in the challenges facing the character. Neither of these occur in DDO end game. Consider:
- Out of the 50-60 epic magic items introduced so far, all but a handful are inferior to non-epic magic items that are likely already acquired
- The most accessible of these items (VONs, update 5 and 6) are those that are the least advanced
- Even for those few items that are advances, they do not allow the character to oppose a greater and more appropriate challenge. They can at best make it easier to rerun the exact same content
I had six characters capped at 16 and four of them moved into the end game when DDO went F2P. In fact it is the one-year anniversary of F2P that got me started down this thought path.
- A barbarian/fighter who capped instantly and now grinds Epics and ToD
- A wizard who capped instantly and now grinds Epics and ToD
- A monk/wizard that I did not cap until two weeks ago but who has been grinding ToD the whole time
- A Completionist-to-be who has been following the path of True Reincarnation*
* The ultimate Groundhog Day scenario, Mawry’s capabilities rise and fall with each lifespan, but her overall capability has not advanced at all in the last year. I do not believe the TR cycle even counts as end game.
I have 35 epic quest tokens, 10 epic raid tokens, 30 Shavarath trophies, and have several epic item sets (item/scroll/seal/shard). None of my characters want any of the epic items I can make, I have zero ToD rings, and I’ve advanced these characters not even one millimeter in the last year.
That was a perfect illustration of what I have been missing the last year. An entirely new capability earned at great difficulty but completely worth every erg of effort. Or in other words, it felt like an RPG again.
If DDO is not an RPG, What is It Then?
For some of us it is a racing game. We rush through the quest as fast as we possibly can, accumulating kills or ingredients or quest completions as we go.
For some of us it is a fighting game. We unlock combos and acquire power-ups designed to maximize DPS or PvP prowess.
For some of us it is an investment game. We guess what is hot now, or will be hot, invest and try to maximize return on our investment. Or we mine chests, hoping they yield an item that is salable.
Some of us are playing Barbie. We dress up our characters in some outfit or another, buy them haircuts, and try to collect the right equipment and accessories to go with our new Barbie Townhouse/Guild Airship. *
* I apologize if this sounds snarky. Just to set the record straight, by this definition I am spending a lot of time playing Barbie too.
For many of us – and I suspect I really mean most of us – it has become a social occasion, a way to interact with people we’ve known for months or years, and the game itself is secondary; we could as well be playing bridge.
Interesting? Sure. Fun? Usually. Roleplaying game? No, not at all.
What Do We Do About It?
Up until now I have been discussing facts that I can back up with argument and/or evidence. But now I am leaving the world of facts and entering pure speculation. Time has shown Turbine to be highly creative and far more capable of generating solutions than I. Yet the lure of creative problem solving is irresistable. But there are constraints:
- Assumption: It would be better if the DDO end game still functioned like an RPG
- Assumption: It will never be possible to produce content as fast as we can play it
Given these assumptions, one may advance ideas that are intended to bring DDO back in line with RPG concepts: leveling, character development, etc., while keeping the ideas possible. Generally speaking, impossible ideas are less helpful.
Epic Item Changes
These ideas work towards increasing the “epicness” of epic items while at the same time making it possible to target a specific epic item and eventually acquire it. This assumes that the reasonable acquisition of truly epic items counts as character advancement: I am not certain it does, but it seems like it ought to be part of the larger solution.
A combination of these would be ideal; attempting to implement all of them could be bad:
- Add another augmentation slot to almost every epic item
- And/Or globally reduce the capabilities of non-epic items that are already stronger than their epic equivalent
- Give all epic quests a 20th completion end reward (as raids have today), and put the seals/shards/scrolls from that quest in that list
- And/Or Add epic vendors that sell seals/shards/scrolls for (a lot of!) epic tokens
- And/Or Remove the binding from seals and shards so they can be traded
Example: if greensteel did not advance the damage die of each weapon, the only way to get a 2d8 maul would be to get an epic version. I could choose to target the Epic Hammer of Life and have a reasonably assured chance of acquiring it in 20 (or so) VON runs.
I understand the implications of having my greensteel nerfed. No one said this would be easy.
These ideas work towards increasing character development possibilities by restoring experience points and level advancement. As with the epic item suggestions, it would likely be a bad idea to try implementing them all.
- Add epic character levels based on the simple epic level model from 3rd edition D&D
- Raise the level cap
- Raise the level cap but not the class level cap – now I can make a fighter 20 / cleric 20 (but not a fighter 21)
- Reduce the XP penalty for multiple TRs
Of these I strongly prefer epic levels. It is really hard to earn an epic level (and much much harder to earn a second one, etc.), and you only get one Epic Spell or Feat for doing so. Of course that one spell or feat is very powerful 🙂
Raising the level cap is a temporary fix. It is difficult to code, and there would need to be content appropriate to the new levels, and in six months or a year Turbine would have to do it again. Also there aren’t any higher level spells in the D&D source material. Yet, it would be awesome for the players if there was a way to do it: it has to be part of the discussion.
Allowing multi-classing over the level cap may be easier to fit into the existing game. Not easy, just easier. And it puts off the level cap question for a long time, especially if levels above 20 continue to increase in XP costs at the rate they do up until 20. Imagine how much level 59-60 will cost!
Finally, I think reducing the XP penalty for TR might make the Completionist path more attractive to more people, although I remain dubious that it counts as end game.
Releasing low-level content but including an epic version was genius, it let Turbine address both player bases at the same time with one set of content. Is it enough?
End game content is by definition high-level content, something that is apparently difficult to justify in business terms. Consider that it has been nearly two years since we last received a new raid, finally we are getting one in Update 7, yet it is not new (it is reworked Devil Assault) and it not high level (is for 6th level characters).
Running the same limited high-level content will never feel like character advancement. This discussion must include a discussion of content to have any validity whatsoever.
- New, epic-only content
- Player-generated content
Epic-only levels would feel like advancement. Gaining access to new content is indeed a new capability, especially if it is difficult to unlock, for instance if it could only be purchased with epic tokens. I have no idea how to make this business case to Turbine, it is (apparently) a very expensive proposition.
Player-generated content is rife with exploitation possibilities. A common answer to this issue is to prevent characters from rejoining the main game once they’ve entered player content. Applying that approach in DDO would remove player-generated content from the end game discussion altogether. Some form of QA/Moderation/Approval process seems a requirement, and that sounds expensive too. Can QA/Approval be crowdsourced?
Without a continuous stream of new high-level content, I and others will continue to feel that we have already “beaten” the game. When you’ve beaten the game, you eventually get tired of the replays and move onto something new.
Player Advancement Changes
These ideas attempt to re-inject RPG into DDO by allowing those with capped characters to advance their Player Position rather than their individual characters.
- Allow us to retire characters as demigod hirelings
- Allow us to earn XP after level 20 that can be spent in the DDO Store
If I could create a pool of custom epic hirelings that are available only to me (or maybe to my guild, or maybe under exceptional circumstances available to anyone), my Player Position improves even if none of my individual characters improve. That would feel like advancement. Many more details about this idea are available in this thread.
My guildie Yvonne came up with the idea of earning XP over level 20 but having it only apply to DDO store purchases. Sort of an alternative favor? I like it, there are DDO store purchases that improve characters and even more that improve the Player Position. It would feel like tangible advancement again.
- The existing end game is more of a social gathering than it is a role-playing game, and for some of us, is really not very much fun
- The F2P players, even the casual ones, are reaching end game now too. This issue (if you agree that this IS an issue) will become more paramount and not less
- Correcting this will not be a simple change, and is likely to require multiple new capabilities and also reductions to some of our existing capabilities. No one idea is going to step up and solve this
- Suggested improvements include changes to existing epic items and how they are disbursed, changes to XP and levels, changes to content, and a dash of entirely new ideas as well
Thank you to anyone who had the (fortitude? misfortune? way too much time on their hands) to read this entire missive.