Game talkUse-based systems

 Posted by (Visited 31150 times)  Game talk
Jul 182006
 

Recently, there’s been some chatter on the [ultima] Yahoogroup about macroing. Lots of talk about how the fixes for detecting macroing software are coming years too late. But we waged a silent war against macroing from very early on — not because of the gold farmers, as that was much less of a concern back then, but because of the basic mechanics of a use-based system.

These days, use-based systems are most familiar to everyone because of Oblivion, probably. And sure enough, there’s plenty of tales of how amusing it is that the use-based system there encourages strange behaviors that do not fit the expected behavior in the game: people jumping everywhere in order to improve the stats and skills related to dodging, that sort of thing.

The basic definition of a use-based skill system is one where you have a chance of improvement every time you use the skill. So everyone has access to every skill from the beginning (or, in a variant, access may be unlocked by other means, such as being taught), and as you exercise the skill, your chance of success goes up.

The attraction is that it leads to a more freeform game experience. Instead of tracking arbitrary “experience points” that can be applied to anything, leading to oddities like getting better at crafting because you have slain a lot of orcs, you can get better at crafting by, well, crafting. The downside, of course, is that it lets you sit there and do something repetitively in order to get better at it.

In the real world, this is called “practice,” and we don’t regard it as a bad thing. We force kids to sit and do scales on their piano or violin; we tell them to do a billion math problems; and we send them to sports camp so they can keep honing skills. “Practice” isn’t a dirty word at all, and generations have bemoaned the repetitive nature of it. However, the logic seems to be that in game, repetitive action like that has no place.

Elements required for fun:
(from A Grammar of Gameplay)

Do you have to prepare for the challenge?
…where prep includes prior moves?
…and you can prep in multiple ways?

Does the topology of the space matter?
…does the topology change?

Is there a core verb for the challenge?
…can it be modified by content?

Can you use different abilities on it?
…will you have to to succeed?

Is there skill to using the ability?
…or is this a basic UI action?

Are there multiple success states?
…with no bottomfeeding?
…and a cost to failure?

That’s balderdash. The issue isn’t the repetitiveness. Many games allow repetitiveness within their framework even if they don’t require it. You can practice headshots in an FPS, or jumps in a platform game. In fact, you pretty much have to. So it’s not practicing that is the issue — it’s that, in classic “theory of fun” style, practice that isn’t challenging your skills and helping you learn is boring. In the headshot example, you probably start out not able to hit headshots reliably — as you practice, you take on tougher and tougher shots, and keep challenging yourself. In the musical instrument example, new pieces and new techniques open up, much like new levels in a game. (There’s a reason we say you “play” a piece of music!)

But in use-based systems, at least how they are structured today, this isn’t the case. There’s no challenge in jumping off a hill in Oblivion, and therefore, the grind rears its ugly head.

Now, the biggest barrier here isn’t mechanical, it’s psychological. Players are bottomfeeding the system (fun checklist item again!). There’s no cost to failure. The topolgy of the space is irrelevant. There are no differing abilities. No skill required. All of these can be avoided if players simply quit doing unfun stuff. But that particular psychological barrier isn’t one that is going to fall; humans seek advantage, and just because it may be more challenging to forage for one’s own food in the winter, it’s smarter to instead hit the grocery store even though it’s distinctly less challenging.

So the systems must adapt to the psychology. Some players will “play it straight,” but even many of those will succumb to temptation once they see other players gaining advantage over them by using the bottomfeeding method.

UO used a straight-up use-based system. Each time you used a skill, it had a chance of going up. In fact, originally, it had a chance of going up if you observed someone else using it. There was no difficulty rating on the task, so there was no way to say “you won’t learn from this because it’s beneath your skill threshold. What’s more, skills that you didn’t use originally decayed away. A player was allowed only 700 skill points total — when you hit that threshold, and gained a point, a point was automatically lost from somewhere else — not even the least used skill, as I recall, but any of them, on the grounds that ify ou used something occasionally, it’d counteract a bit of the loss.

The first big problem that we ran into with use-based systems was that every skill was used at a different rate. Swords were swung quickly. Talking to the dead was done rarely. If every skill had the same chance of advancing and the same amount by which it advanced, then swords would be mastered incredibly quickly, and skills that could not physically be performed as often because of the lack of opportunity would advance more slowly.

The solution to this was to dynamically track the frequency of use of all skills. That way we could look at swords, see that skill checks for it happened ten times more often than our baseline, and that spirit speak usage happened ten times less than our baseline. We could then make the chance of swords advancing when used to be 1/10th the chance of the baseline, and the chance of spirit speak advancing to be ten times the baseline. If skills became more popular (lets say, a whole bunch of spirit speakers started to play the game) then spirit speak would be checked more frequently, and then it would move closer to the baseline chance of advancing. It would be a self-balancing mechanism for when payers rushed to skills because they were “easier to advance.”

It didn’t work. For one, I don’t think there was a baseline in place; instead, everything started getting slower and slower to advance. As things got slower, players responded by macroing the skills, chasing after the one time in a thousand that they would go up. This meant that now the chance became one in ten thousand. The thing players had an infinite amount of was time — it didn’t matter to them whether they macroed for an hour or overnight. What broke was the feedback mechanism — the reward of advancement came so incredibly infrequently that playing “the right way” no longer had any incentives.

A few thing could have fixed this, in theory. Only advancing for taking on actual challenges, rather than doing something you already know how to do, such as swinging at a practice dummy. Soon people started trapping powerful monsters in their houses to macro on instead. Ooops. Next solution?

One such solution was 8×8. I’ve mentioned before how UO internally divided up the map into “chunks” of 64 tiles, 8×8 square, and stored the invisible resources on a “chunk egg,” an invisible object that represented the amount of wood, grass, and os on to be found there. This also meant that the chunk egg was a unique object with an id.

A feature of how random numbers work on computers is that they aren’t actually random. They are seeded by a value. If you give a random number generator a given seed number, say 1234, then it will always spit out the same result. With a use-based system, we were rolling dice to see when people were going to advance. The inputs were things like what skill they were using, what skill level they were currently at, and a random seed.

I had already moved off the team by this point, but Sunsword came to ask me for advice. I suggested that instead of seeding the random number generator with the system clock (so that it would always spit out different numbers) we instead should seed it with the id of the chunk egg. This meant that you’d get a predictable result for a given person, skill, and skill level. If a guy who was standing at a forge started forging, and failed, he’d be guaranteed to fail there until the heat death of the universe. The only way to get it to succeed would be to change the random seed number. This could be accomplished by putting different inputs into the seed: a different skill level (by, say, going elsewhere and managing to advance) or a different location (by just going elsewhere).

The intent was to get people to move about — two or three moves would carry you a whole screen away from where you were previously.

Players still managed to figure out, via pure scientific experimentation, as far I know, that if they regularly moved 8 tiles away, they would have an improved chance of advancemrnt. And thus was born the phenomenon called “8×8 macroing,” which involved moving 8 tiles via an automated macro, after a given failed attempt. I regard the player discovery of this as a great example of one of the Laws:

No matter what you do, players will decode every formula, statistic, and algorithm in your world via experimentation.

Runesabre never liked the skill table, and once UO was under his domain, he removed it in favor of a hand-coded table. A hand-coded advancement rate table will always need to be updated as players discover exploits that drive them towards one skill or another, so I strongly recommend that anyone dealing with a use-based system maintain metrics of rate of use anyway; whether they then manually copy those values into their advancement table, or do it automatically is to my mind largely irrelevant. The challenge is fixing the feedback loop.

Once the table was removed, a series of increasingly outré systems such as “guaranteed gain” and “power hour” started becoming required, as rates were adjusted to try to bring some semblance of balance to things. I was gone by then, so I don’t know what the logic behind those were.

How to make use-based systems work? Well, one way is to move to “results-based” logic. This is the philosophy that it isn’t using the system that should grant you advancement, but instead, getting a concrete result. This is what leads to experience points; in SWG, we said that you could have results classified by what sort of result, thus giving us multiple types of experience.

The sorts of results we wanted, however, weren’t solely the act of building something (because that could still be done in a closed room making crap nobody wants) but instead results that were somehow socially valid. From this wan born the notion of crafting XP being granted when someone else actually used something you crafted: a validation that what you made actually worth something to someone. Alas, this system was marginalized in favor of themore direct feedback of getting XP when you made something; to really work, it would have needed to account for all of the XP, or else bottomfeeding would once again ensue (as it did).

In the long run, we ended up tracking the rate of usage during beta, and setting static XP requirements per skill box based on the rate of usage of skills, just like that table in UO. We also added the dfifficulty rating to each challenge that users were overcoming (be it a monster or something they were crafting) so that we could adjust the XP gain accordingly.

A fun little story for those who think SWG was still too grindy: three days before the game launched, the designer in charge of advancement rates went through them and made them all ten times slower. His concern was that players would max out the game in a matter of weeks, and then quit. This actually hit the live beta servers, and I reverted it back out as soon as I saw how excruciatingly slow it was: making literally thousands of blaster bolts to advance one skill box. I felt that I’d rather people exit the game having had fun, than stay and not have fun, or quit because it was too grindy.

Of course, it was still too grindy.

So, how to make use-based systems work? Well, I think you’d have to run down the checklist, and try to fix each of those problems. The result might not look much like a use-based system once you were done.

One system that we were planning with the cancelled Privateer Online was to drop this advancement metaphor altogether. Instead, you were certified to do things. You earned certification by doing a minimal amount of training, defeating a challenge of some sort, and then most critically, paying your dues. Dues would be currency paid to the NPC guilds in the game. If you couldn’t pay the dues, then you’d lose the certification.

The instant reaction to this system was, “but people could buy their way up to the top!” And my reply was, “so what?” It’s not it’s regular skills — instead, think of it as a mechanism for people to play the way they want to. If you want to set up a merchant empire, find a sponsor, and try to get going. And if you can’t cut it, you’ll lose all your money on expensive dues, and slip back down to the level of gameplay you can actually handle. For a game about commerce, this sounded fine to me.

At the heart of all this, though, is the problem that skills, levels, abilities — these are properly regarded as enablers, and not as the point. A skill is supposed to be a tool you use to defeat a challenge. If the game becomes getting the tool, then you have a nice little rat race going that is inevitably going to be a grind. You need to make the skills something you pick up in order to do something else. At that point, whether you make people earn them or just let people pick up any they want becomes much less important, because you’ve placed the burden for fun where it should be: on the game, and not on the advancement.

  120 Responses to “Use-based systems”

  1. “Privateer Online” ?!?!?!??!

    Holy crap?! you mean Privateer from the wingcommander series?

    Why was that cancled?!!!

  2. Great article. But if skills/levels/abilities are properly enablers for accessing content and having the tools to defeat them, then doesn’t that argue against use-based systems entirely? It seems to me it’s far easier to just hand out these tools to players as they “need” them, because you know at what level what they’ll need to handle the next set of content. Sure, you can give players some amount of choice, and sometimes a particular ability may be so useful that there’s a drive to get to a certain level specifically so you can get it. But overall, it seems to avoid the problem of use-based systems where you almost HAVE to look at as an exercise in “getting the tool in order to do something else.” With use-based system, it’s a lot less certain that the player will have the tools they need to defeat a challenge that would be apropriate for them. You could make the use-based threshold very low, so it was very easy to acquire the needed skills and everyone would have what they needed at the right time, but then that is almost identical to the level-based system. Alternatively, you can throttle content to correspond with the player’s current abilities, something which I’m actually quite fond of it level based games, but which would seem to be more difficult to do (but not impossible) in a use-based one.

  3. For all its flaws, though, the use-based system of UO always seemed more … “organic” to me (for lack of a better term). I wonder how initial character roll values could be used to influence the success rate in use-based “leveling”? (e.g. – a char with a high roll in a certain base attribute has a random (or maybe not random) chance of succeeding in the use of a skill more often than a char with a low roll for that attribute).

  4. Instead of advancement in skills, gaining more powerful things. have it spread sideways, not up. Accesses to things, instead of increased power.

    I have never really been able to phrase that to others correctly.

    But i can give an example. Back pack crafting. I have never understood why this was considered a “low level skill” in the grand scheme of things. Bags an back packs are needed at all “levels” (or by basically everyone). but instead of once you make 40 backpacks or bags, you “advance” to being able to make bags that are larger…or more “powerful”, you only gain the ability to make them in colors. Did you make a better bag? nope, is it bigger? nope. Its just more unique, fill the same need, but doesn’t imply that its necessarily “better”.

    That may have been a bad example .lol.

    Sideways, not graduating skills.

    Lets try another. Flame spell. Great. .ok. Flame spell is a flame spell, everyone has it, it doesn’t increase in power, doesn’t give you more DPS as you gain more… but what you do get is different patterns that it can achieve when cast, patterns that determine different AOE’s, if that make since…

    Say you have level 1 flame spell. It shoots out and hits everyone in a 10m circle.. Great. you cast it one to many times and “level it up”..great.. But the DPS didn’t change, the power and mana used didn’t change, but you gained an extra pattern, a column, is not as round as the other spell, but it has the ability to strike targets the other did not, flying ones.. Mobs that are in the air constantly that wont be hit by the first version of the spell, because its only a ring on the floor in the target area.. But then again, the column option of the flame spell, will most likely only hit 1 target because its circle is smaller, but it does hit things that are 15m in the air or off the floor.

    make sense?

    I understand that players require, no , demand feedback for there actions.. but does it always have to come in the form of increased numbers floating over your targets head?

    Take FF ## (any lol), was it ever REALY necessary to have damage numbers in the 99999 range? IIRCC, PnP DnD never had numbers that high.

    I’m not sure if that last part really supports my argument, but, hay, i said it.

    Great article as always.

  5. WARNING: long and highly opinionated comment follows. Proceed at your own risk.

    I imagine anyone who has been around MMOGs for a while and has any interest at all in game mechanics and systems has an opinion on this topic, and their own set of “magic bullets” to “fix” things. In the spirit of “heck, why not open myself up for limitless ridicule and abuse”, I’ll present my own list of “First Principles” re: use-based systems…

    1) If a skill is worth having in the game, it’s worth making it part of a process.

    The first big problem that we ran into with use-based systems was that every skill was used at a different rate.

    In UO, swinging a sword is/was part of a process, the combat process. Talking to the dead? Not so much. Crafting that aforementioned sword? Again… nope.

    It seems to me that a truly robust use-based system will need to have the same attention, intricacy, and detail given to each task as is given to the ubiquitous combat task, or something like the problem mentioned above will be a likely result.

    If the process of speaking with the dead, or crafting a sword, was as fleshed out and gifted with options and alternatives as the combat system, I submit that the problem of varying rates would (at least) have been more manageable.

    I also freely admit that in some cases, finding a way to flesh out a process for a particular task can be quite difficult, hence the way it is stated above. There are a multitude of ways to grant “abilities” that would not need to be tied to a “usage-based” paradigm. If a desired task doesn’t fit in one way, just implement it in another… or don’t implement it at all.

    2) Everything with a benefit should also have a cost.

    There’s no challenge in jumping off a hill in Oblivion, and therefore, the grind rears its ugly head. Now, the biggest barrier here isn’t mechanical, it’s psychological. Players are bottomfeeding the system (fun checklist item again!). There’s no cost to failure.

    The principle and the quote in this case go to basically the same place, but each with a slightly different emphasis. If skipping through the world had a cost, say, in terms of character readiness (stamina?), there would be a whole lot less jumping going on. For example, imagine the poor kangaroo-wannabe gets ambushed while exhausted from jumping around all over the place…

    I would suggest that it’s not necessarily a cost to failure that is crucial… a reasonable cost to simply perform the action at all may also serve the need, as long as it temporarily reduces the character’s readiness in some significant way moving forward.

    I philosophically agree that there should be some chance of failure in order to achieve significant advancement… but I also think that success or failure is irrelevant to whether that advancement then takes place. (In my own experience, some of my greatest learning experiences arose from failures, as opposed to successes.) The cost of failure does not necessarily need to be in the advancement of knowledge or innate ability, after all.

    3) Multiple advancement systems are an absolute “must have”.

    You need to make the skills something you pick up in order to do something else.

    I would submit that, to achieve that disconnect between “tools” and “goals” that the quote alludes to, multiple (and probably intertwined) advancement systems are almost required.

    Most existing games have at least 2, which can be best summarized in abstract as XP and GP. “Faction” might count as a third such system in certain titles, as well.

    Even with just these limited options, you can achieve the goal stated above. The player might gain XP while pursuing GP, gain GP while pursuing Faction, and gain Faction while pursuing XP… and other combinations would be possible as well. It requires some care and craftsmanship on the part of the designer, but making skills (or anything else, for that matter) the tool, as opposed to the goal, should be quite attainable under those conditions.

    And the more advancement concepts you incorporate, the more options you have to separate the “tools” from the “goals”.

    (There are other ways as well, of course… I just think this is the most straightforward means to achieve the ends.)

    -=-

    Anyway, those are some of my own opinions on the topic, and I’ve droned on long enough… let the ridiculing commence!

  6. One other big problem with use-based systems is that they suck for achievers. If I tell you I’m a 24th level Necromancer in EverQuest 2, anyone who has played the game for a while has a decent idea of what the character can do, within certain variations. I’ve described my character in essentially 3 words. Even if you don’t play EQ2, you can guess what a Necromancer is like based on experience from other games.

    If I want to talk about a UO character, I have to list out the skills and the skill level. Even if all my skills are at GM, I still have to use at least twice the words. And, if you have never played UO, good luck trying to figure out what some of the skills do.

    Meridian 59 also uses a use-based system for advancement. We use something similar to the table lookup method Raph describes above. There is also a secondary advancement check that is based on various other factors: for example, the closer you are to learning your maximum number of skills and spells, the harder it is to advance. So, it’s easier for a newbie to get points in skills than it is for very advanced players.

    I’ve always preferred use-based systems as a player, myself. Usually because they are the best way to have advancement for a skill-based system (as opposed to a class-based system). Skill-based systems are usually a lot more flexible, allowing you to build your character as you want. You also don’t have to rely on pure level numbers, where a level 60 character generally tremendously more powerful than a level 30 character. In a PvP game, levels really suck, IMNSHO.

    My thoughts.

  7. Thank you for posting such excellent material, Raph! I had planned to write about use-based systems to defend against the criticism that use-based systems do not work in favor of the interactive experience due to players being enabled to "jump-jump-jump" to improve skills, but you’ve done a really nice job. I’ll pass the permalink along to a business partner who has recently been attempting to convince me of the viability of developing games…

  8. One other big problem with use-based systems is that they suck for achievers.

    That is so ironic; I hadn’t realized it before. And all this time, I was under the impression that MUDs (IIRC, Diku was actually a hybrid use-based system) and MMORPGs catered to the Achiever crowd. I was wrong. Apparently, they don’t. That’s probably a bad sign, since one of Bartle’s “stable states” was “no players”.

    Multiple advancement systems are an absolute “must have”.

    Too unspecific. I’d argue that you should split that into two:

    A) Multiple goals are an absolute “must have”, and B) Multiple ways to the same goal are an absolute “must have”.

    I would tentatively consider the idea that the same advancement path may lead to separate goals. (Upon gaining mastery of the Force, will you choose Light or Dark?) But I’m not confident enough to suggest a third branching.

    Trucegore, #4

    I think what you’re trying to say is that options should be expanded with skill, rather than keeping a person on the same path with skill. So, instead of going down the road a bit farther, you have more roads to choose from. (Bad analogy.)

    I like it in principle, but one of the worst problems with skill-based systems (not that any of the others do it any better), is that the skills themselves aren’t emergent gameplay. Let’s say the world is illiterate, so there’s no Literacy skill. Suddenly, written language is invented. The developers have to do some re-writing of the code, rebalance all the skills, blah blah whatever. It can’t appear unexpectedly. Can’t, as in impossible, rather than can’t, as in prohibited.

    SirBruce, #2

    Wouldn’t the idea be to push the players to make the journey of training their skills to the point where they CAN defeat the challenge? The idea of the RPG is to rise to the challenge.

    Overall, I think that Dragonrealms handles this passbly well. DR is class/skill/use-based, with a swath of skills that you have to use to advance in. (They pour your training into metaphorical buckets, which are dumped into your permanent memory every few minutes.) You can definitely rise to a point and stop, if you want. (Though if you’re measuring yourself against fellow players, that may never come to pass…)

    Yay for long comments!

  9. At that point, whether you make people earn them or just let people pick up any they want becomes much less important, because you’ve placed the burden for fun where it should be: on the game, and not on the advancement.

    No no no, making them earn it takes time, and time is money. $15 a month, to be exact.

    Ok end sarcasm. I have to go to class right now, crap.
    1. Character advancement through levels/skills is an important part of the experience to players (often at least as important as money/items)–other things need to be fixed before you can just remove it.
    2. Earning skills is a seemingly natural way to hide more complex aspects of certain systems until a player is more familiar with the basics of those systems.

  10. WOW. This one was an eye opener

  11. >Wouldn’t the idea be to push the players to make the journey of training
    >their skills to the point where they CAN defeat the challenge? The idea
    >of the RPG is to rise to the challenge.

    Sure, but in level-based systems, this is easy to do. You gain experience killing the orcs, which then gives you the abilities you need to defeat the trolls, which then gives you the abilities you need to defeat the dragons. With a use-based system, the ability you use to defeat the troll may not be the ability you use to defeat the dragon, meaning that you often wind up in the situation where you know how to defeat the trolls, you’re in all other ways “ready” to defeat the dragon, but now you have to go and grind the particular skill you need to take on dragons that previous encounters have not prerpared you for.

    A designer could simply require the same skill for all three encounters, but then the use-based system becomes much narrower in the sorts of advancement possibilites it offers. To do it “right”, you’d probably want a very complex encounter system where you’re given a series of challenges to train up one skill, and then a different series of encounters to train up the next skill, and so on. But that’s difficult to do without running into seemingly wildly disparate encounters, where one minute you’re killing giants with a sword and the next you’re killing goblines with magic missiles.

  12. Just as a follow-up, I don’t mean to say that use-based systems are hopelessly inferior. But I think there are good reasons why they are difficult to do well, and why level-based is easier and less complicated.

  13. [...] Comments [...]

  14. >“Privateer Online” ?!?!?!??!
    >Holy crap?! you mean Privateer from the wingcommander series?
    >Why was that cancled?!!!

    Raph knows the story better, but the way I’ve heard it follows:

    During the height of the Wing Commander series in 1998, a lot of new games in the franchise were being considered, including Wing Commander Online. But when the Wing Commander movie didn’t do so well, and Origin suffered another management change, that project got cancelled and the entire “maverick” team that was working on Wing Commander got laid off.

    But then most of them got hired back a few months later to work on Privateer Online. And everything was going great, until EA bought Westwood, who were working on another MMOG called Earth & Beyond. Despite the fact that Origin had MMOG experience (UO) and Westwood didn’t, and that the Wing Commander franchise was well-known whereas E&B was a generic idea, EA chose (perhaps for backroom corporate reasons) to go forward with E&B solely, since they didn’t want two products that directly competed with each-other. At the same time, resources for UO2 were scarce, so it made sense to someone to cancel WCO and move a bunch of those folks to help out with UO2. Of course, that TOO was short-lived, as EA then decided that UO2 was a waste of money when they already had UO — in which case, why did they even start it in the first place? Who knows. EA went through all the motions again a few years later with UXO, only to cancel it for the same reasons (and close the Origin studio for good).

    Oh, and Earth & Beyond? It did launch, struggled to get many subscribers, and was eventually cancelled too. And that’s only the beginning of EA’s comical bungling in the MMOG space. Imagine what the MMOG market would have looked like if games like UO2 and Privateer Online had actually come out? How would they have changed games like Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft? There wouldn’t even be a Tabula Rasa.

  15. “Privateer Online” ?!?!?!??!
    Holy crap?! you mean Privateer from the wingcommander series?
    Why was that cancled?!!!

    There were actually multiple different tries at this. SirBruce’s version conflates two of the tries. The Maverick version (Maverick was the internal name for one team) included one WCO and one PO try. Those were cancelled a few times.

    Then later on, when they asked us to pitch sequels for UO, Damion Schubert & I got together and pitched a Privateer Online game. This pitch was actually never even heard by anyone, as when we walked in to give the pitch, we were told right off the bat that the game was going to be UO2, and that was the end of it. I quietly shoved the pitch in a drawer.

    That was also why several original UO team members quit to go form Wombat Games — which went on to try to get Dark Zion made, until they folded. They had wanted to do a post-apocalyptic game, sort of Fallout Online-ish, and their pitch was rejected.

    Then Damion was put on UO2, and I ended up shuffled over to UO Live (I was, apparently, in bad odor at the time). So I did T2A and Live until 99. Then we started pitching new titles that were straight UO engine reuses, and among the ones I pitched were:

    Star Settlers, which was basically MULE Online
    Mythos, which was basically mythical Greece
    a pirate game — here the oceans would have been at a different scale than the land, so when yo got in a boat it would be the size of a character, one tile in size, and you could do arcadey ship to ship combat
    A vampires and humans game

    True story, during this process we talked to Hollywood folks on the phone, and I was asked to seriously consider Baywatch Online and Leave It To Beaver Online.

    Star Settlers and Mythos were the leading ones, and if you recall, OSI even egistered Mythos as a domain. But we were asked which of the two really appealed to us, and I said Star Settlers. I’ve been wanting to make MULE Online for a long time. Jeff Anderson even investigated whether we could get the name, since it was an EA property, but because of rights hassles we couldn’t.

    Star Settlers was supposed to feature 2d Star Controlish combat, btw.

    And then through the mysterious process of exec pitch approval meetings, the Star Settlers design morphed into Privateer Online. The logic was:

    1. You’re excited about this MULE Online idea.
    2. But you can’t have the MULE license, so you renamed it.
    3. But if you’re making a sci fi game, we should use a powerful license, like Wing Commander Universe.
    4. But if you’re in the Wing Commander universe, it needs to be 3d.
    5. And if you’re a 3d space trading game, it needs to have first person space combat.
    6. So here, have a bunch of Wing Commander folks on the team, and a producer who has done mostly flight sims, and…

    All of a sudden, we had a disjoint team that didn’t see eye to eye on what we were making.

    It took a long time to click, and then, after we did, the events with Earth and Beyond happened much as Bruce described. The core leads on this team all quit, and were hired as a team by SOE to found the Austin studio. Originally, we were going to do a new game — in fact, we started talking about the pirates concept again — and then we were asked to take over SWG.

    One other big problem with use-based systems is that they suck for achievers. If I tell you I’m a 24th level Necromancer in EverQuest 2, anyone who has played the game for a while has a decent idea of what the character can do, within certain variations.

    I don’t think this is necessarily true. Achievers want status, and there’s a lot of ways to grant status.

    Instead of advancement in skills, gaining more powerful things. have it spread sideways, not up.

    This was exactly one of the guiding premises of SWG. This is why I hated the huge buffs that were added — intrinsic to this idea is the idea that hit points don’t go up either. More tools, not more power. I talked about this in the levels suck series…

    (IIRC, Diku was actually a hybrid use-based system)

    Nope, no use-based stuff in Diku at all, it was all level-and-class-based.

  16. It’s interesting to read the behind-the-scene stories about how certain features evolved over time to illuminate key success factors.

    For me, I think it was good for me and would be good for the discussion to be reminded that classes, skills, levels are all use-base systems: You have to use/do something to get to the next level.

    For example, a class is just a basket/portfolio of skills/enablers. Instead of raising a level on each individual skills, you raise a level on a class and then spread the skills “points” across the skill set for the class. Because of this, D&D has developed its system into “templates” (check D&D sites for more info).

    So the fundamental question is “what’s the best advancement system for situation”? Player-based, time-based, action-based, achievement-based, or something else? EVE Online have a time-based system and many FPS have a player-based system.

    In thinking through this fundamental question certain groups of people have decided on hybrid systems. An key example is Guild Wars with their models for different stages of gameplay. The benefit of Guild Wars system for th end-game stage of gameplay is to set an equitable cap on the amount of enablers to provide an gameplay environment where player-skill come to the foreground.

    Beyond selection of the right system, is the implementation that doesn’t result in “bottom feeding”. I think Guild Wars has done a decent job of structuring the game to minimize “bottem feeding” for skill/character levels.

    Frank

  17. Thanks for the clarifications, Raph. Would you say that substantial money was actually spent on either PO #1 or #3 during that initial devlopment? And do you know if the Dark Zion guys had substantial funding? Trying to seperate out the serious projects from those stuck in the concept stages…

    Baywatch Online actually makes sone sense, but Leave It To Beaver Online? My brain hurts just trying to imagine the design. What, at the end of every adventure your character goes back to exactly the way it was before you started?

  18. What about making a game that is the solution to the problem?

    Why not create a world where the player takes control of a robot and therefore they are limited. Your robot can only learn and perform 10 actions… if you want a new skill you need to replace an old one.

    Or a game where you are waking up in a clone of yourself, but you have to teach your body how to do things. You as the player understand how to do something, but how do you teach your avatar to do it?

    Would be interested in what you have to say Raph. Can the backstory or lore of the game be enough for a MMORPG?

  19. Actually, several upcming MMOGs are using the sort of system you describe, where you actually earn a suite of abilities but can only use a set of them at any given time. Someone mentioned Guild Wars already does this. It’s a cool mechanic, but how does it actually get around the problems of a use-based system? You still have to spent time getting a particular ability to the right “level” to access the content you want.

  20. One problem with use-based systems is that characters become specialists, and that changing from being a specialist type A, to a specialist type B is extremely difficult at “high levels”. This may may be realistic, but…

    It’s not fun.

    Skills are associated with gameplay mechanics. If my character ends up becoming a specialist in jumping and swordfighting, what happens when I get bored with them as play mechanics? What if I suddenly want my character to be a wizard so I can cast spells? I then have to start casting fireballs all the time instead of using my sword. However, since my fireballs are initially wimpy (especially compared to my swordskill), I can’t effectively use them to achieve a goal (of killing a monster). Which means I either have to re-do the “low level” content to exercise my low-level fireball skill, or (inevitably) give up because swordfighting is so much more effective, even though it’s less fun.

    Of course, classes have similar sorts of problems.

    Some related random comments: http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/ExperiencePoints.htm.

  21. If you made advancement rates near-parallel with the time it takes the player to actually learn the system, I bet you’d eliminate a lot of the issues.

    Because you know what? Even when you could master a combat profession in a couple hours at the SMC cave, or drop 500k on some resources and macro your way to being a crafter…the real fun was actually learning how to use the profession.

    The only thing these artificial gates need to do is stop players from being completely overwhelmed. Unless you think that sick sense of camraderie and elitism that comes from “surviving” the grind is actually going to expand this industry…

  22. Would you say that substantial money was actually spent on either PO #1 or #3 during that initial devlopment? And do you know if the Dark Zion guys had substantial funding?

    I think there were seed teams on the Maverick tries — maybe 5-6 people?

    Dark Zion at peak was five people (Rick Delashmit, Jason Spangler, Todd McKimmey, Ragnar Scheuermann, and an artist whom I don’t recall the name of), and they subsisted on contracting gigs. Among them were UO: T2A, Highlander Online, Skies, 10six, and Starfleet Academy. I strongly doubt they spent $1m. They did have a server and client up and running — I even played it, it supported very basic walk and talk in a 3d world that was pretty small — a few hundred yards across.

  23. The system you describe for the last Privateer Online sounds like something I’ve always wanted to see in place of the gradual skill/level climb. Of course, the game would still need compelling gameplay, which seems to be the big obstacle.

  24. Raph – Then again, $1M went a lot further back then than it does today… :)

    Mike – It’s interesting that Tabula Rasa (not use-based, but still relevant) is going to have a system whereby you can “clone” your character at certain levels and then “branch off” from that, so you can explore one particular sub-class and then if you decide you want to do something else, you only have to start over from your “checkpoint” and go down a different sub-class path, rather than start a new character from scratch. Myself, I’m a fan of MMOGs also implementing full respec (but limited uses/month) so players can try out different things as the game changes. Both of these approaches attempt to address the issues you identify.

  25. Personally, if I were doing UO or SWG again, I’d let you learn every skill, but say that you needed to have certain tools to be able to do skills — and then just limit your inventory of tools. People would decide “who they want to be today” and grab what they need, and swap when they felt ready to.

  26. Raph-

    You could have every skill in UO, and decide who you wanted to be today… that’s what MCS is all about.

    Why do you think all of us on the SWG boards were so rabidly opposed to SCS-only? Or, for the crafters, why did you think we were pushing for the forced-forget schematic system to be a matter of having like 10 schematic slots and allowing you to choose what to fill them with?

    Back on-topic… anti-Achiever sentiments aside, CadetUmfer has a very good point. Jives well with Theory of Fun, too — advancement ladders are very useful when scaled (as much as is possible) to the learning curve.

    Not to say that this isn’t a whole debate in and of itself; I’d say that you had to hit about 35 in EQ before you really knew what you were doing in a group (both in terms of character skills and in terms of people skills).

    Others would probably disagree, and put the bar lower (or higher). And then there’s always the outliers — that one necro who’s off charm-petting Frenzy in LGuk before 50 and generally cleaning up the place, the freakin’ showoff. ;)

  27. Vanguard is doing something similar with their advancement spheres.

  28. [...] So Raph has a great post up at his blog about use-based skill systems, and how they had designed the one for UO and how it changed over time. He also discusses SWG and its skill system. I don’t want to spoil the whole thing by posting the conclusion, but it’s the part that made me really think, so I’m going to post it here. [...]

  29. Nope, no use-based stuff in Diku at all, it was all level-and-class-based.

    In the Dikus I played (perhaps it was already just a descendant; I’m young), you classed, then trained stats/skills. Skills were a percentage. You had X number of practices to spend on skills, which increased that percentage to a maximum cap, after which you had to actively use those skills in order to increase your skill’s percentage to 100%.

    That sounds like use-based to me. I’m either misapplying Diku or misinterpreting use-based. Or you’re wrong. =P Which?

  30. Michael,

    The type of practice system in Dikus was just a point system based on levelling. When you gained enough experience, you went up a level, and were given a certain number of practice “points”, which you then allocated to skills. Yes, you had to go to a training area and actually type “practice”, but it was basically a point-based system. For example, you could spend several points on “fireball”, even if you’ve never cast a fireball before in the game.

    In a use-based system, you’re not allowed to arbitrarily assign points to whatever skill you want. Rather, youre skill at sword or fireball actually goes up every time you use the skill in game. Generally speaking, there’s no waiting for a level to get the points you want (although some use-based systems may still have levels and put a cap on total number of skill points per level), and you can’t just decide to dump 10 points into crossbow one day. You actually have to use your crossbow a bunch of times, and every so often you gain a point in crossbow. That’s a use-based system.

  31. One other big problem with use-based systems is that they suck for achievers.

    I don’t think this is necessarily true. Achievers want status, and there’s a lot of ways to grant status.

    Well, it’s easier to measure dic..er, advancement/status when you only have one metric to track, such as levels based upon experienced earned. Taking EQ2 as an example: the harvesting system is use based, but you don’t see many people getting all misty-eyed talking about their 150 trapping character. It’s the adventuring and/or crafting classes with experienced-based advancement that takes front stage. Being an effective harvester could gain you some amount of status, but it seems people are much more interested in bragging about the level-based status.

    My observations. I’d be interested in hearing other points of view.

    Michael, Bruce has the right of it. Diku is a level-based system, but it allows some character customization based on a point system. I’m sure there are text MUDs out there that did have use-based mechanics.

  32. You could have every skill in UO, and decide who you wanted to be today… that’s what MCS is all about.

    Why do you think all of us on the SWG boards were so rabidly opposed to SCS-only?

    SCS is a post for a whole other day — but… I agree that MCS is important. It permits the whole “who do you want to be today.” But SCS does have its advantages too, particularly in a PvP game like SWG. Doing a whole bunch of mechanics blocking on an account basis is a pain, and doesn’t work very well. And there’s something intangible but very nice about having that single identity.

    I don’t know that I’d do SCS again given the choice.

    Or, for the crafters, why did you think we were pushing for the forced-forget schematic system to be a matter of having like 10 schematic slots and allowing you to choose what to fill them with?

    I agreed with you, and had forced forget remained in the game, this is how it would have worked — essentially an inventory of craftable schematics. This is why you had a datapad — in part so we could limit the number of items that would be in there. I think it would have improved SWG’s economy vastly.

    If you made advancement rates near-parallel with the time it takes the player to actually learn the system, I bet you’d eliminate a lot of the issues.

    This rate is different for every player, though.

    I’m sure there are text MUDs out there that did have use-based mechanics.

    Many.

  33. If you made advancement rates near-parallel with the time it takes the player to actually learn the system, I bet you’d eliminate a lot of the issues.

    This rate is different for every player, though.

    Well the single-player folks manage to do a decent job at it (thinking RTS/FPS here). Just hitting the mean would be a lot better off than the current “I think my cat’s figured this out by now” system.

  34. Thank you, Raph. It is a pleasure to see a real exploration of a design mechanic explored… and to see that the other RPG archtype, Runequest, with its skill-based system has been used for MMOs (though, like Runequest, sadly, it has not caught on). There are some issues that need to be addressed, but I think it gives players more freedom to play as they wish.

    As to SirBruce’s comments on the beneficial effects of levels for “gating” content… this is based on the assumption that content should be restricted – why not let players figure out how best to overcome challenges. Maybe less skilled players need to form a larger group to take on a bigger challenge and more skilled players need fewer or no teammates? Players can define the level of challenge that they are striving to achieve. The benefit for an MMO is that all content is available to all players meaning that development costs are spread out over everyone, not just a “level band”. As to the “achiever” problem, why not give badges or other labels for having achieved something? This would also encourage players to explore the world and naturally throttle some grinding.

    As to the experience description and people abusing it… I understand the seeding & grinding problems if you didn’t want to store any additional data. Why not let a player only try to improve a skill once a day? This is how Runequest worked (to my vague memory)… effectively you marked each skill that you used during a day/adventure/session and at the end of the day/adventure/session you made your rolls for improvement. This would reduce a lot of the grind aspects since there would be no benefit to doing something more than once a day unless it was fun.

    Having recently played Nintendo’s Animal Crossings, it seems to have pretty much made the perfect balance for an MMO… it encourages playing every day and you can reach the primary goals for a day’s play (from a character development perspective) pretty easily… after that, play is simply for fun.

    A design process question – Raph, did you consider how people might “game” your game systems during the design process? Macroing, botting, and gold farming are pretty “old” problems now, but game systems are still regularly designed with serious vulnerabilities to these attacks.

  35. I’m not so sure that forced-forget was implemented as a player-customized experience. Iirc, when you gained a skill box, you gained the ability to make certain recipes (no choices) and lost the ability to make others (again, no choice.)

  36. I’d like to add a quick observation (which I thought others might have already made) : time-based advancement of skills, as used by EVE, seems to work very well for me, as a fairly casual player; indeed this is one of the reasons I have stuck with EVE over any other MMO. There have been times when the equipment I can deploy has been limited by skills, but not excessively so, and I’ve spent almost no time in Eve grinding, apart from a small amount of the dreaded mining.

    Of course, Eve skills have to be unlocked by buying them. Also, the way equipment and skills interact sounds similar to Raph’s ‘tools’ suggestion; assuming you possess the skills, you can re-fit your ship(s) for a different style of play on any given day.

  37. [...] I always read his blog. Even if you agree or not with him, this man is doing great from the educational point of view, I feel I’m learning a lot from his reading. There are not so many developers writing theirs ideas so openly. Some nice thing digged from last article:http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/“A fun little story for those who think SWG was still too grindy: three days before the game launched, the designer in charge of advancement rates went through them and made them all ten times slower. His concern was that players would max out the game in a matter of weeks, and then quit. This actually hit the live beta servers, and I reverted it back out as soon as I saw how excruciatingly slow it was: making literally thousands of blaster bolts to advance one skill box. I felt that I’d rather people exit the game having had fun, than stay and not have fun, or quit because it was too grindy.” [...]

  38. Personally, if I were doing UO or SWG again, I’d let you learn every skill, but say that you needed to have certain tools to be able to do skills — and then just limit your inventory of tools. People would decide “who they want to be today” and grab what they need, and swap when they felt ready to.

    Guild Wars comes to mind here. Apart from basic class distinction, all skills are available to all, and despite having levels, the gameplay is all around end-game at level 20 (conforming extremly well to the chart presented in one of older articles, describing level distributions among players and content ammounts provided for individual groups). It all comes down to choice of skills, and their attributes, with completely no-grind template changes.

    Some people hate it with passion though, since they feel that they should be able to use all skills they acquired, and that level should be defined by grind, feeling that level 50 is absolute minimum before that game could even be considered of any relation to MMORPG.

    The level cap and 8-skill limit have also been under attack frequently. Fortunately the management chose to take a stand on this and with any luck it will never get changed.

    No point in arguing about tastes, personally I’m just glad there’s still choice out there.

  39. If you made advancement rates near-parallel with the time it takes the player to actually learn the system, I bet you’d eliminate a lot of the issues.

    This rate is different for every player, though.

    Well the single-player folks manage to do a decent job at it (thinking RTS/FPS here). Just hitting the mean would be a lot better off than the current “I think my cat’s figured this out by now” system.

    If the goal is really to match advancement with learning, wouldn’t it be better to drop the idea of hard-wired rates and look at a more adaptable system? Advancement could come when a player proves they’ve learned the relevant pre-requisites to an ability.

  40. “Personally, if I were doing UO or SWG again, I’d let you learn every skill, but say that you needed to have certain tools to be able to do skills — and then just limit your inventory of tools. People would decide “who they want to be today” and grab what they need, and swap when they felt ready to.”

    Wouldnt the use of banks and housing have made that…kind of pointless?

  41. The largest problem with use-based skill gains, as I see it, is that it models practice very well, but in the real world no one actually wants to practice. One of teh greatest difficulties in any discipline–any activity–is getting the participants to practice at it. When in a game, I personally don’t want that game to model with perfect accuracy the uninteresting parts of my actual life.

    Yes, the character should have to partice in orderto improve skills, but the *player* shouldn’t. The player is already spending his time playing your game, and is practicing the out-of-game skills required to do so. Adding an in-game practice requirement just doubles the built-in hurdle involved in any activity, ever.

    My character shoud practice off-screen, when I’m not around. Theoretically, and very poorly, experience points reflect this; when I learn something through XP, the assumption is that my character was, in some way, working on that skill when I was not around. Warcraft’s “rested” state is a very good addition to the very poor model of levels and XP, in that I can gain XP through the time that my character spends while I’m not around. A better model, for a skill-based, not a level-based, system might well be to allow me to direct my character’s offline time toward certain skills, which would then advance at a slow rate–much slower than one could advance while online–letting me take advantage of this imaginary practice my character gets. A similar system exists in A Tale in the Desert, which, though it doesn’t allow offline skill gain, does allow a character to do “chores” while the player isn’t logged in.

    Now, a person also gains in skill while simply using that ability, and any good system should model that as well. Online use of a skill, of course, should also allow faster advancement than offline, or you actually reward players for not playing your game, which is a novel way to reduce server load but probably not good for retention. However, limits need to be in place to avoid rewarding macroers over normal players. I think the best way is to apply limits to skill gain over time.

    So, in this imaginary system, when a player uses a skill on-line, that skill “lights up” in the advancement menu and becomes selectable. One (or a limited number) of skills may be selected at a time. Each hour, or some other unit of time, any selected skills gain a point. You may also have an offline skill selected, and while logged out your character practices that skill, gaining, say, one point every eight hours. This system would obviously require further sophistication, such as a limit to the ratio of offline gains per online gains to one skill, but I think it’s a good basis for a workable use-based system.

    Even better than “selecting” an offline skill, maybe offline gains would be determined by wheer you log off. In the warrior’s training area, you gain weapon skills. Log off in a library, and gain academic skills. In the street, and you learn city lore. In the wilderness you gain survival skills. . .I’m going to stop now before I design an MMORPG skill system in its entirety in the comments of someone else’s blog.

  42. Er, one last thing; I’d also limit online skill gains, to avoid rewarding both macroers and addicted players. In the imaginary system above, after the average session length ended, you’d stop gaining online skills for the day, and would be considered offline for purposes of skillups.

  43. but game systems are still regularly designed with serious vulnerabilities to these attacks

    It strikes me as extraordinarily amusing to think of game systems as things to be secured. Can anyone come up with examples of games that aren’t on the computer whose rules are adjusted based on misuse? I can think of childhood games, like Tag’s “no tag-back!” rule, for instance.

  44. The largest problem with use-based skill gains, as I see it, is that it models practice very well, but in the real world no one actually wants to practice.

    I disagree. The problem isn’t that no one wants to practice, but that practice itself isn’t abstracted the same way the practiced skills are.

    Take swinging a sword. What are you actually practicing? Clicking a button, all too often. Typing some keystrokes, in a text-based. (Part of the reason I use macros and scripts is so that a typo doesn’t get my character killed.) So it makes sense for the character, but it doesn’t make sense for the player. The player doesn’t need to practice typing and clicking. There’s no connection between the practice the player gets and the practice the character gets.

  45. I think a system that combines use-base with offline learning and real-time restrictions on how quickly players can learn tied with horizontally situated skill upgrades would be perfect!

    For example:

    Players get X number of points per real-time day. These points can accumulate up to a certain point (maybe 1 weeks worth). When they want to learn a new skill or ability, they go to the proper trainer and pay out a specified number of points. If they want to learn the next level of the skill (lets say its sword skill), they must 1) wait a certain amount of real-time (lets say 1 day) and 2) must have practiced with a sword at their current skill level (be it in a training area or fighting for their life). Then, as they reach certain skill levels, they get access to different attacks that dont necessarily do more damage but rather function differently than the base attack (perhaps the new move also increases parry chance or is particularly effective against someone using a shield). These attacks or sub-skills also function similarly to the base skills in the way they are learned.

    Speaking of A Tale in the Desert, I really like how much of the mid-to high level crafting requires player skill to complete. It’s not just assemble the materials, hit the create button and watch a bar fill up. It’s knowing when to add wood to the fire, when to add water and when to pull out your finished item. Making crafting interactive (and making EVERY crafted item valuable in some way) is an important part of removing the grind.

  46. I’m not so sure that forced-forget was implemented as a player-customized experience. Iirc, when you gained a skill box, you gained the ability to make certain recipes (no choices) and lost the ability to make others (again, no choice.)

    That’s what I meant… it wasn’t implemented that way, but it was intended to be at one point, and was yet another thing that fell by the wayside.

  47. Nice to see you haven’t changed much from when you left SOE.

    Care to come back and fix SW:G? Please!

  48. The problem isn’t that no one wants to practice, but that practice itself isn’t abstracted the same way the practiced skills are.

    Well, very few people do want to practice. If by “abstracted” you mean “the player does not actually have to practice”, then you and I are in agreement and using different semantics. I think that a system should model practice experience, but shouldn’t require the player to perform tasks during that practice. Players–or at least most players–don’t find activity with the only outcome as skill gain to be interesting. This is why it takes questing, loot, and eevry other reward system ever invented to get them to perform repetitive tasks in the first place.

    Now, if you can create an interesting system for practice, then go right ahead. Puzzle Pirates, to an extent, did so, and if the economy hadn’t been utterly in the toilet when I played I might have stuck around for more than a month or two. As it was, other factors about the game were “booched”, such that buying a new set of clothes meant pirating on the high seas for two months and saving up all of your spoils.

  49. I personally have to disagree with the closing sentence. Capitalism raises us (speaking in terms of the north american continent) to be competative by nature. The enablers you speak of, whether its skills, items, abilities or whatever are what distinguish us in an online world just like our diploma, degree, job and salary distinguish us in the real world. I think that even if you provided the perfect game oriented challenge(s) people will still seek the individual advancements that identify them as competative against other players. Any function that offers this player competativeness is likely going to be considered an enabler in whatever form its implemented.

  50. There’s a difference between practicing your skills in the real world and practicing skills in for instance UO; In the real world, your practice sessions can differ from eachother even when practicing the same skill (take any sport-practice for instance), while in UO you make the same shirt using the exact same method with exactly the same amount of clicks on the same buttons.

    You click the tool, you select what to make, it gets made. Repeat until you don’t gain from shirts any more, and start over with a slightly more difficult item to make.

    Like Nick Simmonds said, Puzzle Pirates got it somewhat right – when you practiced your skills (along with other players, even) you got mini-games with some randomness to them, so it wasn’t the exactly same thing over and over again ad nauseam.

  51. [...] [Quote  by:  Ralph Koster] These days, use-based systems are most familiar to everyone because of Oblivion, probably. And sure enough, theres plenty of tales of how amusing it is that the use-based system there encourages strange behaviors that do not fit the expected behavior in the game: people jumping everywhere in order to improve the stats and skills related to dodging, that sort of thing. The basic definition of a use-based skill system is one where you have a chance of improvement every time you use the skill. So everyone has access to every skill from the beginning (or, in a variant, access may be unlocked by other means, such as being taught), and as you exercise the skill, your chance of success goes up. The attraction is that it leads to a more freeform game experience. Instead of tracking arbitrary experience points that can be applied to anything, leading to oddities like getting better at crafting because you have slain a lot of orcs, you can get better at crafting by, well, crafting. The downside, of course, is that it lets you sit there and do something repetitively in order to get better at it. http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/ [...]

  52. [...] At the heart of all this, though, is the problem that skills, levels, abilities these are properly regarded as enablers, and not as the point. A skill is supposed to be a tool you use to defeat a challenge. If the game becomes getting the tool, then you have a nice little rat race going that is inevitably going to be a grind. You need to make the skills something you pick up in order to do something else. At that point, whether you make people earn them or just let people pick up any they want becomes much less important, because youve placed the burden for fun where it should be: on the game, and not on the advancement. http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/_________________Trace Silverhawk – Weaponsmith, Smuggler Alts: Darice Starshadow – Master Shipwright Varina Llaspe (Apprentice Weaponsmith) Jhaime the Wanderer Curiousity may have killed the cat…. ….but the cat died happy. [...]

  53. [...] Raph Koster wrote an article talking about use-based skill systems in MMO’s and about how they worked out in Ultima Online and StarWars Galaxies. Just another example of synchronicity since I planned on following up A Distinct Lack of Class with a post about skill systems. [...]

  54. One other big problem with use-based systems is that they suck for achievers. If I tell you I’m a 24th level Necromancer in EverQuest 2, anyone who has played the game for a while has a decent idea of what the character can do, within certain variations. I’ve described my character in essentially 3 words. Even if you don’t play EQ2, you can guess what a Necromancer is like based on experience from other games.

    This could probably be mitigated somewhat if the game system had various titles and awards that were available for various skill sets. As a quick example a character with a Necromancy skill of over 40 and who knows spells X, Y, and Z would be afforded the title ‘Necromancer’. Any player could easily find out the requirements for Necromancer and so would have a good idea as to what they character could and probably could not do (since they weren’t billing themselves as ‘Master Necromancer’, which has different requirements).

  55. I think that all the possible takes on advancement – be they use-based, time-based, task-based, or results-based have drawbacks associated with them. A use-based system, for example, can very easily tempt players to grind, which is almost always an immersion breaker. But an experience system can and does lead to the same thing. Even in time-based advancement systems such as EVE I have seen players simply log out and wait a week to get the skill they want.

    I think advancement systems are important to have in MMORPGs because they help provide a progression in terms of content. I can’t do this today, but I can do that. Once I finish doing that, then I should be able to do this. Without that content progression their, the entire experience can be very confusing for players – you’ll end up with a lot of people wandering around asking “Where should I go? What should I do?”. Advancement systems give players an immediate goal of some sort and provide a limiter such that you can implement a valid progression of content for them. Without an advancement system, you can’t really have “low-level” content or “high-level” content. While you might have “less difficult” content and “more difficult” content, it would come without a concrete feedback mechanism; players would have trouble identifying the challenges they were ready for, and I think a lot of frustration would ensue.

    So going on the basis that advancement systems are a necessary thing to have for the sake of helping the player figure out his or her path through the game, then it’s safe to say that no single advancement mechanism is really going to do the job without also causing problems that could potentially lead to immersion-breaking behavior (grinding, macroing, etc).

    To my mind, the best way to address this problem is probably to implement parallel advancement systems in a game. Most games use combinations of different advancement systems (for example, you gain experience to level and each level raises the cap on your skills, which advance through use), but still make one advancement type the primary type when compared to the others. What might work better is to allow players to advance via a variety of methods. Perhaps purchasing training, or completing quests and content, or earning experience/usage through simply freeform play. Ultimately it all leads to the same place, but the issue then becomes trying to balance the advancement rates against each other, so that I cannot advance faster by doing quests than I can by killing monsters or by farming gold and purchasing training.

    In the end I think a lot of this boils down to player perception – many players play the games more for the advancement than for anything else, and when they reach the end of the advancement chain, they feel like they have either “beat” the game or that they have finally gotten past the beginning of the game. Without some fundamental shift in player psychology I don’t know that it will ever be possible to eliminate the grind mentality, while it can be discouraged with a diminishing returns system, ultimately players will find ways around those systems as long as they see a benefit to doing so. There’s always going to be someone out there who appreciates the destination more than the journey, no matter how hard you try to make the journey interesting. The best that can be hoped for, I think, is simply to try and make gameplay and content so much fun that players stop playing to advance and start playing simply to play.

  56. In the end I think a lot of this boils down to player perception – many players play the games more for the advancement than for anything else, and when they reach the end of the advancement chain, they feel like they have either “beat” the game or that they have finally gotten past the beginning of the game. Without some fundamental shift in player psychology I don’t know that it will ever be possible to eliminate the grind mentality, while it can be discouraged with a diminishing returns system, ultimately players will find ways around those systems as long as they see a benefit to doing so.

    I don’t think this is an issue of “player psychology” as much as it is an issue of human psychology. People will strive for the goals set in front of them, to a very large extent, and if the only goal they can see in a game is one of advancement then that’s what they’ll do. A handful of players will wander off and make their own fun, but that handful would have done that anyway, and you can’t design for them. They’re the alternate-universe version of griefers; your population will always contain an irreducible percentage of perfectly content people who don’t care what you do so long as they’re allowed to /dance.

    If the only visible goals in your game have to do with gaining levels and getting bigger numbers, placing the blame on player myopia isn’t going to help. Achieving goals is enjoyable, and creating goals is, to most people, not.

  57. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft the past few months, and it’s interesting to see the issues presented here (and in the other discussions linked into the text) in the light of that game on top of my experience with D&D Online and SWG, and all of them in the light of their grand-daddy: pen-and-paper D&D.

    I’m not sure exactly how WoW’s use-based XP system works in terms of the modifiers granted by a higher score for a given weapon, but the process for acquiring those increases seems to work reasonably well. It’s a two-tiered structure. For example, my Warrior gains a new level by acquiring a specified amount of the classic “experience points.” Straight out of pen-and-paper D&D. But alongside that, I’m earning “skill points” for specific weapons as I use them in combat. And I have the choice of focusing primarily on using one-handed swords or branching out by using an axe. And each time I gain a level as a Warrior, the theoretical cap on my weapon skills goes up.

    Okee… great. Works well, it’s fun, it doesn’t detract from the flow of the action, and it has a good sense of verisimilitude.

    But now, let’s say I decide to work on a NON-combat skill, like mining. Ahhh… NOW it breaks down, because the act of whacking on a graphical rock as an in-game action is inherently un-fun. It’s a static object about the relative size of an easy chair to my toon. It can’t move or fight back — heck, it won’t even subject you to a dose of radiation poisoning, or explode, or anything. It just… sits there. And the act of actually finding the mineralized rock is itself a no-brainer: just turn on my “Find Minerals” ability, and voila! a bright-yellow dot pops up on my radar whenever I pass a randomly-generated mineralized rock. When I see the dot, I run up and right-click on the object, and my character gives it a few whacks with his pickaxe to retrieve a unit of ore. For all that, I may or may not get a point of mining skill.

    As a means to a means to an end (acquiring metals that can be turned into useful items that make characters more powerful), it works fine. But as an entertaining subsystem in it’s own right, it fails utterly. And as an old real-life rockhound, it depresses me.

    The problem with use-based skill gains is that, if the action that gives the skill-point reward is by nature trivial or grossly oversimplified, the resulting increase in “skill” is cheapened and becomes a mechanism prone to being boiled down into a “grind”-type activity loop. In other words, we have reintroduced an element of un-fun to our game.

    Continuing my line of thought using the example of mining, how about this alternative model…?

    First, let’s assume Mining abilities are distributed via a quest-based system, with proficiency gains from both performing quests and from performing somewhat complex actions in the field.

    Now, let’s take some of the mechanics from Star Wars: Galaxies, and extrapolate on them and see if we can come up with a subsystem that has the feel of a metagame in it’s own right.

    I chose the mining element of SWG for this post because I’m familiar with it, and it has some aspects that suggest ways they could potentially be expanded into a true metagame – specifically, the resource-concentration grid generated by the game’s surveying devices, which have always reminded me of the mineral-concentration grids developed by real-life soil geochemists when prospecting for resources. In that way, the surveying process used in SWG comes fairly close already to the level of gameplay I am suggesting. But what about a tweak to distribute resources based on the geology of a given area? For example, the deeply-gullied high plateau country up in the northeastern quarter of the map of Tatooine looks like a huge sedimentary region that was subsequently uplifted by an upthrust of subsurface magma, while the rough, jumbled topography of the Juntland Wastes suggests massive igneous activity. Both regions would be vastly different examples of what geologists refer to as “mineral habitats,” or regions that tended to form very different minerals because of the dramatic physical and chemical processes that gave rise to these landforms.

    From there, we have a base of information that can be summarized as an underlay for the world map, in which the different regions can be identified as a particular landform and given a set of variables for mineral spawns based upon that landform. And if a player wants to acquire mining expertise, a big part of his process of “leveling up” in Mining would involve mapping out those landforms and sampling them… perhaps as part of a series of prospecting quests using a new “General Surveying Tool” for, say, a NPC representing some famous manufacturing conglomerate. And the NPC himself could also give the budding artisan his own geological insights: insights the player could use in his own prospecting, as well as giving the player skill points for receiving them.

    Heck, such a metagame might actually be …gasp!… educational??

    Resource distributions could still move around as per the old SWG system. The only change would be that they would be relocated within the parameters of the new underlay.

    I know geology is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I happen to believe there are a LOT of things in life that are only considered uninteresting because we as individuals happen to not know much about them. Geology is one of them. Indeed, as any geologist will tell you, “every rock has a story.”

    Perhaps others can come up with fun ideas for building similar metagames around other processes in these games.

  58. I personally like EVE Onlines skill based system.

    You can learn everything b ut it takes time :)

    Their even gonna let you do it by mbile phone lol

  59. Post above ^

    For a lvl 1 skill it takes like 3 hours
    lvl 2 8 hours
    lvl 3 2 days
    lvl 4 6 days
    lvl 5 15 days

    (for example) obviously higher skills take longer like a BS lvl 5 would take 30 days

  60. >As to SirBruce’s comments on the beneficial effects of levels
    >for “gating” content… this is based on the assumption that content should
    >be restricted – why not let players figure out how best to overcome
    >challenges?

    Because it’s a GAME, not an exercise in sado-masochism. Back in the old days, you would sometimes get a Dungeon Master who thought it was fun to let a group of 1st-level characters enter a cave with an Ancient Dragon. These were BAD DMs. “Don’t go into that cave” isn’t an acceptable answer. No DM can stop players from doing something truly stupid, but a good DM tailors the adventure to the skills and needs of the players, providing just enough of a challenge to make it exhilirating without being punishing. That’s called “fun”.

    Even if you create a system that allows for full access to all content at all levels, that doesn’t change the issue at hand, which is about the level of abilities that are EXPECTED to be necessary for a given encounter. Yes, maybe in your game smart 1st level characters can defeat Tiamat, but as a designer you should still be planning than it’s generally going to take X level characters (or characters with X level of Y use-based skills, or whatever) to do so.

  61. [...] Use-based systems on Raph Koster Use-based systems on Raph Koster Quote: [...]

  62. As someone who played a Bio_engineer in SWG, I have to say that creature building really kept me interested even after I had filled the boxes. The system was almost predictable but not completely. I could spend hour upon hour trying to get a creature to come out with a prarticular set of stats. It has been a while, but there had to be 12-15 stats and 10-12 resists along with the creature level that you could try to manipulate. The creature handler would specify what he needed or wanted and it was up to us to get as close as we could to those specs. My point is that it was predictable enough to keep you from becoming frustrated but unpredictable enough to keep it challanging regardless of the level or skill I had. I don’t know if Raph was directly responsible for the BE profession, but it was some of the most fun I have ever had in a game.

    Is it just me, or does this not really apply to this discussion. Hmmmm

  63. Wudu wrote:

    As someone who played a Bioengineer in SWG, I have to say that creature building really kept me interested even after I had filled the boxes.

    You know, ultimately this points to the best defense against leveling by macro: Making content or a sub-game that’s SO much fun, people WANT to do it hands-on.

  64. The problem with use-based advancement as “practice” is that there’s no practice involved for the player. Practicing things is, pretty much by definition, at least minimally cognitively involving. When “practice” consists of clicking a button every few seconds or minutes, there’s no engagement with the activity.

    Put another way: Practicing the guitar can be fun. Pressing a button and watching your character practice the guitar for the five hundredth time is not.

    This is really just one symptom of a larger problem: Crafting systems have no content.

    There’s a wealth of knowledge on how to make content for combat systems. Different types of enemies, which require different tactics to defeat. Different arrangements of enemies. Different places to fight, each with their own tactical challenges. Players engaging in combat will periodically unlock new content: New zones to fight in or new raid bosses to kill.

    Nobody (to my knowledge) has designed a crafting system which acts like this. Even the ones which rise above the level of “press button to make hat, repeat until ding” don’t provide anything like the thing we call “content”.

  65. A couple of notes:

    1.) I really thought the use-by-someone-else crafting advancement in SWG was pretty innovative, but where it was falling down in the warm fuzzies department was feedback. The crafter really never received sufficient positive feedback from this system. I don’t think this is an untenable problem. A good solution may have been to provide crafters with some sort of reports. Detailed reports of the accomplishments of your sundry creations might be very fun, but even abstract reporting would be better than nothing.

    2.) I think maybe you were right on track to answer your own quandary partway through this article:

    But in use-based systems, at least how they are structured today, this isn’t the case. There’s no challenge in jumping off a hill in Oblivion, and therefore, the grind rears its ugly head.

    Well, yes, exactly.

    This really goes back to a core fundamental problem of the RPG, itself. RPGs, in their traditional form are about advancement, yes. But, they are about the advancement of someone who is not you. They are about the advancement of your character. They are about improving how well your character performs certain tasks, and not improving how well you perform certain tasks. They substitute a sort of vicarious success for real success.

    If you go back to the crux of your “Theory of Fun,” you can quickly see that there is a major problem here. Our characters are having much more fun than we are. :)

    Now, I’m not going to now say that we should all give up on RPGs and make nothing but twitch games. I think that’s an awful idea. One of the reasons that RPGs and their ilk are so wildly successful is because they’re accessible to a broad audience. You don’t need to have killer reflexes to be good at them. You don’t need to be smart, either. You just need to keep playing. If there was ever a made-for-subscription game mechanic, that sure is it. But I also think that it is possible to challenge players, without seriously narrowing the appeal.

    What I’d like to see in Oblivion would be acrobatics that were less jump-jump-jump and more Prince of Persia, if that makes any sense. If I could get skill for navigating a tricky situation using acrobatics, that would be much more interesting than gaining skill for relentless jumping. You can’t serve your players “tricky situations” in a formulaic fashion, however, or they will surely decode the formula.

    Meh. I need to go to bed. I hope I don’t dream about jumping.

  66. One problem is the that the crafting systems of the past 10 years have created a whole generation of MMOG crafters who don’t WANT “fun” interactive crafting. Instad, they use their crafting time to socialize, repetitively click and then chatting while they do so.

  67. Personally, if I were doing UO or SWG again, I’d let you learn every skill, but say that you needed to have certain tools to be able to do skills — and then just limit your inventory of tools. People would decide “who they want to be today” and grab what they need, and swap when they felt ready to.

    I like this way of thinking but I’d be a little more restrictive: pre-requisite skills for a start – to use Evan’s example, you can’t learn surgery until you understand anatomy. But in addition to this, I’d also add stat restrictions: want to pick up that heavy sword? Better be strong enough. Want to pick that complex lock? Better have the dexterity and concentration for it – as well as having the right tools. Some of these could be trained up – strength or endurance for example while others either can’t be trained up (Intelligence) or it’s difficult to do so.

  68. I really thought the use-by-someone-else crafting advancement in SWG was pretty innovative, but where it was falling down in the warm fuzzies department was feedback. The crafter really never received sufficient positive feedback from this system. I don’t think this is an untenable problem. A good solution may have been to provide crafters with some sort of reports. Detailed reports of the accomplishments of your sundry creations might be very fun, but even abstract reporting would be better than nothing.

    I worry that a skill gain on use by others would ruin the player economy. You’ve essentially reversed the barter-for-services equation; it’s now of significant value for the cratfer to have his items used. It’s likely of more value to the crafter than the item itself is valuable to others, unless crafted items are just a whole lot better than items gained from the environment. You’ll see crafters essentially forced to give away items for free to gain skill. Worse yet, they may have to pay others to take and use their items.

    There’s a similar oddity in WoW, although it doesn’t rise to the level of crashing the economy. Raw goods can be sued to gain skill, so the raw versions of items are often much more costly than the equivalent processed goods. Basically, once you’ve made copper ore into bars, you’ve really just sucked all of the skillups out of it, and made it less valuable. Thus, only a rare few crafted items are worth making for sale. Luckily, there are still several items for each profession that they can make cash from, but it’s still a good illustration of the problem.

  69. I don’t believe that RPGs necessarily have to have a nonexistant level of difficulty to remain accessible. Even difficult games usually have it increase gradually and can offer easier, less rewarding paths. One would hope there would be enough potential players to support a more involved MMORPG.

  70. One problem is the that the crafting systems of the past 10 years have created a whole generation of MMOG crafters who don’t WANT “fun” interactive crafting. Instad, they use their crafting time to socialize, repetitively click and then chatting while they do so.

    I don’t know that this is so much the case, but there are a lot of players who are used to being very casual in how they approach crafting, and so efforts to make crafting systems more interactive have resulted in cries of “it takes too long to make an item”.

    Part of this also comes from the instant gratification mentality of many recent games. Leveling is fast. Fights are quick. Goals are often achieved within a single play session, sometimes multiple goals. Players are used to completing objectives, acquiring wealth and power and items, at a very fast rate. When it comes to crafting, interactivity is diametrically opposed to speed.

    I liked SWG’s crafting system for two reasons: First, the focus was on creating a truly unique and individual item that stood out from others of its kind. It was really a system where you could be very proud of what you had made – it wasn’t just the same as everyone else’s item. Second, the offline production mechanism allowed for creation of enough items to meet demand. The pairing of the two was what made it work. You had a very complex, interactive method for creating an item, which took some time. That was ok though, because if you needed more than one you normally only had to craft it once – then put it in the factory and let the factory go while you went on to other things, logged out to sleep, or whatever. Sure, it wasn’t as interactive as some people might have liked, and other people found the math daunting, but the point is that it found a way to allow for a lengthy crafting process and still let players produce enough items to satisfy their goal of being suppliers to the rest of the game.

    Part of the backlash that SOE now faces from players has to do with them simplifying items to the point where the crafting system has started to be affected.

    Overall though, the instant gratification problem is something that affects every aspect of a game. I’m inclined to say that fast advancement, fast travel, and fast completion of goals significantly stunt the growth of community in game, because players are too busy focusing on their objectives to really stop and get to know other players near them. I preferred early EQ1′s advancement, where it took days to weeks to level, over WoW, where I would shoot up 3-4 levels in a day sometimes. This is because over time in EQ1, I got to know more players, made friends, visite more places, and have more fun. When I maxed my level in EQ1, I had a great guild, and had tons of fun just playing in high level dungeons with my friends. When I finished leveling in WoW, I very much had a sense of “I’m done”, and quickly burned out on the game after that.

  71. For me in EQ, the challenge of Crafting wasn’t so much in the click-click-click, but in the plotting out of my course to advancement and the acquisition of the ingredients necessary to advance. Getting 7×250 (pre-crafting-window) took some doing, and optimizing that advancement was a challenging activity.

    There was a big element of exploration to it — you had to visit zones you wouldn’t have gone to otherwise, you went through community sites looking for the ideal recipe progression, and all that.

    I’ll agree with the idea that Crafting in WoW (like most other things) was dumbed down; you could pretty much always advance without thinking too much about what recipe to use, and ingredients were always pretty generic and easy to come by.

    SWG had somewhat of the same problem; although design was a bit of a challenge, advancement was not. I’m tempted to think it would have been more fun, taking the ladder out entirely and finding some other way to limit the number of crafters in the game.

  72. It’s funny how the problems of use-based skill gain systems are more pronounced in a crafting system. Its very easy to look at use-based skill gain in combat scenarios and say “Looks good to me, it works, leave it alone…” because combat is much more fun than today’s crafting systems. Crafting however, ends up being a boring grind manually producing goods to gain skill. I think the latter happens for two reasons. 1) The gameplay of crafting is pretty boring. 2) Most games provide little use for the manufactured goods that make up the “leveling” recipes between initial skill and max skill.

    Sure you can make bronze armor but there’s no market for it except back to a vendor because all players want or wait for steel armor. At best, middle level skilled craftsmen can only provide materials for other craftsmen that want to specialize further down a path which is a very limited market. So if the result of my practice is boring from a gameplay standpoint and boring from a social/market standpoint(i.e. noone needs what I produce) then how is this “fun” for the player? In combat the damage or healing I do is needed by other players and the game mechanic is “fun”. Crafting systems fail on both accounts and the use-based skill gain systems governing them incent players to continue to bang their heads against the wall. It’s no wonder these systems are frustrating to the vast majority of players.

    So how do you solve the two issues. My opinion on the gameplay issue is that EQ2 was headed in the right direction only I’m not sure I’d implement a system with a negative feedback mechanism like they did. The negative feedback created an atmosphere of settling for an inferior item instead of aspiring to a fantastic item, the latter of which is how crafting artifacts is portrayed in novels and movies. People naturally want to get better instead of figuring out ways to not come up short. Its mainly a psychological difference but one that I think has impact on how “fun” the crafting system can be. An example is WoW’s mining. You know your going to get ore and some rock from a node but there’s an improved feeling when a gem is discovered as well because you got more from the craft that time. If it were EQ2 you would know a gem will pop everytime and be disappointed each time one does not drop.

    The second problem is a much bigger design issue in my opinion. I believe it requires teh world designer to create different entities in game that benefit from manufactured resources differently. For Ages of Athiria, we want player run cities, businesses and guilds to fill this role. Example: Cities need resources for public works. (roads, militaries, public buildings…) Most of the time these resources do not conflict with the resources an individual needs. A player run city needs gobs of iron and tin whereas the individual elite armor sets require steel and other more rare resources. The key is to create game mechanics that provide natural conduits for goods that players use to “level” skills with. Do this to solve the “My practice sessions produce something that the world needs.” problem and solve the dull boring clickfest that is the crafting game mechanic and I think use-based skill systems become much more viable from all angles.

    It’s not the use-based system itself that’s the problem, it’s the way we integrate them into our games that is the problem.

  73. SWG: NGE has made me do an incredible amount of soul searching about why I play games at all, online or otherwise. I’ve come here to try and sort this out, as the whole experience has discouraged me playing online at all. I’ve gone back to my original love, flight simulators.

    But, to stay on topic, how can ANY online game balance those that want the fastest route to the cheese with those that feel short-changed by removal of challenges on the way to the cheese? How can the casual player coexist with the hardcore player without giving some advantage to the casual player, or disadvantage to the hardcore player? Can the Quake: Arena or Counterstrike player who is used to jumping into the action immediately ever find satisfaction that the UO and SWG player finds in the grind? It seems to me SOE is trying to appeal to the former at the expense of the latter.

    It’s far too easy to be tempted by being provided a quick and easy way to the “top”, particularly when a “if you can’t beat them, join them” atmosphere is so pervasive like SWG is now. One reason I no longer play UO is due to scripters, PvP is no competition unless you engage in such unintended levels of automation. What motivates the player to play a game as it was intended as opposed to seeking out the quick and easy, often in violation of the TOS?

  74. One problem is the that the crafting systems of the past 10 years have created a whole generation of MMOG crafters who don’t WANT “fun” interactive crafting. Instad, they use their crafting time to socialize, repetitively click and then chatting while they do so.

    I don’t know if I agree with that. In my experience, some large percentage of that socialization involves bitching about how amazingly dull and boring the crafting system is. :)

    I used to keep my sewing machine by my computer, at a previous house. I used to sew while my character in the game sewed. The real sewing was way more involved and interesting. My character frequently destroyed her materials, wasting huge amounts of money, and I didn’t. I could customize my creations, and my character couldn’t. I was pretty disgusted by the whole thing. In the wish-fulfillment department, the game was completely failing me.

    Guitar Hero manages to be very entertaining, even for real guitar players, in spite of the fact that it lacks realism, and is accessible to a wide audience. I think that it comes down to the feel. It FEELS like you’re rocking out. That’s very satisfying.

    I don’t care if the game has button holes and French seams. What I care about is whether your crafting system feels like a boring slot machine, or whether it feels like I’m putting something good together. The only wish that most modern crafting systems consistently fulfill well is that of being a third world sweatshop girl sewing socks for Walmart.

  75. What motivates the player to play a game as it was intended as opposed to seeking out the quick and easy, often in violation of the TOS? (assume level grinding is the problem you are targeting)

    A perceived value for their current character’s level.

    Humans seem to desire “that which is better” in any given situation. So, if there is an ever-present, over-arching sense that one can do -insert activity- MUCH better at a higher character level, and one’s value in the game world is largely determined by how well one can accomplish -insert activity-, then it is natural that one will most desire getting to that higher character level, and thus set out to discover the easiest possible path there.

    In the case of crafting in SWG, with nearly every schematic, a Master level Craftsman could do it better than anybody at a lower level. That was obvious, and since one’s value as a crafter was dependent on the quality of goods one could produce rather than the fact that one even could produce items, the natural response was to grind to the top.

    Raph and others have mentioned ideas that appeared to me to be headed in the direction of allowing for low-level and mid-level crafters to have value in the game, that is, the items they could produce could have real value in the player-driven economy (though not solely as junk to sell to NPC junk dealers mind you). This is exactly what was needed. I think the true motivators were getting orders from other players, setting up businesses, and identifying ways to make better items. The actual crafting process was not the draw, it was the sense of value in the player-driven economy. It was a slog when you simply could not make anything that anybody really wanted, hence the “need” to grind to the top.

    So, in order to minimize wholesale level grinding and exploiting, the challenge to the MMOG designer is to allow for true value in the player-driven economy, not merely at every possible character level, but in every single player action in the game. It is only when an activity becomes relatively valueless to the in-game economy (or mundane enough) that one loses interest and begins to look for either a replacement activity or a way to make that activity more valuable to the in-game economy. That is the point when one considers ways to “break” the game, if you will.

  76. I think there are two different paradigms at work here, two different expectations of what Crafting should be.

    The first I’d call the Economic paradigm. Crafted goods are, naturally, things that you value-add to, and trade around. The problem with this is twofold: One, there are very, very few (if any) games out there who have a truly robust demand system. Two, a large number of people (possibly even a majority) play games to climb the ladder; advancement is more valuable than money, so raw materials end up more expensive than finished goods. But, given our industrial society, people are going to continue to have the expectation that Crafting is supposed to be a profitable activity.

    The second I’d call the Questing paradigm. This point of view looks at Crafting as an alternative way to get good loot. Instead of get A, B, and C, and give it to a questgiver to get D, you get A, B, and C, (maybe more than one of each depending on how the game handles failure) and hit the “combine” button to get D. A lot of people (myself included) really loved the Coldain Shawl and Signet of the Arcane quests from EQ for just this reason.

    The problem with the Questing paradigm is that there’s a lot of repetition of less useful stuff before you get to make the uber equipment — you pay your dues before you get your reward, to the point where it feels more like work than a game.

    No Crafting system has really tried to keep both these in mind in the Design phase. Quest-oriented crafters (think Arcanum) want rapid advancement through a multitude of interesting and useful equipment combines. Merchant Crafters want enough demand so that all their goods are bought. (Which is equivalent to saying “all the goods they make should be useful”, but a more helpful way of phrasing it.)

    SWG attempted to introduce a new paradigm to Crafting: the Design paradigm, where Crafting became a number puzzle (much like in real life, by the way). I never really got far enough to see if this worked out; I got bored with the grind (too easy, took too long) and left. I had hoped that Crafters would finally find a combat role in SWG, as a sort of “tech cleric”, fixing weapons, vehicles, and the like in the middle of firefights and space battles, but the Item system wasn’t robust enough to allow devices to break or need fixing in fast-paced ways.

    EQ2 tried to go another direction, making Crafting fast-paced and dangerous. This resulted in several sewing-related deaths, which is really too embarassing for all involved so we won’t speak any more about it.

    I’m currently heading up production of a game — with the help of RengKole, if that name means anything to anyone here ;) — that will try from the beginning to design solutions to the problems with both the Questing and Economic paradigms, as well as add some small elements of Design. Should be fun. Hopefully it doesn’t end up being too complicated… ;)

  77. I remember RengKole, and I’m glad he found himself a way to be a part of the design of a game. Tell him Deregen said hi, if he remembers.

    To some extent I think you’re right about the paradigms, but I think that most games try to do a little bit of both. It’s probably important to distinguish between the mechanics of crafting and the economy of the game. It’s entirely possible to have a robust economy with a simplistic mechanic, and vise versa.

    Ideally, what I think most players would like to see is a robust economy, where crafted items are useful and desireable (and thus salable) at all levels, along with a crafting mechanic that is complex and depthful without being tedious or twitchy. SWG’s system was not bad and very much delivered on what Sie Ming laid out in his essay – the biggest problem with it was simply that the numbers scared people. By the same token, EQ2′s system had a lot of potential for diversity and customization, had they only allowed subcomponent items to make a difference. Ultimately every item was the same though, which led to players complaining about the grind.

    Any crafting system in any new games should fulfill the following objectives:
    1. Diversity and customization – players want to be proud of what they make.
    2. Depth and complexity – the process of crafting needs to be interesting and require thought, not just mindless clicking.
    3. Interaction with adventure play – the crafting game needs to integrate with the adventure game. Whether it’s done by looting crafting components, or performing field repairs on installations while the adventurers defend your position, or whatever.
    4. Player-based economy. It’s ok to have loot and crafting in a game together, but if you do so, crafting should form the basis for the economy, with loot constituting the rare artifacts and such. Not to say you can’t have superior crafted goods, but you have to base the economy on normal crafted goods in order to insure that there’s enough demand to handle the vast numbers of players who will craft.

  78. I just had a flash of inspiration. Let’s see what y’all think of this….

    I’ve always been a big advocate of quest-based character advancement, dating back all the way to my days as a Dungeon Master playing 1st-edition tabletop Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. My rationale is that quest-based advancement is immensely flexible for the DM or game designer, and it gets people out of the mode of repetitively killin’ critters to advance, placing the emphasis on following The Story – whatever it may be. I happen to think the introduction of quest-based XP came darn close to saving the NGE in Star Wars Galaxies. Too bad they shafted the Creature Handlers so badly. (Ahem…) But I digress.

    The question is (aside from the development nightmares of it), how to create compelling stories for crafters?

    I think it was George Patton who said, “Wars are won by logistics,” or something to that effect. And that’s what got me thinking. Wars… logistics… what if an artisan could find himself in a position to affect the outcome of a battle by furnishing The Good Guys with superior equipment? Or maybe more equipment? Or perhaps a specified number of items?

    Another possibility might be a techno-race, in which the artisan has a set amount of time to develop an advanced variant of some weapon or gizmo. And perhaps this could be set in a competitive framework, in which one faction’s quest-giver has a counterpart in another city for an opposing faction, and groups of several player crafters of similar level or number of skill points allocated are pooled together into a free-for-all competition in which the best gizmo wins. And to make sure no one can skew their output by buying “ringer” resources, the quest requires the participants to mine fresh resources for the product, under the premise that the Faction doesn’t want the player diverting scarce resources from other vital projects or some such fiddle-faddle.

    And if I were the game-design god of this thing, I would backdrop it all with a system in which extreme experimentation would invoke a certain level of risk. After all, artisans often work with all manner of reactive chemicals, explosive compounds, radioactive elements, and what-not. Maybe I watched a few too many Felix The Cat cartoons as a child, in which Poindexter blows up his lab, but I always thought experimentation in crafting should have some sort of risk/reward mechanism: Maybe that Combat Medic risks exposing himself to his own biotoxins, or that Weaponsmith might touch off an explosion resulting in the loss of his prototype, or maybe his resources, or his crafting tool and/or station… or maybe even his entire laboratory with him in it, leaving behind a 20-meter-diameter smoking crater in it’s place and a magnificent on-screen epitaph.

    (Ahem… sorry, Jim…)

    And of course, I would top it all off with some sort of snazzy emotional payoff: The player could deliver his product(s) to a quartermaster at a battle site “just in the nick of time,” triggering a set-piece battle in which the player gets to watch as His Side wins (or loses…), and maybe a factional NPC bestows a commendation upon the player: an object that can be displayed in the character’s house or guild hall.

    Does that not sound like a fun alternative to advancing your toon by crafting 3000 Rifle Barrels or Copper Chainmail Boots?

  79. It definitely sounds like a fun alternative – but does not sound like a likely replacement, unless you somehow manage to come up with an insane number of unique “scenarios” like that which the crafters may engage in.

  80. I wouldn’t expect such a concept to cause “grinding” options to be eliminated. Heck, I still do plenty of random hunting just to get extra XP when I don’t feel like I have the time or motivation to run a quest. But stuff like the above would be a fun break from the grind. And the feed-the-war-machine concept would, I think, be easy to envision as being repeatable, perhaps randomly spawning in various locations on different planets. Of course, crafting “x” number of items for a quartermaster has a significant grind-like feel to it, but hey… at least it’s a grind with some backstory to it.

    For me, the key to coming up with good content is a good context. And that’s something that the Star Wars mythos offers in abundance. It has ideas and hooks aplenty. Here’s a few off the top of my sleep-deprived head, submitted for the sake of stoking creative juices:

    Crafting an uber-svoop for a shady associate of Jabba the Hutt (or maybe Lady Valarian) for the next svoop race… and perhaps dealing with some shadowy characters who do NOT want you to finish the project…

    Crafting some Unique Piece of Art for a snooty upper-crust type in Keren… and then being accosted by a jealous neighbor….

    Analyzing and reverse-engineering a strange datapad-like device found on Endor, and discovering it’s a complex biochemical-sensing communication device that allows the user to discover and decode the hypersonic/pheromonal communication system of the mereks of Endor, which leads to a strange bit of backstory detailing their relationship to the ancient Sith Lord Exar Kun… from THEIR perspective…

    Aiding a research station on Dathomir, helping rebuild the site’s ravaged outer perimeter (yeah, it cops one of the stories from the Hidden Village’s Crafting Mastery quest line, but hey… why not?)

    Prospecting for some Really Rare Rare-Earth Mineral and using it to create a Modified Advanced Prototype Thingamabob…

    Accepting a commission from an academic in Theed to discover just what type of rock it is that Krayt Dragons metabolize into “pearls”…

    And the techno-race concept can be modified in almost infinite ways, with the player being sought out by representatives of any number of underworld factions, or perhaps even finding himself the target of assassination plots for “aiding the wrong people”…

  81. Ah, crafting, a tough nut to crack. Players want 1) To sell their goods at a profit, 2) To make goods they can use in combat, 3) have fun and 4) gain status. The second isn’t to hard to do, just use a “rare drop item” as a material instead of having the item itself be an equipable item. The first is harder, and is harder still in a use-based system. Iron bars aren’t worth as much as Iron ore: Why should it; someone squeezed all the skill points out of them. I don’t see how in the current generation of games you can craft anything of value unless the other players can’t buy the item elsewhere and can’t find very many crafters who are willing to make the item. Worlds of Warcraft has a timer on many high end crafting such that you can only make one a day or less often. Timers do not qualify as “fun” nor do they feel right. Status is easy enough to do, but setting it up so everyone can have status is a bit more of a challenge.

  82. I think it was George Patton who said, “Wars are won by logistics,” or something to that effect. And that’s what got me thinking. Wars… logistics… what if an artisan could find himself in a position to affect the outcome of a battle by furnishing The Good Guys with superior equipment? Or maybe more equipment? Or perhaps a specified number of items?

    If the good guys are NPCs, this won’t work. Crafters, by and large, don’t want to sit and make items all day just to hand those items to an NPC and have them be effectively destroyed. Now, if they saw the NPC take those items and use them on the battlefield, then cool, but in order to do that and still support the number of people who would be crafting, the items would have to be very hard to make.

    What most crafters want to do is supply other players. Filling orders for the system is not really much fun unless you just like accumulating wealth. Getting a /tell from a customer saying “Wow, this piece of armor you made is just awesome, thanks so much!” is fun.

    This is where quest based advancement falls down in regards to crafting. A better way to do it would be to leverage secondary abilities of the crafter. So, instead of making 100 blasters for the troops, maybe they need to repair the shield generator. Rather than having them churn out 50 breastplates, perhaps they need to help construct a catapult. The trick is that any crafter “quest” needs to emphasize the creation or maintenance of something outside of the normal, day-to-day, player-supplying crafting in order to be fun for a crafter.

  83. Hey Raph, is there a post on Crafting rolling around in your head? Seems like a lot of good discussion on the subject. ;)

    More responses later. I believe we have solutions to many of the problems here, which we’d like to implement…

  84. David wrote:

    …Crafters, by and large, don’t want to sit and make items all day just to hand those items to an NPC and have them be effectively destroyed. Now, if they saw the NPC take those items and use them on the battlefield, then cool, but in order to do that and still support the number of people who would be crafting, the items would have to be very hard to make.

    What most crafters want to do is supply other players. Filling orders for the system is not really much fun unless you just like accumulating wealth. Getting a /tell from a customer saying “Wow, this piece of armor you made is just awesome, thanks so much!” is fun.

    This is where quest based advancement falls down in regards to crafting….

    Very true. But is it worse than the status quo: standing in front of a crafting station and plowing through a fifty-thousand-unit brick of aluminum in Practice Mode crafting imaginary feeder mechanisms (SWG) or burning through a couple thousand units of iron in front of an anvil to make X number of iron chainmail shirts that will only be bought by the NPC vendor standing conveniently next to the anvil (WoW)?

    Crafting items for a NPC is essentially no different than the craft-and-destroy grind model. In both cases, the product basically disappears from the game. In this idea, my intent was to create the illusion of “doing something useful,” even if it’s not in fact genuinely useful. But maybe it would work better if some sort of additional tangible reward could be given, like, say, a nice infusion of Faction Points, or perhaps a useful schematic for some piece of factional equipment. The goal with this idea would be to make the process something that allows the player to have fun en route to his goal of becoming a master crafter. The dilemma is how to create processes like this that don’t become macro targets because of the added reward. Personally, I think it would be fun to trigger and watch a moderately-large set-piece battle.

    An alternative would be to make it a PvP battle, or a group PvE battle in which the artisan earns XP by creating weapons or consumable powerups of some sort that the players then use in the battle.

  85. [...] That targetting stuff sounds cool.  They should have had that pre-CU.  Could have called it, oh I dunno, /ui action targetAtCursor or something.And imagine the useful tricks Rangers and Wielders could have had if they differentiated between their combat and look-at targets.  My oh my the old game would have been a lot better with these new innovations!That must be why the old game was massively unpopular and NGE remains the number one selling game of the day.Light reading. [...]

  86. Crafting items for a NPC is essentially no different than the craft-and-destroy grind model.

    What if the NPCs gathered into their own nations and had wars all on their own? What if your contribution to their economy, say by supplying some exemplar weapons or bringing more trade to their country, helped them gain the advantage?

    *shrugs* Of course, there’s a lot of NPC stuff you’d have to design…… =P I feel like I gave away too much.

  87. Very true. But is it worse than the status quo: standing in front of a crafting station and plowing through a fifty-thousand-unit brick of aluminum in Practice Mode crafting imaginary feeder mechanisms (SWG) or burning through a couple thousand units of iron in front of an anvil to make X number of iron chainmail shirts that will only be bought by the NPC vendor standing conveniently next to the anvil (WoW)?

    I think the better way to do it is to design a system where grinding is irrelevant. Rather than promoting a “level-based” approach to crafting, where you start making chairs and then learn to make better chairs, a better way to do it is to allow crafting advancement to take the form of diversity rather than quality or power.

    Say for example you have someone who is a weaponsmith. Starting out, they might learn to create a few simple weapons. They could make short swords, hammers, and spears. As they gain skill, they gain access to new types of weapons. They can branch out to longswords, axes, polearms, and on to increasingly more exotic (but not necessarily more powerful) weapons. Or perhaps they gain techniques which allow them to differentiate their items more by adding +’s and -’s to them, emphasizing one attribute at the expense of another. So, our imaginary crafting system might look like this.

    - The power of the item is determined by the resources used in construction.
    - Any crafter can harvest resources, but better resources are harder to get and might require more expensive tools.
    - As crafters “level up”, they gain access to new types of weapons. The power is still determined by the resources used, however – so a dagger made of meteoric iron is going to be about as sharp as a long sword made of meteoric iron.
    - Higher-level crafters also gain the ability to customize their weapons more. So a high-level weaponsmith could lighten the hilt for improved balance, sacrificing hitting power for speed. Or he could reinforce the blade, doing the opposite. The low-level weaponsmith might not have these options.

    Such a system still allows for progression both in terms of itemization and in terms of advancement for our crafters. But at the same time, it allows the items made by new crafters to instantly be commercially viable, as long as the itemization is done well enough that all stats on an item are equally important.

    Now, this doesn’t address the question of how crafters advance, but at this point you could tack on most any advancement mechanism to this – quest-based, use-based, or even results-based, and it would still be a system with very little benefit to grinding (other than getting to the end faster).

  88. Crafting items for a NPC is essentially no different than the craft-and-destroy grind model.

    What if the NPCs gathered into their own nations and had wars all on their own? What if your contribution to their economy, say by supplying some exemplar weapons or bringing more trade to their country, helped them gain the advantage?

    *shrugs* Of course, there’s a lot of NPC stuff you’d have to design…… =P I feel like I gave away too much.

    The resultant benefit would need to be immediately visible and ideally affect the game world in a tangible way. But it absolutely can be done.

    Suppose you have two cities that send NPC troops out to fight each other in a war (which players can participate in).

    To field a soldier, the city needs a chainmail shirt, a helmet, and a spear for that soldier. The city’s quartermasters have asked for help from crafters in outfitting their armies.

    So, crafters make these items and turn them into the quartermaster. They should be able to see a list of what the quartermaster has and what he needs as well. Every time the quartermaster has a full set of equipment, he is able to equip a soldier. So, as long as there are full sets of equipment available, every 3 minutes another soldier spawns to join the battle for his city. If there aren’t equipment sets available….no more soldiers.

    This could be expanded, but the point is that the crafter’s contribution has a visible and tangible effect on the game world (it spawns more soldiers to go fight the enemy, which could turn the war in that city’s favor).

  89. When a designer limits the total set of consumers to other players/NPCs, there’s very few options to build markets for less than maximum quality goods without introducing artificial game mechanics. In reality, a whole host of organizations need resources and typically organizations need lesser versions in bigger quantities. That’s the point of my post above. #65. In order to solve the “The items I crafted are useful to world.” problem you have to make sure there is demand for items at all levels of the crafting advancement path. Making crafters depend on other crafters is one way to do it but that’s not the only way.

    I’ve always asked myself why there was no equivalent demand-based AH in WoW. All you have is a bunch of suppliers spamming the AH with items hoping that there is a demand for them. Most MMOs seem to follow this premise that suppliers are the only ones that should be able to list an item for sale. There are typically no tools to help the crafter/merchant find out what is in demand this side of chance luck on hearing something by word of mouth. Wouldn’t leveling be different if there was a goal to reach at various points in the advancement tree? (Sounds like the combat metagame that most players really enjoy.) Try selling a +1 enchant to a weapon in WoW. You’ll get laughed at. That’s because there’s no middle market. You either have the +30 spell power enchant or you don’t; end of story. Now, if all those chainmail shirts went towards supplying a military for you guild or player run city, the repetition doesn’t hurt nearly as bad because half of the two problems I pointed out in post #65 has been fixed. Turn around and make the game mechanic mildly interesting and you just might have a “fun” crafting system.

    As for the problem of profitability, I don’t believe players expect to be profitable on every combine they make. I do believe that the complaint of profitability is really “I don’t have enough information to make informed decisions about how I ply my trade in game so losses feel arbitrary and out of my control.” Combat/Adventurers can use the game’s feedback to judge strategy and success; their failures are largely in the realm of their control. The feedback mechanisms for crafters and business types in most games are usually after thoughts and it’s no wonder they are wholly unsatisfying.

    Getting back to the use-based skill gain discussion this started with, the use-based skill gain in a crafting system is no better nor worse than it is in the combat system. It’s the ill designed crafting metagame that makes the use-based system look flawed. Fix the crafting metagame and people will forget about the use-based system underlying the advancement of crafting just like they do in the combat metagame.

  90. I’ve always asked myself why there was no equivalent demand-based AH in WoW. All you have is a bunch of suppliers spamming the AH with items hoping that there is a demand for them.

    One of the things I like about EVE is the ability to place a buy order. It’s also nice that the system will place buy orders on a semi-random basis, this encourages players to run trace between stations.

  91. David wrote:

    …a better way to do it is to allow crafting advancement to take the form of diversity rather than quality or power.

    Say for example you have someone who is a weaponsmith. Starting out, they might learn to create a few simple weapons. They could make short swords, hammers, and spears. As they gain skill, they gain access to new types of weapons. They can branch out to longswords, axes, polearms, and on to increasingly more exotic (but not necessarily more powerful) weapons. Or perhaps they gain techniques which allow them to differentiate their items more by adding +’s and -’s to them, emphasizing one attribute at the expense of another. So, our imaginary crafting system might look like this:

    - The power of the item is determined by the resources used in construction.
    - Any crafter can harvest resources, but better resources are harder to get and might require more expensive tools.
    - As crafters “level up”, they gain access to new types of weapons. The power is still determined by the resources used, however – so a dagger made of meteoric iron is going to be about as sharp as a long sword made of meteoric iron….

    I can see a problem with this: What if weapons that *seem* like they should *always* be weaker (such as daggers) wind up more powerful than weapons that we’d think should be inherently more powerful (such as a vibrolance), solely because of of the materials used?

  92. - Any crafter can harvest resources, but better resources are harder to get and might require more expensive tools….

    SWG’s crafting system had some of this. For example, a Training Lightsaber required only “Metal” and Mineral” and “Chemical” resources to create. As your character advanced and certified to use more-powerful sabers, the crafting requirements became more specific. “Metal” became “Steel” and “Aluminum” and “Copper,” and at the high end became specific and rare requirements: “Duralloy Steel,” “Titanium Aluminum,” “Polysteel Copper.” And of course, since the physical qualities of any spawn of these rare resources was randomly determined (within given parameters), there was a built-in challenge to find spawns of these rare resources that had decent stats.

    That’s what made SWG’s crafting system so deep. Specific spawns of a resource were finite. Once that resource was depleted, it was gone, and you had to wait for another occurrence of that resource type to come up again. This virtually ensured that every batch of weapons created by even the same artisan would have subtle differences.

    I do think it would have been interesting to have certain “rare-earth” resources occur only in trace concentrations, to the point that they required extra-expensive, temperamental machinery sensitive enough to even detect and extract the stuff, let alone worthwhile amounts of it.

  93. And let’s not forget the krayt tissues, acklay bones, peko peko albatross feathers, and guant dune kimogila scales: hard-to-acquire items looted from the most dangerous creatures in the game… items that also varied in their stats.

  94. Other use-based skills that seemed to work well included the Scout Exploration skill’s grant of experience for traveling past an aggressive creature with scent masked and successfully avoiding detection or harvesting resources from a kill, and the Creature Handler’s XP for taming creatures, teaching them commands, and using the pet in combat. These flowed naturally from ongoing gameplay. On the other hand, XP for deploying a Scout or Ranger camp… blah. XP for basically sitting and doing nothing. Players grinding Ranger would inevitably just set up a camp just outside their player city while he and his guildmates were guarding a PvP base and invite guildmates to drive through them, then tear down that camp and set up another one, over and over and over.

    Still, usage-based XP was clearly a noble idea, and I for one was more than willing to tolerate the system’s many idiosyncracies for the sake of supporting the devs’ efforts to create innovative approaches to the character-improvement conundrum.

  95. I’ve always asked myself why there was no equivalent demand-based AH in WoW. All you have is a bunch of suppliers spamming the AH with items hoping that there is a demand for them.

    Well, I have two answers to that, and they are both the same. With a demand based Auction House in Worlds of Warcraft you would see that players are interested in only a small handfull of items, and such an auction house would be like a cheat book for the crafting game they designed, such as it is.

    Try selling a +1 enchant to a weapon in WoW. You’ll get laughed at. That’s because there’s no middle market.

    Well, enchanting is worse than most crafts in terms of supply, demand, and costs in WoW. Most people would agree that on a low level weapon an enchant is not worth the costs of materials. As a result most enchants in WoW until you hit max level are for skill-ups. Some are gifts to freinds, some are for new players they have never met before, others will just enchant the same sword over and over again, removing all previous enchants in the process. What good is a light enchant on a weapon you will not be using in eight hours? At max level, the rules change. Now there is some demand for some enchants, if they are a little hard to learn, but the material costs are so high that it’s hard to justify the costs, and there are so many enchanters that it’s hard to ask for any real profit. Every now and then you might learn a truely rare enchant, and for a brief period of time dictate terms, but even then the real profit comes from selling the materials not the enchantment. It doesn’t feel much like crafting and it certainly doesn’t feel like you’ve mastered a magical skill. It seems a lot more like you paid 1000g for a button that people want to pay 1g to borrow, and they seem to think they are doing you a favor.

  96. SirBruce said:

    One problem is the that the crafting systems of the past 10 years have created a whole generation of MMOG crafters who don’t WANT “fun” interactive crafting. Instad, they use their crafting time to socialize, repetitively click and then chatting while they do so.

    Some people do the same thing with combat. After you’ve run that mid-level instance a few times, its not that hard to carry on conversations or organize your inventory while in the middle of a combat encounter (especially if you have a support role that doesn’t require constant button-mashing; a mage for example).

  97. Well, I have two answers to that, and they are both the same. With a demand based Auction House in Worlds of Warcraft you would see that players are interested in only a small handfull of items, and such an auction house would be like a cheat book for the crafting game they designed, such as it is.

    I don’t buy the whole idea that a demand based auction house would be a “cheat book”. I do think that over time the two forms of selling would find their homes. Leveling a tradeskill and looking for gear upgrades are two different shopping patterns. Demand based trading in any game only further enhances the economy. I think you missed the point I was trying to make about use-based systems and why we view them as bad in the crafting game and perfectly acceptable in the combat game. A demand based AH in WoW would go a long way towards helping players with the “The items I crafted are useful to world.” problem.

    As for the enchanting tradeskill problem, the only way I can see them fixing that is to level cap the enchants which would artificially create demand for lower level enchants. Given the BGs stratified the way they are it might not be a bad idea.

  98. [...] Posted: Sunday, 23 July 2006 10:41PM If anyone is interested, there is a long (and recent) article about the advantages of use-based systems in RPGs over experience-based systems, on the site of Raph Koster (one of the original designers of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies):Click Here      [...]

  99. (Going to talk about Worlds of Warcraft for a moment, if not interested please skip post :) )

    I think that it would show up the huge limitations of the WoW crafting system, which is that some crafters can make two or three items that are worth more than materials. Of those, one of those items is so cheap it doesn’t seem worth making. Another the materials costs are crazy high. That really leaves only one thing worth making.

    I’ll give an example. Engineers often complain that they can’t sell anything because most of the stuff needs an engineering skill to use. They then conclude it’s a money pit, accept it and move on to blowing stuff up. But Blizzard added some things that there is a demand for, and you can level most of the way to the top on just one item: The advanced combat dummy. There is a quest that non engineers can take that needs this item and the few engineers that recognize this demand can make a slight profit keeping one or two up on the auction house. If everyone knew about the slight demand for this item, then the value of the item would drop below the materials cost again.

    I agree that leveling a trade skill and looking for upgrades are two different shopping patterns, what I’m saying is that if the crafters could see clearly the second pattern then compare it against what they can make, then there is no guessing or risk in a game that has little risk already.

    I’m not saying you couldn’t have a crafting system where a demand-based Auction House wouldn’t be useful, I’m just saying WoW’s is too shallow, and if you could see all the pieces at one time it would fall apart.

  100. Rik wrote:
    …I’m just saying WoW’s (crafting system) is too shallow, and if you could see all the pieces at one time it would fall apart.

    I agree wholeheartedly, Rik. But then, I consider much of WoW to be shallow. It’s chief merit is that it is relatively bug-free and designed from the ground up around a level-based system. D&D Online has a far superior questing system, but fails because that’s all it has: it fails to give players a sense of being participants in a virtual world instead of a very good game. As good as the city of Stormreach is, I have to reluctantly say that as a “world,” Stormreach is a boring place.

    I hate to say it, but if SWG could ever get their game mechanics down, it would be tough for me to refrain from renewing my sub – I do miss my toons’ houses and all that memorabilia I have on display in them. (Iakimo gives Raph a dirty look for being so diabolically on target with his assertions about the value of in-game “hooks” like player houses….). But that is a mighty big “if”….

  101. Iakimo said:

    I can see a problem with this: What if weapons that *seem* like they should *always* be weaker (such as daggers) wind up more powerful than weapons that we’d think should be inherently more powerful (such as a vibrolance), solely because of of the materials used?

    You’d have to mask it behind a combat system that emphasized weapon choices based on style rather than size. A dagger is just as lethal as a sword in the proper hands….but yeah, even then, you’d want to make the higher quality resources sufficiently rare to help preserve suspension of disbelief, plus if you’re using a level-based advancement system for your combat characters, level minimums on the finished items help too.

    Talking about crafting is tricky because crafting touches almost every other part of the game when you have it in. I find that games designed from the beginning with the idea that crafting is going to be an integral part of how people get equipment generally do better integrating it than ones where it gets tacked on as a side system or an option.

  102. The only solution to the WoW problem (items not being in demand due to materials cost or quality of drops at the same level) is to redo itemization so that those items have a chance to sell. This is the problem that any game that pairs looted finished items and crafted finished items has to face. In EQ1, crafted items start out good each time the recipes are added, but they quickly lose value due to mudflation – or at least, that’s been the pattern the last seven years. In EQ2, there was a conscious effort to make crafted items something that people could sell to players at every level, and it worked great – until recently when someone decided that loot should be better, and now crafted gear sells slowly if at all. In WoW the game was built around loot (Blizzard really copied the EQ1 method there), and so crafted gear never really stood a chance, although as an armorer in WoW i did alright for a while because people wanted matching sets….go figure. In SWG, crafted was the basis of everything until some very out of touch people made some very bad decisions, which they continue to pay for in terms of subscriber base. That last part makes me very sad, SWG really had the best crafting game I’ve yet seen in any MMORPG, and it’s a disservice to the original team that it has been dismissed so easily by the current one.

  103. David- How about a crafting system where you had recipes for the best looted items? Requiring very rare ingredients, of course. ;)

  104. But then, I consider much of WoW to be shallow.

    Oh, it is. The list of What They Got Right is large, but it’s an on-rails experience, ability of the players to effect things is most limited.

  105. Jim – that absolutely works. The only catch there will be to make sure that the items needed to craft an item have the same rarity overall as the item itself would if dropped as loot.

    For example, one of the reasons that EQ2 crafted gear got nerfed recently is that players would spend hours and hours and hours harvesting for rare resources – farming them, if you will. This led to everyone running around in rare crafted armor (which, of course, was better than the majority of loot). When the rare items are no longer rare, it’s a serious problem for crafters as it obsoletes all the normal stuff they can make.

    So, in a system where items can drop as loot OR be crafted, you have to make sure that it’s just as difficult for the item to enter the game through either method. If it’s easier to craft it, then the loot will be devalued. If it’s easier to loot it, then the crafted version will be devalued. There has to be a balance maintained so that items on either side don’t become worthless or obsolete.

  106. Another balancing technique is to tinker with the durability of the items. This seemed to work pretty well in SWG. All items in SWG had finite life spans, because players could never repair their gear back to like-new condition. Whenever they repaired an item, its maximum state of repair always dropped a bit, and they always carried a risk of breaking down completely upon a repair attempt. So that posed a difficult question to players: Did they REALLY want to spend millions of credits on that consumable item that was always one botched repair job away from the scrap heap?

    Players would occasionally loot weapons with an amazing damage-over-time effect, but these weapons tended to be badly in need of repair when found. And when players would try to repair them, they seemed to have a signinficantly higher-than-usual likelihood of falling apart during the attempt.

  107. The kind of player advancment that feels best to me is the kind that isn’t there at all. What I mean is that I prefer a game that leverages my natural learning mechanisms rather than making me grind. Games that require me to learn a new skill, that is. I guess making an MMORPG like that would alienate all the hardcore grinders, so it’s probably not a plan for success, but I’d rather have most of the game actions depend on my skill rather than the skills I’ve trained my character in. Of course, it could be tricky to make every possible game action work in a way that the player has enough control over to get better at. Combat would have to rely on something other than pure stats (tactics?), and so on.

  108. The kind of player advancment that feels best to me is the kind that isn’t there at all. What I mean is that I prefer a game that leverages my natural learning mechanisms rather than making me grind.

    That’s a tricky area where a designer would have to be real careful. Any sort of “twitch” system that relies on hand-eye coordination and manual response time never goes over well with handicapped players or people who have sub-par connections for whatever reason. Someone said once that part of the appeal of an RPG is that your character can be better than you at something due to their skills/abilities.

    I think baseline things such as resolving combat or crafting results should be matters of character skill. However, more tactical things, such as deciding which ore type to use, or whether to use the ice spell or the fire spell, or even how to position one’s character in combat for best effect, should be matters of player skill. Most games do this now to some extent.

  109. Iakimo wrote:
    What if weapons that *seem* like they should *always* be weaker (such as daggers) wind up more powerful than weapons that we’d think should be inherently more powerful (such as a vibrolance), solely because of of the materials used?

    David wrote:
    You’d have to mask it behind a combat system that emphasized weapon choices based on style rather than size. A dagger is just as lethal as a sword in the proper hands…

    …plus if you’re using a level-based advancement system for your combat characters, level minimums on the finished items help too.

    Okay, yeah… something like that could work. The nightmare scenario I was worrying about would have been if a Master Craftsman would have been able to take even a low-level/noob weapon design and make an uberweapon out of it.

    But then, we’re getting back to what Raph & Co. did with SWG, with its skill-based certification ladders for weapons. Funny, ain’t it?

  110. [...] I made a mildly controversial comment over on Raph’s blog that use-based systems kinda suck for achievers. Levels make it much easier to compare e-peens and see who has more time to spend. [...]

  111. [...] http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/ It seems to me, as I’ve been discussing with the man Jesus, that a lot of things about MMOs, from the features down to the very mechanics, are only included in recent games because people expect them to be, so I think game designers have a tendency to design around what people expect rather than designing the game the way they think it should be designed. Use-based skills are a very good example of that. [...]

  112. [...] WoW BlueTracker: Min-maxing the Arena system WoW BlueTracker Home | Recent | CS Posts | RSS | Search | Archive | News | Contact Poster: Igniferroque at 8/16/2006 5:26:18 PM PDTSubject: Min-maxing the Arena system    I suggest the developers share the exact details of the Arena system scoring system now or during the beta. Experience has shown that players will a) reverse engineer any system you design and b) min-max that system once reverse engineered. So tell us how the system works now, we’ll tell you how we’ll min-max it, then you can decide if that’s the behavior you’d like to encourage. I was there for the birth of the honor cap on Bleeding Hollow. A few weeks after you began posting the honor scores and rankings, the system was reverse engineered and posted publically. We were in an AB group back in the day when you actually had to be in Arathi Highlands. A friend, an aeronautical engineer, was debating whether or not to push to GM that week or the week following. We disbanded the group for the hour while he "did the math." When we reformed, he had calculated that he couldn’t make GM that week, told a peer to push for it instead and that he’d get it the next week. So it began. I have no idea how the WoW designers feel about Raph Koster, but you’ll find another example of min-maxing here: http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/ It shows how, by experimentation, people reverse-engineered UO’s use-based skill system. [...]

  113. [...] The problems of a Use-Based System Saw this linked on the WoW general forums. It is a pretty interesting read. It looks like it’s excrutiatingly long, but the vast majority of this page is just comments on the main story http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/ __________________ RIP – Pmoney – Level 60 Undead Warlock [...]

  114. [...] WoW BlueTracker: Min-maxing the Arena system WoW BlueTracker Home | Recent | CS Posts | RSS | Search | Archive | News | Contact Poster: Igniferroque at 8/16/2006 5:26:18 PM PDTSubject: Min-maxing the Arena system    I suggest the developers share the exact details of the Arena system scoring system now or during the beta. Experience has shown that players will a) reverse engineer any system you design and b) min-max that system once reverse engineered. So tell us how the system works now, we’ll tell you how we’ll min-max it, then you can decide if that’s the behavior you’d like to encourage. I was there for the birth of the honor cap on Bleeding Hollow. A few weeks after you began posting the honor scores and rankings, the system was reverse engineered and posted publically. We were in an AB group back in the day when you actually had to be in Arathi Highlands. A friend, an aeronautical engineer, was debating whether or not to push to GM that week or the week following. We disbanded the group for the hour while he "did the math." When we reformed, he had calculated that he couldn’t make GM that week, told a peer to push for it instead and that he’d get it the next week. So it began. I have no idea how the WoW designers feel about Raph Koster, but you’ll find another example of min-maxing here: http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/ It shows how, by experimentation, people reverse-engineered UO’s use-based skill system. We have precious little information on how the Arena system will work. It will be like a chess rating system and there will be a minimum of 10 games required, as revealed by Jeff Kaplan during the Joystiq interview. To demonstrate our affinity for min-maxing, I’ll walk you through my ideas based on these two facts. My first thought is to get a group together and load them for bear: Flasks of Wisdom, Supreme Power, Titans, even Petrification for those times you need a three minute iceblock equivalent. Then, play the minimum number of games in this state. Don’t even have to play them all at once. Pick and choose our times when we’re likely to encounter the least resistance. During prime time raiding hours. In the middle of the night. Mid-morning. Whenever you’re likely to meet up with people who are PvPing honestly, for fun instead of simply to win. Am I on target? Probably not, but I might be somewhere in the neighborhood. Regardless, you see how we’ll think it through. Share with us the details of the system and we’ll tell you how we’ll going to game it. And then you judge for yourselves if that’s the game you want us to be playing. As an idea to tune the system as I understand it to be – I didn’t put too much thought into it because I’m just speculating here – give us an incentive to play more games. The current "grind or get demoted" disincentive lends itself to boring gameplay and you’re absolutely right to move away from it. To continue along the lines of your "honor point" currency, let us earn points to buy Arena loot. Instead of a winner take all system at the end of the three months, have a floor. If the system has a max rating of 10, everyone who has an 9 or more can ‘buy’ gear from the epic selection. Everyone who has a rating between 6 and 9 can ‘buy’ gear from the rare selection. Maybe allow us to carry those epic or rare points over from season to season, thus not penalizing the people who fail to play 10 hours a day but still rewarding those who do. These are conjectures based on an incomplete set of facts. So give us all the information of the Arena system before beta. By giving us the information now, we can give you feedback before its implemented and before it becomes so late you have patch in any changes. Let me finish by saying, I’m all for the changes you’re implementing in the Burning Crusade. Bravo. I’m very interested in getting this iteration of the PvP system right and many of us are more than willing and more than able to help.[ post edited by Igniferroque ] The enemy’s gate is down.   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9552122 Poster: Drysc at 8/17/2006 10:01:17 AM PDTSubject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system    We’ve kept a lot in mind while creating the arena system to help make it as centered on player skill as possible, and not time invested. We’re looking to help create a place where players can track their achievements and improvements in a fun PvP environment. We’re no strangers to the tactics and extent at which players will take a game to help ensure they reach their goal sooner or easier. It can however be minimized by simplifying a system so that the possible benefits available to a player are specific and tangible to everyone, and that the potential for exploitation is reduced as much as possible. With a complex system there will always be that something extra that can give you an edge over someone else, it’s the size and availability of the edge that makes the difference though. We think we’re making some great progress in creating place where players can come and test their PvP skill against others, have fun, and get some pretty cool rewards out of it too. Just because you asked, here’s some more information on the arena system. Hopefully this quells some of your concerns, and squashes a few assumptions. Please keep in mind that this information is subject to change, but these are our current plans for the PvP Arena system in The Burning Crusade expansion. When a player enters an arena battle, all buffs and conjured items are purged/deleted. This is done to ensure no outside buffs or items from members outside of your team are able to be used in an arena battle. No consumables other than bandages and conjured items can be used while in the arena. There will be a waiting area similar to the current battlegrounds where players on the team will be able to conjure items and cast buffs. Abilities/spells/items with cooldowns longer than 15 minutes cannot be used while in the arena. Each arena team will be given a rating, and will be matched up in the arena queue against teams of a similar rating (matching within that specific cross-realm battlegroup). As time progresses the matching system will broaden its search up to a limit if a closely rated team cannot be found. Ratings adjustments are made in the same way that ELO ratings adjustments are made. This system works by adjusting each arena team’s rating from a specific match based on the rating of the team they are up against. If a team wins against a team of a higher rating, the increase of their arena rating would be much higher than if they had won against a team of a lower rating. This system will help promote players improving their skill and besting teams which may have previously held the top spots. At the end of each week, characters receive arena points based on their team’s rating. A team must have fought a minimum number of battles for the week, which we have announced as currently set to 10 games. A player must have played in at least 30% of the team’s battles that week in order to be eligible to receive arena points. Each eligible player will then receive a fraction of the teams total awarded points to spend on arena rewards. Players may spend their points on arena rewards, or save their points until they have enough to get the rewards they desire. There is a limit to the number of points a player can stockpile, which is currently planned to be as high as the most expensive item. At the end of a season, players on a team are given a title based on their team’s relative position on the ladder which will last through the next arena season.   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9559694Poster: Drysc at 8/17/2006 10:11:37 AM PDTSubject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system    Q u o t e: So, Drysc, if you’re still reading this, that means potions are out? Not just health/mana, but things like Moongoose, Troll’s Blood, etc. Correct. Q u o t e:So rogues can’t use poisons, huh? Nothing posted would imply that you would be unable to use temporary item buffs.   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9559861Poster: Drysc at 8/17/2006 10:11:37 AM PDTSubject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post*    Q u o t e: So, Drysc, if you’re still reading this, that means potions are out? Not just health/mana, but things like Moongoose, Troll’s Blood, etc. Correct. Q u o t e:So rogues can’t use poisons, huh? Nothing posted would imply that you would be unable to use temporary item buffs.   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9559861Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:23:07 AM PDTSubject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system    Q u o t e: Nothing posted would imply that you would be unable to use temporary item buffs. In addition, you can use spells/abilities that require reagents if you so choose (as long as they still meet the other criteria). So, for example, Blind and Prayer of Fortitude can be used, while Reincarnation cannot (due to its cooldown).   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560041Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:36:35 AM PDTSubject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system    Q u o t e: I wonder if it would be possible for a team to feed *all* of the awarded points to a single player? A rotation, like warrior + 3 paladins… the warrior stays in, the paladins rotate. At the end of each week, each character receives an equal number of the points. For characters that did not play in at least 30% of the battles, the points are lost. So no, there shouldn’t be any way to inflate the number of points any single player on the team receives.   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560259Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:39:51 AM PDTSubject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system    Q u o t e: It was not a good system, and it was too easy to exploit. All you had to do was throw a couple of games after a win streak to lower your ELL and then get easier matches. Sure your win/loss ratio would go down, but it was the easiest way to climb the ladder. I remember the 2v2 teams having mediocre win/loss ratios, but would always be at the top of the ladder. edit: spelling I think it’s worth noting that War 3 doesn’t use an ELO system… it has some elements that are based on ELO, but it’s significantly hybridized.   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560304Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:23:07 AM PDTSubject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post*    Q u o t e: Nothing posted would imply that you would be unable to use temporary item buffs. In addition, you can use spells/abilities that require reagents if you so choose (as long as they still meet the other criteria). So, for example, Blind and Prayer of Fortitude can be used, while Reincarnation cannot (due to its cooldown).   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560041Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:36:35 AM PDTSubject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post*    Q u o t e: I wonder if it would be possible for a team to feed *all* of the awarded points to a single player? A rotation, like warrior + 3 paladins… the warrior stays in, the paladins rotate. At the end of each week, each character receives an equal number of the points. For characters that did not play in at least 30% of the battles, the points are lost. So no, there shouldn’t be any way to inflate the number of points any single player on the team receives.   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560259Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:48:49 AM PDTSubject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system    Q u o t e: Will we see the class balance of the team we’re up against before we go into combat? No, you will not see the composition of the enemy team until the battle has begun.   http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560450 [...]

  115. [...] I suggest the developers share the exact details of the Arena system scoring system now or during the beta. Experience has shown that players will a) reverse engineer any system you design and b) min-max that system once reverse engineered. So tell us how the system works now, we’ll tell you how we’ll min-max it, then you can decide if that’s the behavior you’d like to encourage. I was there for the birth of the honor cap on Bleeding Hollow. A few weeks after you began posting the honor scores and rankings, the system was reverse engineered and posted publically. We were in an AB group back in the day when you actually had to be in Arathi Highlands. A friend, an aeronautical engineer, was debating whether or not to push to GM that week or the week following. We disbanded the group for the hour while he "did the math." When we reformed, he had calculated that he couldn’t make GM that week, told a peer to push for it instead and that he’d get it the next week. So it began. I have no idea how the WoW designers feel about Raph Koster, but you’ll find another example of min-maxing here: http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/ It shows how, by experimentation, people reverse-engineered UO’s use-based skill system. We have precious little information on how the Arena system will work. It will be like a chess rating system and there will be a minimum of 10 games required, as revealed by Jeff Kaplan during the Joystiq interview. To demonstrate our affinity for min-maxing, I’ll walk you through my ideas based on these two facts. My first thought is to get a group together and load them for bear: Flasks of Wisdom, Supreme Power, Titans, even Petrification for those times you need a three minute iceblock equivalent. Then, play the minimum number of games in this state. Don’t even have to play them all at once. Pick and choose our times when we’re likely to encounter the least resistance. During prime time raiding hours. In the middle of the night. Mid-morning. Whenever you’re likely to meet up with people who are PvPing honestly, for fun instead of simply to win. Am I on target? Probably not, but I might be somewhere in the neighborhood. Regardless, you see how we’ll think it through. Share with us the details of the system and we’ll tell you how we’ll going to game it. And then you judge for yourselves if that’s the game you want us to be playing. As an idea to tune the system as I understand it to be – I didn’t put too much thought into it because I’m just speculating here – give us an incentive to play more games. The current "grind or get demoted" disincentive lends itself to boring gameplay and you’re absolutely right to move away from it. To continue along the lines of your "honor point" currency, let us earn points to buy Arena loot. Instead of a winner take all system at the end of the three months, have a floor. If the system has a max rating of 10, everyone who has an 9 or more can ‘buy’ gear from the epic selection. Everyone who has a rating between 6 and 9 can ‘buy’ gear from the rare selection. Maybe allow us to carry those epic or rare points over from season to season, thus not penalizing the people who fail to play 10 hours a day but still rewarding those who do. These are conjectures based on an incomplete set of facts. So give us all the information of the Arena system before beta. By giving us the information now, we can give you feedback before its implemented and before it becomes so late you have patch in any changes. Let me finish by saying, I’m all for the changes you’re implementing in the Burning Crusade. Bravo. I’m very interested in getting this iteration of the PvP system right and many of us are more than willing and more than able to help.[ post edited by Igniferroque ] The enemy’s gate is down. [...]

  116. [...] This was my original post:Igniferroque wrote:I suggest the developers share the exact details of the Arena system scoring system now or during the beta.Experience has shown that players will a) reverse engineer any system you design and b) min-max that system once reverse engineered. So tell us how the system works now, we’ll tell you how we’ll min-max it, then you can decide if that’s the behavior you’d like to encourage.I was there for the birth of the honor cap on Bleeding Hollow. A few weeks after you began posting the honor scores and rankings, the system was reverse engineered and posted publically. We were in an AB group back in the day when you actually had to be in Arathi Highlands. A friend, an aeronautical engineer, was debating whether or not to push to GM that week or the week following. We disbanded the group for the hour while he "did the math." When we reformed, he had calculated that he couldn’t make GM that week, told a peer to push for it instead and that he’d get it the next week. So it began.I have no idea how the WoW designers feel about Raph Koster, but you’ll find another example of min-maxing here:http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/It shows how, by experimentation, people reverse-engineered UO’s use-based skill system.We have precious little information on how the Arena system will work. It will be like a chess rating system and there will be a minimum of 10 games required, as revealed by Jeff Kaplan during the Joystiq interview.To demonstrate our affinity for min-maxing, I’ll walk you through my ideas based on these two facts. My first thought is to get a group together and load them for bear: Flasks of Wisdom, Supreme Power, Titans, even Petrification for those times you need a three minute iceblock equivalent. Then, play the minimum number of games in this state.Don’t even have to play them all at once. Pick and choose our times when we’re likely to encounter the least resistance. During prime time raiding hours. In the middle of the night. Mid-morning. Whenever you’re likely to meet up with people who are PvPing honestly, for fun instead of simply to win.Am I on target? Probably not, but I might be somewhere in the neighborhood. Regardless, you see how we’ll think it through.Share with us the details of the system and we’ll tell you how we’ll going to game it. And then you judge for yourselves if that’s the game you want us to be playing.As an idea to tune the system as I understand it to be – I didn’t put too much thought into it because I’m just speculating here – give us an incentive to play more games. The current "grind or get demoted" disincentive lends itself to boring gameplay and you’re absolutely right to move away from it.To continue along the lines of your "honor point" currency, let us earn points to buy Arena loot. Instead of a winner take all system at the end of the three months, have a floor. If the system has a max rating of 10, everyone who has an 9 or more can ‘buy’ gear from the epic selection. Everyone who has a rating between 6 and 9 can ‘buy’ gear from the rare selection.Maybe allow us to carry those epic or rare points over from season to season, thus not penalizing the people who fail to play 10 hours a day but still rewarding those who do.These are conjectures based on an incomplete set of facts. So give us all the information of the Arena system before beta. By giving us the information now, we can give you feedback before its implemented and before it becomes so late you have patch in any changes.Let me finish by saying, I’m all for the changes you’re implementing in the Burning Crusade. Bravo. I’m very interested in getting this iteration of the PvP system right and many of us are more than willing and more than able to help. Online   Index » General Discussion » PvP gear will equal PvE gear; access to PvP gear will be limited [ 1 ] [...]

  117. [...] Poster: Igniferroque at 8/16/2006 5:26:18 PM PDT Subject: Min-maxing the Arena system I suggest the developers share the exact details of the Arena system scoring system now or during the beta. Experience has shown that players will a) reverse engineer any system you design and b) min-max that system once reverse engineered. So tell us how the system works now, we’ll tell you how we’ll min-max it, then you can decide if that’s the behavior you’d like to encourage. I was there for the birth of the honor cap on Bleeding Hollow. A few weeks after you began posting the honor scores and rankings, the system was reverse engineered and posted publically. We were in an AB group back in the day when you actually had to be in Arathi Highlands. A friend, an aeronautical engineer, was debating whether or not to push to GM that week or the week following. We disbanded the group for the hour while he “did the math.” When we reformed, he had calculated that he couldn’t make GM that week, told a peer to push for it instead and that he’d get it the next week. So it began. I have no idea how the WoW designers feel about Raph Koster, but you’ll find another example of min-maxing here: http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/07/18/use-based-systems/ It shows how, by experimentation, people reverse-engineered UO’s use-based skill system. We have precious little information on how the Arena system will work. It will be like a chess rating system and there will be a minimum of 10 games required, as revealed by Jeff Kaplan during the Joystiq interview. To demonstrate our affinity for min-maxing, I’ll walk you through my ideas based on these two facts. My first thought is to get a group together and load them for bear: Flasks of Wisdom, Supreme Power, Titans, even Petrification for those times you need a three minute iceblock equivalent. Then, play the minimum number of games in this state. Don’t even have to play them all at once. Pick and choose our times when we’re likely to encounter the least resistance. During prime time raiding hours. In the middle of the night. Mid-morning. Whenever you’re likely to meet up with people who are PvPing honestly, for fun instead of simply to win. Am I on target? Probably not, but I might be somewhere in the neighborhood. Regardless, you see how we’ll think it through. Share with us the details of the system and we’ll tell you how we’ll going to game it. And then you judge for yourselves if that’s the game you want us to be playing. As an idea to tune the system as I understand it to be – I didn’t put too much thought into it because I’m just speculating here – give us an incentive to play more games. The current “grind or get demoted” disincentive lends itself to boring gameplay and you’re absolutely right to move away from it. To continue along the lines of your “honor point” currency, let us earn points to buy Arena loot. Instead of a winner take all system at the end of the three months, have a floor. If the system has a max rating of 10, everyone who has an 9 or more can ‘buy’ gear from the epic selection. Everyone who has a rating between 6 and 9 can ‘buy’ gear from the rare selection. Maybe allow us to carry those epic or rare points over from season to season, thus not penalizing the people who fail to play 10 hours a day but still rewarding those who do. These are conjectures based on an incomplete set of facts. So give us all the information of the Arena system before beta. By giving us the information now, we can give you feedback before its implemented and before it becomes so late you have patch in any changes. Let me finish by saying, I’m all for the changes you’re implementing in the Burning Crusade. Bravo. I’m very interested in getting this iteration of the PvP system right and many of us are more than willing and more than able to help. [ post edited by Igniferroque ] The enemy’s gate is down. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9552122 Poster: Drysc at 8/17/2006 10:01:17 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system We’ve kept a lot in mind while creating the arena system to help make it as centered on player skill as possible, and not time invested. We’re looking to help create a place where players can track their achievements and improvements in a fun PvP environment. We’re no strangers to the tactics and extent at which players will take a game to help ensure they reach their goal sooner or easier. It can however be minimized by simplifying a system so that the possible benefits available to a player are specific and tangible to everyone, and that the potential for exploitation is reduced as much as possible. With a complex system there will always be that something extra that can give you an edge over someone else, it’s the size and availability of the edge that makes the difference though. We think we’re making some great progress in creating place where players can come and test their PvP skill against others, have fun, and get some pretty cool rewards out of it too. Just because you asked, here’s some more information on the arena system. Hopefully this quells some of your concerns, and squashes a few assumptions. Please keep in mind that this information is subject to change, but these are our current plans for the PvP Arena system in The Burning Crusade expansion. # When a player enters an arena battle, all buffs and conjured items are purged/deleted. This is done to ensure no outside buffs or items from members outside of your team are able to be used in an arena battle. # No consumables other than bandages and conjured items can be used while in the arena. There will be a waiting area similar to the current battlegrounds where players on the team will be able to conjure items and cast buffs. # Abilities/spells/items with cooldowns longer than 15 minutes cannot be used while in the arena. # Each arena team will be given a rating, and will be matched up in the arena queue against teams of a similar rating (matching within that specific cross-realm battlegroup). As time progresses the matching system will broaden its search up to a limit if a closely rated team cannot be found. # Ratings adjustments are made in the same way that ELO ratings adjustments are made. This system works by adjusting each arena team’s rating from a specific match based on the rating of the team they are up against. If a team wins against a team of a higher rating, the increase of their arena rating would be much higher than if they had won against a team of a lower rating. This system will help promote players improving their skill and besting teams which may have previously held the top spots. # At the end of each week, characters receive arena points based on their team’s rating. A team must have fought a minimum number of battles for the week, which we have announced as currently set to 10 games. A player must have played in at least 30% of the team’s battles that week in order to be eligible to receive arena points. Each eligible player will then receive a fraction of the teams total awarded points to spend on arena rewards. # Players may spend their points on arena rewards, or save their points until they have enough to get the rewards they desire. # There is a limit to the number of points a player can stockpile, which is currently planned to be as high as the most expensive item. # At the end of a season, players on a team are given a title based on their team’s relative position on the ladder which will last through the next arena season. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9559694 Poster: Drysc at 8/17/2006 10:11:37 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system Q u o t e: So, Drysc, if you’re still reading this, that means potions are out? Not just health/mana, but things like Moongoose, Troll’s Blood, etc. Correct. Q u o t e: So rogues can’t use poisons, huh? Nothing posted would imply that you would be unable to use temporary item buffs. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9559861 Poster: Drysc at 8/17/2006 10:11:37 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: So, Drysc, if you’re still reading this, that means potions are out? Not just health/mana, but things like Moongoose, Troll’s Blood, etc. Correct. Q u o t e: So rogues can’t use poisons, huh? Nothing posted would imply that you would be unable to use temporary item buffs. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9559861 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:23:07 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system Q u o t e: Nothing posted would imply that you would be unable to use temporary item buffs. In addition, you can use spells/abilities that require reagents if you so choose (as long as they still meet the other criteria). So, for example, Blind and Prayer of Fortitude can be used, while Reincarnation cannot (due to its cooldown). http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560041 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:36:35 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system Q u o t e: I wonder if it would be possible for a team to feed *all* of the awarded points to a single player? A rotation, like warrior + 3 paladins… the warrior stays in, the paladins rotate. At the end of each week, each character receives an equal number of the points. For characters that did not play in at least 30% of the battles, the points are lost. So no, there shouldn’t be any way to inflate the number of points any single player on the team receives. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560259 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:39:51 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system Q u o t e: It was not a good system, and it was too easy to exploit. All you had to do was throw a couple of games after a win streak to lower your ELL and then get easier matches. Sure your win/loss ratio would go down, but it was the easiest way to climb the ladder. I remember the 2v2 teams having mediocre win/loss ratios, but would always be at the top of the ladder. edit: spelling I think it’s worth noting that War 3 doesn’t use an ELO system… it has some elements that are based on ELO, but it’s significantly hybridized. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560304 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:23:07 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: Nothing posted would imply that you would be unable to use temporary item buffs. In addition, you can use spells/abilities that require reagents if you so choose (as long as they still meet the other criteria). So, for example, Blind and Prayer of Fortitude can be used, while Reincarnation cannot (due to its cooldown). http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560041 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:36:35 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: I wonder if it would be possible for a team to feed *all* of the awarded points to a single player? A rotation, like warrior + 3 paladins… the warrior stays in, the paladins rotate. At the end of each week, each character receives an equal number of the points. For characters that did not play in at least 30% of the battles, the points are lost. So no, there shouldn’t be any way to inflate the number of points any single player on the team receives. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560259 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:48:49 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system Q u o t e: Will we see the class balance of the team we’re up against before we go into combat? No, you will not see the composition of the enemy team until the battle has begun. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560450 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 11:12:41 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system Q u o t e: Are bombs and grenades considered consumables, and therefore unusable in the arena? If they are considered consumables, I have no problem with that restriction. I’d just like to know, so I can adjust my tactics. Correct, bombs and grenades are considered consumables. Q u o t e: So, since the rocket helm has a cool down of 15 minutes, it can still be used in the arena, correct? Hmm, the goblin rocket helmet I’m looking at has a 20 min cooldown. Is yours different? http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560869 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 11:32:12 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system Q u o t e: whoa, the points that you are capped to is = to the most expensive item? I hope that isn’t true because what if you are like 1 point away and then win a match just for 1 point? Make it about 15% over so you can be able to buy the item but still be able to keep the points for the battle you just won to put you over the top. It’s more accurate to say the point limit is approximately equal to the most expensive item (slightly higher). http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9561222 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 11:12:41 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: Are bombs and grenades considered consumables, and therefore unusable in the arena? If they are considered consumables, I have no problem with that restriction. I’d just like to know, so I can adjust my tactics. Correct, bombs and grenades are considered consumables. Q u o t e: So, since the rocket helm has a cool down of 15 minutes, it can still be used in the arena, correct? Hmm, the goblin rocket helmet I’m looking at has a 20 min cooldown. Is yours different? http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560869 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 11:32:12 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: whoa, the points that you are capped to is = to the most expensive item? I hope that isn’t true because what if you are like 1 point away and then win a match just for 1 point? Make it about 15% over so you can be able to buy the item but still be able to keep the points for the battle you just won to put you over the top. It’s more accurate to say the point limit is approximately equal to the most expensive item (slightly higher). http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9561222 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:23:07 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: Nothing posted would imply that you would be unable to use temporary item buffs. In addition, you can use spells/abilities that require reagents if you so choose (as long as they still meet the other criteria). So, for example, Blind and Prayer of Fortitude can be used, while Reincarnation cannot (due to its cooldown). http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560041 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:36:35 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: I wonder if it would be possible for a team to feed *all* of the awarded points to a single player? A rotation, like warrior + 3 paladins… the warrior stays in, the paladins rotate. At the end of each week, each character receives an equal number of the points. For characters that did not play in at least 30% of the battles, the points are lost. So no, there shouldn’t be any way to inflate the number of points any single player on the team receives. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560259 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:39:51 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: It was not a good system, and it was too easy to exploit. All you had to do was throw a couple of games after a win streak to lower your ELL and then get easier matches. Sure your win/loss ratio would go down, but it was the easiest way to climb the ladder. I remember the 2v2 teams having mediocre win/loss ratios, but would always be at the top of the ladder. edit: spelling I think it’s worth noting that War 3 doesn’t use an ELO system… it has some elements that are based on ELO, but it’s significantly hybridized. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560304 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:48:49 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: Will we see the class balance of the team we’re up against before we go into combat? No, you will not see the composition of the enemy team until the battle has begun. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560450 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 10:48:49 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: Will we see the class balance of the team we’re up against before we go into combat? No, you will not see the composition of the enemy team until the battle has begun. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560450 Poster: Kalgan at 8/17/2006 11:12:41 AM PDT Subject: Re: Min-maxing the Arena system *edited post* Q u o t e: Are bombs and grenades considered consumables, and therefore unusable in the arena? If they are considered consumables, I have no problem with that restriction. I’d just like to know, so I can adjust my tactics. Correct, bombs and grenades are considered consumables. Q u o t e: So, since the rocket helm has a cool down of 15 minutes, it can still be used in the arena, correct? Hmm, the goblin rocket helmet I’m looking at has a 20 min cooldown. Is yours different? http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=9552122&p=#post9560869 _________________ [...]

  118. [...] See “Use-based systems” for further details. [...]

  119. [...] For those that enjoy computer RPGs, this might be of interest.  Raph Koster (lead designer behind Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design) has a great article on his experience with Use-Based Systems.  In an RPG environment, the most free form realistic character development will occur when players get compensated for doing actions, rather than killing things (similar to real life).  You wanna be a good basket weaver?  Then practice it.  You wanna be a swordsman?  Then hack things up.  You wanna stop being a swordsman and learn to cast spells?  Then do it. This system should be clear to everyone that has played Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.  But unlike real life, it also encourages aberrant behavior (such as people jumping everywhere to get more jumping skills). How do we simulate a realistic environment that maximizes fun, yet encourages open activity?  I don’t really know.  Maybe Raph does.(Post a new comment) [...]

  120. [...] Raph’s Website Use-based systems The basic definition of a use-based skill system is one where you have a chance of improvement every time you use the skill. So everyone has access to every skill from the beginning (or, in a variant, access may be unlocked by other means, such as being taught), and as you exercise the skill, your chance of success goes up. [...]

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