Go With The Flow

I’ve been pretty much MMO-less for the last month or so. In the span of about a week at the end of May, I bowed out of LOTRO, let my SWTOR and Rift subscriptions lapse, and, as an encore, finished up my last Empire: Total War campaign. Mount & Blade: Warband has filled the void somewhat, but most of the MMOs I want to play are still too far off and I didn’t think there was anything else I really wanted to play. (We won’t talk about what happened with TERA *shudder*)

Then on Saturday, I devoted my weekly livestream to Guild Wars, where, with the help of the inimitable Elixabeth, I finally ventured into Eye of the North with my level 20 warrior/elementalist. I created him when the game went live in 2005 and then promptly abandoned him, along with the rest of the game, about two months after launch. I enjoyed the evening thoroughly enough that I played another few hours last night and I think I’ve found my new MMO — at least until Guild Wars 2 comes out.

…I only have to run faster than you.

So why did I take so long to re-engage with Guild Wars? Part of it was my initial belief that the game was, apart from the brief leveling experience, a strictly PvP experience. This was pretty much the case in the game’s early days, and I carried the notion with me until last year. Even once I “obtained” a copy of the Guild Wars Trilogy late last year (it fell off a digital truck), I only puttered around for a few hours, working my dervish up to level 7 and just taking in the sights on my 20.

We’ve all heard stories of people who have left an MMO for a while and finally come back, but there are probably more people who left and didn’t come back. Some of them might have developed an active dislike for the game. For others, the task of re-assimilating oneself into the game might have seemed too daunting a proposition. When you’ve been out of a game for years, coming back and having to adjust to all the changes and puzzling out all the new content might seem to be more trouble than it’s worth.

That was my issue with Guild Wars. I wasn’t exactly an endgame expert when I left, and seeing all the expansions and additions to the game just added to my confusion when I logged in once a year or so. It took that nudge from Elixabeth to get me into sampling actual new content, and I know there are lots of other places out there waiting for me to discover them. (I’m a big boy, I can do it alone, I swear.)

It would seem to me that MMO companies would benefit from making it easier for lapsed players to re-acquire their games. Sure, there are all sorts of web resources out there, and you can get advice from friends and guildmates, but you risk of running into something you’re not ready for, gear- or skill-wise, and the last thing you want to do when stepping back into a new game is to be frustrated by the content — not to mention possibly being embarrassed in front of your party or causing a wipe because of your noobishness.

When I was with Beckett, we used to do introductory guides for new games. I always thought there could also be a market for “re-introductory” guides for older games, but I never figured out a good way to approach them that didn’t seem too text-heavy and difficult to parse — not to mention that they would be outdated as soon as new content hit. Recently, though, I came up with what might be the perfect solution: flowcharts.

It all seems so easy now…

I can’t create a flowchart to save my life, so you’ll have to make do with my description. Imagine that each node is an area or bit of content and each line connecting them lists what you need to access that content. For most games, this would be pretty straightforward for the leveling experience, and increasingly complex, with more varied requirements, as you hit endgame. Of course, this would all be totally optional, and you could ignore it completely, traipsing off on whatever path you wanted, but it would still be there if you needed it.

For example, you could find out that you need X gear to do the big raid, that you need to be level Y before you can do PvP, or that you need Z reputation before being allowed into a certain area. To keep the chart from becoming too bloated, it would only list requirements — hard or suggested — for content. That way, you could at least know what you need to go from point A to point B, though you might need to do a little digging, in-game or out, to figure out exactly how to get there. Plus, it would have the added benefit of giving prospective players a better handle on all the content that’s open to them — which would prevent certain Guild Wars players from thinking there’s nothing but PvP at max level five years after the game’s come out.

Ideally, the flowchart would be available on the game’s main site and possibly include links within it to help players find out more information. It would be updated regularly to fit new content, or changes to existing content, a process that shouldn’t take too long and only be needed every few months. Most of all, it would be relatively easy to read and be viewed as a “one-stop shop” for directing players around in the games.

You might think is that MMOs are already too linear and that something like this is unnecessary. While that might be true for the very basic task of leveling, for other content, you have to step back from your game and view it from the point of someone who hasn’t played the game for a while, maybe forgotten some of the important details (or had them changed on them), or even is a totally new player. MMOs are HUGE — this can’t be stressed enough — and while they might seem easy to digest when doled out in update- or expansion-sized chunks for current players, having to “play catch-up” with a year or two (or more)’s worth of material is going to be a difficult task for anyone. Even a linear-leveling game typically offers you lots of choices at endgame, all of which seem equally good until you get into the instance and realize you’re pitifully undergeared for it.

Do I take what’s behind Flag #1?

The games themselves don’t help much, typically just throwing a ton of people with exclamation marks over their heads and forcing you to figure things out on the fly. Of course, you could read the quest text, but even that’s an iffy proposition, as you have to figure out, in NPCspeak, what you should do. (“This evil cannot be overcome by one hero alone, I fear; only a well-equipped and ready party will stand any hope of survival.”) I faced this exact situation when I hit 50 in SWTOR and had no idea what led where or why I should do it.

I think it’s a certainty that I would have checked back into Guild Wars earlier if I’d had a resource like this to go by, and I’d love something like this to get me started in a game like EVE Online. The flowcharts wouldn’t lead you by the nose from point to point; rather, they’d help make you aware of all your options, and I think that even experienced players might be surprised at how much they’ve missed along the way.

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11 Responses to Go With The Flow

  1. I think you make a lot of valid points Jason, I have come back to a number of MMOs in the past and felt completely lost, in fact, I took a long break from WoW recently (Cataclysm fatigue) and jumped on the SWTOR bandwagon last December. Earlier this year I remembered I had guaranteed MoP access due to the 1 year pass deal, so I downloaded it and jumped into WoW again. I can’t say I loved it. The new spells, the skill trees etc, it was too much change all in one for me.
    That being said, I probably didn’t devote the time and attention to the task that I could and perhaps should have done (this is probably more down to the same stale game-play being present truth be told)
    Fact remains, I gave up after about 4-5 hours, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s a little sad, but strangely enough it did give me some kind of closure actually. Onward and upwards as they say.
    Last Saturday I managed to persuade a friend of mine to come play Guild Wars 1 with me, note that I had never gotten beyond level 3 before despite having had the game for a good while. We had a blast, and we’ve now decided to get at least 10 HoM pts before GW2 releases, but the point is, if you have someone who’s equally confused and lost with you, it does make things easier, and you’re far more likely to stick with and re-engage in something as long as you have someone like-minded with you.
    Perhaps that’s the key to your ‘coming back conundrum’ bring someone like-minded.

  2. Molotova says:

    How come The Secret World went under your radar ? I can’t think of anything better to fill out the two months until GW2.
    But on topic, I agree. I played the first two months of Rift, then gave it a long break until 3 months ago. The meta-game has moved on so far and I was so confused as to how to catch up, that in the end, I decided I cannot be arsed to figure it up and called it quits for the last time.

    • jasonwinter says:

      That is the downside, methinks, of a game like Rift having its so-frequent updates. It’s great for current players, and not-so-great for people who left and are thinking about coming back. Of course, when you look at the surface of it, a company should mostly be interested in the people who are currently paying it money, but still…
      TSW fell off my radar because I didn’t really have the money to spend on it and someone else was covering it for GBTV, so I didn’t feel the need to ask for a review copy.
      However, something interesting happened this week — just yesterday, in fact — and a copy of TSW may or may not have “fallen off the digital truck” and landed in my hands…

      • dndhatcher says:

        You might as well go with Secret World for a month, that almost gets you to GW2. Then a year from now when TSW has an F2P option and you want a break from GW2 you can write a “returning to TSW” article.

  3. dndhatcher says:

    I’ve left Lotro and gone back 3 times. Each time it was learning an entirely new game (the combat mechanics and skills substantially changed each time). That is the main problem with a “returning to” guidebook, its alot of work for the 6 month time slot that its useful. Lotro is even worse. The forum theorycrafters have given up trying to reverse engineer the combat mechanics because Turbine changes the stats and mechanics so much no formula last long enough to be worth figuring out.

  4. Metallia says:

    Is methinks a word?

    GW2 is it possible we will actually find a home to reside for many happy years? I sure hope so! And no, don’t bother on TSW, its fascinating to look at, but how many zombies can one person kill and not feel a little sad for all of the dead town folk?

    Miss ya Jdub!!

  5. Molotova says:

    http://chronicle.thesecretworld.com/character/Skotsy This is you ? :=)
    This is moi: http://chronicle.thesecretworld.com/character/Lion
    Mind if I add you in-game ? Not that we are in the same timezone or anything .

  6. Pingback: Game, Interrupted | Wintry Mix

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