Some thoughts: The problem of Steady States

Discussion concerning the upcoming Toril 2.0 update as well as general 3.5 edition D&D discussion
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Some thoughts: The problem of Steady States

Postby Elseenas » Fri Mar 30, 2007 3:34 am

These are some thoughts that relate to every MUD and every MMO I have ever played on. Some approached the problem well, some approach it poorly, but all of them have to deal with it in one way, shape, or form. I mention them now because with a complete reevaluation for Toril 2.0, it seems like an ideal time to think in more grandiose terms.

There are two basic steady state problems I would like to discuss. The first is that of levels and experience, the second relates to economics. Both are very important, and both get royally botched by most MMOs and MUDs (Eve being a notable exception, though it still has its flaws in this regard).

So, first: What is meant by a "steady state." The steady state, for our purposes, is the long run stable solution to the MUD. Translation: What is it when most people have a level 20/50/60/70/whatever character, reasonable good if not uber gear, and a lot of experience running the zones and knowledge of what drops where.

The Leveling Dilemma

First there is a problem of leveling. First, people want to play with their friends. By having a constant, top barrier that people strive for it will encourage people to "clear the lower levels quickly" in an effort to get up to the constant level where they can play with their friends, who all are at that maximum already. This creates a natural drive to get to the maximum level, regardless of any sights that are along the way.

This creates several long-term problems:

1) Time differences to get to 50 do not matter. A certain number of people of class X are still required, and because they cannot effectively continue to climb (at least not in the same sense). Thus, to continue being useful in groups, groups must be balanced both at the steady state and along the way to reaching the steady state.

2) It can help people forget how hard it is for a newbie. Since they aren't grinding for experience, or going out for exp anymore, they tend to forget.

3) It creates an actual endgame. Most of these endgames encourage grinding the same basic scenarios and experiences again and again. It can be fun, but there is more to playing (and should be more to playing) than just what can be found in an endgame.

The Economic Dilemma

Long term steady states also create problems, unless the game is carefully balanced. These include platinum and/or equipment becoming meaningless. Hyperinflation raises the barriers for newbies and makes it pointless to collect.

Solutions to the Leveling Dilemma: Good and Bad
In this section I will discuss some of the solutions I've seen bandied about to the problem.

A Game Between 0 and Max

One potential solution to making the game more fun, mentioned in another thread, is making it harder to get to the maxed out level and then increasing content for lower level players. This means that it will take a lot longer to reach the steady state, but I believe that at the end of the day the steady state problem will still exist. People will still gravitate towards the higher levels because that is a steady, constant point where they can play with their friends.

Rather than the challenge of leveling up a Cleric to max if they already have a mage, they will simply view it as a grind to do so in order to get to play with their friends again. While I agree creating content in this range and prolonging this progression is valuable, it is not a fix unto itself for this reason.

Level Limits on EQ

I admit, I am with Todrael in this being one of my least favorite ideas. Upper limits just punishes people for not networking more, while lower limits are more of a mechanism to slow plevelers down. Thinking in terms of a steady state (as time approaches infinity), these things do not matter much except to either annoy players or create specific tiers who play a very specialized game (see the "Twinkers" on WoW). Meanwhile it makes it harder for people to enjoy new content in the game without creating Yet Another Alt (YAA).

I also personally believe that there are better anti-pleveling methods than this (my favorite being the way skills are handled in Eve: if it takes a month to train something, regardless of how much the person is playing or what they equip, then it sort of slows down their ability to plevel).

Infinite, Tiered Progression

This is basically D&D's approach in the Epic Level supplements. By having a constant escalation of levels, it encourages people to continue to expand and allows for higher level content to be added at higher levels. This in turn helps curtail--at least slightly--the equipment escalation to more and more powerful equipment (though it doesn't eliminate the need for careful balancing in this regard).

If done correctly, the additional improvements come at great cost for a relatively small overall improvement (I actually think the Epic Levels do this very well), but it still gives people something to climb up to.

The game still has to have more content, and there still has to be careful balancing of areas, but this is probably my favorite so long as we must stay with a D&D metaphor.

Infinite, continuous progression

See Eve Online (as a note, if anyone plays, Elseenas there is not the same person as me >_< ).

This has several key advantages over D&D-style systems (including the ability to more easily switch professions and specializations), but doesn't exactly fit with the Forgotten Realms.

Monetary Solutions

There are no specific solutions here, so much as some general thoughts on how to balance an economy.

First there are the issues of monetary "Faucets." These faucets bring money into the game, and exist in everything that brings money into the game. Examples include things on mobs that can be sold to shopkeepers and chests full of platinum that respawn every time.

Then there sinks. These are things that take money out of the game. Anything that requires a monthly maintenance charges, for example.

If platinum is to have value, then these must be in some way considered and balanced. This is not a direct, 1:1 balance, but it must be thought about and evaluated.

Imagine a true ability to trade in a player-driven market. To take something between cities and try to sell it to players at a higher (or lower) cost, and to put a buy order out when you wanted an item and see who could fill it at that price. A significantly more efficient market. Just a thought.

Anyways, I know this is a bit rambly, but I thought I would add my 2 cents to the process. ^_^
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Re: Some thoughts: The problem of Steady States

Postby Gerad2 » Fri Jul 25, 2008 10:26 pm

I drop by to chime in on the oddest stuff sometimes...

Trade was in the game once. It didn't work. It was fun for like, that day.

Then (Dartan? It's been so long...) hauled like 40k plat back to waterdeep in one wagonload and that was that.

Continuously tiered progression is a great idea. Let's see your system.
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Re: Some thoughts: The problem of Steady States

Postby daggaz » Thu Aug 28, 2008 4:30 pm

Two points on the Epic Level tier system.

A) Epic is completely and utterly broken in DnD 3.5, just thought I would throw that out there. I know that doesn't mean it cant be balanced here, but... yeah it gets tricky when you are lvl 237 and you need some kind of world changing power to justify the whole idea of that level in the first place.

B) If each Epic level requires an exponentially increasing amound of time and effort to attain, you are inserting a mathematical asympote into the system, and basically installing a level cap. So back to square one..
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Re: Some thoughts: The problem of Steady States

Postby Ragorn » Thu Aug 28, 2008 8:31 pm

c 'animate thread' thread
- Ragorn
Shar: Leave the moaning to the people who have real issues to moan about like rangers or newbies.
Corth: Go ask out a chick that doesn't wiggle her poon in people's faces for a living.

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