Bad Design or Hidden Design

As you can tell from the majority of my posts, I’m fascinated by game design.  This bleeds over into the real world, where I work in IT architecture.  Both take a systematic approach to a problem and attempt to design an intuitive system that fits into a grand vision.  You won’t be firing spaceships in WoW anytime soon but you might be doing sea battles, as an example.

EA’s design philosophy over the past 5 years has been to milk the crap out of existing IPs and dilute the story elements in favour of mechanical systems.  The systems are core to any multiplayer game, as they need to be balanced.    Dragon Age 1 could never achieve multiplayer balance but sure as heck that’s the goal with DA3.  I’m not a big fan of this plan.  Activision is pretty much in the same boat.

I like the recent indie push, with the lower entrance fee for developers.  This has a side effect of a glut of games coming out, many of them pure garbage. The plus side is that word of mouth on the internets is exponential, so finding a game like FTL (Faster than Light) is easy.  The design philosophy here is simple. The graphics are stylistic choice and the game flow (cohesion) is key.  There’s a solid reason people think Borderlands 2 is up for Game of the Year and Halo 4, COD and BF aren’t on any short list I’ve heard about.  FPS games are shells of what they once were.

Back to the MMO world and to WoW in particular.  In the next content patch (5.1, which has been talked about for a month…who knows when we’ll actually see it) they are releasing a PvE content box called the Brawler’s Guild.  You queue up, get thrown into a ring and have to defeat an enemy, 1v1.  Test realm doesn’t give any tangible rewards, other than achievements.  Still, the concept is really damn cool.  Sort of like Pet Battles but for people instead.  Here’s the catch.  Queues are physical rather than logical.  If there are 25 people in the zone, then there is a 25 person queue.  LFD/LFR/Scenarios don’t care about that part but the Brawler’s do.

So let’s say you design a new PvE box of content.  Nearly everything you’ve designed from that point avoids the queue issue either through instancing, phasing, logical grouping or simply by spreading the content around the world.  How would you avoid queues for this?  Physical queues don’t make sense.  Once you hit a specific number of people around you, then the queues become ridiculous.

Next question.  How do people get access to this content?  Everything is gated right now, either by level, by gear, by exploration or by gold investment (mounts and pets).  Apparently, you put it on the Black Market Auction House so people can bid on entry and you set the limit per day to 10 invites.  This sort of works like a massive gold sink for a server, maybe dropping 1 million gold per day.  Then you have the people who are invited give out 10 invitations each, and those can give 10 as well.  This is called exponential growth.  100 the first day, 1100 the second day, 11100 on the third – assuming everyone uses up their invites.

Combine those two together now.  The first day, you have 100 people lined up, so queues for sure.  The second day, jeebus.  By the third, might as well give up.  Clearly there is missing something in this story.

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