Skill Gap

In every game designed, there is always a threshold of skill required to complete a given task.  In PvE games, that bar tends to be rather low as it’s a static bar for all players.  For example, the leveling portion in nearly all MMOs is rather simple and hard to have issue with.  PvE end-game, different story we’ll get into.  PvP games are a different beast as player skill is extremely dynamic and can be influenced by many factors.  I’ll use StarCraft 2 as an example.

SC2 campaign is a PvE single player game, with a relatively low default skill threshold.  Nearly everyone should be able to complete each mission, given enough time.  SC2 vs bots (or training) has a much higher skill level, where your actions per minute (APM) need to be above a certain level to compete – round about 100 or so.  PvP has all sorts of levels of skill but the truly elite are around 400-500 APM.  So think about how people play on the normal campaign and that they’d need to be 4-5x faster in order to be elite.  That’s a skill curve – just with a concentration at the lower end.  You find people at all levels of skill but most are under the 100APM.

Skill gaps occur mostly in PvE content, where there is a gating mechanism of some sort for progress.  Patchwerk in WoW (Vanilla first) was like this, where the only hurdle was getting your DPS number high enough.  Too low of a skilled player (much more so than gear at the time) and you couldn’t progress.  This far, no further.  Oddly enough, later in the same raid we had a second type of skill test.

Heigan was a nightmare for many players as movement was not required by any class other than tanks at the time.  Ranged attackers could rarely move and attack, melee just stuck to a boss’ butt and barely looked around.  This one battle could be completed with absolutely zero DPS skill but needed pretty damn good movement coordination to complete.  Keyboard turners (those that use WASD to move) hit a massive skill wall and progress ended for a while for a lot of people.

I’m not sure if people remember but the Firelands raid had some extremely interesting progress statistics and pushed the launch of LFR.  Most guild cleared the first 2 bosses, then there was a massive drop of progress.  Heroic Ragnaros had a <1% completion rate a full 5 months after being made available.  LFR came out with a super low skill level and today you can clear all of MoP’s content in a week or 2.

RIFT went back to a more aggressive situational awareness, SWTOR did a bit with it but let it drop due to a low top-end skill. FF14 decided that AE attacks were going to be tough again.  A single dragon breath could knock off 90% of your health.  Each Titan battle has a single part of the fight that if not executed properly guarantees death.  I’ve mentioned a few times how I thought that was an ingenious way to retain players but pushing others away.

If the players who reach max level have been through multiple skill trials, then odds are they are more likely to integrate into the high end skilled events.  Quick compare.  My 3 year old could level up to max in WoW.  She would be unable to do anything once there, outside of pet battles.  Assuming ALL skilled gamers have tried WoW by now, the only available new market are people like my daughter.  FF14 my daughter wouldn’t be able to hit level 10.

When I look at TESO and WildStar I really start to wonder.  TESO, in my limited experience and the videos we’ve seen, has a rather low skill level requirement.  PvP is perhaps (hopefully) different.  WildStar however, what with the twitchy OCD mechanics appears to have a rather large skill level requirement from the start.  How this translates to later content is a mystery.  PvP has some interesting implications though, in that understanding circle-strafing is important.  The game really does not seem to favor keyboard turners.

In the end, this would seem to give TESO the larger broad appeal.  Lower skill level means more people can play and progress.  WildStar already turned some people off with the art, and the combat appears to favor an uncommon skill level.  I personally think that the former is not sustainable from a vision/resource perspective, unless they actively communicate their developers intent.  SWTOR is a fairly good example of how this can go wrong.  WildStar, with an admittedly (and oft communicated) focus on a more skilled game, will necessarily attract less people but likely retain more.

But that’s just my opinion.

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