Experienced Points: Give Me Dessert First

By Shamus Posted Friday Oct 9, 2009

Filed under: Column 29 comments

Champions has been a blast. Partly because of the action-oriented gameplay, but mostly because there is just so much less filler in the game. I’ve gone all the way to level 30 without needing to grind (kill the same dudes over and over) even once. You get a quest the moment you enter the game, and from that point on you’re always doing something. Moreover, the quests themselves feel like less of a time-sink. There aren’t a bunch of quests that force you to grind for drops. (The quest to get Murloc eyes in Westfall is the most notorious example of this in WoW. You can wipe out an entire village of Murlocs and not have a single eye to show for your trouble.) If Champions says to defeat five dudes, you only need to defeat five dudes.

The game is shorter overall, but the content is densely packed. This is an excellent trend and I hope it continues.


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29 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Give Me Dessert First

  1. Joshua says:

    Mostly that’s true, but there are a couple of quests that break the mold. In particular, the one where you have to find six members of the scouting patrol buried under snow it seems to be random whether a snow-drift contains a lost patrol member or a zombie. My best was 7-8 drifts to complete, but I’ve actually gone on past 15 or so and dropped it instead. It’s also possible it’s bugged…

  2. Athanasius says:

    “The quest to get Murloc eyes in Westfall is the most notorious example of this in WoW. You can wipe out an entire village of Murlocs and not have a single eye to show for your trouble.”

    I feel I have to disagree. Ever played Horde and tried to get the Creeper Ichor in Hillsbrad Foothills? I kid you not I managed to grind 2 levels on my priest (yes, I was that bored) mostly on the spiders and never saw it drop.

  3. Magnus says:

    I found that to a certain extent the Ultima Online felt like a middle-ground of the two.

    You had to grind a certain amount, but you could become competent in any skill relatively quickly. It was only the upper reaches of any skill that required serious time and effort.

    This allowed me to get to a decent skill level (enough to go most places, and hold my own), and then concentrate on the social aspects.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it all got a bit tired for me after a while (too many undesirables, and poor connection to the shard). I tried again with Anarchy Online, but the magic of MMOs was gone for me, and I wouldn’t want to return.

  4. Jonathan says:

    If I was still single and had time for MMO gaming, you would have convinced me to buy it by this time.

  5. krellen says:

    I have never once felt like I was grinding in City of Heroes (well, least ways not except when my GOAL was grinding). From what I hear of Champions, this might be possible, but unlikely, due to the “get me X of Y” quests, which turn grinding into a quest.

  6. Kell says:

    I like that you used food analogies at the beginning and end of the article – “cake and eat it”, “bigger meal with less filler”. This is the correct way to think about games. The way we consume games is closer to the way we consume food than anything else.

    Games are not art, games are not stories, games are not movies.

    Games are food.

    And the sooner people ( developers and players alike ) grasp that, the better.

  7. Danath says:


    Seems like he has the opposite take from you Shamus, in terms of designing the world/content, but shares the view of making it more rewarding to go out and do things.

  8. DmL says:

    @Kell: But what about when food is art?

  9. Randy Johnson says:

    While I agree with pretty much everything you said, Shamus. I would like to wag my finger angerly at the man man times we must collect 10 of some item. that doesn’t share between group members. and has a slow respawn timer. Crates, Nucleotoids, Memoirs, Comics. the list. I LOVe those quests so much

  10. Yar Kramer says:

    @Danath: I wouldn’t say he’s taking the opposite stance so much as discussing an entirely different problem, somewhat unrelated to what Shamus was talking about here. When you’ve got something as big as World of Warcraft, there’s bound to be all sorts of complicated reasons; the idea of “the single explanation for why everything is going wrong,” while appealing, is nonsense. Shamus was describing one, and Keen was describing another.

  11. Wonderduck says:

    Way off-topic (except for the whole “online gaming” part): Are the Twenty-Sided TF2 servers still active? Are headsets required to play? How much do you tolerate rookies?

    Shamus, feel free to delete this if you feel like it… sorry to derail.

  12. Really, the main thing Champions has made me want to do is play CoH.

    If I could get CoH with the characters from Champions, I would be so freakin’ happy.

  13. ngthagg says:

    A couple of points:

    As you’ve noted before, different players appreciate different aspects of the same game. I find WoW to be very engaging. Part of this is that I have more experience with the game, and so waste very little time on extraneous tasks. When I play now, at whatever level, there is no grind or filler. Instead I find that I can’t do everything there is to do. (Part of this is rotating three characters so that I always play with the 2x XP bonus.) Played this way, WoW is like a buffet. As long as I’m hungry there’s always something to eat.

    Second, you might take a look at the changes planned for the new expansion, Cataclysm. Blizzard is going back and revamping a lot of the early areas of the game, bringing them up to the standards of the other expansions.

  14. Pickly says:

    @ wonderduck:

    the servers were running a week or two ago, and the team fortress 2 posts show the serverts being up.

    As for newbie friendliness, that probably depends on the time of day. In the U.S., later in the day (Until about 10 central) appears to be better, earlier you’ll end up with more trash talking types (or no one at all).

    About MMO’s in general:

    I’m also one of those people who finds the “You just want things on a silver platter” people highly, highly annoying. The “progression” mentality is in general something I really hate about MMO’s, as it ends up interfering heavily with the other elements that I have found enjoyable in those types of games. I even go farther than a lot of people and think that any sort of leveling and gear increases should be severely reduced, or taken out of these sorts of games. (Or at least some of them), and replaced with fluff achievements.

    (For some examples, I would like to explore different areas of the theoretical game, but can’t explore very many because my level is too low to avoid getting instantly killed.

    I would like to try out a variety of character builds and skills, but have to slog through lots and lots of leveling, or possibly “just a week’s worth” of farming/grinding, in order to get a “completed” character.

    I would like to get some friends together occasionally, but usually they have different leveling speeds, so we end up separated anyway. This also gets worse if I get bored for a bit and put the game down for a bit, than pick it up later.)

    Guild wars seems to be somewhat better about these things, though it can still take a good amount of time. It has also gotten infested with a lot of “must have progression” types.

  15. Punning Pundit says:

    going back to those older titles is like taking the bus to school after you’ve learned to drive. “Man, I can’t believe I ever put up with this.”

    Funny you say this. I had to drive today after about a year of taking bus. It was seriously awful. I had to be on guard and paying attention at all times. If a bad song came on, I couldn’t skip it (too much attention away from the guys trying to kill me), and worst? I couldn’t even open up a book to read during the 5hr ordeal…

    Give me a bus any day.

  16. Adamantyr says:

    Concerning WoW: Cataclysm… I have to admit, Blizzard surprised me there. I thought they would continue the same trend every MMO had done of abandoning old content entirely. I was always bitter about the fact that flying mounts don’t work in Azeroth, largely due to the 3D terrain not being designed for it. The fact they’re going back and retooling things is a pleasant surprise.

    The zones and quests in the 1-30 range are all right, but the 30-60 areas have a lot of non-faction quests, a lot of unnecessary long journeys to other zones for a single quest chain, and a lack of central hubs from which you can operate. Also, a lot of quest rewards are next to useless now, even if they’re at your level.

    Actually, the bigger surprise is the changes being made to the game engine itself. A lot of the secondary attributes (spell power, defense) are being eliminated, and the primary attributes (strength, intelligence, etc.) are replacing them. That’s going to change things considerably, at all levels of the game.

    I have my suspicions that Wrath of the Lich King did not do nearly so well as Burning Crusade, because it focused primarily on high-end content only. Notice how we haven’t heard any announcement of subscription counts in awhile? They probably saw a marked decrease in growth of accounts.

    So Cataclysm is designed to not only refresh the old world and make it worth visiting again for older players, but also to attract new customers. I hope other MMO’s will consider that just because it’s old content doesn’t mean you ignore it.

  17. neriana says:

    While quests with low drop rates are definitely annoying, I disagree with you about the other stuff. Yes, it shouldn’t take absolutely forever to level. But WoW’s leveling, which was always very fast, is now so fast you don’t see the content, there’s virtually no exploration, and we have people at 80 who haven’t learned how to play their classes at all.

    I like exploration and the fun that comes from gradually gaining more power. I guess a lot of people call it “grinding” and think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I think it’s the most enjoyable part of the game by far. Going to the same raids over and over and over again is what burns me out, that’s real “grinding”, not the fun of exploration and playing different classes and characters. A game in which I could zip to max level as quickly as one apparently can in Champions Online would hold no interest for me. At that point, why have levels at all? Just give everyone everything right away. Boring.

  18. WarlockofOz says:

    With regard to the ‘levelling is so fast people aren’t learning to play at level cap’ point: While somewhat true, it’s not due to the time it takes. Reaching 80 in WOW (I haven’t tried Champions yet) will take a new player 240 hours of play (equivalent to six full time weeks working) and likely much more – I’ve spent that long on an alt playing with my casual-gamer girlfriend and we’re only level 60 despite playing with triple the usual experience. To be sure an experienced player that knows the zones and plays with the objective of fast levelling can do it in much less, but such aren’t people that are learning to play.

    The reason that WOW’s levelling game doesn’t prepare people for the endgame is that levelling is done solo and the endgame is done in coordinated groups of ten or 25 people. You can’t learn the latter unless you’re doing it.

    As for ditching levelling, why not? Conan could have done it – set the level cap at 20 and tune everything after Tortage for that, the player is a fully fledged hero by then! Superhero games could definitely do it; super powers don’t generally come from mere combat experience.

  19. Pickly says:

    I like exploration and the fun that comes from gradually gaining more power. I guess a lot of people call it “grinding” and think it's necessarily a bad thing, but I think it's the most enjoyable part of the game by far. Going to the same raids over and over and over again is what burns me out, that's real “grinding”, not the fun of exploration and playing different classes and characters. A game in which I could zip to max level as quickly as one apparently can in Champions Online would hold no interest for me. At that point, why have levels at all? Just give everyone everything right away. Boring.

    This assumes that the content all breaks down into “playing the same raid over and over”, and that time and content now spent on the “leveling” phase is not used for the “end game” phase.

    As for “giving you everything right away”, it does take time (at least from my experience) to learn a lot of the skills and abilities, or overall possibilities for playstyles, on a character, so “giving everything right away (Or just offering it right away, at least)” still allows you to experiment and play around with things, without restricting the order.

  20. Patrick says:

    Actually, Shamus, they modified how things drop a while back in WoW. The percent chance to drop is not semi-cumulative, so if you hunt things down you WILL always succeed in a certain number of kills. That aprticular method has been de-empaphasized hugely, and it’s no longer an issue when you to Outland. Cataclysm should finish the changeover.

  21. SatansBestBuddy says:

    Another problem unmentioned so far is that MMO’s are subscription based; they need a lot of content to keep people playing long enough to justify paying a bill to play a game.

    If the game just gave them everything at the start, shoving all their content into the start of the game, then they’d be keeping people for one, two months, tops, and then they’d quit and move on.

    There’s also the fact that the beginning of WoW is exactly that, where Blizzard began making the game; the endgame content is better because they built that content last, and used the mistakes made in building the early parts of the world to make the latter parts more fun, but always promising to go back and redo it all because even they know they screwed up while they were just learning and they’d fix it all after they’re done with this next little part of the endgame, then they just kinda kept adding on more and more endgame stuff until it seemed like they forgot that they broke the beginning and never fixed it.

    So I say, try WoW again after Catacylism, maybe you were just playing the five year long public beta without realizing.

  22. Jason says:

    Yes, WoW leveling is fast.

    That is, if you consider ~200 hours fast.

    I’ve played basically every non-Korean MMO. I played WoW for a couple years after launch.

    I recently started a new toon and went hardcore leveling. Approximately 200 hours to hit the cap. Now, that’s my own, anti-social self, so soloing. But that’s fast to you? Jesus.

    That’s not even including all the gear-grinding you need to do at the cap if you want to do the end game content.

  23. Wil K. says:

    @15 Punning Pundit:
    Exactly what I was going to say (and that’s not even including paying for gas and all).

    *rode the bus all four years of high school and was glad for it*

  24. Pickly says:

    Yes, WoW leveling is fast.

    That is, if you consider ~200 hours fast.

    There’s more of these.

    “You can easily make that much money It just takes an hour or so of farming each day.”

    “It just takes a week to do that”

  25. Cineris says:

    While I don’t necessarily agree with this myself, the reality is that plenty of people enjoy grinding/mindless killing of things to the point that they’ll spend tens of thousands of hours on it. I know this for a fact by looking at playtime hours logged on a game I work on — And the saddest thing is that there’s literally only like one effective strategy in this game too, which makes the thousands of hours baffling since you’re just executing the same strategy over and over and over.

  26. OEP says:

    If you were starting now, I’d start in the Draenei or Blood Elf area. Those 2 areas were introduced in The Burning Crusade, and have a polish that is absent in the earlier areas.

    It is actually hilarious to me that someone could find WoW “grindy”. It really is just a matter of perspective. Compared to Everquest, or any of the other older MMO’s, WoW is as casual friendly as you can get.

    I have leveled 6 characters to 80, and 4 more to 70+. I had a character of each class to 70 in The Burning Crusade. And I was able to accomplish that without ever grinding. I would just quest and explore.

    Currently I raid actively with 2 of my 80’s and run instances with the other 4.

    Seamus, you happened to pick the weakest and most depressing starting area of all (the night elf area) Personally, I have mostly avoided that area after the first time, just because it was a bit more tedious with all the running around.

    On the Alliance side, both the human and dwarf areas are more fun and engaging.

    Ultimately, the best measure of a game is the responsiveness of the game to change. Blizzard has made a lot of changes to keep people coming back and making new characters.

    Some of them are:

    1) Mounts at level 20 (used to be 40)
    2) Epic Mounts at level 40 (used to be 60)
    3) Flying Mounts at level 60 (used to be 70)
    4) decreased xp requiremetns per level.
    5) reduced costs for mounts

    Keep in mind, I also play Champions Online, and Aion, and have played LOTRO, and Warhammer Online.

  27. Heron says:

    There aren't a bunch of quests that force you to grind for drops.

    There are a few. One you’ve complained about yourself – gathering Tin Stars from Sheriff’s Deputies in Snake Gulch. I got there last night myself (yes, I bought the game, curse you Shamus) and despite killing fifteen or twenty Deputies I still only have five tin stars.

    Eventually I got frustrated and started a new character – which, IMO, is a bad sign. Sure, I didn’t stop playing the game – so it’s not all bad – but there’s a good chance I’ll get frustrated all over again when I get there with my new character.

    There are a few other quests that devolve into grinding at times. “Gather 5 $COLOR bandanas from each gang in MC.” Killing five guys isn’t too bad, but killing twenty guys from four different gangs to take their sweaty head gear? Don’t heroes have better things to do?

  28. Thomas Steven Slater says:

    I think “end game” players are expecting too much from there games. The only have so many staff and their is only so much content they can make if they try to stretch it they just make it less fun or even not fun at all. I think both player and developers should be more accepting of reaching the end game and actually ending the game for bit. End game raids are very expensive to make (I assume) and most of the content in the them will be nearly abandoned once the next update comes out and even if you do manage to find a group that exactly does it they’ll problem rush through it so fast you’ll miss the story or be left dead half way through whilst hardcore players finish it. Any time spent developing content most players can’t (don’t is another issue) realistically play is a sort of theft like thing. MMO could work like box sets, you binge on them for a week or two, pay a premium for that then put it aside until the next series.

    Another thing is increase the excellent content per dollars and time spent. Tuning down the graphics a couple of degrees could help with that. Letting the game by mod-able could unlock infinite content, add some system for the very best mods (dedicated fans can create far better content then clockpunching and overworked professionals) to be official and have their makers paid somehow, maybe even make them DLC then you’ve definitely got something that might work awesome.

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