Individual Challenge in Group Content

A long-time reader of Nils’ blog, he just completed a series regarding what games are, and how the concept(s) apply to raiding.
Just prior to these, he wrote about Dynamic Challenges. This spurred some thinking of my own on how this could apply to group content. The original post was solo-oriented.

I’m a huge fan of group events. I am of the camp that solo challenges in MMORPGs should be designed with the intent on feeding into, and drawing from, group experiences. After all, this parallels human nature. Iteration is a cornerstone to almost everything in life, and we sway between states of high efficiency and high capability.

Groups and Efficiency vs Capability (a tangent!)

According to math and science types, everything we do suffers a loss. As such, we are inherently inefficient in all we do. Groups compound this, and any statistician will tell you that overall efficiency is calculated as the product of individual efficiencies. This means that the total efficiency will be less than the value of the lowest individual.

So why even bother grouping at all if the efficiency does nothing but plummet? Well, that’s a simple question to answer. A group of 5 lawyers can only get so much done. A group of 4 lawyers and 1 engineer can do significantly more. But a group of 1 lawyer, 1 engineer, 1 marketing rep, 1 sales rep and 1 distributer can cover a wide range of taskings and reach far greater potentials. We are capable of more as a group than we are as individuals, despite a declining efficiency.

As with any system, there is a sweet spot, an optimal operating point. There is a happy medium between the magnitude of what one wishes to accomplish, and how efficient they plan to be as well. For me, gaming online has long been the chase of this. The balance between potential and efficiency while attempting to surmount an obstacle with a given barrier of entry. The magic is, has been, and will always be, about taking what is inherently inefficient and waxing coordination so the group operates as a single body.

The Gauntlet

It’s almost too easy to design dynamic content for the individual. All of the limits of the individual are known, knowledge shared by both designer and player. It is a simple numbers game that plenty of gamers these days can dissect. And while I enjoy a good solo challenge, I maintain that group play is where the magic happens. How does one design content that brings out the most of the individual for the group?

In modern MMORPG group play, roles have become less distinct. If assuming a generic “Holy Trinity” model, a simple tank, simple healer, and multiple DPS form the most generic of groups. As I noted, most challenges of a dynamic nature end either directly or by derivative on the shoulders of the healer. To a lesser extent, the tank shoulders some responsibility. But almost always, the DPS get away with having to be ‘responsible’.

A Proposal

Kring offered a great start to what might be a solution to some of these problems. In his views, the model should shift to being Heal-Tank-Control. I believe this is a good start. DPS being a common denominator that everyone is responsible for, everyone has individual niches needing fulfilling.

I would like to piggyback his thought.

(i) Everyone in the group needs a role that they, and only they, can fulfill. There needs to be either an ability discriminator (ie: only healers have ‘heal’ abilities) or a time discriminator (ie: 2 heals need to occur every second: I need 2 healers!). In this manner, I am met with not just a challenge, but a responsibility. I cannot shirk it, I must take ownership of it. There is no finger-pointing, no hiding like a zebra amongst other [similar] classes/roles. Because of ownership, I yield involvement.

(ii) The group as a whole needs a role (or roles) that everyone (or groups of everyone) can fulfill. Kring used DPS as an example. Anything could fit here. Maybe cascading control needs to be implemented. Perhaps a tank rotation. Be these as they may; they can either be of coordination or non-coordination design. That is to say: a task that required individuals to link abilities together, or everyone just ‘collectively solos’ a certain task. Collective ownership, collective involvement.

(iii) Balance, shift, and/or change must occur between the group’s goals and the individuals’ responsibilities. These can be externally designed, with bosses going into different phases, or internally designed whereby the players themselves manage abilities/timers to keep a certain task consistently taken care of.

Duct Tape

I suggested in that thread that dps could perhaps be broken into 2 subgroups. While I don’t think I was wrong then, I think perhaps it is game dependent. It would largely need to vary depending on the system used for the game’s group size. Two examples:

4man group pulls a 2pack:
– 1 tank: sponges the target
– 1 healer: keeps the tank’s HP from hitting nil.
– 1 DPS: makes the target’s HP hit nil.
– 1 control: keeps the 2nd nasty out of the equation.

6man group pulls a 4pack:
– 1 tank: sponges main heavy-hitting target
– 1 offtank: sponges second, softer target, DPSes it solo
– 1 healer: keeps tank’s HP from hitting nil, passively takes care of offtank
– 1 cc/kiter: keeps 2 targets from entering the equation
– 1 DPS: kills the big baddie causing all the problems
– 1 debuffer: makes it harder for NPCs to hit (assists tanks), slows NPCs (assists kiter), exposes armor (assists DPS)

Everyone is helping to achieve a common end, but no individual cannot say they are individually asked of. A perfect blend.

The Finish Line

Dynamic content for the group would need to be designed in tandem with the group mechanic and intended design roles. As outlined above, the possibility to make for interesting, challenging, satisfying and different content exists.

Thank you, Nils, for the thought-provoking post. Thank you, Kring, for scratching an itch.

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About Ahtchu

Jock. Nerd. Holistic. Game theoretician. Can recite the alphabet backwards.
This entry was posted in Game Design and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Individual Challenge in Group Content

  1. Nils says:

    Just added you to the blogroll. Thanks for your coverage and happy blogging 😉

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