Time to settle in for the first true post of Unending in Azeroth, and my first look at one aspect of Massively Multiplayer games. Today, I want to talk about something I'm calling Throwaway Content (or thrown-away), for lack of a better term.
When I'm referring to something as Throwaway Content here, I do not mean to suggest the actual content on offer is unimportant or of poor quality. I'm using the term to talk about content that exists, but is hardly utilized by players of the game. It is content that has been "thrown away" through lack of use by the community, or the game developer's design has in some way caused the community to pass up or ignore content.
The older a game gets, the more of this can be seen within that game. As new content comes out, the existing player base naturally wants to move on to greener pastures and fresh adventures. The further removed content is from being new, the less and less it will be utilized. In effect, old content is "thrown away."
With Cataclysm's release, former level 80 players are no doubt gearing up for new dungeons and adventures, leaving behind content from Wrath of the Litch King. Any new alts are likely to stay in those zones only long enough to level beyond them. Former raid zones and challenges are going to be passed entirely. I'll admit I'm a n00b here, with my main just hitting level 40, and I'm joining a game 6 years into its life. At this point, what are my odds of getting a raid together for original or Burning Crusade content at a level where such areas can be played at the challenge they were meant to have?
The downside of expansion content and the understandable desire of established players to move on to new stuff is that, for new players, old content becomes obsolete. I've experienced this problem first hand during my Everquest 2 days, and the problem was made worse by Sony Online Entertainment's much more frequent expansion schedule with EQ2 compared to WoW. By the time I was ready to take on the exciting dungeons of the Desert of Flames expansion, the areas were empty of players, and nobody wanted to group, as they were already on the next exapansion.
While Blizzard's inclusion of a Dungeon Finder ensures dungeons will stay relevant and that people will play them, it does not stop much of a game's content from going ignored as the player base of a server is top-heavy with max level characters, and comparatively fewer low-level players. I've spent enough time in the dungeon finder to know that you could use it exclusively as a means to level up. I have a feeling I could, theoretically, level Unending from 60 to 70 entirely using the dungeon finder, without ever setting foot in ANY of the outland zones. Correct me if I'm wrong. Same could be said about Litch King.
I approve of Blizzard's decision with Cataclysm to make players at least find the dungeons in the real world before being able to queue for them. This will hopefully ensure that as future content becomes the "New Hotness," players are still spending some time in the old content as means of progression.
Blizzard's own design decisions have also added to the amount of what could be considered Throwaway Content in their own game. I'm a WoW n00b, and I'm already level 40 without much effort. I've leveled passed zones to the extent that they provide no challenge the moment I arrive, making zones I wanted to explore obsolete, or Throwaway, because leveling design has pushed me passed them. I realize there are numerous low-level zones for a reason, to accomodate all the various starting locations, but I still think too much of the game can be easily dismissed on the quest for the endgame. The speed of leveling seems a design decision not only to help experienced players bring alts quickly to that new endgame content they want to be playing, but push n00bs like me along and buying the next expansion. The decision to cut the experience needed to level from 60-70 (or was it 70-80?) by 20% could also be read as a means to push people through old content faster.
Is there any way to stop the spread of Throwaway Content as a game like EQ2 or WoW grows and ages? Can older adventures be kept entertaining for new players looking to enjoy all the content they paid for? I think so, both from a game design standpoint, and a social standpoint.
I'll start with the social means of keeping old content relevant, as it's the harder of the two to regulate. While game systems could keep soloable content relevant for players who want to enjoy that, it'd take effort to keep people wanting to play old raids. And the only solution I can think of is Social Networking. Find other new players, whether by in-game communications or various forums, who are of a similar mindset, and want to explore areas of the game most players now ignore. Find a guild content to take it slow, and do everything.
While it's largely on the player to make sure they see old content if they so choose, game systems could be implemented to make this easier for players who so choose. Everquest 2 had a "mentoring" system, where I high level character could pair up with a lower level character to assist them. When the high-level mentored, their level was temporarily reduced to that of the person they were mentoring, and all gear and abilities scaled down to be level-appropriate, though mentors would still be more powerful than otherwise possible at that given level. Such a system could allow a high level character to pair up with someone lower and go see older content, at a level where most of the challenge would still be preserved. Such a system would be nice in WoW.
Another novel concept would be the ability to TURN XP GAIN OFF. While new players could simply not buy the next expansion to keep themselves capped at 60, 70, or 80, this does not solve the problem of rapidly leveling passed zones. Plus, why should someone have to be denied expansion bells and whistles like a new playable race? Allowing players to turn XP gain off would allow them to progress through content at the speed they choose. When they're ready to move on, simply turn back on XP gain. As eager as I am to have a character at 85 so I can group with my buddy Sabre (or Vindi in WoW lingo), I'd like to have the ability to go much slower with other characters, and really see the world, if I so chose. I'm hoping this ability is actually in-game, and I'm just too n00b to find it, but I doubt it.
Do you feel too much of the old gets lost whenever an expansion comes out? Ever been behind the times compared to a lot of others, and struggled to see aspects of the game you really wanted to?