Dailies and “Bad Design”

There is a fascinating conversation going on in the General Forums right now with Daxxarri concerning daily quests and how they are “bad design.” This exchange in particular piqued my interest:

This is just a bad design. A game should not ask for daily commitment to enjoy what it has to offer.

[...] I get concerned when I see players throwing out words like ‘bad design’. Perhaps an individual dislikes a design choice, and that’s fine. We do our best, but World of Warcraft can’t be all things to all people, all the time. That said, making a value judgment about whether the design is ‘bad’ or not is not only un-constructive, but in the vast majority of the cases I’ve seen, such an assessment reveals that the design was not well understood to begin with.

Followed up later with:

That being said, why are you harping on the OP’s use of the term “bad design”?

Because language is important, and also, because it’s often used in the phrase, “That’s just bad design.” to justify why a mechanic or feature is undesirable to the poster in question. It presupposes the correctness of an opinion which may not, in fact, be correct. It also tells me nothing useful, except “I don’t like it”, but it makes, “I don’t like it.” sound more erudite, knowledgeable and sophisticated. It still boils down to, “I don’t like it.”, which isn’t particularly useful without a context.

Point taken, Daxxarri. I have deployed the “bad design” argument here and in comments elsewhere, using it as short-hand for “this feature isn’t catering to me.” It is an open question of whether I should be catered to, and at whose expense. Personally though, I vote for being catered to 100% of the time, everywhere.

This does raise the question of “What can be considered good design?” It would seem to me that we need to know the intention of a design before it could be judged good or bad. Without designers coming out and explaining intentions though, is there any real way to know? Are subscriptions and profit margins the only metrics that matter?

And the further complication for subscription-based MMOs, for me, is that I cannot trust the designers to not include time-sinking as one of the principle intentions of everything they do. Do patches really come out 8 months apart because it takes that long to polish… or because that extra month means millions more dollars at little extra cost? Did Blizzard really feel Molten Front was best paced at 35 straight days of dailies? Why not, say, 25 days?

All that aside, I do want to highlight the original statement again for your consideration:

A game should not ask for daily commitment to enjoy what it has to offer.

To be clear, the poster is talking about World of Warcraft, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. And you know what? I think I agree with him.

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Posted on November 8, 2011, in Philosophy, WoW and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Daily quests make people log in more often without actually enjoying the experience much. It creates a spike in user activity that the devs can present the management to prove their ‘good design’.

    • I thought I was the cynical one. ;)

      One of the big purposes of daily quests is to drive consecutive, concurrent log-ins and thereby support online communities – the death knell of any guild or community is when people stop logging on every day (or during predictable times). Obviously when the design becomes reliant on external rewards to encourage daily log-ins things are heading south, but there is always the chance you meet someone new or otherwise find a way out of stall on an individual level.

      Can you have an MMO community without daily engagement? That is an open question.

      I think it’s interesting how the guy I quoted wanted to experience everything “a game,” i.e. an MMO, had to offer without being engaged with a community. An MMO without a community isn’t an MMO by many peoples’ definitions, but I am not entirely sure. I think we can belong to a community in principal, if not in fact. The poster is pining for a single-player MMO, just as I am (hence the final link).

  2. What can be considered good design? I like the way you break down the question. First, we ask, “What is the design’s intention?” Good needs to be broken down into two parts, however. Is the design successful or unsuccessful in its intention? Is the design moral or immoral? Morality is confusing and messy. Let’s stick to the first two questions for now.

    Nils argued that the final intent of daily quests is to “creates a spike in user activity that the devs can present the management.” Presumably, he thinks they succeed at this goal.

    The goal of daily quests is more manifold than that. First, it is designed to provide end game content for people who do not like to raid or instance. I agree with Nils that this is not its only intention, otherwise it would not be gated. What is the intention of the gating of daily quests? To provide content for non-raiders over an extensive period, i.e. a patch.

    I think that daily quests only partially succeed at this goal. WoW players are content-gluttons and ferociously efficient. They finish content as rapidly as they can. The Molten Front Daily quests provide content for players for a mere 35 days when a patch needs to extend for much longer at Blizzard’s rate.

    Daily quests have multiple intentions beyond this, but that’s for a blog post and not a comment.

    • > First, it is designed to provide end game content for
      > people who do not like to raid or instance. I agree
      > with Nils that this is not its only intention, otherwise
      > it would not be gated.

      Why don’t they gate raids more then? They could allow raids to not kill more than 2 bosses per day and therefore force your raid to play every day.

      And before you say that this is not possible: It’s exactly the design they use for daily quests…

      • Why don’t they gate raids more then?

        The problem is that organizing and actually fielding a raid is difficult enough as it is. The logistics are enough of a gate to the content, for most groups. Dailies, conversely, can not only be completed solo but are generally over within an hour.

  3. I think the problem is finding the answer to a specific question: “how does character progression work in the game?”. There aren’t many possible answers to this. By looking at games (not just MMOs), there are precious few approaches:
    - progression by time invested: the more you play, the more you advance (think grind-mode MMO),
    - progression by skill: the better you play, the more you advance (think chess),
    - end of story. Ok, you can mix’n’match the two, but there are no other “independent” approaches.

    This is a big deal. You can decide to dump progression completely, = go full sandbox mode (which, BTW,. could be considered progression by skill, as you get better at doing things by practicing them). But in current MMO design, the approach used mostly is progression by time invested. Either in its basic incarnation (which is, no level cap and experience points, character becomes more powerful as level increases), or in its controlled version, which is daily quests.
    Looking at WoW in particular, you can see that it almost uses all the approaches at the same time:
    - you have character leveling, which does not require a particular amount of skill (= it guarantees that anyone can reach the cap), and is time-based progression with no time constraints (you can do 1-85 in one session).
    - you have endgame dailies, which is again time-based, no skill required, but with a daily cap to slow down and ensure that you don’t end up with big gaps across the player base (and also ensure that content survives long enough to keep people playing).
    - you have endgame dungeons, which are mostly time-based (you have a weekly cap on emblems) with minimal skill required. The current split among “easier” and “harder” heroics helps at providing some illusion of skill-based progression.
    - you have endgame instances/raids, which is a skill-capped progression (for example I know that I won’t down Ragnaros HM unless it’s nerfed, independently on how much time I spend on it).

    You can argue that dailies are bad design, but they work very well for the result they have to produce. Actually, I cannot think of another approach which would work better…

    Out of curiosity: in designing a progression-based game, what kind of approach would you choose?

    • > – progression by time invested: the more you play,
      > the more you advance (think grind-mode MMO),
      > – progression by skill: the better you play,
      > the more you advance (think chess),

      There is a third one:

      - progression by how much you’re willing to organize you’re RL schedule around the game (think hockey with 3 mandatory trainings per week, think daily quests, think raiding)

      This is not the same as “progression by time invested” because the time invested has an upper and lower cap. You can’t have a 4th hockey training in the same week and you can’t miss the trainings as you would lose your spot. Same with raiding or daily. You can’t do a daily more than once per day. And you have to do it at least once to not fall behind.

      Progression by time invested is the winterspring frostsaber grind.

    • Out of curiosity: in designing a progression-based game, what kind of approach would you choose?

      Oh, time-based, absolutely. I would say anyone who enjoys RPGs enjoys time-based progression by definition; the default for FPS games would likewise be skill-based. There can be mix-n-match, of course.

      Since I may not have been clear, I have nothing against daily quests per se. They serve an important function as you mentioned, and I have no idea what someone could replace them without outside of Blizzard’s PvE Scenarios and Pet Battle system (and the PvP/heroics/raids standbys). Even though I want more Show & Tell, I also recognize something like Player Housing would not necessarily provide entertainment for months and months.

      It is sort of like Democracy. I don’t think a system is very good where an informed vote has equal weight to some guy just randomly filling in bubbles – or someone gullible enough for political advertisements to sway. But what else is there? Other than Philosopher-Kings, of course.

  4. I don’t recall being forced to run daily quests at any point in the years i’ve played WoW since daily quests were introduced. In fact, aside from a full complete of Molten Front dailies on one character, I’ve barely done any daily quests this expansion. So, when it comes to dailies, even Molten Front, I don’t think there’s a demand on our time daily. I think there’s a carrot and stick approach with the loot, and it’s up to us to decide if it’s worth the time. For me, it was worth it on one character.

    As to “good” design vs “bad” design, it ultimately comes down to designers intent. If intent is met(in the case of Molten Front, the intent was ‘yet another way for players to get good loot, with moderate barriers) I’d say it’s been a smashing success. Granted, most of the loot from it sucks in most cases, and some classes barely get anything, but still, I’d say they were largely successful.

    • Ok, not “forcing” maybe, but as an example: the jewelcrafting daily. Unless you do it enough times, your profession is mostly useless (you can’t get any of the useful plans). This comes quite close to “forcing” to me. At least in Cataclysm there’s only one of them which is annoying, the others can be done in seconds.

    • You weren’t forced to run Hodir or Therazane dailies? Did you get all your shoulder enchants from Inscription?

      I think there is a legitimate argument that Blizzard doesn’t “force” anyone to run dailies. But at some point it is like telling the runners at the NYC Marathon that you are allowed to use bicycles. You don’t have to use bicycles, but many other people will, and good luck catching up with them down the line. Indeed, if you look at the design of the Tol Barad trinkets, there is an incentive to make those useful across the entire expansion, which makes them largely mandatory in a lot of raiding guilds.

  5. > That said, making a value judgment about whether
    > the design is ‘bad’ or not is not only
    > un-constructive, but in the vast majority of the
    > cases I’ve seen, such an assessment reveals that
    > the design was not well understood to begin with.

    Then again, it’s a *game*. And if it uses a design which player don’t like *because they don’t undersand it* it is a fucking bad design.

    Maybe you should invest the time to implement things that player do understand – and like. Instead of just whining on your forum that people don’t understand you.

    It’s a game. If you’d like to design things that people don’t understand you’re in the wrong business, please make art not games.

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