Friday, November 18, 2011

Five Stages of the Difficulty Scale

To each and every person in the game their definition of difficulty is different.  Everyone has their own line they draw on what difficulty really is.

As I see it there are five degrees of difficulty ranging from least to most and I have my own names for them.

Boring - Fun - Challenging - Hard - Frustrating

That is the balance of difficulty as I see it.

Everyone starts everything dead center.  The factors of what they are doing, their personal likes and dislikes, experience, skill and desire then swings the pendulum one way or another.

Everything is a challenge to start off with, so all tasks start dead center.  Even crossing the street the first time was a challenge as a child no matter how ridiculous you might think the notion of crossing the street as being challenging might appear to you now.

Things can be challenging and fun, things can be challenging and hard but things can not be hard and fun.  If it is hard and it is fun, then it is just challenging and that is the perfect balance right there.  That is why there is something separating hard and fun because you can not be both at the same time without being something completely different.

Any one thing can hold various levels on the difficulty depending on the previous things I mentioned.

All reputation grinds start at challenging.  The challenge is to get to max reputation.  It remains challenging until you start to enter your personal factors.

Do you like to do it?
How much time is involved?
Can you do it alone?
Does your class have anything that helps you with it?
Does your class have anything that hurts you with it?
How much do you want to do it?


Questions like that then start to swing the pendulum of difficulty.

So while the reputation grind might have its own degree of difficulty once you start it based on your personal perspective you must remember that it can still change.  Once you finish something, no matter what the difficulty for you was, it becomes boring because there is no longer a reason to do it at all. Once the reason for doing something is gone, the difficulty, no matter what it was before, falls to boring.

Boring - Fun - Challenging - Hard - Frustrating

For me most reputation grinds are easy to fit into the pendulum without much thought.  For example some BC reps I found to be "fun" on the difficulty level.  Grinding mobs that have a fair respawn rate, are not to hard to beat, and have a decent drop rate of what I am looking for is fun.  It gives me a goal to aim for and it is something I can do without much thought, hence why I find them fun.

It was also fun for me because I could do more than one thing at a time.  I could gather cloth, for alts or making bags or selling outright.  I get items to disenchant which could be turned into enchants to be sold.  Even the grey items sold for a nice amount as well.  There were usually vendors and mailboxes close by to every grind point as well.  Adding all this up, grinding reps in BC was fun.

Boring - Fun - Challenging - Hard - Frustrating

Grinding junk boxes for rep however goes beyond hard on the difficulty scale for me all the way to frustrating.  It is not that it is actually harder than "hard" to do because it is not, but it is no fun at all, it takes an insane amount of time, I don't get extra loot like I do with other grinds, there are no close mail boxes, they take up a lot of space in your bags and the turn in point is not exactly close.

It all feels like wasted time even if I am working toward a goal.  So while it could be boring, it does not quite fall there because I am still doing something I want to so I can get to the goal of my task, which swings it completely the other way, to frustrating.

Boring - Fun - Challenging - Hard - Frustrating

Tabard reps like the ones that started in wrath and the ones we have in cataclysm now where you buy a tabard at friendly and then just do dungeons is boring.  While all tasks start as a challenge the only real challenge there is to this type of activity is the challenge of remembering to switch your tabard.

The reason this is boring instead of frustrating is because I am doing the dungeons anyway, if I had to do the dungeons and normally wouldn't it might be frustrating, hard or fun.  As I am doing them anyway and there is nothing to actually think about when doing them it is boring.

Boring - Fun - Challenging - Hard - Frustrating

So I've visited the "boring", the "fun" and the "frustrating" on the difficulty scale, what do I find hard?

Anything that requires interaction with other people.  Anything that requires someone else besides me to act in a certain way correctly to succeed.  Any time you add a variable to what you do that you have absolutely no control over you instantly turn any challenge dial into the direction of hard.

Raid reputation grinds are hard for that fact.  They are hard because you can not do them alone, they are hard because you have to depend on others, they are hard because you can only grind so much each week, they are hard because your success in the grind directly depends on someone else.

How the other people do their job can adjust it to a different area but all challenges that require other people are hard by nature because you have no control over what others do.

Boring - [{Fun - {Challenging} - Hard}] - Frustrating

Personally I think the game is best when it stays half way between fun - challenging and challenging - hard.  Not quite just fun and not quite just hard.

But then we go back to what I said at the beginning.  Everyone has their own place on the difficulty scale where they place any and all tasks.

Someone that does not like reputation grinds might find the ones I call fun as frustrating.  Someone that does not like reputation grinds might consider the tabard grind as fun whereas I find it boring.

That is why games like WoW are really hard to balance correctly.

There is no such thing as "fun".  There is no such thing as "hard".  They need to design for the middle, for true center, for "challenging" and let the people decide if it is fun and challenging or hard and challenging or perfect the way it is at just challenging..

Each person places each task in the place that best suits them on the difficulty scale.  So there will never be something that is purely fun for everyone or purely hard for everyone. 

The biggest problem with WoW that I have noticed is not in the design so much sometimes but in the people that play the game.

A heroic mode guild might call normals easy, they might even call them boring and consider everyone not doing heroic mode as bad players.  A normal mode guild might find normals fun while getting attacked from the heroic mode guilds as being "bads" and being attacked by the people that can't do normals as "elitist".  Non raiding players would call every raid hard, maybe even frustrating, and both normal and heroic mode raiders "elitist".

It is the player base that makes the system seem like it is bad, from all points of view.  No matter which category you fall into when raiding, heroic, normal, or none, there is always something to hate about the other two.  However, as bad as this might sound, this is good design.  This design is close to center.  The players are the ones that make it appear as if it is bad design.

What people do not understand is that the game is balanced, or attempts to be, around the fact that no matter where you put things on the difficulty scale there should always be something for you to do that falls into the "fun - challenging - hard" area.

The design of a good game is to try to keep things in that section where everything is in some degree, challenging (entertaining).  Once anything becomes too hard it becomes frustrating and once anything becomes too easy (or unnecessary) it moves from fun to boring.

If there is one true failing in Cataclysms design it is the fact that things where not designed to be "challenging" so they could let the players swing on the difficulty scale from that point one way or the other.  It was designed to be either "fun" or "hard".  Because neither "fun" nor "hard" are the true center a lot of players had their difficulty scale thrown out of whack.

For a game to succeed it needs to build the difficulty level around the true center, challenging, and then let the players decide if it is hard or fun from that point.  They can not design for hard or fun.

While I can not speak for others I can speak for myself and try to explain what I mean by the scale and how their design changed, thus changing how and why people feel differently about this expansion.

Boring - Fun - Challenging - Hard - Frustrating

When leveling was designed for dead center, challenging, I loved leveling alts.  I found it fun.  Fun is one deviation lower on the difficultly scale.

Now that leveling is designed to be fun, I hate it.  I find leveling boring.  Boring is one deviation lower then fun on the difficulty scale.

Boring - Fun - Challenging - Hard - Frustrating

When heroics where designed for dead center, challenging, I enjoyed them.  It was hard, because as I explained everything that requires other people is always hard even if it is easy, but I enjoyed it.  Hard is one deviation higher on the difficulty scale.

Now that heroics added mechanics and where designed to be hard, I hate them.  I find it extremely frustrating.  Frustrating is one divination higher then hard on the difficulty scale.

Boring - Fun - Challenging - Hard - Frustrating

See, that is where the error occurred.  People wanted fun leveling, they wanted hard dungeons so blizzard coded for fun and coded for hard.  You can't do that.  You throw off the difficulty scale completely when you lose sight of the true center, challenging.

Games need to be designed around the center and need to let people decide from center.  If any game moves into the "boring" or "frustrating" areas too often it will cause people to quit.  Out of boredom or out of frustration.

So while we all have our own line on what we consider difficulty to be there will always be only five spots on the difficulty scale we all place everything.

The closer the game designs to the center the less likelihood they will push too many people to one edge or the other.

If something is coded near the edge, someone is bound to fall off when the pendulum swings.

Coding for "fun" and "hard" does not work.  Remember what I said at the beginning.  Fun and hard can never be attained at the same time so coding for it is a recipe for disaster.

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