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Building a better MMOusetrap: Can you teach old content new tricks?

Dave Moss

A common outcry I hear when playing MMO's, has to do with expansions and their almost unfailing ability to devour original content, and let it die a pitiful death. It's as if overnight, the quests people had been grinding on, the bosses they have endlessly battled, or the items they had no longer matter. Everything you worked for up to this point, is instantly obsolete.

Most recently I have been talking with WoW players in relation to the release of The Burning Crusade expansion, and how those who were not in the forefront of raiding content before the expansion most likely will never get to see the old 40 man raid content. There have been all sorts of statistics thrown around since TBC came out that only 2% (or 10%, or 40%, etc) of the population of WoW actually got to make it into Naxxramas, with only a slightly larger number having made it into the 40-man wing of AQ.

This sort of thing isn't just afflicting WoW either, back in the day when I was playing FFXI, and new expansions came out (Chains of Promathia, I'm looking at you), there was a great deal of content from the original game, or the Rise of the Zilart expansion I hadn't seen yet. Now on its third expansion (Treasures of Aht Urhgan) and on its way to the fourth in Wings of the Goddess there are a lot of players who are crying out that they have so much left to do.

It's was always a constant struggle for the guilds and link shells I have been in, to decide if we are going to continue on with the old content, or throw it all away for the new stuff. You're never going to please everyone, and for that reason there are a lot of WoW guilds still trying to get through BWL and beyond, and FFXI players still struggling through the Zilart missions and the Promathia quest line. And I am entirely certain there are still people in the EQ series, Guild Wars, and every other game who are still playing a few years behind, adamantly refusing to bow to the new expansion overlords, happily grinding away in forgotten areas.

But what if you can bring players back to those areas? Not by just putting a few new quests or by changing the look of the areas just so people will come sight see, but by actually changing the entire area, recreating it for an evolved player base?

Just recently, Jeffrey "Tigole" Kaplan, Lead Designer for World of Warcraft said that he intends to do just that in the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King.

"what I want to do in Northrend is to take Naxxramas in all of its glory, scale it down to the 25 man raid size, and then take the difficulty and retune it-obviously we'd tune for level 80, it would no longer be tuned for level 60, since that would be a little silly and it wouldn't be a lot of fun for people at that point-but I want to put rewards in there that are very exciting to level 80 players, but make it the entry-level raid, very accessible, tune the encounters so that there's something for everybody to do, and let the majority get a chance to see that content that they hadn't seen before."

By doing this, not only would they allow the players who hadn't reached Naxxramas pre-TBC to see –in this writer's opinion- one of the most beautifully designed and tuned raiding dungeons in any game out there. But they would also be able to entice those who made it back, with the promise of re-tuned boss fights and upgraded gear, with just a pinch of nostalgia (and a dash of four horsemen frustration!).

I think this is a great idea, because it allows the players to continue in a world they already know and understand. Most expansions tend to throw in a new continent, or new lore, or in some cases entirely new worlds, but this often leaves players wondering where all this was a few weeks ago. Certainly in the end it's just a game, and you are always moving to the next level, or next area. But I personally have always felt a greater connection to the worlds I am in when playing MMOs. When I wake up on Monday, and there just happens to be a new continent off to the east, promising treasure and mystery, I tend to wonder "why wasn't that there Friday? Did they just get the phone connected?"

By retuning older zones, especially ones only smaller portions of the population have seen though, you allow for the world to remain somewhat static. You aren't just expanding the universe for the sake of a new expansion; you are actually staying true to the world you have created.

Of course in some cases, the lore was already in the game story, so they can get away with adding new things (such as Northrend in Wrath of the Lich King), but when expansions are coming out every few months, and developers are just tossing in new areas left right and centre, with no rhyme or reason, I lose my desire to play the game very quickly. Although I'm not a role player, I tend to like my online worlds to have some semblance of reality to them, a feel that most things can happen, but there's a good chance they won't.

I hope that other MMO development teams take a page from the retuning of Naxxramas, and start to look at old content in their games, not as obsolete, but as an opportunity to improve upon what they have. This will not only create more impressive areas at the end of the day, but will also allow those of us who aren't on the bleeding edge, to have a chance to see all the content we can.

What do you think? Should old content be lost and forgotten, or should developers try to keep all their content as fresh as possible?

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