From the comments in the Algorithmic thread:
The problem I have with most games is the constant expansion of land as the game grows old and a reluctance to remove/revamp content even when the company’s own stats tell them that no one is using it.
Eventually, all games get pear-shaped, with the majority of players at the top and much fewer as you go back to the beginning. And yet, the six/eight/whatever starting areas that were needed in the beginning are now six/eight/whatever nearly empty areas that the company now wants people to skip (evidenced by the increase in exp gain to hurry them along to “the real game”).
The ‘hollow world’ phenomenon has existed as long as there has been MUDs with level systems. The issue is two-fold:
- The further you get from launch, the fewer newbies you have running around, which especially means that group content at lower levels gets harder and harder to find people for.
- As the game ages, it tends to expand on the upper end, because well, you want to make content for the people who are actually out of it.
End result: it’s a lot harder to find people who want to run level 20 dungeons like Deadmines four to five years after launch, because the odds of you finding a tank, a healer and 2 other DPS before you level past it really isn’t all that good anymore. My heretical notion, though, is that this is not necessarily a bad thing – or if so, a relatively minor one.
Another example of the Hollow World syndrome is Molten Core. An early raid from the WoW experience, it was created and balanced for level 60 characters. I, personally, will never see Molten Core the way it was originally seen – as a difficult, challenging teamwork requiring enterprise, and I wish that I could. The flip side of it, of course, is that the people who WERE there for Molten Core would really rather prefer never set foot in the place again. Which is, incidentally, how I feel about Black Temple – dude, we spent like 9 months in that place. The LAST thing I want is for some well-meaning designer to incentivize my guild revisiting the place. Nostalgia steamroll runs are fine, thank you.
On top of this, the designers want to, in general, keep most players in the same ‘content band’. Even as the game expands, you generally want to keep people, en masse, needing to go to the same places, in order to increase the odds that groups will form and keep the recruiting pool full. And it’s not just raiding – World PvP is more fun when people are shepherded into the expansion zones. 2+ person quests (such as WoW elite quests and WAR’s public quests) requires a certain critical mass in the zone before they can even be accomplished. Player density, for the most part, is good – and far better a goal to strive for than ‘old content never dies’.
Because at the end of the day, the thing about content is that it gets old and busted. Quests that were once amusing and interesting get far less so the third or fourth time you do them. Exploring a zone is much more interesting when it is a new place seen with virgin eyes. And raid encounters are essentially puzzle fights – and once the puzzle is solved, that content becomes increasingly less interesting very quickly.
Game SYSTEMS, hopefully, remain fresh and survive reputation (as most PvP scenarios do). Game CONTENT, on the other hand, doesn’t survive the repitition as well. In the end, MMO teams have limited resources. They can use to either fix up or close off old zones, or to build all new one, and accelerate the pace players can get there. Given the problems with game content repetition, I would say the latter is almost always better.
Are there exceptions? Sure – fixing the levelling path, salvaging content that was utterly unused, or destroying a single city for plot reasons come to mind. But even then, it should be used sparingly.
Original comments thread is here.