Possible but not Probable

Before I begin, let me say that I am not advocating that all MMOs implement what I’m about to describe, however, it would be nice if some more MMOs (the ones not published yet) were to implement models of design that weren’t yet another clone of the same model that the majority of games are putting out.

What I suggest is, in rough terms, a model that allows for everything to be possible from the moment your character enters the world, but not necessarily probable.  This all springs from a couple of posts and the comments over at Kill Ten Rats.  Post one is here, and post two is here.  Read those and make sure to read my comments, I’ll wait.

Okay, so to rephrase and refine what I said, what I’d like to see is where, from day one, any character has the possibility to fight and defeat any monster in the game (obviously not all solo, but even in a raid a new character should be able to contribute), what changes throughout the life of the character is their probability to do so.

At level 1, if you engage a level 50 monster, you are highly unlikely to win, but if you’ve been twinked out and know how to play your character well, there is a tiny chance that you’ll win.  And when you win, you’ll be rewarded, and rewarded well.  Obviously you wouldn’t earn “level 50” experience, but you’d earn a scaled amount that would indicate that you overcame a great challenge without being obscene.

Conversely, at level 50, if you engage a level 1 monster, you are highly likely to win, but if you are poorly equipped and screwing around, there is a tiny chance that you’ll lose.

If a game were to implement this sort of scaling, there are a few odd benefits that can come of it.  First, you can artificially tune a raid encounter by setting its level high.  If your max level is 50, you can make a raid mob level 60 to reduce the effectiveness of the level 50 players, but just like the rest of your game they’d still retain a probability to win.  Second, you can use underleveled mobs with “better” AI to create different types of encounters.  Mobs that appear to be easy, but are in effect “NPCs who know how to play their character well”.

Another element this brings to a game is that nothing ever really becomes trivial.  At no point would a single player be able to go into a low level zone with a high level character, tag all the mobs and AE farm them for loot (or grief).  In a PvP environment, it means that a level 50 player camping the newbie area could get his ass handed to him by a small group of level 1 players.

I think its definitely a mechanic worth exploring, and I would love to see someone take a stab at implementing it.


  1. Does Eve not use this mechanic?

  2. Jason says:

    In the loosest sense, yes; but in the strictest sense, I would say no. In a game using the type of scaling that I am imagining, you cannot “one shot” another mob or player. In EVE, you most certainly can wipe people out with a single attack volley. I know because it has happened to me. If your ship can unleash hundreds of points of damage in a single wave of attack, but you are attacking a newbie vessel, scaling would knock down your damage to a more “reasonable” level and you do tens of points of damage. Something the newbie has a chance of surviving.

    EVE is a different beast because it deals in absolutes, in a complete lack of scaling. A weapon has X percent chance to hit, regardless of target. A weapon deals damage in the range of A to B, regardless of target. A shield reduces/absorbs damage on an absolute level, regardless of who fired it. If someone fires a weapon at you that does 200-250 points of damage with a 90% chance to hit, if it passes the 90% and hits it will do 200-250 points of damage, mitigated by your defenses. If you have no defenses and less than 200 points of shield/hull/etc, you lose. If EVE had scaling, then since you are in a lowly vessel with less than 200 points of survivability, the shot fired at you would have scaled the damage down and only done 20-25 points, or something like that.

  3. I have little experience with MMORPGs but I have my deal of designing and balancing actual game systems.

    There are a couple of thing you might want to consider:
    – You describe extremes (level 1 vs. level 50). Setting them up is easy. What’s really difficult is balancing all that stuff in-between.
    – What about progress? If that very difficult enemy from the beginning is still difficult after hours of grinding, why grinding in the first place?
    – At some point, being super-beefed up should be unquestionably effective. I’m reminded of spearmen killing tanks in Civilization. Makes me want to strangle the game designers every time.
    – Tiny chances (at least when we talk about random numbers) are very difficult to work with because they feel radically different depending on how often something is tested. Will players be able to appreciate that 1% chance of killing a over-leveled enemy if it means that they need to die 99 times to see it happen once? Will they even bother if they had to die so many times?
    On the other hand even 1% deadly wimp enemies would be very dangerous in groups (even if you take them on individually). If you wade though a horde of 50 of them, you will only have 50% survival rate. One freak chance is all it takes.

  4. Jason says:

    You bring up very good points, Krystian. “What about progress?” you ask, and “why grinding in the first place?” to which I can only think to say, “Exactly!” One of the things I see as a problem in most MMOs is that they start you off “as nothing” and then you level up through the game. This is a design that works great in the single player game that has a well defined end (at some point, you win, the credits roll, and the game is done except for replaying and achievement hunting). But MMOs are designed without an end, intended for you to play for longer terms. So why start people low and make them work hard in order to get to a point where they can play the real game? Why not have them able to play the real game from the minute they enter the world? Personally I would rather have progress measured in stories rather than numbers. A game where being level 50 is less important than having fought in the battle of [insert town here].

    The “spearmen vs tanks” problem is easily avoided in that, hopefully, nothing is designed as a coin flip instant kill (that’s the actual problem with Civilization, its that the math behind the scenes is flawed and a spearman can win the random roll of the dice and defeat the tank). But then again, the bigger problem with Civ isn’t that a low level unit beats a high level unit, its the laughable idea of wooden spears defeating the steel hide of a tank. In MMOs, that doesn’t happen because at level 1 you are a warrior with a sword, and at level 50 you are a warrior with a different sword. There isn’t a technological disparity causing additional disassociation with the action.

    Since one of the major goals of a scaled design is to eliminate “one shot” killing, the “one freak chance” case is also eliminated. Its not as if a low level character will walk up and roll a magic number letting him kill the high level character easily. To win, the low level character would have to get lucky a lot, and the high level character would have to get unlucky a lot. However, the low level would, theoretically still have a chance, unlike current games where the high level character can stand there taking no action at all and the low level character cannot hit him, at all.

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