In most MMORPGs, gear is a major part of the power and progression system that serves to doubly excite players by providing both visuals (I look awesome!) and stats/abilities (I fight awesome!). We are forever chasing better gear, not just to be a more powerful fighter, but also to unlock content that was barred to us before (higher level zones, dungeons, fashion shows, etc.). And hey, it’s fun to collect and always a welcome part of a gaming session when I get an upgrade.
But can I talk for a minute about a major pet peeve that I see across many MMOs when it comes to gear? The long and the short of it is that online game designers seem to revel in stupid complex gear systems that are unfriendly and arcane to the casual user. As content and expansion get added over time, gear grows increasingly complex, with new types, new slots, new ways to power them up, new grinds, new builds, new metas, and so on. The longer an MMO is out, the higher the chance is that trying to understand and have a workable knowledge of its gear becomes increasingly difficult to a new or returning player.
Very little makes me gnash my teeth as hard as trying to figure out how to properly gear up my character in an MMO that has multiple years and expansions under its belt. Sure, if you’ve been there all along and this is your only game, then chances are you’ve learned all of this as the devs have built that crazy gear Jenga tower, block by block. It sort of makes sense to you and you don’t have a lot of empathy for those trying to figure it out for the first time.
Marvel Heroes is such a perfect example of how gear went from being a desirable chase to an onerous task. The team kept adding new system after new system, to where there were so many different types of gear and specific things you had to do to get the best out of each piece of gear and ways that you could undermine your character’s potential that by last year, I just about threw my hands up in frustration — and I had been playing it for a while. Trying to deck out a new character wasn’t fun at all; it was like trying to navigate a maze that you sort of knew but was annoying even so.
The frustrating part is when I see these systems and think that some developer thought that this was the best way to implement gear for his or her playerbase. All gear and gear systems don’t have to be alike, but geez do some of them get dumb.
The Secret World fails hard in the gear department. QL10 gear was supposed to be the top — there was no QL11 — but then they had to add QL10.1 and up, plus glyphs and signets to modify gear, plus that dumb-as-bricks Tokyo AEGIS system, plus the scenario gear, plus auxiliary weapons. Just keep on stackin’.
RIFT is another offender that triggered this whole piece. When I came back, I thought that we had here a game that was pretty easy to grok. Yet two expansions’ worth of additional systems left me bewildered about upgradable gear and dream orbs and relics and what you had to do to get your character at an endgame baseline to match the rest of the crowd.
Another example from my own gaming history? LOTRO’s legendary items, which where slammed on top of a mountain of gear choices already and then teetered there like some unwieldy beast of options and grind. At least the devs eventually tried to tackle this and make it more manageable.
Is it too much to ask to make gear systems intuitive, easy to understand, and not dealing with a tax code amount of related stats? If you have to keep on adding systems, can you make them fun to interact with and not super-grindy and obtuse?
If your game has gotten really bad with this — as many have — MMO devs need to see how it’s become spaghetti code for players and streamline the whole mess so that it works together as a cohesive unit instead of some Frankenstein assembly. Make sure you explain things clearly in-game and point us where we need to go to improve our gear. I should never look at my gear screen and go, “What the HECK am I supposed to do to get better gear? How does this work?”
It’s an evaluation that needs to happen every so often in these games or else the entire Jenga tower might topple over and crush those who want to enjoy your game but can’t for having been smothered by its nonsense.