MMOs, Skill Points, and Preventing "Good At Everything" Syndrome

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A friend of mine who is trying to build an MMO (yeah yeah Your Game Idea Is Too Big ) but he approaches me with questions regarding balance and mechanics fairly often and this one was interesting.

Assume:
There are no “skill points per level,” per say, but skills are raised by doing things related to the skill.

How do you prevent people from multiclassing out the wazoo and becoming “good at everything”? He’s wary of any kind of “players lose skill ratings” mechanic because apparently players hate that.

That possible issue aside, how would one go about a skill-point-less system that prevents people from having All The Skills and being a fighter/mage/rougue/cleric/barbarian/warlock/wolverine/shaman/banana?

I did try to sell him on the idea of skill rust, that is, by not using skills for a certain period of time (on the order of several days worth of logged in time) that skills would accumulate rust and eventually deteriorate. Removing rust would be a simple affair of just using the skill a couple of times to “brush up” on whatever it is.

The other idea was that for every skill rank invested (however that happens, mechanically) the maximum rank of unskilled…skills would be lowered. This would be a soft-cap and that gaining ranks above this cap would be 2/3/5/10 times harder.

Are there other solutions to the problem?

 
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One way I can think of would be to have a hard skill cap for all skills at a low level; say you can’t train any skill past level 10. A few times throughout the life of the character, maybe 10-15 times total, they get the opportunity of increasing their skill cap in one skill, by another 10 levels. A player who decides to always unlock more levels in the same skill would end up with a highly specialized character, while another who would spread their unlocks around would turn out as a jack-of-all-trades.

Note that unlocking skill caps doesn’t have to coincide with level-ups. Unlocks could be rewards for completing certain quests, or rising in the ranks of an NPC organization (faction), or achieving certain feats.

 
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I’ll pass the idea on, though I don’t think he’s a fan of hard-caps in that sense.

 
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What’s wrong with allowing players to be good at everything?

 
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here is a solution have it as you advance in a skill it begins to lock the higher parts of the others gradually so that if they want to muti-spec the have no access to the god skills of the other trees and by the end you have people who have invested specially in one skill be great at it tank/dps/heals and other who are specialists in multiple skills but aren’t all the great now the question to ask you friend is he allowing people to respec the character so that they may redo their skill trees? an how he would go about it? maybe have them start at the begging again with an xp bonus and have a heritage system?

 
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Originally posted by Draconous:

here is a solution have it as you advance in a skill it begins to lock the higher parts of the others gradually so that if they want to muti-spec the have no access to the god skills of the other trees

Basically that’s the second idea in the OP.

now the question to ask you friend is he allowing people to respec the character so that they may redo their skill trees? an how he would go about it? maybe have them start at the begging again with an xp bonus and have a heritage system?

Not sure. I think it could go either way (i.e. a rust system would be a free reset, other systems would be monetized in some fashion)

 
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Originally posted by Draco18s:

A friend of mine who is trying to build an MMO (yeah yeah Your Game Idea Is Too Big ) but he approaches me with questions regarding balance and mechanics fairly often and this one was interesting.

Assume:
There are no “skill points per level,” per say, but skills are raised by doing things related to the skill.

How do you prevent people from multiclassing out the wazoo and becoming “good at everything”? He’s wary of any kind of “players lose skill ratings” mechanic because apparently players hate that.


LOL is your friend trying to recreate Meridian 59 or something? As the first actual MMO, that’s pretty much what it tried to do—you swing a weapon, you get better with that wapon. You cast a specific spell, you get better at that spell. So how did M59 prevent godmode multiclassers?

1) Learning caps. Specifically, the player had to allocate a bunch of stats upon character creation. More intellect meant learning more before your character’s head got too full and their brain began leaking from their ear. Of course, more intellect also meant less points to spend in strength, agility, stamina (hp cap) and mysticism (mana cap/regen)

2) The more you learn, the harder it got. If you picked up your first spell from a given spell school…let’s say “Minor Heal”…it’d level quickly and easily. After packing on several more abilities from various schools however, trying to train that same minor heal spell goes much slower.

3) Dying would reduce a few skills at random, but as you already said, that’s not a popular idea with players. When death in MMOs becomes too punishing, you get people who are afraid to play the game fully and take risks.

Anyway, having said all that…I think your friend is making a HUGE mistake. When you let the characters build their characters exactly how they want like that, and yet you limit things to prevent multi-classes, you still get “one build that rules them all.” It becomes a balancing nightmare, and in MMOs, balance becomes far more important than it does in standard single player games.

Not only that, but the “use it to improve it” model is fundamentally flawed, in that it encourages artificial gameplay (botting) because lt’s face it, spamming Minor Heal for hours, just to get it functioning as best as it can, isn’t fun. Even the mighty world of warcraft had a “use it to improve it” system originally—each swing with your 1-handed sword makes you better at using it. How did people handle this? Exactly how I said—they botted, or they’d find some exploitable ingame mechanic that would allow them to level the skills while afk. In the end, Blizzard finally removed that mechanic entirely.
 
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To elaborate on the M59 skill progression model:

1) Every “school” (the 6 spell schools as well as weaponcraft is considered a school) had various levels worth of abilities. In order to learn the next level in a given school, you’d need X total points in 3 skills from the previous level—only your highest 3 were used. The more levels (from any school) you unlocked, the more points you’d need for the next level, and then the next, and so on. Basically: pointsForNextLevel = (basePointsNeeded + totalNumberOfLevelsLearned * someIncrementalModifier) – intellect * someOtherModifier. Skills couldn’t go higher than 99, so once the required amount rose higher than 297, the player was cut off from learning anything further.

2) The more you learned, the slower progression went

3) The more you knew, the worse penalties from death etc were. In the case of the proposed skill rust (bad idea, I’ll get to that later), the more devastating “rusting” could be.

Re: Skill rust. Another idea I don’t recommend. While it might seem like a good way to keep the player from gaining too much I-rule-everythingness, what it really creates is an irritating dance the players need to do to prevent it from happening. So before they go out and play the game how they actually want to, they’ll just find some crappy enemy (slime, etc) and just blast it with their seldom-used abilities. It wouldn’t be a very “fun” mechanic, and fun is important ifyou want to keep people playing.

 
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Originally posted by Aesica:

Re: Skill rust. Another idea I don’t recommend. While it might seem like a good way to keep the player from gaining too much I-rule-everythingness, what it really creates is an irritating dance the players need to do to prevent it from happening. So before they go out and play the game how they actually want to, they’ll just find some crappy enemy (slime, etc) and just blast it with their seldom-used abilities. It wouldn’t be a very “fun” mechanic, and fun is important ifyou want to keep people playing.

“Seldom used” would still not rust. Rust would be primarily intended for skills that are unused.
Like I said, it would take days worth of play time to accumulate any rust on a skill.

In any case, your warnings will be forwarded.

 
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If the player wants to be a fighter/mage/rogue/cleric/barbarian/warlock/wolverine/shaman/banana, you should let them. They can enjoy all the mechanics of the game without having to restart or create a new character, and that’s a really good thing.

As long as the fighter/mage/rogue/cleric/barbarian/warlock/wolverine/shaman/banana character can have a balanced, interesting fight against someone else who has spent the same amount of time playing but put all their points into kittenMastery, it’s all fine.

There are various tricks to prevent the multi-classer from being too strong. Limit equipment so a character can’t use all of the classes at the same time – it doesn’t matter how many levels the fighter has he won’t do much damage with the wallop skill while holding a spellbook. And have a limited number of slots to assign your skills too.

 
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They can enjoy all the mechanics of the game without having to restart or create a new character, and that’s a really good thing.

Why is it a good thing?

As long as the fighter/mage/rogue/cleric/barbarian/warlock/wolverine/shaman/banana character can have a balanced, interesting fight against someone else who has spent the same amount of time playing but put all their points into kittenMastery, it’s all fine.

But will it be more efficient to bring 10 multiclass-everything into a 10 person raid than a one-of-each? Look at WoW and how they tried to make the generalists more desired by giving those classes unique skills…which were so powerful every raid party needed 1 of that class. BUT NOT TWO. Not having 1 was death, having 2 meant that you were only bringing 9 people.

 
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I find CuriousGaming’s solution to be simple and elegant: “Have a limited number of slots to assign your skills.” There, done. What does it matter if a character has every skill under sun maxed out if they can only use a small number of them at once? It makes them more versatile. Depending on the situation, the enemies, their resistances and damage type etc… they can adapt their build to prevail. With a wider array of options, the game becomes more tactical. It also helps with group raids in that you don’t need to wait for hours for one critical class to show up. Anyone who is there and has the skills can serve, and if people prefer one role or another nobody is stopping them from always using the same skill set. It’s win-win all the way down.

 
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If you go with a set number of ability slots as a means to limit the strength of your fighter/mage/rogue/cleric/barbarian/warlock/wolverine/shaman/banana, make sure these abilities can only be changed out of combat. Otherwise, you unknowingly encourage some horrific drag/drop juggling nightmare. Here’s another thing to consider:

The more abilties of a certain category the player has slotted, the more effective they could be. OR have related abilities synergize with one another for maximum effect. Here’s some examples of what I mean:

– Your Elemental Barrage increases damage taken from your next four fire, ice, and lightning spells by 30%.
– Your Regenerate also increases the strength of your healing spells on that target by 25%.
– The critical strike chance of your Rending Slash increases by 15% for each of your bleed effects active on the target.

Additionally, you could have passive bonuses like "each banana spell you have slotted increases the effectiveness/reduces the cost/reduces the cooldown of all other banana spells by X%.
Basically, the idea is to encourage them to slot more than just 1 warrior attack, 1 mage spell, 1 healer spell, and 1 banana spell. Instead, you’d be rewarding players who focused more on one role rather than those trying to fulfill all of them by taking the best abilities.

Your wizard could still slot a healing spell or a barbarian attack, and while they shouldn’t be utterly ineffective, they should be only barely adequate compared to the next person, who slotted nearly all healing or barbarian abilities. This allows for all abilities to still be (somewhat) useful and worth acquiring, and even encourages a bit of customization.

 
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Originally posted by Draco18s:

Why is it a good thing?

It’s a good thing because some people love the idea of changing up their gameplay from time to time. In wow, these people are called “altoholics” (for having an army of alternate characters), but this type of gameplay is actually punished. While blizzard’s made it easier over the years by adding more and more account-wide elements, there’s still enough character-specific things to make the more casual altoholics (like me) sigh and generally feel unhappy with that aspect of the game. My wow account, on my current server, is basically a huge list with one of every class. If I could, I’d rather combine them into one (maybe two—one for horde, the other for alliance) instead of 11.


But will it be more efficient to bring 10 multiclass-everything into a 10 person raid than a one-of-each? Look at WoW and how they tried to make the generalists more desired by giving those classes unique skills…which were so powerful every raid party needed 1 of that class. BUT NOT TWO. Not having 1 was death, having 2 meant that you were only bringing 9 people.


It’s really not that extreme. More important than the class-specific utilities these days are 1) that the main roles (tank, healer, dps) are fulfilled and 2) that the people in your group perform their roles sufficiently. You’re much better off with 7 warlocks who each do 80k dps than a rainbow array of other classes who are only doing about 20k-30k dps each.

 
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It’s really not that extreme. More important than the class-specific utilities these days are 1) that the main roles (tank, healer, dps) are fulfilled

At one time it was. And it was a problem. And it changed. That was my point.

 
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My proposal: Go back to “swing and earn exp” system

However, there will be a catch:

1) Each swing must deal damage. For example, if you swing a sword, it must deal damage in order to accumulate skill points. Cast a spell, and you must make it effect (for heal like spells, make the heal to accumulate skill points if the source of the healed of damage has higher power level than you) etc…

2) Each skill is divided into classes. E.g swinging a sword grants you physique skill points. Physique skill points can only be invested into skills that improve your skills with melee weapons and grants you toughness. This promotes skills that you have frequently used, making them more powerful while shadowing others

*With “skill points”, I refer to all skill points which are for example Physique and Magic skillpoints, all of them are acquired with a different way

3) The gain of skill points is based on the power level difference between you and your foe. If your power level is lower than foe’s, then you get skill points by hitting that foe. And if you have a higher level than the foe, then less skill points are accumulated and at some point, zero skill points are generated. This synergizes with #2. If you suddenly decide to farm low level minions with a sword instead of your usual combat method, the spells, it will not yield very useful results as you wouldn’t get any physique skill points due to your foes low power level

Why not to farm higher level minions then? Because the only way to do that is with leveled spells that are powerful enough. If you’re inexperienced with a sword, your power isn’t simply enough to defeat a higher level of foe or it will cost too much (e.g if you used potions)

4) The experience needed to level-up a skill grows per tier

5) Make a level cap. Each time you invest into a skill, it consumes some skill points. Make skill points finite. After reaching certain number of skillpoints acquired, you simply cannot get any more. Remember, your skill point types are based on your combat methods

For example, if you decided to use magic in every battle until you hit the level cap, then you would have lots of magic skillpoints to invest. However, the number of magic skillpoints is finite and so is the total number of all skill points in combined. Let’s take an example

There’s 30,000 skill points available for one character. If you exclusively play mage all the way to the level cap, you probably have all 30,000 skill points as magic skillpoints which are used to strengthen magical skills.

By adding a level cap, people can’t master a sword after they have fully mastered magic, even though, that is very difficult to do

6) Upper tier Skill power are exponentially more powerful than lower tier skills from the same tree. These skills are only unlocled after investing into lower tier skills (note; cooldowns on skills recommendable or else your arsenal may remain rather small)



If all of the parameters above are true, then building hybrid/investing into multiple skill trees simply becomes unlucrative since not mastering any skill tree leaves you weaker. Anothet example:

You attack a level 30 golem. You have 100 skill points invested into skill trees of Physique, Magic and Dexterity. Now you will probably loose that fight anyway because:

  • The armor of that golem is too thick and none of your skills is powerful enough to penetrate it (speaking of which, your foes could have use for a feature where they become stronger unless a certain tier skill is used on them)
  • Because you didn’t master any skill tree, you’re not getting exponential power growth from your most powerful skills


    And you cannot go back and level up couple of your skill trees to be more powerful since you do not gain anymore skill points from lower level foes. Note: People might screw their stats with this way so the reset skills button might be praised upon… and make sure skill reset has its cost e.g a hefty sum of common currency is needed and it can be done only once per day



    If your game is all about manual play, then make opponents difficult enough for a player to defeat them but almost impossible for a bot. Eventually, even bots die recklessly farming high level opponents and this is what you shall do: Make multiple respawn points and place them close to each others. Whenever a player character dies, it respawn on a random respawn point. This, if what messes up automated routes for bots and makes it very difficult for them to renavigateback to a farming area

And to make things even more tricky for botters, make all possible farm targets publicly engageable meaning that at any time, a player could mess up bot’s timing pattern by taking a foe before the bot



After writing this massive wall of text, I still want to ask “Why?”; Why can’t you let the people to multi-class if you can just program your system with the way which allows only one class or set of skills to be used at a time? For example, if you’re holding a bow on your hand, there is no way you could do a titan swing with your greatsword while holding a bow on your hand (provided weapon swapping is made tricky enough or utterly impossible). Besides, multi-classing is fun :D