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I'm developing an online game with friends, and we're currently blocked by a overall game design issue: how do you reward players with experience points and loot/gold yet still encourage them to play together, especially with players who are not necessarily in their skill range?

Technical details of our game:

  • Grid-based, top-down overworld map layout (think Legend of Zelda)
  • Randomly generated, turn-based dungeons (think Pokemon Mystery Dungeon)
  • Experience curves, non-combat skills, trading, social interaction (think Runescape)

The plan is for players to socialize, do parts of quests, and skill in the overworld, then enter dungeons with groups of ~4 friends into order to skill combat and get loot. Ideally, more skilled players can enter harder dungeons and do harder tasks, yet still be able to join newer players in easier dungeons without it being mundane and without forcing one player to take up most of the combat.

Possible fixes:

  • Remove all sorts of experience curves and rewards, and have everything be balanced (downside: no reason to grind)
  • Restrict "leveling" to gaining more money and better weapons (downside: having more loot virtually becomes being a higher level)
  • Raise low-leveled players to the level of the highest-leveled team member when in dungeons (downside: may be a loophole to allow players to skill quickly)
  • Add an extra component of the game that requires user skill, so players won't rely solely on levels to be good at the game (e.g. quick time events) (downside: hard to implement in a turn-based game, ambiguous)

These are just some ideas, and I have been pondering this issue for a little while now. What are some thoughts on this issue and what mechanic may be introduced to reconcile this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Again and again I see games implementing incredibly steep power curves and then working around them with things like scaling players to their party's level. The solution is staring them right in the face: make characters' power scale much less with their level. \$\endgroup\$ – Miles Rout Jul 18 '17 at 22:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MilesRout Your subverting one set of problems for another then. Ex: If it takes phenomenal EXP to get to Lv100 then why can my Lv1 newly rolled character defeat it? At one extreme your Lv1 has same stats as a Lv100. At the other you have Lv1 and Lv2 are in tiers of their own. That's a design decision. And is asking about magnitude of difference. So when people ask these questions it applies in your mentioned case at Lv1Million. So what if the number's lower? It's still a question that needs to be answered. As well as level cap and a whole host of other design decisions. \$\endgroup\$ – Black Oct 31 '18 at 0:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Black subverting one set of problems for another? What problems are you introducing by making power scale less? Take for example original vanilla World of Warcraft. A level 60 could lose in a duel to a level 50, relatively easily, if they weren't playing properly or weren't paying attention. This was good. They weren't gonna lose to a level 1, of course, but it wasn't like today where if you're 3 levels above you just guarantee you're going to win. \$\endgroup\$ – Miles Rout Nov 1 '18 at 21:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MilesRout that's exactly the point. WoW has a scale factor of 1/10. Some recent have 1/3. if you crank it to 11 in one direction you get level=tier. opposite is 1/infinity and level doesn't matter at all. My point was that at some scale this is almost always a valid concern. In the 1/infinity level doesn't matter case you have loss of incentive to level, grinding, etc. Ex: fixes like a dun drop that can't be equipped unless you meet level reqs. (srsly? it's a dun drop not crafted, you beat the dun so you're good enough, don't make me grind meaningless stuff so I can truly "level") \$\endgroup\$ – Black Nov 2 '18 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ ....and where you pick to drop the scaling is a design choice that effects what you have to do to cope with your design. It's not a "flip the way you look at it" problem. It's actually 2 different choices (well a sliding scale really). One way to look at it is RPG vs Adventure. Adventure has no levels. Everything is level 1. How much do you want to be an RPG vs an Adventure and vice versa? \$\endgroup\$ – Black Nov 2 '18 at 5:46
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While completely removing your leveling curve might go against the typical genre convention of MMORPG games, you can at least try to keep it relatively flat (which means just a small gain of raw nummerical power per levelup). That way you increase the level ranges where cooperation still makes sense for players. You should also allow and encourage players to have more than one character. When players have multiple characters in different level ranges, their pool of potential playmates increases. The best way to do that is by offering a wide range of possible character options with different playstyles.

If you decide to go the level adjustment route to allow characters of different levels to interact better, I would rather recommend you to scale the high-level players down than the low-level players up. The reason is that upscaling will give the lowbies access to abilities and other content they haven't been introduced to yet. But make sure to design your loot and exp distribution systems to always reward cooperation, especially (but not only) for the stronger players. When a highbie gets scaled down in order to help lowbies to clear a dungeon which would usually be too easy for the highbie, make sure the highbie still gets rewards as if they were in a level-appropriate dungeon.

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  1. Reward coordination - make it so that party members have to coordinate movement and tasks like activating game elements and fighting enemies in different locations of a dungeon in order to progress faster and / or get better loot (think Space Alert board game). This way you ensure that playing as a group is more efficient.

  2. "Mentor-Apprentice" type dungeons can be created where different tasks require different character level to complete but the ultimate success in form of loot for the entire party is tied to everyone completing their individual objectives. "Mentor"-level rewards should be greater in order for high level players to go to this type of dungeons and train rookies (as opposed to playing regular high level content).

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You could reward players for playing well with others. An example of this mechanic would be to divide experience between players, depending on the level. This would provide incentive for players to work with each other. This could be made more enjoyable, and less grindy, by beefing up the lower level monsters. These monsters would typically target the higher levelled players; making it harder for the high levelled player to progress. They would than need the lower level players to beat on the monster, to keep themselves from dying.

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Don't share the experience in an equal way.

I mean if there are 2 players grinding together, don't share the experience in a 50% for each. Boost up it, make that each one get 60% of the experience. And yes that means that the monster doesn't give the usual 100% of the experience, if not a 120%. If there are 3 players the monster could give 150% shared between them.. u get it, no?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Decent idea, but I think this opens more doors than it closes. How do you distribute the xp? \$\endgroup\$ – Evorlor Jul 27 '17 at 13:40
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I think this problem is more two sided and should be viewed from the low level perspective aswell: why would a low level character want a high level player to join? Except for faster questing and transcendent

  1. Grinding craftable stuff: maybe you get better weapons by crafting instead of only questing. So you need low level stuff instead and that's from low level dungeons. By joining a group you drastically increase drop chance and if it only drops if you have some in the party with a certain level. Lowbe's can pick it up and sell it for an immediate effect. Still, low and high level won't enjoy the dungeon.
  2. Level up equipment: There might be high level equips that give heavy penalties, so you become as weak as a lower level char. But by leveling this, it may get stronger than comparable items that level. The high level player can enjoy some challenges and low level players the low level are equally strong but get more experience.
  3. Leveling a pet/companion: Instead of his high level char, someone can send a pet to play in the dungeon. He has new skills, more support effects and couldn't beat a dungeon on its own, so you have a low level party with this support pet. You loose some damage but gain it's benefits. When a pet is leveled, it gives Boni to the high level Char, so the high level gets gameplay variety and by that better 'equipment'.

Balancing experience in this context seams hard, that's why I wouldn't touch that in any way.

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