How I Would Go About Redesigning Neverwinter

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Credits.

  • Janne, for proof reading through this article and critiquing my ideas, pointing out problems with all of them and helping me to improve on them. Also for significantly improving on the queuing section. The quality of this would not be nearly as high without her help.
  • Lightbringer, for proof reading and critiquing the itemization section as well as the competitive PVE section.

Preamble.

Aside from playing games, I also enjoy writing and armchair development (and some other things). The Collaborative Development Program (CDP) offered the perfect opportunity for me to do so, but the CDP focuses on addressing specific topics on a week by week basis and there are a lot of topics I would personally like to armchair critique. The structure of the forums is also not really great for writing lengthy essays and it doesn’t really have the tools needed to format them, so I thought I would dump my washing over here, so to speak. If anyone enjoys this kind of discussion, this may be just the kind of post for you, but this is more for me to jot down my ideas in a semi coherent manner. Note, this essay completely ignores the practicality of making any of these changes, whether it is economically feasible, or whether it makes sense at the point the game is in its life cycle currently. What it does try to do however, is propose changes that keep the spirit of Neverwinter. If a change I would like goes completely against what the game currently is, I am not writing it down here, even if it is something I would personally like.

✪ Campaigns.

Problems with Campaigns.

There are numerous problems with campaigns and they become more and more pronounced the longer the game goes on. This stems from the fact that the campaign system by design is horizontal in terms of player access (you can access all of it at once), but vertical in terms of rewards. The result of this is that whilst old players only have to deal with 1 campaign at a time, new players feel forced to do all of them at once and the longer the game goes on and the more campaigns are added, the longer the catch up period becomes. Shortening campaigns does not solve the problem, it only delays it by treating the symptoms, as in another 10 mods you will be in the same position. In short, the problems with campaigns are as follows:

  • The longer the game goes on, the more campaigns there are, the more catch up a new player has to do in terms of boons.
  • The rewards of old campaigns quickly become invalid.
  • Players need a reason to run campaigns they have completed, which is not fatiguing to them.
  • Campaigns are currently a source of inevitable power creep, as every campaign always adds more boons, so characters always become stronger.
  • Completing campaigns on multiple characters is tedious, due to the huge amount of catch up that is required.

Solutions for Campaigns.

The way I would solve the problem long term is by taking a horizontal approach to boons, rather than a vertical one. I would divide boons in each campaigns into 3 categories, Offensive, Defensive and Utility, similar to strongholds. Each campaign would add 2 boons of each category and I would then change campaign boons to function similarly to stronghold boons. You could have 2 in each category active and switch between them as you will, but you could never have more than 2 in each category unlocked. Because you are now limited to 6 boons, you can make them much stronger than they currently are and make them more like feats, distinctive bonuses which you can choose between which help to define your character. This solves the problem of power creep, because there is no advantage to completing campaigns over and above the ones that have the bonuses you want. It also deals with the problem of catch up for alternate characters and the problem of new player catch up. For those unfamiliar with the SH boons, they look like this:

What it does not address is the problem of having a reason to run campaigns after you have finished them. I would go about that a different way. I would add an extra currency to the game which is shared between all campaigns, lets call it, “Campaign Incentives” for now, which you do not earn directly. You would have a daily cap on how many incentives you can earn per day, say a base value of 100 incentives. Completing a campaign increases this value by 25 incentives per campaign completed. So say if you have completed Dread Ring, Sharandar and AI, you would have a cap of 175 Incentives per day. This would provide players with another reason to complete every campaign, as it would increase the amount of rewards they could earn from doing campaigns.

In order to gain Incentives, a player would convert the currencies from the campaigns they ran into Incentives, which can then be used to purchase items to upgrade their character. For example, preservation wards, marks of potency, bags and so on.

You may point out, that in this system, you would still feel like you need to do dailies every day and you would be correct, except I would deal with that by doing the following. Instead of losing out on the Incentives if you do not run dailies, I would have it so they simply accumulate if you do not run dailies on that day, stacking for each day that you do not run dailies. This would have a hard cap at one months worth of dailies, at which point there would be wasted overflow, as 1 month gives players plenty of time to consume all of their incentives and you don’t necessarily want players to be able to keep not running dailies forever, you want them to feel like at some point, even if its in a long time period, they need to cash them in. Here is an example of such a UI, using a repurposed underdark UI.

  • Every day you log in, the notched bar would go up 1 notch, representing that day’s total allocated Incentives.
  • If you choose to convert currencies into incentives, the bar would go down based off of how much you converted. Once it is empty, you can no longer convert any more.
  • On the right hand side, there would be various sliders for each campaign currency you would wish to convert, with a button on the side to convert the selected amount. For players who want to convert them all, there is a button at the bottom.
  • If you do not run dailies for more than 30 days, you will waste additional incentives.

So, to recap, we wanted a solution to campaigns that:

  • Allows you to run campaign dailies when you want to, without feeling forced to do them immediately because you would lose out on possible rewards. This does that, by giving you a 1 month time frame to run them in for the rewards.
  • Allows you to choose which campaigns you want to run, if you wish to avoid running some. This does that, as you can reach your cap by running the campaigns you prefer.
  • Rewards you for completing all the campaigns. This does that, by increasing your reward cap.
  • Makes boons change from being a vertical power system to a horizontal power system. This does that, by adopting a stronghold like boon system.

Problems with the Solution.

The first problem with this solution is that by necessity, all of the new boons added have to be roughly equal in power, otherwise some will never be used. They also have to be different from each other in big enough ways to make them feel distinct and not just the same boon repeated 10 times. This is obviously difficult to do and becomes increasingly difficult to do the longer the game goes on. If done incorrectly, some boons may never be chosen. The problem with the long term reward structure is that it is an open ended reward structure. The more campaigns are added, the more rewarding it becomes. This is necessitated however by the fact that you want players to at least have a reason to do all the campaigns, otherwise some would just be outright skipped.

✪ Itemization Part 1 – Item Design.

This started out as a large section and then exploded into an enormous section after I discussed it with Janne. I apologize to anyone reading this, but things like this happen when you are trying to revise and bullet proof ideas.

Core Philosophies of Itemization.

In my opinion, these are the most important things to keep in mind when designing items.

  1. Target Audience. Not every item is designed for every player type. Different player types are interested in different types of items. The power chasers will want items which are the best in terms of raw performance, but there are also players who are interested in items which are not necessarily good, but have interesting effects or themes.
  2. Purpose. An item is deemed a failed item if it serves no purpose at the time it is released. If it has no appeal to it to any of the different player types, adding the item serves no purpose and there is no material difference between whether the item exists or it does not.
  3. Power Level. Is an item intended to maintain the current level of power, or increase it. Furthermore, how difficult will it be to replace this item in the future. Care must be taken in this regard, as if an item will be difficult to replace by adding a new item in future, there is a potential for backlash when it does eventually happen if the need to replace it requires a balance pass on the item.
  4. Systems Synergy. This is a bit more abstract, but it is the idea that the different systems should work together and not clash. Items should not invalidate feats, crafted items and dropped items should not invalidate each other. The system should be designed from the ground up with the idea that it is harmonious.
  5. Method of Acquisition. This ties in with the target audience. If you are designing an item aimed at a casual player who likes flashy items which are more showy then effective, then it needs to be obtainable for them. You do not put such an item behind the hardest content in the game because that content does not appeal to them. Items need to be obtained in a manner that makes sense to the type of player who wants that item.

Neverwinter fails on all of these counts.

Definitions.

When reading this section, the following definitions will help ensure the reader and I are on the same page with regards to what I mean by certain terms.

  • Stat Stick – An item which is intended to fill out vital ratings. Its purpose is to fill in the gaps which you do not have.
  • Set Items – Items which provide bonuses when worn together, but no bonuses if worn individually.
  • Unique Bonuses – These are bonuses on items that exist to give items character.
  • Short Term Chase Items – These are short term goal posts for players to strive towards, which are generally relatively easy to achieve and provide an increase in power.
  • Long Term Chase Items – These are long term goal posts which are exceptionally difficult to achieve and exist to act as a motivating factor for hardcore players. They act as a trophy item to show off and do not give much of an increase in power, so much as an increase in prestige.
  • Crafted Items – These are items that come from a crafting process undergone by a player.
  • Dropped Items – These are items that occur naturally within the world without player intervention, which can be found by the player.
  • Interesting Items – Defining it here because the definition of interesting is subjective and I like using the word interesting. An interesting item in the context of this essay is an item with a bonus that either has a flashy effect, or changes the way the game plays, or modifies core game mechanics. If you can tell the difference between having the item on and off from the way the game plays, then an item is interesting.
  • New Player – Someone who has only just started playing and is either still leveling a character or has only recently finished leveling a character.
  • Casual Player – Someone who has reached endgame, but isn’t heavily invested into the community. They may not be a part of a guild and their gameplay largely involves doing daily quests. Dungeons are a rarity for them and they would never set foot in a raid.
  • Veteran Player – Someone who is actively involved in the community and tries to participate in most, if not all of the content. They have usually been playing for quite a while.
  • Hardcore Player – These players do not merely complete content, they devour it. The difference between a Hardcore Player and a Veteran Player is not the content they complete, but the rate they complete it at. A Hardcore Player will be someone who has finished the new hardest content on the day it releases, usually racing for first place completions. A Veteran by contrast, may take weeks or months to get into that piece of content. In essence, a Hardcore Player cares about how fast they finish content, a Veteran just cares about getting it finished.

Problems with Itemization.

The problems with itemization in Neverwinter, as it seems, that items are not created systematically with defined criteria in mind. When new items are added, they often cannot be classified into what target audience they are aimed at and what purpose they serve and so the result is they become immediately obsolete.. This clash is most clear when it comes to comparing crafted items to non crafted items, as most crafted items are just bad, even at the point in time they are released. Here is a list of issues with itemization as it currently is in Neverwinter:

  • The crafting system is set as an adversary to dropped gear, so one system will always (inevitably) invalidate the other.
  • Often items aimed at specific target audiences are gated in a manner which is not appropriate for that target audience. Shadowstalker Rings are the most egregious example, being the Best in Slot (BiS) ring at the time, gated behind a weekly quest with no tangible way to measure progress aside from the frustration you accumulate along the way.
  • Items with low drop rates being Bound to Character or Account.
  • Long term chase items being too easy to obtain.
  • Entire categories of chase items not existing.
  •  You do not have any meaningful choices when comparing item bonuses, when you compare an item which is a 3% increase or a 5% increase all you are looking at is the size of the increase and the correct choice is already evident. For a choice to be meaningful, there needs to be some hesitation when deciding between items, or an item needs to change the way the game plays.

Solutions for Itemization.

The solutions to these problems are long and so will be broken down into sub sections.

Target Audience.

There is no short cut solution to solving the problem of ensuring gear pieces are placed in a manner that is applicable to the audience that is supposed to obtain them. What the developers first have to do is make a list of all the different places items can be acquired from, a short version probably looks like this:

  • Quest Rewards.
  • Monster Drops.
  • Hunts.
  • Vendors.
  • Professions.
  • Campaigns.
  • Zen Purchases.
  • Wondrous Bazaar.
  • Dungeons.
  • Raids.
  • Promotions.
  • Events.

They then need to classify what type of player has access to that type of content, for example, all players have access to the Wondrous Bazaar and the Zen Store, so there needs to be items within those stores which appeal to all types of players. Leveling players will not be going into Hunts, so items there need not be aimed towards them. Casuals however, will be going into Hunts, so the way Hunts work needs to be accessible to a casual player. Dungeons and Raids will mostly be entered by Veteran and Hardcore Players, so items from these places need only cater to these player types and acquiring them can be more difficult.

The next thing to do is to define what types of items each player type likes. In general there are 2 types of items. The first is items with interesting bonuses and these are typically liked by all types of players, items that have flashy effects or make you go “wow” usually entertain everyone. As a result of this, items with unique bonuses (IwUB) need to be obtainable by everyone. The second type of item is a Stat Stick (SS), which is an item which is appealing because of the ratings it has. These items are usually only appealing to power gamers and so this is the only crowd they need to be accessible to. Note, in Neverwinter at the moment, there are almost no IwUB, almost all items have a bonus on them but these bonuses are not interesting or engaging, they may as well just be ratings and so that pushes them more into the SS classification.

Once these lists have been drawn up, items need to be added to the correct places, to appeal to the intended audience. This can be gone about in 2 ways, firstly, a developer has an interesting idea for an item and they design it and want to add it to the game. In this case, what they do is they ask which part of the player base is this item appealing for and then they add it to 1 of the drop mechanisms which is available to that target audience. The second method is that a developer identifies a void that exists for an item type for a particular player type or drop mechanism and then they need to design an item that matches that void.

Finally, it is important to make sure that items that are no longer valid for a specific type of player do not drop in content aimed entirely towards that type of player. There are many examples of this, an easy one to give is the blackjaw clan items. The audience these are aimed towards is new players or people looking for a transmute. They are unbound and they drop in Master Expeditions, which is great, because the target audience that is after that type of item runs Master Expeditions. They also drop in Lair of the Mad Mage and Tower of the Mad Mage, which is not so great, because the people running this type of content neither want nor need these items, as they are not new players, they are Veterans and Hardcore players. Not only they were not looking for that item or need it, as an insult to injury they need to manually discard it, as a reminder that they got, what in their perspective trash.

Item Design.

There are 2 broad categories of items in NW, the first is items that are appealing because of their stats and the second is items that are appealing because of their bonuses. There are also items which are appealing because of their appearance, but due to the appearance system in Neverwinter, you never have to make a choice between appearance and efficiency (with the exception of the choice of race). The problem is in Neverwinter, the bonuses on items are essentially just stats, they aren’t interesting and they don’t make you change your game play in order to use them. In my opinion, a good item bonus has a mix of the following characteristics:

  • It changes the way you play the game. (example – if you jump 3 times your next encounter power will deal quadruple damage.)
  • It changes the way game mechanics function, thus changing how you build your character. (Your damage is increased by half of your deflection chance. You cannot deflect attacks.)
  • It enforces a trade off. (Your encounters deal 20% increased damage, you cannot equip a helmet or boots item.)
  • Its effect is noticeable. If you do not “feel” the item you put on, it is not a good item bonus (3% encounter damage is not a good bonus, you cannot discern its effect unless you look for it under a microscope).

Currently in Neverwinter, items give bonuses in addition to stats, rather than being something that you trade stats for. This should be something that changes, in order for items to become more interesting. I propose the following:

  1. Items that have bonuses, have half of the counter stats of an equivalent item level item that does not have a bonus. Hitpoints, Power and Weapon damage are not affected by this.
  2. The bonuses for items are aimed towards being a 5% increase in performance, assuming it had the same stats as an item that only had stats. Note, this is difficult to do and will result in some powerful items.
  3. You can only have 5 item bonuses active at once. There is a meter in the character UI which shows how many bonuses you have active, so it is very clear that once you hit 5, putting on an additional item will provide no additional bonus.
  4. Set bonuses count as bonuses that occupy multiple slots. As a result of this, if a set includes 3 pieces, the bonus should be a 15% increase + make up the lost stats, but it would also occupy 3 of the 5 available item bonuses. The draw of using a set over 3 individual items is that it is possible to design much more build defining bonuses with the increased available “bonus pool”, for example, an item that adds an extra encounter slot.
  5. Artifact Gear would no longer by default have set bonuses. They could have a set bonus, but then they would also suffer from the penalties listed above.

What this does is it makes it so that you can design interesting bonuses on items, as items suffer a loss in stats in order to gain a bonus and there is plenty of “power room” to fit one in. To account for both the loss of stats and the 5% increase, bonuses on items could be anywhere from a 10-20% increase in performance. Examples of good bonuses that could be on items are as follows:

  • Replace one of your belt slots with an additional encounter power slot.
  • Your encounter powers have half their current cooldowns. You cannot change your encounter powers. After using an encounter power, it is switched out with another encounter power at random.
  • All unallocated feat points are allocated.

Artifact Equipment fills a weird position in Neverwinter. It is equipment that is designed to be an AD sink, but with how common RP is at this current time, I do not feel it does its job particularly well. As RP is effectively the only reward given out by most content, the difficulty of refining items has dropped considerably over time. I would remove RP drops from dungeons and reward something else instead, for example, crafting materials.

Item Redundancy.

The most important part of solving itemization, is ensuring that all the methods for obtaining gear serve some purpose and that none of them are redundant. This is not referring to redundancy in terms of alternate methods of obtaining items, but rather, items being redundant because the player base overwhelmingly prefers 1 item over the rest. The way I would go about doing this is by giving each system a clear, defined purpose in terms of what it provides and then stick within these purposes. Whilst it is possible to design items 1 by 1 for each item acquisition mechanism and try to make them interesting, not only is it pain staking to do, but it is very easy to make mistakes and end up with items in 1 system or the other being redundant. So easy in fact, that I have never played an RPG that did this correctly. Not one. Every single game that has had large scale item acquisition systems which are adversarial to each other has always had 1 system or the other making items redundant. I do not consider my ability to design items any better than any of those people, in fact, I look up to many of them in their ability to design unique or interesting items. That still doesn’t prevent them from falling into the pitfall where 1 item system invalidates the other.

So clearly, if we want to solve this problem, we need to go about it a different way and we need to have a system. The way I see the problem is this, right now in games when you compare say ring 1 to ring 2, you are comparing apples to apples. This means that if 1 apple is shinier than the other apple, you are going to end up picking that apple. The way to solve this problem, is to make a system where you are not comparing apples to apples but you are instead comparing apples to oranges. In Neverwinter, the big culprit is crafted items vs dropped items. At any given moment in time, either 1 system or the other is obsolete. In Neverwinter for the most part, crafted items are obsolete and dropped items reign supreme. So the goal is to make both crafted and dropped items viable.

There are a few ways you can solve this. The first method and the most obvious method is for the crafting process to enhance gear rather than craft it and the only item types which you do craft are items which are not dropped (for example, belt slot items, or better potions). If you have many different types of kits, potions and baubles only accessible through crafting, then you would have a viable crafting system. You could also say for example, the best boots do not drop and are only obtained through crafting (so specific item types are obtained only through crafting, with the generic version available at vendors) and that would also work. My problem with this solution is it feels like you are essentially gutting 1 system in favour of another. You are drastically limiting the amount of possible items that can be created by both systems, in order to make it work. As a result I do not favor this approach.

The method I prefer is much more systemic and it involves splitting crafted gear and dropped gear in terms of purpose. Crafted Gear would become the method for acquiring BiS Stat Sticks and there would no longer be crafted items that have unique or interesting bonuses on them. Dropped items would be where item bonuses come from and would be how you flesh out and define your character. Why would I approach it this way? Well, it has to do with what types of players the different item types appeal to. Most casual players do not find stat optimization appealing and do not want to engage heavily with the stat system and stat balancing, which is ok. However, all types of players from causal to hardcore players like items with interesting bonuses. The only exception is new players, who are still trying to situate themselves within the game. As a result, I would structure drops as follows:

Items with Unique Bonuses.

  • Drop from Hunts.
  • Drop from Heroic Encounters.
  • Drop from Quests.
  • Drop from Campaigns.
  • Can be purchased from Vendors for farmable currency.

These are all locations that casual, veteran and hardcore players engage with and new players will start engaging with them fairly rapidly as well. It gives everyone short term chase items to work towards and in some cases, like for example heroic encounters, they are just nice items you will potentially acquire along the way that you can use. However, for players who want something to work towards, you can dangle the carrot on the stick in the form of set items. Set items take longer to obtain because they are only really useful once you have the full set. As a result of this they make a good long term objective to farm towards and because you want players to move a bit into the deep end so to speak to obtain them, I feel they should be purchasable in stores with currency that is obtained from running dungeons. So from there, we can move onto the subject of the Stat Stick drop locations:

Stat Sticks.

  • Drop from mobs in the open world.
  • Rewarded by Quests.
  • Can be purchased from vendors.
  • Can be crafted.

It is important that new players are able to have access to stat sticks which are good enough for them to level their character and complete daily quests, otherwise the game will be a bit miserable for them. This is fine and it is why we leave stat sticks in the drop pool. If they have been unlucky, there can also be some vendors which provide these types of items and NPCs that reward them for quests. However, once a player decides they want to start doing dungeons, they need to start organizing their stats. The basic level of stat sticks acquired from doing campaigns should be enough to allow them entry to the easiest tier of dungeon. Once they start wanting to move up the tiers, they will have to look towards either buying some crafted stat sticks, or crafting them themselves. Ideally, the early tiers of crafted stat sticks are easy to make and aren’t too costly, so obtaining them should not be overly difficult. The process of doing so, may also lead to community participation, as they may end up looking for people who can craft items for them. Once a player is plumbing the depths of the hardest tiers of content however, the price of such items should start to go up. At this point, the stat sticks players desire could come from masterwork and act as short term chase items.

Finally, there should exist a tier of craftable upgrades which content is not balanced around (IE, it is not needed to complete the content). These upgrades should be exceptionally expensive or risky to make and should act as long term crafted chase items. This will be dealt with more in the chase item section.

So, now we have a system that by design encourages both crafted items and dropped items to be used. But how do we want items to work relative to endgame content? Well, I believe that, for an exceptionally good team who is playing through a hypothetical dungeon for the first time, they should be able to complete the dungeon with 70% of the best items available to the player that dungeon is intended for at the time. Note, that this means that if they are going into the easiest tier of dungeon in the game, they should only need 70% of the top non dungeon gear to complete it. Then there is 20% leeway for less skilled groups. Note, that whilst there is in theory 30% leeway, I feel it is important to leave the last 10% out as room for chase items, which they may have, but should not be included in the scope for what is required to beat the dungeon.

So, to recap, the results of implementing my itemization system would in theory be the following.

  • Crafted gear would always be useful because they provide more stats than unique items.
  • Unique items would always be useful up to a point, because by design the bonuses they provide make them stronger than crafted gear.
  • Unique items always lose desirability beyond a certain point, because you can only have 5 bonuses active at once and then beyond that point they are worse than crafted items.
  • Crafting is not gimped as a system, as all the different stat sticks have the possibility of being useful, just depending on which bonuses people decide to use.
  • Set Bonuses vs Individual Bonuses offers an interesting player choice.
  • It is easy to invalidate items in 1 system without invalidating items in the other.

Counter Stats.

I am in 2 minds about this, on the 1 hand, allowing them to be capped with a limited amount of items allows you to make items appealing which do not have them at all. On the other hand, doing that does reduce the power of such a system, because it no longer provides you with the challenge of optimizing stats. When its possible to maximize everything, the optimal solution is everything maximized. As a result of this, I am taking the stance that it should not be possible to cap all of the counter stats and a player should be forced to balance their stats.

Recapping on Itemization.

These are the problems with NW itemization and how I am proposing to fix them:

  • Crafted gear vs Dropped gear is set up so that 1 system will always make the other redundant. The system I proposed fixes this, by making crafted and non crafted items fill different roles (build specialization vs filling out stats).
  • Inappropriate item gating. This can only be resolved by carefully evaluating who each item is aimed towards and ensuring its drop (or crafting) mechanism properly reflects the role the item is meant to fill.
  • Items with low drop rates being Bound to Character or Account. This is resolved by either making them unbound or changing them from a dropped item to an item purchased from a farmed currency. This is dealt with more in Part 2 of Itemization.
  • Long term chase items being too easy to obtain. This is dealt with in Part 2 of Itemization.
  • Entire categories of chase items not existing. This is dealt with in Part 2 of Itemization.
  •  You do not have any meaningful choices when comparing item bonuses. The new itemization system also deals with this.
  • Item choice being non existent, there are very obvious BiS choices. The philosophy of having all the bonuses worth roughly the same amount should create some depth within the item system and allow for more player choices.

Problems with the Solution.

The main problem with this type of itemization is that you need to be able to continually create items with interesting bonuses but roughly the same level of power. This quickly becomes quite challenging, as there are only so many bonuses you can dream up. A second problem with this is player understanding, if players do not realize they are not benefiting from additional item bonuses, they may end up wearing too many of them and thus heavily penalizing their own stats. This should hopefully be mitigated by tutorials and proper user interface.  Finally, this system can seem quite artificial to the player, as whilst it keeps both crafted and unique items prevalent and gives you a large amount of choice in what you can use, the limitation on 5 bonuses may seem arbitrary.

✪ Itemization Part 2 – Chase Items and Item Lifespan.

Problems with Chase Items and Item Lifespan.

Chase items can be divided into 2 categories, long term chase items, which are aimed exclusively towards end game players and act as trophies and short term chase items, which are goal posts for everyone. Note, that while I refer to them as “chase items” not all rewards are items and this refers both to items and to intransitive rewards (for example, masterwork professions progress). Alternate visuals for skills, footprint effects and other cosmetics can also act as chase items, provided they are hard enough to acquire. In Neverwinter, the following problems currently exist with chase items:

  • Long term chase items are often gated in an inappropriate manner.
  • There are no crafted chase items.
  • Chase items often have a too short lifespan (example, masterwork professions being invalidated after a single mod).
  • Items which are designed as short term chase items are gated as long term chase items, causing the incorrect target audience to try to acquire them.

Long Term Chase Items.

Right now, there are 2 main problems with long term chase items in Neverwinter. Either they are too easy to obtain (ToMM Rings) or they are not fun to obtain (Shadowstalker Rings). On top of that, crafted long term chase items do not even exist in Neverwinter, so there is a whole element to chase items which is not represented at all. The purpose of long term chase items is to be the, “item to have” for the power gamer. They should exist outside of the scope of design (so content is not designed so that you can only beat it with long term chase items) and should be a testament to how much effort, or how good, a player happens to be. They are a trophy. Currently none of the Long Term Chase Items exist as trophies with the exception of Halaster’s Whirlwind.

Whilst the M17 implementation of long term chase items is good, it is possible to do it better, especially in the implementation of crafted trophy items which Neverwinter has never really had. Here are (in my opinion) some important rules.

  • Long term chase items should not be gated behind drop luck unless they are also unbound.
  • Long term chase items should not be rewarded from leveling content and should be adequately challenging in contrast to the reward. A bad example of a long term chase item is the new pet gear, which should in my opinion have the +4/+5 variant added to the watcher bosses loot tables because currently there is no challenge in farming it, just frustration.
  • Content should not be balanced around long term chase items, that is not their purpose. They exist as, “the item to have” and should be difficult to obtain and good enough to justify bragging about.
  • Long term chase items can be gated behind crafting luck in some cases, provided it is done well.
  • If crafted, they should be unbound.
  • Long term chase items should give a very small increase relative to the amount of time invested. A player should not feel like it is something they need to have. It should be something that exists solely to provide a challenge towards a goal driven player.
  • Long term chase items must not be invalidated too quickly, otherwise players won’t put in the effort to grind them out.

Crafted Items.

In terms of adding crafted long term chase items, I recommend doing this in 2 ways. The first is adding a new crafting process which allows you to craft extra bonuses onto an item, but with the drawback of incredible risks involved and opportunity costs. These bonuses would have a limit of (2) and would not be counted into the ordinary limit of 5 that is present in the system I propose above. The resource cost to do so would be low (about 100k AD), but the outcomes would not be guaranteed and would work as follows:

  • The outcome of crafting would outright delete the item 25% of the time.
  • The outcome of crafting would disable enchantment slots for this item.
  • Nothing happens 25% of the time (the item remains the same).
  • A random bonus is picked from a table of bonuses available on that item slot 25% of the time.

After attempting to craft an item in this manner, you may not attempt to craft on that item again. It is a once off attempt. After attempting such a craft, the item will become unbound as well, however equipping it will bind it again. The reason that the item should become unbound is the value of having an amazing item comes from the fact that it can be traded. If its just a case of 1 person getting lucky, that is great, but other players do not feel like they could potentially own the item. By setting the bind status to unbound, it makes the good items something that players will bid high prices for.

This crafting system has the advantage that it allows you to cheaply try and craft one of these bonuses onto an item which has no value if you want the bonus, but there is a massive opportunity cost on trying to craft it onto BiS gear. As a result of this it can easily revitalize old pieces of gear if a player gets a bonus, they want on it and because this is random, creates some diversity in gear usage. It also gives the players with lots of currency a currency sink, as they chase after the perfect bonus on the perfect item. Additionally, every Stat Stick item should have an extra set of unlock-able stats on them, using cubes of augmentation. The base value would be 1000 with a max value of 3000 on each piece, allowing players to roll on them. This acts as a significant AD sink for players who want to min max but, provided is not accounted for in general content design (assume the minimum value of 1000), has no impact on endgame.

The second method is through adding very long recipe chains which require hard to obtain items, to craft chase pieces of gear. This would be equivalent to a harder version of masterwork.

Dropped Items.

For dropped Chase items, if they are gated behind luck, they should always, without question, be unbound. This alleviates the frustration for players with poor luck and it allows them to buy it out. However, in these cases, they should also be exceptionally rare, with the intended value being exceptionally high. If they are bound, they should either be gated behind a long and challenging quest chain, which would require significant time and currency investment on the part of the player, or they should be gated behind a currency which the player accumulates over time. They can also potentially be a guaranteed drop by a challenging boss which is difficult to spawn, providing players with a goal to aim towards.

Generalities on Long Term Chase Items.

In general, the most important aspect of designing long term chase items is that your progress as a player needs to be measurable. These are items that you are potentially investing a significant amount of time into acquiring, if you don’t feel like you are ever making progress, all that is left is a sense of frustration. This is especially true because you want these items to be a poor return on the time you invest into acquiring them. The pet gear is a bad example of this on 2 counts. The first because it was worth the effort to farm it, so players who are not usually interested in chase items felt obliged to farm for it, which meant they were frustrated due to having to participate in a level of grind which is not designed for the type of player they are. Veteran players for example, who would want to participate in running ToMM, were almost compelled to farm this gear is they wanted to carry their own weight. The second is because there was no way to measure your progress while farming it, so you feel like you are bashing your head against an invisible wall of RNG in the process of farming it.

It is exceptionally important that long term chase items retain their value for a longer periods of time, otherwise players will not invest the effort to grind for them if they feel like they will have their work invalidated quickly. This means that when designing chase items, the developers should be aware that the item they are designing has to have a long life time, possibly up to a year. The lifetime however, does not necessarily need to refer to the item itself being used in game play, but can also refer to some tertiary effects provided by the item. The Forgehammer of Gond is a good example of this in Neverwinter, where very few players want it for its stats or its active effect, but it is the item to have for crafting. Like this, you could have items which give other small, non gameplay related bonuses which are hard to acquire and are not BiS for long, but the bonus retains long term value.

Note, the following problems exist with my suggested changes for long term chase items:

  • Items need to be balanced very carefully. The same is true for the mods in the random table.
  • There needs to be enough mods to make getting the bonus you want a difficult process.
  • There needs to be long term chase items appealing to every class.
  • If the crafting system is not explained adequately, players may delete items that are valuable to them without intending to. There is huge potential for backlash.

Short Term Chase Items.

These are items which act as a short term goal for players to aim towards. They are not intended to take a long time to acquire and could have several methods of acquisition. They should provide a boost to player performance and they should be a good return on the time invested it takes to acquire them. These are the properties of a short term chase item:

  • They are not immediately obtainable, so players need to put some effort into obtaining them.
  • They are not difficult to obtain, so players may have to farm up to a week to obtain them, but is not expected to farm for months.
  • They provide an increase to player performance. A player needs to feel like it is worth their time to obtain these items on the merit of the item itself and not because of the status the item provides (unlike long term chase items).
  • They can be gated behind luck, but if they are, the time to acquire them should be intended to be on the shorter end not the longer end, so that the players who are unlucky don’t end up taking months to obtain them.

Short term chase items are not solely aimed at end game players or trophy hunters, they are aimed towards casuals and veterans as well and play a part of regular character progression. As a result of this, there should be different types of these items, to cater to the different levels of players. Masterwork items (when they are relevant) acts as a good example of a short term chase items for veteran players. A player wanting to buy them from a crafted can realistically grind out the amount of AD they need to purchase masterwork equipment in 1-2 weeks. Items from hunts or the Enduring Boots act as good examples of short term chase items. In general, I think Neverwinter does a good job of creating short term chase items, however there are some cases where I feel items were intended to be short term chase items, but ended up taking longer to acquire than they should.

For example, if you want a specific piece of Ebonized gear from MEs, depending on how unlucky you are, you could end up spending over a month trying to obtain a piece. This is because of the size of the drop pool relative to the number of items dropping. If you wanted a specific piece, your chances were low, even though you have a decent chance to get a piece, trying to get specific pieces could take long. I think if they had added more ways to bias the chances (more runes) then this problem would have been alleviated.

✪ Content Gating and Matchmaking.

Content Gating is the method used by the game to prevent players from entering content they are not ready for. Matchmaking is the system used to try and match players together so that they can complete an instance.

Problems with Content Gating and Matchmaking.

The problem with how content gating is done in most games, including Neverwinter, is that it is difficult to create a metric that accurately predicts what content a player is able to do. Neverwinter uses Item Level, which does not work because what item level does is it tells you how many stats a player has, it does not tell you if those stats are useful or if they are a good player at all. A player could have 200,000 deflect, have a completely useless build and have 26,000 Item Level. They would not be able to contribute in dungeons in any meaningful way, but if you looked at their Item Level, it would say they are capable of doing the content. Another issue with Item Level is that a player could have a much lower Item Level than the entry requirement but have well distributed stats and be able to finish the content, but they would not meet the minimum so they would not be able to enter. In short, the problems are as follows:

  • Item Level does not reflect player performance.
  • Players treat the minimum Item Level as a guarantee of content completion.
  • The queue system does not adequately match players in such a way so that they have a good chance to finish.

Even if you were to do away with Item Level and instead have a calculated “performance potential” stat, based off of their ratings, which was to act as a content gate, it would still have the same problem as the minimum performance potential required, is still probably a lot lower than what most people can actually perform at.

Solutions for Content Gating.

(credits to Janne for the original idea, it is better than my own.)

I would no longer use Item Level as the sole entrance requirement and instead create a content gating system that is based on content completion in addition to just player statistics. The easiest dungeon a player would reach, would only be gated by level. However, after that, the fun begins.

Dungeons Tiers would be gated by an MMR rating. Players would have 2 different MMR ratings, as follows (note, the numbers given for now are examples and not the actual numbers recommended for use).

Rating Requires to modify
Solo Queue publicly alone
Group Queue publicly in a group with 3 or more people.
Negative Score. Abandoning an instance or initiating a vote kick which is unsuccessful increases this by some amount.

The ratings system is taken conceptually from MMR/Elo systems but modified to suit our needs. A player will gain score in the Solo MMR rating or group one by completing content, Completing a dungeon for the first time will earn them, for example, 100 points, and subsequent runs 50. Once you unlock something newer, the amount that the old queue gives will be diminished, for example, to 25 and the new queue will start at the old maximum (in this example, 100 points). Failure to complete a run in many cases will increase the negative score (there may be exceptions to this), other behaviors can also cost some increase in that score, for example initiate a kick that ends with a failure. A persons eligibility to enter some queue will be determined by combining the appropriate Solo or Group score with their “negative” score When different queues will have different score requirements, for example:

  • Random Dungeon – 0
  • Random Skirmish – 2,000
  • Random Epic Dungeon – 5,000
  • Random Trial – 10,000

The score would be determined by taking the hardest possible tier of publicly queued content, assigning it a fraction representing how difficult it is relative to the hardest tier, then multiplying that by the total pool to gain its entrance rating. The easiest queue would always have an entrance rating of 0 and the hardest tier will have some value which is high enough to create a wide enough range in between to represent player progression. Everything in between will be some multiple of the highest and a fraction representing how hard it is in relation to the hardest. For example if the hardest tier had a rating of 10,000 and this tier of queue was 60% as hard, it would have a rating of 6,000. The requirements are always determined relative to the newest hardest queue available. If a new tier of difficulty is added, everything else is adjusted relative to that accordingly, so the system is future proof.

Additional systems functionality:

  • Over time, the negative component would decay, so that the total component would increase again.
  • A player’s score will start above 0, at some value between the lowest entrance requirement and the next tier (for example, 1,000)
  • Once you unlock a new tier, running content in the old tier will no longer increase your scores.
  • Once you reach the maximum, your positive component will no longer increase.
  • Eligibility = Positive Score-Negative Score > Requirement. If you build up a high enough negative score, it will temporarily disable dungeons that you are no longer eligible for. This is to discourage toxic behavior.
  • The queue system would try to match people around some average Total score. So say someone with the minimum score required to enter queues and someone with the maximum possible queues, it will try to match these, to find some middle ground. The purpose of this is to increase the completion rate.
  • The score would not be visible to the public, a player could only see their own score.
  • Item level would still exist, and dungeons would still require some modicum of ilvl, but it would also require a high enough MMR rating to enter.
  • If players try to queue in a group of 3 or more, it uses their group score and if they queue as less than that it uses their solo score.
  • Private queues would have no entry requirements.

The result of this is as follows:

  • Players would need to run easier dungeons before they could unlock harder dungeons.
  • Players would be discouraged from abandoning queues or kicking others, due to taking the score penalty.
  • Over time, queues should become more and more successful as player’s scores normalize to what they should be.
  • If a player feels they are capable of doing a dungeon below the minimum requirements, they can make a private group to attempt it if they wish to do so.

This then provides people with a useful metric when making groups.

An example of how this would work is, say if 8 people with a score of 5,000 queue for a dungeon, 1 person with a score of 3,000 queues and 1 person with a score of 7,000 queues. The dungeon is an entry level of 2,000 and the next tier up requires 4,000. The game will try to match the 3,000 with the 7,000, because it wants to put the highest with the lowest and then it will put in 3 of the 5,000’s. The other 5,000s would all get bunched together.

In addition to that, you could have an extra page on your character sheet that had the following statistics, by default, these would be private but you could toggle them public if you wished to do so:

  • Number of times the player has beaten each dungeon.
  • Number of times the player has beaten each dungeon without anyone dying.
  • Fastest completion time for each dungeon.
  • Number of times a player has abandoned a dungeon instance (failed the run).

These statistics would not be used anywhere, but a player may want to review their performance and this is a nice way to do so.

Problems with the Solution.

The problem with this solution is mainly in the implementation, tweaking numbers to set the brackets correctly, so that advancement does not occur too quickly or too slowly so that you end up with a decent representation of where a player should be.

✪ Slots in Items.

Problems with Slots in Items.

The way enchanting items works in Neverwinter is antiquated, particularly when it comes to loadouts. Switching between items is a chore involving multiple clicks to unslot and reslot enchantments and should be made more convenient.

Solutions for Slots in Items.

First, they should remove slots from items and instead embed them into the UI. Changing items changes the type of slots available or enables/disables slots. For example, if you have a radiant enchantment slotted in an offensive slot and you switch to an item with a defensive slot in that area, it swaps the effect from offensive to defensive. If an item is not equipped, then those enchantment slots are disabled, however the enchantments are still in the slot in the character sheet, they just provide no bonus until there is an item slotted there with a valid enchantment slot. I would then remove the gold cost of switching enchantments, to better cater towards loadouts. This is a rough mock up of how such a UI could work.

Problems with the Solution.

This implementation could remove a valuable gold sink, however I think that if that is an issue there are ways to work around that, for example a pay forward system that allows you to pay in advance for X loadout switches. Another potential problem is if you want to design items with variable enchantment slots, for example 4 enchantment slots on 1 item, this UI does not cater for that.

✪ Player Vs Player Content.

Disclaimer, at no point has Neverwinter PVP truly interested me. So this perspective comes from someone who has no interest in how PVP is currently implemented in the game, talking about what would potentially get them interested in it.

Problems with Player Vs Player Content.

Here is a list of the problems plaguing PVP in Neverwinter:

  • Matchmaking works poorly.
  • There is no way to spectate games.
  • PVE and PVP balance is not separate.
  • PVP lacks diversity in maps.
  • PVP lacks many fundamental game modes, you cannot even easily challenge people to a duel.
  • There is little incentive to participate in PVP and in the past when there was incentive it was implemented poorly.
  • There is no unranked PVP.
  • Latency.
  • There is no group ranking for group game modes.

Touching on some of these a bit more, the fact that skills are not properly separated between Player Vs Environment (PVE) and PVP content creates a situation that when a balance pass is made either in PVE or in PVP, it will likely have a knock on effect in the other type of content, where a problem did not exist with that skill and now it is either over performing or under performing as a result. Items not having a different functionality in PVP is also a problem, since historically there have been many items which cause problems in PVP which were not a problem in PVE, for example, Stronghold Overloads.

On top of that, not many resources are dedicated to PVP maps, so PVP players are left having to play the same maps mod after mod with no new zone to look at. Furthermore, there should be multiple PVP modes, for example Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch. The last 1 being the mode I personally would be the most interested in. Not all players are interested in the same game modes and at least from my perspective, I prefer game modes where whether I succeed or fail depends solely on my performance and not the performance of other players.

The lack of spectator mode, makes it difficult to engage an audience with PVP. This is an important factor, because the audience plays a huge part of the PVP environment. People watching their competitor of choice, commenting on games and adjudicating are all part of the PVP life cycle and right now, all of that is missing from Neverwinter.

Matchmaking however, is a sore thumb. The problem with matchmaking is twofold. If you have a proper ELO system which tries to match players against players who are of an equivalent skill and gear level, it slows down queue times. If you have a matchmaking system that only tries to create groups, then you have a problem of players who are not very good at PVP, or players who are under geared getting curb stomped. While that is fun for the curb stomper for a while, most of them will eventually get bored of doing it and get frustrated that they have no real challenge. For most of the players being curbed stomped, it is just an all round unpleasant experience. The problem here is that, if you have too small of a community, the long queue times will cause players to quit PVP because they cannot get a proper match going and if you have poor matchmaking, they will quit out of frustration, so it is a negative reinforcement loop. In short, here is a list of problems with PVP.

Solutions for Player Vs Player Content.

The first problem that should have been tackled ages ago is splitting the balance of powers between PVP and PVE, this way PVP players don’t get upset when something is balanced in PVE and PVE players don’t get upset when something is balanced in PVP. Furthermore, there are many items which are not balanced in PVP, which are fine in PVE, which need some PVP adjustments because they are ruining the game in PVP. The addition of game modes and maps is also just a case of resources allocated to actually adding the bare skeleton of what is required to have a proper functioning PVP system, so I won’t discuss that too much. Right now, I do not think there is any reasonable way to tackle matchmaking until more players are involved in PVP. It is something that needs to be tackled, but trying to change it now would just exacerbate the problem. I think that by introducing an unranked PVP mode, adding more PVP maps and putting much more effort into PVP balance, you could slowly generate some more interest in PVP and bring the game mode back to life, at which point matchmaking as an issue could be tackled. Right now, trying to create item level brackets or skill based queuing would fragment the PVP player base so much that queue times would be impossible.

Likely the best way to engage people with PVP now, is to add another page to the character sheet which would be for a new pvp mode, which would have normalized gear for everyone who wanted to queue for it. This could serve as a more fair ranked pvp mode for now, since right now there is not an active enough player base for a proper matchmaking system to match players properly anyhow. Something else that might help is more organized PVP tournaments by cryptic, with rewards, not only for winning first, but also for participating. Something that is important for this however, particularly because Neverwinter uses Domination as its default format, is to have a team ranking and not just a solo ranking. People queue for domination in teams and it should be possible for teams to receive a rank and a team queue system. Ranking team play on individual performance does not make much sense and the system should be improved to include team performance.

A big part of trying to revive PVP is going to be adding an easy way to spectate the game. Audience engagement is a big part of PVP, having the ability to adjudicate matches, for people to cheer for teams or individuals, etc. The audience is, in a way, more important than the people participating. As of such, adding the ability to spectate matches is imperative.

For unranked PVP, I would add a participation award to try and get people to at least try PVP. For ranked PVP, there would be no participation award, but there would be a month end reward for the person who performed the best in each of the different ranked PVP modes. The reason to add unranked PVP is to try and coax people who would otherwise not do PVP, to try it out. Latency being something that gives an advantage to some players over others is not something that I think can be tackled at any point at all, simply because the only solutions would either be ping normalization, which would favor the person with the worst latency, or adding servers in different regions, which would splinter the player base.

Problems with the Solution.

The main problem with trying to fix PVP is there aren’t many players interested in it to begin with right now and you if you change it in the wrong way it will just outright die. Also, many of the problems related to PVP cannot be fixed until PVP actually has a larger active player base, which means investing into a system that has no guarantee of having any tangible return.

✪ Systems Documentation.

Problems with Systems Documentation.

Systems within the game are poorly documented. This is a trait which many MMOs are guilty of, but which is done particularly well by single player RPGs. All tooltips and references should have all terminology standardized. All cases of, “more” for example should refer to multiplication and all cases of “increased” should refer to addition as an easy example. All debuffs should be referred to as a single thing, for example, “enemy defense reductions,” and should not have multiple terminologies. The current way systems are documented not only causes player confusion, but makes it more difficult to report bugs as whether or not something is a bug is unclear.

Solutions for Systems Documentation.

An in game encyclopedia should be added, documenting all of the gameplay mechanics. It should include counter stats, how the various mechanics interact with each other, the order of operations within the game, damage calculations, etc. It does not need to include information about monsters attacks (an in depth bestiary), as that is something which should be left to a player to discover, but systems documentation should be on the development side, not on the player side. Power tooltips should be concise, lists telling you exactly what the powers do. The current ones are a big improvement from before M16, but there is still a lot of work to go. Furthermore, when hovering over an item in the combat log, it should give you a brief damage calculation with the option to press another button to see an in depth calculation showing the damage resolution. Here are some examples from other games which illustrate this well.

Example of a skill tooltip.

Note, you can click on this tooltip to link to further detailed information. In game it could maybe open the Encyclopedia page for this.

Example of hovering over something briefly in the combat log.

Example of combat log tooltip after pressing shift.

Example of the in game Encyclopedia.

I cannot really see any problems caused by improving this system, other than the headache developing it would cause, so I won’t be listing a problems with this implementation for this section.

✪ Competitive PVE.

This is something which doesn’t really exist in Neverwinter officially at this time, so I can’t list the problems with it. It is a pity because it isn’t really hard to implement or facilitate and there is definitely a player sub type which finds this type of game play appealing.

How I would Implement Competitive PVE.

Competitive PVE traditionally comes in the form of speed runs and races. What I would do in Neverwinter is add a ladder for PVE which works as follows:

  • Each month, a selection of 4 different dungeons is rotated in as the, “Speed run Dungeons.” For the first week of the month, running 1 dungeon will put you on the ladder, the next week, the next dungeon, all the way until the final week.
  • During that month, running the dungeons will list your group’s completion time, as well as the group composition on a leader board.
  • At the end of each day, each member of the group which completed the Speed run Dungeon for that week the fastest will be awarded with a BoE Belt slot item, which is only obtainable from coming first in the race. The belt slot item would be designed to be the best available belt slot item, so it is a desirable item to obtain.
  • In addition to that, each player in the winning team on that day would be awarded 5 point towards their personal score. Each time they win a successive speed run of that dungeon that month, the score increases and they gain an additional belt slot item to sell or keep.
  • Any player who participates but does not come first, gains 1 point per day they participate.
  • The times will be reset at the end of each day, but the score will keep accumulating per player.
  • At the end of the month the player (or players) with the highest score get a special mount, which has alternate art for that race season.
  • Any player with over a specific score is then awarded an alternate art companion as a race reward.
  • The teams with the fastest run over all throughout the entire month for each of the 4 dungeons would get a special reward.
  • At the end of the month, the ladder scores would reset and a new selection of dungeons would become the speed run dungeons for the new season, with a new set of rewards.

This provides an incentive to race for people who like racing and it also provides an incentive to participate for people who are more casual and know they won’t win.

Problems with Competitive PVE.

Player toxicity is likely an issue with implementing such a system, but I am personally of the belief that you should not let a few bad apples spoil it for everyone. It provides an outlet for competitive PVE players, which would help with player retention, which in my opinion outweighs this possible negative. It would require a much more heavy handed approach to be taken with exploits, as well as a much more proactive approach taken to balance however, otherwise the system would not function well.

✪ User Interface

There are many problems with user interface, so it is broken down into sections, to address each of them individually.

User Interface 1 – The Mail System.

Problems with The Mail System.

The user interface is exceptionally poor and needs improvement. Here is a list of problems present in the mail system currently.

  • There is no way to search for a mail from a specific person other than to go through all the mails manually.
  • There is no way to search for mails before a specific date.
  • There is no way to mass select mails for deletion. There should be a way to select all mails from Cryptic at the very least to delete them.
  • Combined with the point above, there is a hard limit of 200 mails in the mailbox which means if you are mass buying items on the Auction House, you need to spend a lot of time deleting mails from Cryptic.
  • The only way to send mails to multiple people is the guild mail system. If you wanted to send mails to multiple people who are either not in the guild, or who are but without mailing the entire guild, you need to mail them 1 by 1.
  • There is no way to send mails to a specific guild rank.
  • There is no way to set reminders or schedule mails to be sent by a specific date. If you are scheduling guild events, you cannot have an automated mail sent out on the date of the event reminding people that the event is taking place.

Solutions for The Mail System.

First off, they should implement a search feature in the mail system so that we can search for mails from people or for mail before a specific date. They should also add a checkbox next to every mail that allows you to select multiple of them so you can delete many of them at once. There should also be a button which allows you to select all mails, which works in tandem with the search, so any mails which are currently filtered for can all be selected at once without selecting the ones not filtered for. The option to send mails to a specific guild rank should also be added, because sometimes, you want to mail people of 1 rank and not others. Finally, they should add the option to send mails to multiple people at once, however when you do so, it should disable the ability to send items (to prevent duping exploits where 1 item is sent to multiple people at once). Finally, they should add mail scheduling. Here is an example:

User Interface 2 – The Auction House.

Problems with The Auction House.

Like the mail system, it suffers from many user interface issues. Beyond that however, there are also many bugs with the Auction House that need to be resolved. For example, sometimes if you search for an item without selecting the category for the item, the item will show up, but not all of that item which is posted will show up and only some of the most expensive will show. Or on consoles, the fact that the default search result is bid with no buyout and it isn’t obvious how to sort it by cheapest buyout, has the knock on effect that players end up over paying for items. Here is a list of problems that need resolving with regards to the Auction House.

  • The posting fee should be removed for everyone. Having this as a VIP only feature creates an unhealthy split in the player base.
  • When you take down an item early, you should have to pay the current posting fee. This solves the problem of the  mass undercut spam which currently exists without it penalizing new players who just want to post their item.
  • If the item expires naturally without selling, you do not have to pay the posting fee.
  • The current search features are archaic and do not work well, in particular, search options exist for stats which do not exist.

  • If you search without an item category selected and you search with an item category selected (for example, gloves) it will return different results for searching for an item with an exact name. For example, if you search for, “Radiant Enchantment, Rank 14” without selecting the enchantment category, it will show less Radiant Enchantments then if you had selected the Radiant Enchantment category.
  • You have the option to search by 1, 2 and 3 different enchantment types, but searching by 2 and 3 returns the same results.
  • You cannot search for pet gear by stats or item level.
  • You cannot search for insignias by stats.
  • If you switch to the Consignments tab and then switch back to the Browse tab, it forgets all the details of your previous search with the exception of the item name. This means that if you are making bulk consignments, you have to keep re-selecting the category every time you want to search for another item. Say for example you are bulk selling Insignias and want to check the price on 150 different types of Insignias.
  • On consoles it defaults to sorting the ah to bid and not buyout.
  • The Search by Name function should use the same algorithm the Find Player one uses. For some reason, AH search looks for an exact match on the input string, and not keywords like the Find Player one does.

Solutions for The Auction House.

What a successful auction house UI needs to do is the following:

  • Allow you to filter by item type.
  • Allow you to filter by the level requirement of the item.
  • Allow you to filter by the stats on an item.
  • (preferably) Allow you to filter by what stats you do NOT want on an item.
  • Allow you to filter by attributes like Weapon Damage.
  • Allow you to filter by Class.
  • Allow you to filter by Item Level.
  • Client side cached auto complete.
  • The ability to create favorite search results.
  • The ability to set alerts.
  • (optionally) Allow you to filter by seller.

Note, I leave the filter by seller as optional, because arguments can be made both for it (allows buying from friends if you want) and against it (allows targeted naming/shaming on the auction house and other negative behavior).

Here is an example of a successfully implemented trade house UI, from another game (you can view it alternatively here):

This UI allows all of the above filters of the above filters and if you want to, you could search for an item in real time. You could type in the name of the item you want, put in the maximum price you would pay and search for it. Then, once the results came up, if none were available, you could tell it to, “activate live search” and it would keep searching for that item until it was posted, then send you a notification. Now, say you wanted to search for an item that has multiple stats. Every time you add a stat filter, it automatically increments the button, allowing you to add another stat filter and search by more. An example, adding life and elemental resistances:

On the right hand side, you can see the stat filters. This allows you to search for as many different stats on an item as you like. The filter group allows you to even further refine your search. Say for example you want to search for an item which has power on it, but not critical strike, you could have 1 filter group with power and another filter group that is “not these” with critical strike in it and it would then show items with power but not crit. On the site above, you can do that, as follows:

This is searching for a bow, that has cold resistance, but not the life stat.

Above, I outlined a list of things that a Neverwinter search would need to be able to do, it was as follows:

  • Allow you to filter by item type.
  • Allow you to filter by the level requirement of the item.
  • Allow you to filter by the stats on an item.
  • (preferably) Allow you to filter by what stats you do NOT want on an item.
  • Allow you to filter by attributes like Weapon Damage.
  • Allow you to filter by Class.
  • Allow you to filter by Item Level.
  • Client side cached auto complete.
  • The ability to create favorite search results.
  • The ability to set alerts.
  • (optionally) Allow you to filter by seller.

The search function in those pictures is an example that could, with modification, meet all of those requirements. Obviously, you could remove many of the filters that are there as they are not needed

Then on the Consignments tab, we need some more options as follows:

 

  • The first automatically matches that item you are about to post’s price to the lowest current price on the auction house, the second option undercuts by a fixed amount, example, 10 ad. This is a huge time save for people posting items in bulk.
  • We then need a button which removes all current consignments from the auction house and places them in our bags, for players with many items currently consigned.
  • The mailbox needs an option to delete all empty mails from cryptic, due to the 200 mail limit. When mass buying items it is frustrating to deal with.
  • Something I forgot to add in this picture, which would be great, is a “repeat x number of times” option, which would keep posting the items that many number of times, if you are wanting to post items in bulk, until you run out of items to post.

User Interface 3 – Miscellaneous.

Aside from the 2 major eyesores, the mail system and the auction house, there are other minor UI deficiencies. I won’t break this down into problem and solution, but rather list the 2 side by side.

  • Invocation requires you to log into every character to do it. There should be some account wide method for invocation.
  • There should be a single store selling all the different campaign keys. Right now if you want to buy the keys, you need to go into every campaign menu, one by one, open the store and buy keys.
  • You should be able to create notes on the character select menu next to each of your characters. Useful to keep track of what each character is storing.
  • The ability to move players up and down in queue groups without having to kick and re-invite them.

✪ Discounts and Double Currencies.

Discounts play a huge role in Neverwinter, to the point that the economy is based entirely around them. Players save zen for the Jubilee or Black Friday, converting all of their AD for those 2 events to buy items from the Zen Store, which they then sell later for profit. Players save AD for Wondrous Bazaar discounts, where they then buy items from the Wondrous Bazaar and sell back later for profit. Players wait for discounts to Guild Marks to purchase items for guild marks cheaper, to use for crafting later. Players wait for 2x shards before opening 1000’s of boxes containing shards. The list goes on. The entire economy depends on discounts.

Problems with Discounts and Double Currencies.

The problem with events that discount items or double the amounts of a currency earned in Neverwinter is twofold. In the case of events that reduce the cost of items temporarily, the issue is that it sets the new base line price of the item. The items value is only the value at which it is when it is discounted the most. This has huge implications for the in game economy and in fact, it underpins how many players (myself included) make a massive amount of in game currency. You buy items when they are discounted the most and then you sell them to other players when there is no discount. The problem is, regardless of whether or not the discount existed, the demand for these items is essentially the same. You still need the same amount of preservation wards to upgrade an item roughly and you still need the same amount of marks, so the presence of these discounts essentially devalues the power of the Wondrous Bazaar as an AD sink.

Furthermore, the presence of these discounts essentially prevents a small minority in the economy from buying anything outside of these discounts, essentially holding onto their currency outside of the discount, buying it during the discount and then multiplying their currency outside of the discount by selling the items they bought. This is unhealthy in the long term, because it provides a very easy way to funnel AD into the hands of a very small number of players. Furthermore, it contributes to the growing problem of the backlog, where zen is always more desirable to have then AD, because you can use it to buy more items, to sell them again, to essentially multiply how much AD you have. It is a self reinforcing loop which will inevitably lead to currency inflation, regardless of how many AD sinks exist in the game.

In the case of events like 2x Shards or Guild Mark discounts, the same is true. If players are crafting items, in order to maximize profit, you have to open 1000’s of boxes with shards in them during 2x shards, then convert those shards into guild marks during 2x GM. The result of this is that players who have enough currency to do so are competitive, whilst everyone else is unable to realistically participate in the market. These events dictate the way the entire crafting economy lives.

Solution for Events.

I would do away with all events of this type. I feel they do not add anything meaningful to the game and rather they encourage degenerate game play. If the developers wish to provide a discount to the cash store (which makes sense to do in my opinion) they should rather offer discounts on the cost of buying zen for real money rather then discounts on items within the cash store. The Wondrous Bazaar should never be discounted, it acts as an AD sink and reducing the effectiveness is only preventing AD from leaving the economy. Shards and guild marks should also be left alone, because providing discounts to them only kills crafting for 99% of the players and leaves it to the hands of a few people (of which I am one of).

✪ Gathering Crafting Materials.

Note that this doesn’t address the state of crafted gear, as that is addressed in itemization, it addresses the process of gathering materials.

Problems with Gathering Crafting Materials.

The first problem with crafting, particularly on PC, is how easy it is to bot the resource gathering process. In addition to that, it is mostly a chore to do and entire swaths of resources are very quickly made obsolete. Whilst I think the process of crafting items is engaging enough, the gathering aspect needs a lot of work and effort needs to be made on the crafting side to retain the usefulness of old resources.

Solutions for Gathering Crafting Materials.

Instead of resource nodes being located in the over world that you open with charts, I would add a new dungeon which created through procedural generation which would work as follows.

  1. The mode would be a 5 man instance.
  2. The majority of each instance within the dungeon is procedurally generated. Reaching the end of the instance will allow you to go on to a deeper level. Every 20 levels down you go, there is a handcrafted boss encounter.
  3. As you go deeper, enemies have larger and larger multipliers to their damage and HP. To counter this, players can invest AD or Guild Marks into 2 additional stats, which would exist on their stat sheets and counter these inflated values, but would have no function outside of this mode.
  4. Each zone would have the staircase up to the previous zone, the staircase down to the next level and then a branching corridor on the same level, the purpose of this will be outlined in the rewards section.
  5. Every 50 floors will feature a new biome, with different aesthetics. Some biomes will only occur after specific depths are achieved. Once you get deep enough, some of the biomes would stop occurring.After a group decides to stop progressing together, it “saves” your progress as the furthest zone your group reaches.
  6. If any member of that group then decides to continue later with another group of 5, the next group can start from the furthest point reached by any 1 person. This comes with the downside that those players may not have sufficient resistances and penetrations to progress at that level.

So, how is this system rewarding? Well I would do it like this.

  1. Masterwork charts no longer send players questing in the over world, and are removed from the game. Instead, rare professions nodes are found within this new system.
  2. The deeper the depth you are at, the more likely you are to receive good rewards from nodes and the more of them you receive per node.
  3. The node locations are not, “fixed,” unlike they are currently. Instead they are procedurally generated within each biome. A zone could have anywhere between 0-10 nodes. .
  4. The boss encounter zones every 20 levels would then provide access to boss drops used for crafting.

This additional system has the following advantages.

  1. It gives players something to do outside of the core game play, without increasing their power level above the level of the core game.
  2. It creates a new AD sink (increasing your offensive+defensive stat, in order to progress further within the mode).
  3. It makes farming profession materials completely unbottable by any bots currently existing within Neverwinter.
  4. It adds an element of game play to masterwork professions, aside from just repetitive tasks.
  5. It gives players something to do during the low periods of mods, when there isn’t much else to do.
  6. It retains the current guild mark sink, while arguably making it even stronger than before for deep progression.

Then,  at some arbitrary depth (lets say 1000 for example) there would be a world boss. The boss would feature the following.

  1. Quadrillions of HP (it needs enough to survive 1000’s of people beating on it over multiple fight periods).
  2. There would only be a single, shared HP bar for the boss, but it would exist in multiple instances.
  3. Upon killing the boss, the entire dungeon mode will be reset and people will be rewarded both on how much they invested into boons etc and on how much they contributed to killing the boss. The reward for AD investment will be in the form of crafting reagents and the reward for killing the boss will range for new recipe unlocks/mounts to new crafting tools/artisans. The reset completely resets all progression, removing the boons payed for to make going deeper possible.
  4. The zone would be accessible by groups of 20 at a time. Once a 21st person joins, they are put in a new instance.
  5. The zone will not always be available and instead be available at the start of the hour, for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, the bosses hp is frozen and it “flees”. The idea is a prolonged boss fight that takes several weeks and 1000’s of people fighting it for it to die.
  6. Each time the boss is defeated, a unique title for that specific generation of the boss is handed out, as well as a unique item.
  7. If any group reaches the boss, a portal that leads directly to the boss is made available to everyone. This way the actual boss fight becomes accessible to all, even if they are not interested in farming materials on the trip down. The rewards from the boss fight would be different from the rewards from charts.

This adds a unique element to the progression of this system.

This system rewards all types of players. It rewards the new players because they can farm on the top, easier layers and sell materials to crafters. It rewards hardcore players because they can progress deeply for better drop chances and it rewards guilds who are in the process of upgrading, by giving them an infinite guild mark sink with the chance of gaining profits. It also adds a unique boss to the game, for people who like boss killing.

Problems with the Solution.

The main issue with my proposal is that it adds new stats to the game, creating stat bloat. Players need to learn all the different types of stats and how they work. Players who want to collect resources alone might also take issue with this, but forcing collection as a group activity might be a good thing as it could lead to community engagement, thus giving players another reason to play the game (the friends they make in the process) thus increasing player retention. Aside from that, in my opinion there aren’t really any strong drawbacks to this system, it fleshes out resource gathering a lot, making it an actual part of game play.

✪ Appendix I: Changes I am not proposing.

This is just a list of changes to the game which I am not proposing, as I feel they would fundamentally change the way the game plays and thus are not in the spirit of Neverwinter.

Permanence.

This refers to your characters and items within the world. As it currently stands, so long as the game goes on, you will always have the items you acquire, they are not going to magically be taken away from you. I personally feel a game system without object permanence and infrequent server wipes could solve many problems in MMOs, so that both new players and old players are starting on a fresh page. I also feel however, that implementing this would go against the core design of Neverwinter. Neverwinter would not be Neverwinter if this was implemented, it would require large overhauls to many systems to make it work, the zen market could not function in its current state at all for example and thus this is something that I feel should not be changed in this game.

Feats.

In my opinion, neither the old or the new feats system offered much in the way of interesting character building. I would be far more interested in a feats system akin to the skill tree in Path of Exile or the talent trees in other action RPGs, however, implementing such a system, while not only a nightmare to balance, would fundamentally change the way the game is played. This is something that realistically, a game has to be designed for from the get go and you cannot implement retroactively, as design decisions need to be made around the fact that it exists. Sadly, I do not think Neverwinter would be Neverwinter if it had an interesting feats system.

Removing Content Gating.

I do not feel that Item Level (or any other forms of Content Gating) are necessarily required at all for content. I think that the ability to random queue for dungeons should not exist and players should be forced to manually make groups for any content they want to queue for. I also feel that the only deciding factor as to whether or not a group can finish a dungeon is whether they are good enough to complete it and not whether or not they are able to enter it due to artificial limitations imposed by developers. I acknowledge however that such a system would create a completely different dynamic to the game as it is today and it would not be in the spirit of Neverwinter to do this.

Item Degradation.

A repair system could help alleviate (and solve) many of the issues which exist within Neverwinter. It acts as a currency sink and you could use it as a method to make old items obsolete. I do not think it is something you can just tack on to a game at a later date however and that doing so would cause significant backlash.

✪ Closing Words.

This started out as just a few ideas and it quickly exploded into walls of text. I want to once again give thanks to Janne, for taking the time to read through each section multiple times (seriously), giving suggestions, as I went over and changed things, arguing with me for hours and helping to polish this up. There are probably still things which can be improved, but I didn’t expect either of us to be able to cover everything on a document this large. I also want to thank anyone who took the time to read this far, its a lot of text, which is mostly dry, on some largely esoteric topics. I don’t expect any of these suggestions to see implementation, but I would hope at least that they help to inspire future improvements which can be made to this game.

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Bert
Bert
3 months ago

Care to explain this ? “1. Items that have bonuses, have half of the counter stats of an equivalent item level item that does not have stats.” If an equivalent item level item does not have stats on it, it’s an useless item. You probably meant “does not have bonus”. But then, why do you want to put half of the –counter stats— on the gear with the bonus ? I think you meant half of the stats, not the counter-stats. Unless I understood it all wrong and you meant what you wrote, I need some explanation if that’s the… Read more »

Aandre_the_Giant
Aandre_the_Giant
3 months ago

This is a great read and something that Chris should utilize as a legitimate quick-study in where the game needs to go. There is spot on, well laid out advice to follow and insight on pitfalls to avoid at all cost (drastic pvp changes – even the wrong subtle change can wreck havoc on the pve side). Well done!! ALL future updates should take into consideration these two factors: IS IT FUN? and will at add to PLAYER LONGEVITY? This is what Tyrs Paladium looks for when we judge if we are going to launch a chapter for a particular… Read more »

Oremonger
Oremonger
3 months ago

Sharp,
Thank you for taking the time to write up such detailed and well thought out feedback and criticism. If even 1/2 of the ideas and suggestions you make in this post were implemented Neverwinter would be a much better game and probably far more popular than it is today. I hope that Chris takes the time to read it and takes it to heart when making decisions about the future of Neverwinter.

FriarJon
FriarJon
3 months ago

Yes to pretty much all of it! I hope Chris Whiteside sees this article. * The procedurally generated crafting/world dungeon would be amazing. Sounds something like Greater Rifts in Diablo 3 but with profession nodes. Procedurally generated content would be a huge investment in dev resources but is something with an equally huge payoff for reusable content generation and replayability. * I agree the 2x and half cost currency events need to be removed. They only serve to make the game tedious as everyone hoards/binges around the events. * PvE and PvP MUST be completely separated!! (both skill and item… Read more »

Luke Mutter
Luke Mutter
3 months ago

Thenx for your post I read all of it thenx. I have a question tho why the name sharp?