James Martini archive

Category : Game Design (1)

Player stats and min/maxing

Categories: Game Design, Gaming
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Published on: July 23, 2015

One of the things I noticed when playing Diablo 3 is that you no longer allocate points to stats when you level up. The justification for that for Diablo 3 makes perfect sense i.e. that players would identify the optimum stats for their class and then stack their main stat and their HP stat and leave everything else as a dump stat. That is exactly what happened in Diablo 2 and Blizzard learned that lesson well. Stats allocation was made redundant by the game mechanics that tied class abilities to one or two stats.

The problem I have with this is that it is ultimately uninteresting. There is no down side for a tank who is only slightly smarter than a bowl of oatmeal, he’s there to act as a meat shield and the player who’s driving him isn’t made dumber by his stats selection. Therefore, all tanks stack endurance, all rogues stack agility, all mages stack intelligence, all prists stack wisdom and all dps warriors stack strength with everyone stacking just enough endurance that they don’t fold when some mob gives them a dirty look.

Min/maxing has become the rule in MMOs because the various stats are so strongly bound to a particular class. Take agility for example. It’s generally the rogue / melee dps stat because it increases avoidance and chance to crit for melee. There is no reason why a mage or priest type character would put a single point in agility. It simply doesn’t affect any of their mechanics. Fast forward to end game and people start complaining when gear has stats that are not optimized for min/maxing a particular class. Why would heavy armor have wisdom or leather gloves intelligence? The gear does not allow players to optimally min/max for a particular role and so players feel cheated looking at those points ‘wasted’ on a stat that they are not stacking. The end result is that gear is designed to reinforce min/maxing and stacking primary role stats and the game loses a degree of freedom.

Ideally, I think that stats should play a more diverse role in game mechanics than they currently do. Players could continue to build the dumb, clumsy brute of a tank but a more interesting system would make that a challenging path to walk. Consider the following stats effects

Strength –
Primary effect: modifies melee damage
Secondary effect: modifies the number of bag slots available

Intelligence –
Primary effect: modifies spell damage and chance to crit
Secondary effect: modifies experience gain

Wisdom –
Primary effect: modifies mana pool
Secondary effect: modifies spell and stun resistance

Primary effect: modifies health
Secondary effect: modifies resistance to status effects like slows, roots

Primary effect: modifies avoidance and melee crit chance
Secondary effect: modifies movement speed

Primary effect: modifies reputation gain
Secondary effect: modifies NPC interactions and quest rewards

This adds only a single secondary effect to each stat but the effect is wide ranging. Our dumb brute of a tank who stacks nothing but strength and endurance will be slow to level, vulnerable to spell damage, moves slowly, is vulnerable to stuns and generally has a bad time attempting to gain reputation with NPC factions and gets the short end of the stick on quest rewards.

This is only a simple example intended to illustrate how even a minor change to how stats affect game mechanics opens the door for more player choice. Players are presented with choices and trade offs, do they increase melee damage at the expense of experience gain? Will that improved damage translate into a faster kill rate and thus offset the lower xp/kill ratio? Suddenly, a few points of intelligence on heavy armor doesn’t seem like such a waste.

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