I was reading a thread on the Everquest 2 forums yesterday about stat complexity (link to forums). The thread was a complaint about the stat complexity in the game and the fact that this was about to be significantly changed by stat re-balancing.
MMORPGs characters by their RPG heritage have lots of primary, secondary and even tertiary attributes to track and balance – arguably they are a good deal more complex than pen and paper characters since a computer is handling a lot of the mathematical grunt work behind the scenes. These stats are mostly granted through the gear that we loot from monsters, dungeons and raids. The hunt for ever better gear is a powerful motivator for many players.
So when developers decide, for balancing or stat-inflation reasons, to make swooping changes to the stats on armour or other items it can really throw players understanding of the game and their favourite classes for a loop. Some games have relatively simplistic stats in comparison (e.g. Tera or Eden Eternal) but a more old-school MMORPG like EQ2 has a wealth of stats – the image to the left is only a sample of them!
One of the other stories to come out of BlizzCon is the upcoming stat changes in the future Warlords of Draenor expansion for WoW. Various secondary stats on armour such as hit, parry, dodge will all be removed in this expansion simplifying the stats on armour (MMO Champion link, see section on Itemisation). Also the stat reforging system introduced during the Cataclysm expansion has permitted players to partial replace one stat with another more desirable one will also be removed from the game.
The stat complexity added by reforging gear, adding gems, enchantments and other permanent bonuses has led to specialist websites being created outside of the game, like Mr Robot.
Some players love the detail and flexibility of such character customisation. To others, like in the EQ2 thread I linked at the start, this is too much like playing with spreadsheets. I would argue that if the system is complex enough that you need an external, out-of-game website to help you customise your character then perhaps it has gone too far. But then the danger is always that simplification will lead to a slippery slope where the process of ‘dumbing down’ doesn’t stop until the game has lost some of its essence and character are all alike.
How much stat complexity is too much? Should stats in MMORPGs be simplified?