How to To Address These Two Issues in Path of Exile?

Unfortunately, with a completely flat final difficulty, GGG encountered two problems: In order to be an end-game that you slowly improve your ability to play, it was very challenging and felt like a wall of difficulty to many players. They were concerned that they weren’t able to kill monsters in it and they died repeatedly.

Those players that could kill monsters quickly worked out the best farming areas that had a combination of weak monster AI and linear layouts. The Ledge was a great example of this.

To address these two issues, we added a light tapering to Merciless difficulty so that players were encouraged to play in harder areas.

The big issue that we faced when the end-game was in this state was staleness of the final areas. Players who wanted to find the best items and earn the most experience were forced to repeat the same few areas over and over. While the random levels were doing a lot of work, we needed a lot more variety. In the 0.8.6 patch, we added a special end-game called the Maelstrom of Chaos. This was a set of consecutive areas that tapered upwards in difficulty level, with random monsters and random tilesets (from a selection of eight).

While this improved the boredom issue of people playing the same areas over and over, it created an entirely new problem that we hadn’t seen before: content difficulty entitlement.

Players would finish the Merciless difficulty level and were excited to play in the Maelstrom of Chaos. Because the areas were connected together, they could easily skip the first ones by running through them to get to the harder content. This was fine when the players were able to handle the harder content, but it failed in reality. Players would watch streamers and get the impression that everyone was farming the hardest Maelstrom areas, so they’d rush there themselves and fail to kill anything. Many players expressed vocal concerns that the game was so unforgiving and difficult, despite the fact that there were easier areas to play while working up to the hard ones. For comparison, it’d be like players nowadays finishing Act Ten and expecting to immediately conquer red maps, being angry that the content killed them instantly.

I vividly remember the meeting we had where we first discussed this idea of content difficulty entitlement. The word “entitlement” usually has massively negative connotations, but it is a very accurate description of the situation that was occurring. It was quite frustrating, watching people intentionally sabotage their own progression and then getting angry about it. Eventually we realised the truth: the game design was at fault and needed to change. We needed to find a system that made players feel good about playing at the right level for their progression.

A topic that came up in this 2012 meeting was the idea of having there be a cost to enter a Maelstrom of Chaos area. We considered it almost like a wager – you pay a few PoE Orbs of Chance and then if you can handle the area, you are able to get its rewards. This would ideally prevent people from trying to do areas that were too hard for them (as they’d experiment with easier ones to work out where their profitability lay). We iterated on this idea until we suggested paying actual items with mods. We considered having a machine that you put a rare weapon into, where it creates an area that has mods based on the mods of the weapon. For example, if the weapon has a lot of damage, then the area deals more damage but drops more items. We iterated on this plan for a few hours until we realised that it was a lot more understandable if we introduced a new item type that had mods that specifically described how the area would be modified. We called these items Maps, and arranged them in tiers that were harder and harder to achieve. If you were lucky and rolled your maps well, you would find higher-tier ones to challenge yourself on when you were ready. Their economic cost would mean that players would only play them when they had a reasonable chance of success.

In the 0.9.11 patch, we replaced the Maelstrom of Chaos with the Map System. It greatly improved all of the above problems and was welcomed by players. This was the point in time that Path of Exile started its popularity gain that continues to this day.
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