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Breaking Free of the End-Game

Unlike a lot of gamers, I really like to level. Questing is fun and seeing that golden ring light up around you character as you ding is satisfying like nothing else I’ve experienced to date. Heck, I liked leveling up before I even knew what questing was. Each new ding was a mark of power. I was getting somewhere.

Today, the goal of all of that isn’t to look forward to more leveling, but rather for it all to stop. The “real” game begins once you cap out. That’s an interesting sentiment because it implies that everything that comes before is just filler, to slow us down from getting there to quick.

Level Filler

Kill Ten Koala-Bears.

Now hold on a second. I take umbrage with that idea because it implies that what I enjoy the most is shallow. More than that, it implies that all MMOs before WoW were shallow. Doesn’t that seem just a little bit screwballed?

Let’s forget for a moment that WoW is, at its core, one of the most simplistic MMOs out there. But, believing that the raiding treadmill design philosophy is the best totally ignores everything on which it was based.

Take Ferrel, for example. He blames himself, for being one of the rare “super elite” that would raid competitively before WoW came along. He acknowledges in that post that most players did not ever get to the level cap. Yet, if you asked them, most would look back on their EQ days more fondly than anything that came after.

This idea that the leveling game is filler is a new one and, really, undermines what it’s all about.

The End-Game, As We Know It.

It’s kind of ironic then, that the game that propagated the idea of throwaway levels, is also the game that delivers them best. WoW has some of the most fun quest content and polished dungeons out there. Their design is self-defeating, however, because they constantly push people past everything they’ve worked to create.

More DOTS!

Everything under the umbrella of a raiding treadmill is about defeatism for the designers. At best, they can hope for 4-6 months of a raid-zone getting used. A year for 5-man dungeons. Every patch and expansion kills off the great work that came before it.

The Answer

While there’s something to be said for the revolving door end-game play provides, it’s pretty obvious that the design philosophy is flawed. End-game play forces vertical expansions. It forces gear resets and stat inflation. It creates a barrier to any new player coming into the game. If that player still chooses to climb the mountain of levels, they then have to overcome the rampant equipment segregation that’s proliferated since before they began.

Ferrel and I agree, the answer is in slowing down the leveling process.

He would choose to do this by bringing back grinding but I don’t think that’s necessary. The answer, in my opinion, is to drop the amount of XP you get from quests, increase how many of them there are, and give more XP for every mob killed. Couple that with needing more experience to level into the 40’s and onward, and you have a system that will keep people lower, longer. This system also gives people the option of whether they’d prefer to quest or grind, while flattening out the level curve.

A lot of people dislike questing but that is the option most preferred to gain levels. The dev. team of WoW has said so themselves, WoW got quest driven because that’s what we asked for.

Why Should We Do That?

The big question here is why? Why should be segment the community and make getting to the highest levels a chore?

Simple: MMOs are about the journey more than the destination.

When we focus on the moment, we enjoy ourselves more. Mid-game play means a lusher, better built game world. It means being free from min-maxing. It means being free from the trappings of current MMO design both for the players and for the designers.

Think about how it must be for them. The bulk of your efforts must always go towards creating things for the highest level player. Everyone you design for is at the glass wall. You’re limited into a constant cycle of upward evolution. Since everyone gets to the level cap, your creativity is shoe-horned into a corner. As a business, the smart choice isn’t to flesh out the world and do cool things in the getting there, it’s to make create things to do when they are there.

When you think about it, it’s no wonder the concept of building virtual worlds has disappeared. The world, the leveling, all takes a backseat to the end-game. It all comes down to hitting a middle-ground of acceptableness where players don’t see the questing as crap.

Final Thought

To close, I’d like to hand the mic over to Spinks of Welcome to Spinksville. She’s a raider in WoW who just recently hit the level cap in LotRO. Like me, she didn’t know much leveling her character through Middle-Earth and, as a result, didn’t fall into the same trap that WoW players do. She’s 65 now, looking at the game world in a whole new light:

“It’s amazing how free you feel once you decide that you don’t want to get tied into the endgame grind.”

- Spinks

And it’s amazing how much your values change as an MMO gamer.

For someone that’s only known game design as we now find it, or is thoroughly enveloped in the treadmill, it might be hard to imagine a game world where most people don’t hit level cap.

Think about it though. What would have to be there to supplement that? A better game.

3 comments

  1. We Fly Spitfires

    I think the underlying problem is that levels as a concept in a MMO are flawed. As long as there’s a ladder to climb, players will want to reach the top as quickly as possible. It’s simply human nature.

    Raiding as a game mechanic has kinda evolved as a side effect of this result. If you look back at games like EQ, raiding wasn’t designed to be the main focus of the game. Strangely enough though, MMOs have almost two completely different halves to them: the leveling aspect and the raiding aspect. And even more strange is the fact that most of the skills you learn leveling are utterly redundant for raiding!

    I really think the best solution is to go down the skill path, rather than the level path. If there was no such concept as “levels”, there wouldn’t be the race to get to the top. If raids were just normal parts of the game that could be attempted by anyone, at any time, then they wouldn’t be so disjointed.

  2. Tesh

    I agree with Gordon; if there even is an “endgame”, people will rush to it and then whine about lack of content.

    I’d add that the subscription business model pushes people to progress, to get the most out of your time and money… all while the devs try to slow you down as much as possible to make you pay more because you’re playing longer.

    No, in my mind the solution isn’t to make the journey longer, it’s to make it more interesting. The only reason devs care about keeping players playing longer is to suck more money out of them, and that inevitably makes for grind and other stupid game design decisions.

    “More interesting” can mean a lot of things, though. To me, it means getting rid of levels and letting anyone play together any time. It means raids all over the place for those who want them, playable on day one. It means an interesting, dynamic virtual world that players can actually change. It means a vibrant, player-driven economy that actually impacts and is impacted by the world and its adventurers. It means that PLACE matters, maybe even local and large-scale politics. It means no subscription, pushing players to Achieve.

    1. Chris "Syeric" Coke

      100% Tesh. What you’ve described sounds wonderful. It’s too bad more development studios don’t recognize the value in game design like that. I might be more work but the quality of the end-project would be worth it.

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