Monday, September 26, 2005
In a single-player computer game, once you've seen all the content and overcome all the challenges, you arrive at the "game over" screen. Nowadays thats more likely to be an epilogue movie, but the message remains the same: You've done it, you won, this round of the game is over, feel free to start again.
MMORPG, with their monthly subscription business model, have an interest in never letting the player know that the game is over. Not only do they not contain any game over screens or epilogue movies; they are also trying to hide the fact that you've seen all the content and overcome all the challenges. For that purpose they add silly challenges at the end, which are nearly impossible to beat: Organize raids in which only perfect coordination of 40 players can beat the final boss, kill 10,000 foozles for cash or faction, get the magic sword that only drops with 0.1% chance from a mob spawning only once per day, and fight the forever unwinnable PvP.
Of course that strategy doesn't really work. A few players rise to the new challenges, beat all of them, and demand more. But a larger number of players just gets increasingly frustrated. If you only have an hour or two to play, you can't organize or participate in a raid, or make any significant effort towards the other silly challenges. Like ghosts stuck in a limbo between life and death, many a high level player is stuck between having finished the game and getting the satisfaction of being told he won. Unsurprisingly all MMORPG's message boards show that the players most unhappy with the game are those that reached the highest level.
It would be better if a MMORPG on reaching the highest level sent you a clear "you won" message, and gave you "rewards" which are cleverly designed to make you play longer. Raids and PvP can stay, for those people who enjoy them. But other activities are needed for the more casual players. Starting over should be encouraged more, for example by having new character classes unlocked, like some console games do. Give players only the choice between the "pure" MMORPG archetypes for their first character, and on reaching the highest level with the first character, open up the "hybrid" character classes to play with a second character.
Another thing which would be a welcome reward for reaching the highest level would be an option to be able to diminish your level temporarily. So when some friends or guild mates of lower level want to group, you move a slider and reduce the level of your high-level character to that of your friends. Your spells and skills drop down to that of a character of that level, and even the stats of your equipment could be scaled down appropriately. This would make groups in which everybody has the same level much easier to form, and those are a lot more fun than a group accompanied by a single high-level character.
In the end, only adding content will make players happy. But giving the high level players more viable options to continue playing could certainly add to the longevity of a MMORPG.