Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 26, 2009
Recycling as endgame

If you take half a dozen MMORPGs at random and look at their gameplay, you'll probably find that most of them share an almost identical gameplay from level 1 to whatever the level cap is. Sure, there are variations, but basically the majority of MMORPGs have you doing quests and killing monsters for experience points, levels, gear, and improved stats, one way or another. But once you reach the level cap, the differences begin to become larger. Some games have not much of an endgame at all, other have mainly a raiding endgame, some have a PvP endgame, and there are a few games where the endgame is more political, with player-run cities for example. Not only is there a huge variation in different types of endgames, but generally all of them have important problems, and are usually the source of the bulk of player's complaints about games.

To some extent an endgame is always a crutch. In any other game you'd stop playing after reaching the end, get a game over screen, rolling credits, and maybe a computer singing to you. In a MMORPG the game company doesn't want you to stop playing, because you still give them money as long as you play, so they offer you an endgame instead of a game over screen. But is that the only way?

Take for example World of Warcraft. The raiding endgame in World of Warcraft has two major problems: It is a very different game from the leveling game, with very different requirements, thus difficult to balance between those who only play WoW for that higher challenge, and those who don't like the jump in difficulty at the end. And every expansion makes the previous endgame obsolete, including making all the rewards worthless. World of Warcraft adds 10 more levels in every expansion, so the game gets longer and longer. The leveling game suffers from that, because there are often not enough players at a given level and location to do anything actually "multiplayer". And Blizzard is forced to devalue the leveling game as well, speeding it up with every expansions, so the total time from level 1 to the level cap doesn't go up.

Now what if we removed the endgame from a leveling game like World of Warcraft, and replaced it by an incentive to start over? For example the first time you play WoW there could be only a handful of basic classes: Warrior, Priest, Mage, Rogue. Once you reach the level cap, the hybrid classes unlock, but you have to restart playing from level 1. Once you reach the level cap a second time, either with another basic class or a hybrid, hero classes like the Death Knight open up, and so on. The classes that can be unlocked wouldn't be more powerful as the basic classes, but they would be more complex to play, thus adding more challenge to keep people entertained.

As a consequence of a gameplay like that, expansions would not be vertical, adding more levels, but horizontal, adding new classes to unlock, new zones to play through from level 1 to 60. The world would grow with every expansion, but the new content would add to the old content, not make it obsolete. There would be less of a rush to reach the endgame, because there is none, and more players available to play together at every level. Of course such a game design would be controversial, MMO players are an extremely conservative bunch. But if you think of the long term, it is easy to see how a game with horizontal expansions and continuous recycling is more stable than lets say WoW with a level cap of 150.
This reminds me of a MUD I used to play where you could level up classes but could not use the previous class's powers or skills, thus effectively making you choose your route.

For example, a Priest could go onto be a Mage, but cannot use his Priest abilities whilst on his 2nd class. Later he might choose to play a Warrior and combine it with his Priest Abilities to become a hybrid. But, effectively, he locks out his Mage. This goes all the way to the top making you select the class that would least interest you to become your blocked class.

It was interesting but I would have preferred the unlocking to create potential mixed classes - so a Hunter mixed with a Rogue might become a Marksman with a totally new talent tree.

I would also like the ability to play the levelling game again on Heroic Level - trying to get through RageFire Chasm with opponents at elite 80 level would be fun.
A couple things:

The big problem I see is that you're trying to incentivize un-fun gameplay. I don't think you yourself would agree that people like to do the level grind multiple times.

Secondly, I don't see what's the actual problem with obsoleting content. For example, you wouldn't put it against newspapers for having obsolete content on your old newspapers, or old magazines having obsolete content. People pay for the content of now, the new thing in town. They can still romp through the encounters for nostalgia's sake, but again, they're obsolete in the first place. I'm not sure why you would want to incentivize players to go through the same thing they've already done before.

Finally, I think a distinction should be made among new players: those who have come to play completely by themselves, and those who have come to play with others. I think new solo players are the only ones left in the dust in the current situation, but it should be noted that by now, new solo players are the exception rather than the rule, such that WoW can manage to get away with a scarce population in obsolete content.

The other set of players (i.e. those who come to play with friends) simply just play with their friends. No problem at all.
I think the Problem is the social aspect. Imagine I have a good friend and I enjoy playing with him. But i can and do play 4 hours/week more than him. Very soon I will have outleveld him and it won't be practical for us to play together.
The Multiplayer Aspect of MMO would be mostly only Random Groups.
The big problem I see is that you're trying to incentivize un-fun gameplay.

I don't consider leveling to be un-fun gameplay. It only becomes boring if you level through the same zone again and again (which is a major problem with Final Fantasy XI, where you can level your character in several classes, but always end up playing through the Dunes). But if you expand the game horizontally, there would be new zones to level through all the time.
Sounds like a good idea - but I can't help thinking raising the level cap is just the easiest way for them to entice current customers into getting the expansion.

I would think there's a "I want to be the first to that level" thought process. Plus, who doesn't want to make their character even more powerfull and godlike? :D

Creating new classes and making sure they're balanced is a heck of a job I would have thought? I agree it would be better for us as gamers though!
I understand your motivtion, but I strongly disagree with your conclusion. I wouldn't play your proposed game. Leveling is sometimes fun, but single player games are better at a pure leveling experience. The Endgame is what MMOs are about.

My conclusion is this: Focus the leveling ony what it should be and make the game about the endgame (what most games already are)

I'd actually prefered it if Blizzard had added a political game to WoW instead of adding more of the same. I especially don't like the very fast pace at which equip mackes you stronger right now. It is too fast IMHO.

To word it differently:
Add paralley ways to grow your character in addition to levels, DpS, HpS, TpS and mitigation.
The difficulty here is that not everybody's definition of "fun gameplay" is the same. Some like continuous progression of one character, some like levelling alts, some like PvP. Some (like me) like a mixture of the above.

WOW succeeds by catering to all of those groups to a certain extent, rather than giving any one their perfect game.

Horizontal expansions aren't a bad thing, per se, but they are only good for some of the players.
There are two fundemental problems with this.

Firstly you are dead wrong when you talk about "endgame" as the be-all and end-all for MMOs. It is true that a subset of MMO players look for an "endgame", and that subset is heavily over-represented on gaming website forums and blogs. However, from my personal experience, and also from information I've read from several developer interviews (usually with trade sites/press rather than gaming sites), the majority of MMO players never even reach the level cap in the lifetime of their subscription.

When I was in medium-sized, active family guilds in DAOC, EQ and EQ2, over the course of about five years, probably less than 20% of guild members ever reached the level cap. There was no "end-game" problem because they never even got to the end of levelling, far less of filling out their character with AAs and so forth. Yet most of those players were online 5-6 days a week, often playing several hours a day for many months.

So, firstly I would dispute that the problem you are seeking to solve actually exists to a sufficient degree to require major changes to gameplay.

Secondly, your solution closely ressembles a discredited model that has already proved deeply unsuccessful. MMO players do not like deferred gratification. They don't like to play through an Archetype to get to a Class to get to a sub-class when what they wanted to play from the beginning was that sub-class. EQ2 used exactly that format at launch and it was a commercial disaster whichthey were forced to rapidly rescind. The FFXI system is an exception, but it's a deeply exceptional game, moulded in the pre-WoW culture and probably unique in not having re-designed itself in the light of the changes WoW brought.

The kind of game you describe, if it was well-made and entertaining, might well be commercially successful. It would not, I contend however, be a large-scale commercial success and therefore that mechanism would not be adopted by other, more successful games using the current cinventional model.
A novel idea, you would need quite a few different paths to level via however – in WoW you had your different starter areas but then you all had to go to the same place to level (Stranglethorn Vale for example) which after the third time of progressing through just got boring. Plus they could add specific quest lines for each class which spanned the entire of the level cap – would be interesting.
I know Kingdom of Loathing has been mentioned here before, but incase you don't know, the ascension system of that browser game is identical to your idea.

- Note that I haven't played since before NS13 was out, so this is the very old version of KoL.

Basically, you start as 1 out of 6 available classes, then you make your way to level 11; once there, you can finish a quest to ascend or continue leveling to level infinity.

When you ascend, your character goes back to level 1, you can choose any class to play, and there are various gameplay changing options (like playing without high level help/buff, and other challenges) and new areas that complements the original areas.

It's a very addicting system (I got to HC 11 days before NS13, which was tough), I'm surprised nobody ever tried this on a client based MMO. The cool thing about this system is that development can be very lax, adding bits of content that you wanted to add to the lower levels and people would still use/consume said content.
What you described sounds a lot like City of Heroes. They don't have a vast amount of unlockable characters, but they do have two (one hero and now one villain as well).

After an initial level cap boost, they've kept the level cap stable for many "issues" (content patches). The developers have been quite clear that their current plan is not to extend the level cap. Some issues have added zones, added features, added quest lines, revamped existing zones or added character options. Variety is the whole point in CoH. You pick a combination of power types, play it through to the level cap and then start all over with a new character. Even when they added a "dual spec" type system they made the secondary spec require releveling from level 1.

The drawback to the system you describe is exactly as some others have said: how horizontal the content can get. CoH has many zones and in some level ranges you do end up with many options. However, some level ranges end up with more options than others.

There are ways around the "I've outleveled my friend" situation others have presented and CoH handles that in ways I wish other games would copy. In CoH you can artificially boost the effective level of your friend or reduce your own level down to match theirs so you can pair for content. SWG had a similar mechanic by just making everyone effectively the level of the highest person in the group.

Really, though, this model of MMO caters to those who are interested new playstyles than continuous new-to-them content. You will never have as many leveling options as character options so there will always be some overlap. After a couple of iterations, you will end up playing through the exact same content and have to just enjoy doing so in a different fashion. CoH seems to indicate that there are people interested in that sort of a niche.
Well, if there is no endgame, is there a motiviation to level to the cap?

I also think WoW adds too little levelling content. I enjoyed levelling my deathknight, the new zone was great. But after two levels it was back to doing Outland all over again. And while levelling my warrior I had some new zones in Theramore but before and after that, the same old thing. New classes or levelling zones is a great way to get me playing again.

In short, I love levelling. But the idea of having to do the blasted land for the fifth time isn't appealing. Give me a few new zones to level in and I'd love to level again.
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How about NOT adding 10 levels on top of each addon? How about giving other reason to go into the new world, like unlocking dungeons through (simple) questchains?
The problem with adding new classes - and here I think FF XI is your perfect example - is that players will min/max the leveling experience, so yes, you have people who still go to the Dunes every time they hit level 11, despite there being alternative and likely better zones (Korroloka Tunnel) to level in.

FF XI also does this by adding a new "endgame" with each expansion that is somewhat different from the others. The level cap has been 75 since Rise of the Zilart released (which was bundled with the launch of the game in the US).

Square was also unafraid to use things like Promathia as part of "end-game" or as a way to include lower-level players with higher-level ones - the initial part of the Chains of Promyvion expack took part in level-restricted areas (all members of your party have their level capped at 30) and the areas you played through gradually increased the level cap - so that if you did one level set of missions in a week, and then leveled for the rest of the week, you would probably just make it to the next cap in time.

While unfun for higher levels because of restriction of abilities (and initially the need for low-level gear, removed with the advent of Level Sync), the encounters provided a lot of challenge that I have only very rarely found from boss encounters in WoW.
The latest idea is the "achievement endgame".

(It is not new content, it is stretching and watering down content plus keeping players in a hamster grind wheel, this is why I do not like the current implementation of achievement systems which tend to be silly and grindy.)

MMO veterans know the usual drill of virtual worlds indeed.

It is about time for something new, a new UO/EverQuest to shake up things. WoW already polished the formula as far as it can get.

Guild Wars tried to innovate, but somehow they are on a back to the roots trip for GW2. I hope it turns out different.

I hope Diablo 3 gives me some MMO light entertainment till the "revolution"! ;)
BTW, "horizontal progression" instead of "vertical" level progression seems indeed lead to more stable and possibly long-lasting worlds.

Take a look at EVE. It has probably the problem that players feel they will "never catch up" due to the rather unique real-time training system, but after some time you are on "even" level, ships and guns do not get so much better with more training and you have to group with other players if you have very ambitious goals. (Wow, what a long sentence)

Guild Wars also had the idea of horizontal progression, but in the end they added a rather vertical "faction" grind into the mix. Basically, you have certain faction skills that get stronger if you grind for them.

I really like your idea of "recycling". I wonder what happens if we would give our characters a life cycle. Chars decay. Items decay. All that. It just has to be not too obnoxious, permadeath is probably a big no-no. Permanent progression on the other hand does not work either, it ends in power creep.
I would much rather see an "aging" effect, or a decaying effect as Longasc proposed in his comment.

The problem with horizontal progression is that you are substituting the level cap with things that demand as much, if not more time than the level grind itself does.

I've already been conditioned to the point that I felt like a slacker because my Priest in WoW is still level 35 after 2+ years. It sucks to know that I cannot level my professions any higher, meaning that I cannot develope my character any farther as a result of "level" requirements.

I wish developers would get away from the D&D era of game design that says a character has to be limited by virtue of a predefined ceiling(level). The attribute of a characters "level" should be something that makes me the fiduciary of my character, not the developer.
A system of restarting was also used in text MUDs. It was called "remorting".

In essence, it's a way to formalize playing an alt while removing access to the first character.
thus difficult to balance between those who only play WoW for that higher challenge, and those who don't like the jump in difficulty at the end.

You seem to be trotting out the annoying powergamer meme that people who quit once they hit the cap do so because they find the game too hard. In my experience, people quit because the endgame is, at best, only loosely related to the game they just spent 60/70/80 levels, and they refuse to get suckered in by such transparent bait-and-switch.

The classes that can be unlocked wouldn't be more powerful as the basic classes, but they would be more complex to play, thus adding more challenge to keep people entertained.

Do you really think that people will reroll to a class that is harder to play, but no more powerful? Really not going to happen. (A huge generalisation, but: most MMO players don't want challenges, they want to win.)
The end game is a time sink. It keeps people playing who otherwise would have leveled everything and then quit. As with most schemes created to keep people playing longer than they might normally want to, it's not perfect.

@Pzychotix: To what extent is leveling made less fun because it's not the endgame? Having an endgame makes leveling an obstacle. I'm playing KOTOR again now and it's entirely leveling. There's no end-game where I start running running with all 9 people in my party and I advance my character only with the approval of a random number generator.
It's funny to read how many people forget that WoW did not get huge because it had awesome raiding, or great PvP, but because it's 1-59 game was so solid (with a lot of perfect storm mixed in, but not the topic here). If you provide MORE of that 1-59 magic, by giving greater incentives to play it again and again (how many people already do this with alts, even though they are stuck on basically one path?), you only prolong the time before people run out of content and quit.

And if anyone could pull this off, it's Blizzard. They might not be able to provide decent PvP, or remain consistent with raiding, but no one is going to argue they can't craft top notch leveling content. Would be fun if this is the model for their next MMO...
Early level cap and horizontal game play content - Sounds like Guild Wars to me.

If it wasn't for alts, wow would only have 1/4 the player base it has. I suspect expansion classes, ie. heroic classes, will continue to require previous character leveling to unlock them.

The key to successful MMO design it that it has to have instant-fun appeal to hold you short-term and then end-game goals to keep hooked over the long-term. Whether or not you like the activity required determines whether or not it is a grind. I hate raiding and consider the raid-game a grind. Friends hate pvp and consider doing BGs to get epics to be a grind. If you hate levelling, that's a grind too.

I think MMOs have stopped evolving because we are hung up on character progession (either in the form of levels or gear). This creates all the problems of obsolete content, playing with lower levles, warped economies, etc. I expect the virtual worlds like Second life to eventually eclipse MMOs because they offer more options and activities to people without herding them into a "levelling or end-game grind."
What I hate about the WoW endgame and why I quit WoW when I reached the level cap in BC, is the forced grouping to enjoy the content.

With a time demanding job and a young family I can commit 5 hours strait of play, but not more than once a week. The rest of my session are shorter or I must regulary be AFK for different family reasons.

My worst experience was trying to do instances that need a quest chain to access. If you don't play as much as your guildies or buddies than you're left to PUGs or begging for people to go back to the Black Morass ... damm keying nonsense that was back then.

I would like a difficult endgame that I can solo (with mecenaries for group stuff) that I can enjoy at my own pace. Or adjust the difficulty to the group size.

I'm curious, what's the endgame in Free Realms ?
Love the idea of not raising the level cap but don't like the idea of no raids. Raiding for me (even though I do very little of it) gives me a reason to have a max level character, I just think raiding is done wrong. You have a raid dungeon at lvl 60 that drops better gear than a person can get without raiding so when you raise the cap to 70 the new content is trivial to a person in full raid gear. The old raid dungeon is now obsolete and the gear the raiders worked so hard for is worthless. Not raising the level cap fixes a lot of that and allows you to have true tier raiding.

Have a raid dungeon with four minor bosses that you need ten players to beat and they drop gear that is better than you can get from other pve, you need that stronger gear and about 25 players to beat the end boss of the dungeon. When you release the next expansion you can tweak the next raid dungeon so you need the gear from the first to beat it and you also need to have beaten the end boss to get access. This would repopulate the earlier raid dungeons with guildies helping alts reach the new raid dungeon. If you keep the raid gear reasonable then it would take a few expansions before people are so well geared that the first dungeon becomes trivial but by then it should be since they have three more raid dungeon to complete after to get to the latest.

Keep releasing one new race and one new class with a new starting area, but you have to have a max level character to access them, and you have a game that will run for years! Of course this is without pvp, the raid gear balance is to hard for me to figure out;)
I think MMOs have stopped evolving because we are hung up on character progession

When a business or industry stops evolving its because they have failed to properly factor reality into thier decisions. The basic nature of humans isn't going to change. So I'd argue that the MMO's have stopped evolving because developers are hung up on the failed idea of getting people to behave in a manner alien to thier natures.

Of course people are hung up on progression. For a million years its been the difference between life and death. Thats why its fun for us. It rewards the basic need for success that is hard coded in all of us.

Do you really think our basic nature is going to evolve significantly any time soon?

I think syncaine is dead on. Blizzard won thier playerbase with the original vanilla wow before raiding ever existed. They've tried to deny that and push the playerbase into easy to code Raid and pvp content to "maximize" thier development cycles. And the only reason its worked this far is people are so invested in thier characters by end game they can't let go.

but now that they are trivializing leveling content so much I suspect new players won't be so attached to thier toons. Maybe it'll balance out as more players hit endgame and socialize more. Maybe not. we'll see.
Leveling in WoW was very fun, most fun experience leveling I had. I completed almost every single quest and every instance up to level 59

Doing it 2nd time is would be very boring -exactly because I was so engaged first time. - I saw as much as I could on first run

Anyways I don't think forcing players go trough treadmill twice is good idea.- If you make each path unique it would be too much work and wasted content (even more than its wasted now due to obsoletion - I mean no one probably runs low level instances now, pity they were well designed and worth exploring).

I don't like content obsolescence at all. Zones turning into deserts with most population concentrated only in new zones.
As others have pointed out, what you describe is more or less what games like Guild Wars, City of Heroes, EVE etc have been going for in various ways.

It is not really controversial, but rather a sign of health for the genre that there is no single view what the "core" of the gameplay in the game is.

I do not really think that the majority of players that do not do "end game stuff" do it because the difficulty is changing. They are simply not really interested in the type of gameplay offered and contraints that it may put on game sessions. They will instead move on to do stuff that they find fun and interesting.

Personally I have never had any interest in pursuing WoW's end game or the gear focus associated with it.

Unlocking new archetypes/classes can be fine, but you really need to have a good selection of options right from the start, otherwise people will not bother.

I have no experience with the Death Knight in WoW, but I think City of Heroes archetypes and epic archetypes provides good examples here. Both villain and hero sides have a good variety for different types and complexity of gameplay right from the start. The villain epic archetypes are a good example of an unlockable archetype which works out quite well in that regard. The hero epic archetypes does not work out quite as well in the long run IMHO, although first impressions may be fairly good.
Imagine rated battlegrounds (more honor for more participation). EXP in battlegrounds/PVP. Image the huge guilds centered around PvP and the War in warcraft.

It should have been in the game 4 years ago Blizzard.
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I think syncaine is dead on. Blizzard won thier playerbase with the original vanilla wow before raiding ever existed. They've tried to deny that and push the playerbase into easy to code Raid and pvp content to "maximize" thier development cycles.

The vanilla 1-59 game is what made WoW for a lot of people, but to think that Blizzard did the raiding thing because it was "easy to code" is ludicrous.

People often tend to forget about PvP in those early days at Crossroads and Tarren Mill, when open world PvP existed to the delight of many players, myself included.

Then came 40-man raid dungeons and the arrival of the infamous "Tier" sets to the PvP scene. It wasnt long before players were whining non stop about the fact that people who couldnt raid 40-man encounters were at a disadvantage on the PvP front. Blizzard then added instanced PvP, albeit poorly, allowing players to AFK and earn Tier quality gear. Then the raiders started whining about the ease of getting Tier quality gear, about the stats ect, and Blizzard implements Resilience...another boneheaded move that cost them even more coding time and a version of PvP they have yet to fix.

Blizzards problems stem from the fact that on too many occasions they've allowed themselves to be influenced by a very vocal minority of the hardcore playerbase, raiders and PvPer's alike, and what we are dealing with now are the ramifications of those actions.

But then all you've done is switch the current endgame problem with levelling.

You still run into the same problems of obsolescence. Levelling through content is only fun the first time around, just as raiding through end-game is no longer fun once the content is on farm. You yourself have said it; people aren't going to suffer through the same drudge over and over.

You're still going to have to create that secondary levelling path. And arguably, that's an even worse problem than before, since now you're stuck with developing an entire NEW 1-60 levels of content, rather than just a new dungeon + some extras. I don't think the development times are comparable at all.

Inevitably, you're going to have a bunch of people sitting at level cap with nothing much else to do after all that levelling. Levelling is a rather simple means to gain power, but it seems rather silly to be doing all that levelling so you can do nothing. It seems that it would be more apt to simply just make a no-levelling adventure game.
To what extent is leveling made less fun because it's not the endgame? Having an endgame makes leveling an obstacle.

@Klepsakovic: I completely agree that having a dichotomy between levelling and endgame makes one or the other an obstacle. I subscribe to the David Sirlin line of thought, where there should be minimal to zero barriers to entry for gameplay, and I view levelling as a huge obstacle when my objective is PVE or PVP.

That's not to say that levelling in itself cannot be fun. I enjoyed going through a lot of the quests during my rushes to level cap, with Blizzard doing a very nice job at creating some of the quest lines. But the problem here is that the concept proposed wants players to power down and run through the grind over and over. It would need to generate orders of magnitude more content than ever before to keep the player experience new and interesting.

I don't know about KOTOR, but I doubt you prefer to sit down and do the same thing for hours on end while you level.
I've never been a fan of unlocking end-games, even though I hologrinded for a Jedi in SWG. It is even more of an artificial barrier than having a separate end-game itself.

I still prefer sandbox end-games, where nothing is tiered and content is created by the players like in UO and SWG and, from what you've said, Luminary (even though I didn't care for the game itself). I would much prefer to have an always expanding world rather than an always progressing character or family of characters going through the same content.
If the game was REALLY fun I might be ok with this, but that's just me, some people hate to do anything over twice let alone three times. PLus, what do you do once you reach cap with a hero class? What is waiting that's driving you to do that? (Other than the fun journey)
[i]Do you really think that people will reroll to a class that is harder to play, but no more powerful? Really not going to happen.[/i]It would happen if done right. In FFXI people [i]switched classes[/i], not rerolled. They started from level one again, but since they had leveled up at least one other class had access to subclasses that DID make you more powerful the second time around.
So a Ninja/Warrior (Ninja was an unlocked class) was more powerful than a Warrior. But not necessarily more powerful than a non-unlocked combo.

A system like that would be awesome because you wouldn't have to get your flight paths, uncover your maps or anything else you did as your first class.

The biggest downside: multiple sets of gear for different classes/levels.
"The Endgame is what MMOs are about."
This !

I enjoy the levelling time and the early gearing phase through 5-instances but for me the meat of the game is the raid game.
MMORPG is the only genre that allows for large parties of coordinated people to fight together and you want to reduce it to solo or small-group content ? Guess what, there are a *lot* of games that provide this experience already, they're just not called MMOs.
Okay, now name 10 MMORPGs which have a raid endgame.

Come on, I'm waiting.

Still nothing?

I can easily name 10 MMORPGs which *don't* have a raiding endgame. So saying that raiding is what MMORPGs is all about is obviously untrue. Raiding might be what WORLD OF WARCRAFT is all about FOR YOU, but you can't generalize that to all games and all players.
Kind of surprised nobody has mentioned Ragnarok Online here. That's what they did.

Ragnarok Online's scheme is to start at level 1/1 (character level, job level) as a Novice, level to 10, then you can change jobs to a job of your choice from the basic jobs (Swordsman, Acolyte, Mage, Merchant, Thief, Archer). When you raise your job level to 40 (max level: 50), you can select a new job (two choices for each basic job. Swordsman can become Knight or Crusader, Merchant can become Blacksmith or Alchemist, Mage can become Wizard or Sage, etc.). You keep most of your previously learned skills when you move on to the next class.

Once you reach level cap (99), you have the option of restarting at level 1 again, and repeating the level grind. First jobs are the same, but when you reach the second job (again), you have alternate jobs to choose from (Swordsman becomes Lord Knight or Paladin, Mage becomes High Wizard or Scholar, etc.). There is also another option (Extended job) which are alternate jobs without a second transformation (yet).

Generally, the game is really all about leveling. Once you reach level cap, you get a nice little glowy aura to show you are level 99, and have the option to start over. Other alternatives are hunting raid monsters, crafting, and pvp.

10 MMOGs with raiding as the endgame? Not many have it as the *only* thing for the endgame, but raiding is a prominent part of the following ten...

1. WOW
2. EQ
3. EQ2
5. WAR
6. DDO
7. Lineage
8. Lineage 2
10. Vanguard

I believe they are all still running.
I wouldn't call raiding a major part of the endgame of WAR or the two Lineages. Unless I missed some recent development, raiding in WAR is a rare reward for beating the opposition in PvP, not a regular gameplay feature.
I actually really like this idea, Tobold. I wonder if MMOs were originally designed to having full on raiding endgames or if they were just by products of the evolution process.

Challenging the way we view MMORPGs is a good thing IMO.
Ragnarok Online is probably a terrible point to reference for this.

Certainly it had a nice incentive for relevelling up your character, but the levelling process was punishing as well as tedious.

During the time I played it, I used bots as the primary mode of levelling. The average time taken to level to 99 the first time around was around two weeks. Levelling the transcendant class to 99 over again takes at least another full month. And this is with a bot running 24/7.

The worst part about this is the fact that new content is very sparse, levelling is no more involved than WoW combat, and you're doing all of this with no quest content whatsoever. At least most MMOs have managed to continue to make the level grind stay somewhat relevant and interesting to the player with quests/things to do that encourage the levelling environment.
So the problem is you guys (and ,which is much more sad, developers)see the leveling as THE *GAME*.

In my personal opinion in my dream MMO leveling would server mostly one purpose - prevention of throw away characters for exploiting game mechanics. Of course the basic things -introduce player to the world, game mechanics, let him do interesting quests etc. would still be there, but completely optional 2nd time

Like if you have max level you could make another one and in 2-4 weeks without any intervention from you he will be fully leveled.

Instead most of the game would be oriented at "lvl capped" characters. Rich end game PvE content (my idea is it should be Dungeon Master driven, with DMs being poooled from the best of player community and being rated by players) , and meaningfull pvp -all resources pooled toward this *GAME* task.

No need to waster time on art/quests players *maybe* would see on their 40 to 45 level (and most wouldnt bother because there is no point doing non high-end instances in WoW ,despite all the lore and great work which went into them)

Leveling is just that - tutorial for new player, nothing else.

Why would I think in my game content wouldnt become obsolete as easy? -I would integrate player driven dynamics into it . As I am mostly pvp oriented of course I see it from the perspective of PvPvE (DaOc/WAR like).

Player driven worlds is the source of endless content as we can see in EvE and witnessed in UO, and even SB (sb flaws made it very hard, but it was there) and even that complete utter garbage trash , which is not to be named, still manages to have some player generated dynamics, despite being hostile to any sentient life.

But I can also see that Dungeon master driven instances with human beings behind mob AI and encounter design could be much more resilient to obsolescence than statically scripted WoWesque raid encounters

No MMO to date (except UO) actually provided players with sandbox. Newer generation should enhance and provide more tools for sandboxes, instead they completely degenerated into diku theme parks

Part of the reason is commercial success of EQ. For completely new players its fun and addictive . For a fresh market (and MMOs are still fresh) its great.
part of the reasons is failure of "sandbox" - only one big name (SWG) and it its design was braindead (star WARS with non-existent pvp) .

but as more and more players actually see trough diku like treadmills and market becomes more fragmented into niches I believe we will see re-emergence of sandboxes

EvE is doing great - if you take into account its multitude of gameplay and design flaws (damn I wish I had space to write why EvE =utter fail for sandbox market ,despite some great concepts and decent production values) , you would see that sandboxes can have incredibly bright future
For those who said that WoW's big achievement was making leveling fun ... wasn't it because they made leveling short? One of the major selling points of the game when it was released was how Blizzard wanted players to get into level-cap content much more quickly than previous MMOs.

As far as I'm concerned leveling is boring. An individual questline might be great material, but ultimately a pay-to-play game has to inject so much filler quest material to elongate the journey that it's just something to skim. Interactive, social content is the forte of MMOs (forced or incentivized group leveling does not make leveling fun), this means PVE or PVP; if you want to play by yourself there are other genres to try.
Diablo 2 has a great start-over mechanic - the reset of the ladder every couple of years. This causes heaps of old players to come back to the game for the chance to be competitive on the ladder.

Equivalently, players who don't care about the ladder can keep doing their thing on their max level characters.

The reason this works is because leveling is so fast in Diablo (up to around level 80, at which point you have enough power to take on any part of the game). It wouldn't work in WoW - you'd have to make it a lot faster to reach level cap.

Further, I don't like this particular start-over plan of yours Tobold. For example making the unlockable classes more complex but with the same power just means "harder to play". Sure, it's nice to have challenges, but challenge is better set by changing the difficulty level. If you just give people these gimped characters to unlock, they won't be allowed into any groups, etc. On the other hand if the unlockables were easier to play than the regular characters, everybody would have to grind to get those.

I don't think this solution solves any problems.
@Max: I so totally disagree with your post...

I pretty much play MMORPGs (Warcraft back in the day, AoC now) as... Well as any other RPG with other people. I left WoW when I hit the 60 cap, I will leave AoC when I hit the cap, although I may do it twice. The only exception was Lotro where my main reason to stay was the RP. And the music system :p

I don't want a sandbox. Srsly. I want a game that gives me quests to level from 1 to max, with small group dungeons. I want a game that leads me through a huge story that takes me a long time to finish, but really I want to see an intricate story.

PvP is optional even. I don't mind a bit of it here and there, but if there's none I won't complain.

You see, different people want different games. What WoW does well, is obviously catering to some kind of common denominator.
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