Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 12, 2010
The real purpose of end-game

So Ferrel wants to bring back the grind and make leveling slower again, while Chris thinks leveling should be slowed down by giving less xp for quests. Both talk about how much better life was in Everquest, where most players never even reached the level cap (I didn't), and how MMORPGs should be about the journey, not about the destination. But I think both of them simply missed the real purpose of the end-game: It enables people to play together.

Take for example the blogging community guild Single Abstract Noun. We had a lot of fun when we started, posting "guild first" screenshots of Ragefire Chasm. But the longer the guild goes on, the thinner we are stretched over the level range. Some people already had level 80 on that server, some created level 55 Death Knights, and all the others that made new characters are now already covering a wide range from level 1 to 30. I logged on last night to see if I could find a guild group, but while there were a lot of people online, there weren't 4 others around my level (20) with whom I could have gone to the Deadmines or Wailing Caverns.

Take any group of friends, and chances are they have the same problem. Unless they create specific characters who only ever play when doing things together, people tend to drift apart in levels, because they play different amounts of time and at different levels of efficiency. But given how long one expansion lasts in World of Warcraft, and how fast you can reach the level cap, the group of friends is likely to find themselves back together at the level cap. Doing heroics together at level 80, even at different levels of gear, makes a lot more sense than a level 60 player grouping with a level 30 player.

Thus, if you want to change World of Warcraft or another MMORPG to slower leveling, it isn't sufficient to just reduce the leveling speed. You also need to enable people to play together in spite of level differences. Systems like in City of Heroes, where people can temporarily lower or increase their level to that of their friends in a group could work here. If you don't have such a system, slowing down leveling only prevents people from playing with their friends for a longer time, and that is never going to be popular.
So what would the point of leveling be at all? (apart from resetting meta-leveling that is end-game gearing).
That's why I dislike the exponential growth of character power.
Make leveling really slow and also make the 'max level' character (is a max level even necessary?) 4x as strong as the 1 level character.

I don't need to be able to double my charcter power every hour I play.

And since a lot of people already play in endgame, where character power growth is already rather slow, it's obviously not a problem at all.
I like to grab all available quests, but often by the time I get around to doing them all, I have far outleveled some of them.

Slower leveling and a slower gain of power is something I'd like to see very much. It would put more emphasis on character development and exploring, instead of just the high level endgame.
that is why CoX and EQ2 has that mentor/sidekick method ... but still people powerlevel.
Dwism: The level capping used in CoH or Champions Online only caps your level to the selected champion of the group. But you don't get all the advantage of the level as a sidekick: only your stats are brought to the level, not your equipments nor talents / skills.
Having played EQ to max level (back when they released their second xpack that is) I can honestly say that WoW players really don't know how well they have it really in terms of 'easy to level'. Back when there was so-called hell levels (51,56,58) they would take up to a month to complete and that was in groups almost every night for a few hours.

I wont call it grinding, because it wasn't. It was a more social game, you got into groups and 'camped' certain areas (called camps) in the zone and you would actually 'talk' to your fellow players and got to know them a bit whilst having fun beating down some mobs waiting for a named to spawn to hopefully get some better loot, all whilst gaining exp.

Quests and instances ruined all that, what is meant to be a social game was turned into a race to the finish to get to the end game where you get ph4t l00t for free handed to you. Compared to now, get a group do a quest 10 minutes later it's all dissolved and you wouldn't even care about it, get a 5 man instance 20-25 mins it's over and people couldn't care less about it all.

Sure it took longer to achieve stuff and in the end it was allot more harsh on things like corpse retrieval and death penalties but all in all it was a far superior game.
The first MMO I played was Asheron's Call. The way high level players grouped up was basically a level range where you are good enough to do end game-type activities.

With a max level of 126 and exponentially increasing exp requirements, very few people got there until macros became rampant. Instead, people would look for groups of people who were level 90+ or 100+ to go do endgame.

Trying to think back, I think part of the reason this worked was that there were not progression raids with 40 or 25 man limits but instead it would just be large groups of players, so no one really minded the level 85 tagging along. I also don't remember any extremely difficult encounters where guilds competed for a kill or anything.

Can anyone remember AC endgame better? All I remember is grinding for random gear drops and exp.
Leveling doesn't need to be slower, it should be more challenging and better prepare players for endgame content.

As Tobold suggests, there should be more opportunities to group up before reaching the max level.

I think it would be a matter of offering more challenging, group areas while leveling. With Cataclysm being developed, it would be a good time to implement group areas.

This would also give hardcore players a more interesting option for leveling and help train new tanks and healers for their jobs later on.

I spelled it out a bit more on my blog:

While DPS can train on dummies, tanks and healers have to be grouped up. The earlier they start, the better they will do.
I want to point everyone to a post by Klelith over at Lost in Neurons. It does a great job of breaking down all the types of leveling and discusses the leveling gap problem.

For me, the leveling gap between friends is the thing i hate the most about MMOs. If it could be fixed I would have so much more fun.

How many other types of games have this problem? Almost none. I think it is a shame that more MMOs haven't tried to solve it.
Make a level-less MMO where player skill matters more than grinding up avatar skill, if you want people playing together. A newbie can group with a veteran on day one and it can be fun for each.

At least, if it really is about having fun with the journey, rather than the destination and concurrent ego contests.
The concept of leveling is so entrenched in the ethos of fantasy role-playing games, that it will likely take an non-swords/magic type MMO to break that paradigm.

There are as many alternatives to "leveling" as there are people to think of them. But the problem for a developer is maintaining player balance so true competition can evolve, at least in some aspect of the game. It makes people nuts to think that other supposedly "equal" players are inherently better in some way they have no control over.

IMO, the direction to go is more and more separation of the economic, social, and tradeskill aspects of the game from the combat.

I shouldn't have to "level" or "quest" solely using combat skills if I don't want to. But I should still have multiple options for upward mobility and rewarding activities.

And combat ideally would be orders of magnitude more complex, or at least have many more options to individualize your character. And offer strategic planning for specific encounters, whether solo or group. And I'm not talking about using "maths" to min/max, I'm talking about having skills/abilities to specific enemy types. My combat "rotation" should change greatly if I'm trying to subdue a dragon or taking down 5 orcs.

I agree wholeheartedly. The huge disparity that exists between lower level and higher level players' performance has always puzzled me somewhat.

A lowbie picks up a gun, fires at a rat, does 2 damage. A l33t player using the same gun, gets a massive critical for 1000 damage. What gives? It's the same gun.

Similarly, a level 1 starts out with 20 HPs, and by the time they reach max leven, their HPs increased a hundredfold (without gear). While at level 1, a couple of snake bites would incapacitate you, a max'd level toon can stand there indefinately, and just outregen the thousands of snake bites.

I realize that this is the cornerstone of most MMOs, what I don't get is why a skill-based system isn't used instead, and have mainly stats govern your accuracy, strength, mitigation, avoidance (like the way it's done in a lot of RPGs without the additional HP and attack tables associated with the MMO genre). That way, level becomes nothing more than a number indicating how many "stat points" were trained.
If the point of MMOs was for "people to play together" we could dispense with ALL levelling, raising of skills, gearing up and every other mechanism that inhibits that goal.

We could buy the game, choose a character that was as powerful as it would ever become, log in for the first time and "play together" with people we already know who'd done the same.

Or we could create and build characters in which we could invest our imaginations. We could make friends by meeting new people and making common ground with them, striving and learning and levelling together. We could make memories to last the rest of our lives.

I'm not entirely sold on bringing back slower levelling, but I'd prefer it over any "end game", any day. End game for me means exactly what it says: the end for that game, time to find a new one.
Slowing down leveling is not the right idea. If you want to truely have a level-less MMO, then you're basically at where FPS's were a year or two ago.

There's always going to be a disparity between the veteran and the newbie. At the one extreme is something like Quake, where the disparity is completely outside of the game. Its in the skills, reaction time, and familiarity with maps that the veteran has. Can the newb kill the veteran? Yes, but they'd have to either be very lucky or very very good. At the other extreme is something like WoW, where the disparity is completely in-game, through level and gear. In that case the veteran is so much more powerful than the noob that they have almost no chance to beat the veteran.

Maybe the solution is having less of a difference between the newb and veteran? But then the argument turns to what "progression" means.
I agree with your point that max level does make it easier to play together. That is one of the nicer features of it.

I would argue that that problem is based more on the fact that MMOs have too many levels. I recently talked about how raising the level cap causes this problem.

A slower leveling progression might not be so bad if there were only 40 levels and you could group within 12 or so.
I'm sure they could add more party opportunities in WoW but there's already far too much quest content as there is.

One possibility could be, instead of buying skills from the trainer, make them forced quests chains that require help ie a party. Or some kind of token drops from lower level instances.

plus some kind of level sync feature, like they do in ffxi and other games would then enable friend parties to assist with these types of enforced quests.
I'm adding this comment on Monday when this post went up Friday so it is unlikely anyone will see it.

But I always thought the problem was the "must get to max level" mentality. That is the core of the leveling gap between friends.

Some regulation or implementation of a time to level could help add "breaks" to the game. In a game in which the max is 50, say at lvl 25 all players, upon reaching lvl 25, have to stay at that level for 10 days, as well as complete a complex series of quests.

This 10-day hold on leveling helps keep players near level, and will always make that aspect of the game (lvl 25) exciting as new players will be entering it, and other players will be preparing to leave, but all can benefit from grouping.
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