Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 04, 2010
What comes after the endgame?

Verilazic recently wrote me with an interesting question about goals: "In your perfect MMORPG, what is the intended motivating factor, and does it change as you play?". I'm not so sure whether that is a question which can have just one answer, whether that is for the perfect MMORPG or any existing one. Goals *do* change with time, and a good MMORPG offers many different motivating factors and goals. Because whatever you goal is, the risk is actually reaching it and being disappointed. For example I'd like to quote (with his permission) the story Brian sent me about his career in World of Warcraft:
"I started playing WoW in 2005, not long after release. I've played on and off since then, in spurts of a few months either way, generally. I was playing alliance on Suramar server. I had friends and family who played as well.

On a good weekend day, you'd find myself (a good old holy/ret paladin), my brother in law (a full holy priest) and two good family friends (a frost mage and a protection warrior) doing dungeons with just the 4 of us, seeing what cool fights we could pull off without a 5th person. At the same time, you'd find my sister in law and my sister both hanging out around the AH playing dress up with their hunters and talking about which vanity pets went best with their hunter pets, the whole while letting the kids sit on their laps and point at the fun stuff. My uncle would show up online and sit at the AH trying to find good deals to buy and resell at a higher price, and jump into teamspeak with us to talk about his latest thoughts on being a warrior.

I call those the good old days, and I yearn for them now. Nowadays you'd call me a "hardcore raider." I run a 6300 GS Kingslayer Death Knight in a top end raiding guild, and spend hours running through theorycrafting, and discussing optimal raid composition for LK25 Heroic, and answering the random whispers I get from players who want to know where I got this item, and what high end raiding is like...

It's funny though, because being at the top... where so many players spend countless hours trying to get to... I realize that I've lost the part of the game I enjoyed the most. The simplicity.

I truly miss the days when I wasn't so completely absorbed in the math... and I could just take the drops as they came, and enjoy the game for what it was. I miss the times when people wouldn't get mad if I wasn't running the penultimate optimal spec for my level 22 priest, because in truth it wasn't so clear cut. I miss being able to just get on and do some quests, do a dungeon or two with my family... actually have to coordinate our skills, use crowd control, rather than just an all out nuclear war AoE style fight where the only hard part is making sure you are the one on top of the damage meter... all the things that made me fall in love with this game.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to love about end game raiding... I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it. It's a level of teamwork and dedication that most players will never understand, or experience. It's a lot of work, responsibility, and fun. But every now and then, when I log on in the early morning or afternoon, when the guild isn't on... when I decide to dust off and level that old alt I've been neglecting... when I go back to the zones I remember loving... it all seems somewhat corrupted by the fact that nowadays, I know exactly where all the time and effort is leading to, and I know the best spec/questing/playstyle path to get there, and anything else simply feels like a waste of time.

I see so many people playing nowadays, pushing the limits and fighting tooth and nail to be the best, and get there the fastest... buying thousands of gold on the black market... being just plain rude to people who try to play the game casually...

They want to whisper me for advice? My best advice is that WoW is not just a destination to shoot for as fast as you can... its a journey, and one which you should spend every minute of every level enjoying as much as you can."
I think this is good advice. Regular readers will have heard me advocating a more casual style of MMORPG gaming. Newer readers sometimes assume that is because I don't know anything about raiding or am prevented from doing so, but that isn't true. I've been raiding on and off in every expansion, and during a time of guild drama in my regular guild even for some months was member of a hardcore raiding guild in vanilla WoW, and raided BWL up to Nefarian, which still meant something at that time. But like Brian I feel that reaching the top of the game often means spoiling other parts of it. Push too hard for the endgame, and a MMORPG stops being playing a game, and starts feeling like a job. In recent days I noticed how many people use the word "work" when describing what they are doing in a MMORPG, working on this, or working towards that, or deserving something because of all the work they put in. And I have to question whether that is healthy. Do we really want a second job, and one *we* have to pay for instead of getting paid?

So, what are your goals in your favorite MMORPG, and are you happy with the time you spend pursuing those goals? Or do you feel as if you are working hard on unpleasant stuff just to reach some purple pixels? What do you think you will do once you reached those purple pixels? What comes after the endgame?
Actually, I was thinking about the same thing recently. I was recalling the fun times I had when I was leveling my char, all the new and exciting places that I visited. At that time, I wanted to avoid dying at all costs and felt the "danger" when wondering in neutral territory. I remember wondering about Silverpine forest (my favourite zone of all time) and was entralled by the community and the world.

However, I then considered if the game didn't evolve, and that experience was all there was to WoW, would I still be playing it right now? I think it is a natural evolution that when we become good at a game, we will eventually want to gravitate to the top, and compete with others. If I didn't have the hardcore raiding experiencing, I would be playing a different game right now.
"My best advice is that WoW is not just a destination to shoot for as fast as you can... its a journey, and one which you should spend every minute of every level enjoying as much as you can."

This is why I hate the way modern MMO's are. Exactly this.

People don't realize that the journey is what matters, not the destination. But what has become of MMO's today? The journey is neglected just so people can get to their destination faster. And it's what people want! But they're not going to get as much enjoyment out of it. They're fooling themselves, and the market is providing them with what they want.

But when you actually try to make -the journey- important again, people start bitching about "the massive grind" when if you can't get to max level in few weeks, the game sucks.

MMO's need more emphasis on Low- Mid-game and a longer road to the cap. Of course the leveling is boring when all the good content is at the top. Why does it have to start there? Why can't it start from the beginning?

As long as developers do what the players want them to do, we won't get satisfied with the way things are. Somebody has take the responsibility of not listening to what players -think- they want, and instead provide them with what they -really- want.

It's too bad this will never happen in the western world.
This reminds me of a discussion I had with a gamer friend. He'd learnt that he most enjoyed games by figuring them out himself. Exploring zones, testing different specs, etc...

Once he looked at an external website (like EJ), he became a competitive min/maxer where every moment only had to be the most productive possible.

Textbook example of optimizing the fun out of gaming.
I play to have fun. If I stop having fun, I stop playing.

I’m now on my 4th return to WOW – this time on an all new account, and I’m loving it. The new dungeon finder makes running instances so simple, no more waiting in /LFG channel, waiting for all to meet at instance, or having to waiting for somebody to empty his bags at the bank etc… Now you just click on a button, wait 10min and bang, your in a dungeon!

Of course, the quality of these runs are NOTHING compared to the old days. Running an instance with 4 other players your likely NEVER to encounter again, really takes away from the shared playing experience, in vanilla, when it was so much work getting an instance run going, we no longer spend any time afterwards chatting about what a great shared experience we have. Sometimes the entire run is done in complete silence.

And at the lower levels, the people are too over geared for the instances. I’ve not seen a mage use sheep once in the 30 or 40 instance runs (mostly SM as I am only mid 30s this time around). Nor have we stopped to consider the best pulls. Heck, as a mana DPS, the group doesn’t even wait for my mana to re-fill before going on to the next encounter, as there is no need… It is just a ‘zerg’ rush to finish the instance as fast as possible – but that make the levelling grind a better experience (IMHO)

Its still fun, but the fun I get from WOW now, vs many years ago, it is a totally different playing experience.

I still play games like Civ4, Football Manager etc, and I keep going back, because they are fun!
Character improvement is what drives these games. Otherwise, running a dungeon at level 30 isn't a whole lot different from running one at level 80. There's really no compelling reason to level.
Needless to say I agree and I will once again connect this with predictability.

Things become work when they are predictable. When you know that boss X drops that item with 23.4% that is quasi-predictable. When you need exactly 4.56=5 runs for item Y (badge system) it is even more predictable.

Remove the predictability of the result and allow players to roughly walk in the right direction and they will enjoy the way (more).

Humans like to bring order into chaos. Most boss fights are like that and all internet game resource pages are like that. We all want to be able to predict the exact amount of € we earn this month, and when we need to wake up tomorrow.

But just like in real life, predictability leads to the feeling of work (=grinding). Even if there are good reasons (like sustaining a family).

You basically solved the problem and all that is left is the execution. Execution is boring.

Life is best if you wake up in the morning and only then start thinking about what you want to to with the day. If there are many possibilities and none of them are predictable, but you know that all will be beneficial to you in the end.

This is exactly what a MMO needs to be like. This is what WoW was for quite some time in the beginning. And this is why I will never understand the badge system.
What happens at endgame with raiding is that the game becomes a sort of team sport and you meet up weekly for your games/ practice sessions.

Correct. Now imagine you knew that to beat soccerteam X you would need to train 18 more times (then get the new soccer shoes called 'T19') and then play against team X 3-6 times in a row and then you will beat it.

The only thing Blizzard could do even worse were to make the number of tries before a boss is beaten excatly predictable .. now .. ICC aura?
This sounds to me like one of the most fundamental flaws of game design (and to a lesser extent, storytelling) - the first time you play the game, it's completely fresh and new to you. You've made a new character where you had none before, so you know little about the mechanics the character will have (rage? energy? mana?)

You step into your first zone for the first time, and oh, what a huge world it is! You don't know what the spells you have are, you don't know where you're supposed to go, or any of that. You fumble your way through leveling, and it's a fun experience because you do it your own way.

But then you get to max level, and talk with other people who have been at max level for awhile (as they are now your peers, previously you would likely have had no interest in interacting with them). They know better ways to play your class, and they teach you. Who doesn't want to learn to be better? So you learn how to be better, and you optimize.

Then you make an alt....

You already know what to expect when you enter the world, you know a) where the quest npc's are OR b) how to quickly find them. You have a pretty good idea about what to expect from monsters, so you know when to use your heals, and when you're ok to do more dps and finish off the mob instead. The list goes on.

MMORPG's have roughly the same amount of replay value as a single player game. People just seem to be in denial of this.
My best advice is that WoW is not just a destination to shoot for as fast as you can... its a journey, and one which you should spend every minute of every level enjoying as much as you can.

I agree with this, and that's why I think a good storyline is very important in MMORPGs. In single player RPG, people care about the journey and not just aim to rush through to the end. In MMORPG, if you have a good story, you will care about the journey too because you'll be in the journey. You will care about the world, the NPCs, their problems, their solutions, etc.

But as we know, most MMORPGs simply don't care about the story, claiming that the players don't care. The reason why the players don't care is because the developers often come up with very crap story because they didn't want to put effort to it. Little did they know that if they put a good effort and come up with good storyline, people will enjoy the game much more and appreciate the journey instead of just the destination.

I applaud Square-Enix for putting stories for FFXI main missions. Even some of the non-important "fetch quests" have great storyline. In Aht Urghan, there are 5 Serpent Generals, and there were 5 individual quests involving their background of how they were before becoming Generals. There was hardly any item/money reward doing those, but the background story of them was the real reward when you do the quests.

Little things like that matter IMO. Unfortunately, it doesn't necessarily reflect to success as FFXI doesn't even have 10% of playerbase of WoW's.

To me, what comes after the endgame is relaxing time spent in-game with your (guild) friends doing events with them or helping them out in general. If you think about it, why do you even need the best sword or best helmet or best steel underwear? You've beaten the most difficult monster already. Now relax and enjoy your achievements. That's what I'm doing now. I play MMORPG once or twice a week, and it's much more fun playing like that.
MMOs are the games I find most similar to life. You can choose to pursue the goals you think are important.

I'm glad I have lived through all of wow since the beginning. The experience was great, and it's not possible to freshly re-live the time when you first sneaked onto enemy territory (my pulse rate was scary...)
But that's fine, the memories remain.

I know it's unrealistic, but if we did have a choice, i'd ask blizzard to prevent all external information resources so every raid and every dungeon group would have to find out winning strategies for themselves. THAT would be my idea of adventure.

The fact that I could avoid these external resources doesn't help. In the real world, I could also sail off without gps, tracking, pretend I'd venture into lands unknown to man. But it wouldn't work.

I know because loooong ago I tried, canoeing with a friend without map & compass. lost...
For me, leveling game was always the best part of the game, which unfortunately is the part that gets trivialized as an MMO matures, because they want new players to reach end-game content faster.

I only raided to experience the endgame content. For me, there is no point in shiny purple pixles since gear resets continually happen. This is Blizzard's strategy of keeping the carrot in front of our noses.

I would rather craft or pvp than do soon-to-be-obsolete endgame raid content. The reality is though, that I just make an alt and level again. After six level 80s with all professions, this got boring too and that's why I left wow.
I wonder how many of you folks who are espousing the joys of "the journey" have ever played a Korean-style MMO where it takes even the most number-crunching powergamer well over a year to reach the level cap and get to experience the endgame. If there even IS a level cap and an endgame.

I don't mind leveling as a means to an end, or as relaxation between some intense progression raiding, but when the choice is between a nigh-endless treadmill versus difficult and well-crafted endgame raiding, the choice isn't anywhere near a close one.
While I also have fond memories of the "early days", it is naive (or just a case of selective memory) to think that those days were all about experience - and now its all about the end result.

Even when new to the game we made semi-rational choices about where to go, what to do, who to play with. After you learned that killing grey mobs didn't grant xp, you didn't continue just because it looked nice. You found other places to quest (with or without friends).

We were still trying to be efficient, to reach our goals by the best of means - we just had less knowledge to base it on.

While an instrumental approach to the game is more normative today then it was at the beginning, and we have more knowledge to support our choices - that doesn't mean that the fun is not there.

Work can also be fun.

As a last personal note: I also did 5 mans with 4 people. It was partially for the challenge, but it was also a way of optimizing. Why? Cause finding other good players were very difficult and time consuming.
I completely agree with everything Brian said.

I went through a similar situation. I've completed every hard mode/heroic in WoTLK except for 25 LK and suddenly realized I wasn't having fun anymore. Sure the fights were fun, the success of being at that level of play was fun, even the vanity of people inspecting you and seeing a 5900 GS and whatnot is fun, but the game itself? It turned into a job.

Thats why I've quit (again). The same thing happened to me back in BC and I guess I didn't learn my lesson from that. If I do go back to WoW, which I probably will with Cata I'm definitely avoiding the hardcore side of things.
I like the leveling. I enjoy the journey the most. I get a character to max level, pat myself on the back, and then start over.
"Remove the predictability of the result and allow players to roughly walk in the right direction and they will enjoy the way (more)."

This is the reason why I actually like doing LFD pugs. It adds a new layer of unpredictability. I have to adjust to other players' skills and style of play.
@Zebb: I have. You missed the point though. The journey is not simply about leveling up from level 1 to cap. The journey is from the moment you start the game until the time you feel that you've achieved what you want to.

For those who played Korean MMORPG, they'd realize that it has a lot of grinding. But if they like the game enough to play for one year, it showed that they enjoyed grinding and still able to enjoy the journey of grinding. (note: I didn't like grinding and I quit after one month, but I can understand that there are people who love grinding)

It's like driving from point A to point B. Some wanted the shortest path. Some wanted the convenient path. Some wanted the scenic route. As long as you enjoy the journey, it doesn't really matter what the journey is like.
I enjoy both the journey and the end game. I can see how people could get burned out on end-game raiding, I think I'm running into that myself. But like a tobacco company, Blizzard is very clever on releasing new content or upgrading their badge/loot system just as people are going up in flames.

"Oh, now there's something new, even though I said I wouldn't I think I'll try it, just once to see what the new content is like."

Bam! Right back into raiding end game and the cycle continues. Bored with ICC - how about some Ruby Sanctum for you? Tired of another one room Ruby Sanctum? We've got Cataclysm close in its heals.

I think a lot of people have made astute observations and their comments are all true. Everyone experiences the games differently, which means that everyone can enjoy it in their own way.

Even though there are no perfect MMORPS out there, one thing WoW did was give players many options that were all pretty good, not the best, but good. It keeps most of us coming back for more.
In my opinion WoW has in some ways become worse than it was in release. Who's to blame about that? I'm not entirely sure, but I don't think that Blizzard is without blame for designing a game where gear is so important and is basically the goal of the whole game.

It was basically just a matter of time before gearscore would be the standard of measuring a player's "skill". And of course people are going to ask for the achievement for killing a boss before allowing someone to join when it's there and easily checked.

I recently started up playing WoW again, mostly due to activating 7 days of free time by accident when I fiddled around with my account. I'm somewhat tempted to try the dungeon finder, but at the same time I'm terrified of it because I've heard so many bad things about the people you meet. Of course I know that pugs are bad from before but I'm also now afraid of what people will say when I join with my green quality gear and sub-par spec.

WoW does the leveling part of the game quite well in my opinion, but as soon as you ding max level it's a whole different game that isn't very friendly.
Thats why im thinking to stop xp gain, and play without preasure to level up, to get better gear, to get higher GS.
Imagine to log on just to run some dungeon for fun of it...
As a player who levelled three characters three-manning level appropriate instances, I recommend it highly to anyone who wants a challenge.

Two-manning level appropriate instance with no heirlooms is the latest thing a friend and I are trying and we completed Zul'Farrak at level 45 yesterday. Three wipes, lots of consumables used, but also some of the most fluid encounters we had in a long time.

One thing in mind for those who want to try undermanning instances is it does not necessarily make boss encounters more difficult or complicated. However, what it does is make the trash much more interesting.

Good luck!
I have a Paladin tank raiding main and a few alts strung out among the levels.

For the Paladin, the goal is to finish up the heroic ICC modes. Purple pixels were not the goal. They happened as they happened and I wasn't too over-anxious about it. I knew if I ran 10 and 25 man ICC every week there would likely be a new shiny purple every week. Some in my guild were in a race to get all their Frost emblem pieces as soon as possible and burned themselves out once there was nothing left to acquire. Since my goal is the playing of harder content, the gear was just a means to an end.

What happens after the Lich King dies in heroic 10 and 25? Hopefully a new dungeon in the next patch, though I wouldn't mind a raiding break on my main. I could fish up a turtle mount. I could try for silly raid achievements.

On my alts, basically anything goes. The time my alts spend between level 1 and their first heroic at 80 is their time. I give them whatever specs or gear I want. They are not beholden to GearScore, a DPS meter, or what Elitist Jerks thinks. I learn the class on my own terms and then, at 80, see how close my learning matches what's considered "best".

I do understand the feeling that the beginning of WoW is now "tainted". After I played Magic: the Gathering on the competitive circuit for a few years, it was impossible to enjoy a game with a new player. I was always optimizing the fun out of even my most outrageous deck creations.

Once learned, strategy, tactics, and "best" cannot be unlearned, but they *can* be de-emphasized. I bought a starter and three boosters and used those cards to build a deck.
I do understand the feeling that the beginning of WoW is now "tainted". After I played Magic: the Gathering on the competitive circuit for a few years, it was impossible to enjoy a game with a new player. I was always optimizing the fun out of even my most outrageous deck creations.

Once learned, strategy, tactics, and "best" cannot be unlearned, but they *can* be de-emphasized. I bought a starter and three boosters and used those cards to build a deck.

This is a very well written, and a good point to be made. The idea that optimization cannot be "unlearned" is a big problem for some people.

And yes, you can go back and buy a standard starter deck and a single booster and reduce your options for optimization... but chances are, you will still win 10/10 matches against a brand new player who doesn't know all the tricks.

You simply can't go back to being a beginner... and being a beginner in this game gave me some of the greatest fun I've ever had in a game.

On the bright side... I think Blizzard came up with one of the most radical and wonderful ideas to handle this type of situation... to remake the basic world. Although we know the tricks of the trade... Cataclysm will give us some new experiences to enjoy leveling a character. I am quite excited.

On the bright side... I think Blizzard came up with one of the most radical and wonderful ideas to handle this type of situation... to remake the basic world. Although we know the tricks of the trade... Cataclysm will give us some new experiences to enjoy leveling a character. I am quite excited.

So am I. But Blizzard did it out of necessity. The old players eventually quit. Always, no matter how good the endgame is. If a MMO doesn't attract enough new players it dies.

And while attracting new players has traditionally been a strength of WoW, the many, many changes in the last few years just made the early game ever more weird. To remake the old world was a necessity to keep WoW alive.
The only thing worse than achieving your life's goal is not achieving it.

I enjoy leveling.

But there are journey games and destination games. WoW is definitely a destination game.

Destination games are treadmills that require new destinations to keep players paying. But they make it much easier to guide/help players, especially new ones.
Some goals in WoW off the top of my head (not saying I actually want to achieve those, they're just ideas):

1) Raiding
-> kill LK for the fun of it
-> get a 310% mount
-> lead lots of pugs for the fun of it (or make a name for yourself as a pug organizer, or make money through GDKP, etc.)

2) PvP
-> reach or get boosted to X rating for gear
-> min-max by supplementing PvP gear with PvE pieces or vice versa
-> get Arena Junkie status by whatever means
-> reach gladiator conventionally
-> project: pay some people (with in-game gold only, likely a sum close to the cap) to try and carry you to gladiator
-> compete on the TR
-> produce videos

3) Economy
-> reach the gold cap for the fun of it
-> experiment with various ways of making gold efficiently (there are LOTS of possibilities here depending on what gold/hour ratio you consider acceptable)
-> use money to obtain gear and titles by paying people to carry you
-> make money by boosting people in raids or arenas

4) Meta: addon development, fan art, blogs, etc.
I'm now levelling my new warrior.

So my set goals are simple. Get to level 80, gear up for heroics. Run those heroics until I have everything I need. Go play something else.
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