Tobold's Blog
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Natural end

I finished Ni No Kuni last night, killing the final boss after 55 hours of overall play time. After the end credits you get a chance to save your game and play on in the "post-game". There are a few additional side-quests, and the post-game gives you the opportunity to complete anything you didn't finish before beating the White Witch. But essentially the story is over, you've already beaten the hardest fight in the game, and leveling your characters up any further is rather pointless. The game has come to a natural end. You could start over, but as the game is story-heavy and has about 10 hours of gameplay before you can freely choose your familiars and thus really play the game differently than during the first go, Ni No Kuni isn't ideal for replayability.

I was thinking that such a natural end occurs in every game which has some sort of power progression and some sort of story. At some point inevitably the story is over, and your power is at a point where it is either capped, or you are already able to beat anything. Even Dungeons & Dragons has a level cap at 30 (although I'm not sure I want to play my campaign that far, most power progression games develop flaws at the end of the power curve).

I paid 49 Euros for Ni No Kuni, thus ended up paying less than 1 Euro per hour of entertainment for it. That business model works well for this sort of game: At the natural end of the game I feel as if I got my value for money, and the developers are also happy with their one-time payment from me. But if we take a game which should have a natural end and use a different business model, like a monthly subscription or some Free2Play model, the match is less perfect. The devs don't want me to stop playing a MMORPG just because I hit the level cap and finished the story. But at the same time they can't produce new story and new power progression content fast enough to satisfy everybody. So they want you to wait for the next expansion, while continuing to play and pay for the game.

But as the game is already past its natural end, what you keep playing is some sort of zombie version: You get to grind 9,999 dinosaur bones, do the same daily quests over and over, or get to play some sort of elder game, with some illusion of progress that will be shattered when the next expansion comes out and you replace your purples with greens. You do that for a while, and for a few different games, and you start seeing it for what it is: Essentially a money-grab by the devs, and the part of the game which offers less and less fun for the money.

So unsurprisingly many people now play MMORPGs like a single-player game: They start, they play until the game comes to some sort of natural end for them, and they stop playing. Of course if the developer had counted on them paying subscriptions for years, or even made the start of the game available for free in some sort of Free2Play model, this behavior is likely to break their business model. Which I think is why the genre is in some sort of crisis now.

Stuff like that gets added because apparently there's people who LIKE to farm endlessly..... I'm usually bored a lot faster, and there's precious few achievements of that kind I have completed (or I complete them in 50x the time it takes to others....).
As long as they keep them separate from the "main game" (= whatever you want to do when you log in) I don't really see a problem with that.

I agree with Helistar. Forced grinds are one thing, but optional grinds (9999 bones for a unique mount) are completely different.

Blizzard has in fact moved away from excessively long forced grinds IMO. (Ironically, raiders, who *do* have something else to do, are the most likely to get sucked into those that offer ability rewards, e.g. rep grinds for shoulders and such.)

I think Blizzard's model is more "come and log in, there's a million different things you can do". For most players, anyway. For the most avid content consumers, I guess they may add a bit of grinding content. But no normal player should need it.
See the thing is that I just don't get the attraction of the genre from the casual perspective.

There's just so many other games that are more fun and cheaper for a person who wants to play 10 hours a month or less. League of Legends, World of Tanks, Fruit Ninja, Skyrim, whatever. Games that are fun yet challenging, and where you are matched with people of an equivalent level of achievement in game, so you don't have a class of hardcore people checking your GS and calling you a noob. So I really don't see it, except possibly the social aspect. It must exist, but the guildless farmer who just enjoys getting 10000 bones is so rare that while I will admit he exists, he is a bit unicorny.

So let's imagine that you are a MMO salesman trying to pitch the genre to a casual gamer. What would you tell them makes MMO's a worthy past time for them?

After so many expansion (what is now 4?) in WoW, I've just come to accept the green, blue, purple, green transition as much as the new zones and new powers. It bothered me in tBC. It wrankled me in Wrath. At this point, to me, its just part of the game.
At 10 hour a month, you are in the market that is probably best served by Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, Where's my Water, etc.

That said, MMOs are a terrific bargain for me. For the cost of a Skyrim, I can get 4 months of game play. Could I get 4 months from Skyrim? I don't know. I haven't played it. And that's where MMOs save me. I used to buy a game every other month. Now I just pay my sub to WoW and I end up spending much less money.
MMORPGs have a lasting appeal the more they are like a virtual world with plenty of things to do.

Look at UO, it is a shadow of its former self but it does function like a virtual world.

WoW has moved away from simple staircase progression and allowed side activities - pet fights being an indication of things to come.

I think most players want to be a part of a fantasy (or scifi) virtual world, so even for casual players LoL or WoT offer nothing in that department.
I do agree about the natural ends, but I have to disagree that expansions are mere money-grabs by the devs. Instead, these extend the game, add more content before the natural end, while being cheaper than an entirely new game and allowing you to maintain some continuity to your old accomplishments.

I used to play WoW, and I enjoyed burning crusade more than vanilla, wrath more than burning crusade. Nothing since then as much, but that's mostly just target audience shifting.

I know there were some people who were upset about gear resets and stuff, but I've always seen gear simply as a means to experience more of the game world. You spend 6 weeks gearing up in the last raid, not because 'yay gear makes me so happy' but because it makes it easier to see all the content in the next raid. Well it used to, before LFR.

Now days, though, I just sub for a month each year, see everything in 'looking for raid' and unsub. Shrug. Target audience shifting, I guess. Gives me more money to spend on other things.
The natural end is just like you said: when the story ends. I grew bored of the "grind" in MMORPGs long ago. In Cataclysm, I only did each dungeon and raid one time each just to see the "story". I would cancel and then resubscribe for each content patch to repeat this.

As you say, this is a growing trend. I think the average MMORPG player has grown bored of the gameplay in this type of MMO, judging by the fact that WoW has more former subscribers than current subscribers. When MoP was coming out I thought I would feel the pull to come back, but it never happened. I think I finally got bored enough that even lots of new content won't bring me back.
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