When playing a game like World of Warcraft it’s natural to accept that we’ll be given a path to follow from 1-80 and that we’ll be given a story and purpose that leads us along. Playing WoW also means that you accept that the general goal of the game is to complete the content, and in order to do so you must participate in a rigidly structured ladder comprised of dungeons and raids which make up the rungs. Honestly, whether you like it or not, this is all fine. It becomes a problem when the metagame kicks in and you’re no longer going anywhere but in circles.
In Lord of the Rings there is a well known and beloved story at work which drives the player forward. Eventually there comes a time though when the player has completed the story which is available and the metagame kicks in. Turbine keeps the story coming bit by bit in order to extend the life of the game, but eventually the story will be told. Until this point, the meta game dominates as players quickly burst through the new story and reach the metagame where they tread water until the next chapter.
Darkfall, being more sandbox and less linear, is not immune to this problem either. One reaches the point (fairly quickly if they macro) where their character plateaus. They participate in city sieges, see the geopolitical conflict unfold, and eventually visit the majority of the map. The situations where something ‘new’ is introduced wane and the player is then left with a metagame which can at times be more dull than the raiding treadmill.
No game is immune to this problem. Even the best games have a shelf life. Although I loved EverQuest, there wasn’t much reason for me to continue playing after a few years. Dark Age of Camelot was fantastic, and aside from the design changes I would have continued to play but not for much longer. The games reach a point where players lose interest because nothing new is introduced. The games fade out and wither away. They all have an expiration date where continuing to play them is more of a grand attempt at holding onto something that was, rather than something that is or will be.
Since we all know this is inevitable, should MMO’s be designed with an ending aimed at preventing games from reaching that point of stale metagame? What if Dark Age of Camelot had been planned ahead of time to last for three years where we knew the game would end? On one hand I think I would feel that same feeling I have when playing a closed beta character where I think “why bother playing when I know it’s going to be deleted?”. On the other hand, I think that there could be a certain benefit. What if developers designed the game and content to stop after a reasonable amount of time but left the game up and running for anyone who wanted to continue, and then had a sequel ready to go?
We all know that part of our leaving a game, even a beloved one, is because of the ‘new and shiny’ effect. I remember that it was a lot easier to leave DAOC knowing that SWG was available. What if this was taken advantage of and a part two came out? If Dark Age of Camelot was designed to last for 3 years but then had a DAoC2 ready to come out right away then I would have played it without a doubt. Sometimes that’s all that players want – their same game but with a fresh start.
The best MMO’s could then be designed as trilogies or even a hexalogy. There are times when I wish I could just stick with one property like EverQuest and be done with it. There are also times when I wish that I could get in on a game but feel like it is impossible to join so late. Knowing that the next in the series is coming and that it will be a fresh start could be a way to introduce a lot of players. There wouldn’t be the “oh if only we could go back to those mechanics in that game” anymore if iterations of “that game” were still being made.
It’s an idyllic solution, but I think there is some merit and validity to how this approaches solving the issue of shelf life and MMO expiration dates. Thoughts?
(Thanks to Beleg for inspiring the idea.)