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Fixing the Journey Fixes the End-game

We talk a lot about end-game in the MMO industry.  We talk about making enough content, making it sufficiently rewarding, etc.  What we don’t talk about is perhaps one of the biggest reasons I used to play MMORPGs for a much longer period of time.

I want something to work towards.  I like knowing that there’s something still out of my reach.  That’s why I’m okay with the idea that only a small percentage of people (1%) will ever see end-game content.  What I’m not okay with are the reasons why people never end up seeing the content.

Getting to the beginning of the end-game is too easy in today’s MMOs.  I can get max level in WoW, FFIXV, and just about any other game in a couple of weeks.  I’m ready to begin the end-game, and I’m faced with one of two realities: (1) I want to participate but I can’t, or (2) I can participate.  If you can’t participate you become frustrated, and if you can participate you might even run out of things to do.  The problem here really isn’t with either of the realities — it’s with how you got to the point of facing them.

I think it should take months, even a year to get max level.  I think the journey to get to the point where you’re faced with the reality if hitting a wall has to be so long that only 1% of the people even think about it.  I’m not saying it has to be hard, punishing, or any of that.  I just think the journey ends too quickly.

I look back at the original EverQuest and I see a game that took me 6 months to solo level a Necromancer to level 50.  I played almost every day, and I had a lot of fun.  I actually hit level 50 a few weeks before Kunark (expansion) launched. In that period before Kunark I was able to do a few of the raids (hard dungeons, really).  When Kunark launched I was once again at a place where the “end-game” was another 3+ months out.

There were months and months of fun to be had on the way toward the end.  I was always working towards becoming better, but I wasn’t doing it so that I could get to the end and face the reality of either not being able to do content or running out of it.  If I never once saw the hardest dungeons it didn’t matter to me because the experience on the way was just as fulfilling as anything in the end.

I believe that when someone reaches the end-game they should never be faced with wanting yet being unable to participate.  This artificial barrier exists to make modern MMO end-game feel out of reach.  How silly is that?  Most people make it to the max level but only 1% see the content.  It should be that 1% reach the max level and all of them can see the content.

Making the journey matter more fixes a huge part of the problem.

FFXIV Progress – Finally!

I think I’m getting my second wind in FFXIV.  I actually made progress for the first time in two months by completing Titan HM which is the last step I needed for my Relic.  It took so long to obtain that I already have the Tomes of Mythology needed to Zenith (+1) my staff.

My plan now is to tackle Crystal Tower — the new “raid” added for players to gear up in prior to moving on to Coil (the original, harder raid).  Apparently CT is very doable in a PUG via the raid finder.  I tried last night to no avail for 30 minutes.  Maybe I was queueing at a bad time.  I plan to queue up tonight with guildies, and hopefully see even more progress by the end of the week.

I’ve mentioned this several times in the last few months, but I’m completely over the idea of raiding.  That’s why it took me so long to get Titan HM down.  Even in a perfectly good group with people who will carry me the whole way, I sit back and watch how they treat each other.  Everyone is uptight, rude, and easy to read as a self-interested / self-serving / self-righteous (wanna-be) elitist.  I was totally there myself a few years ago.  Gotta get that gear!  Gotta be the best!  Gotta move to the next step!  Gotta keep moving and making progress, go go go!  Sheesh.  If you really want to have a good laugh, watch the videos of the “best” raiding guilds in WoW and hear how they scream at each other.

I joined a PUG group the other day and sat there for one wipe.  As soon as we died, the bickering started.  It took maybe three whole seconds for me to log out and go do something else.  I didn’t even have to think about it.  That’s how I know I’m ready for a change.  That’s why I haven’t gone back to WoW with some of my friends.  That’s why I would rather play single-player games I got during the Steam sale.

Back to FFXIV.  I think I’ll be able to do Crystal Tower and see the mid-tier content because of how easy it is, and maybe even casually gear up some mythology stuff with tomes, but I think that’s about as far as I’ll ever get in PvE.  I’ll probably move on when EQN Landmark alpha starts.  I’d rather dig holes, chop wood, hoard supplies, and build a city.  That sounds relaxing and fun.

That Sense of Accomplishment

I’ve noticed a theme in the comments here and on other sites regarding the productive use of time when playing MMORPGs.  There’s a tendency for people to say something like, “I want to feel like I’ve achieved something.”  Players want to log in and know that what they did meant something.  No one wants to feel like they have wasted their time.  However, I think the way in which we perceive progress or achievement has drastically lost focus.

Back in the days of the original EverQuest, or even a few months ago when I played again, I could log in and technically lose experience yet still feel like I made progress.  Progress wasn’t just about leveling up or getting better loot.  Traveling was an accomplishment.  Meeting someone new was progress.  Progress wasn’t measured in huge leaps, but in tiny little steps.

WoW Boss Kill

There are more ways to progress than leveling up, killing a boss, and getting loot.

Part of the problem is the ease of which we progress in modern MMOs.  Leveling up from 1-50 takes a couple weeks at most for the average player.  I remember spending 6 months leveling up in EverQuest, and I was one of the fast ones soloing my entire way there on a Necromancer.  When you consider your time spend as a journey, and not a sprint, it’s okay to log in some days and perhaps appear to make no progress.  Chances are you’ve taken steps toward unlocking the ability to progress.

Then there’s the other perspective I have come to know quite well these past few months; it’s okay to just play the game and have fun.  I know to some people making progress is fun, but what happened to just “playing” the game and feeling satisfied?  This goes hand-in-hand with what I’ve been talking about these last few days.  There’s a pervasive mentality out there trying to convince people that unless they are the best raider, the best PvPer, always leveling up, always moving (like a fish) then they are somehow drowning and going to die.  It’s okay to act like a hobbit and kick back, relax, and enjoy the scenery!

WildStar Housing

Many of you agree with me that although this problem rests on the shoulders of the player, we have to acknowledge the fact that games these days are being designed to encourage people to move faster, consume more, and go in a straight line.  Games like EQN Landmark are going to start challenging some of those tropes for the MMO industry like Minecraft did for others. But such a big jump is going to be a disconnect for a lot of people.  I feel like we’ll need a smaller more gradual step to reintroduce the idea of ‘existing’ in a world rather than ‘playing through it’ as fast as possible.

Everything here ultimately boils down to gameplay that, no matter what it involves, makes the player feel accomplished.  Whether it’s decorating a house or killing a dragon, leveling up or riding a boat, finding a sword or dying a horrible death, these things have to be independently unique and fulfilling experiences.

Am I having fun?

Piggy backing a little bit on yesterday’s post, I started thinking about why I play MMORPGs and how my reasons have changed over the years.  Back when I played The Realm (1996-1999) and EverQuest, I played for fun.  It was something totally new and a pastime that gave me great enjoyment simply by being able to log in and play with hundreds of other people.

My motivations gradually changed over the years.  Around the time of Dark Age of Camelot I started to play because of this transcendent sense of pride and duty.  Still, it was about having fun.

When World of Warcraft came around, things for the entire industry changed.  I know some of you are going to reply and say how no matter what you always play for fun, but hang in there and hear me out.  WoW introduced MMOs to a younger generation of gamers who don’t play for “fun” or “realm pride” or any of  that — they play to be the best.   That’s why raiding is successful and the arena formula works for PvP: Deciding who is the best is almost black and white.

I think it goes beyond people simply preferring to slay big monsters over decorating houses.  There’s no way to say you are the best if all you do is collect resources or make hot tubs out of baubles.

Back when I was a serious WoW player, getting server first kills of major bosses and leading some of the top raiding guilds, I played to be the best.  I can look back and say from experience that the mindset exists and people fall into it without even realizing what they’re doing.  One day you wake up and have this epiphany that what you’re doing isn’t fun.

I’m only closing in on 30 years old, but I get the sense already that I’m one of the older players.  I still have plenty of free time, but my mindset has changed completely.  I’m back in that “I play for fun” mentality.  Everything I do is driven by asking myself, “Is this fun?”  If it’s not, I stop.  This helps me squeeze enjoyment out of some games, and stops me from playing others entirely.

That’s why I ask questions about what kind of activities are available to players at the max level.  I want to know that I can do something other than raid for gear three hours every night of the week.  I want to know that the game is designed to make the crafting, housing, PvP, exploring, gathering, etc., experiences just as fulfilling as the raiding.  I want to know that there will be many ways for me to look for the ‘fun’ without being trapped by what people expect from every MMO.

FFXIV End-game Update

Keen in Darklight ArmorI’ve been doing the “end-game”, or what is currently available in the end-game of FFXIV, for a couple of weeks now.

The common sentiment is that Square may have rushed things a bit.  To get ready for doing true end-game activities one must run the same two dungeons over and over.  One of those dungeons is a story dungeon, which causes a rift between those who want to speed run and those who want to watch cutscenes.

Grinding CM and AK  (the two dungeons) yields tokens which can be redeemed for gear.  The gear is really only needed to complete part of the Relic Weapon quest, then advance into the only “raid” currently available: Coil of Bahamut.

Right now I’m still in the “taking it slow” phase. I run 2-3 AK’s a day (30 min each) and collect tokens to redeem for gear I’ll need to comfortably slay Titan and Garuda Hardmode.

Can it improve? Yes.  I wrote only a few days ago that a variety of dungeons wouldn’t hurt.  Adding two or three more would be a great start.  Speeding up the Duty Finder would also go a long way.

What I’m not suggesting is enhancing the gear grind.  Some people are recommending a faster vertical climb.  Me?  I think a nice horizontal progression would be much better.  More dungeon options, lots of gear in the same tier, and a long, long time before I have to worry about replacing the gear I just worked hard to earn.

Long story short, it’s not bad.  Having played on a few hours a night, I’m only a couple of weeks away from being able to do the hardest content.  That’s very reasonable.

Update: Patch 2.05 is bringing a great deal of change.  A lot of what has been bugging me and others about the end-game is being addressed.  All the details. [Read more...]