The Journey vs. A Means to an End

This topic has been weighing heavily on my mind for the past few months.  There are two forms of PvE in mmorpgs that I have played and they either fall into ‘The Journey’ or ‘A Means to an End’ categories.  What do I mean by those?  Simple…

A Means to an End‘ is PvE that does not leave you satisfied or will a feeling of contentment.  As the name hints at, it feels like it’s a means to an end and that you’re only doing it to get to a part of the game that comes after the PvE or a part of the game that you want to play more.  This type of PvE is common in PvP games or games that focus too heavily on the “endgame” (I recommend one of my previous blog posts for further reading).  Examples of obvious ‘means to an end’ PvE would be Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, and WoW (read on for clarification).

The Journey‘ is a type of PvE where you never think about “getting to the max level to do….” because what you are currently doing in the -here- and -now- is extremely fulfilling or highly involved in what the scope of the game is all about.  A good example of ‘The Journey’ would be the original Everquest because I never once thought to myself “I need to get to the max level so that I can….”.  The leveling process felt like an adventure or a journey.  Many games in today’s market offer this style of play but honestly fewer and fewer games are being designed with this in mind.  A few more in this category that come to mind: Vanguard, LOTRO (sometimes), and WoW (read on for clarification before lynching me).

Let me first get this out of the way: Neither form is ‘better’ that the other.  I like both depending on what mood I’m in.  I want to move on to clarifying why I included WoW though, and why several other mmorpgs can be both a means to an end and a journey of PvE gameplay.

Using WoW as an example, PvE or the leveling process in general can start as a journey but transform itself into a means to an end.  In World of Warcraft when I was playing through for the first time it felt like an amazing journey.  I wasn’t at all worried about getting to the endgame content nor did I care about much more than the next area to explore and adventure.  This was partially because of a sense of innocence, or ignorance of what lay ahead, but it still began as a journey all the same.  The third, fourth, and even the tenth time through the leveling process became all about “How can I get through these levels as fast as possible so that I can…. raid, pvp, etc”.  Does this mean WoW should be classified by an unbiased third party as a ‘journey’ or ‘a means to an end’?  I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Some games’ PvE/leveling process begins and will forever be ‘a means to an end’ – although I will concede the point that it is partially subjective, but that’s not up for debate in this blog post.  Warhammer Online is the perfect example of ‘a means to an end’ PvE.  The tiers are laid out in such a way that you progress through them quickly, efficiently, and rather easily.  The game tells you precisely where to go to complete each quests and leads you, by the hand, the whole way.  Why?  Because the game isn’t about the PvE leveling process as much as anyone would have you think.  It’s about the RvR – a point I will NEVER concede to anyone, even Mythic if they were to argue it with me.  The majority of the content is experienced in the last few or very last levels in the game.  WAR lives on with renewable and dynamic content in the form of player vs. player interaction.  I can not honestly look back and say “ahh yes, I remember questing in Barak Varr.  The adventures I had there will be with me for a long time!” …. no, I’ll say “I remember T2.  It was pretty good”.  Notice I say T2 instead of calling the zone by name.  I’m purposely emphasizing the fact that the leveling process in WAR is split into tiers and the player is almost ‘removed’ from the leveling experience so that he/she does not become too attached.

Once again, neither form of PvE or leveling process is ‘better’ but I really want to encourage developers to continue making games where the PvE and leveling process is a journey; please make sure your game is designed for it though – if Mythic were to design their PvE in WAR as a ‘journey’ then it wouldn’t work for their game.  There are still times where I want to be sucked away into the adventures and feel attached to the here and now.

  • I would have to completely agree with you keen. I miss the Everquest type PvE but iv tried going back to the game and..i just cant…no idea why..either i am bored of it or other games make it uninteresting to me anymore.

    [whisper] first [/whisper]

  • If I’m reading you correctly, I’d say Ultima Online was the first experience where I didn’t care what level I was, but at the time less of my friends were playing (most were allergic to the ‘new’ idea of monthly fees), so it was just me and the peeps I met in-game.

    The sense of innocence as you put it, IMHO is a huge factor.

    For me, I get that “I wish I was max level” feeling mostly because of the varying rate of leveling of my friends. So really, it’s more “I wish we were all at max level so we could play together in a more fulfilling way“.

    The best experience I have in these games are with friends. So it’s such a shame that the leveling process is often staggered, but also either best done solo, or with a team of everyone at the exact same level.

    City of Heroes (whether you like the game or not) has made the most progress solving this issue, at least the way I see it. Not only does their Sidekick feature work so well, but they’re now getting the “Leveling Pact” where you can split your exp with someone to guarantee you stay the same level.

    The other problem (and yeah, I’m being subjective here, I do see it as a problem) with means-to-an-end games is that the lower level areas get abandoned once the loss of innocence with the majority of the players occurs. It’s a real shame to see wasted content and I really do think it’s wasted, going back doesn’t help if it’s been discarded by both the players and the developers. The magic of Duskwood in WoW for example, it was accoladed early on as a great zone, but now not only does it lack substance with less players, most of the events don’t work correctly since TBC’s change of mob scaling.

    I do agree that WAR works best keeping players moving upwards, not dwelling too long looking at the scenery. The RvR is working and working very well IMHO, even with the population imbalances.

  • City of Heroes is one of those heavily skewed towards “Journey” gameplay. “Means to an end” people come in, race toward a goal, and proceed to go, great, now what? Still, with the introduction of inventions, it has started to cater to people interested in a clear goal and getting to the destination of best and strongest as quickly as possible.

    In the same vein, WAR’s initial PvE layout seems heavily skewed towards “Means to an End.” There’s a clear railroad dragging you through the tiers, chapter by chapter, right through RvR lakes and PQs until the final destination of city campaigning.

    Still, we do also need to acknowledge that they’ve done a pretty good job of sneaking in bits to cater to the “Journey” players. The lore in the quest text is there, if you can resist the temptation to look at the neat summary. If you sit down and read the Tome and pick up all the tiny hints, you can end up on an alternate breadcrumb trail with obscure clues to go hunting for all sorts of tome unlocks and secret stuff that the average railroad-rider would never find.

    Then there’s the whole “war is everywhere” concept where you can jump head first into a scenario and enjoy it. No “must get to a certain level first before I can participate.” People are actually slowing down their leveling so they can stay in the same tier as their friends and RvR together. If that isn’t “Journey” gameplay, I’m not sure what is.

  • If an MMO has a strong level barrier, the game pre-cap will always be “a means to an end”. It doesn’t matter if you can make the first time or the second time a journey. If you have a game where a new character cannot compete with a level-capped veteran, then there is no journey.

    Ever played PlanetSide? No quests, no grinds, just PvP with a goal at the end… and everyone contributed, even the BR 6s. You didn’t have to hit BR 25 to fight for the cause, you were already strong enough to get into the game. You weren’t as versatile at BR 6, but you had the strength, the ability to compete. The same applies to Call of Duty 4, Too Human, Castle Crashers… are you more versatile at the level cap? Yes, but a newbie is NOT GIMPED.

    There’s no sense making the grind a journey. Just take out the need to grind and make the journey start from Level 1.

  • The leveling system is just a way so that people are not overwhelmed at the amount of stuff they could do. To clarify, imagine you were given a Chosen, with every skill and whatever amount of mastery points, and you were renown rank 1. You would have NO clue what to do, just hitting stuff with cleave or whatever. However much the leveling process becomes a grind later on, it spreads the learning experience out. I think after this “learning” experience is over, most things would fall under the “means to an end” catagory UNLESS you have not experienced it, or you still feel good about it. Punching enemy players in the throat is a good example, why would you want to stop? I do see however in the future, myself doing a scenario and thinking “Why am I still fighting for the Arathi Basin, if I did it 200 times already.” I know I mixed things up, whatever. I guess it would be like playing on CoD4, same server every time, and the map rotation and types do not change. However, if the gametype changed but the map stayed the same, things seem “new” again. People like new things, or old things that have been brought back after a long time.

    I look back at that, just what I thought, and I dunno if it was relevent or not.

    I know we all want to have that feeling of having something to do, the need to get things done before work/school starts, the urge to play whilst not able to.

    The addiction.

  • Its all about the journey for me. If I amn’t enjoying myself in game I will move on. Life is too short to waste huge chunks of leisure time in boring pursuit of some future virtual goal.

    Personally I would be delighted to play an mmo with a defined end point that offered exciting content all the way from level 1 to that end and then wished you on your merry way.

  • FenixStryk and Xivinas pretty much sum it up.

    The romantic ‘journey’ doesn’t really have much to do with gameplay. And shouldn’t. It’s more of a personal experience and highly subjective. The journey could be anything, even PvP.

    IMO the whole leveling game mechanic is an artifact that belongs to PnP and single player RPGs – not in a online computergame.
    In MMOGs it’s all about community and competition. The barriers of stat/gear/zones undermines this. Progression should really only be measured in terms of growing complexity/difficulty as desribed in Xivinas’ post.

  • I must say that I find it very enjoyable and quite well supported by the games structure to play WAR as a “Journey” game. Maybe it is becaise I am a longtime consumer and reinventor of the warhammer world, both in the TT and the PnP settings, I find loads of incentive to go of the beaten track, listen to conversations, get lost in the woods, flesh out my tome of knowledge, RP a bit with random strangers and generally just experience the world. I am quite happy that the game is also pretty streamlined for those who wants quick progression to the “end game”, to each their own, and in the end it probably gives me more players to share the game with.

    WAR has the potential to be a great game for the “journey” player, you just need to be able to ignore the little red circles on your map for a while.

    PS: you forgot a very interesting game in your reasoning: EVE-online. It has certain elements of “means to an end” but since the only way to gain experience in the game is to let RL-time pass by, it allows you to relax and enjoy the game a lot on the way.

  • I found WAR pve much more of a “journey” then WoW when I first started. Might have something to do with playing on one of the original pvp server on WoW release and having to level race though.

    WAR story is actually very good if you read the chapters, quests etc. All of the story lines are good, each has a different flavor and if you do all 3 it is really enjoyable.

  • I have commented on this before on my blog.
    Meaningful PvE is becoming a thing of the past.
    There is no reason when the most popular MMO is there for the copying.
    WoW made it so we rush to end game. You have to force yourself to slow down on your own if you want a PvE experience. The game does not promote this attitude.
    Basically the Developer does not have the explorers in mind.
    Quick gaming PvP, one hour or less questing for accomplishment, mini game mentalities have pretty much ruined this aspect of MMO’s.
    If anyone wants PvE now that means something or that a player will want to explore…better play a single player game.

  • “Using WoW as an example, PvE or the leveling process in general can start as a journey but transform itself into a means to an end.”

    I hear ya, man. Traveling 1-60 in WOW was a fun and rewarding experience. At, 60, it felt like the journey ended and the game became a narrow grind for the highest level of gear I could obtain before going insane from the monotony.

    I kind of like both paths, though. I play EVE, UO, and Puzzle Pirates for the journey. I also play L2 because sometimes I like to sit back with a few Coronas and spend an hour or two smacking the crap out of things in pursuit of furthering those progress bars.

    I think level disparity contributes greatly towards (although not the sole factor) the path a game takes. Games with minimal level disparity – or the perception of minimal level disparity – often feel more like a journey because people aren’t spending their time trying to “close the gap” or “catch up” to the other players. Games with heavy disparity (DAoC and L2, for example) are more for a ‘means to an end’ type game.

    The difference between the two types is readily identifiable when you try to write your character’s history. You’d be hard pressed to get anything from a DAoCer outside of a list of the spots he camped and a few anecdotes of entertaining wipes. However, ask a dozen AC players to tell their tale and each one will be different and unique in both path and experiences.

  • Awesome handdrawing skills there Keen!
    Ontopic: I decided like a year ago that I would take my time when I started with WAR, take my time to read the questlogs, immerse myself in the game and story as I felt the IP is so strong it deserves it. I even started reading lots of Warhammer books prior to launch to make my immersion even more complete.

    Well, where am I today? I’ve got a lvl 19 chosen and a lvl 10 zealot, and so far I’ve yet to actually read a questlog or anything else in the ToK for that matter ><
    I wish I did, and I’ll prob do on a alt once I hit 40 and start doing “endgame” stuff with my guild. But so far its been ALL about leveling up while having as much fun as possible (read: beating the living snot out of stunties!).

  • Vanguard all the way. I actually think I’m going to roll with Vanguard again. WAR is just not doing it for me..of course I love storylines and epic PvE.

  • Not talking end-game here, because ALL MMOs are broken in end game.

    From what I played WAR in beta, it felt much less a journey than WOW. WAR, in comparison, felt almost like a side-scrolling hack’n’slash console game, where you kept fighting to the next “boss”.

    Wow felt much more free and open, and epic adventure like – even though it also in reality funneled you along a path.

    DAOC, imo, was the ultimate epic-feel game. I wonder if it was because there weren’t the quests to guide you?

    My gripe with WAR and WOW, is that in essence they are MSOs. Massively Singleplayer. WAR is better in the fact that you can engage in the public quests, and the rvr objectives and feel as if you are multiplaying it. WOW is horrid in this aspect, where you constantly meet people who single-played up to 70, try to run a dungeon and fail on teamwork, and go on to continue the single player game in the Battlegrounds.

  • Oh and i forgot to ask. I heard a rumor that they are patching the orc choppa back into WAR.. is this correct?

  • Yes they will be patching back the Choppa once (or if) they get it to work properly (officially stated by Mark Jacobs). But I’ve heard no rumors on when.

  • I would argue that war is the perfect journey game i mean i havent really thought about max level that much. In daoc it was all bout means to a end there were keep battles and pvp but it was in a area with high level mobs no quests and no limit on level so the faster you leveled the more you killed. till they added battlegrounds.

    in war you dont have to be max level to fight for a keep or fight other players and stand a chance with senarios and leveling is mostly just a break up between senarios for me

  • I’m sorry you feel that way about WAR. I’m having such a good time doing PvE and PvP that I’m not worried about how fast or far I am leveling. To be honest, the PvE has been a blast that I’m actually 2 chapters behind where my character should be if I was worried about leveling and gear.

    The game is just fun, no need to put PvP or PvE into a specific “Means to an end category”. I think you short change the game by doing that. Sure, people PvE so they can get gear to PvP, but not everyone is doing that. Some of us are actually enjoying the settings, reading the quests and getting into the WAR itself through the PvE.

    If it was all about the PvP, then why not just make a game of Tic Tac Toe.

  • Oakstout: The “why not make it a game of tic tac toe” doesn’t hold much water imo. I could just as easily say “go play a online FPS, its pure PvP”, but the fact that I enjoy PvPing with swords and spells leaves me with MMO’s as my best choice. The character advancement is a added bonus, as I get some satisfaction by reaching certain goals (armor) and making my char look badass (I don’t care much about stats, but looks are important).

    Take Guild Wars as a great example, you can create maxlvl chars with the press of a button, and jump straight into PvP. An awesome system imo and if character control weren’t so stiff I’d still be playing it.

  • @Oakstout: There’s nothing to feel sorrow for me about, really. Like I said, ‘a means to an end’ PvE is not a bad thing – especially in a game like WAR. I like WAR for what it is… heck I love it. I’m mostly expressing my equal love for ‘the journey’.

  • You know, I think with original EQ – and to some extent WoW – the designers initially had very little notion of what would happen when people hit the level cap.

    EQ was a game where originally there was *only* leveling. There were a few quests – a very few – but they were obscure and usually yielded poor rewards. The game didn’t tell you *anything* – you just roamed around until you found the right place for your level and started killing stuff.

    Is that somehow more of a “journey” than WoW? I don’t think so, not really. If you compare original EQ to original WoW, you’ll find that they were in basically the same state – most of the “content” was for leveling, and there was almost no “endgame” to speak of. And, objectively, WoW’s leveling journey is really much deeper and more fleshed out than EQ’s, complete with many more NPCs with many more quests to engage in.

    In both cases, the main “endgame” came later, and I almost feel it was an afterthought. But now, you have very similar designs in both games – level up with straight PvE, larger raids at the level cap. If what you want is raiding, then neither game’s leveling process is going to feel like a “journey” – it’s just going to be an obstacle.

  • “Because the game isn’t about the PvE leveling process as much as anyone would have you think. It’s about the RvR – a point I will NEVER concede to anyone, even Mythic if they were to argue it with me. The majority of the content is experienced in the last few or very last levels in the game.”

    Exactly. Leveling in the WAR is just about gradually educating you to the varying complexities of gameplay instead of trying to dump it on you all at once. Of course, therein lies the problem though. Once you achieved the endgame, why should you be forced to experience that leveling all over again unless you choose to do so. If they do force this upon you, then MMO development needs to seriously do a better job of replay value.

    “There are still times where I want to be sucked away into the adventures and feel attached to the here and now.”

    You either have to continually be buying new single player games (for a different experience every time) or find an online multiplayer game that is more focused on PVP with little or no leveling involved. I mean personally, some of my most memorable game experiences have been in FPS games like Quake Capture The Flag, Warbirds, Allegiance, and Counter-Strike. These games have no leveling whatsoever, yet in mastering them I’ve been engaged in experiences that have almost felt heroic in nature.

    PS. Ya and I’d have to agree about EVE Online. Think it’s the only major MMO out there that kind of focusing on the journey / experience versus leveling / end game. I mean the universe is wide open. There are no level caps to enter areas. If you want to die a swift death in zero space, you can freely do so. Just wish the combat had been FPS style.

  • I’m normally pretty anal about reading quest text (I read every quest even in WoW), and I love the WAR IP. However, after getting into them, I have found scenarios and PQs so addictive that I don’t do much of anything else if I have a choice. In WAR more than any MMO I’ve played, the PvE is very much a means to an end, and that end is getting my level out in front of my PvP rank so I can get back to smashing heads. Or maybe leveling up for that next sweet piece of PvP gear, so that I can smash heads better.

    The game does have good lore. Often I’ll read through my ToK when I’m waiting for the next scenario to pop. There is a ton of well written backstory in there. In fact it reads as if one of the Games Workshop writers put it together. Maybe one day on a future alt I’ll have the patience to read some of my quests in more detail . . .

    I never thought an MMO would turn me into one of those ADD players that just scrolls down to the the objectives and runs off. But hell, I’m having a blast so who cares?

  • @Yeebo: I’m the same way with quests, and same reaction too, finding myself wrapped up much more in the Public Quests and Scenarios than I thought I would.

    The lore is okay, but I guess it just feels… maybe the word is expected, because Warhammer as a table-top game has always been in my peripheral vision. I’m not feeling hugely immersed in WAR, but oddly that’s okay as long as these PQs keep me busy.

  • Ok, people need to understand that leveling/progression and the experience of ‘journey’ are not the same thing. They CAN weave into eachother, but they are separate entities. The first is gameplay, the latter is perception.

    Right now many of the players in WAR feel it’s a marvelous ‘journey’ and do not worry about leveling speed.

    Of course, that’s because the game is fresh and everyone else is of similar level. Having an endlevel toon or two and going back to level an alt, the precise same gameplay will feel like a ‘A Means to an End’. The precise same gameplay will transform into an obstacle.

    That’s what you get from level/gear disparity. That’s what you get from stat based progression.

    The ‘journey’ should be anything else.

  • I always tell myself I’m going to enjoy the journey this time, but ultimately I want to keep up in level with my friends and guildmates.

    It does make it very difficult when you decide you don’t enjoy your class as much as you thought and you want to start over. They were all doing T2 scenarios together and all I could think about was man I need to hurry up and catch up to them. So that means I’m not reading quests or my ToK and I haven’t found any of the “easter eggs” in the game.

    In fact I have already witnessed the thinning out of the tier 1 areas and the game hasn’t been out a month yet. Starting over again this weekend in the DE areas, every PQ I came to was empty or had only 2 or 3 other people there. I went to the Greenskin area to see if perhaps it was more popular but found more of the same. I have already seen higher levels helping a friend through a PQ, which ruins the influence for anyone not grouped with them because the higher level can just one shot everything. T1 scenarios don’t pop nearly as often as T2 either, so it doesn’t seem that the game is getting enough fresh new recruits.

    I enjoy the journey, but I would be enjoying it alone.