End-game Continuity

Let’s talk about end-game a little bit.  While streaming the other day, I had a quick talk with @AshenTemper about end-game.  I was playing The Secret World wondering what it will be like to hit the max level and have the game change from being about discovery and story into a game about raiding; At least that’s what I fear it will become.  The same thing happened with Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Leveling up was all about your personal story, then the end-game transitioned immediately into raiding.  There was no gameplay continuity between the leveling part of the game and the end-game.  For all intents and purposes, SWTOR was two games, and that was a huge design flaw.

Guild Wars 2, and many others before it, purport that they have no real end-game because the whole game is technically the end-game.  That is to say, players will be doing the same things at the max level that they have been able to do since level one.  GW2 has no traditional raids or gear treadmills.  I’m giddy just thinking about it.

While I’m in love with the idea that there will be no PvE end-game in GW2, I wonder how it will work out.  Sure, there will be giant bosses and events to participate in, and with zones like Orr there will surely be content.  Will players get bored, though?  Would you be bored if you were expected to continue doing the same thing?

I’m trying to decide how important an end-game is for me in a themepark, and how I think it can be done best.  I hate treadmills and raids, so that’s out — although I completely acknowledge that plenty of people love them.  Perhaps the problem is time spent in the progression stage, and time spent in the end-game being so unequal.  In the EQ days it would take a year to level a character, but now you’re considered slow if you can’t do it in under two days /played.

For me it will all come down to PvP in GW2 for sustainable end-game — emphasis on the sustainable part, because I’m sure for a while whatever they’ve made will be enjoyable.  I’m not ready to believe that I won’t get bored in a game like GW2 (a themepark) if I’m doing the same kind of PvE stuff forever.  It’s the same idea with raiding for me.  It just gets dull.  Given unlimited resources and complete control of scope, it’s absolutely possible to create content that is fun, engaging, and immersive despite being the same type of stuff players do throughout the game.  But can ArenaNet pull it off? Can they keep me entertained?

What are your thoughts on the whole end-game continuity issue?  Are you totally fine with the leveling part of the game playing entirely different from the end-game, or do you want them to be the same?

  • I want to play my preferred playstyle through the whole game–beginning, middle, and end. That’s soloing/PvE with some PvP if I feel like it. I’m learning to avoid MMOs that convert to a raiding game at the end because I don’t enjoy PvE raiding. I liked Rift, and they did a nice job with the design of letting people raid and PvP from low level to max level, but it was not great design to make you do raids to complete the main quest line. LotRO allows everyone of all persuasions, even crafting, to have their days in the sun, play the style they want, have success, and feel like they are a part of a diverse community.

  • Personally I’m shocked it has taken MMO Developers so long to catch on; everyone LOVES leveling in WoW; most people I know had at least 4 alts, usually more… and they continue going through it because the leveling/exploring game is so much more fun then endgame…

  • I am not at all convinced any non-PvP endgame works in an MMO without raiding/gear grind. How would it? Yes, GW2 will lower your level/gear to match the questing experience in the area you are in. So what? You will finish the Human area, then the Norn, then the Sylvari, then the Charr, then the Asura, and then… what? Play the same quest/events again as a new class? And this assumes each races’ quests are unique all the way to endgame rather than merging together past a certain level.

    I am not a huge fan of raiding anymore, but it does work at making a small section of content (8-10 bosses) last 2-3 months. In contrast, I would be stunned, stunned if it took that long to complete 100% of GW2’s questing experience.

  • I think Guild Wars 2 is heading for more of a “scavenger hunt” endgame. That’s what legendary weapons and elite armor are all about I think (as they were to some extent in GW1). Arenanet didn’t fail to notice that in GW1 many people would play just as hard to obtain cool cosmetic items that distinguish their characters as for items that improve power. The scavenger hunt idea is particularly apposite to engage those players who rush to level cap and miss most of the exploring content the first time around. It’s not dissimilar from a series of optional epic quests that you can complete in any order – I expect that stuff, such as the day & night sword, will take very many hours to obtain and send you all over the maps.

  • I think the entire premise of endgame could be flawed to begin with. It might stem from the subscription model, where you need a timesink excuse of things to do, in order to maintain the sub and keep logging in.

    Ultimately, it’s not very practical to demand a single game not bore you. Even people can tire of raiding. It’s just easier to suck folks into running the hamster wheel for shiny loot for a long time without examining why they’re doing what they’re doing, because of peer pressure and the RNG loot drops.

    So what else can you do in a game if you’d like to keep logging in and maintain enjoyment and thus build a community in a virtual world?

    I’d suggest, options. And lots of things to do. Engaging PvP, for the FPS type of kick, where people happily replay the same few maps for months on end because the opponents and tactical situations are different every time.

    Achievements to chase for shinies, even long term grind ones like certain Guild Wars’ titles. Hall of Monuments was, I think, fantastically successful in giving many people multiple things to do toward the overarcing goal of X number of points.

    Possibly alternate advancement systems, which always provide a way of improving your character ever so incrementally. Or allowing lateral playstyle changes through changing builds, or multiple alts.

    And to keep updating content and systems, more dungeons, more dynamic events, more zones, more novel things to try out, play with, explore.

  • I’m like you Keen. I hate raiding and I hate when a game goes from one way to level to another completely different tangent at endgame. No amount of Daily Quests or Raiding can capture that feeling of progression and I am really holding out hope that GW2 offers some sembalance of an Alternate Advancement system. Until then we have plenty of content in the form of “the whole world” to keep us entertained and the WvW to fall back on in times of nothing else to do.

    I welcome the new model of no-raiding and no-gear threadmills.

  • I think time is big thing. Like you said in EQ it took awhile to level up and these days people level to max in mmos in a few days. This same idea translates to raid content as well. In the early EQ days it took awhile for people to kill bosses, where as todays mmos have their content defeated in the first weeks of it being released. It all comes down to how you design the content and how that content is distributed.

    For example take EQ’s system. It was gear dependent like many mmos, but the distribution of the gear was such that it took awhile to gear up due to drop rates. This in turn combined with the power of bosses meant it took awhile to finish the end game content and put it on farm status. EQ’s system also added AA points while were like extra advancement of your character once you reached max level, this was a means to add that time barrier in so people didn’t beat the content super fast. EQ’s system worked without being too straight forwards in what it was doing. Basically gear, AA advancement, were time barriers to extend the end game. WOW does a similar thing with its badge system, boss unlocks, and 3 tier difficulty. As much as I hate to say it, they know what they are doing.

    To keep people happy in the end game you need these time buffers that force people to slow down and not kill content too fast. The unfortunate aspect of this is that todays mmos structure this to the point that you now see the treadmill before you enter it. Where as in EQ it felt much more natural and like you were just playing the game. I prefer having the system disguised instead of dangling in front of me personally. That’s when it feels like a job and that you must log in and do that daily to keep the treadmill spinning.

    I feel bad for all of these 3 monthers lately. I just don’t think their designers get it. For me, if I brought out an mmo with end game raiding content, I would guarantee it didn’t die for at least a year or until new content is close to being released. People want a challenge, not to be spoon fed everything. Everyone of the 3 monthers has died out due to just that, people get bored because there is nothing left to do. If your content in an mmo is done that fast then your design team needs a makeover. And it all comes down to those time buffers, get em right and your game can be preached about for years like EQ, get it wrong and you get tossed in the 3 month bin.

    As for GW2 I hope the pvp is sustainable, I really do. I hope there are solid mechanics and not just damage spamming. As much as I loath WOW it has solid pvp mechanics, not many other mmos can match. When I’m fighting a class I feel the paper rock scissor game being played. I know when I do this, he will do this or he will get hurt or die. That feeling makes pvp fun for me. Action and reaction. Even though the idea of hybrid classes is neat, I have never liked them in mmo settings. It defeats the rock paper scissor aspect and adds spock and lizard I think. You get the picture though, pvp mechanics can get skewed. So instead of going into a fight knowing something you end up with a question mark every encounter and when people start attacking you don’t know what they’ll pull out. I prefer knowing more than less when going into a fight, and it makes the whole action reaction much more enjoyable. I’m going to try and play more pvp this beta weekend to see how it goes but I saw alot of aoe spam the first week and I didn’t like it that much.

  • Jeromai you are exactly right. Everything in an MMO is created so they can charge your credit card month after month. All the little things that games have, to include raiding and daily quests, are cash grabs for the devs while new content is being created.

    I have concerns about the end game in GW2. Once I have one lvl 80 why should I even create an alt. My resoning is, all the skills are pretty much the same for each character type. I can be a ranged thief or I can be a ranged guardian etc…

    I have concerns about balance as well because the devs aren’t concerned. Once players work the numbers, if they haven’t done so already, PvP will dominated by the over powered class. It happened in DAOC and it will happen in GW2. Playing an Engineer may be fun to play but worthless compared to other classes in PvP and PvE.

  • @Thomas – Not sure if you played the beta, but in reality the different classes have very different play styles. Whilst you are probably right that at any particular time some classes are likely to be more useful than others, that’s something that is subject to balance. Engineer is no more worthless than other classes – but they are, of course still being balanced as you would expect. That will continue throughout the lifetime of the game, but obviously larger changes are likely in beta.

  • I have played in the beta. I haven’t played all the classes but I have played three and my fourth will be this weekend. I have not played the Engineer because I will be playing that at launch. I guess I’m a sucker for punishment.

    It just appears to me that all the classes are pretty much the same. Not exactly the same but close to being the same. Fighting up close with the warrior was fun but I ended up using the rifle most of the time. I played a thief and used the bow most of the time. When I played the necro I used daggers. It is like everything is ass backwords.

    Every class can play a support role by either providing boons or taking them away. Having so much flexability, which is a good thing, causes more balance issues then any other game I have ever played. That is why I believe they do not care one bit about balance because they know they can’t balance it.

  • While I can’t agree that all of the classes are strictly the same, I can agree that ArenaNet has made them homogeneous in order to remove the “holy trinity” (tank/heals/CC for oldschool and tank/heals/dps for newschool).

    All classes are extremely flexible. I can’t issue a verdict on how that impacts the game until after launch.

  • At this point I’d prefer leveling and end-game to be the same. There was a time when I enjoyed raiding and loot grinds but that time has passed. I generally regard end-game now as the time when the game gets boring and repetitive. I enjoy the exploration, acquisition of new skills and learning game mechanics as I progress through a game. If it turns into repeating content over and over ad nauseum I’m going to lose interest fairly quickly. I suppose that’s partly why I tend to prefer PvP — even though you’re repeating the same content it plays out differently each time.

  • For me it has to do a lot with relevant content. Leveling up, the world can always seem huge and wonderful. But how many games do you get to max level and realize that only 1 or 2 zones are worth playing in until the next expansion? The more vertical progression matters, the worse this tends to get. When games have raiding teirs like WoW, this gets even worse. By the time 3.3 was out, it was hard to call any normal content in Icecrown or Stormpeaks relevant to 80’s. You had the 3 Icecrown dungeons and the raid, that was all that was relevant.

    Both TSW and GW2 are trying to fix this in different ways. TSW has vertical progression to a point, but has much more emphasis on horizontal progression. A QL10 character can still get killed in Kingsmouth if he’s not careful. Just hope the two new zones they’re working on don’t have gear that raises power in the same way tiers of raiding do in Warcraft.

    GW2 is going with the scaling approach, where you level down and gear doesn’t matter as much. But that being said, once you’ve filled a heart, I see almost no reason to ever return. People will slowly just work out the entire map and be done, the devs have said they fully expect people to stop playing and return when an expansion comes out. So it’s more about being relevant until you beat it, with the best crafting materials being in certain zones as opposed to being rare and available anywhere.

    So the question becomes, weather your game moves to raiding or not, how do you keep that entire world feeling like it’s worth exploring?

  • For the last 5-10 years I’ve been fiercely opposing the ethos of ‘pvp rewards from pvp’ and ‘pve rewards from pve’. I think any taboo that goes unchallenged is awful for any game, genre, or system in general. The taboo that ‘pvp rewards from pve’ and vice versa is a bad idea needs to be revisited IMO, because, I think the opposite is true. Most importantly, this concept shouldn’t be just limited to PvP and PvE structures… all systems should have interwoven rewards.

    The issue derives from the perpetuated & completely hypocritical cry for getting rewards that help accomplish what you were doing to get them. These are the exact same people who complain about gear treadmills and ‘getting gear just to get gear’. Well, you have only two alternatives: get rewards to do something else, or get no rewards. Since I see the latter being a lot harder to get people to enjoy, the former should at least be given a chance.

  • @qpon: I’m in the camp that hates getting gear from one place to be able to get gear from another, and I vote for de-emphasising gear in general.

    Gear should be less about making you more powerful. Instead it should be about expression, achievement, and customization.

    Let the character itself be the vehicle for progression. Earn skills through PvP or PvE, continually improve your character’s abilities.

  • Any game that primarily focuses on leveling will feel like something is lost at cap. In this way it seems inevitable for the end-game experience to feel different to the leveling portion.

    So what are ways currently utilized in MMO’s or even in theory that can be utilized to make the game seem like something new after everything has been experienced?

    Solid PvP is one approach as each encounter has the possibility to feel like an unpredictable and therefore novel experience.

    Another method is dev hosted mystery events. If scripted events such as NPC attacks on towns occurred with some frequency, but without prior announcement, one would be encouraged to log on. I remember this happening in WoW where I would fly into a town only to see that it was being attacked by a dragon, pretty awesome surprise.

    The GW2 finale events hold promise for what ANet could do within the game after launch. Imagine getting a message from your guildies that a starter area had just been invaded by demonic creatures; perhaps for the next month mysterious portals might appear around the map heralding impending invasions. Include dynamic event mechanics, which alter the world depending upon local event resolution and I would want to keep logging in with my capped toon.

  • @Keen:

    I also dislike gear-centric games. The thing we need to accept is that there likely will not be a model that can cater to both gear progression and cosmetic gear crowds, as the existence of the former trivializes the philosophy behind the latter.

    At the risk of sounding callous, I am not concerned about the crowd that states they are not going to play GW2 because without a gear grind it will feel pointless (“like an empty shell”). A game that tries to cater to everyone’s interests will end up catering to the lowest common denominator between crowds with conflicting interests. I would love a game where people PvP because it is intrinsically fun as opposed to one where their play style is dictated by the amount of honor/hour focused on gear upgrades.

    I feel better about playing a niche game that meets most of my expectations and avoiding one that doesn’t as opposed to trying to fit into one that inevitably misses key points for my play style in order to accommodate all sub-groups of players.

  • My “end game” consists of liking the world enough to want to go on spending time in it indefinitely. More than that I don’t ask.

    I still play, with reasonable frequency, MMOs I first began playing five or ten years ago. MMOs with many races/classes and a largeish number of viable leveling paths, like Everquest, EQ2 or Vanguard, I’ll play over and over again. GW2 looks to fall squarely into that category.

    If I like something I always like it, as a general rule. I love new things but I just layer them on top of all the old things I still like. That applies as much to MMOs as anything else.

  • @Keen – Agree – the only difficulty is that increasing skills can essentially lead to the same dead end as increasing gear stats. Eve solves that problem, at least to some extent by having different valid roles that you can perform at different skill levels. I know that many Arenanet employees play Eve and it has been a big influence, but it’s hard to see how a mechanism that only really works in large PvP engagements would be easily transferable to GW2 PvE, which by design must cater for engagement sizes down to solo.

  • Maybe it’s because the leveling portion is about the adventure, the scene and the story while raiding is about gear? It’s the driving reason PvP in TOR had instant queues, there was no transition from leveling to max.

    I played EQ for 5 years and as much as it did right, it did a whole pile poorly. Faction quests, hidden quests, group quests, the scenery, travel. Everything has a sense of belonging and proportion. That part is great. The whole time sink with nothing happening waiting for a spawn… a bit less. Zerging a boss? cool. Getting trained with the boss at 5%? Isn’t that the reason that UO split PvP and PvE?

    I like Rift because of the varied paths of progress. Sure, there are raids but they are only a small portion of what you can do once you hit max level. Alternative advancement, chronicles (small instanced stories), dungeons, achievements, events, rifts, invasions, instant adventures, pets, dailies, non-story quests, super long epic quests and above all, costume pieces.

    It’s like a game should feel like a tree. A solid trunk that you start with and as you progress, more and more options become available.

  • @Asmiroth: The tree analogy is a good one. I think it represents the problem we see now with themepark games: The tree is upside down. The further you progress in a game, the narrower your options until you’re funneled in one direction.

  • as much as it had it flaws, I still feel that of all the multiplayer games that have come and gone, two stand out as the benchmarks for what should be.

    #1 Meridian 59. there were no levels, plenty of pvp, and gear was meant to be customized to a particular situation. since there was a drop all on death, you needed to be careful with gear you deemed “valuable”, or someone(s) might jump you for it. likewise, there were the guild halls, and player driven events(that came later). the bonus was that you had pretty free control of the character creation and advancement process. which brings me to:
    #2 Shadowbane. there is the one ring in terms of advancement, complete character customizability, and massive variance and difference. the Bonus? completely player driven world. player made and run cities and economies, player made political intrigues and plots, and player made and ran events. while there were also some fantastical dev events, they were rarer.

    to be fair, neither of those were really “mmo” titles. m59 had a max of about 200 users. so you really got to know the community you were playing with.
    Shadowbane promised more, and died hard with the drops, collisions, and poor network performance. I believe the servers were toted as having a running 5k max, but I think in actuality, once they lost so many early on, it was rare to see those kind of numbers.

    Now, both of those are dead titles (meridian LONG dead) because they were poorly managed, could not keep up with the things that players really wanted (better graphics, world stability, etc), and the playerbase shifted.

    Unfortunately, what makes the best of gaming experiences, is also the kiss of death. Player world control and complex customization’s, and a sense of risk/reward don’t really have a great revenue generating track record. in fact, a large part of the m59 debacle was based on 3DO’s wacky compensatory schemes. I’m not so sure that the two are compatible in today’s day and age.

    but one can hope.

  • I’ve never really liked PvE Raiding, at least not the way it’s done in MMO’s today. I especially don’t like it as a means of gear progression.

    Gear progression should be dictated by crafted player gear. I know its old hat to always bring up DAOC, but pre-TOA I loved helping guild crafters reach legendary status, and then trying to get a suit of 100% crafted gear, then hitting up a spell crafter to completely customize the stats. Sure it didnt have an impressive look, but you could dye it plenty of colors. Trials of Atlantis ruined that for me somewhat with the artifact gear.

    PvE Raids are typically what keeps me in a steady rotation of trying an MMO, leveling to max and quiting when I realize the PvP isn’t any good and all that’s left is PvE Raiding.(since crafting in MMO’s hasn’t been any good since SWG)

    The trouble with it for me I think is the repetitiveness. (another DAOC reference inc.)
    The actual Trials in DAOC’s TOA expansion weren’t horrible, at least in the sense that once you completed a master level you were done, unless you wanted to help others complete theirs you didnt have to rerun them over and over again.

    Rerunning a PvE raid over and over for gear in order to progress my character? No thanks. Give me epic quest lines that may require a group of up to 10 people, that I don’t have to repeat over and over. Or, make dungeon raids open world, with the threat of enemy interference. >:)

    And for the love of all things, please give me “end game” PvP that gives people a reason to defend the ground they have conquered. If you’ve played The Secret World and have seen the Fusang warehouse circle of boredom in action, you especially know what I mean.

  • I’ve mentioned before that I felt PvP arena’s in WOW, were detrimental to the game, and that future MMO’s might be successful if they capitalized on one aspect of the game, rather than trying to include every element. WOW captured such a huge audience because it was cutting edge, and the size of the player pool meant each element (PVE, PVP, end game, economic, etc) would do well. Once the population drops too far, then the social aspect of the game in each element ends, and you might as well play a single player “whatever”. I burned out in WOW halfway through TBC, and tried to get it back with WOTLK, but I just couldn’t get into it. After several years away from wow, and having tried a few MMO’s without liking them, I heard about Vanilla WOW in one of the threads — and I tried it out.

    For me, its like coming home after a long absence. It really feels good. I’m enjoying leveling (this one runs at 12x leveling factor, so it only took a couple of casual weeks to get a 60 and several mid level toons. I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m still impressed with the graphics even though its 8 years old — ancient in today’s technical terms — and the questing, gearing process is just part of the total package. Yeah, I could have gotten on the instant 60 server, and spent a few days getting gear for raiding, but instant gratification is NOT what I was looking for. It only reaffirms my previous belief that the next successful MMO, will not be a one-size, trying to fit all, but one that focuses on either arena PVP, or a progressive building process to an endgame. One that can survive with fewer than a million subscribers, and have large server populations. Continuity is defined in my book, as having everyone involved, not split between totally different games.

  • Raiding is not about aquiring gear. Raiding is about figuring out the tactics to kill a boss as a group, and then execute it near perfect. It’s an amazing feeling to finally kill a boss when you tried it hundreds of times already. Gear is just a tool to get you ready for the next step. People need to stop saying that raiding is for loot whores.

  • “Raiding is not about acquiring gear” for Henk. I accept this.

    Raiding is about acquiring gear for Gankatron.

    “It’s an amazing feeling to finally kill a boss when you tried it hundreds of times already” for Henk. I accept this.

    It’s a tedious feeling to finally kill a boss when you tried it hundreds of times already for Gankatron.

    These differences are hard to compromise within a single MMO, so I suggest that devs don’t even try. Choose either a gear-centric or cosmetic gear approach and don’t look back.

  • It’s fine that lvl’ing and endgame are separate, but they do need to be integrated.

    As to gear grind…I don’t see it as grind. I see gear as rewards for conquering and perfecting team based content.

    The challenge for any mmorpg is to make team based end game content challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling as well as a natural continuation of the leveling game. WoW does it, LotRO did it at one time, Rift does it. TOR utterly fails at it.

    I’m intrigued by GW2’s approach…but god forbid I have to buy keys to unlock drops to complete sets. We’ll see.

  • There is a transition in TSW : you can play solo and follow your story up to Transylvania. At that point suddenly, the quests become group quests, with mobs having the same behaviour than nightmare dungeons.

    It’s not really explained, so it’s like hitting a brick wall. A lot of people are complaining, and that may be a cause of dissatisfaction and quitting the game.

    GW2 is different, with the auto-grouping system. My experience of grouping in the TSW (in the open world, not the dungeons) is a total disaster : quests don’t synchronize, chat out of order, so no communication possible, etc. And if you do not group, when two (or more) player are on the same quest, it bugs.

    Conclusion : I’ll be leaving TSW at the end of my free month, go for a well deserved vacation, and move to GW2 at launch…

  • @Ocelot: We’re in Egypt but we already sense a change in the direction of content. There are fewer “solve the mystery” quests.