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.

  • So much this. I think one of the reasons I stuck with WoW for so long was that it took me almost a year to get to max level (during BC, playing only a few nights a week, messing around a lot). I developed a love for the lore and the game and the people I played it with that kept me around through mid-Cata.

    The over-emphasis on end-game makes it feel more like running on a treadmill than engaging in an activity I genuinely enjoy. For the record, I hate treadmills.

  • While I agree things move to quickly in modern MMOs I also think some of the ‘blame’ can be placed on the player and their habits. These days I encounter more players that just want to get to the end game and could not care less about story and content so much that playing an mmo and leveling almost becomes a mathematical task instead of an actual experience. What can I do in the shortest amount of time to gain as much xp as possible to get to the raids (or whatever they are called each game). I had fantastic sessions in the early pre-burning crusade days of WOW but as soon as all emphasis switched to gear and raids I found those sessions were few and far between.

    Ironically the best adventures I have had ‘online’ the last few years have been in non traditional MMO online games like Minecraft, Day Z and more recently 7 Days to Die and Starbound. The lack of structured and defined content almost forced our hands (the group I was playing with) into exploring and discovering instead of just surging to a boss and clicking the chest.

  • I completely agree. The leveling process in Everquest could feel attritional at times but the solution to that perceived problem wasn’t to cut it down from a year to a couple of days. Plenty can be done to make the process more sprightly, less exhausting without at the same time shortening or trivializing it.

    One of the key motivators for a magic-using class in Everquest was the way that very significant, game-changing spells were distributed throughout the leveling process. You yearned to reach the level where you got Spirit of Wolf or Clarity or Dead Man Floating. You always saw your options develop and grow but your actual power waxed and waned as you acquired new spells that slowly diminished in effectiveness only to be refreshed as better versions were acquired. The whole process felt natural, organic and believable.

    Even the way in which your spells were acquired was content in itself, compelling content. Just seeing the number next to your name wasn’t enough to earn your new abilities. You had to go find someone to sell you the scroll to scribe it into your book, or learn how to craft it yourself. Starting a new level frequently meant starting a new journey, often a scary and dangerous one to a distant land.

    Lots of RPGs used to work like this. It was hardly original or unique to EQ. It’s an approach that fell out of fashion in favor of ever-increasing convenience but convenience isn’t always the friend of adventure.

  • Exactly. I read on forum Star Citizen Forum and I get people asking, what’s the end game?

    The whole fun with EQ was the Journey to highest level. The new games now makes it like the leveling process is just speed bump to “end game” Missing the whole point of RPG and adventuring. If that’s the case, might as well eliminate Levels and just give everyone MAX level. Why bother programming the leveling process and story line and developing your character?

    I think it should be 6-12 months for avg player to reach max level. If someone want to speed to the highest level and have nothing to play, it’s their fault. End Game shouldn’t even be in discussion until after a year (or expansions)

    That’s my take. Too many Instant Gratifications out there and what’s burning out people on MMORPG.

  • I don’t blame people who rush to the endgame because the middle game and leveling the companies created lately are so dumb and boring. I played skyrim this month and the game is just epic…all the quests, the world, the feeling, the music…I was intrigued almost in 99% of the quests I received…I wanted to do the quest, I wanted to find out whats happening and help the guy. I can roam the world and do random quests in skyrim for hours upon hours and never I felt that I am tired…most times I stop because I must stop the game session. But the game is build around build around immersion and virtual world.

    In a themepark MMO, I wanna suicide while doing quests in a linear path, with zones restricted by level and uninspiring quests. I played wow vanilla too and I liked it very much..but Vanilla wow had the virtual world to care for…has epic quest lines with great story/lore, had many zones you can chose per level bracket and the world was immersive…now is a pure themepark as is all the new MMOs.

    I miss the journey too, but a journey cannot be created by current MMOs if they just lower the numbers of xp and make it last for months. The game/world need to be built around the journey

  • Of course I agree with your journey statement, as long as there is plenty of content to keep it interesting for all that time, so that I do not mindlessly grind like in those asian grind heavy mmorpg’s.

    I have the feeling the mmorpg’s we used to know will either not come back or… they will have to come back from the indy scene.
    That means no AAA titles, but hey so be it.

    I believe the reason why is that big corporate heads could smell the potential profit that one AAA mmorpg that could rule them all could make. They want WoW’s success or better.
    So they cater to everyone. Just like the Wii did. Your toddler and your grandma must be able to play it.

    Even their former failures learned them that the box sales are profitable on games that do not hold player population.
    Lets try again and again in hope to strike gold.

    So why would they change course?

    For those reasons the mmorpg we want will have to come from the indy scene.

  • Why levels? I’m convinced that Guild Wars 2 would’ve been even better had they simply not had levels. I explored the 1-15 zones completely for the same reason I explored the level 80 zones, the map completion achievements and desire to see it all. There’s other ways to convince a player to explore the entire game world, and at the same time keep the entire world and all it’s available gear rewards relevant for everyone at all times.

    I think it’s beyond foolish that entire swathes of PvE areas in games today are pointless beyond the first month of the game. What an incredible waste of assets.

  • I felt the same way while playing EQ, Keen. I played for years and spent most of that time in groups, twinking alts (and farming cool low level drops to do that), and trading. I did a bit of raiding with my mage. I saw some of the cool planar stuff on my monk. But that high level “end-game” content was only a very small fraction of what I did in the game.

  • Couldn’t agree more with every word.

    If your game is designed properly, there’s no grinding. I never ‘grinded’ in Everquest, especially not with the level cap as my goal. I played Everquest and eventually there were no more levels.

    Developers: stop worrying so much about ‘end game,’ and start worrying a lot more about ‘game.’

  • @Bhagpuss
    “convenience isn’t always the friend of adventure.”
    I love this line!

  • Speak the Truth…

    When I started FFXI way back when it took me 9 months to hit the level cap of 75. Not because i couldn’t have done in in 3, but because there was so many things to do while I leveled up. Things that HAD to be done as well as things that were just plain interesting to do. Many “Missions” and “Battlefields” were level capped so it never felt like I was wasting my time by doing things that weren’t leveling me up. In fact I spent 4 months between 55-65 waiting for friends to catch up, all the while doing side things like Avatar fights and camping NMs and leveling subjobs.

    I was taken aback by the ease of leveling in FFXIV:ARR. Sure in 1.0 there was all sorts of things holding you back while leveling. Nothing more than the dual “XP” system. It was time consuming to level until someone found a way to make it not so. In XI your first job took time, your second was sped up by the knowledge and connections you found while leveling the first. By the time you got to your 5th job, SE had reduced the leveling curve. As much as I love the game that YoshiP turned FFXIV:ARR into, I still wish SE had remade Vana’diel in modern terms. Complete with the harsh leveling curve, emphasis on group play, and the death penalty. I could take or leave having the best gear drop off NM you had to camp and compete to pull, but the rest still is where my heart lies.

  • EQ’s leveling game wasn’t exactly an exciting journey in many instances, but it built player relationships that made their own narrative. Things were slowed down so much that you had to get to know other people (unless you were the anti-social asshole wizard or druid), and love it or hate it EQ was made by the community that was built on each server. That doesn’t mean people had to be all happy together kumbaya, quite the opposite. I hated people’s guts in some of the other guilds on our server, but that hostility from competition kept things exciting and gave what you were doing meaning.

  • As unfortunate as it is, this model does not bring in the money a get to max lvl in 2 weeks and spend 2 hours a week raiding does.

    And our answer is as about as simple as that.

  • I loved EQ but I think the grind may have been a bit excessive. That said the grind was boring enough that I would often wonder off solo seeing what I could explore and find on my own. Even with the relatively harsh death penalty I would take risks and try solo’ing stuff that was against my better judgement because that was fun. Even in Vanilla WoW there wasn’t much in the way of exploration to be done and what there was simply wasn’t dangerous.

  • ok lets do that: WoW needs 100x to get 1 single level so you would need your 6 months to get the cap.

    obviously the quests cant give more exp or it wouldnt make sense and we cant make 100000000 new quests. so our only option is too grind mobs until the cap (like EQ).
    do you imagine what would happen if we do this in 2014? nobody would play it. do you remember how many critics recieved Aion when it was released because it was a korean grinding game? and how long did you take to cap the level in aion? 1 month? now imagine a game where you need 6 months to cap the level…

    i consider myself a grinding machine, i love to grind packs of mobs for hours and i have grinded in every mmorp from UO but nowadays i couldnt grind mobs for more than 10 min. its called evolution.

    keen, its called nostalgy. i remember my spectrum games like the best games of the story but if i would play a spectrum game today i would be bored in 10 min.
    if you release today a mmorpg where you need 6 months to cap nobody would play it.

  • As far as I can see, the problem with The Journey in modern MMOs is that the population of the journey and the end-game are segregated. Take WoW or SWTor, for example. If a newbie and a max-level guy group up together to do something, then at least one of them does not achieve anything.

    GW2 makes this relationship one-way, where a higher-level character can still achieve things in lower level areas, though some things are denied him/her (high level resources, for example).

    This, I think, is the reason people rush the end-game. It’s because everyone gets on a recognizable, level(ish) playing field where they can play together.

    The alternative is alt-per-social-relation. For example, when my girlfriend and I want to play together, we whip out a specific pair of alts that are levelled together. This doesn’t scale with more people.

  • @Piticlin: It’s not nostalgia for me. It’s a real true preference and an understanding of why the focus on a longer journey makes for a longer-lasting MMORPG.

    @Everyone: Keep in mind I never said this has to be a grind. Quite the opposite. A journey taking a long time could involve no monster killing at all; obviously that’s an extreme, but think about it. You don’t always have to be killing something every second you’re playing.

    @Kaz Dragon: The disparity creates replayability, reason to make alts, and a real sense of distance whether it be physical or psychological. Knowing that someone is high level in EQ when you were level 10 was like looking at a god. This person lived a life, survived dangers you can’t imagine, and traversed a glorious world. I look at a max level in WoW and I think he probably spent the weekend running quests, and I know I’ll be there next week.

  • I hate to break it to you guys, but games like Everquest and Daoc were indeed a grindfest , like the Asian grindfest MMO’s you all so hate. If I think about the differences, todays game have LOADS of content.

    I put this down to 2 main differences,
    firstly you were forced to party to achieve any decent EXP rate(especially for healers and other support classes), that in itself is so different from today’s MMO’s where everything is solo-able.So I drum it down to modern day mmo’s Changing everything in favour of Convenience and Accessibility. That leads us to point number 2

    Rose tinted glasses, those early MMO’s were your first and will always be remembered fondly,So now because the convenience factor has been increased exponentially all those inconvenient factors of the yesteryear MMO’s that were the driving factor for creating bonds and extra ordinary experiences are now missing.

    Think about it, I bet many of you would remember it as a positive how you had to run for 30 min- an hour from one zone to another.How you sat for up to 30 min looking for a group.How you grinded hundreds of mobs to reach the next level, all those kind of things.
    if FF14 forced you to do that today, I would be pretty peeved to be honest.

    It’s a strange thing, those inconvenient factors shaping your favourite memories.Similar to my boarding school days, I HATED IT with a passion at the time and was so glad it was over, but I remember it with great fondness today, as the best schooling days of my life.Its exactly the same concept with us +25 year old generation regarding today’s MMORPG’s.

  • I’m not saying EQ and DAoC were grind-free. Quite the opposite; there were times I would definitely feel liek I was having to grind to make noticeable progress. What I am saying is that you can have a longer journey without it needing to be unpleasant, and even a grind can be fun. That’s kind of like saying stabbing your eye with a fork can be fun to some people, but i think those who played the original EQ can understand what I mean. Think about getting a group and succeeding in a high exp dungeon and how rewarding it is.

  • So this long journey isn’t about grinding the same content ala EA1 or DAoC, yet we know even AAA games can’t launch with more than a month or so of unique leveling content (WoW, SW:TOR, GW2), so how exactly is this long journey going to work?

    Not that I disagree with the general premise (MMO players need progression), but I’m not seeing how you plan to make this happen here.

  • You won’t be able to have a pleasant journey if you don’t have the content to back it up (be it sandbox content or theme content); without the content a long journey just means grind which most people do hate given their reaction to Asian mmos. If a game does have the content to sustain a pleasant long journey, the question then is does it matter if the content happen in the end game or in the leveling up part as long as in both cases it provides progression and accessibility?

  • I laugh a little bit about this when people complain about grinding because personally I don’t see much of a difference between grinding raids/dungeons for gear and grinding mobs/dungeons for XP/gear, except that in the later you (granted if the content/world is designed well) at least get to do a wider variety of things, i.e. kill different mobs, travel to different areas, quest, group/solo, etc. Rather than grind out the same heroics/raids week in and week out or do the same dailies for weeks/months.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge of raiding … for the first few weeks, maybe even several months if it is really good content, but after a while it just gets really old and stale for me killing the same bosses and crossing my fingers for loot that might let me kill a different boss for a few more weeks, etc.

  • I agree with you, but I do worry that some of the mechanics of EQ that extended the life of leveling wouldn’t work today. Lack of serious instant travel, for one, can do just as good a job of ruining a group-play session as it can in generating an epic story. Likewise, corpse runs and experience loss and spawn times are a bit too out there.

    The game should be the game, not a particular section of its progression spectrum.

    Without a doubt, socialization and cooperation have largely been destroyed by the hyper-streamlined approach to leveling in modern games. Even at the End Game level, cooperation and a need for community are constantly diminished by easier mechanics and a decreasing need to really community. Need to LFG? Hit a button! Need to know the fight? Hit a button!

    I think Dungeons & Dragons Online had a great idea that people overlook. When it launched, it only had ten levels, but each level was divided into four points of progression. Essentially, the game had the equivalent of 40 levels in another MMORPG, but it only had to design content around ten different points of scaling.

    It also meant that levels meant something, though not quite as much as they did in Everquest. Another level wasn’t simply another ability, some increased states, and access to incrementally better gear; it was a leap in real power.

    I think a spiritual successor to Everquest’s model could emulate that to great effect. You’d manage to have the same carrot on a stick progressive appeal of modern MMOs, but your game wouldn’t need to scale as rapidly. It also means that gear has a chance to matter, since you aren’t instantly replacing it all in an hour after you’ve done the next series of quests the zone over.

    Finally, I think you could start raiding a lot sooner. If I recall correctly, weren’t the end game zones in early Everquest accessible a lot sooner than the last level? I was thinking somewhere around 45 you could theoretically help out. I think if you start supporting raiding as soon as all your classes are developed enough for their to be depth in the content, you’ve got a great reason for content to start turning epic in the last few tiers of the game.

    Plus, you could add some post raid level tiers that are even harder to level to max, but aren’t necessarily required for progression/effectiveness/etc. Basically, back-ended Hell Levels for status/journey longevity reasons.