What If The Journey Never Ends?

What if you could play a MMORPG where ‘the journey’ never ends? Whether it’s leveling or some other form of character progression what if you never ran out of new things to do and ways to progress? What if you never hit that wall or crossed that line where you felt like you reached “end-game?”

I’m trying to envision an MMORPG where players can keep leveling and moving on to new areas, or go and experience new adventures, without ever stopping the forward motion they felt from the first day they started playing. Content never dries up, monsters keep getting harder as you progress, etc.

One of my favorite things from EverQuest was how long it took me to level up and “finish” my character. I spent about a year leveling up my main character in EverQuest. Sure, a lot of that was lost to being an altaholic, but I did take a chracter from level 1 to 50 between March 1999 and March 2000. That journey took me an entire year. The very thought of taking a year to level up in an MMORPG in 2015 almost seems taboo.

I remember always having a new area to look forward to. By the time my character reached anywhere close to the max level for an expansion the next one was already presenting me with another six months or more of journey. What if that same kind of never-ending journey came back, or was reworked somehow so that players never, ever, capped out? I think I would like that.

Vertical vs. Horizontal progression is a factor here. The new buzzword/desire is horizontal progression. I think some element of vertical has to exist for this to really be feasible. Vertical progression gives a sense of ‘I was there and now I’m here’ gameplay. Progress that way is more evident, and as we saw in yesterday’s comments a lot of people can get attached to their character and do not want to lose that sense of progression.

I’m interested in your thoughts and ideas for how this idea of the never-ending journey can be done, and whether or not you’d play a game where the end-game did not exist.

  • The problem of never ending journey is that player behind the curve can never hope to catch it. Or in a MMO, the economy for example depend of the average XP level of the player. The ability to play with friends or guild often start at end-level.

    So for me, as a casual player, I will never even start this type of game, unless someone convince me the game is fun at low level. For example in a solo game, this do not disturb me at all. I think this is the key : infinite progression is OK only if level compared to the population does not matter for the enjoyment. This is often equivalent that level does not matter at all.

  • The idea of catching up is a huge hurdle. What I loved about Everquest was how few zones felt unused and abandoned. In a game like Wow the lower level zones are empty, but in EQ there was always a group and social circle going. Somehow players have to keep playing together, getting stronger and making progress, without new players being ignored. I don’t have an answer yet other than the goal being to keep everyone interacting regardless of how long you’ve played.

  • This was very much the design of Asheron’s Call. The initial level range was 1-126 but because levels only meaning was to determine how many skill points you’d accumulated to purchase skills, levels really didn’t mean much. It was what skills you had and how much do you put into your skills to raise them.

    I played AC foe about a year and a half and made it to level 72. Unlike what Ettesiun thinks, people really didn’t fall behind the curve. On the PvP server maybe but once people reached a certain skill progression they were about equal. With skills becoming more and more expensive to skill up at a point even though you’re still progressing you’re doing it much more slowly and people can catch up.

    As for content, no MMO I’ve played has done it better than AC. Monthly updates with new quests, items and mobs made every month fresh and new.

  • @Jester: Sandboxes have it a bit easier than other types of MMOs because of the dynamic nature of relying on human interaction for content. The actual content in a sandbox is usually finite compared to a game like AC or EQ because they don’t need it. This is great. 100% awesome. But can it be done in another type of MMO or is it sandboxes only?

    @Damage: Yep, AC did a very nice job creating plenty of content.

  • As I’ve said before I always thought that the progression of the MMZo genre would have been much more like living worlds where the you’d have a storyline in game and quests. In AC the story had to be the same on all servers so it was linear. I thought that the next iteration would have been servers where the storyline progressed individually and each server would be different. B

  • You could always play Minecraft.

    I don’t think a never-ending MMO will work, at least not unless you have an inner-Bhagpuss to channel indefinitely. Because while you may face new creatures and new lands regularly (assuming devs can pump out that much high-quality content that quickly), on a more fundamental level you are playing the same game in the same way all the time. For me, figuring out the underlying mechanics of the game is half the fun. When the novelty is gone, what’s left?

    Minecraft has infinite content, but after building one mountain fortress, I’ve built them all.

    Obviously people have been playing WoW and EVE and other MMOs for years and years without it being a problem. But I would argue they’re there because of social ties and inertia, not because “the journey never ended.” If you can achieve the same results without having to pump out new (PvE) content every few months, then the thought experiment is kind of moot.

    Finally, there is something to be said about satisfying conclusions. I would much rather have several, discrete journeys than one long one that never ended. Do you want to play many different games or just the same game forever? I would pick the former every time.

  • Horizontal progression as it is generally posited is a con trick. It’s just a re-labeling of the same mechanic we have had for a decade and a half. Genuine horizontal progression is only applicable to creative endeavors like building, decorating or changing character appearance. As soon as *any* PvE combat element enters in there is an inevitable vertical element.

    I would absolutely love an MMO with infinite character levels. I’ve said it before – I don’t care one iota about increased power – I just want to see the number next to my name increment by one at regular intervals. That’s what I play for.

    I don’t want to go back to the 12 months/40hours a week journey from character creation to max level of Evequest c. 2000. That would be horrible. I want an MMO where I get a level every hour or two and the levels never stop coming.

  • I don’t think horizontal progression as people commonly explain it is the right idea here. To have a truly never-ending game, you need vertical progression. At least a bit. But do you need a TON of it?

    I’ve posited this idea before.

    Why not make a sandbox-MMO with skill-point progression, but add a hard skillpoint TOTAL cap, along with decaying points in unused/lesser used skills.

    This system would allow new and old players to co-exist without a huge gap, this would allow all pve content to have a “maximum” threshhold (and difficulty simply increased by adding more mobs, unique boss abilities, raid mechanics, or any mixture of the above), pvp content being about the social/guild/community element instead of who hit level 1000000 first.

    But the greatest part is that the dev team could literally just be designing new zones EVERY MONTH, with new mobs, new quests, new loot, whatever. Why is this great? Because if mobs have the same skillcap/decay basis, the old zones never lose their appeal. So instead a new zone could say, feature fun new mobs and maybe one unique material for crafting (or whatever, really, this could be anything unique like a piece of armor, weapon, etc). So that becomes the draw for that area. I need mithril! I want to fight tiny pixies today! Bam, there is a zone FOR that. Not a zone FOR level 15-20.

    To break down the skill based progression idea for anyone interested: Say each character gets a certain amount of total skillpoints, ever. 1000 for ease of explanation. You use your sword and slice slice mobs or people, and that skill levels up. Now you kept doing it and have 100 swordplay. You sprint around a lot, so you have 100 Endurance now. Etc etc until you have used up all 1000 skillpoints. But maybe now you are tired of slicing with a sword, and you want to bash with a mace or shoot a bow, who knows. Maybe you like to throw fireballs with your eyes. So you start DOING that. And you still sprint around constantly, because you like to go fast. And you are still harvesting mithril because everyone needs cash. Point is, your swordplay starts to drop while your Bow/Mace/Fireballs whatever starts to increase.

    The reason this is important is that no one can just grind the hell out of the game at this point and max every skill. That is stupid. Why would we ever want someone that can max EVERYTHING out at 100? We don’t. Well I don’t. Maybe you are crazy. 😛 So if you make basic mobs use this SAME skillpoint setup, you can have like gnolls that melee you, gnolls that are magical shamans, and gnoll archers. But each gnoll is still 1000 points max. So you can level ANYWHERE. Each new zone is just a variation because of scenery, materials, mob types, etc.

    And the real schtick, the super holy grail of this MMO in my mind. The only mobs that break this mold are bosses. Big ass bosses sprinkled (sparingly!) throughout the land. Say they get 2000 total points or something, but also a few utterly unique abilities, just for them. Doesnt matter what they are, point is you walk away from a fight with them FEELING like that boss was a BOSS, worth remembering, worth going back to the tavern and regaling your friends about the fight. And why was this fight so awesome? Was it simply that the boss had 1000 extra skillpoints and a unique ability or two? Hell no. It was because a DEV was controlling it the entire time. Not some stupid script that you can find utterly memorized and written down on every MMO sight from here to tomorrow. Not just red marks on the ground to move away from. A real, live, out-to-win human being controlled that boss.

    God, if only I could program.

  • I forgot to mention loot. It totally exists in that idea and is important, but there is also a hard and soft cap for bonuses from loot.

    Think back to DAoC, where you could make a suit, but you could only have like 150/150 dexterity total for your character. So if you are wearing items with 50 dex, 100 dex, and 150 dex, you are wasting some of that suits potential.

    So the emphasis then is based on min/maxing, but also on looks, and then also on replacing decaying armor. (because lets face it, armor that lasts forever is a crafters worst nightmare). No soulbinding, no boe, no bind on pickup. Its loots man, and its magical, so even if a gnome gives a bracelet to a mountain troll, the damn thing will fit!

  • Replying to previous post, I would hate routine wipes resetting all the hard work I’ve put into a character.

    I love the idea of a never ending story. That I never reach the end and the scrolling credits, that I’ve always got the next thing to do.

    A year to level up to max? Sounds great.

    But what can’t be obvious is the race track right next door to me where the leet are expected to race to the level cap and win. Between reaching Level 100 through an optimized questing path in 24 hours, or just by fishing, say, in 22 hours, how many would have felt compelled by the game, and/or their guild, or personal goal even, to fish for 22 hours?

    Would people tolerate something like a real life aging process where one year gets you one year older, and not 10 because you’re an over achiever?

    Is WoW, for instance, successful because you can hit each new level cap in 24 hours or less, or despite of it?

    I play mmorpgs to get lost. I really don’t want to run into limits.

  • To me Guild Wars struck the sweet spot, you hit level cap very early and getting the best gear stat wise was as easy as farming materials for two hours and buying it all from a vendor. After that the game was all about getting through the story line, capturing and unlocking skills, unlocking new armor and weapons with no better stats than you already had just because they look cool, doing challenging group content for the satisfaction of beating it as a team and a minor reward in terms of gear.
    I remember seeing someone in town wearing the Obsidian armor set, a set that took countless hours of grinding materials in a (to us at least) zone with limited access and extremely difficult content. I was in awe, and I wanted it so bad, even though it had no better stats than my current armor. This made GW the game for me, power creep and vertical progression are enemies of mine.

  • There seem to be at least two very different groups that play. Those that want to get all the loot and levels in a few hours and never want to feel they are behind the rest or they will go play single player. And then there are those that don’t mind that there are different levels of power and even though they might not be at the top now there is a chance that they will be someday. Even if it takes a year. It gives their playing meaning.

    I’m in the latter and I have no idea why the former even plays these games.

  • I think that’s grossly simplifying the player base, I don’t really see myself as part of any of those two groups, I don’t mind spending a year on getting the pinnacle of loot on my character, I just don’t fancy progressing my character in power, it’s just not an interesting mechanic to me. I play these games to experience the content, not to feel that I grow my character.

  • @Keen

    The reason earlier zones were still in-use and seemed very populated was because in early EQ it was near impossible to Solo. Certain classes were able to, and even then it was extremely slow unless you were a twink.

    This needs to come back. Games need to be hard, as to almost force camaraderie. There has to be that sense of danger when you’re out adventuring. Everquest had that.

    Take the oldschool zone Oasis of Marr for example. Sure you might be able to run around and slay a Caiman all on your lonesome, but immediately after, you would have to sit and recuperate your health. On top of that, you’d have to be on-guard for might sand giants, loose specters and the difficult madmen that roamed the deserts. Not to mentioned the static named that seemed to roam freely and didn’t have a specific path; Lockjaw, Cazel etc.

    Ahhh I miss those days.

    To go along with that, there needs to be a consequence to dying. An extreme loss of experience and a lengthy trek back to your corpse was more than sufficient. It also made the classes that could resurrect you quite in-demand.

    Whilst leveling you also need to feel like you’re actually accomplishing something or you just don’t form a bond with your character. It should indeed be time consuming. If a friend decides to join you on your adventure for the first time, you could always just twink (this went away almost completely with level required gear, which makes me sad), powerlevel or create an alt to duo with said friend.

    I guess these things are the reason Everquest (Vanilla – Omens) was the only MMORPG to hold my interest for more than a couple of months. The ease in which you can solo without that prestigious twink gear (fungi etc) and the preference for people to just box and not group with others at all is what eventually drove me away. The lower end zones became barren, you could no longer twink your alt with that cool weapon you just won in a higher end zone on that roll you hit, and again it takes hours to find a group… so I end up soloing. Lack of social experience makes for a boring MMORPG. I made some great long time friends through the years and that just doesn’t happen very often anymore in these games.

  • Yep, I agree…it would be nice to play a game that never felt like it ended, or that you weren’t paying so close attention as to notice. I think the current MMO crop has just run our of ideas about how to make gameplay epic again. Or it’s just not deemed financially feasible.

    I remember reading about how in the early EQ days, certain god NPC’s and events were controlled by GM’s (and about how that was quickly abandoned), but I like the idea. Also, I think class abilities should be hard won, like the hunter/priest/warlock green fire quests. Essentially – epic things need to happen to make you forget you are leveling.

  • @Jester:

    The catching up issue can be monumental, which while I have always had great interest in EVE I can’t see myself playing due to being such an insignificant fleck of space dust ready to be crushed at the whim of preexisting player gods.

    That is why I would find the idea of server resets so interesting.


    I actually broached the topic of periodic wipes a while back on a thread about what would be our ideal game. I like the idea of 3 month wipes for a game I would design, where crafting and magic systems had to be researched and had a hidden advancement tree that was altered at each wipe.

    So different components and rituals would result in crafting/researching each time, maybe even for each individual through procedural generation. It would still have to make sense, for instance having dragon bile in the mix and having already researched “Hands of Fire” and “Desperate Assault” might lead to a recipe to craft “Hammer of Immolation”, but you don’t find that out until you try.

    I would also throw in the opportunity for varied stats for the researched item, i.e. my version might do less damage than yours, but have a greater range or additional effect like splash damage.

    I would also include a small chance for critical success.

    I would also put in daily advancement caps so to prevent guild sweatshops from grinding out all of the good recipes/spells in the first week.

    I also would put in non-repairable item degradation to keep players from sitting on their laurels.

    Also in a 3 month reset balancing isn’t such a problem. So if after 2 months if one guy researches an OP item, they can choose to sell these items and become a financial baron of the server or keep it to themselves and be unequalled in combat, but in any case after their last month in god-mode they all go back into the cloning vats to start anew. Balancing problem solved. In this scenario people actually would enjoy lack of balance as long as they knew they had a shot at it also.

    The social dynamics could be interesting as tribes formed up around the people who struck it rich, and new kings would rise and fall every 3 months.

    If someone wants to develop this look me up, it works incredibly well in the pre-alpha stage in my dreams.

  • I never got the chance to play UO. I kick myself on the daily for this.

    However I don’t see why that type of game cannot be made in this day and age with a 3D/over the shoulder viewpoint.

  • “However I don’t see why that type of game cannot be made in this day and age with a 3D/over the shoulder viewpoint.”

    Ex UO players have been asking this very question for the past 15 years.

  • Oh wow, I didn’t even know about Albion Online until just now. I may have to try it out. My only concern after perusing the website is the “Usual”. It’s a F2P, so P2W isn’t far behind.

    Not to mention a pay gate to alpha test. Sigh. Today’s marketing just makes me sad.

    The cynic in me knows that the pay to alpha is so they can nab as much money as possible before launch, when they turn it into P2W to milk the last life out of its soul to fill their wallets as the players leave in droves, feeling utterly violated in all the wrong bodily places.

    Having said that, what’s a bit of rape between friends? I’ll probably still buy to play 🙁

  • Albion Online is pretty good. I have been in the alpha for quite some time now (got invited, I did not pay). I’ve probably put in about 25 total hours. Not a ton of time but I really enjoy resource gathering. 😀 I haven’t spent money or anything and still find it enjoyable. I do wish a game like this or UO would come out and not be F2P.

  • I think that you could have a never-ending game with only a little bit of vertical progression and not leave new players forever behind the curve.

    I’m going to describe my idea from a “Mage” point of view, but you could apply it to any archetype. Imagine you start the game fresh at level 1 with only two spells: a combat one (e.g. fireball, frostbolt, magic missiles), and a non-combat one (e.g. blink, summoning portal, conjure food). You get to choose those starting spells from a limited list (maybe just 3) during character creation. And here’s the kicker – those spells are no more powerful at level 50 than they are at level 1. Likewise, you don’t gain HP or intellect or whatever from gaining levels either. I think this would be great for the game because there is no “leveling up” versus “end game”. You could make a new character and go join a dragon raid with your friends and be able to contribute right away.

    What you do get when you gain a level is access to a new spell. You would get to choose, but it would again be from a limited list, and that list would be based on what you did to gain that last level. If you were killing monsters, your choices would be three combat spells. If you were crafting, maybe it would be spells or abilities that improve your crafting. Just make the number of spells available much larger than a person could gain if they played for the next 20 years, and you could effectively “play forever” without “capping out”.

    My theoretical mage would perhaps be more useful at level 50 than at level 1, but not actually more powerful. Progression gains utility, and gives you the ability to have a character that is truly one-of-a-kind rather than following some min/max template. Combine this with an enormous world (or worlds) to explore, and you could really have a limitless game.

  • I kinda already do. I hear there’s an endgame, I hear about dragon-killing, and stuffs, but well, I’ve been playing lotro on and off since launch and still don’t have a toon above 65.
    I spent many years in the WoW “end-game is all” (early Wraith till Mists), and at one point I had 7 85s, 3 raid-geared, and had memorized every end-game dungeon. I occasionally miss it, but I love being able to log in and think “hmm, I wanna spend the evening farming in Bree” or “I want to finish Forochel including all deeds before moving on” (alright, that last slayer deed got a bit painful with the 4 mobs spawning every 3 min and I had to kill 200), but my mini went from 41-51 doing the entire zone and it was something I’d never done before. Yes, you could do that in WoW, but LotRO is much more welcoming to it. I see toons at all levels running around in Bree, something I don’t remember seeing much in Stormwind. Heck, I see people running around the zones I’m leveling in frequently, without any cross-server stuff. (The highest level zones I’ve seen are Lorien and Enedwraith, both early 60s when the cap is 95? 100? something in there)
    Sure, LotRO has an upper content limit, just like WoW, but the community seems much more forgiving about faffing around and playing however you like. There’s people in my kinship who’ve managed to lap me in leveling because they like Rohan and want to go through it again, and there’s endgame stuff happening, but they’re also happy to do stuff I can get in on (the skirmish system leveling dungeons helps with that).
    I think in the case of WoW vs LotRO it’s just a difference of focus. I remember my first Hallow’s Eve holiday and my insane quest to get all of Eastern Kingdoms trick or treated (possible only with a lot of pet sacrifice and ghost running to Light’s Hope Chapel, switching servers to reset my body position, and then logging back in so I could graveyard rez there. It was a lot of fun for me, but I also knew I missed out on a ton of things because of my low level (mid 20s). I can do the holiday quests in LotRO (or at least all the ones I’ve encountered) as early as level 10 and don’t feel like I’m missing out, But LotRO’s a lot more about being in Middle Earth than WoW is about being in Azeroth, and that’s not a bad thing, just different.
    (Yes, I’ve played other games besides wow and lotro, eq2 and coh briefly, eso for a month or so, but most of my mmo experience, for better or worse, is Shadow Council in WoW and Gladden in LotRO)

  • I think it is really interesting to make a game that you can keep on playing forever. Especially if you have to build everything from the ground up. Actually what I’m trying to say is that you create a world where you start in the prehistoric times and you have to develop yourself and the city that you’re building. So you go through all the historic periods of time and end up in the future. You need to keep inventing new things so the growth of your city doesn’t come to a standstill. It also has to take some time to invent something because in real live, inventing something isn’t a quick process. It takes some time. And if you want to grow faster, you need to have the possibility to play with your friends.