Rant: The Endgame
Endgame seems to be a hot issue on the site these days, especially with the release of TOR and people starting to reach the endgame. It's a topic that comes up everytime a new MMO comes out, and honestly it is probably one of the most important aspects of any MMO. Ironically it is one that people following upcoming games don't really seem to stop and think about when they start sipping the kool-aid for the next MMO they are looking at.
MMO's are games that most players want to play for the long haul. The developers are in most cases charging us a monthly fee, so it's in their best interest that we as players keep playing for a very long time. This is fundamental to the MMO genre, but for some reason developers seem to be missing the boat here, and players drinking the kool-aid never stop to look at whats at the bottom of that glass they are drinking from.
The current theme park model of MMO that we have seen come through here the last few years seems to be the most vulnerable to falling into the trap of a bad endgame. Think about how many years these guys are spending making these games, and the insane amount of cash being throw around to make these MMO's, especially in the case of TOR rumoring to be several hundred million dollars. Yet with all this time and money being poured in, these developers are using these resources in the most inefficient way possible in terms of how they make their content. The time and money spent making these scripted one time quests on the linear railroad, compared to how long it takes us to complete them is a horrible formula for long-term retention. It's not that the theme park can't do this, it's just that the approach lately has been way off.
I always read on the forums here and even in the articles about talking about that guy who rushes to the end game and to enjoy the ride. Well I am that guy, and allow me to tell you why exactly it is that I do this. Countless AAA flops have come down the pipeline the last few years and we all fall victim to them. My guild members get the MMO itch so we jump into the next big thing. I want to know...no...I need to know if the endgame is viable for long term play. Not just for myself, but them. If I get to the endgame and it's paper thin and severely lacking, I need to let them know. Each one of my members is investing dozens and dozens of hours into this game to get there, and if it turns out to be a bust, they need to know about it. Dozens of hours multiplied by dozens of members is a crap ton of time I can be saving people. If this can be discovered by the end of the free month it's even a more compelling case because I can save my friends the cash as well.
Spare me the bullcrap about enjoying the ride. The ride in the modern theme park MMO is nothing more than running from quest hub to quest hub down a linear hallway, listening to some derp of an NPC spew some nonsense on how he needs me to collect flowers 30 feet from him, or come up with another excuse why 10 rats need to die. It's not enjoyable, it's not a ride, it's a tedious series of chores masked as "quests" that are not epic or meaningful. If I am going to be doing chores for some mythical payday at the end of the tunnel, I need to know that is was somehow worth it. I want to know that at the end I can participate in something bigger and interesting while having some way to push my limits and advance my character. If there's nothing there and I can spare my friends the pain, I will.
Look, if you are going to spend years making this game and it's only going to take me 2-3 weeks to get to the endgame, I don't think I'm being unreasonable to expect there to be something to do. These games are supposed to really get going once you hit the level cap, not end. If I wanted a game to over at max level I could play another number of single player RPGs and spare myself the fee. But these aren't singleplayer games, and there is a fee usually. See where I am going with this?
There are thousands of us playing on a given server in any given MMO and developers just aren't tapping into the best source of content they have, us. This is where the developers are really failing because people like to compete inherently. This is also why I am such a strong advocate for PvP to be a major feature in MMOs, not tacked on as an afterthought. Getting that character you have been fine tuning and putting him against another thinking person is content that keeps on giving. All the developer needs to do is intelligently approach how to create an environment that encourages people to keep fighting.
On the flip side you have the PvE focused games that fall flat in the endgame department as well. These guys are releasing PvE focused games with a miniscule amount of end game PvE content, or the content there is so easy that a moron can faceroll right through it and complete it without being seriously challenged. If your MMO is all about PvE and it's not challenging, you will never be able to create it at a rate where players will instantly devour it, and it won't be meaningful. In older PvE MMOs like Everquest or even FFXI, there is a sense of accomplishment and a badge of honor when you were sporting that hard to obtain item. Competition between players exist just as much in a PvE focused game as in PvP focused ones. If that desired item is growing off a purple epic tree that anyone can pick one off of, it really isn't as exciting or appealing is it? The entire concept of welfare epics needs to be replaced by challenging content so that there are bragging rights.
Endgame is one of the most important MMO features, and for some reason it's the one the developers seem to be talking about the least. If you aren't talking about it and showcasing it, then I think you're hiding something. The endgame should be explained right next to the other "next gen" features because it is the sales pitch as to what I am buying for that monthly fee. This is why I will rush to the endgame, and for the sake of my friends and guildmates to see what's behind the curtain. If there is nothing there you can bet your ass I'm going to tell everyone I know that your joke of a ride isn't worth taking because it goes to nowhere. We see this happen over and over again and yet these guys keep spending more and more money on the same failed formula. It doesn't matter what fancy big name IP you try to dress it up in, it's the same empty crap and it's why I think we are going to continue to see the monthly fee fade into obsurity.
Co-Leader of Inquisition