You know those shiny, bright-eyed optimists who always tell you, "It's not the destination that matters, it's the journey"? Apparently they were all abducted by aliens and forced to eat their own shoes during the 11th hour of MMO production, because mentioning this concept to a developer, or expecting something similar will get you tarred, feathered, and left to stew among the lower denizens of purgatory, faster than you can say, "Time vs. Reward."
Game developers have taken to forcing their players on scavenger hunts for fun, with MMOs reduced to nothing more than a checklist of things that must be completed before playing the game has a point or a purpose. Oh, how I used to loathe my friend, who happily informed me, as the drool dripped down his chin, "The game starts at 70!", referring to that awful genre-pigeonhole, World of That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.
I put up with it, for some god-awful reason, as I chugged down the gaming equivalent of an asparagus milkshake, under the assumption that I would be receiving a billion bloody dollars for my patience. The thing is, when I finally finished it, and I got the unquestionable right and privilege to actually begin playing the game, I found that the billion dollars was more like $100,000, and some of it was missing... and a bit more of it was counterfeit. Yeah, it's nice to have some extra money, but ultimately eating that asparagus milkshake was just so awful, that I stared at my paltry 75k in disdain.
Let me return from the land of metaphors for a second. I touched on it briefly in another article, but it seems to me that developers are so focused on "Endgame", that they forget to make the game itself. Why is it a pre-requisite that you suffer through hours upon hours of mind-numbing clone-quests, pointless vapid grinds, and uninteresting crap, before you actually make it to the GAME part of the game?
Using WoW as an example, would it have been so hard to make a couple raid instances for level 50? Or 40? Or 30? With, perhaps, some items that could serve as status symbols for rewards? Mount decorations, maybe? Titles? Honor points? Hell, anything that might serve to break up the quest grind. It would even serve as a primer for the more difficult raid content toward the end, giving players some experience and some idea of what they can expect when their toon is actually worth a damn.
But no, the game remains the most top-heavy title out there, and ironically, the most popular, with people seemingly willing to ignore the drudgery for the promise of a pot of gold under the rainbow.
Most gamers don't know it, but when they ask whether or a not a game is a grind, what they're really asking is "Does playing this game have a purpose before X level?" More often than not, the answer is no. I cringe to think that, perhaps I might be asking too much to expect a GAME to be FUN from level 1. That's the sad, sorry state of affairs the industry is in, where I boot up that mega-title for the first time, and expect to be completely bored and uninterested for the foreseeable future, until I reach that magic number (usually the level cap) when the game is MEANT to be playable. *cough* *cough* *choke* Blah.
Off in the distance, I hear fanboys, devs and proponents of this type of gameplay, with dollar signs for eyes, and spiderwebs for brains. They're saying in one unified voice, "This is a business! Endgame exists to keep the game going when you've been playing it for a year or more, to keep you paying them so they can improve the game and the content!"
I facepalm as I consider that statement, as it's delivered for the 52nd time, in the 11th different way.
Developers, gamers, there are *gasp* OTHER options for holding peoples' interest long term. Customization is the best route to doing this. If a player feels like they have room to adapt, to try new things, to try multiple things at once, they will be far more inclined to play long term, than if they are taken by the hand and led from quest hub to quest hub, with no more interaction than opening up the ignore menu to squelch Qouhesuofhu and his wow7gold spam.
Here's a thought. Why not make a game bottom-middle heavy? Encourage players to go through the low-mid level content multiple times, in different ways, with different rewards.
WoW players have done the same quests so many times, that they know the game by heart, and have written GUIDES to leveling that they can sell for money. If your game is so easy and dull that it can be figured out, and guides can be written for it detailing the best ORDER to do the quests in, and which ones to skip, there's a serious problem.
Content should be dynamic throughout the game. There should be multiple options for progressing at any given time, multiple quest hubs with varying and different rewards, which each have strengths and weaknesses in different parts of the game. Give players choices, and they will replay that content to see what they missed the first time around. Give them multiple choices, and they will replay it again and again.
In this day and age, with all the ideas floating around for MMOs, I simply can't fathom why devs continue to repeatedly create the same game.
And yet... ironically, those devs and companies with new and innovative ideas have implemented them so poorly in many cases, that many potential players have retreated from the concept of dynamic gameplay, into their little own little worlds, where MMO crossing guards hold their hands while they cross the street, and sandbox games are the stuff of hushed whispers after they've gone to bed.
Wanting to buy one GAME. No END required.