I have tested a lot of games. Both professionally and for entertainment purposes I have played, exploited, studied and analyzed a whole LOT of games. If you are reading this then there is a pretty good chance that you too have tested a lot of games as well. So then, with that said, perhaps you (my readers) can verify for me the one major bug that seems to be apparent in most of the MMO's I have played. This just hit me today.
Let's call it "The Delayed Gratification Bug".
The MMO community has been steadily changing over the years, some of us are getting older, others are just starting out, others still are on their second or third game. In this mixed jumble of skills, abilities, and experience there is as much to be said in favor of communication and the transferrence of ideas as there is to be said for the lack of it. Some people spend their entire days teaching others how to enjoy themselves and have a good time playing these games, while others grind out the hours in a sprint for first place in a race that has no finish line, therein, my friends, lies the bug.
Any old school gamer will tell you that the best game is played slowly and with attention to detail. This is the spirit of all newbie MMO players which must be lost and then regained before one can truly call their self an "Old Schooler". Why then, I ask you, has the industry been so lax in placing stops on adventuring levels while constantly struggling to keep up with power-levellers and organized guilds by releasing untested and/or longwinded content?
Is it because people are stupid or lazy that any person with a paying account is allowed to progress through these worlds with a steadily decreasing level of difficutly with each new release, or is it because those in charge of the checks and balances fear that challenging it's ever changing community is going to create an uproar of negative posts and press concerning the investment of time needed to play a game that forces you to stop, assess, and improve your skills every once in a while?
Here is how I see it happening. There are several factions and subsequent fields of thought playing these games.
The Powerleveller - This person gets into a game and begins crafting instantly. The best will craft until they hit the current cieling while other less dedicated newbies of this form will alternate back and forth between crafting and levelling. While these crafting levels are taking place these are the people constantly scouring the databases for information on how to level as quickly and as efficiently as possible then, once the max crafting level is complete, these players will enter the field en masse and grind out their levels until their adventuring level also hits the max. Using the uber gear that they can make for themselves along the way, these players usually skip the majority of content programmed into the game for their enjoyment and head directly towards endgame content. And we all know how that has been turning out.
The Explorer - This person is not into crafting, is not into powerlevelling, is barely into grouping, but is ALL about running you up into some cave with no idea where they are going or why they are there and hoping that something good is going to come from the experience. Explorers can come in a lot of different shapes and forms, the adventurer, the roleplayer, there are even powerlevelling explorers (although they could care less whether something good comes from their explorations or not) but they all have the same M.O. when you meet them. A.D.D., running from here to there with a list of unfished quests and no idea why they are where they are. They are explorers after all, theirs is not to question why.
The Good Veggie Kid - Usually an adult. The good veggie kid is a professional at finishing their plate. These are the guys that you only ever see for a mintue at a time, either coming or going, and they are always fabulously equipped with the most amazing things you have ever seen at all levels of the game. A good "Good Veggie Kid" will reach the endgame several months after the power leveller (sometimes several months after the powerleveler has already moved on) but will always be better equipped, both mentally and materially, to handle what is to come next. The Good Veggie Kid is a good kid but boy, can they also turn out to be the worst suck up's sometimes!
The Crap Shooter - Goes by several aliases. Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Indecisive, FLOTM dude, The guy who is always rerolling, etc... These folks usually hit the wall at the first sign of struggle and, if they can't attach to someone's leg or idea before it's too late, move from guild to guild, game to game, thing to thing, until they can find that elusive leg/idea to attach to. Usually dps characters or healers, the crap shooter is only doing what they have to do to survive, get groups, and ride their way to the top (or at least the top of what they are capable of before Heroes comes on or the next thing comes out or their husbands/wives stop playing or they actually FIND someone of the opposite (or same) sex to look at them or the character begins to suck or the game begins to suck or they get a hangnail....etc.
Of course no one can be pigeon holed into any one of these categories really but everyone shares just a little if not all of these characteristics at one time or another during their gaming life. One can actually flow into and out of each category as they mature in these games and more often than not you will hear who they are in their opinions towards the games they play as they post on the message boards.
Here is the thing. It is hard to purposefully delay yourself from the gratification of being at the top end of the game if you know that you can make it there. It is even harder to get to the top end of the game when you know that you can't. It is no wonder then that the lean is toward power levelling through the content, crafting the best gear to start the endgame with and then taking off a few months (saving you loads of cash in the process) until the rest of the population (and the developers) can catch up. The problem is that this causes a huge sucking sound to occur in games that are increasingly becoming more vast and more intricate as the floating masses are enticed by still other newer titles and worlds before game developers are able to crank out more content to keep these people where they are.
This is a bug. The game should not allow people to escape so easily.
Possible solutions are...
1. Solo Class quests set at (more) regular intervals. The word "more" is included because this idea has been tried and/or incorporated in some games already.
2. Land Locks (again solo) that force players to finish semi-involved quests in order to travel to and from new lands.
3. Quest Ranks which must be met before a player can continue to level. Of course this does completely away with the repeatable quest but then the repeatable quest is really only a power-levelling and gold-farming tool anyway.
4. Ability tests in which a player must solve several quests geared towards their class through the use of certain abilities they have learned along the way in order to progress.
These and many other ideas have been tried and given up on in the past by money hungry publishers eager to placate the cries of the lazy or uninspired but I think that it is high time that these publishers gave these and even other ideas a second look. Game development is very expensive and time consuming and it is hardly worth the money that is being spent to create these worlds just to have them populated for less than a year or two before the customer base moves on to the next thing. The idea that there is even more than one fantasy MMO out there is redundant and ridiculous when you think about the amount of money that it costs just to make ONE of these games so then why not spend the money wisely and make a game that really challenges it's players to play well, be involved with their ONE character and work towards that all encompassing ENDGAME that the developers of such a game would have more than enough time to develop while their customers are busy having a good time getting to it?
Of course in order to truly adapt such a concept to any game one must keep in mind that each pocket of content (the area between your last wall and your next) must be full of excitment and wonder. So much so in fact, that one might actually not WANT to move on too quickly for fear of leaving a friend behind or missing something very important along the way. Only in this way will the masses not see this as an intentional delaying tactic placed inside said game only to promote more monthly fee's for regurgitated content and grind. An idea in this area that comes to mind might be level merchant houses built so that a person of a certian crafting level could set up shop selling gear made for those specific levels.
Delayed Gratification is frustrating yes, but anyone who has ever kept themselves from jumping into something headfirst or moving too fast towards anything that "seemed" like a good idea at the time can tell you, it is entirely worth it once you get to where you were trying to go. At least, that is my understanding of it.