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Isphet's "The big picture" blog

I'm a "big picture" kind of guy. This is my spot to let my mind wander and theorize about the past, present, and future of the industry. The opinions contained herein are liable to change at any time.

Author: Isphet

The true test of an MMORPG is in the endgame.

Posted by Isphet Sunday January 11 2009 at 12:22AM
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I tend to categorize most MMORPGs into three basic categories):


1- an early quitter

2- a max level only game

3- a long-term game.


Here's a little more description of the three classes.

An early quitter is a game that you try out for fun. You might load it in, play it for a few days, and decide it's kind of fun but not worth your time. Or you might consider it awful, and play it one afternoon, and that's it. Whatever the case, you quit in short order; before you reach the maximum possible level.

A max level only game is a game that you play until your character hits maximum level, then quit shortly thereafter. The main problem with this category of games is a broken or dis-interesting endgame. My personal examples of this category (you may or may not agree) are: Age of Conan (PvR is teh suck), Dark Age of Camelot (too much zerg and not enough skill in open RvR), EQ2 (got to 80 but my friends mostly left for Age of Conan) and Warhammer Online (broken fortress seiges, final endgame unplayable.) I played each of these games to the maximum level, then played for a few weeks and decided that I didn't have anything fun, new, or interesting to do, so I put them down. You can say about this class "the journey is worth taking, but the destination is not up to par."

A long-term game is the rare breed that manages to keep you interested for a long time, even well after you reach maximum level. For example, with me, EQ1 and Warcraft were both long-term games for me. I played the end game of each for quite a while, because both were interesting and managed to have challenging endgames that made me come back for more.

----tangent on---

I have to say; I'm not an alt guy. I can't stand leveling multiple characters. The reason is that once I play a game with a character; I've experienced the majority of the game. I don't care in WHICH WAY I experience a game's entirety of content that I find interesting, I just care about the experience, the journey, the first time through. Extra times through the same story, the same quests, etc, feels more like busy-work to me than fun.

---tangent off---

From a developer's point of view, they all want to make the game that keeps people playing forever; a long while after the endgame. The ultimate goal is a sustained community that continues to feed 15 bucks a month into the company coffers (as well as provide a great game to the community, of course. usually.)

So what goes wrong, exactly, with so many endgames? Why is a good endgame so elusive? Honestly, that's a different blog for a different time, and If I can REALLY answer that question in a blog, I should be working for a game developer somewhere. I'm going to gloss over this question for now until a later date.

All I know is the true test of an MMO is in the endgame. If a developer gets their endgame right; they get their game right. That's where the true money and dedication from the community rolls in.

I don't put a lot of stock into the "levelling up" portion of an MMORPG. That portion of the game is pretty much set in stone in appropriate length for most American gamers. If you hit max level in a month or less, the game is "too easy." if it takes more than 6 months to hit max level, it's "a grindfest." The majority of MMO gamers seem to stick to this mantra rather religiously. Levelling up is usually a fun 2-3 month adventure in MMOs; but developers aren't going for three-monthers, they want sustained players.


Enter the wildcard: the "sandbox" game. In these games, there doesn't seem to be a max level. You can play for years and not "max out" your avatar in-game. For those of you that have played EVE, that's a good example of a sandbox game. Another example is most likely going to be the upcoming game Darkfall, though I am merely speaking through conjecture as I have not yet been able to play the game, which is currently in a closed-beta.

I like the idea of a sandbox game. It's open, and you play the parts that you like; there are many different ways to play them. You aren't pidhgeon-holed by classes, specific skills, and levels. There are a few problems with EVE for me, though: the travel time (space is like.. mostly that: space, man. Lots of autopilot all over the place), and PvP in the low security sectors. The game has been out for 5 years or so now; and there are people much further along than I in the game. It would take me months and months just to get to a place in the game where I would be considered worthy of being another player's roadkill the second i go to an unsecured sector. I just feel a little too far behind the curve on that game to make it fun, since I picked it up so late. It's kind of too bad, in spite of the extreme learning curve in the game, it looks like one hell of a game to me. Just thinking about the depth of that game makes me want to try it out again anyways, in spite of the issues i have with it.

Darkfall will be a similar experience I would imagine, but of course in a different, fantasy setting. And of course, in this case, I will be getting in at the outset of the game, letting me be more competitive. I'm really looking forward to the experience once it comes out. If it's implemented properly, it's going to be completely awesome for a long time. Because, there's no level wall/transition to endgame at the end of the experience.

Kind of an interesting concept, actually: Very often, when you finally level a chaacter to max level in a standard MMO, the endgame is a completely different game than the game you played to get to the maximum level in the first place. That's got to change people's conception of the game and throw more than a few players off. Again, probably a different blog topic, but a sandbox style game would avoid that possibly awkward and "player-pissing-off" transition.

Anyways, hopefully, you can agree that the true test of an MMORPG is in the endgame. Let's hope that developers can improve their track records for endgames; as most of the current generation MMOs are sorely lacking in that department.


Isphet writes:

Oh, the reason that tangent was pertinent was because some people can stick with a game forever, just levelling up ALT characters, but I'm not one of those people. ANY mmo can survive on those people; as long as they have enough different classes to keep them creating more and more characters.

Sun Jan 11 2009 12:25AM Report
Quizzical writes:

If the true test of an MMORPG is the endgame, then the overwhelming majority of them flunk that test spectacularly.  You cite WoW, but the endgame in WoW is actually worse than if the game didn't have an endgame at all.  At least that case wouldn't spoil the near-max level content.

The "true money" doesn't come from the endgame.  In the case of WoW, the number of copies of WotLK sold is only a minority of the number of active subscriptions Blizzard claims.  To claim that someone who hasn't purchased WotLK is playing mainly for the endgame is absurd.  The converse is not, however; to people who hate the endgame (or will hate it, but haven't gotten there yet), WotLK is still another 10 levels of content.


You say:

"So what goes wrong, exactly, with so many endgames? Why is a good endgame so elusive? Honestly, that's a different blog for a different time, and If I can REALLY answer that question in a blog, I should be working for a game developer somewhere."

That's pretty easy to answer, actually.  The endgame is what the company gives you to do after you've already done everything in the game worth doing, in order to try to get you to keep paying the monthly fee even after you ought to cancel your account.  An endgame has to consume huge amounts of player time, but minimal game development resources.  The reasons why that is unlikely to be fun are self-evident.

Sun Jan 11 2009 1:00AM Report
zelldevil writes:

I must agree with quizzical in the latter part of his comment.  the endgame is purely a time hog with resource conservation.  Look at Wow for example, what is the endgame? oh yea, PvP.  Does that cost them having to create more stuff and use more resources?  Not at all.  All they have to do, is come out with a new set of gear every couple months after X% gets the top gear.

Though a sandbox game has no "endgame" which makes it more interesting like you say.  Eve is a great game, but like you say if you're new itll take you over a year of playing to achieve any real status.

Sun Jan 11 2009 1:41AM Report
stayontarget writes:

But with a sandbox you get other issues. Take EVE, A new player will soon realize that he will never catch up to the big boys and enjoy the game that they are playing and will quit. Why because he will never match there firepower no matter what he does.

Sandbox will become permanently unbalanced over time.

Sun Jan 11 2009 2:53AM Report
Moodah writes:

You don't need to play catch up in EVE ... that is the oldest and most flawed excuse for not  figuring out what the game is about, or simply realising the game is just not your cop of tea and moving on.

As a new player you just need to focus on a thing you want to do, and in a month or so, you will be perfectly competitive. Ofc the older player will most likely beat you with skill and expirience, and he has more funds to support it, but skill-wise there is no difference.

The way eve is structured there is a maximum to every skill - if you make an RL analogy is that the older player knows how to drive a car, a bike, a bicycle and a truck. A new player entering the game will have the same level of skills in ONE of those in case he focuses his training, which means that lets say he picks driving cars, in a month he will drive a car as good as the older person. What does it matter that the other guy can drive a bicycle, bike and a truck besides driving a car if you are in a car race with him - none whatsoever.

So basicaly years of training give you a bigger diversity of skills and more DIFFERENT things to do. You are not able to get infinitely better in one group of skills because they all end at a point, which can be reached by the new player very fast.

Problem with eve (and I'm guilty of it myself) is that a new player doesnt really know what he wants to do, and he throws his skill points all arround the place ending up in a month in a place where he knows a little about everything, and not being competitive in any of it - which can be cured with a little research and some advice from the more expirienced players.

Sun Jan 11 2009 3:19AM Report
Quizzical writes:

The thing about EVE is that a new player will never catch up in levels to the people who started years earlier.  Even in a ridiculous grindfest, if you play for a couple years and get to the level cap (and maybe also get some raid epics), you've caught up.  In EVE, if you play for 20 years, you still won't catch up.

I've seen EVE players try to assure potential new players that the level difference isn't that bad.  If that were the case, why have it at all?  I haven't played EVE, but in most other games, when players say that the level difference isn't that bad, they usually mean it's really, really game-breakingly awful.

Sun Jan 11 2009 8:41AM Report
JKnight1 writes:

If you havn't played it, all your words on EVE are plain heresay. I play it, and I can honestly say it is nigh to impossible to learn every skill to the max, as it would take YEARS, and the game having been only out for six years, no one has done that. There is no such thing as "Catching up" in EVE. The game is as much about numbers as it is about tactics and skill in combat. Play it before you knock it.

Sun Jan 11 2009 9:53AM Report
axlezero writes:

Jknight you just proved his point and bashed him in the same paragraph, lol, thats some skill.

Basically you agree with Quizzical in that the leveling system is unbalanced, no one has completely capped out in 6 years, so the veterans are still progressing and the newbies would take 6 years to get to the point the veterans are now, and still be 6 years behind.

I played EVE and it wasn't my cup a tea, but mostly because I am what you'd call a game achiever, but no matter how hard I worked I could never even be close to being one of the top dogs.  So the game seemed like a huge grindfest and was a turn off for me.  As I said though, just wasn't the game for me, more power those who enjoy it.

Sun Jan 11 2009 11:47AM Report
stayontarget writes:

I have had many friends say they loved EVE but quit because of the gimp status placed on all new players.

Sun Jan 11 2009 1:53PM Report
JKnight1 writes:

It's not a grindfest really...and there is no point in trying to learn EVERY skill in the game. It's better to specialize. I'ver known many players who were only a couple months new to the game taking down two year vets. All because they specialized, paid attention, and did their homework.

Newbies are not gimped. Not sure where people get such an idea from. I've been playing about a year, i'm more of a carebear, but I can EASILY handle my own against older players. I did my homework, had help from other players, and did my work to get the gear needed.

The game isn't a grindfest. It's a game of strategy, tactics, and chance just as much  and sometimes more so than it is about the gear, skills, and numbers behind them.

Sun Jan 11 2009 4:14PM Report
caemsg writes:

idiots sand box games you dont need to max out at all you just have to speicilise think of it like RL you have a baker a plumber and a sales rep your baker will suck at fixing pipes or selling stuff but if he goes to school he can learn to fix pipes and bake bread and if he goes to school after learning plumbing he can learn to sell stuff as well but it will take years and years to reach that or he can be crap at all of them now say the sales rep and the plumber have a bread bakeing compitition they will both suck the same but add in the baker who could be younger and less experienced in selling stuff or fixing pipes than the other 2 but he will whipp their arses at bakeing bread because thats where he speicilised

its like trying to explain to 2 year olds why dont you try the game for more than a week and then come back and instead of talking out of your arse talk with experience and you will see that we are right and if you still think we are wrong then sand box games are far above your level of intrest and need to play some linier grind fest heaps of crap

Sun Jan 11 2009 5:12PM Report
Quizzical writes:

So a newbie can fire faster or do more damage or maneuver better or go faster or whatever.  No matter which of them he picks, he's at a disadvantage if fighting someone who has all of them.

If the developers of a game want it to be about strategy, tactics, or chance rather than leveling, they don't make it so that some players have clearly higher levels than others.  That player A can sometimes beat player B in spite of being at a clear disadvantage doesn't mean that he wasn't at a disadvantage.

Sun Jan 11 2009 5:53PM Report
haggus71 writes:

 I think the most successful games do many things good, whereas the less successful ones either specialize too much in one thing, or just do many things mediocre.

Take AoC.  it went for PvP and PvE.  On the PvP side, it was basically an imbalanced gank-fest that left newer players that didn't grind out to 80 in the beginning with a bad taste in their mouth, and left those whose guilds grinded to 80 with nothing to do but gank lowbies.  It didn't help that things such as sieges were broken.

On the PvE side, people were treated to an excellent, well-balanced skill game with a great Tortage.  Once you left for Aquilonia/Cimmeria/Stygia, however, the content became the old "kill 5 of this and ten of that to complete the quest" that is prevalent in other games.  Around level 45 it became tedious.  Not a good thing when you have 35 levels to go, to have it basically become a pretty grindfest. 

On the other hand, WoW doesn't accel at any one thing, but does them all good enough to attract all types(PVP, PVE, RP).  Guild Wars takes out the level factor, and makes it so level 20 is just a stage in the game, not the end game.  Between good PvP and a narrative storyline threaded through the game, the only major flaw is the fact that it is all instanced, and to some even that is an advantage.  The skills are continually balanced, and the community, as in WoW, is very strong.

A game needs to be interesting throughout the game.  It can't just have a good endgame.  If it's a boring, undisguised grind to get to 80, I'm gonna say,"I don't give a shit if level 80 is paradise," because I don't want to have to deal with that grind if it's boring(and unless you are OCD, killing 50 f'ing boars or whatever is boring).  It should be fun for me.  It needs a decent back story, good mechanics, and content throughout the game. 

Sun Jan 11 2009 7:48PM Report
Antarious writes:

I think in theory this is true.  Where its kinda in a odd place is how you define end game.

The issue is that most MMO's try to define some paticular thing as being end game.  Rather than supporting the views of the players.

How you design a game has a great effect.  Right now most MMO's do feel like a grind... While others in a technical sense you are still doing the same grind.. but its fun or feels like it has a purpose.

That's the experience you need to capture and right now they just aren't doing it.

I'm not sure how best to explain it.. but in UO and SWG Pre-CU I was obviously "grinding" mobs.  It never felt that way.. but I was either getting credits for something.. or hides or meat or bone for traps etc

I had my personal purpose to what I did.. now what I have is a grind to the next level.  I don't want to level.. I just want to play.. yet the content is based on my leveling.  Or something like that..  (skill based games you advance by playing.. rather than playing to advance).

Sun Jan 11 2009 8:28PM Report
theJPK writes:

There would be a lot more people playing EVE Online if they didn't see it as beta players being "ahead" of you. They are really not. If you join a low sec/0.0 corporation then you would realize that begininer are just as useful as vets. Players new to EVE in lets say a frig have great potential in PvP. They are impossible to hit in a Battleship or Capital, and they are fast, and when rigged with warp disruptors and webbers they can really turn the tables on the battlefeild. The one reason you can admire the corp GoonSwarm that basicly gets tons of disposable ships and conquers with them is because they are on the leaderboards of killcounts using disposable ships. I love EVE for that, in PvP all players have their place.

Sun Jan 11 2009 9:32PM Report
Shard101 writes:

Goonswarm is crap, of course I'm in an old Bob corp so maybe thats why I know this.

Mon Jan 12 2009 9:56AM Report
A.Blackloch writes:

Usually my I quit the game when I reach "the end game". I'm not interested in some reputation or gear grinding. That's usually the point where the game ends being fun and it becomes more like a work. Or then I just roll a new character and start all over. And this has happened to me in every single mmorpg I've played. But that's cool - Eve Online has been the only game so far which has succesfully avoided turning into something you are forced to do. But I quit Eve due to other reasons.

Mon Jan 12 2009 12:48PM Report
Roadshow writes:

The best game is one where there is no end-game as such, just a developing story. This was pulled off by Earth & Beyond between 2002 and 2004 with it's monthly content updates, changing world and storylines. Even if you had the best equipment and had taken down every boss, solved every puzzle, you were only ever a couple of weeks from something new. Little and often works, and doesn't require a massive development budget; with a good storyline, imaginative devs and innovative mission design it can be done. Since that game was killed by EA I have played dozens of mmo's, suffered infrequent updates which almost exclusively consist of a new area and a some missions/items to grind out with no sense of involvement whatsoever. Earth & Beyond may not have been to everyone's liking, nor successful enough to convince EA there was money in mmo's, but it's dev-team were outstanding and have yet to be equalled.

If mmo's are a living story for players to live through, there doesn't need to be an ending.

Mon Jan 12 2009 1:28PM Report writes:
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