[Question of the Day] What would you like to see in MMO endgames?

Last week, I wrote a post that touched briefly on the SWTOR endgame and it generated some great discussion in comments about what sort of things players liked to do at endgame anyway.

The SW:TOR endgame is hideously lacking if you’re not interested in conventional PvE/PvP. You might ask what else a player might like to be doing, but that’s the crux of the issue – there’s nothing.

“What I really hoped to see was for my ship to be more customizable on the inside, a form of player housing that could be developed far more than just “being there”.  “

– Zellriven

Question is – what do you think there SHOULD be to do at level cap that isn’t there? Maybe I’m a bit jaded by seeing the same debates over every game, but the nothing to do at level cap argument always takes on shades of Monty Python – “yes, but apart from all THAT what have the Romans done for us?”

-Tremayne

What I would have like to see was after you finished your class story they allowed free travel space flight. <…> I would have loved too if they somehow added Pod Racing as an endgame activity also. <…> I’d also have like to play solo challenging instances based off of using your crew as a team instead of just one at a time.

–Kelindia

In practice what you are probably doing is tooling around, hanging out with your guild, and marking time until the next story update.

–Me

So the way I see it, there are three main ways to look at endgame in MMOs.

  1. Endgame is the real game. Be it sandbox, ranked PvP, progression raiding or all three, the levelling stage of an MMO (if there is one) is really just an introduction to the game. Endgame needs to be enjoyable ad infinitum as a game in itself. But over time it will tend to mostly appeal to the more hardcore.
  2. Endgame should consist of a wide variety of opportunities for character progression to encompass all play styles, so that as many people as possible can find something they like. This progression can involve purely cosmetic upgrades. It may consist of identifiable minigames. There could be dailies.
  3. ‘Endgame’ is just a plateau between content patches, its main purpose is to keep people logging in and building social ties with their guild/ friends before the next patch. And each new patch should not be gear gated based on endgame phases. (ie. you should be able to jump into new content without having spent X days doing endgame activities first.)

These are not mutually exclusive, although type 1 games and gamers probably won’t be ‘wasting’ time on type 2 endgame because the rewards are less meaningful to them. If your type 1 endgame is based on guilds holding and defending areas of space, then anyone who spends time doing dailies to earn a minipet is probably not actively helping. (But you never know, I guess it could feed into the in-game economy in some way.).

But it is type 3 endgame that I want to focus on, because this has come to represent themepark MMOs. In SWTOR for example, there’s new single player content due for March. It is possible that Bioware will put a high gear requirement on this content, but since it’s aimed at soloers rather than raiders or high end PvPers, it would be counterproductive. Better that they don’t gate the solo content. Will it provide better gear in quest rewards than what is currently available from endgame instances and hard modes? Again, we don’t know, but it’s likely because they’d like to encourage people to play through it.

So themepark endgame tends to be forced into busywork plateaux before an effective gear reset with the next set of content. At that point it’s a question of what pattern of play do you prefer in endgame and what would you like to be able to do in that time? Or would you be happier to just unsub/ stop playing until the next content patch?

The time requirements of endgame

The other way to look at MMO endgame is to think about how people’s playing patterns change at that point in the game. Do you want the structure of organised raiding? Do you want to be part of a team in endgame? Do you like the pattern of logging on to do dailies and chat? Do you prefer to ease off and chill out in the game?

My feel is that people do like the idea of character progression, of getting something for the time spent in the game, and are less thrilled by the idea of gear resets for that reason. It’s also good to have a choice of activities, as long as no one feels forced to do the ones they don’t like.

But I also think that endgame serves a key role in cementing in game social networks. This is time when people aren’t driven by their own need to level so maybe have more time to hang out, do social activities, or just chat. It can potentially be a kind of downtime which serves a strong pacing role.

I’m still not sure what my ideal endgame would be. The games where I have most enjoyed being max level have always been those where I had the stronger social networks and where we had good options of things to do together (even organising them on the night) as well as things to do if you were feeling less social. I do know that while I have no objections to raiding (I do have a soft spot for raids, too many good memories), I don’t really want to be organising my weeks around it for months on end any more.

What would you like to see from MMO endgames that you don’t see at the moment? More solo content? More sandbox? More crafting?

 

21 thoughts on “[Question of the Day] What would you like to see in MMO endgames?

  1. And I was just going to write a post about a similar topic…!

    For me, SWTOR provides an endgame that I can get behind – levelling alts. The distinct class stories and the fact that there appears to be so much content available means that, so far, I’ve skipped a lot of content on my main which leaves it all to do on subsequent characters. Then I’ve got the other faction to do (and all the while building that legacy xp up in the hope that future rewards make it all worthwhile).

    Other than that, I’ve been trying to cast my mind back to the early days of WoW and wondering what people found to amuse themselves then. “The [jeu de choix] endgame is hideously lacking if you’re not interested in conventional PvE/PvP” is something that I feel could apply to most themepark, diku MMOs just because the sheer nature of having a level cap means that character progression has a logical end.

    • Arguably rolling alts isn’t endgame, it’s “more game” – finding a way of doing more of what you enjoyed on the way up rather than a transition to a new type of activity. It’s what I’m planning on doing, alongside enjoying PvP and being available as a raid sub for my guild.
      If anyone from Bioware is reading this, please add more “more game” such as the next chapter of class stories ASAP :)

      • I’d be surprised if Bioware isn’t producing around 20 hours of story content every 3-4 months. They have a rather large population that is here for the story currently. I expect them to release the content 1-2 weeks before the 3 month mark for subscriptions.

        Bioware does have to move towards more conventional endgame as the current style of their story content’s gameplay is rather shallow. If they could entangle the current choice based dialogue with better/more endgame activities we’d be looking at a very fun game from my perspective. Perhaps win a bg and get a chance to enact a cinematic on a chosen enemy.

      • “Arguably rolling alts isn’t endgame, it’s “more game””

        Depending on how the legacy system evolves, this might not be entirely true. Which is to say, it’s possible that the legacy system could be a clever fusion between “more game” and “things for capped players to do”. On the “more game” side, we’ve been led to expect new races via the legacy system, which obviously provides motivation for some people to start over. On the “things for capped players to do” side, there have been hints of new powers and options for existing characters.

  2. End-game is generally the part of the game I don’t bother with. As a rule, once one of my character reaches the level-cap he or she goes into semi-retirement. Often they become consultants and facilitators for my lower-level characters, dragged out to get them things they can’t get for themselves, earn money for them, gather and harvest for their tradeskills or craft items they need.

    My max-level characters generally don’t have much in the way of goals until a new expansion raises the level cap again, when a brief flurry of activity takes the place of torpor. Their lack of motivation has little or no connection to my own, though. I can and do play through lower level content ad infinitum in a game I like. If I liked Blackburrow in 2001, chances are I still like Blackburrow now.

    I’m currently playing Vanguard yet again and taking another character through Ksaravi Gulch. I’m not even doing the quests, I’m just soloing there because I like the place. It’s apparent to me after more than a decade of MMO gaming that end-game is completely irrelevant to my enjoyment of a game. I could quite easily and happily cycle between three or four MMOs for the rest of my life, with no additional content needed in any of them. A break of a few months between each visit is all it takes to refresh the entire leveling game for me.

    I don’t crave novelty much and it’s very difficult for me to become bored, which is, apparently, a function of the aging process. I was in my forties when I played my first MMO so I imagine my entire underlying psychological attitude to the hobby is atypical.

  3. What do I want out of an MMO “Endgame” ? A tough question. I dislike the concept that the game should fundamentally change when you get to a certain level of progression, thus invalidating everything that came before that level. It’s never sat right with me and always felt somewhat counterproductive.

    Things I’d like to see on my wish list of ‘ultimate MMO’ as endgame or just ‘game’ in no particular order are:

    1) Procedurally generated dungeons, events and encounters that scale to group size so I can do them by myself, with a friend, a small group or a raid of as many as I can muster. They would never be the same twice and would provide character advancement in some meaningful way. I don’t want to learn dungeons by rote, I want to be surprised by stuff popping out of the walls that I didn’t expect and by bosses having abilities I wasn’t ready for.

    2) No Red vs. Blue sides that limit who you can play with. I want to be able to change my allegiance and group with empire/republic horde/alliance whenever I meet them. Being forced into conflict is not my idea of fun when in these games there is always some incredibly obvious big evil trying to kill both sides that logic dictates you’d be teaming up against. You can always return to stabbing each other later.

    3) Less solid class restrictions. I want a game where I can level a mage type, then start working on my physical strength and level barbarian skills, then start working on my healing. Without having to level alts I want to be able to pick and choose from any archetype or skillset and level those then build/rebuild a character from the various skills I’ve acquired.

    4) A flatter power curve meaning I can easily go and group with friends in other stages of content without completely destroying all challenge for them. Hell, make it something I want to do with strangers because it helps me gain experience in other skillsets.

    5) Player created content and UI mods with full support. You can’t possibly keep up with a players voracious appetite for good story. I’d like full player content creation tools with rating systems and recommendations/featured content to let people write stories and adventures for each other. In addition to content developed by the company running the MMO of course! (A DM tool wouldn’t be amiss either!)

    6) A world that actually feels like a world. I want to go back to the feeling of being lost and terrified in a vast, deadly and unexplored land. I want to stumble into hidden ruins, explore vast cave systems and plunder ancient temples for riches and power. I want exploring in itself to be an endgame and I want to be able to share this with others. Again probably impossible without some seriously good procedural generation.

    7) No more sodding progression/gear grinding. Seriously enough is enough.

    8) No more daily quests. Never again.

  4. I always wondered why we couldn’t have non-exclusive cooperative large group content in the endgame. For example in A Tale in the Desert your guild and friends can build a pyramid together. In a fantasy game it could be the long and laborious construction of a guild house / keep / castle. Anything works where everybody can contribute at his own pace, and the people who play less good or less often aren’t looked down upon for being useless.

    • The closest thing WoW ever did to this was the opening of the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj where players from both factions had to gather various supplies for the oncoming battle if I remember correctly. Assuming I read my sources correctly since I wasn’t there, the whole event didn’t launch well but the players loved the idea of working together to accomplish one large goal.

      I’m surprised they never continued along this avenue of design in any form afterwards tbh.

      The main thing about this kind of content though is that it has to avoid direct competition or you run into being part of that terrible guild that got their castle destroyed that you put all that hard work into. I believe that if you want to have people work together to build something you definately have to separate the people that would rather have their design “tested” and those that just want to finish their design.

  5. The main thing about endgame is that there needs to be fresh content being put out for players that operate at various skill levels with various time constraints.

    The leveling game in itself is mostly about holding the endgame back so that people are more prepared and have time to naturally form friends and join guilds. Having a good story that you can direct is largely what makes a good leveling game. The more you feel like you are just doing the same thing everyone does the worse the leveling game is.

    Conventional Raiding as an endgame activity requires moderate to rather extreme time constraints to take part it. Various skill levels can raid with some progression to complete clearing. What made WoW’s LFR so successful is that now those with below moderate time constraints now have tons of new fresh content to do.

    One of the reasons Swtor’s endgame is just decent is because it in no way caters to it’s high skill end playerbase. There are no Hardmodes for Raiding, no Arena for PvP, no Rated Bgs and no Territory conquering. Now I can’t say I’ve raided in Swtor so my raiding example might be off. It might be that it is hard and that the moderate to low skilled people get screwed here, who knows? In particular the high skilled people with little time get completely screwed as there is no content to challenge them that they have time to do.

    Conventional sandbox where you simply design what you like is also simply missing. It is low skilled and low time constrained giving people something other then extra leveling content/dailies to do. As said by a previous commenter being able to design the inside of your ship would be awesome. What would be really awesome would be being able to design the inside of your FLEET of ships.

    From a crafting endgame, assuming they added the free travel space flight based off of star to star travel, I’d like to see some sort of interplanetary management of planets you control similar to the game Spore with it’s spices or having the management of you planets allow for you to direct further funds to interplanetary combat. In particular this would be really great since you can work on it with various levels of skill and time commitment. Truely longterm content.

    • You managed to get my name wrong, Spinkster – not sure I can forgive you for that. D:

      In any event, “endgame” as a term is something of a misnomer; it implies that it comes after “beginninggame” (forgive me) and, therefore, is more important. I remember reading Belghast’s commentary about there simply being “game”. As in, no levelling structure whatsoever, just the type of content that people want to get involved in. It’s understood that this would have an impact on any tutorial that exists, but it’s hardly as if the levelling in World or Warcraft teaches players anything about what’s going to hit them at endgame.

      In fact, I reckon that’s where the heroic-hate came from last January.

      To answer the question conventionally, though, endgame has to be meaningful. A series of disconnected mini-games doesn’t seem to work, so it has to be something that is tied into the world and works as a part of it. For me, that’s where professions come in and it pains me to see how they’re currently implemented (particularly in Star Wars).

      It just has so much potential; I’m a huge fan of housing, and think of what professions can do there. Secondary professions, in particular, are simply overlooked as fluff because they don’t actually serve any real purpose. What’s the point in maxing out fishing? It’s just a grind. What’s the point in maxing out cooking? It’s just a grind. What’s the point in maxing out archaeology? It’s just a grind.

      But if you start making it worthwhile to be proficient in a profession such as fishing, beyond simple buff food, then you’re onto something. If you start making those same professions link together (like fishing up a bottle with archaeology fragments, or digging up a cooking recipe), then you’re moving better still. If you make this progression directly tied into guild housing, and you’ve created a completely different strand of endgame for players that don’t just want to grind gear or HK’s.

  6. This entire post begins with the premise that endgame is even necessary. It isn’t. Other gameplay models are better, but for some odd reason the trend hasn’t been to use them.
    That being said, if a stratified gameplay approach is used, however, I’d like to see player meaning be used. I’d like the ability to make an impact, and there’s no other way to explain it. This means economically (buying out a corner of the market), socially (control of group and activities), geographically (town takeovers), vis-a-vis content (downing a boss yields something other than loot drops) et al.
    Simply, the ability for effects to take place with me being the cause. But, of course, all this requires more of a ‘world’ element than any current title offers.

  7. I think all I really want from endgame is the ability to work on some long-term goals and to chill out and socialise. The former enables the latter because goals being long-term means that I’m in no hurry and that I’ll be around for a while. SWTOR seems to have plenty of that so far. *knock on wood*

    I think your third point of what endgame can be like is a bit strange because in my eyes it contradicts itself. If everything added by new patches is just there for people to immediately jump in, do it and be done again, you don’t really have much time to build social ties, do you? #1 and #2 both offer better opportunities to be social. At least that’s the impression I got of the way WoW used to do it compared to how it’s doing it now.

  8. Looking at the big daddy as an example – if only 5-15% of your playerbase participate in ‘endgame’ – perhaps it’s not the ‘golden ticket’ to game greatness that we (as in those of us that spend way more time on the game than the average person) make it out to be.

    I’ve been in SWTOR from the second day of early access. My highest character is now level 34.

    I have to say I’m enjoying playing the game as an uber casual and without a huge endgame waiting as the ‘real game’ – I feel no rush to get there.

    As the saying goes… sometimes you should stop and smell the roses on the way to the manure farm.

    My friend BTW… as lvl 50 the first week the game went live. He’s been bored out of his mind.

  9. This whole “endgame” thing needs to be killed.

    The problem, of course, stems from the gluttonous consumption of solo content. What used to be sold as expansions and new versions in retail boxes is demanded in exchange for subscription money.

    If the actual character progression and accumulation of power/knowledge/wealth in these MMORPGs was deep and long enough, then these end game discussions wouldn’t happen. Players would merrily play the actual _game_ for months without reaching “level cap”. Then developers could extend the breadth of progression rather than constantly adding levels or better gear.

    But players won’t stop to smell the roses if 1) the margin power gain between “levels” is great; 2) time to next “level” is short. It’s a simple matter of time efficiency. Either I do the content in a challenging context in 2 hours, or I spend 30 minutes to gain more levels and then breeze through the content I originally intended to do in 20 minutes. “gotta get the next level. gotta get to max. gogogogo”

    Dear Devs: SLOW DOWN YOUR GAME

  10. I do not subscribe to the idea that there need to be some specific “endgame” at all, or a gameplay that would change or be much different from whatever it was in the “non-endgame”.

    I like the Guild Wars approach, which only has a bit of early leveling, pretty much only an extended tutorial period. The rest is just the game.

  11. What I’d like to see, in immersive games like SWTOR, is increased options for endgame characters to become involved in the world. That is to say, the “leveling game” allows us a lot of options to make contacts and shape the course of the galaxy… but not a lot of options for us to feel like part of the galaxy we’re shaping.

    Let us buy real estate. Give us ongoing ship projects (decorate/upgrade/get vanity plates for/get registered so you can skip visiting the space dock at planet x and go directly to the surface). Let us join organizations and work our way up the ranks with procedurally generated quests. Let us form our own groups and societies and have in-game mechanical support for the same. Let is set up trade routes between planets. Let us smuggle spice, and fight off boarding parties. Let us race various vehicles against both players and NPCs.

    Most of these are obviously just ways for players to create their own content, but in a way that’s tied to the narrative of the game.

    In other words… let us find ways to continue the story ourselves.

  12. Anything that doesn’t stonewall the majority of an mmorpg audience from the last part of the game story or allow 20% of players to blacklist the other 80% is fine by me.

    Something has to change. It must. WoW didn’t lose a boatload of subscribers for nothing.

  13. Keeping my comments confined to SWTOR:

    No (or little) ship customisation. If ships were actual houses, on a planet, and could therefore have NPC vendors and people would see them, fine. But although they’ve been sold to us as player housing, they’re really not – they’re just a (in)convenient way of getting from A to B that happen to have bank access and are somewhere to have conversations with your companions. 50 levels in on my main, and 28 additional levels on various alts, and I’ve not seen the inside of someone else’s ship.

    (I, and it seems a lot of the playerbase, wanted more ship and customisation in STO, and got it, and I ran through it once. The devs had wasted a lot of time providing that rather than content).

    *Guild* housing (space stations), now – that’d be awesome; something that takes a lot of effort to put together, maybe a bit of effort to maintain, and has big enough spaces for people to interact. Which obviously means they need reasons to be there in addition to just being social… possibly “shared” space stations, between several guilds – each guild gets its own private customisable “floor” or wing, and there’s a common area allowing jumpoff to flashpoints?

    Actually *do* something with the guild ally/adversary registration. At the moment, allied/adversary guilds don’t even show up as a different colour, as far as I can see, and apart from a designation as allied/adversary on a now-defunct section of the SWTOR website, that appears to be it. Ideally, they’d bring in something like Ultima Online’s guild system (no red vs blue there) where guilds could declare themselves at war with other guilds – which would allow interaction beyond the social, even with same-side guilds.

    And yes, something to let us create our own content. Ok, there’ll be no voice acting, but meh. STO has managed it, and some of the player-created stuff is quite good, by all accounts.

  14. Great article, Spinks. I really feel end-game – no matter the goals you put forward – is largely social. If you have a lot of friends and allies (and, in some cases, rivals) in an MMO you will stick with it, actively finding goals to accomplish that maintains those connections.

    That said, when a game presents no avenues for goals, boredom is going to set in and those connections are then literally all that keeps you in the game. That can sometimes be enough: think of the number of WoW guilds that either got bored of farming content cap or really couldn’t get there yet lingered between content patches anyway. This can breed some resentment though, or even inspire those friends to pack their connections up, as it were, and try another game.

    Personally, for end game goal-avenues I really instancing; the co-op/team aspect has always appealed to me (its why I favor games like League of Legends and Left 4 Dead over more traditional RTSs and FPSs) and – for all the flak it catches – the trinity (and more recently with Rift, the foursome with dedicated non-healer support) gives us a well known variety of roles to fill in a team set up. (I’m game for alternatives, but I have yet to see any I really like.)

  15. Pingback: Becoming The Nomad | Mana Obscura

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