[WoW] The raiding dropoff in MoP

I think it’s approaching that time in the expansion where I get a bit burned out on raiding, notwithstanding having a great guild and raid team. I can tell this because I was getting quite frustrated at being the nominated turtle kicker (I promise this makes sense if you know the encounter) on Tortos this week. (Fortunately we’re taking a week or two off due to people being on holiday and then we have a guild meet coming up so I’ll probably be back to normal after that.)

Or maybe it’s just a frustrating role that no one really likes. Who knows?

Well actually, Zellviren has been collecting stats on normal-mode raid participation and has put up a long and detailed post on MMO-Champion about it. To summarise: raid participation in normal mode 10 man instances has been steadily dropping off since Wrath. Even with the surge in subscriptions that came with MoP, fewer guilds killed the first boss in Mogushan Vaults than the last boss in Dragon Soul (last raid in Cataclysm) in normal mode 10 man. He also collected data on a boss by boss basis to show which have been the main roadblock bosses in MoP for these raiders.

I know the main roadblocks for us were Elegon and Garalon so it’s no surprise to see large drop offs associated with both of them, but the numbers also show that after hitting those walls, a lot of guilds seem to have given up on raiding. He concludes:

“1) This is the first time we start to see massive jumps and “brick walls” appear in normal mode raiding. Elegon himself puts paid to more guilds than the entirety of tier 13.
2) The Heart of Fear is a one-instance wrecking crew. Of the guilds that started the expansion by managing to defeat the Stone Guard, it’s managed to kill over 58% of them.
3) The ‘attunement’ for Heart of Fear is bypassed, allowing more guilds to kill the Sha of Fear than killed Grand Empress Shek’zeer.
4) 75% of the final tier instance was less punishing than Amber-Shaper Un’sok; the Heart of Fear accounts for an average mortality rate of over 7.6%.”

In Throne of Thunder, only 25k 10 man guilds have taken out the first boss in normal mode. Ghostcrawler did comment that counting the number of guilds wasn’t a great way to measure progress (I interpret this the opposite way he does and wonder if it’s because hardcore players might have multiple alts in different raid guilds) but agrees that fewer players have made an attempt on Jin’rock 10 m normal than on Stone Guard in the earlier tier.

Then Horridan (which admittedly took us several weeks of attempts) filtered out another 5k, that’s 20% guilds which killed the first boss still haven’t killed the second.

Well, it makes me feel better about our current progress, even though we’re not one of the elite 7k who killed Lei Shen on normal. I was tempted to put elite in ‘’ but really what else can you call it?

Basically, the current endgame model doesn’t seem to be working. Yes LFR will have soaked up all of those raiders but does LFR have the stickability of raid encounters which each might require a month or more of effort from a guild to clear?

Quote of the Day: On Endgame

I had forgotten how good the Blizzard designer notes usually are. This is another great example of designers sharing their thinking about MMO endgame, with reference to Pandaria. (They are also very open about where they think Cataclysm failed.)

No developer wants to hear "I want to play your game, but there’s nothing to do." For Mists, we are going out of our way to give players lots to do. We don’t want it to be overwhelming, but we do want it to be engaging. We want you to have the option of sitting down to an evening of World of Warcraft rather than running your daily dungeon in 30 minutes and then logging out. We understand we have many players (certainly the majority in fact) who can’t or aren’t interested in making huge commitments to the game every week and we hope we have structured things so that you don’t fall very far behind. The trick is to let players who want to play make some progress without leaving everyone else in the dust.

This. This is why you never bet against Blizzard.

[SWTOR] Effects of LFG and ranked warzones, and deciding whether to make the mental switch to endgame

liberateddroid

So even liberated droids get floor mopping duty, apparently

I have been playing SWTOR a fair amount this week, focussing mainly on my reasonably new level 50 Jedi Sage. When you ‘focus’ on a max level character in an MMO, it generally means that you plan to spend most of your time in game on that character, probably finding ways to progress it (ie. by collecting gear, gold, etc), socialising, or chasing achievements or other collectable type things. This tends to mean you will be doing similar sorts of things when you log in, depending on how much time you have available and whether there’s some group event you plan to attend. In SWTOR specifically, this means knocking out the daily quests, hitting some regular and hard more flashpoints, figuring out exactly how bad I am at PvP in warzones, and hopping into the occasional Operation/ Raid (I’ve done one with my guild and one PUG that was assembled via general chat on the fleet) – that’s a  good sampling of what endgame has to offer.

Next week I suspect will see a slow down for me, partly because I’m in full job hunting mode (for positive reasons, just got a new qualification), partly because I snagged a pass to the next GW2 beta weekend, and because Crusader Kings 2 accidentally fell into my checkout in the Steam Sale; so I have a new goal to try to learn how to play it. (Incidentally, there’s a really good tutorial here.) The other reason is that my Sage is now pretty much fully kitted out in Columni gear, which you can get from hard mode flashpoints and is also the gear that drops from the two easier story mode Operations, and I also have most of the Battlemaster PvP set, so the urge to get as many hours in as possible is waning.

So I feel that I have a fresh view on the SWTOR endgame and how it has been different for me with this character than previous ones, due to changes in the game.

LFG: They could just rename it ‘Looting Fast Gear’

My run of good LFG flashpoint groups has continued unbroken and since I’ve been running at least one per day, I’d say the tool is off to a good start. I have been queueing as dps and generally the queue times have been less than 30 mins. There was this one time when I clicked queue and really did get an instance pop immediately (as dps, yes) so with the population limited to same server, it can be very variable depending on who is queueing. Queue times do vary predictably with time of day and days of the week, with the evening after weekly maintenance being a prime raid night which means long flashpoint queues. There is a daily quest you can get from the PvE mission terminal which rewards 5 Black Hole tokens for running a HM in the group finder. The daily quests tick over at 1pm local time so people who are online will tend to queue just after that so that they can pick up the daily quest and knock it out quickly. (Or just before it if they didn’t manage to get the previous day’s quest done yet.)

Players on my server also sometimes comment on fleet chat when they queue, especially if they are playing a tank or healer (ie. “tank just joined the LFG”) to encourage the other roles to join the queue. So players are experimenting with combinations of LFG and general chat formed groups.  I am also finding that restricting the group finder to the server community makes quite a large difference compared to WoW. I begin to recognise names that I see around the fleet from either PvE or PvP. So if I get a good group and put people on my friends list, I know they will likely be around. I personally think this growing sense of server community is well worth slightly longer queue times.

The combination of much easier to find groups and experienced players queueing so that they can get the daily quest rewards is that instance runs tend to be fast and easy, plus I have learned lots of short cuts or ways to avoid different bosses. Taral-V takes the prize here, because you can avoid all except two bosses (and I have heard it rumoured that the final boss is avoidable also). Hence my new 50 is really pretty well geared already, which is fine but really the only way for her to get better gear now is to head into hard mode raids or do lots of dailies for Black Hole tokens that way.

I think the effect of fast gearing on the player base is that people tend to get done with the content and bored more quickly, since grinding for progression forms such a core part of the MMO gameplay. Or at least,  players look to progression for guidance on setting their character goals and deciding what to do next in the game. in SWTOR, running daily quests is also a good way to collect credits so you’ll tend to amass in game cash by doing the same things that you would do to progress gearwise. This is a subtle point, and while it is very convenient for casual players, it makes playing the economy feel very optional. My consular just has gathering skills (scavenging, slicing) and I can easily scavenge up some highly sellable metals while doing dailies also. In many ways SWTOR is such a great game for more casual players that I hope Bioware wise up and think about adding more casual friendly endgame elements in the future. I suspect it is one of the better and more approachable games in the market for a true MMO newbie at the moment.

I don’t feel bored with the game now that my Consular has most of what she’d want from hard mode flashpoints, but I have definitely gotten to this point far far more quickly with this alt than with my original Warrior.

The endgame mindset

Dusty had a very insightful post about metagames/endgame in MMOs  and how although you can often begin playing these games by jumping in and trying what is fun, there comes a point where difficulty ramps up and you need to either optimise your playing style or quit.

… here’s what happens with the average player.  They start off, casually playing, and by far and large enjoying the game.  And this keeps them playing – for awhile.  And then, at some point, one or two things happen:  one, they encounter in PvP some other player or players whom have put together some game-breaking combination of abilities the designers never conceived of, and are ravaged by them repeatedly, or two, in PvE, they reach content that requires some combination of abilities the designers intend for you to either know about or have tried, and they don’t, and so they are effectively just stymied from progressing. 

There is plenty to say about the endgame mindset, but I want to pick out this notion that there comes a point where if you want to be competitive or complete cutting edge content, you have to stop playing in an exploratory, playful way, and start playing in a more defined and optimised way. Or in other words, there comes a point where you have to decide if you want to look stuff up and learn the metagame, or just move on. That’s where so many people get a character to max and then drift off to the next game on the list. I think there is also a concept of metagame fatigue where you spent so much time theorycrafting or practicing your minmax spec in one game that you need a break from that intensity of gameplay, or don’t want to switch to a game with another involved metagame. Another player strategy to avoid this shift in mindset is to start in metagame mode right from the beginning and use guides to plan out every aspect of a new character/game right from the beginning.

I personally find this sucks the fun out of games for me so I try not to do it, but after you’ve been burned in one MMO by picking a class/spec that sounded fun and later finding it had no place in endgame, it’s so tempting to do your research first the next time.

This is what killed Rift for me, incidentally. It’s a good game and all but I’d designed a soul combination that I really liked for levelling, and it didn’t cut the mustard for dps in endgame raiding. At that point a player has to decide if they want to switch to the optimal dps combination (which you can look up on blogs and bboards) or just not play that part of endgame. I decided the game had been fun and I preferred to move on than relearn my character and abandon the megadot build. And, maybe more to the point, I didn’t want to join raids and not ‘pull my weight’ – and maybe I’ve learned from WoW to be too much of a perfectionist with dps, because doing significantly less than the max doesn’t feel good enough any more, even where everyone else is happy and bosses still die.

And so to SWTOR. While the game has no addons, you can take a combat log and there are external dps meters that will check the log and report how much damage you are doing. Since the harder raids do involve enrage timers and dps checks, it isn’t surprising that raid groups do measure dps and ask individuals to do so also.

Now, on my Consular I have three DoTs and a proc to keep track of, all represented by little icons which I can’t find a way to enlarge independently. So if I want to do great dps, I need to keep the DoTs up as much as possible without renewing them too quickly, keep an eye on the proc and any debuffs I want to use, and have a rough idea of the best  priority attacks to use when those are all accounted for. My current issue is that I can’t get my dps high enough for the raids I’d need to do, and I don’t know if I can be arsed to keep practising the rotation/ priority until it gets higher. Or rather, I’ve done the research for the metagame but I don’t  find the “maximal dps in raids” metagame to be all that fun; because who gives a flying f*** if my DoTs clip as long as the bosses die, I don’t die, and I’m doing all the other things I need to do in that encounter; potentially including off healing and CC. The dps meter gives a flying f***, that’s who. I am weighing up the options of either more practice (I have an Ops target in my ship now, thanks legacy perks) or switching to healing – because despite what people might tell you, healing or tanking are WAY easier than topping damage meters on a class with a complex rotation.

What I really want is a different model for raid encounters that is less dependent on tight enrage timers and more on utility and reacting to the environment.

[Diablo 3, GW2] Does Diablo 3 need an endgame?

Bashiok (one of the Blizzard community managers) has been quoted a lot this week for his comments on Diablo 3:

We recognize that the item hunt is just not enough for a long-term sustainable end-game. There are still tons of people playing every day and week, and playing a lot, but eventually they’re going to run out of stuff to do (if they haven’t already). Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. <…> There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now.

That’s a lot of endgame talk about what is basically a single player game with co op functionality.

I think this is a great quote because it goes a long way to explaining what devs think of as ‘end game’: gameplay/ content that keeps players engaged. Possibly indefinitely. To everyone else, endgame is “what you do in the game after you have finished the game” which is a bizarre statement if you take it as read. Logically, after you have finished a game you put it away and play something else. It’s certainly how I play the majority of single player games, not to mention other media like books and films. Except for the games where you keep coming back.

There are a few main reasons people will keep coming back to a much loved game:

  • There’s some randomisation involved so the game never really ends or is never the same twice. Especially if there is a rising difficulty curve associated with the randomisation so the game stays challenging. (eg. roguelikes, puzzle games like tetris).
  • Moreish gameplay. Could involve PvP.
  • Extra ‘stretch’ goals or achievements. Final Fantasy always excelled at offering ultra hard extra bosses that were clearly only for people who wanted to spend much longer with their game than was needed just to finish it. Some of these might be long term goals which would need weeks or months to complete.
  • Lots to explore. Try a new spec or play style. New Game Plus can fit this mould, where you get new stuff to do if you replay the game after finishing it once or twice.
  • Your friends are playing it. Come back for the social aspect.
  • New content. Maybe a new patch just dropped or a mod maker released a really cool new mod for a game.
  • Sandbox game. (Not sure how well this really applies to single player games but there are some open world games where you had a pretty free rein of what to do after finishing the main storyline.)

It’s funny to think that before subscription MMOs and  F2P, there was never any great cash motivation for single player games to  be endlessly replayable. Square Enix didn’t get extra money because Final Fantasy had secret uber bosses in it to encourage you to keep playing; at least, it’s unlikely that this was a major purchase factor for players. Rogue and its ilk are free, there’s no incentive for the game to be endless other than it happened to be designed that way. If a game turns out to be evergreen then it will last longer in retail (the long tail), and there are probably loads of opportunities for creators to make more money by ‘exploiting the brand’. Arcade games obviously make more money the more people come back to them also. But it was always one indication of a good game. That people would keep playing, and playing, and playing.

Some of the old classic endgame design won’t fly in today’s world. Secret uber bosses won’t be secret for very long in the internet age, and no matter how complex it is to find them, you can assume someone will do it and publicise it widely.

Diablo and endgame

The endgame in Diablo 2 involved playing the game through again on harder modes, trying different specs or classes, and gathering loot. There was also the possibility for PvP, and Blizzard organised levelling ladders  on the battle.net servers for players who enjoyed doing competitive speed runs. Unfortunately, with Diablo 3, they’ve made some of that endgame redundant. There’s no need to play through the game with a different spec when you can switch spec on the fly. There’s little motivation to gather specific gear sets when you can almost certainly buy better stuff from the auction house than anything that will drop for you.

Instead, there is an end game around farming and selling drops on the item house.

I don’t personally feel slighted that I played through Diablo 3 a few times and then decided I’d had enough. I never did get to Inferno level and I’m cool with that, I think I got as much fun out of the game as I wanted. I’m sure lots of other players are equally placid about Diablo 3. It was good enough, there was enough fun. The story (for all its flaws) was told engagingly and there were enough pieces of story detail that you could discover a few new things on each subsequent play through. The achievements were nicely thought out on the whole. I could imagine playing it through again in a few months time, just for fun.

But clearly, many players wanted an endless endgame, and Blizzard wanted to design a game that had one. Preferably without the hassle of having to actually add extra content. I say this because they could totally add extra secret bosses, secret levels, secret events, secret companions, secret crafting recipes and so on; they wouldn’t stay secret for long but it would get people back into the game to see the new stuff.

But what would a long term sustainable end game look like for Diablo 3? There is the upcoming possibility of PvP for people who like that. It would be gear dependent so frequent trips the auction house would likely be necessary if you want to be competitive. Other than that, how could Blizzard ever expect players to play through the same content indefinitely? They’ve already included variable difficulties with better drops at higher difficulty ratings. They have deliberately limited the randomness in D3 because of the increased story emphasis so it will never be one of those randomly generated dungeon endgames.

That leaves extra incentives for groups of friends to play together regularly, tying it in with other popular games (ie. WoW), or running some of those ladder type events. Diablo gameplay just isn’t deep enough on its own to keep people coming back.

MMO Endgames

We are in a new era of MMO endgames too at the moment. Subscription games have always encouraged devs to find ways to keep people playing the same game. They have encouraged inventiveness around what gives games longlastability.

OK, I kid.

But you’d have thought competition between sub games would have encouraged this type of experimentation. Instead what has mostly happened is that devs are more interested in the churn – in finding new players and getting them to stay for a couple of months – than in what gets players to stay for a year rather than 6 months. F2P games take this a step further in that devs are now looking for the ‘whales’ who view the normal way to play games as being to spend loads of money in cash shops when they are having fun. Some of those people will be long term players. I imagine the hope is that if a game can attract enough whales, spending loads of money in cash shops will seem more normalised of an activity for the playerbase.

Players also get frustrated more quickly. Long term goals in a game is one of the factors that makes players stay for longer, but also one of the things that makes impatient players say immediately “That’s too hard, I can never do that, why is it in the game?” One example of this is the Legacy purchases in SWTOR. It costs 5 million credits to buy an auction house terminal for your characters’ ships. To me that says a month or two of trading/ dailies. As you can imagine, the bboard has plenty of complaints that it is too much, it’s impossible, it’s unfair, etc. A long(ish) term goal based on gathering in game gold is the opposite of unfair actually, since it’s the one thing everyone can do.

The only types of long term goal players seem to accept passively in themeparks are ones that is explicitly based on subscription length, or collecting stuff. For example, EVE training schedules that take months (I know, not a themepark but this type of mechanism could be in one), rewards in CoH based on subscription length, WoW Firelands rewards based on how many dailies have been completed. Pet, mount, and gear collecting is another type of longterm goal which has been popular with players.Other feasible and challenging longer term goals often get dismissed as ‘unfair’ or inaccessible by the player base.

And with that, lets’ talk about raids. Raiding has been a core piece of MMO endgame for many years now, since EQ. The raiding ‘lifestyle’ includes membership of a raid guild, some commitment to regular multiplayer  raids, and a set of raid content of increasing difficulty that is projected to need many weeks of raiding to complete. Players have been increasingly dissatisfied with the raid endgame. It requires too great a commitment, guilds act as gatekeepers for content, raids are inaccessible to people who can’t meet a guild’s raiding schedule and so on. Random raid finders or dynamic events (as per Rift) have been one answer to this, making raids far more accessible to players than they were back in the day.

But the main thing about raids is that they did offer longterm progression goals to players. Not to mention a social network. That was one of the reasons they so successfully defined endgame for a generation of MMO players. So if raids are becoming more accessible, more immediate, or less appealing, what is going to replace them? Will it have longevity?

I have already seen people wondering what sort of an endgame GW2 will have. There aren’t any PvE raids. There is extensive open world PvP. There are lots of dynamic events. There may not be strong incentives to be part of a guild. Will that be enough to keep players engaged for months or years? And does it matter?

The next WoW expansion is also branching out with endgame, including speed runs for 5 man instances (challenge modes), a farmville knockoff, pet collecting/ battles, scenarios (smaller instances which won’t need tanks or healers) as well as the usual raids. Will these new mechanics keep people playing for longer without needing a constant feed of new content? I remain to be convinced about the challenge modes, I’m not sure how exciting it really is to be constantly doing speed runs of the same content. But maybe some players will love it. At least enough to try one once a day with their guild.

Towards a fluffier endgame?

One of the posters on mmorpg.com argues that fluff rewards are better in endgame than constant gear progression. (You can tell this is written by someone who likes PvP and hates raiding.) ‘Fluff’ is usually defined as something that doesn’t affect progression or stats. It’s fun or pretty, and that is its only purpose. In game festivals or special events are pretty much the epitome of fluff – they’re temporary, fun (we hope) and offer good fluff rewards. Players like them and a player who has drifted might easily be tempted back into a MMO to check out the event.

Mini-games can be part of a fluff endgame, they’re just extra things for players to spend time doing in the game. This is clearly the road WoW is wandering along, adding more single player/ small group compatible content, which means that MoP is going to have a wider variety of endgame content than Cataclysm did. LOTRO has always excelled at adding fluff, from supporting RP, to musical instruments in the game, monster play, chicken play, and skirmishes (probably the inspiration for WoW scenarios). Space missions in SWTOR are an example of a really well executed minigame, if you like that sort of thing. Bioware could do with adding more; games to play in cantinas would be a good start for example.

Player housing can be part of a fluff endgame.

Collecting pets, mounts, pretty things can be part of a fluff endgame.

But will that be enough to replace a progression based endgame?

[SWTOR] My experience of endgame

Here’s a couple of screenshots from Kaon under Siege, the most recent flashpoint. It has many zombies, of which the top picture shows us disposing of one (yes, this one’s a screamer). Also there are some cool darker areas where you get to grab little floaty torches, as shown below. Arb and I were a bit girly about our torches and shrieked when the torches went out, and looked frantically for the next box of torches. The guys in the group were much more stoic.

It was a good, fun instance though. Looking forwards to the next one.

kaon

So, SWTOR endgame. I don’t really have a thoughtful summary for this yet, so this is in bullet point form. My experience is based on being in a friendly casual guild where we don’t yet have enough 50s to consider ops (raids) but when there are at least 4 players on of appropriate level range and role who have time available, there will often be an instance or hard mode run.

  • Dailies: I have been sticking with the Belsavis level 50 dailies, since they’re quicker and easier than the Ilum ones. I am not doing them religiously every day, or cleaning them all out when I do spend time there. Slacker? Sure. But I’ve made enough tokens to upgrade all the armor/ hilt in my gear, and it’s possible to solo one of the [Heroic 4] Belsavis dailies by judicious death runs so my companions all now have orange weapons with blue level 50 mods (because that’s one of the quest rewards as well as the daily tokens).
  • PvP: I may have run the occasional warfront but that’s about all, I’m not gung ho for PvP.
  • Instances: Have now completed all the normal ones and one hard mode. (I’m not big on PUGs, I suppose I could but the demand for melee dps isn’t high and gearing for tanking is a work in progress.)
  • Datacrons: Gathering Datacrons (one-time permanent buffs) is a much more engaging game than I had expected. Some need pinpoint (and frustrating) jumping skills, others include odd forms of transport or exploring detailed areas of the grid you hadn’t noticed before. It’s all quite intriguing. Teppo has the patience of a saint and organised a guild run to pick some up from Balmorra and Nar Shadaa. This was enlivened by me *accidentally* attacking a PvP flagged Jedi Knight we ran into who promptly returned with a raid group. So we had a lot of running battles on Nar Shadaa in between Holocron gathering. This reminded me a lot of DaoC, where it was standard tactic to annoy a high level enemy character in the hope they’d bring their friends out to play.
  • Matrix Shards: These are a special type of Holocron. I decided to collect the three shards I was going to need for my dps warrior matrix cube relic. This probably needs to be the subject of another post because it turned out to be quite involved but I’m dead proud that I did it! Gamewise, it made for an interesting and quite engrossing solo sort-of quest.
  • Space Game: I am getting more into this. Currently stuck on Polith Minefield (I can do all of it except getting all the turrets on the minelayer right at the end – feel free to offer any suggestions! :) ).
  • Crafting: I haven’t really been bothered to do much of this except for guildies. I seem to make enough credits from dailies that it isn’t necessary.

So it probably sounds as though I don’t do much in endgame, and that would be correct. On the other hand, I’m also busy with work and often don’t have much time to log on and I am finding enough to do when I do want to be online. I need an endgame like this where most of it is purely optional because I don’t have the time or energy to grind. On the other hand, my gear is fine for hard modes at the moment, and probably decent for ops as well (the rough rule of thumb I’ve heard is 1200 in main stat), when we get round to them.

The main lure away from endgame is playing alts. I do find it awkward that the legacy system encourages players to play alts of the opposite faction but there’s no guild system that can support having characters from opposite factions. So if you do this, you lose access to guild chat and being invited to guild runs etc unless your guild uses something external like voice chat.

The other thing with alts is that if you enjoy playing in duos (which I really do in this game), the alts are off the table unless the other person is on and wants to play the appropriate alt. I may need another solo alt I think…

The big surprise for me from endgame is that I’m enjoying the Datacrons much more than I had expected, even though the really jumpy ones are immensely frustrating. SWTOR Spy have a good guide on how to find them all.

[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?

 

[SWTOR] Flashpoints, romances, endgame [spoilers]

instancespinks

So Spinks is now level 50, and I think I’ve completed all of the flashpoints apart from Directive 7 (which is cool but looooong – I dropped out before we got to the end, but the guys were able to finish it) and Kaon Under Siege, which is the newest one. I’ve found them fun in general (although there’s massive hate on for Colicoid War Games, which is just an odd instance – think vehicle fights), especially the more story based flashpoints like Boarding Party/ Foundry and Battle for Ilum/False Emperor.

These pictures show:

  1. On the left, the downside to killing mobs by flinging them off high places. I’m standing on a beam, looking down at dead mobs who are way out of my reach …. and who have loot on them. Oops. However, force push is the best power evah! Flinging people off things is great.
  2. This is the equivalent screenshot to the one everyone took in Wrath of their character sitting on the frozen throne. Since Spinks is modelling a shiny black and silver set of badass armour here, she doesn’t show up too well on the leather-upholstered throne. Also it’s perhaps not the most ladylike pose, but who cares?

The levelling game in SWTOR has been one of the best CRPG experiences I’ve had in any game since Planescape. This game is no Planescape, but I don’t think the Bioware storytelling model has ever worked better. You have the multiple origins of DAO, the ‘you are a god/dess in mortal form’ of ME, and combat is genuinely more fun than either (for me at least). However flawed, the dialogue wheel has added some fun to the game, and so have the companion stories. I’ve enjoyed the various jumps in difficulty, but mostly I’ve loved feeling like a badass sith warrior and pretty much just abusing power in all of its forms.

It’s been a blast.

Endgame was always bound to mess up the nice smooth lines of story flow. There’s no interesting story way to really explain running dailies, PvP in the same battlegrounds, or regular flashpoints … or even why there are hardmodes in the world at all. The Ilum instances in particular include massive spoilers for the Ilum storyline, but you’re allowed to go run them as soon as you hit the appropriate level. They’re not gated by whether you have got to that part of the story.

Bioware pretty much have to do this, because plenty of players will not want to keep questing when they get to 50 just to get access to an instance. However, it does mean that you could innocently agree to an instance run with your guild and get massively spoiled on story.

Companion romances also have the potential to mess up the story flow. Unlike in DA2, where the progress of the romances was tied deeply into the plot, in SWTOR the romances proceed based purely on your level and the companion’s level of affection.

So, for example, you could be in a situation where the levelling storyline runs that your companion attempts to betray you, where the romance storyline for that companion is that you’ve just married them. And there’s not really much dialogue to explain either how that’s affecting the relationship or why it didn’t. (This has been a massive source of complaints on the Sith Warrior forums – I’m a RPer so I’m used to tying myself in knots to explain why my character has done fairly inexplicable things, but this one was a doozy.)

Actually, while the romances have been fun, it does my head in to imagine my character being happily married at all, and the thought of her having kids … (I’m not kid-averse, but she’s a badass sith warrior with poor impulse control, this is not perhaps the stuff of good mothering. Besides which, surely she’d rather be trashing the universe?) The marriage thing feels a bit tacked on, like a Lucasarts nod to conventional morality. ie. you can be as evil as you like, but if you have a permanent relationship, it should end in marriage/ commitment.

The DA2 relationships worked better, for me. But hey, it was still a bit of fun. Especially since the Sith Warrior romance with Quinn plays out more like an extended comedy sequence than a romance anyway. I did laugh at the conversation where he noted, “Now that we’ve agreed to get married, you could call me Malavai?” Just because it raised the spectre of ‘what on earth was she calling him in private if not his first name?’ Too much information on my character’s private life there, perhaps :)