[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?

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18 thoughts on “[Diablo 3, GW2] Does Diablo 3 need an endgame?

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

    Replace it for whom? A lot of player don’t raid. And for them it was enough in e.g. vanilla WoW.

    • I have to think back now. There was still some progression in non raid endgame in vanilla WoW I think, it wasn’t all fluff, although there was some. I remember people grinding rep, doing Darkmoon Faire for epics, repeated instance runs for tier 1 gear, crazy PvP grind, etc.

      But Blizzard have stopped putting in that kind of grindy rep grind, which was another kind of long term goal for solo players. Which comes back to the question “What can they replace it with that will keep players busy that long?”

      • > I remember people grinding rep

        The rewards were “only fluff”. They didn’t add anything useful (besides fire resistance for raiders).

        > doing Darkmoon Faire for epics

        They had epics there?

        > repeated instance runs for tier 1 gear

        D1 not T1. And the gear wasn’t really good. It wasn’t the best blue gear. The caster sets had agility on them!

        I would consider collecting a set which doesn’t increase your power but is a nice set that looks nice as fluff.

        > But Blizzard have stopped putting in that kind of grindy
        > rep grind, which was another kind of long term goal for
        > solo players. Which comes back to the question
        > “What can they replace it with that will keep players
        > busy that long?”

        In todays WoW probably nothing anymore. They’ve passed the point of no return.

        In other games they should start with a world. Something worth “living” in.

      • These things you are talking about?

        They were not fun. And not really done by solo-ers since half the rep grinds were only really possible to max if you raided. People really do underestimate how massive the gap was between raiders and the proles was in Vanilla. There really was astonishingly little you could do at the cap. And the PvP grind required you have raid gear to survive the ass whuppins from the raid geared pvpers.

        What solo-ers did have going for them was that it took months and months to reach cap.

        Though there was that D2 questline that Blizzard did introduce for solo-ers and people who only ran dungeons. Which was probably the best quest series in vanilla, like the a mini Scepter of the Sands questline except it pretty much required you have some friends in T2 raid gear to actually finish the last fight.

        And yeah. DMF had an epic neck.

        It wasn’t very good.

      • There were some soloable rep grinds as well as the raid ones. Yes, I agree it wasn’t that fun but clearly other people had different opinions because that’s how non raiders played and many of them played a lot.

        And this was back when level 40ish blues (I think the class D0 sets started in low 40s) were considered to be the best you could get pre-raiding. Purples were almost unknown among non raiders, so the DMF neck was considered very worthwhile. (Don’t ask me why, it just was!)

  2. Don’t know what possessed them to start talking about ‘endgame’ for a largely single player game, it is not a great response to players saying they are bored and have nothing to do. If they did promote the game on longevity that was a mistake as well, and just a little arrogant to try to predict how long players will spend at the game, what about just making a fun single-player and co-op with no expectations for longevity. Maybe they are realising that for MoP, by adding lots of fun, diverse and new systems, and hopefully keep the new content flowing throughout the expansion, which is also the solution for D3, new modes, challenges, co-op maps etc.

  3. The thing that keeps me coming back to MMOs for years and years is Sense of Place.A virtual world made sufficiently convincing makes you feel time spent elsewhere is time spent less well.

    Some of that commitment comes from social networks built up with other players but most of it comes from a sense of belonging. Long-term players in MMOs in or approaching their second decade (and just stop for a moment and think how many MMOs that is – it’s a lot) are like immortals, watching the world change in flickers around them, seeing the short flare of energy as the mayfly lives of casual guildmates burn with bright enthusiasm then fade and peter out.

    What I actually do in those MMOs that I expect always to play isn’t all that important. Being there is. For reasons I’m not yet able to articulate clearly, the effect only occurs online. I can’t imagine ever spending hundreds, thousands of pleasant, purposeless hours in an offline virtual world the way I have in Norrath or Telon.

    Of course, even offline games are online nowadays…

    • I think there’s something important in the sense of a game as a place vs the emphasis on what you do with your time there. But at the same time, do you generally do something when you log in? (I don’t want to assume anything, there are times I log in and leave my character standing somewhere with the game running while I listen to a podcast or something.)

      I hear what you’re saying about the different feel you get from a settled online community that is somewhat committed, vs one that is busy chewing through content on a constant progression wheel. I also wonder if sometimes there can be too much to do, to the point where I’d start to feel I was falling behind if I just wanted to sit around one evening and watch the critters. (Rift has this effect on me.)

  4. Well, I think it’s safe to say that D3 is an MMO, not strictly a single player game. If Blizz can ban a player from playing a single player game, then it has crossed into MMO territory. Viewed in that light, the concerns about endgame in D3 are warranted, because Blizz makes money from D3′s RMAH, and if people aren’t logging in to play the game, Blizz isn’t making money. The problem here is that the obvious solution to the money issue –making D3 a sub based game– would cause irrevocable damage to Blizz’ rep akin to the ‘New Coke’ fiasco in the 80s. Therefore, Blizz has to keep the money stream flowing in an MMO where raiding isn’t an option. That’s where the trouble lies.

  5. I’m actually surprised that this caught Blizzard offguard. All the choices they made which upset people (always online, the realid fiasco, followed by the battle.net not having a ‘hide me’ option, the RMAH) all seemed to be geared toward them having a ‘vision’ for how to extend things out.

    Personally… (and this is just me) – D3 is exactly what I wanted in terms of gameplay and story – it’s almost perfect in terms of content as is – because that’s how I play the Diablo series – I play it nonstop for a few months – then put it away – then play it on and off for years when the mood hits.

    That because it was *always* a single player game with optional multiplayer to me.

    Once I saw how D3 launched – and how it was designed. I really expected them to have DLC (or DLC type content) ready by now.

    It’s interesting that they won’t put the random dungeon functionality back into the game – it was there for some good amount of the games development.

    One thing that stands out for me – as a PC and console gamer – if you notice D3 was designed from the ground up to be run on an ‘x-box’ type of controller. The # of skills and buttons you need mesh up with a console controller – it’s another reason I expected DLC for this game.

    I’m left with the feeling that either Blizzard either is playing dumb – or they really don’t have a clear vision as to how people play this game.

  6. Interesting that you point to roguelikes, as they are indeed one of the most timeless types of games heh. I was drawn away from my D3 inferno play by a new (to me) Dwarf fortress mod called Masterwork, and it’s reminded me all over again why I absolutely love that game. So many things to do, so much planning, so many ways to do things and things to optimize.. I love it heh.

    While the games are on the surface as different as games get, I do think that D3 has moved too far away from the crazyness of it’s roguelike roots. It is too well balanced, too tame, the items especially don’t have the radical game changing potential that for example a poison res ring in dungeon crawl stone soup does.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to make that sort of roguelike crazyness work in a mainstream game – it’s too unbalanced, too unfair in some ways. And it’s certainly the case that none of the standard MMO’s make items even as interesting as diablo does. But I do wish they would try.

  7. All those D3 developments are quite fascinating. I can see why Blizzard wants to effectively treat it like a F2P MMO, because the RMAH will keep earning them money that way, but I’m not sure how well it’s going to work. Actually, even if they do make it work, aren’t they likely to cannibalise their WoW subs to an extent, considering the large overlap between the player bases of both games?

    As for different types of endgame, there is certainly a considerable market for making everything about fluff, but personally I’m not a fan of anything I’ve seen so far. I don’t feel that mini games add anything to the “MMO-ness” of an MMO, and I can play thousands of them for free at the click of a button and without having to start up a large game client. And fluff items are basically about acquiring stuff for the sake of having stuff (where in a more traditional raid endgame, gear is acquired to unlock more content), which is again something I don’t care about for very long.

    It’s not that endgame has to be raiding for me, but it has to be about unlocking new content/experiences and ideally it should be social as well.

  8. Pingback: Diablo 3 Shouldn’t Have An Endgame… Guild Wars 2 Has At Least Two « Tremayne's Law

  9. Like lots of people, I played Civilization a lot. What kept me going was the overlapping goals. Just one more turn until X is ready. I’ll just take over that city. There was rarely a time when I wasn’t working towards something specific, all of which led to winning the game. Winning the game was important. It gave purpose to all of those short- and mid-term goals. When the game was over, I’d quit and come back a while later and play again.

    The emphasis on replay value is a lot different than the MMO focus on an unending game. Raiding worked because it was a way to beat the game. And then a new tier was released and you essentially started the raiding game over again. You don’t need an extra way to keep players engaged if the game is actually fun to play again.

    • With Civ, part of the replayability (for me) was having a randomly generated world, plus trying out the different Civs and difficulties. It is a very moreish game by nature, true.

      • Best thing is, even thouht Civ V is the fifth game in a series, it does not include an auction house nor a real money auction house. If you feel like playing on a higher difficulty you don’t have to buy the DLC civilizations or anything.

        I mean, D3 even removed a lot of the limited “end game” buy adding an AH. But I’m not the first person to point that out…

  10. Well, I was going to reply here but it very quickly became such a wall of text that I put it over on my own blog. Short form though, is that I don;t think Diablo 2 CAN have an endgame because it’s structured like a single player game which comes to a natural end rather than lending itself to continued play.

    GW2, on the other hand, may lack a WoW-style raiding and gear progression endgame but offers both WvW (which worked perfectly well for DAoC’s endgame, thank you) and also lends itself to an elder game of continued adventuring around Tyria. I think GW2 will have plenty to keep a levelcapped player occupied, but it won’t have the sharp divide from what you did before level cap that WoW has.

  11. Pingback: The Endless Virtual World: A Replacement Life? « Why I Game

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