Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Era Of Endgame Fatigue?

A bit over a month back, I asked the following poll question:

Which of the Following Would You Like Added To Your Favorite MMORPG?

Repeatable max-level content for your main? 43 (43%)
One-time leveling content for new players and alts? 55 (56%)

The content for alts jumped out to an early lead, and held the majority position for the entire month or so the poll was open. Though this result definitely speaks to the popularity of rolling alts, part of me wonders how much of it represents burnout with the repeatable content endgame grind.

Up Close and Personal With The Endgame
None of the major games I can think of has increased its level cap recently, so it stands to reason that many of us have gotten up close and personal with whatever developers have come up with to entertain players when they're run out of content.

The LOTRO community is apparently up in arms against formal "radiance" requirement for endgame dungeons - you must repeat the lower end dungeons until you assemble a set of armor with enough radiance to allow you to function. Warhammer had launched with a similar system, only their required that players win a random roll against hundreds of siege participants. This got at least somewhat fixed, and now Mythic is free to deal with population balance issues. Just yesterday, I wrote that I'm largely uninterested in the most recent WoW loot, in part because of the pace of gear inflation.

Keen's got a post lamenting the state of reputation systems in modern MMORPG's, which are now mainly used as a way of tracking progress towards rewards rather than actually tracking how various factions think of your character. In the comments, I mentioned how unique my gnome mage's trusty old epic Stormwind Horse was back in 2006. What I didn't mention is the grind. Getting a cross-faction mount in WoW prior to the TBC era required turning in thousands of runecloth for reputation, and then paying 1000G for the actual mount (with no discount for any existing mounts you already owned). I got this gold and runecloth (and gold with which to buy runecloth) from pure grinding, hitting places like Gahrron's Withering in the West Plaguelands for hours at a time.

I can't imagine ever spending that much time on a single mount ever again. Part of this is because mounts are much easier to come by, and much meaningful in WoW today. Part of this is that modern grinding tends to be broken up by a wider variety of daily quest gimmicks. Part of this is that there are other games that I could be playing instead of chasing some grind. The bottom line, though, is that I just don't care quite as much anymore. I've been there, and done that.

Judging from the blog buzz, I'm guessing that I am not alone. If you look at what games bloggers were playing at the end of the string of major releases last fall and what they are playing today, you'll find that many players are now trying something different. Maybe they didn't stick with LOTRO very long the first time, or have never played EQ2, or even decided to go back to WoW.

This could prove to be a major problem for the industry going forward, since the rate of content generation required for WOW-style quest hubs may not be sustainable. If we're all sick and tired of grinds and gear resets and all the other tricks that MMO devs use to keep us paying after we've run out of original content, the industry (especially smaller games, with smaller budgets) could be in for some hard times.

Here's the screenshot I took back on March 31st, 2006, to commemorate that first milestone horse.


Anonymous said...

Good points. I wish I knew people who played EQ, because they must have come up against this issue and somehow people still keep playing.

I think that it's only after a game has been running a few years that some of these issues start to really emerge.

And although it is much easier now to level an alt in WoW, I wonder if that's going to be counter productive for them. Because sooner or later people will run out of alts they want to level.

Tesh said...

More than once, I've argued that the "endgame" needs to be something that all players can do from the very beginning, and that the "endgame" needs to be dynamic content that the players can alter as time goes on. Players need to be the content and the prime movers of the game world; it's the only way to make content generation keep pace with the users, and the best way to infuse life into these increasingly static "virtual worlds".

Yeebo said...

Having the "endgame" be a completely different beast from the leveling game creates a lot of problems. Players that only enjoy the leveling game see it as a bait and switch. Players that only enjoy the endgame see the leveling game as a pointless time sink.

I also see relatively few developers pursuing less resource intensive alternatives to quest hubs. For example, Anarchy Online had a great system for allowing players to randomly generate their own quests ("missions"). If you fiddled with the sliders enough you could generate anything from a traditional 6 man dungeon to a solo stealth mission where you sneak to the back and steal something.

Randomly generated bounty quests (ala DAoC) and randomly generated crafting quests (ala EQ II) can also pad out your content without forcing devs to design a whole new quest hubs from the ground up. For that matter, why aren't more MMOs using procedurally generated dungeons (ala Diablo or a Roguelike)?

Whats my main Again? said...

I think people just have a limit on how long they can play any game. This partially has to do with how said person can consume new content, or how quickly they get tired of repeating the same tasks.

I don't think this is really a bad thing though. I don't think it is possible for Blizzard to keep the game new and exciting for everyone, because everyone plays the game differently.

Anonymous said...

I look at endgame, and by look I mean peer at it from my never advancing mid levels, and get tired.


Grind is alright if you look at it from a certain perspective, are you actually enjoying getting to the shiny reward you want? If you do then awesome, and if not perhaps your time is better spent doing something else in game. What's my main again said it well, everyone or clumps of people play the game differently it's a challenge for a game dev to well bring challenge. :P

Keith said...

what about the challenges of achievements?

some of the best fun in my last month of wow this year was going after pvp and heroic dungeon achievements.

The time achievement for Culling of Stratholme (for the bonze drake drop) and "Not in my house" and "Arathi Basin Assassin" quickly come to mind as being a blast.

at a certain level it is also up to the player to keep a game dynamic. instead of raiding or rep grinds, make a pug for old world raids you never finished (here's looking at you cthun!) or costume up and run through dalaran (go go ogre suits).

Stabs said...

It seems that there is a general malaise amongst MMO fans. Compared to last year when we had AoC, War then WotLK this year seems kind of flat.

We've had, what, Runes of Magic and Darkfall so far? And RoM was aggresively microtransactional so that most of us played it for a week then stopped before we needed the credit card. Darkfall was very hard to even buy on release even if you wanted that style of hardcore pvp game.

I also think that WoW has specifically moved raiding away from longevity towards accessibility. So everyone finishes Naxx, does a few of the more accessible Ulduar hits some brick wall then thinks now what?

There's very little to do in WoW when not raiding in terms of PVE. That will change of course when 3.2 incentivises heroic farming again but I think heroics are too easy to be interesting. I rather liked the UBRS farming we had to do back in the MC/BWL days. It was a tricky instancing and always satisfying to finish a run.

Ferrel said...

Wonderful read! I think you've certainly hit on something. My time in each MMO I've played has decreased drastically since I retired EQ2.

So many of the end games have too high a barrier of entry for a lot of players. Sodality can easily field two groups and usually three but consistently getting to four is near impossible.

That dependence on four group content is also a problem because our only other option is one group instances. There should be a middle ground. WoW at least has 10 man raids.

Relying on only PvP for an endgame is also not that bright. As much as people want to say each fight is different it does get just as repetitive as PvE content. Having both is a wise choice.

Anjin said...

Considering that the purpose of the modern endgame is to keep customers paying for a subscription while producing limited new content, I want to shout (at Blizzard et al) "Of course they're getting fatigued!" The concept of an endgame is broken on its face. Raiding was supposed to be the reward for all the hard work of leveling. Now it's just another treadmill to keep the gerbils occupied. And when people complained that they wanted a solo endgame, we got the daily quest treadmill. It's too late for WoW and the WoW-a-likes, but I hope new generations of games learn and change, just like WoW learned and changed the EQ style.

Anjin said...

I was going to put a disclaimer that I understand my comment comes off harsh, but I got too excited and hit publish. My word choice is meant to describe how players are being treated, not like how we want to act.

Inktomi said...

hello, I've been reading your blog and find it very interesting.
And I totally agree with your point about the drudge of endgame content.

Your topic reminds me of the Ahn Qiraj dungeons implemented pre-burning crusade wow. Alot of the bosses and regular mods there, especially C'Thun did a tremendous amount of nature based damage. Most endgame raiding guilds that were progressing through AQ 40 man had a pre-requisite of at least 125-150 nature resist.

This sounds like the same type of situation happening in LoTRo. I actually have a few gaming friends that left a kinship due to their radiance requirements.

It's sad, but many endgame cycles require players to accumulate a certain aspect, reputation or resistance for endgame content.

This mechanic I feel is widely used for player retention, and does come with a very high burnout rate. For one, when I feel that all I was doing in a game to progress was grind to achieve a goal, I usually left the game for a new one.