25 Apr 2011

Playing Cards at the Carnival

Confession time: I like to take my time when levelling characters. I’ve tried levelling at breakneck speed and it just isn’t for me. Nowadays I prefer to take things at my own pace – I have a bunch of alts that still aren’t at level cap in Warcraft, while in Rift I’m only about two thirds to cap nearly two months after release. After all, what’s the rush?

Spinks recently highlighted an idea that the Everquest 2 developers are kicking around, where experienced returning players could trade cash for a max level character. I agree with her that the concept feels like a bad one, but that it’s getting difficult to justify why.

There’s a great analogy someone once made that compared MMOs to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Basically put, if the films followed the same path as many MMOs then the opening twenty minutes would be about getting the ring to Mount Doom. The rest of the first film and the remaining two would all be about getting the ring into the volcano. Feels slightly skewed, right?

Endgame content has become such a pivotal part of MMOs that there’s a ton of work and effort poured into keeping people playing once they hit the cap. Once all the stories have been played out through questing and levelling, there’s only a few hooks left. The biggest one being variable ratio reinforcement – get players to keep performing the same actions and give them a reward each time, with a low chance of something special. There’s a similar thing at play in slot machines and card games – you keep playing in the hope of that big payoff sometime in the future.

The trouble is that people tend to get wise to reinforcement tricks fairly quickly, especially if there’s a pattern to them. The trick then changes to looking for ways to distract players from the nature of the game. Reputation grinds, heroic modes, even new professions are all there to make it more palatable to run that raid dungeon in the hopes that your loot will drop tonight.

While us poker-playing endgame raiders are sitting round the card table, playing our hands and finding out if we’ll be taking home the pot tonight, a literal carnival of delights has sprung up around us. Considering that some of us have been playing the same game of poker around the same table for the past six years, having the carnival here to keep us entertained during a run of bad hands is quite welcome. But isn’t this just sugaring the pill?

I’m not sure that giving players a fast-track to endgame is the right answer, but it does show the split nature of MMOs. On the one side there’s the RPG game, rich in quests, lore and story. On the other are the various multi player games including dungeons, raids and PvP. While you can do both at the same time there’s a general understanding that you play the RPG game first then switch to the multi player game at the end. It’s a tried and tested formula, but is it the right one?

For all my gripes, Blizzard does at least seem to be looking at ways to refresh older content and bring the storyline with it. Patch 4.1 brings new chapters in the Zandalari storyline, while 4.2 will usher in the return of Ragnaros. For me though, I’d like to see them go further with intertwining the multi and single player games more closely. What that looks like, I have no idea as yet.

I don’t play Warcraft (or any MMO) for endgame. For me it’s all about the story, the experience, the world, the lore. It’s like being allowed into a secret garden created by the developers and told “Go play”. Endgame is just the hold music I listen to while I’m waiting for more story, made more enjoyable by having good company.

These days though, it feels like I’m in the minority. With much of an MMO’s design and emphasis tuned around the long-haul experience players will have at end-game, am I one of a few that still plays for this type of content? Will MMOs in the future follow the first-person shooter model, throwing raids together through matchmaking systems? Or will they switch to a rapid episodic model where levels, zones, quests, dungeons and raids are bundled more tightly and released more frequently? It’s too late to change anything for Warcraft, but will something like this be incorporated for Titan?

If you could, would you skip to endgame?

Like this? Try these other related posts:

Tags: , , ,

5 Responses to Playing Cards at the Carnival

  1. Demeternoth says:

    Would I skip endgame? No, probably not, if I had the time, but I’m not raiding at the moment and I doubt I will be anytime in the short or medium term. I’m thoroughly enjoying levelling some alts through a post-cata world. It’s heaps of fun and with the silly amount of heirlooms you can get now it’s very fast if you want it to be. My main is now in full-retirement. The only thing she comes out for is to grind rep, and earn money to fund my rising fleet of alts. I like the fact that the end-game is there, that it will still be there if I choose to enjoy it again and if I have the time to allow that. In the meantime, I can relax, level some alts slowly and whilst having a giggle.

    As for how the raiding end-game affects the rest of the game, I do see people ‘rush-levelling’ characters because they want to raid with them. I think quite a few people have done that in the past, either on their first char because everyone was yelling about how awesome raiding was and if you weren’t doing then who the eff were you or because they had to level an alt to find a spot in a team. It’s clear that this is were the game developers want you to spend your time and that they like creating more internet dragons for us to kill. I hope though that they do continue to add in the story points and that levelling in the ‘new’ post-cata world continues in the same vein they have set off already. I’d love them to revamp Outland, I hated it the first time and have an alt stuck there who I can’t bare to play for the final two levels. Fingers crossed it’s something they’re working on for those of us not in a rush to bop Nefarian on the nose.
    Demeternoth recently posted..And now the end is near …My Profile

  2. Theanorak says:

    Hmm. It’s interesting. Try as a might, I really find it hard to care about the “story” in wow. I’ve read tons of fascinating lore posts which have made me think, “I really must spend more time paying attention to the story and what people say”, then before I’m know it I’m skimming quest text, skipping cutscenes and tidying my bags during character exposition.

    It’s particularly odd given that, in single player games, I’m the person who watches all of the cute scenes, who backtracks to try every dialogue option to make sure i don’t miss anything, and my completion times for games like fallout3 or mass effect bear witness to that.

    Partly that’s because for me, the draw of wow is playing with other people. It took me a while to realise this, but in most games there’s not much I like better than cooperative play. Although there are moments of wonder, the “story” of wow has never really grabbed me, and while levelling has never been so much fun IMO, compared to the majority of single player games I play, it just doesn’t compare.

    Tis the great thing about games like WoW though: that they can support so many different ways of enjoying the game.
    Theanorak recently posted..Der-ner-na na naMy Profile

  3. Bordy says:

    I would never skip to endgame. The journey’s the thing.
    Each character I level has a different experience and I always learn something about playing that class I didn’t know before (or had forgotten).

    I’d like to see more voice acting to help with the immersion, more solo or small group quests, and where possible, in the open world. I don’t do many dungeons and even less raids .. content for me is the king, not end-game.

  4. Masith says:

    For me endgame is what keeps me playing the game and whenever I level a character I always do it as quickly as possible as I don’t really enjoy it much what I’m really interested in is endgame. As a player I tend to min max and get the most pleasure from acheiving difficult feats in game and if there was an option to skip to endgame I would probably take it.

    Having said that I don’t think that such an option should be introduced to any MMO. Like you said it is hard to justify why but I’ll give it a go.

    The sense of satisfaction is much greater to anything if you have to put in some effort to acheive it. Killing a new boss is much more satisfying because you are killing it with a character you are invested in and have put effort in to get to the point where it can kill it.

    I think that skipping the leveling would have a similar effect on the game as using cheat codes does on single player games. It is often fun at first but quickly cause the game to become stale.

    So why would I use such a service? I guess because what I enjoy doing is beating the game by playing at my full potential and using all the tricks at my disposal. I wouldn’t enjoy beating a boss that was only hard because I decided to handicap myself. Once the option to skip levels was available not using it to get to the next challenge would feel like deciding to handicap myself.

  5. Cavis says:

    I liked very much the way Guild Wars was done. You can create there a character on lvl 1 for Story playing and PvE stuff or create a fully levelled PvP character. So with second option you can skip to the endgame if you want just to enjoy another character type.

    Sometimes I wish I had such a chance for Warcraft. I enjoyed very much storytelling for my first character. It was fun to revisit it with the second. But then I needed third character for our arena team and doing again all those quests, the same storyline .. this was tedious. Now I’m leveling another character – because of PvP/Endgame raiding – and I have again to “endure” all the content to get to max level to be able to do things I want.
    It’s like watching again the same movie. Or reading the same book. You can do it once, twice… but more? Maybe if movie is great I can watch it 3 times. But more is just boring. Click, take quests, go on set route, kill the mobs, gather items, return quests, take follow up. Oh, Corki again, let’s skip the bastard this time…

    Endgame is fun especially with multiple characters – you can do it again taking different approach, different role, different class. That’s why I level another character. But questing? No matter what the character, it’s always the same. Story is well known, quests become boring and that’s the point when you really want to skip directly till the endgame. I know I can level by doing dungeons or going PvP, but still it’s all about getting as much as possible, as fast as possible to be able to do the fun stuff – raiding, going dungeons or doing PvP.