Can the End Game be the Game?

MMO gamers seem to be lamenting the fact that everything starts at the “endgame” in current mmo-land. The grind/level mechanics exist mostly to slow you down to getting to a point where you can start having fun. While that sounds back-ass-wards, the common argument in support is traditionally “Developers can’t create enough content to keep up with the players”.

I don’t disagree entirely. Developers can’t create the current type of content to keep up – or can they? I am not going to get into alternate schemes (where players are the content) or anything crazy or off the wall – I’m just going to look at our good friend WoW and understand where all their content – and developer hours – went into their game. After the break of course.

World Building: End Game in WoW, to narrow it down to the final two instances, are indicated in the map below.

If you are generous, you can expand around those dots a bit, but honestly the entire game is funneled into those two spots (which are really just entrances into instances, anyway). That is an awful big waste of programming dollars, don’t you think? Especially for a game whose 95% of “end game” content exist in instances anyway? (Depending if you count Wintergrasp as “end game”, or the Argent Tournament).

Quests: The WoW quest system, while mired in mediocrity (typical escort/kill/collect) is a HUGE part of their development costs. WoW currently has 8027 Quests (searchable at wowhead.com, at least). How many of those are “endgame”? 223. WoW has 7804 planned obsolescence quests. While you could argue the quest system is just a means to an end to GET to the endgame – how many 5/10/25 man instances could you build in place of the 7804 one off quests?

Instances: WoW has ~80 pre-cap instances, (when you count instance wings and heroic modes) and only 22 targeted for max level. Isn’t that split in reverse? Shouldn’t there be 20 instances before the cap, and have 80 instances when you hit the cap – wouldn’t that make it harder for players to “run out of content” fast when the game truly begins?

Arenas/BG’s: Pretty much all instanced except for a few world ones – but think about how many we could have if resources were allocated to play the game for fun from the outset, not just burn 5 days /played to get to (slim) endgame.

I could link to various posts of mine and others who believe the level and time to level gap needs to close, keep the relative power closer from first level to final (so everyone can play together, regardless of how long each have been playing) and there are still plenty of carrots to dangle if you like grinding through achievements, etc. I just can’t help but wonder of developers focused their time and resources at the true “endgame” how much content would we really have there – especially if the majority of content that we just use once per character and throw away, was spent on end game materials.

Just a thought.

14 Comments

  1. Tesh

    I’ve written at least once about the notion of putting the “endgame” in the main game. To me, it’s a no brainer. Don’t make people slog through the “boring” unsupported stuff just to get to the part you’re really spending time on. Make the whole game interesting with a narrow level band and “endgame” style content distributed more effectively.

    Nice article. 😀

    Reply
  2. Pope

    The one thing about an extended level system is that it allows players to become familiar with the spells and abilities of their class in a more deliberate fashion, instead of just dumping masses of abilities onto the player each level. But that’s not necessarily a problem. 😛

    I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to leverage pre-endgame content would be to go back and create heroic mode precap instances. Instead of getting gear upgrades, the drops could be vanity pets, mounts, or heirloom items.

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  3. Chris F (Post author)

    @Pope: I agree a bit about the learning curve, but really, first 10 levels you have 4 spells, then add a few more through 20, etc. Best example is the DK – if you countered the grind with an encompassing tutorial area (which is a good example of the DK starting area) then you can ‘beat’ that problem.

    I always wanted old instances churned up too – but it is WAY harder to take such a basic instance and turn it into an end game challenge, than it would have been to tune it for end game in the first place. Those old instances are pretty much only ran for achievements by level 80’s at no risk/reward either.

    Of course, best thing to do is to change the whole WoW loot system – depending on the stated “difficulty” of an instance, certain items have a chance of dropping. No more loot tied to specific bosses. Sure, Running Ulduar an item may have a 3% chance of a certain boss, and only a 0.01% chance off of The New Blackfathom Deeps end boss, but randomization is good – choose what you enjoy, scale the risk vs reward chance based on your own skill level.

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  4. Tesh

    I’m not really sold on the learning curve, actually. That’s probably because I learn quickly, and making me do the same “rotation” for four levels before giving me a new toy (verb) is only going to annoy me. I hate busywork, I always have, especially in school. If I’ve learned something and mastered it, I shouldn’t have to do it again and again because some other people don’t get it as quickly as I did. Likewise, they shouldn’t be hustled on to stuff they aren’t ready for.

    Like with so many other things in MMOs, there is a broad spectrum of players with different abilities. Shoehorning them all into a “one size fits all” mold, whether it’s the subscription or the game pacing, will inevitably be annoying for the outliers on the bell curve.

    Reply
  5. Chris F (Post author)

    Hey Tesh –

    If you ever want to try out the Death Knight experience just let me know – I have an old account with a 70 on it that is rotting away. Of course, you would have to resub it (not sure if the 10 day trial is up on it or not) but you will see they did a good job at pacing available skills. Plus, I felt what they did with that area is fantastic.

    Although, I know you are a goodie two shoes and you would be breaking an EULA for account sharing if you took me up on it =)

    Reply
  6. ixobelle

    i agree with everything you’ve said here, but you have to take it from another perspective…

    when I FIRST subscribed to WoW, on my very first toon, all of those quests and precap instances were amazing. Everythign was frigging sweet the first time through. If none of that stuff was in place, I never would have bothered GETTING to the level cap. I think that could be said for ALL of us, we just choose to ignore that fact because now we’ve been playing for 800 years, and have 7 level 80s all decked in full valorous.

    Once you reach a certain plateau in WoW, rolling an alt is an exercise in frustration, and the DK becomes very attractive (ugh, except for outlands, oh fuck me).

    It seems like a sliding scale… for every 80 you have you can cut the level grind in half… one 80, you start the next toon at 40. two, you start at 60, three at 70…. would be a better system.

    I know how to play wow, i just want to try frost novaing for once, but i’ll be damned if I’m going to start in Brill (AGAIN) with my level 1 mage to begin the climb. I currently have a level 80 warrior, priest and lock, and had a (separate) level 70 warrior, druid and rogue that all got banned.

    I’m done with pre-end cap, but understand WHY it’s there. I never reached the end cap in many other MMOs I’ve tried, because the polish that WoW has in place wasn’t there.

    Reply
  7. Chris F (Post author)

    The first journey was indeed such a blast Ix, I won’t argue with you there. I have over 8 level 70 characters – having such a hard time bothering leveling them to 80 – its the exact same journey, just in a more compact space.

    To clarify, I am not in favour of instancing the whole world either. I am an Explorer! What I suggest is the exact reverse of what is above. The starting area is those two dots – the 223 quests are STARTING quests (learn your character, skills, etc) and the 7000+ remaining are done at “max level”. The exploration and journey would be great and exciting. Second or third (or fourth.. or fifth..) time through you could skip the quests and focus on the parts of the game you to like. Keep a big world, but open up the big world for all the endgame content instead of shoving it into two small instances.

    Did you play WAR? Heck, this is even more valuable of an idea in a PVP game (which needs people to create the content). Take all the effort and space they built into tiers 1-3 for each pairing and make one gigantic tier 4 world. Tons of enemies, of relative power – tons of quests, PQ’s etc that you can do to your hearts content if that is what you enjoy – not try once, outlevel it, and never see it again for an alt.

    So it works your way too.

    (PS – how did you get an account banned? Was that the glider incident I read on your blog? =)

    Reply
  8. Chris F (Post author)

    @Tesh: agreed upon the levelling curve. It didn’t take me 70 levels to learn how to play my character. Heck, give me a level 80 class I have NEVER played before, give me 2 hours on the EJ forums, a day or two to test it out in 5 mans, and I could raid end game content with it.

    Again, this idea works for that – those who need more time have more options, time, and space to learn without being shovelled through 5 days /played of content.

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  9. Tesh

    Agreed. I could take a capped character and learn it very quickly. I’m sure there are plenty of others who could do it much faster than I. It’s not worth it to me to slog through the lower levels to get there, if all I want to do is raid.

    …of course, I’m more of a leveling content explorer kind of guy, but just arguing the position academically, if I *were* into raiding, I’d be totally happy with the option of picking up a legit level capped character and hitting the ground running.

    Reply
  10. BFG50

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – not everyone has been playing this game for years, and not everyone just plays for end game content.

    Many do, but the bigger percentage of players will never see the inside of Naxx, let alone the inside of Ulduar or Icecrown.

    Lets say we have 200ish quests to teach you how to play, then 7000 quests at ‘end game level’. There is no more incentive to play end game quests than there is to play through the 7000 we’ve got now. It is human nature to blast through content and get to the ‘hardest’ stuff so that we can flex 1337 muscles, but if you do that then you choose to ‘waste’ the effort that’s been put into the lower levels for you. That’s your problem.

    Many end game raiders complain about players that quest and how they shouldn’t get the same rewards as them. Well I say if you spend 5 days rushing to end game and 6 months farming end game to get gear, or you spend 6 months doing every single quest in the game and every lower level dungeon in the game, then you have spent the same time (and from Blizz’s perspective the same MONEY) on doing that – neither type of play is better, so why should one get preferential treatment?

    Reply
  11. Chris F (Post author)

    BFG, that is definitely a fair observation.

    What is the motivation for people who don’t race to the end game? I’ll garner a crazy thought here… have fun! Doesn’t the proposed structure above still allow that?

    If I love questing, and lore, and exploring – whether I do that through level 1-80, or most of it AT level 80, shouldn’t make a difference. There are still thousands of quests for me to do. Giant landmasses to explore.

    “why should one get preferential treatment?”

    I agree with you. No one should – having the same amount of content, albeit weighted differently, would appeal to more of the player base – not less. With the above structure, end game players can focus on the end game (with a lot more content to do while there), and people who play to quest, or explore, or do achievements can still have their gameplay too. Everyone can have their cake and eat it.

    It also allows casual questers the opportunity to participate in more content – if they decide they want to try an instance there are several with varying difficulties – no more “come back when you hit max level”, or “sorry, there is no one around at your level range to run that 19-21 level instance”.

    I think having the end game be the game caters to all playstyles and experiences.

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