What should we do with the MMO endgame?

As I’ve mentioned before, the MMO blogosphere often seems to get waves of commonality, where bloggers end up talking about the same topic on the same day with no reference to each other that I’m aware of. And so it is today, as we’ve got a couple of interesting takes on the ongoing endgame vs levelling tension in MMORPGs.

First up, Spinks at Spinksville started a discussion of the endgame, and what it should be, based in part on comments on the SWTOR endgame and its disconnect from story

“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.)”

Spinks is looking to start a discussion rather than provide definitive answers here, and it’s certainly worth reading not only the article (which asks a lot of interesting questions beyond the usual “raiding vs dungeons vs story” dichotomy), but also the comments, where some well-known bloggers are providing some interesting answers.

Meanwhile, over at Children of Wrath, The Renaissance Man is dissecting the problems with WoW’s endgame vs levelling balance, specifically for when Mists of Pandaria extends the level grind again

“This is an MMO. If you wanted a defined end state, well, Diablo III and Mass Effect 3 will both come out soon to sate your hunger for single player games with multiplayer tacked on. And threes, lots of threes this year. MMOs, particularly subscription based MMOs, are a treadmill. The entire plan is to make it so that you can’t “beat” the game, and then shelve it until the sequel comes out.

Which brings us back to the people complaining about the expansion. I think they’re right. Why should we pay $50 for a box that lets us keep running on the treadmill we’re already on? What’s the point of another five levels that endgame players are going to blitz through blindly in less than a week, and tacking on another five levels for a new player to wander through? The barrier to entry gets taller and taller, and as a result, the leveling content prior to the current expansion get stretched thinner and thinner, to the point where current players can go from Winterspring, to Hellfire, to the Borean Tundra, to Hyjal without spending more than a few hours in other zones. Level 58-80, and new players miss 90% of the content that exists in those regions. “

This one’s definitely a proposal post, answering some of the questions that Spinks asks – as well as widening focus to look at the reason some people are dissatisfied with endgame in the first place. Whilst it’s WoW-specific, a lot of the design concerns TRM discusses are equally a problem in SWTOR or other MMOs – indeed, whilst the piece is focussed on Mists of Pandaria, its discussion of the levelling/endgame break is arguably even more appropriate to SWTOR right now.

Interesting stuff, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more thinking along these lines in the near future!

So, what’s your take on the state of the MMO endgame?

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Life At 50 – Three Viewpoints on Hitting End-game in SWTOR

SWTOR’s starting to reach maturity now, and many players’ characters right alongside it. And so, this weekend we’ve seen a number of prominent MMO bloggers hit the end-game portion of SWTOR, and post their thoughts and feelings on how the game’s been for them, now that they’ve completed the entire storyline.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in here, particularly if you’re still on the fence with SWTOR – or want to know what’s coming up in your levelling:

  • Rohan covers the Imperial Agent storyline – which he loved – and the end-of-chapter fights, on which he wasn’t so keen“I was expecting a lot of the traditional spy stuff, and that was there in spades. At one point, I was pretty sure I was a quintuple agent, which in retrospect makes no sense, but indicates the level of paranoia that was going on. “
  • Fulguralis at Killing ‘em Slowly is“still looking forward to seeing what the rest of what the game has to offer“I guess my point is that a casual gamer like me has plenty of content to stay busy. I’ve been playing for probably what averages out to a couple hours each night, every day of the week (a solid casual schedule, if you ask me); I needn’t have been so nervous. “
  • And Spinks at Spinksville is still very, very happy with the game at 50, although she does find some aspects of the game tie the story in knots“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. “

Have you hit 50 in SWTOR yet? If so, what do you think of the game now?

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Is levelling pointless now?

It’s interesting to read the enthusiasm that a lot of players have for SWTOR’s levelling game – myself included. It’s actually challenging, they say. It teaches me game mechanics. It’s fun!

All those things are interesting to read mostly because they are said in contrast to WoW – or at least current WoW, which seems focussed on raiding and the end-game as, well, the game as a whole.

So much so, in fact, that I’m unsurprised but interested to read The Grumpy Elf’s post today as he wonders if it’s time to retire the levelling concept in WoW altogether

“Every aspect of the game has its own level of progression. Progression is not a word just meant for raiding alone. You can make personal progression in many aspects in the game, the first we all come across is leveling. That is our first gauge of personal progression.

People complain when raids are nerfed, when heroics are nerfed, when rep gains a nerfed, when they worked for something, they earned something, and everyone else gets the easy route but none of them can hold a candle to the nerf that leveling got.

No raid has ever been nerfed as badly as leveling has. Even LK can still wipe some 85 groups in all 378 or better gear and it was both nerfed and now heavily outgeared. So do not cry to me about raids being nerfed. Raids can not hold a candle to the nerf that leveling has gotten and continues to get.

If leveling keeps being nerfed to make it easier and easier then I am left to wonder, why even have it at all?”

Grumpy’s post is something between a personal cry of frustration and a considered argument, and it works fairly well on both levels. I was particularly startled at some of the statistics he quotes – huge numbers of players rolling rogue just for the Legendary, and in particular, his experience levelling a Hunter to over level 60 in less than a day.

I’ve been wondering about the validity of levelling myself, and not just in WoW. It seems to me that there’s a gap in the market for a lobby-based raiding game, similar to League of Legends or the new Warhammer game, but focussed on large-scale PvE rather than PvP. And I do wonder if that’s where WoW is headed now. I know I’ve occasionally referred to Stormwind as the “WoW lobby” whilst waiting for LFD to pop once again.

Certainly, it would be a pity to lose the storytelling of WoW’s quest areas, and there’s an argument for levelling as training too. But if it’s been trivialised to the point of irrelevance, is it time to consider amputating the remaining vestigial stump of XP-based gameplay?

Do you think that there’s still a place for levelling in WoW? Or is it time to admit we’re all end-game now?

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Looking back and looking forward – the Vanilla levelling feel, what to expect from LFR and more

World of Warcraft’s in an odd place right now. Very little discussion is focussed on its present – a kind of holding state waiting for 4.3 and mopping up HM Firelands – but there’s a great deal of looking backward, to Vanilla and early days, and forward, to transmogrification, LFR, and all the other 4.3 goodies.

So, today we have an entertaining selection of time-shifted goodies for you:

  • T.R.Redskies is looking back to the Vanilla levelling experience, and fond memories of levelling without end“Even after I learned about it, I didn’t feel like “leveling” to 60 — there was so much cool stuff to see, so many wonderful zones to explore, so many different races with very different attitudes to get to know.”
  • Piercing Howl feels that the item squish is Blizzard being hoist on their own petard“You want to know the most absurd part? Blizzard tried solving a problem caused by stat inflation by… /Drumroll… Inflating stats.”
  • And Azeroth Observer is putting together some ideas on how to survive the Looking for Raid experience“Take the rage you can see in 5-mans, or the blame-throwing, temper-tantruming, ninja-pulling, fire-standing, AFK-ing, troll-baiting, name-calling, gear-epeening, noob-accusing, achievement-bragging, “I-have-an-85–STFU”-ing and “OMFG Y U C***S FAIL”-ing you get in every other random group of strangers, and multiply it by two (for WSG, say), or five (for your dungeon runs), and the entire operation will be Blue/Adults-Only/Past-the-watershed pandemonium.”

So, what are you looking back or forward to?

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New Site Spotlight: Maps For Tanks

Every so often, I come across an entire site whose concept I just love. Recently it was the awesome Warcraft Confessions , and today it’s the brand new and rather fantastic Maps For Tanks .

Who/What/Why? Maps For Tanks is an ongoing instance guide for, yes, tanks. They offer short strategies for each boss, rather similar to our own instance Quick Read tactics guides , although in this case their guides are purely for tank players. And they also offer annotated – well, more scribbled upon – map guids through the instance.

Here’s an example:

(Example taken from Ragefire Chasm on Maps For Tanks .)

It’s really neat. It’s really friendly (particularly taken with the helpful little cartoon characters at the bottom of every post). And overall, if I was levelling a tank through WoW, I’d want this guide open at all times.

Check it out!

Map taken directly from http://mapsfortanks.com/2011/09/23/ragefire-chasm/ .

_Find Maps For Tanks at http://mapsfortanks.com/

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Enchanting Resources on the Pot

It’s expensive! It’s powerful! It makes loads of money! And did we mention it’s really expensive?

Yep, it’s Enchanting, the doctor or lawyer equivalent in the WoW world. It’ll make you a fortune, but the training process is – tough. Maybe you don’t have to work 120-hour shifts or memorise thousand-page books, but between hunting down rare materials for your Enchanting rods and paying through the nose for more stacks of dust and essences than you thought there were in the world, when you’ve finally got there you’ll really have worked for your reward.

Fortunately, we at the Pot are here to make it easier. So whether you want to know the tips and tricks of Rod construction, the best way not to spend your entire account’s finances on levelling, or you just want to know how to rake it in once you hit maximum level, we’re here for you.

Watch for more guides coming soon!

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Editorial: A Sickness Of Levelling Proportions

Rebecca’s got the Hideous Lurgy Of Deth right now, but rose from her mass of cushions and duvets long enough to write this editorial.

I have a terrible affliction. It’s the urge to level a character as fast as their little rocket propelled booties will get them to the level cap, gear them up to heroics or raid standard depending on whether they have a raid spot. Yes, I have some kind of masochistic pleasure in doing dungeons. I like acquiring shiny new blue or purple pixels for my characters. Don’t judge me.

Anyway, when that’s done I think well, erm, what now?

I know, there’s loads of other stuff to do. I level professions if I fancy it for that specific toon, so a couple of my characters have maxed professions and the others languish with a level of professionalism that should only be associated with the Felwood Tree Surgeons’ Guild (seriously, go look, it’s awful). And archaeology – don’t even talk to me about that. I do two digsites before I start looking for a reason to stop, like nailing my hand to the wall. Achievements go hot and cold for me in an instant. PvP takes my fancy once ever other solar eclipse. Questing… let’s just say I don’t see eye to eye with what the Shattering’s done to questing?

Wow, that’s a lot of symptoms. Can you tell me what’s wrong with me, doctor? I’ve got an ultimately pointless urge to get to PvE endgame baked into my brain? It’s a common affliction among WoW players, you say?

Well, who’d a thunk. There’s a lot we could say about playing mentalities and why we play and how pointless or otherwise it is. But I’m not here to talk about them – what crossed my fried and extremely tired brain earlier was the memory that I’ve started doing the same thing in other games I play.

That’s right. Brand new games where I don’t know a thing, lots to explore, lots to find out, and I go into prepare for endgame mode. I start min maxing and working out the most efficient playstyle.

Oooh, this place is pretty… kinda… anyway, what were the quests in this area all bunched together? Oh yeah, I just got a new ability and if I put my talent points here and… no wait, what about there? No, let’s go with this other option, here and here, that’ll do, that gives me another new ability and a pet. Right, what order do I use all these to make things turn into shreds of red mist fast, and is it more effective to have my pet biting peoples’ lips off or showering me with wholesome fairy dust while I deal with the lips? Oh look, I’ll be level 5 soon, NOT FAST ENOUGH! *froths*

I honestly don’t think this is the best way to play a new game. I mean, it’s what some folks want and that’s fine – but it shouldn’t be ‘the’ way to do it. In a game you’ve never played before there is a tonne of stuff to do and explore, even if it’s just brilliant new vistas rendered in a new style.

So. With the way I’m feeling tonight I’m guessing tomorrow might be another sick day for me. And by sick I don’t mean “ooh, got a bit of a jippy tummy” I mean I’ve felt like death for the past few days. Not even warmed up. Still cold and surprised to be moving.

If that happens I wondered about having a play in something new. Maybe LoTRO. I just don’t know if it’s worth it if I’m going to go all crazily-efficient-lady-who-seems-to-answer-the-phone-at-every-office-in-the-world (you know there is one). I guess the best way to disaffect oneself of this mindset is to not play an MMO for a while but hey, I’m going to be bored tomorrow. Unless I’m better.

What about you? What playstyles do you get afflicted by and can’t shake, and do you think it transfers with you to other games?

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How Levelling Is Like Being In The Movies

I’ve just read a post that starts off talking about how and why the author finds most PvP zones so enjoyable and replayable, and what the exceptions to that are. The post then goes on to compare it all to raids and PvE progrsesion and how replayability is limited both if you succeed or fail in raids. The very same post then takes what should be a handbrake turn but feels like a smooth glide on to levelling alts and how wrong it feels to replay zones with multiple alts.

That same post then gracefully breezes on to compare the whole lot to movies. And then to fishing in WoW. And achievements – before going right round to PvP again.

You’ll agree that lot is a lot of topics to cover in one post. I’m sure it sounds like a muddled heap to you. But I was kept reading right through to the end of all of it and that’s quite a feat Cynwise has achieved.

The effect of failure is, interestingly, the same as the effect of success: it lowers the replay value of raiding. No matter where you stop, eventually your team does have all the gear available, even if it’s from Zulroics and crafted epics and you’re 0/13, or if you’re pushing HM 1313.

The contrast with PvP is striking. WSG is still entertaining after 6 years, but most Vanilla and BC raids are just visited for reputation, vanity items, or nostalgia. Kara and Ulduar, arguably the two best raid instances still in the game, are gorgeous – but they’re not really a challenge with max-level characters.

The whole post fits together so well – and shouldn’t – that it’s something of a masterpiece. Yep, it’s long, but should have something for everyone whatever your chosen poison in WoW.

What about you – which bits of WoW do you find replayable – or not?

_Quote taken directly from Cynwise’s post

You can find Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual homepage here_

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Is the tail dying whilst the head keeps on?

We’ve seen a fair number of people asking if WoW’s dying lately – and even some evidence that Blizzard themselves are listening and fixing things. I’m pretty sure the “LFD now groups with your server first” fix was a direct result of all the comments on the blogosphere and forums talking about LFD’s loss of server community.

However, the talk of a rotting WoW is mostly focussed on the endgame – raids are too hard, heroics are too easy. Beruthiel from Falling Leaves and Wings has a different theory, based on the activities of people in her large, active guild – that actually, WoW’s dying because alts and levelling are failing.

Let’s take Brade, who is pretty much a machine when it comes to leveling, and it was something that he genuinely seemed to enjoy. He seems to have petered out at 4 max level alts. Instead, during his offtime, he’s been playing other games outside of WoW. It almost seems that he has little inclination or incentive to log in and level another character. He doesn’t chase achievements. He isn’t an instance fiend, like me. He isn’t as socially tied to the game as I am. And the alt grind seems to be less enjoyable this time around.

I am really interested by the metrics she asks about at the end of the article – how many players are hitting 85 month on month? What do the player hours trends look like? We’re never going to see them, but I wonder if there’s a way to extrapolate. I know that I for one, given the length and the easiness of most of the grind, have no intention of levelling anything from 1-85 any time soon.

What do you think? Are you levelling alts? Or are you checking out other games? And if so, what and why?

_Quote taken directly from Beruthiel’s post.

Falling Leaves and Wings’ homepage can be found at [http://fallingleavesandwings.wordpress.com/


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Do Talent Specs Come Naturally To You?

Rush has started an interesting – and timely – debate over on the Asylum Wall. At least, it’s timely for WoW players with patch 4.1 about to bring in Call To Arms and a wave of hopeless hopeful tanks, but this debate could ring bells for you whatever game you play.

I feel like I have a better command of the abilities I have as a Restoration Shaman, and I think I know why. As I leveled, I was slowly given new abilities, so that I could one-by-one work them in to my style, rather than suddenly having a whole fleet of abilities that I have to now work together to keep players alive.

Simply put, noticing his comfort playing one character over another, Rush is wondering  whether levelling as a particular spec can make you better at it than, say, picking it up cold at a later date. It’s a very quick read but an interesting point, and one that’s already continued into a thoughtful comment debate over there.

So let’s blow this one wide open – do you think levelling in a particular spec makes you better at it, or can you pick up a spec at any time? Or is it just that if you play any spec new to you you’d have to learn it sometime, and it doesn’t matter if it’s at level 10 or at levelcap? Or is it just down to feeling more at home with some classes? Let us – or Rush – know what you think!

_Quote taken directly from Rush’s post

You can find the Scribblings On The Asylum Wall homepage here_

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