Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My little end game Utopian idea for MMORPGs

A question that always comes up when a MMORPG game is being developed is “how is endgame?”. This sounds ridiculous if you separate MMO and RPG. Think of the RPG part of the game. Would you ask what happens in the end?

The answer to “how is endgame” in MMORPGs has been “you’ll have some difficult challenges you can repeat to get gear to repeat it again with some advantages”. I remember something like this in RPG games. I would have a save file right before defeating the boss, to maybe tackle it again, and then maybe one more time to show it to a friend. And that’s it.

In MMORPGs, I did some 2 years of raiding. It was fun, but just while the bosses in the raids were still kicking our pixel bottoms. Then we would try with new people, alts, until it became too easy.

So while I admit the current most popular end game system can be fun, it may not be the same game you learned to play. Quests become repeatable quests so that they feel “endless”, and token systems are made so that you take longer to progress in gear. While it can be fun, it can also make it difficult to live the same system again with another skin.

That is what is happening to me right now. After years playing this system in WoW, I am avoiding it in other games. I play, I quest, I do some dungeons, but I see myself actively sabotaging myself from getting too far. In Rift I quit as I reached level 49. In EQ2 I play two characters side by side. In LotRO I do all possible quests in the areas I’m in, even if it’s not the best possible xp gain.

To me, “end game” content is an effort to tell you that your time spent wasn’t for nothing. That when you finally became your best, when you reached the peak of your wizardry or fighting powers, you can still use it for something. It is a strategy to avoid frustration and keep people playing and paying. And that CAN work, but it is not anymore with the current popular systems, at least for me.

What I’d like to see are random and at the same time challenging encounters. Dungeons that randomize, from walls to which mobs spawn, from ambient light to boss skills.

That idea has good and bad possibilities. The good one is the fact that dungeons would feel dangerous, and that sounds silly, because dungeons SHOULD feel dangerous, and not a safe walk with some expected encounters. Also, with better randomized loot possibilities, the surprise of what you might find would possibly drive more people to venture into dungeons. It is what makes a lot of us do fishing in games: there is a random surprise, even when at most times it is just fish.

Lore wouldn’t have to be too complicated on such random encounters. Saving people trapped within, recover magical artifacts, defeat an evil and random named wizard, collect and destroy a dangerous magical tome could be much better excuses then killing over and over again the same boss just to get a shard, which will be traded for a wonderful piece of gear once you gather enough. Seems not to matter what the NPC that did the trade actually does with the shard. That is why I’d rather have little, typical and random dungeon excuses to go inside rather then to grab a bunch of faerie shards to trade latter.

Now for the bad one: there is a big chance for frustration, and no company in the world likes to risk frustrating costumers. With random elements, you could end up facing from a deadly combination to a very easy group of thugs. Also, with random elements, chances are that you’ll have no idea how long a dungeon run could take, and time is short for a lot of players out there. That last problem could be remedied, I believe. In my imaginary random dungeon system, you’d be able to pick how many bosses and mini bosses you’d like in a dungeon. Maybe even the difficulty setting, and that could help in guessing how long the adventure would take.

Adventure! That is the word and the feeling I miss in games. I want the unknown to survive past my maximum character level, to be able to continue exploring, to continue having my pixel bottom kicked not because my team didn’t have coordination to tackle the boss who tail swipes, breathes fire and summons adds, but because it is just surprising and new to us.

As long as something like this Utopian idea I have comes up, end game will remain as what it is, the end with some options here and there. And maybe it should just remain as that, the end, as all things should come to an end, just like all games will some day eventually shut down.

For now I’ll be still exploring the possibilities I have, checking new games, continuing in EQ2 and LotRO. So yes, even though it is a system I am not very happy with, I’ll keep trying, at least the questing and exploring parts that I like, and maybe who knows, I’ll find “end game fun” again.

Also, sandbox tittles promises a good break from the typical system. So far I’ve been checking Wurm, and although not an MMO, The Sims 3 is a fun way to have “housing” with huge possibilities.

And what are you all feeling about the current pop “end game” systems? Are you tired of them? Still enjoy them? Got Utopian ideas like mine in mind?


  1. Runes of Magic said they were going to do this. All through the advertising, up to launch they outlined specific dungeons and how they'd be random each time.

    Runewaker/Frogster called them Tile-dungeons. The Windmill dungeon was supposed to be one such dungeon, where the layout out was random each time. While not as complex as your idea, the mobs and bosses would be in different locations each time as well.

    I like your idea.

  2. Thank you for letting me know. Runes of Magic is one of those games that I just haven't tried much yet, but I liked what little I've played so far.

    Another good piece of news for us wanting some randomized or just plain fresh content more often, is EQ2's "build a dungeon" system and the test for a randomized dungeon that will be coming on their next expansion. You can see details here:

  3. I have often felt the same about endgame. While it can be fun, the real enjoyment from the game was the leveling experience and the adventures you had getting there. It would be great if games were to actually do a lot more random content at higher levels, as well as story driven combat, that wasn't just another raid or PvP map.

    Random dungeons, random outdoor encounters, phased quests that randomly cycle into your character each day during your journeys...the stuff that you build worlds from. That is what we need.

    If developers are worried about dev time, then they can outsource it to the players. Have a quality control system in place and just select content that seems fun for these random encounters.

    It just seems liker there is a lot more than game developers could do than the tried and true methods of game design.

    We need more adventures, not more treadmills.


Age of Wonders III

This month I decided to play through the Age of Wonders campaigns again while waiting on Sim City. Progress was going well and I was having ...