Ending The Middle Game?

Mike from MMOCrunch has an interesting post up titled Reaching the End Game Content Quicker that examines the idea that players are more interested in the end-game content of a MMORPG than they are in the content that they experience on the way to the level cap, and that game developers should be shortening the middle-game to concentrate instead on end-game content.

Whether you’re a fan of PvE or PvP we can all agree that for most of us the endgame is when the real fun starts.  For PvE players this is when you start hitting up the big dungeons and raids.  PvP players can start fighting on a much larger scale, massive guild vs guild battles or keep sieges depending on what game your playing.  But before we can reach endgame content we are forced to play through a lengthy campaign whos main purpose is to level your character.

There’s certainly some truth to this. There are a lot of players out there that do want to get to the level cap quickly so that they can participate in the end-game fun and games. For a game like WoW raids pretty much start at 80 these days despite the existence of level 60 raid dungeons.

But where Mike goes wrong is when he talks about effectively shortening the middle-game experience to a nub. He is ignoring the huge number of players who enjoy the journey, not just what awaits at the destination.

As a gamer I do want something before reaching the endgame, but not 100-200 hrs worth of something.  A 10-20 hr storyline that takes you through the maps, teaches you how to use your character and gets you some decent gear is what I’d like before being able to partake in endgame content, especially for MMORPGs that concentrate on PvP. Playing through 100+ hrs of lame quests only to realize that the endgame PvP sucks, sucks.

Again, I’m certain there are players who feel this way, Mike certainly does, but that feeling may not be indicative of most or even a large percentage of a games player-base. I know it’s not how I feel.

If you remember I recently did the Bartle Test and came out primarly as an Explorer with a secondary trait as Achiever.  This did give a pretty reasonable summary of my gamer psychology, it matched quite nicely with the way I play individual games, and how I approach the whole MMORPG genre.

It happens that one of the things that I enjoy most about MMORPGs is the vast amount of middle-game content. In fact my major beef with World of Warcraft is that it seems to be all about the end-game with the expansions simply adding to the end and never to the middle. Everquest 2 does better, the new expansions release lots of middle-game content, and LotRO, while growing vertically, extends the story in a way that encourages exploration.

If, as Mike suggests, the developers shorten the mid-game content to 10 to 20 hours and concentrate on raids or PvP without letting me go sideways, then the game will probably only last as long as it takes me to level up another couple of alts and then get bored. That’s maybe 40 to 50 hours of played time, which is perhaps a couple of weeks of real time. That’s not even getting out of the first month.

Where he hits the nail on the head with that last paragraph I quoted, is that players don’t want to do 100+ hours of lame quests. I’ll agree with him there. There’s certainly scope for developers to use their imaginations and come up with quest engines that do more than ask players to kill ten more rats, bears, or bandits. But that’s not a limitation of the 100+ hours of quests, it’s a limitation of a 100+ hours of poorly designed, lame quests. I wonder if Mike was presented with a 100 to 200 hours of brilliantly designed, epic story quests and not just a bunch of missions, would he feel differently about shortening all that?

I could get into the end game content but that’s pretty limited. Raids? Well I don’t mind them, but I certainly don’t want to run the same raid dungeon 100 times to get the gear to run the next dungeon in the queue another 100 times. What about PvP? I enjoy it, but it’s not what keeps me coming back.

Does all this mean I don’t like fast leveling? Well, no it doesn’t mean that; the achiever part of my gamer-psyche likes to see all the character growth aspects moving upwards, and that does entail leveling. It’s also impossible to visit new high level areas without increasing level. Flying over areas like the Searing Gorge and Burning Steppes on my way to and from Stormwind and Ironforge gave me such an itch to level up just to get to them when I was on my first WoW characters.

Shortening the middle game really comes down to the game and to the demographic that the developers are aiming for. Darkfall for instance needs players to get up to speed very quickly otherwise they’ll be extremely frustrated with the continual ganking from high level players — not that there are levels mind you, you know what I mean — and leave the game in droves. Darkfall is targeted towards the Killer/Achiever player-type. World of Warcraft, Everquest 2 on the other hand are targeted towards a wider demographic — not as much to Killers though — and needs to provide a mixed set of experiences such as exploration to keep players interested.

Take away the exploration aspects by removing the middle-game, and get straight to the Achiever parts of the game and you’ll lose your Explorers. Keep the middle-game and you’ll keep the Explorers and you won’t lose the Achievers in the process.

What direction do you think game developers will choose?

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7 Comments

  1. Pitrelli

    I used to think I was an ‘endgame player’ but WoLTK has taught me im more of a content man, I enjoy leveling/progressing and exploring the landscapes. I’ve recently put my level 80 rogue on the back burner and am now trying my hand at paladin tanking at a mere level 30. Sure I’ve played most of the content over 5 or 6 times however I love the many different areas and environments and i wouldnt change it for anything.

    I recently had the option to recruit a friend but I told him no and that he should enjoy the whole game content rather than try get to level 80 as fast as possible.

    I guess its each to their own on how they want to play but I just cant help myself enjoying all of azeroth and the journey to diffent continents. Id actually say WoW could do with some expansion sideways as well as up

  2. Ysharros

    Grr. And this: “Whether you’re a fan of PvE or PvP we can all agree that for most of us the endgame is when the real fun starts.” is the lofty, can’t-be-wrong pronouncement that gets my knickers in a massive twist.

    Now, we don’t all agree. No, I don’t think it’s most of us. I think it’s a generation of gamers who grew up on WOW, which is all about the endgame. MMOs *weren’t* “all about the endgame” before WoW and they don’t have to be.

    I’m going to stop before I get up a full-fledged rant, but that whole thing drives me damn-near blind with ire. 😉

  3. Stropp (Post author)

    It’s a big part, as I see it, of the eternal conflict we see between hardcore and casual, PK and carebear, raider and PvPer, and other such configurations. Everyone has their own style, and sees everything according to that bias, and so believes that the majority must see things the same way.

    Now if the smaller MMORPG developers stopped trying to make WoW-Clones and started seriously looking at the game niches according to gamer psychology, we’d see some really interesting variety in the MMORPG world.

  4. Pete S

    Ysh stole my rant. 🙂 No, Mike, we really don’t all agree, and in fact I disagree pretty strongly with what you’re saying.

    I disagree less strongly when it comes to PvP oriented games. When the main focus of the game is to fight other players then his extended-tutorial leveling makes some sense, but what makes more sense in PVP games is just dumping levels and creating equal strength characters at creation and letting people go to town bashing each other.

    But in PvE games, honestly when I hit cap, I roll an alt or move to another game. I have about as much enthusiasm for the “big dungeons and raids” as I have for going to the dentist. A faster leveling system means a shorter sub from me.

  5. Aaron

    It’s dumb to have a game change completely in style at the end. Then half the players don’t like the end, and the other half just want to be there. They should either be separate games or be on separate tracks… meaning explorers and achievers don’t follow the same steps.

  6. Plastic Rat

    My question then, is why do we have this concept of ‘end-game’ and ‘middle-game’? Shouldn’t we just be enjoying the ‘game’ itself? Why isn’t the whole game as much fun, instead of restricting the ‘desert’ to one part of it?

    Is it because we need players to learn to play the game with a limited set of skills and then introduce them to complexity as they progress? Well then what’s stopping us from having something like Darkfall Online where there are no levels. Where basically the whole game is end-game? Where the only progression you have is learning new skills.

    I think the distinction and the attitude that ‘end-game is more fun’ are really hurting MMOs right now. That’s why we see people defending botting and power leveling services in addition to never being able to find people who just want to play the game instead of racing off to something new, so they can race off to something new after that.

    Imagine if WoW didn’t have levels. You started off at L80, but the whole world was Level 80, every mob, every piece of gear. You had a limited amount of skills to start with and slowly learned more with your choice of what to pursue?

    Would that change the distinction perhaps? Make the whole game fun instead of just one aspect?

  7. Katherine

    The main reason why I don’t go back to WoW is the fact that I can’t play with my friends. Spread out over many servers are all the people that I know that play. The main thing I enjoyed was running instances with some friends. I enjoyed the levelling up to 60, but then I just started to get left behind when BC came out. The levelling game is effectively single player now so there’s nothing to bring me back to that part either. The game is too old, it’s left people behind because everyone is at the level cap. THAT’S the reason why people race to 80 now. If you were playing for the first time and weren’t looking to play with a friend that was already in the game, you’d enjoy the levelling game like everyone did in the past.

    My point in all my rambling is that it isn’t a flaw in games in general, it’s only a flaw in older games. It might be a flaw in PvP games too. But basically if your game has 2 parts, a levelling game and an endgame (whatever that end game may be), once it gets old enough everyone will have finished the levelling game more than enough times to bore them, the levelling part of the world will be empty, and few will want to spend any time in it at all, so they will race towards the endgame. If I want to play a levelling game I’ll buy one and not pay the monthly fee of an MMO 😉

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