Massively Overthinking: How could MMOs combat endgame rushing?

    
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Massively Overthinking: How could MMOs combat endgame rushing?

Rushers, content locusts, world-firsters: Whatever you want to call them, these folks are both a boon and a bane for MMORPGs. They buy the boxes, drive the hype, bring people to Twitch to watch them speed through a game that was meant to take them months to stroll along. They also generate lag, forum whining, and mass exoduses at a predictable point when the content they’ve zoomed through runs out and they remember they aren’t really endgamers. But the thing is, I hardly blame them, especially when MMOs are literally handing out accolades and achievement points for being first at everything. First guy to climb this random mountain and use the sneeze emote, achievement unlocked!

For today’s Massively Overthinking, I want to tackle this problem from the development perspective. We can’t actually change people’s desire to rush, nor should we necessarily want to. But we can stop making it so dang lucrative. How could MMOs combat endgame rushing? What, specifically, should designers home in on to keep people from charging through and quitting?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I know everyone hates hearing this, but one simple solution for lazy developers is simply time-gate content, like Blizzard has in its raid scene. When a new MMO launches and still relies on levels instead of horizontal progression, keep the playerbase at a decent pace while you prepare content. Horizontal progression? Keep XP/gems/whatever you use to a weekly hardcap.

Now, as a player, I hate this, but it works. What’s especially effective is that if you keep this at a decent pace, it makes people want to keep coming back, but also take time off. That’s good because not only does that help stop people from basically gorging on content until they OD, but it also usually means that hardcores explore a broader amount of the game instead of deeper. That allows power players to better understand other roles, increasing the chance that they can impart knowledge on less experienced players who may main that role. Yes, there are power players who just gonna assume everyone is like them and has unlimited time and brain capacity, but there’s little to do to help those people. It’s best to try to curb their habits rather than smash them outright.

Of course, we could also go with permadeath for endgame content while everyone else catches up. Perhaps make it so that after a certain level or doing certain content before a specified time, players get a limited amount of deaths before their character is lost. Naturally, there should be a warning so people know what they’re in for. This still allows the hardcores to have their fun, but it encourages careful gameplay rather than mindless grinding. Nothing wrong with the latter, but if you know that hitting level 30 means your character can only die three times this week, you might instead go grind an alt. Plus, let’s be honest, permadeath can be fun from an outside view. Hearing about how power players lost their awesome main and seeing the reroll blast past you, a mid-level casual, can be kind of fun. Like spotting celebrities in downtown Los Angeles (you know who you are and WOW, thank you for reading our blog!).

Andy McAdams: In typical “easy to say, hard to implement,” style, I say focus less on the end and more on the journey. Its not necessarily an easy thing to do. The US is culturally wired to say “F*ck all” to the journey and rush straight to the end goal as quickly as possible. But we know it can be done and that it can be sticky gameplay. That’s why games like Star Wars Galaxies, Anarchy Online, EverQuest II, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, RuneScape, EVE Online are all still alive… ish. None of those games places any great emphasis on the max level.

I think generating sticky experiences where the majority of the game is the comes down to meaningful play in the midlevels. If the middle 7/8ths of your game is filled with fluff and tasks and gear that will be completely invalidated when you level up 5 minutes from now – of course people are going to rush to where it feels like the items they work hard for aren’t completely useless 10 minutes after you get them.

Another option is meaningful horizontal progression. Guild Wars 2 does this alright, but there’s miles of improvement to be made. The alternate advancement system in EQII does OK. But why are these systems, which are passable at best, the only options? Think about the promise that the Path system had in Wildstar — that was completely hamstrung by hard pivot to the hardcore cupcake-endgame-is-all-that-matters mentality that ultimately killed the game.

Organic play/procedural generation – why exactly is it that only NPCs give quests or tasks? Why can’t I have a task board where I task an adventurer with killing a mob, looting a dungeon, tracking down an item, delivering a package, finding someone?

I feel like a broken record, though. Developers continue to try to cater to the content locust swarm, instead of trying to come up with ways to make sure the swarm never forms to begin with.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I realize I’m the one who asked this question, but I’m also going to admit that from my perspective, this question is sort of asking how to take the blue out of the color blue. I think devs can bandaid this, sure, but rushing is baked into themepark design, so watching devs apply bandages to the wound without actually cleaning it out first is frustrating.

I’m a sandbox person. This type of achievement-oriented “gameplay” is not what I am looking for in MMOs, so I don’t personally care about it. However, I also like having lots of different kinds of people and playstyles in my games, so I don’t mind when it’s included for the people who really do want to climb every mountain – I want to play with them too. But themepark devs can’t help themselves, and every endgame eventually becomes laser-focused on climbing every mountain and then just adding more and more mountains for mountain-climbers, and that’s when the game stops being a game and starts being a treadmill, and I’m out.

I don’t think there will ever be a way for themeparks to fully solve this problem because endgames and rushing are literally what defines that subgenre. The only way to include achiever content without ruining the game is to include it alongside a whole bunch of other types of content and never privileging any of them over the others. In other words, sandboxes.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m hard-pressed to believe that anything devs would do could curtail the world-firsting, meta-steering, “you must be this tall to ride” gatekeeping asshats who play MMOs. There will still be the self-serving rush of winning the race no matter what incentivization is taken away. In fact, I’m pretty certain this behavior was already a thing before it was officially acknowledged or rewarded, so why would developer adjustments change that now?

That’s really all I have to say on this matter, frankly. Other than I despise this mentality with the hatred of a dying sun if that wasn’t already obvious.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I have thought a lot about this. There are always going to be overachievers in games who want to be the first and best, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I don’t think it should garner rewards above and beyond having the best or flashiest loot in the game, though, with the same available for other people who show up two years later when the first wave is off conquering the new expansion or content update.

There need to be more rewards for the underachievers playing the game. I am thinking about unique rewards from all-level one-time-only events. Why not more special rewards/achievements for the crafters, merchants, collectors, and quest nuts in the game? Perhaps more duration-based achievements and rewards. If there could be a way to work in some kind of social awards, that would be cool too. (That could just be rewards for guilds who complete some tasks together, or whatever.) It might be fun to have some random reward systems for people who reach some kind of hidden milestone– Spend 300 hours outside in the rain? Magical umbrella! Lose 25 duels? Jester hat!

Let people rush to the endgame and quit, if they want. That doesn’t mean the game has to be over for everyone else.

Tyler Edwards: I think the best thing would be for everyone — players and developers alike — to just ignore these people. They’re only a minority of players. Unfortunately they tend to be the first and loudest voices to speak about any new releases, so they get to dominate the word of mouth, but really they’re a tiny niche of players whose experiences have little to no relevance to the rest of the world.

I genuinely think people like this did far more damage to Anthem than any mistakes on BioWare’s part. I’ve sunk a hundred hours into that game and am nowhere near reaching a point where I’ve run out of meaningful progression, but the go-go-go crowd burned through it all in a few weeks and started shouting from the rooftops that Anthem had nothing to do at endgame. If you treat the game as a second job and run out of things to do after two weeks, that’s not the developer’s fault.

Then you get the cases where developers are so scared of these people screaming that there’s nothing to do that they build the whole game around being as time-consuming as possible so no one can ever complain that they’ve run out of content. I’m looking at you, World of Warcraft. There’s nothing left in that game that hasn’t been turned into a miserable grind for the sake of content longevity.

The endgame rush mentality is extremely harmful. Developers need to stop making design decisions based on their unreasonable demands, and players need to stop making buying decisions based on their skewed perceptions.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!

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Ald

We used to rush to endgame because there was a limited supply of content at that endgame. The first ones there got a huge head start on monopolizing world spawns and crafting, and in turn the gear and economy.

Everything is instanced content now. I don’t see a reason to rush anymore. People still do it though for some reason. Mostly for bragging rights? Perhaps it’s so they can move on to the next game more quickly? I’m not sure.

You definitely can’t stop it. You can slow it down though.

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John Kiser

You’d need a design shift away from the whole “level” based game play with an end game gear treadmill designed to be the “core” of a specific expansion or game. People mention people will rush a story, but a lot of the time if you talk to a lot of the players they don’t know the story at all or didn’t actively learn it from the game and went elsewhere to read lore on the games they play.

If you make a game that has levels make it take awhile to level with a good amount of zones, decent zone progression, a good variety of mobs, and make the game something that rushing through doesn’t benefit. The having to do something type game play to get better at it avoids some amount of shenanigans as does doing away with a gear treadmill that is end game based.

We need to make games that are not just combat focused, don’t just have a grind of levels, don’t just have a gear treadmill and doesn’t jsut rely on raid/dungeons heavily. There is a lot of changes that have been made to try and target the lowest common denominator that have led to a lot of this stuff. If I can get to “end game” with little to no time investment it gets boring faster.

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Halcyon Falx

Immersion

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Tadas Gerve

If they make achievement that give ya a little boost not much, but would stack up To be quite high, like dc universe did, even if u are at endgame u gonna want to comeback to do it or just do it while starting fresh character. I also like guoldwars2 getting continent through mastery, basicly achievments, which make ya want to do all of the stuff game has to offer

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jaif13

Guild Wars (not 2) did this right; it’s the only PvE I ever really liked besides Asheron’s Call (and the only story I ever half payed attention to).

The story was largely a tutorial. When you reached max level (a mighty 20), and got a little endgame gear, you were done…except for all the accomplishments, skills to get, PvP maps, and whatever.

Basically, they designed the game around end-game.

creationguru
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creationguru

I say make endgame no where near as important as I am a person that like the journey though making my character complete and then well i loose all interest in a gear grind. This is why I prefer sandboxesthat are done well this is also why I prefer skills over levels.

Second make some achievements for being helpful to the levelers
Like in FFXIV my own personal end game is helping out new players in older content such more fun that endgame run this dungeon 500 times for new gear.

And then finally maybe we can spit the rushers from the people that dont have 15 hours a day to play and so have say servers that only allow for like 3 hours of progression or x amount of exp and then others that are unlimited for the it’s my job players. Think that might keep the more casual players around the same level.

Ben Pielstick
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Ben Pielstick

From a development perspective, are you creating a world to live in, or a story to finish?

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Khrome

Andy has the right idea:

“I think generating sticky experiences where the majority of the game is the comes down to meaningful play in the midlevels. If the middle 7/8ths of your game is filled with fluff and tasks and gear that will be completely invalidated when you level up 5 minutes from now – of course people are going to rush to where it feels like the items they work hard for aren’t completely useless 10 minutes after you get them.”

You cannot ever combat endgame rushing if you make everything you do before that point feel pointless to achieve.

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Anstalt

You can’t stop it. Ever.

If your game has a story, there will always be players who love the story and will do anything to play it as quickly as possible, because they love it.

If your game has combat, there will always be players who love it and will thus want to progress as quickly as possible so that they can unlock all their abilities and finally be able to master it.

If your game has power progression, there will always be players who wish to obtain the most power possible because it makes them feel good (even if the reason it makes them feel good is not a good reason).

My only recommendation to devs would be to stop designing MMORPGs around single player mechanics. Single player games have an end, whether that be the end of the story, the content, the progression or whatever. If you design your MMORPG in the same way, people will quit when they reach the end.

If you start designing your game around multiplayer mechanics, if you focus on playing with others (teamwork), if you focus on the community (social), if you give us features that never end (sandbox) then you will create a game which has no end point and that players want to stay with.

Personally, I am one of those who rush to endgame. Why? I hate leveling up. I don’t like story in my games, so I dislike the forced story during the leveling process. I love combat, but combat during leveling is always far too easy and shallow so I need to hit endgame to start playing the whole of my class. I love the community and being part of a guild, but during leveling everyone is segregated by power and content gates, so hitting endgame is where the community comes alive. I love PvP, but the only time it gets even vaguely balanced is at endgame where the power is better balanced.

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Jon Wax

Stop the supply of Adderall globally?