Massively Overthinking: Should MMOs have endings – or at least end points?

    
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I suspect most MMO players are going to read that question and immediately balk at it. We think of MMOs as being defined in large part by their lack of endings. But maybe they shouldn’t be. For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’m directing your attention to a comment Final Fantasy XIV’s Naoki Yoshida made at Gamescom several years ago.

“It’s all right not to play it everyday. Since it’s just a game, you can stop forcing yourself if it’s hard on you to keep that up. Rather, it’ll just pile up unnecessary stress if you limit yourself into playing just that one game since there are so many other games out there. So, do come back and play it to your heart’s content when the major patch kicks in, then stop it to play other games before you got burnt out, and then come back for another major patch. This will actually make me happier, and in the end, I think this is the best solution I can answer for keeping your motivation up for the game.”

Yoshida isn’t explicitly saying that MMOs should have an ending but rather reframing MMO content updates as things that have effective endings, plural – content you play through until it’s come to a reasonable end, and then you take a break and play something else, and then you come back to the MMO again for the next one. This shouldn’t be a controversial position, as many MMOs have content that works like this, but of course most of them would like you to keep playing in between too, and cries of “content drought” inevitably spring up from the players being courted with “seasons” and dailies and so forth to stay. Yoshida’s position – that content can be finished and then you take a break – isn’t actually something many MMO devs would voice.

So let’s talk about it. Should MMOs have endings or end points in the way Yoshida is describing? Is this how you’d prefer all MMOs be designed?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’m still spoiled by the Asheron’s Call series and prefer a discoverable story with some GM-guided events. Yes, these events could be turned into scripted ones people access later, though I think I’d prefer them to be limited time than available for all time. In that sense, yes, I can support MMO endings where players can get to a kind of in-universe, dev-led story ending. Heck, in terms of content, I’m more than fine with a slow drip of content that keeps me coming back for more. At the same time though, I miss good RP tools and developers who made supported it. Raiding and cinematic story are nice, but those never seemed like they took proper advantage of having so many people in a virtual world.

We don’t talk a lot about the personal stories of SWTOR or even Guild Wars 2; we talk about the large events that are felt by everyone in the game world. New races taking over player towns, diseases spreading from raids to newbie zones, funding the war effort, getting player politicians elected into dev-built mayor positions. Those all have starts and ends that feel like they take advantage of the MMO genre. It’s like watching a movie at home versus at the theaters. It can be nice to go at your own pace, but (at least in the US) watching a movie unfold with others who gasp and cheer when you do is a much more memorable experience. Enjoy the ride and walk away until the next arc/update comes out… unless you enjoy alts, dailies, and grinds, of course.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I think Yoshida’s strategy is not only fine but good for a themepark game with scripted content. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like the idea of seasons, I think; seasons are just dailies set to a longer time period. I would rather see an expectation that people come back to do the new content and leave when they’re done, not be expected to stay through the end of an arbitrary season, or worse, indefinitely. Guild Wars 2 mostly gets this right.

But personally, those aren’t my favorite kind of MMORPGs anyway. I have no problem with a good sandbox not having an ending or end points or obvious points of exit because I already wasn’t playing them to do The Content. I was playing them to craft my own experience. I don’t need them to tell me when to clap.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): Just let me skip with the escape key. I just want to play.

From story standpoints, they should. I’m not a fan of tales that run for a full decade and a story that people (and corporations) refuse to end is a recipe for customer fatigue. Let the story finish and move on.

A story where the player isn’t directly involved in it is fun too. Stories with politics between two factions are just an excuse for players to kick each others’ butts is always a plus in my opinion.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I think endings are important because, at the risk of sounding like a tired cliche, every ending means a new beginning, and beginnings mean onboarding points for new or lapsed players. For instance, it’s really hard for me to sell my friends on Guild Wars 2’s upcoming End of Dragons expansion when they quit after Heart of Thorns. Because the story of Guild Wars 2 is continuous, they would have to play through all of Living World Season 3, Path of Fire, Season 4, and Icebrood Saga to actually be caught up to current events. I think a lot of MMO developers think that this kind of FOMO will keep players coming back so they don’t fall behind, but personally I believe that the barrier to entry/reentry is more detrimental to a game than the barrier to exit is helpful.

I prefer the way The Elder Scrolls Online designs its stories. Each expansion or DLC has a cohesive and self-contained story written such that you will never feel lost if you start off at, say, Blackwood having never played before, but it also has a lot of references and callbacks and overarching plot that players who have played every scrap of content will appreciate. NPC dialogue even changes based on whether or not that character has encountered your character before.

So to answer the question, yes, I like it when MMOs have endings, but I also like continuous arcs. I think ESO does a fantastic job at bringing the best of both worlds, and other MMOs should learn from its example.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I wrote a whole column about how developers need to plan for the end of service, and honestly, that extends to storylines as well. Yes, I understand the impulse to keep things going forever, but the same principles apply. You have to be aware that you are dealing with something with a finite lifespan and be ready to wave goodbye instead of keeping things propped up in perpetuity. Conclude stories! End the dragons! Go to the moon! Wave goodbye! Let us have triumphant end points along the way, darn it.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I actually very much agree with this viewpoint, because it is unhealthy and untenable to constantly engage with a game with no resolution or breaks. I’ve started to sour on the concept of these super-long, never-ending story arcs that flow through the entire game. I’d rather have shorter chapters or more manageable quest arcs to experience because then you have all of these break points that allow you to try another game or pick up another quest arc.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): In the past I don’t think I would’ve said as much, but today I do think endings would be nice. The pull to feel like I need to keep up with the Joneses can only get me so far anymore. At some point I begin to feel overwhelmed and too far behind so I just quit outright – and then why log in at all?

I suppose the original Guild Wars had real end points. Once you finished Prophecies, its story was done, and that was mostly that and the same with the other expansions. They were isolated experiences. At the same time, we could consider the whole world as a living and changing thing. In fact, I only bought and completed Factions just before Guild Wars 2 was released, and I never really felt like I had missed something. It was just a separate game I hadn’t done.

And even though GW2 expansions do wrap up their story, each one fills more like a chapter to a much longer story rather than an actual ending. So I think endings would be nice.

Tyler Edwards (blog): Stories have expiry dates. You can’t keep the same one going forever. Eventually, endings are necessary if you don’t want to lapse into the tired and the ridiculous. And there’s also the risk of a game shutting down before the story is complete, to the heartbreak of its fans.

Mind you, asking a company to arrange an end to a successful game just for the sake of artistic integrity is… unlikely, and of course persistence is part of the appeal. So ideally one story should end so a new one can take its place, or maybe once a large-scale plot has come to an end, future updates can focus on smaller side-stories.

I think Elder Scrolls Online is on the right track in concept, if not in execution. Its yearly storylines are too formulaic and repetitive for my taste, but the general idea of refreshing seasonal stories is a sound one. While I’m no fan of Final Fantasy XIV, I do respect it for choosing to end the current storyline in Endwalker and then move on to something else. That’s brave and worthy of praise.

In terms of gameplay endpoints… I think developers play a role, but ultimately I think it’s more up to players to decide what counts as “done” for them. Developers should keep the minimum investment small, but provide long-term goals for those who want them. Once again, this is a place where I feel The Secret World nailed it. I always said that game was exactly as grindy as you wanted it to be. You could treat it like a single-player game, just play through all the story content once without ever repeating anything, and do just fine, but if you wanted to maximize your character’s potential, the grinds were nearly infinite. Maxing the ability wheel, aux wheel, gear, signets, and augments was a virtually impossible task. So basically you could just keep playing as long as you wanted and always be rewarded for doing so, but also quit whenever you started to burn out without missing out on anything essential.

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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Anstalt

MMORPGs that try to create virtual worlds shouldn’t have endings. Who wants the world to end?!?! Who wants their creations to be destroyed?

For all the other MMORPGs (which is basically all of them), not only do I think they should have endings, I feel they should have much shorter lifespans too.

The reason I feel this way is that there is no good reason to keep a themepark-style game runnings for 5+ years. There is never the content to support it anyway, the profit always slows down loads. But mostly, I hate the fact that MMO devs get locked into a specific system.

I feel like a shorter lifespan would give studios a much better chance to iterate and improve on game systems. The sequel can have a new combat system, or an improved graphics engine, or a whole new take on PvP, or can add a 3rd faction or whatever. This would help the genre move on and evolve quicker. You could keep the original mmo running in maintence mode, but a regular cascade of sequels or just new games would be far preferable to the current market.

I also think that consumers would respond well to this. A new game is going to bring in way more players than a new expansion. For example, if you quit LotRO because you disliked the Moria expansion, you’re more likely to try out LotRO 2 than you are to come back for the Mirkwood expansion.

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Schmidt.Capela

I will take breaks and play other games, regardless of whether the MMO was designed to allow that or not; the difference is that the experience of taking regular breaks is much better in an MMO designed to allow for that, making it more likely that I will return.

Also, time-limited events — which would require me to return or keep playing regardless of whether I’m in the mood for the MMO in order to experience them — can go die in a fire.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

This right here. I logged back into Destiny 2 and Neverwinter a few months ago after extended breaks from both games only to find the original storylines I was in the middle of were null and void. I haven’t been back since. For my other MMOs like Lotro and Guild Wars, I am constantly coming and going, and always return because I can pick up right where I left off.

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IronSalamander8 .

For me, someone that tends to get bored easily and bounces between games quite often, even if a game doesn’t have end points or an actual end, I may well move on after getting sick of the grind or repetition that plagues the MMO genre, especially dailies and ‘world quests’ in WoW.

The only game I’ve played consistently for years is PvZ: GW2 and even that I’ve slowed down on and just work on quests and play some matches here and there since I love how I can just jump in, get a couple games in, and jump back out.

So, I do like the idea of an MMO having end points and not wanting to force us to do everything all the time, that gets onerous in a hurry and too much like a 2nd job, so when a game starts feeling that way, I’m going to leave shortly after. Games like Minecraft tend to hold my interest longer too as I can play at my leisure, take breaks, and then come back and enjoy things, even if I restart a lot, and I love that.

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raistlin-nahum

Yoshida’s philosophy of creating a single-player RPG with some multiplayer content, selling a game in installments, which is what SE has been pursuing for years, is working perfectly.

FFXI has already proven for over 18 years that you can tell a conclusive story, but still have long, deep, challenging content with lots of possibilities.
That FFXIV is not able to follow this path as well as its predecessor is a sign… of incompetence, intentional or not.

On the other hand the MMORPG genre was born as a persistent world, a world you can call “home”, where you can make a name for yourself, as in a “parallel life” where you have plenty of time to develop what you want to be and do.
WoW simplified everything too much, FFXIV keeps simplifying EVEN MORE all that philosophy, because it’s easier for the developer to make things simpler and easier.

Also this type of game that requires so much time is also not liked by the specialized media that have to be passing many games to get quick reviews, these games that require more dedication are poorly regarded by the media, so games like FFXIV is rewarded, you get a patch that you can complete in 1 or 2 weeks and it’s just repeat dungeons, with 0 depth or builds asta collect badges, and then repeat the 3 or 4 scripted fights.

It’s a shame how the genre is and that you have to defend that a MMORPG has to have an ending…it shows that the media is as bad as the genre.

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Bruno Brito

FFXI has already proven for over 18 years that you can tell a conclusive story, but still have long, deep, challenging content with lots of possibilities.
That FFXIV is not able to follow this path as well as its predecessor is a sign… of incompetence, intentional or not.

A friend of mine took 5 minutes soloing a normal mob outside the city in FF11. No one should copy that design.

And there’s a difference between “dedication” and “a complete waste of time”. Ragnarok takes dedication. Being a GW2 completionist takes dedication. Fighting normal quest mobs for too much time because the entire game was designed for you to play with friends, making soloplay completely unviable is a complete waste of time.

Your entire post is a rant targeted at both the “media” and FF14 and just comes across someone who can’t let go of the past. Go play P99 then. The industry evolved.

All that FF11 proved, is that FF14 was more than necessary.

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Pandalulz

I like it, because there’s a thousand other games I need to play that aren’t FFXIV. And I also have no reservations around the fact that I basically play FFXIV specifically because it’s effectively a mostly single-player JRPG with some co-op. I grew out of the idea that I wanted a big open sandbox years and years ago because I am just not wired to make my own fun that way. I have zero interest in things like Minecraft, or survival-sandboxes, or really even single-player games with too open of a world. So I guess in the end, like I’ve said a million times before, MMOs as they are meant to be just aren’t for me and I appreciate the fact that Yoshida is making something a little different.

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

I rarely agree with much that Yoshida says and this is no exception. The nearest analogy to mmorpgs in other media isn’t a movie or a novel with a firm and final ending. The genre doesn’t exist as a platform for telling stories. It’s a hobby. Does gardening have an ending? Or fishing? Or knitting? Of course not. You may tire of it and move on but that’s not because anything ended other than your interest in it.

Even if we were to accept that mmorpgs have an analogous relationship with narrative media, the form they most ressemble is soap opera, which also has no ending. The characters persist through multiple story arcs, experiencing perpetual change and renewal that defies logic. It doesn’t matter because each moment exists in and of itself and not in the context of all the others.

The whole idea that mmorpg players can’t “walk away and come back later” is ludicrous anyway. People do that all the time. There’s a whole rolling subdivision of the industry based wholly around catering to the fact and it’s geting bigger year by year.

My feeling has long been that what FFXIV really wants to be is a movie series, not an mmorpg. Square should just buckle up and do it. It worked for Marvel.

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Toy Clown

I echo Bree’s thoughts on it, in that if it’s a theme park MMO, an ending main story arc works well as the game will get kind of stale if the story is just cycling around itself for years. FFXIV and GW2 probably do it the best from the small staple of MMOs I cycle through.

Sandbox MMOs do better with open-ended stories, I think, since they tend to scale around feature-rich, repeatable content that players have the freedom to play with as they please. If they ended a story arc in a sandbox, that could kind of break some features, or stories at the least, IMO.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Yoshida talks a good talk but the walking part kinda escapes him.

If a player has made the mistake of acquiring ward housing they cannot “just walk away” or “take a break” because if you do so your house goes poof and all you’ll get out of customer support is “so-sad, too-bad”. If that wasn’t enough of a “fuck you” if you don’t return after 30 days after the house is demolished the pittance of a refund and all the things you had in the house evaporate.

So until he fixes XIV’s crap housing system any suggestion that XIV players can take a break is a big fat lie. That’s incredibly shameful behavior and he should be embarrassed.

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Rndomuser

No, they shouldn’t have a “definite ending”, it’s a flawed game if it does that.
MMORPG shouldn’t just be a “co-op RPG with annual DLCs”, it should be much more than that. It should be a living, breathing world which other players shape through their action and where players can create all kind of different content without just idling in a capital city and trolling others through text chat out of boredom until the next expansion will give them few more dungeons/raids with dumb AI bosses which most of the players will complete in a couple of weeks.

Not to mention it is irrational from the business point of view to do this – letting people unsubscribe and log off for few months because of lack of developer-provided content and the lack of tools for players to keep creating their own content, both for PvE and PvP, as well as lack of tools for user-created socialization/RP. And Yoshi-P is not being honest by saying it is “ok to not play all the time and just come back when the next major patch kicks in” because FFXIV has FOMO “seasonal events” for unique mounts/cosmetics/emotes/hair styles forcing players to log in and do them if they want to get one of those items since developers do not provide a choice of doing things like buying all of this at any time at Mogstation if anyone missed the FOMO event.

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Ben Stone

I really hate daily rewards and weekly grinds compelling you to log in all the time. I think Yoshis view is much healthier. I have single player games I want to actually get back to and enjoy, I don’t want my MMOs to be a second job, but I like being able to play an RPG with my guildies.

So basically, make lots of content that people want to do, but dont have to do. As soon as it becomes compulsory to keep up, it just becomes a drag and I am likely to just leave.