Massively Overthinking: What endgame content keeps you in an MMORPG long-term?

    
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A while back on the MassivelyOP Podcast, Justin and I were trying to sort through why New World’s endgame hasn’t had staying power with the broader MMORPG playerbase that has no problems at all milling around in other MMO endgames for months and years. I suspect it’s because New World’s endgame is missing some special sauce that makes it a good game to “live” in, but that special sauce is likely going to be different for everyone.

So for this week’s Massively Overthinking, let’s drink us some special sauce. What exactly do you do in MMO endgames that makes you want to keep playing the game longer term? What content constitutes the “glue” that’s keeping you in a mature MMO, not just attracting you back?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Community and the game world/lore. I played World of Warcraft almost exclusively with friends/family, but had little to no love of the IP, we just had weekly PvP nights where we’d coordinate or instigate trouble but hold back enough to make sure things were interesting for both sides. On the other hand, I don’t think any of my meat space friends played Star Wars: The Old Republic, but I loved the game’s story, and my online community helped get some RP PvP going on a non-RP server, but even when they left, I stayed for a while because I enjoyed the stories.

Sandboxes tend to be better, though. I remember hitting the level cap in TERA, but all I really remember was weekly RP PvP and organizing the political stuff that TERA eventually turned off. I have great memories of that game, but I can barely remember more than a couple of raids in, well, any raiding game I played, and I had some server firsts under my belt. Having open-ended systems and random loot instead of pre-fab, bind-on-equip/pickup loot turns people into hamsters on wheels, and I can run, but as soon as my friends are out or I complete the story, I’m off to the next virtual world.

Andy McAdams: I think it’s just the people. When I think about games that I played long into endgame despite not really being into endgame all that much it was mostly just because I wanted to continue to spend time with my guildies, and they are still really engaged in the game. That said, I really enjoy running dungeons or small group content, and I like crafting things that matter (aka – I don’t like crafting the +5 Hosit of Greater Kerfluffliness that just sits on the auction house from now until the heat death of the universe). Things that I would call “RP-lite” activities are a lot of fun too. My best recent memories from WoW are doing a Kirin Tor bar crawl, my guild run bar crawl, and going to a March of The Mammoths. When I was playing Anarchy Online, I used to love to sit there and just cast my buffs on people for tips while chatting in org chat.

I like being able to make predictable progress towards a goal – for example, back in the Wrath days when crafting used to have dailies, I was on a mission to earn every jewelcrafting recipe. I never did it, but it kept me engaged.

But really, I think I just like having a choice of a few different things to do, and more importantly people to do them with. It’s kinda like the dive bar you go to with your friends. It’s got shitty drinks, things generously called “food,” a floor that sounds like velcro when you walk on it, and a jukebox that hasn’t been updated since 1985. But you love it, and you and your friends keep coming back — day after day, week after week, year after year to play the same game of Sorry! with the missing pieces and answering the same Trivial Pursuit questions you’ve answered for the last decade. An MMO endgame that keeps me engaged is like that.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I’ve asked myself this question a lot, actually. No matter what game I’m playing, the gameplay loop eventually gets stale after months or years of repetition and I end up moving on to something else. I don’t think a single endgame mechanic will ever hold my attention forever, but the games I stick with the longest are the ones where the bonds of friendships have been the strongest. Perhaps that’s why some of the newer, more action-oriented, less social games tend to see me bounce quicker. I’ve invested less social capital into those titles and thus it is easier to cut ties.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): For me, it depends almost entirely on the game. If it’s a themepark game and my friends are playing, I will stick around in even the worst grindy endgame just to hang out with them. But once my friends leave, and they always do, then I need an “endgame” that is still playable for somebody who isn’t a guild hopper. That doesn’t necessarily mean solo; it just means it needs something I can do without joining a new guild. Usually, that means at least one of the following: a superlative economy (whether or not the crafting is good), lots of rewards to chase that appeal directly to me, a soloable overland hunting experience, a robust instance grouping system, really solid PvP that doesn’t privilege premades too much, an amazing housing or building system, a reason to roll lots of alts, or a reasonable flow of new content that brings my friends back over and over.

I’m not a big fan of the idea of dungeon-and-raid-based endgames; like most people who’ve been playing this genre 25 years, I’ve been there done that and it doesn’t keep me around now. But my core MMOs right now – the ones I “live” in and keep coming back to over and over even when my friends don’t – all have multiple elements of the above.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I think one of the first pieces of content that keeps me invested in a game past cap is the endgame content being engaging to begin with. That means interesting dungeons and raids, fun quests, and a fair balance of challenge and progression. Also, options – lots and lots of options; if the only thing waiting at cap is some of the harder tier stuff and no ramp-up or choice to stop at a certain tier, then the game has pretty much lost me.

The high-water mark for me here will always be the way Final Fantasy XIV does things. There are enough raids of pretty variable difficulties where I don’t always feel like I’m excluded from everything, and there’s the other sidequests and story quests to keep me coming back in-between expansions. I kind of felt similarly about WildStar as well, but that was also because I could mostly ignore the “real” endgame that title pushed thanks to having a good guild of friends to just run regular dungeons with.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Endgame isn’t as interesting to me as the leveling and questing journey. If I run out of both of those, my interest in that character/MMO will dip severely (hence, alts!). But if an MMO gives me alternative forms of endgame progression, especially smaller goals that aren’t directly tied to raiding, I will stick around. Stretch goals for desired rewards, secret quest chains, festival activities, tracking down stuff to build up cool houses, etc.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): Alts are my thing, since I am not much into raiding or PvP. If I enjoyed playing the game through as one class, I usually enjoy doing it all over again, especially if I can make different choices that make it a different experience. I am less thrilled by games that have a single level-up experience without any deviation from the path really possible, but even then, sometimes just the fresh experience of a new class will keep me in. I am definitely a sucker for new races, classes, and scenarios. A steady stream of new content will keep me in too, especially if it is not raiding or PvP.

Unfortunately, endgame often seems to be a funnel into one of those two. There’s rarely an endgame that keeps me in. The destination is a lot more boring than the journey, most of the time.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I always came back time and time again for a game that had (relatively) regular, new content to interact with – or just really good PvP. I spent hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours in Guild Wars 1 PvP. Not even the highly coordinated team-oriented PvP, just regular old random arenas. I just loved the fast-paced nature of the battles and the quick in-and-out gameplay. I also loved how accessible it was to try different builds out. I spent a lot of time in pre-Heart of Thorns GW2. The combat was great, even if I didn’t love the game mode. At that time I was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and thought that only an idiot would create a sequel to one of the best MMO PvP modes without including said game modes. Oh, the naivete.

I usually also return for story content, although somehow I haven’t made time for EOD. I guess not having any interesting features to really go with it reduced my interest. That’s quite the downer. But I do still play every festival that releases. The events are fun, and the new rewards are still interesting enough that I can’t help but make sure I complete the meta.

So maybe that’s my answer I need interesting rewards and content or really good PvP. Easy, right? Totally not subjective.

Tyler Edwards (blog): My preference is for solo content (for this purpose, I include group content with quick, easy matchmaking as “solo”) with currency or XP-based rewards, so I can know I’m always making steady progress. I have never found any excitement in gambling, so randomized reward structures hold little appeal to me.

That said, almost no endgame holds my attention for very long, at least not on its own. I get bored easily and usually wander off to start a new alt or play a different game.

Whenever I have spent significant time in the endgame of an MMO, it’s because I was invested in the game and its world. Most especially I need to care about the story. I’m not going to spend hours of my life upgrading my character if I don’t care what happens next in the story. Solid core gameplay is important, too. I never got much into the endgame of SWTOR because I can’t stomach its combat for any longer than necessary.

The point I’m meandering towards here is that the best “endgame” design is to simply build a good game in the first place. If I like your game and the world you’ve built, I’ll happily spend hours grinding even very limited or basic endgame content, as the countless hours I spent murdering Ghouls in the Besieged Farmlands of TSW will attest. If your story has no soul and your combat bores me, no amount of dungeons, raids, PvP, or whatever will keep me long.

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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