While my last post about cancelling my Tera-account failed to convince Reddit, one comment there stood out to me and made me think. Then I got depressed.
1 guy don’t want to play the game because he is surprised you do MMO things in an MMO which he is already doing in Rift.
I’ve seen similar comments before, especially on official forums when people complain about the lack of endgame – I saw it quite often on the official SWTOR forums for example, when people started to hit 50 and finished their main class quest chain. In other words, reaching endgame and finding either a lack of content or simply a gear grind is what you’re supposed to do in a MMO.
I find this terribly cynical. We’re not supposed to expect more from the games we play and pay for? It’s also proved to be quite the design problem for companies – players will run through that content much faster than the developers can produce it. We’ve seen that over and over again. With no secondary game systems in place, you risk having a lot of paying customers leave either because of burnout or because they simply aren’t interested in doing that in yet another game.
Gear progression can be a lot of fun and I love theory crafting and learning my class. I did in World of Warcraft, I currently do in Rift. I don’t believe in the inherent evils of min-maxing. What I firmly believe is that the “MMO things in an MMO” don’t end there. What kind of endgame would we have if Bioware hadn’t spent all that money on voice overs and instead put $50 million on making varied endgame content on top of the operations/PvP? Hell, $10 million?
I know, investors want to play it safe. That’s the sad reality. Because of this, indies will stay indies and the large MMO companies will go for what they believe is the safest route – what they know large parts of the communities will see as the “MMO things”. Yet, there seems to be this total disregard about alternative systems that can complement the raiding and gear grinding. Rift had its artifacts, its events and rifts on top of the normal endgame – adding Emerald Isle, a new outdoor zone aimed at level-capped characters, on top of that. Players still burn out of course, but having played a lot at level cap now I still have things to do outside of the raids. Instead companies release a game, then scramble desperately to retain players by adding more and more gear-related content and raids instead of thinking outside the box for a bit. Just a tiny, little bit.
I’m talking about complementing, not replacing. I promise, I haven’t gone full Wolfshead and started to hate modern MMOs. I really haven’t. Yet I can’t help feeling that the safe route no longer is to just throw more raids at the players. The trick is to keep us occupied outside the hamster wheel of gear grinds – especially when you have insane amounts of money to spend, like Bioware did. Making MMOs is terribly expensive, though it looks to me like a large part of the various budgets are wasted on things that don’t really give the game in question better longevity; like high quality voice-overs on everything.
More research is desperately needed. The MMO genre seems to be chugging along according to a couple of basic truisms that haven’t been questioned in a long time; truisms that keep putting companies into trouble. Pay a sociologist, a media researcher, a psychologist, anyone. Have them do action research, let them play your competitors’ games for months while you start to flesh out your own. Be agile, work in constant research cycles. Hire good community representatives (i.e. don’t do an Earthrise) that talk to the players and feed that research. Don’t learn from the success of others, learn from their failures. The return on investment could potentially be huge.
(As an aside, I do have to consider why I – together with many others – left Rift relatively close to launch, despite it being as solid as it was from the start. Thinking back, it came down to a lack of enthusiasm. It was good, it was fun, but leveling up wasn’t different enough I guess. I think SWTOR gave me a new perspective on it and allowed me to enjoy it a lot more. Right now it feels like I haven’t had this much to do at level cap in a classic theme park MMO since The Burning Crusade. Sandboxy games like Star Wars Galaxies and Everquest 2 don’t count into this discussion, they are a post of their own. Or, in the case of the former, a novel. The overall subject of this post also ties into the larger “you rushed to cap, you got yourself to blame for being bored”-discussion.)
As customers, we should expect more, we shouldn’t pick up a new MMO with the full knowledge that we will probably be bored or that there will be a lack of content once we reach level cap. I think many of us have started to ask for more than that, no matter what a random poster on Reddit thinks. In Tera, I am not surprised that “you do MMO things in an MMO”. Not at all, I went in expecting a theme park with fun combat. But I am sad that Tera, like SWTOR, is starting to look like a one trick pony. Outside of combat, there’s nothing. Outside SWTOR’s storylines, there’s nothing. Except those MMO things we always do in MMOs, of course.