For the Love of the (end) Game
By Brad “Innuendo” Phillips
Thanks to a recent twitch appearance by two of my favorite ArenaNet developers, the end game (or in some people's opinion lack of end game) of Guild Wars 2 has been put on the forefront of many people's minds. In an effort to be more than just one more voice of the many listing all the fun things the game does offer to level capped players, and more importantly not to belabor the points everyone's made about gear and progression, I want to come at the question of "what's at the end" a different way.
For starters, I think ArenaNet are doing a great job of trying to list or show all the activities that exist for level capped players. High end dynamic events, dungeons, crafting, and of course the various forms of PvP. But I think deep down everyone at ArenaNet knows that no amount of content will satisfy "end-gamers", as I'll call them; people who get to cap and then want new reasons to keep progressing. I think it's healthy for the game if these types of gamers aren't catered to (at the exclusion of others). End-gamers require ever increasing numbers on gear, new things to achieve, and new bosses to conquer. And all you can do as a designer to answer that call is add power creep and tier content to make that type of player happy. The term treadmill is so common to describe this it's almost cliché, yet it still holds true.
No offense if you’re that type of gamer, but your play style comes at the detriment of many people's enjoyment of the content. I have a kid. I have a wife. I have a job. And in that order they consume a large portion of my life. I don't have or want to have to play a game religiously or sacrificially just to have a chance to see all the content the game has to offer. I'm not saying some content can't be insanely difficult. What I’m saying is it should not be both insanely difficult and insanely time consuming to reach. The difficulty of the content is enough of a barrier for most players. Adding an arbitrary "you must have done 2,000 other things before you can do this thing" barrier only serves to divide the community and create arbitrary gates. I'm glad it seems ArenaNet has, by and large, rejected the idea of time barriers.
But here's the flip side of this. Even people who aren't prototypical end-gamers seem to be stuck on this idea of "what am I gonna do in six months?" I think that's a fair question, but I think we are making bad assumptions around that question. Let me ask this another way. "Why wouldn't I still be running dynamic events in Orr in six months?", "Why wouldn't I still be teaming up for dungeons in six months?" Or "Why wouldn't I still be laying siege to keeps in WvW in six months?"
You see, instead of asking "what's gonna be next?" why aren't we asking "what is gonna make this current content no longer worth me logging in?" I think this is a crucially important question. In other games I think the answers are simple and many:
- People have leveled past this content so it's a ghost town (social),
- My character/gear is too strong and this content is too easy to be fun like it was the first few times (challenge/fun),
- I don't want to pay $15 a month to keep doing the same thing (value).
I think you can fill a lot of things in that list, but I think the three big categories that encompass most of the reasons people quit games fall into are social, challenge/fun, and value.
I think Guild Wars 2 does a lot to answer those questions smartly. Making low level content stay relevant with down-leveling, ensuring gear doesn't ever make content irrelevant. Not punishing players with sub fees is obvious added value, and contrary to what some in the MMO-sphere seem to think, having no sub fee makes it more likely I'll come back to a game day in and day out, not less likely.
Let me pause here to discuss some of my gaming personality, since I think it's relevant for context. I've played a lot of games a little, and a few games a lot. I've played a lot of MMOGs, but only a few with any regularity. Guild Wars 1 and World of Warcraft top the list for time spent, but I've dabbled in Eve and others as well. If MMOGs are the great time sink, none of them come close to the game I've spent more hours playing than any of the other games I’ve played combined: N
If you are familiar with that game, hey! You probably know me as maximo, and I’m glad you're here. If you aren't familiar, the game is an indie darling before indie darlings were a thing. I should warn you it has a learning curve (more like a cliff). A flash game with 3 buttons (left, right, jump) and great physics. The goal was simple: get to the exit without touching anything that kills you (which is everything that moves). If that game supported a /age feature, I'm positive it would show above 2 years of in game time. In one word the game is addictive. In a few more words it is distilled physics platforming that I consider perfection. Why I played this game with no point, for over a year of my life, is important to this discussion.
Part of the reason I stayed with N for so long when I wasn't gaining anything for my time were social. Back in the day the community was fun to hang around in. But that hasn't been the case for some time, and I still open up that game from time to time to enjoy some platforming ascension. The game does what it does so well, nothing else matters really. I play it because I want to play what to me is the best 2D platforming game out there. I enjoy it, and play it, because I can't help but play it. It's just that good. And truthfully, isn't that why we all started gaming: to search for that level of fun?
A more recent example and one I'm sure more of you will know is DayZ. I won’t rewrite what's been written, and I’m sure most of you have played or are aware of what DayZ is. Cyndre has a great, succinct, piece on Kill Ten Rats about this already: Why Is This Fun? In short, you want to log in because it's fun to be logged in.
I think all of ArenaNet want to stand up and shout at the community anytime they‘re asked "what's end game like?". I think they want to shout until we get what they are trying to do. Maybe I’m giving them too little credit and they really are more patient than I would be. I would be shouting after being asked that for the millionth time. The reason you'll play guild wars 2 in 6 months isn't because there is something new to do. It isn't because you haven't done or seen or accomplished something. It's because what the game does do is great. And what it does do is worth doing for the sheer satisfaction of experiencing it (even for the hundredth time). If you've never had a game like that in your past I sincerely hope you come across one that captures your attention. Nothing will ever replace the feeling of launching N for me; it's home to my gaming soul, and will always hold a part of it.
Since the invention (and subsequent spread) of achievements in gaming, it's hard to remember a time when you logged into a game without being bombarded with accomplishments and goals. And I love achievements, don't get me wrong. But there is something whole and pure about a game you want to play for the sole fact the game is fun. The things ArenaNet are giving as "what's end game" are great, they really are. I think I'll have a blast with all of them at some point. But what I really think I’ll be doing in 6 months in Guild Wars 2 is slaying centaurs on my main outside of Divinity's Reach because damn if it isn't fun.
I hope to see you there.