I Hate The MMORPG End Game

T13 Warrior Set

Tier 13 armour. Suddenly my level 85 Warrior is completely obsolete.

Maybe hate is a bit too strong a word but ironically enough, for someone who’s been an avid (very avid) MMOer since 1999, I’ve come to realise lately just how much I dislike the end game of the traditional MMORPG. So much so in fact that in my recent return to WoW in the past month I’ve taken to deleting my high level characters and making new alts instead.

It’s not just that I find the low level game in WoW more fun than the high level, I think I actually feel that way about pretty much every MMO. If I look back at my history of playing, ever since the original Everquest, I’ve always preferred the journey of leveling up, or even low level PvP, to that of the end game. In EQ2, for example, all I pretty much did was re-roll alts with my guild so we could have fun with the low level world PvP. Unfortunately though it seems also like a lot of games are becoming more top heavy now by making the leveling process faster than ever before and creating more and more grind locks at max level to keep folk from leaving when they hit the cap. I’m not trying to pick on it but obviously WoW is the main offender in this area.

But I’m not here to rant about WoW or the way it’s been designed (I still happen to enjoy it on a casual basis) but rather I guess I’m stating my preference and the reasons why. To me, the MMO end game is a deeply flawed beast, one that was tacked on by happenchance and has now evolved into almost a pure retention mechanic. I think we can all agree that raiding, as fun as it may be for some people, is hugely disjointed from the first several dozen of hours of gaming in a character’s life (how exactly does anything you do when you level up prepare you for a 20 or 30 person raid?) and also wreaks havoc with the holy trinity concept (only one tank required for an entire raid party?). Likewise, from a purely personal opinion, I’ve never enjoyed raiding because it seems to bring out the worst in people and reinforce some kind of rigid, militant, min/maxing style of gameplay. Committing several nights a week and several hours per session to follow exact strategies and a specific character build all in an attempt to maybe get a new piece of gear isn’t my cup of tea. I have complete and total respect for raiders but it’s too much like a day job to appeal to the likes of me.

The endless grinding involved at the end game of a lot of MMOs also kinda gets me down. Yeah, I know there probably isn’t much mechanical difference between grinding for items at level 85 in WoW as there is grinding quests or dungeons to level up but I guess the fundamental psychology of it what is alters my perception. Somehow leveling up makes me feel like I’m an adventurer on a journey yet suddenly finding all of my level 85 gear redundant because a new Tier of items has been released with slightly more glowly shoulder pads is something I find kinda depressing.

Ironically though, as much as I’m picking on WoW here in my examples, I actually think it’s low level gameplay is quite brilliant. The races and classes are all very well defined and each have a strong identity, there’s huge amount of variety in location and activity and there’s a constant stream of little carrots to keep you interested. Compared to a game like RIFT, which only offers two location routes to level up in and is hence quite repetitive, WoW actually offers a a lot of things to keep low level gamers interested and entertained, over and over again. I’ve got no problem hitting the level cap and then just re-rolling to enjoy the experience all over again.

Anyway, not really sure this article has a point but if it did I guess it would be that I’d like to see more ‘traditional’ style MMOs focus more on the leveling process as an important, if not the most important, aspect of gameplay. It seems to be something that we’re trying to skip over quicker and quicker these days. Maybe it would even be nice to see a game in which you hit the level cap, run a few quests or dungeon groups and then ultimately complete the game and its storyline, before being asked to re-roll. They could base it on Buddhism.


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  1. Tesh says:

    How convenient, then, that WoW has that whole “free until 20″ thing so you can play low level stuff without the dang sub. :) (I’m in much the same boat, really, except I’ve never officially done the endgame… it just doesn’t look like fun.)

    Incidentally, I’d probably like low level PvP (as well as PvP at any level, really) if it were balanced and normalized. Levels and gear imbalance (coughheirloomscough) make PvP a joke. I can see the potential for fun there, but it’s just too imbalanced.

  2. KiwiRed says:

    The reincarnation mechanic from DDO comes to mind… (Never mind that my highest level DDO character is only around level 9)

  3. Polynices says:

    Hard not to think of SW:TOR which sounds like it will highly encourage lots of rerolling to experience the different stories for each class and faction.

  4. bhagpuss says:

    Your best post for ages, Gordon! I agree with every word. Well, except for the deleting characters part. That’s virtual murder and I can’t condone it.

    I’ve been a low-level rpger since the day I discovered AD&D in the early 1980s. The highest our campaigns ever got was Level 8, by when we mutually agreed that it was starting to get silly and we should start over. I have no interest whatever in pretending to fight Gods or even demi-gods. I can’t empathize with that. It’s just plain daft. Protecting my village from gnolls, though, that’s easy to relate to.

    I think you’re a tad unfair on Rift. Come back in seven years and see if there are still only two leveling paths.

    • Aldevar says:

      I don’t recall WoW having only 2 starting areas at the start. Maybe someone can correct me if my memory fails me.

      • smakendahed says:

        This is a common failing for a lot of more recent MMOs, but WoW was not one of them. WoW has expanded it a bit with the addition of Blood Elf and Draenai areas in TBC then again in Cata when they added Goblin, Worgen, Gnome and Troll starting areas.

        The only reason to have alts in Rift (for me, as a PVPer) is to make sure you have a character to switch to when the nerf hits the current FotM.

    • Gordon says:

      Thanks Bhagpuss!

      And yeah, maybe it’s unfair to compare RIFT to a game like WoW that’s had years to mature. Still, I do kinda wish they had made unique cities and starting areas for each race.

  5. epic.ben says:

    I’m right there with you, and just a month or so ago blogged about the relevant lack of creativity when it comes to end-game design (shameless self-promotion: http://bit.ly/nYo2Zc). What I fear, however, is that far too many people actually *enjoy* the MMO grind, and as a result, MMO developers aren’t exactly given incentives to “break the mold”. Think about this for a second – given the fact that gPotato can actually make money with the steaming pile of WOW-clone turd-poo that’s Allods Online, why would anyone think of doing something *different* than the standard MMO, complete with the standard MMO endgame design?

    Lately I’ve come to think of the folks that blog about MMOs with this perspective (tired of the standard grind/design), as been connoisseurs. We’ve had our share of Bud Lite, Rolling Rock, PBR, and every other macrobrew out there. Or, let’s say Newcastle for you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a Newcastle; but after drinking it for 5 years, it starts to get boring, and given that it’s not an entirely exciting beer, you get tired of it. You crave something different; something new and innovative, a microbrew in the world of MMOs that’s full of hoppy deliciousness and aromas, but they’re few and far in-between.

    In fact, it doesn’t exist, and when every new MMO on the horizon repeats the standard design, it’s easy to get disillusioned with the entire affair. It’s enough to make me, at least, drink only Hendricks and Pims (in my world of MMO analogies, Hendricks and Pims would be FPS titles, LOL, and some strategy games.)

    The worst part? SW:TOR, easily the most visible, awaited MMO on the horizon, is not existing. Despite the voice-acting and much-lauded “fourth-pillar” of MMO design (…story), it really is just more of the same. Gear and level based progression? Check. Raiding? Check. Battleground-focused PvP? Check. Lightweight crafting? Check. Instancing and catering to the solo-MMO crowd? Check. Sounds like WOW 2.0 in space.

  6. Void says:

    I wish that MMOs would have an end. I love having a living world with other players around me. I like an active economy and crafting. I like fighting and adventuring with other real people. But I also like a sense of completion.

    Sometimes I wish that MMOs would just have endings the same way that single player games do. And then if the devs go back to add on content they should craft new storylines to get from the beginning to the end instead of tacking on raid content at the end. Just a thought.

    Overall, I feel the same way you do about endgame content.

  7. Yaggle says:

    I feel the same way and I think it’s because endgame progress is never permanent. There will always be another expansion and so you carry your levels/xp with you but not your gear. I was very interested in endgame in vanilla Everquest. I had no idea there would be expansions and the max. level would go up. So I was very interested in acquiring endgame gear. I was naiive and I thought the max. level would always be 50. I would be a lot more interested in playing an MMO where the max. level would never be raised or if gear would scale upward with level so epic equipment would always be epic. The way I play Wow right now is I get to max. level, finish the basic questlines and get some decent gear(blues or welfare epics) then I quit until the next expansion. I feel it’s the best use of my time.

  8. Wolfshead says:

    When a MMO is based on levels, eventually the journey must come to an end; it’s the Achilles Heel of most DIKU MUD based online worlds. Of course the MMO continues with the “let’s get better gear” game but it’s not the same.

    The so-called “endgame” was never really planned in the first few MMOs because the devs figured very few people would actually reach the level cap. However, they underestimated the tenacity of the players and the raiding game was born as bored players ended up killing unkillable and largely symbolic NPCs like dragons. The rest is history as MMO developers have never really been able to keep up with the rapacious appetites that players have to devour content.

    A big part of the problem is that leveling has become trivialized these days. When levels were harder to obtain, they actually meant something and there were very few people that had the problem of being bored with the endgame. Being at the level cap was quite an achievement in an MMO like EverQuest 11 years ago. You actually had to have some semblance of skill to achieve that, unlike today where levels are pretty much given to players for just showing up and most MMO classes could be played by trained chimpanzees.

    I’d like to see a return to tougher mobs all across the board, slower leveling times, group interdependency, serious death penalties and more. That will never happen as long as other MMO devs continue to copy the Blizzard MMO design philosophy.

    How people can continue to play WoW perplexes me. People’s capacity for self-torture never ceases to amaze me. It’s time for a new MMO paradigm.

    • Lierothegreat says:

      Wolfie’s argument in brief:

      Challenging and varied raid content = amazing self-torture

      Super grindy leveling scheme, with no endgame = new and different MMO paradigm.


    • Aldevar says:

      Just because you enjoy different things than others, doesn’t mean that everyone else is a “masochist”. What you described sounds a lot less appealing than the current system WoW and other MMO’s have.

    • smakendahed says:

      “You actually had to have some semblance of skill to achieve that, unlike today where levels are pretty much given to players for just showing up and most MMO classes could be played by trained chimpanzees.”

      I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. EQ never required skill, just time.

      Smart people that could play systems (or read up soloing strats) did well, but you’re kidding yourself if you think any of the simply tactics that applied in EQ were skillful.

      • bhagpuss says:

        I’d say the tactics in EQ required no more and no less skill than any game. It all comes down to practice in the end. The pace was slower, though, which I very much preferred. If I could make one change to all MMOs I play it would be to slow all combat down to at least half the current speed so I have time to think, not just react.

        • smakendahed says:

          This is a good point. I often shake my head at MMOs where the abilities and spells your character uses never go to completion because the creature is dead two seconds into a 10 second duration DoT.

          However, I didn’t like the simple and low interaction combat in EQ. If you weren’t a caster, your gameplay was more on what weapons you had and less about anything else.

          There is skill to be shown in some of the newer games. Some might argue that skill comes from not needing the time to think, but knowing how and what to do or doing things within the same rules and confines that few others do (this is more of a going above and beyond than just higher numbers).

          Example: A skilled Hunter could be picked up by the Valkyries in the Lich King fight, be dropped off the ledge but Disengage back onto the ledge. In the Al’akir fight a good Priest could life grip someone out of a tornado (where as an unskilled one wouldn’t).

          I definitely wouldn’t say any skill is required to play current MMOs, but you can do some pretty neat things or lessen the burden on other players if you are skilled.

        • Gordon says:

          I quite enjoyed the combat in EQ too, especially for casters as you forced to make meaningful contributions and really think about what you were doing. Managing aggro and mana were very important. The only thing I always though was a bit dull was the lack of pure melee skills. The Warrior, for instance, only had ‘Kick’ and ‘Taunt’ and otherwise involved hitting autoattack and going away to make a cup of tea ;) It’s why I played melee hybrids like the SK.

      • Wolfshead says:

        The average WoW slacker/player weaned on the express train to the level cap could not survive 5 minutes in EverQuest.

        Yes it took time but everything worth achieving takes time. Mastery of any skill takes time. Research Malcolm Gladwell’s rule on 10,000 hours.

        Time has been given a bad rap because of players who want something for nothing and instant-gratification. It’s sad to see how socialism has affected and addled the minds of the current breed of MMO players who look down at someone who is willing to work harder for something.

        TLDR: Skill, challenge mean nothing. Players today are lazy and spoiled and Blizzard is only too happy to pander to them.

        • Dril says:

          “The average WoW slacker/player weaned on the express train to the level cap could not survive 5 minutes in EverQuest.”

          And the average Everquest player wouldn’t last 5 seconds in a WoW raid. What’s your point exactly? That people wouldn’t last in EQ? Of course they could: they simply don’t want to, because MMO populations have changed, and that’s where your idea that “slower leveling times, group interdependency, serious death penalties and more” would be good is flawed: the MMO playerbase has changed far too much to accept that, and as such no mainstream dev will make a game like that because it would be a massive financial loss.

          I realise I come across as defending this new playerbase: I don’t, I think they’re pathetic, but I think you do yourself and your argument very little credit by making jabs about WoW and its players.

          Also: “It’s sad to see how socialism”

          I’m fairly sure than in trying to pander to the populist American sentiment that socialism is evil, you’ve forgotten (or were always ignorant) of what it actually means.

          • Wolfshead says:

            My family fled a communist country. The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. Socialism is unsustainable as the EC and unfortunately the naive American public who elected a president solely on the basis they want to be “part of history” is now finding out.

            The Blizzard design theory in many ways echoes socialism. They have woven a philosophy of entitlement (remember “welfare epics”) throughout WoW. In Azeroth, everyone is equal no matter how hard they work. You get a prize for just showing up.

            Yes the Xbox generation of players which now represents the current MMO demographic would never accept any of those old MMO conventions because they’ve never been given the choice because of greedy MMO companies that only care about pandering to the worst players out there all in the name of making a buck. It’s all about attracting new players. That is the current design ethos.

            (So it looks like I’m not a capitalist either because if I was then I’d be applauding the rubbish that is WoW.)

            All I care about is good MMO game design. I’m tired of money being the prime directive for every single design feature. The result is the horrific state of MMOs that we see today.

        • Gordon says:

          The problem is we’re living with extremes now. The original EQ was far too time consuming whereas new MMOs are too easy. We need a middle ground.

      • Gordon says:

        “EQ never required skill, just time.”

        Agreed. And it was EQs biggest flaw – you pretty much couldn’t progress unless you were willing to set aside 4 hours to set up a group.

    • Utakata says:

      Skip the group effort…because there’s rarely anyone around to group with when you need to get that done. Or least have it scalable. That is, more players that shows up, the more difficult it becomes. But I pretty much agree with everything else here.

    • Gordon says:

      I do agree it’s very strange why leveling has become trivialised given how important is it to the structure of MMOs! What’s even more bizarre is how some games advertising faster leveling speed as a perk!

  9. vortal says:

    The leveling process should be harder, yet it shouldn’t feel like a chore, quests and dungeons should be integrated, and so should world PvP along with it. Being a PvE person myself I feel the lack of early game Dungeon content being enjoyed by the people around me to be appalling. All those stunning early game Dungeons need as much attention as the end game raids. Personally if MMOs were to integrate all of their design elements along with their leveling process and allow this to scale progressively to become more epic deeds and accomplishments then this genre of game has a bright future indeed.

    • vortal says:

      So in the essence endgame will be the content that is experienced at the end of your journey no different than anything else you encountered just scaled to be a bit harder, bigger, more epic and requiring more assistance from others. Larger story lines but should stay true to everything else throughout the journey as previously mentioned.

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t necessarily think leveling should be harder but it should certainly be a big focus of a game. In MMO likes EQ2, I loved leveling up more than anything because of the content. Open, mid-level dungeons such as as Runnyeye were amazing fun… so much better than grinding instances at level 80 or whatever.

  10. Azuriel says:

    That will never happen as long as other MMO devs continue to enjoy money.

    Fixed that for you.

    Besides, these companies already have your money. Making things harder might improve your gameplay, but it certainly is not going to attract new customers – as Chilton has said, there are more ex-WoW players than WoW players, and they are more interested in (re)capturing the former than retaining the latter. And it makes perfect business sense.

  11. Quartiz says:

    You have to be kidding? Leveling up is the most boring gring I can imagine. It’s also extremely solo:ish. Raiding demands skill, friends and focus.

    You really want to substitute raiding for some egotistical version of a solo game?

    End game content = 99% of the game. If you want leveling up – go solo games. They will ALWAYS be much better since you can change entire worlds completley sice there is only 1 player.

    MMO is all about the end game. Nothing else matters.

  12. Syl says:

    Is there even such a thing as ‘endgame’ in a game where the leveling up process has become a bothersome and trivial afterthought?

  13. Telwyn says:

    I miss open world group content in WoW more than anything. The idea that a group of friends could do some quests together without it being laughibly easy. GW2 might be the first game for a long time that gives that dynamic.

    For me the ‘journey’ is everything, gear grinds are pointless and raiding is not for me (I game to relax, not to perform). But I want to share that journey with friends and not just group up at cap!

    • Gordon says:

      Everquest 2 was an excellent example of a game will brilliant, and reasonably challenging, open world dungeons. Unfortunately they switched to instancing everything which was a real shame. I could never understand why.

  14. Sres says:

    I’ve had a similar article festering over on my blog for a couple of weeks now and I’m in the same boat as you with regards the restrictive path of Rift by Trion.

    Hope to have it posted tonight as my article comes more from an EQ2/SWTOR view than WoW.

  15. smakendahed says:

    I enjoy the leveling aspect for the experience and entertainment provided. Blizzard has shifted WoW more towards a cinematic interaction rather than requiring people to read the quest text mainly because most people just clicked Accept. It weakened the experience, you have to give them some credit for changing this.

    Yes, it’s much easier to do, but it’s also more fun than it previously was.

    Endgame? Once you hit the level cap and have collected all the abilities available to your class the only thing remaining is gear. This is definitely weak, so Blizzard ties it to defeating raid content. Other companies (like Trion) do the same but Blizzard gives alternatives to non-raiders.

    Grinding for gear isn’t fun, but I do enjoy the 10 man raid environment. It’s close knit and we do have a lot of fun. Sometimes we have to PUG spots (we keep the number of raiders close to 10) and they usually end up applying afterwards. Oh, and we only raid five hours a week. No need to sell your soul to a game or have a second life.

    I find MMOs are more fun depending on who you play with – endgame or not. Even the dreadful grind in EQ was made to be fun because I was playing with friends (a set group so we never had to waste time LFG which could be quite painful).

  16. Utakata says:

    From little I’ve experienced RIFT, I can understand the issue with having two linear lines of leveling threw content becoming pretty boring and stagnent. Especially when we’ve been so blessed with multiple starting and leveling zones that WoW had to offer. But I suspect from Trion’s point of view that the randomely spawning rifts and invasions which is very non-linear and unpredictable, makes up for it. And so far it’s not something I can sleep walk threw, unlike leveling in WoW currently.

  17. cdn says:

    Right now we have this bastardized leveling system that does nothing but irritate everyone – endgame-oriented people see it as obstacle to be vaulted over as quickly as possible, people who enjoy leveling find it over all to quickly.

    I think the raiding and dungeoneering games would be much better served if there were no levels at all. That, combined with a War or Rift-style PQ system could make everyone zone relevant for everyone.

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed. I’ve often wondered what a ‘traditional’ style fantasy MMORPG would look like without leveling. I don’t mean just making a sandbox game either but just something that’s flat and lets you raid from ‘level 1′.

  18. Stubborn says:

    I’ve been saying the same for a while now. I just got more and more fed up with the end game in WoW, LotRO, Fallen Earth, and so on until I finally realized what I needed/wanted to do: level a character of each class in wow to 85. I’ve been working on that since.

    The obsession that takes over at end game, the scrutiny, the stress – I just find it not to be worthwhile any more. I don’t like being victimized by others due to the pressure, and, worse, I don’t like being mean to others due to it. There’s virtually no exploration, there’s no real character progression, story, for the most part, disappears, and all that you’re asked to do is play more: more efficiently, more geared, more commitment both in and out of the game – more.

    So, long story short, I’m with you, pal.

    • Gordon says:

      Of course. But I guess I just find something fun about messing around at low level. Something WoW is very good – at least I think so – is giving you a strong sense of character identity. Newer games, like RIFT, fail at this.

  19. Roy says:

    It a lot like a unplanned road trip. Its not the final destination. matter of fact the final destination is usually a bit of a let down. It’s the journey, the fight to get there that matters

  20. Rinvan says:

    I really like the leveling in both LOTRO & WOW. The end game gear grind in both games is is pure torture.

  21. Bronte says:

    Six years of WoW, and you have already gone obsolete in your gear 13 times (14 if you count Dungeon set 1). I wonder sometimes why endgame reward is only limited to what yoru character can wear or acquire, and not other perks, such as for your guild, or group buffs, or battlefield advantages…

  22. [...] Maybe the problem is that I’ve been reading too many MMO blogs, like Scary, and finding myself frustrated with the general feeling of “meh” that seems to pervade the interwebs. Maybe I’m looking for fun choices in MMOs, like Nils, and realizing that all I get at the end of the day is a grindfest, like Gordon. [...]

  23. dresdor says:

    This is why I want an MMO with one of two “levelling” mechanics:

    1. a Skill based system like SWG; where you could respec whenever you wanted by regrinding skill boxes.


    2. A skill based system where skills increased as you used them with a soft cap created by making the next level of the skill increase exponentially (like Entropia Universe but without the casino).

    Both of these circumvent the need for an end-game (with a sandbox world).

  24. Typhon says:

    I find the article a bit funny as it basically choose to trash one game in favor of another. In EQ2’s defense it should be noted it has a very strong player supported community that helps one enjoy the game past leveling, and you can make even supposed junk armor appearance stuff with them pretty easy now. Even there level cap was increased recently.

    A few other MMOs are trying to follow this idea and working pretty good at it as well. The only one that seems to ignore this demand that players want seems to be WoW which in recent years lot alot of players in favor of those games. Something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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  26. JohnR says:

    Well said man. I know I’m a bit late to this discussion (well, several years late ;) , but your comments struck more than a few chords with me from my experiences in swtor and GW2, especially swtor. Concerning swtor, I’ve never seen a game so full of people always in a rush to finish stuff and get to level cap. On a related note, I think I’m one of the few players who doesn’t have sprint on full time. lol

    In fact the devs seems to support this attitude, what with the relatively recent 12X experience boost to class story quests for subscribers. Granted this is a good way to experience different class stories without having to repeat content you’ve already done, but the down side is that you are likely to find yourself very short on cash for much of that truncated journey, and as everyone knows, when you talk late game gear and vanity items you’re talking expensive. But I digress.

    Still in all considering Bioware’s mostly excellent storytelling in swtor, I really believe that the fun in the game is meant to be found in the journey, not the destination, and it’s a shame really that more players don’t seem to ken that. If anyone has doubts, they need look no further than the millions Bioware spent on the the fully-voiced story content.

    Concerning GW2, the interesting thing about that game is that the end is not at level cap, but rather once you’ve full explored all of Tyria. After that, however, you are faced with the usual theme park mmo choices of raiding, PvP, recurring events, or rolling another alt. To be fair though, I’ve found the leveling experience in GW2 to be quite enjoyable, and to that end have rolled and re-rolled numerous alts.

    Concerning endgame content, I really think that is something of a myth; a sugar-coating of the grind treadmill. I’ve always thought the rinse and repeat raiding was an unsatisfactory end game activity, and would argue that the only valid endgame content to be found is in sandbox mmo’s like EVE Online. Speaking of sandbox mmo’s, time was when the major publishers were skittish about spending money developing mmo sandboxes, but maybe that is slowly beginning to change. A good discussion for another time.

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