The Virgin Worlds article talks about growing frustration, subsequent bouts of alt-itis, and finally discontinuation of play well before the “end-game”, resulting from reaching the point where “I no longer feel that I can make progress in a typical gaming session”, a period of about 2 hours for the writer.
At MMORPG.com, the writer of the editorial states “a long-running problem I have in massive online games is my inability to stick with one character. I like to try everything, sample every class and combination… this has held me back in the traditional treadmill games”
Here you have an “Achiever” perspective and an “Explorer” perspective, both largely admitting (paraphrasing here) that the “end-game” is usually a waste of effort on the devs part as far as they are concerned… they never see it. Additionally, the comments following both posts are largely supportive as well: “You’re not alone”, “Can I get an Amen!”, and so on.
I’m not going to go into the larger question of whether or not this is something that actually needs to be “fixed”. I personally think it is a problem, but others might well disagree. Instead, starting with the assumption this situation is something that it is determined to be desirable to “fix”, how might one go about it? Here are some of my thoughts…
Multiple reward systems
Multiple reward systems enables multiple avenues by which the player can obtain the feeling of having made progress. Maybe they didn’t gain that level, but they obtained an interesting new contact and finished off a long-running story arc. Maybe they didn’t get the cash, but they got the skill points. Curtain #1 perhaps wasn’t as good as Curtain #2, but it was something.
Noticeable, but highly targetted, improvements
Many games use a scattershot approach in terms of applying improvements to the character, particularly level-based systems as implemented today. The additions are both sizable and multi-faceted: new abilities, more hit points, more damage, better chance to hit, better chance to avoid being hit, and so on and so forth, all at once.
Spreading such improvements out over multiple “advancement events”, allows you to have more such events without perverting the typical competency advancement curve even more than is customary at present.
Allow multiple playstyles on a single character (not _force_, allow)
There is no reason a mage could not have a rudimentary ability to sneak. There is no reason a warrior could not learn a few basic shielding spells for use in a pinch. There is no reason a thief couldn’t have a little divine favor packed away for a sticky situation.
None of these “archetypes” should ever be as competent in those side endeavors as the true specialist, but allowing a little cross-pollenation is not going to destroy the universe as we know it… and it allows the player to at least taste all the flavors of your creation without having to abandon all effort invested thus far.
Open-ended reward systems
I am not a big fan of the entire “end-game” concept to begin with… it just seems rather silly. You want me to play Game A for a few months, until I reach some arbitrary level of achievement, and then I’ll be forced to switch to Game B? If I like Game A, why would I want to switch? If I like Game B, why do I have to endure Game A first?
IMO, if you are going to have advancement as a major goal of play in your game, then it really should be allowed to continue to be a goal for the entire experience, from first login to account cancellation. It should also remain quite possible to obtain notable advancement given a reasonable amount of time in play… let’s use a couple of hours of dedicated effort as a rule of thumb, for example.
After all, if players are cancelling from disenchantment with your processes before they even hit your various caps… really, how likely are they to stick around once actually they do hit it, and slow achievement becomes none?
“There are a few provisos, a couple quid-pro-quos…” (Aladdin, 1992)
None of the above can be achieved in a vacuum. Trying to just take the above concepts and graft them on to a prototypical DikuMUD is doomed to failure. The newbiest noob that ever did newb can come up with a half-dozen “but then THIS will happen” scenarios under those conditions (cue the ominous blast of organ music).
Each of the above reinforces the other, and every point above has it’s own special challenges. If you allow multiple playstyles on single character, but have capped advancement, the time will come when all characters can do everything, and every character is like every other. If you have multiple reward systems, they all need to have value to nearly every style of play.
The system that attempts to implement the above needs to be designed from the outset with those goals in mind. My dream design is actually one attempt to do exactly that, as you might have guessed. I’m sure there are others have approached the concept from different angles… it’s hardly a new complaint, after all.
The sermon ends. Any comments from the choir?