Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Grind Moar, or Welcome to the Endgame

I couldn't help but take a look at my leaving thread to see what people had to say. It's only natural. You don't put something out there on a forum, or blog, without hoping that people will read it, think about what you've said, and perhaps give some feedback. Anyone who says they post for themselves is a liar- that's what diaries are for. We are all attention whores here in cyberspace!

It won't be a gigantic revelation when I say there seems to be two schools of thought regarding MMO endgames. The endgame, which seems to be a mandatory element in any game nowadays, provides something for people to reach for- a goal to be attained. This system of rewards is built into many games and follows the same format all the way through. You are rewarded for completing tasks, and given gear and other shiny trinkets in small amounts until you finally reach that worthy goal and can join the exalted many in the land where dreams come true.... the endgame. Then, by god, you have made it. You are one of the ascended and the good times can begin.....or can they?

I have long been an outspoken critic of the endgame in that it creates a system of exclusionism, and elitism and takes away from the overall enjoyment of the game itself. Why rush through the 'game' just to get to the 'endgame'? The current format of most games follows this cookie-cutter build and the marketing and psychology behind it is fairly obvious.

People like rewards. Rewards keep us interested, and motivated, and in a game-setting that means we spend cash. It isn't very different from gambling and I won't be surprised when they eventually come out with the studies that show gaming "addiction" and/or people who play for extended periods of time (like me) show simlar behavioral and psychological makeup of gambling addicts. I actually love gambling and it's one of the reasons I don't go to casino's. Failing in an online MMO battle is one thing... losing at blackjack with real cash quite another (or so She Who Will Be Named Later insists).

Whew! That kind of hurt my brain for some reason.....

In any case, I was pleased to see that in general the response to my leaving was a healty debate on the state of the clan and where WoT specifially is at the moment. It was apparent that a couple people completely missed the point, but that's okay. Not everyone knows me, and written communication is hard on two fronts: what we wish to say doesn't always come out clearly, and when we read our understanding of the meaning is filtered through our own interpretative process. There were one or two who seemed to think it was a lack of general activity (due to summer holidays and such) that made me unhappy wheras what I said was:

"...the clan no longer resembles that which I joined and the community spirit and feeling that once was, for me, is no more."
And:
"The "looking for platoon" channel became a barren wasteland as everyone hid away in their own divisional channels (initially created for clan-wars communication) which became virtual club-houses that imposed an intimidating barrier to socializing."

It was not that there was a lack of activity- it was where the activity was taking place (in secret club houses) and, yes, the 'type' of activity. One comment that my leaving was a "failure to find a group that matched my goals" was completely right. I'm certainly going to miss you Pskov and not just because you're Canadian! Pskov has retired from tanks and can be found most days puffing on his pipe in the Shire in Lord of The Rings Online......hmmmmmm, that may have come out wrong but I'm sure you get my meaning.

Back to the point: the way in which players see the endgame and how it should be approached falls into two general categories.

Those who approve of, and enjoy the system:
"'Grinding' is something we all have to do and experience comes with not only being on the winning side but also on the losing side as well. It takes a lot of time and commitment to reach the higher tiers and those who have got there and are still with the clan have done so through their own hard work. It's not impossible to do but it takes time,some people a bit longer than others, myself included. When you do finally roll out in your top tier tank ,whatever it may be, you'll know that you have earned your place amongst them and they'll respect you for it. Like life itself..'nobody said it would be easy' and only you can decide which road you take. Me, well I'm getting my head down cos I don't want just 'one' I want to get a few of those high tier tanks and I'll grind away till 2012 if that's what it takes to join those guys at the top."
And those who do not:
"CW's in WoT= End Game Raiding in the a-typical theme park MMO.

That's the analogy I've been looking at ever since the WoT CW's revolving door started to spin.

End game (I really despise the term tbh) stuff that requires that you must be "this tall" to ride, and has a carrot to chase has always seemed to be a recipe for unhappiness for a lot of people. There is a reason I quit playing main stream MMO's, because they've all become cookie-cutters with the same M.O= Level up, raid for gear. It's a recipe for drama and high turnover within guilds/clans that participate in the system."

I couldn't come up with a better way to illustrate my point if I tried! The two posts illustrate that some people see the end-game as a worthy goal worth working toward , and others see it as an exclusionary device that creates unahppiness. What's to be done? How do you please everyone, and is it even possible?

I keep coming back to this time, and time again: Guild Wars. In terms of MMO's I feel that GW struck a decent balance. The PVE 'end-game' could be attained once you reached maximum level (20) and consisted of doing the same thing over again (genearlly) only this time it was harder and there were better rewards (similar to Diablo II). The game itself followed a story line with instanced missions which cut down on the 'gather 10 rancid garter belts from virgin Troll brides during the lunar eclipse on Devil's Moutain' quests which make me want to cry (and the reason I hate pve in its current form).

In Guild Wars PVP was easy in that you could just roll a pvp-only character at max level with max gear and get to it. In this way the pvp was balanced: everyone had the same chance and it was tactics, teamwork, and skill that made the difference. They also offered a variety of battles in which random matches were only one.

World of Tanks has no pve content, and you could argue that clan wars- which uses only top-tiered tanks which have identical gear (generally)- levels the playing field and thus the tactics, and skills of the players do make the difference. WoT's greatest failing at the moment is that it only offers, as an alternative to this end-game, 15 v 15 random matches which, at times, make me want to gouge my eye out with a splintered, wooden spoon soaked in iodine.

I'm going to leave off here for now and return to this subject in another post (WoT, not gouging my eye out).

So while I have your attention (and I must if you're reading this!) I'd like to ask what you think of the end-game formula that most games are using? Is it fun? Do you rush the level cap, or take your time?

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