I’m sure I told you all that a few weeks ago, my SWTOR Operative hit level 60 and finished up the final storyline from the latest expansion. At that point there was a great sense of accomplishment and elation as I announced it to my guild, which had to feign enthusiasm for someone doing something they had already done many, many months ago (but they’re awesome like that, so I got a few all-caps GRATS! and one muffin gift basket).
Then I sat back, and as the glow of the achievement started to fade, I felt the cold claws of anxiety scrabble at the back of my neck.
Now what? Now what, mister gamer? You’re in my world now. You’re in the ENDGAME. MUAHAHAHAHA. You should shave the back of your neck, you know.
We often mention “the wall” that MMO gamers sometimes hit (depending on the game in question) when the level cap is reached, and I’ve lost count of similar anecdotes from other players who felt lost, disillusioned, and even depressed when they reach what is promised to be the meat of the game’s content. Instead, it ends up being like you’ve arrived at some large party where everyone’s been there for a lot longer than you have and understand all of the weird social mores that aren’t explained to you and the conversation has way, way too many acronyms referring to places and things that are outside of your sphere of knowledge.
That’s not fun. That makes me want to run screaming and jump back into the MMO womb to be reborn as an alt rather than suss out what I need to do at this new stage.
And as much as I am a smart person who can figure things out if time and effort is applied, I think we need to dispel the notion that it’s on us to figure out what to do and how to play in the endgame. MMOs have traditionally been lousy at providing direction, instructions, and tools for this portion of the game, and I think it’s because the devs assume that (a) players will have figured it out on their own and (b) players will come up with their own guides for other players. That feels lazy and irresponsible to me.
Here’s what I’d like to see happen more in MMOs:
1. Integrate “leveling” and “endgame” activities so that they aren’t separate, untouching spheres of gameplay, but naturally flow from one to the next. What I’ve been doing during the game so far should be what I continue doing at the cap, just perhaps on a deeper level or with a twist. There shouldn’t be a bait-and-switch at endgame.
2. Don’t introduce the EPIC WALL OF GRIND at endgame because you assume that endgamers have nothing better to do and all of the time in the world in which to do it. You know what? We do have a choice. We can reroll or quit your game. In fact, why not be OK with the idea of us rerolling and perhaps offer us added incentives or new ways to do it?
3. Provide a clear tutorial or guide with all of the endgame options and then keep that tutorial available for players. Why MMO studios think that we only need tutorial notices for the first ten levels and then never past that, I have no idea. I’ve only ever seen one endgame tutorial window — Marvel Heroes, in case you’re wondering — and that made me wonder why we aren’t getting more of them.
Tell us what there is to do. Show us where you go to do them. If there are new or more complex systems, then for the love of Pete, spell them out for us. We don’t all live on the forums or exist in pro-raider guilds that can pick up the slack for a lack of information on the studio’s behalf.
4. If there is — heaven forbid — some long, grindy progression system at the endgame, then the very least you could do is give players a checklist in the game to help us keep track of where we are and what needs to be done. After all, this is what the game has done consistently so far with the quest tracker, etc. You have the technology. Use it.
5. Create an officially supported newbie endgame channel. No, the burden of doing so shouldn’t have to fall on the playerbase to cover up for your oversight (TSW’s noobmares channel comes to mind). New endgamers come around all of the time; don’t assume that everyone at cap has been there for ages.
6. If you can’t get a regular pace of new content out to players who are sitting at the cap, then create and release PGC tools so that the community can do that.