All of this in response to a lot of people saying that they don't want to raid -- all of this so thoroughly missing the point of that statement.
This is one of those hurdles a lot of designers can't seem to conceptually get over. World of Warcraft's design team has had years of people saying this, and every response from the team has been missing the point so completely that it's almost absurd. I don't want to raid, at all, ever. End of discussion.
I'm picking on World of Warcraft here because it has the longest history of doing this. But there are a lot of other games making the same mistakes. Star Wars: The Old Republic, to my mind, was crippled out of the launch gate because its only endgame option was raiding... and in the wake of tepid player response, the game launched more raids. It's like opening another restaurant five feet away from McDonald's with the same menu and food quality but different decor. This does not work.
While exact numbers are hard to come by, there's an (admittedly) slightly outdated analysis over on MMO Champion that points out amidst analysis of data that the current endgame model is aimed at almost no one. This is in a game where raiding has been made easier and easier and easier. Raiding in World of Warcraft right now by the strictest definition solely requires you to get into the LFR queue and wait.
As it turns out, most of the people opted for that, and they opted for that because they did not like the old model. Hitting brick walls in content isn't fun. Setting up raid nights weeks in advance, tuning your performance, mastering a skill rotation -- all of these are fun for an extremely small percentage of players. The current model doesn't cater to anyone except the most minute portion of the total playerbase.
And this is with millions of subscribers. One percent of 8 million still shakes out to 80,000 players. Whom are you catering to if your game has half a million subscribers?
This isn't a fault of needing something to do at endgame; this is the fault of people making conscious decisions. Despite the fact that it may be treated as such, there is no equation governing physics that requires big group content to be the most difficult part of a game. There's not even a requirement for it to be present. Raids are not the hardest part of the game because they have to be; they are the hardest and only real endgame system because designers sat down and decided that should be the case.
Why? Well, in short, it worked really well for a long while as a business model. It kept players in the game. Keep progress slow enough and players stick around for the longer term. But as time goes by, people aren't as willing to bang their heads against content they don't enjoy and overcome a challenge that is mainly challenging because it's a huge social commitment.
And an awful lot of games seem to be trying to lure me in with the promise that "their raids are different, really" instead of with the promise that I will not be asked to do something I don't find fun. I've mentioned several times in my column about WildStar that the game's increasing emphasis on raiding as the endpoint is worrisome because that's the same old thing on a different day. Having options for what to do at the level cap isn't worth a hill of beans if there's only one option considered a realistic endpoint.
"Oh, but what else can be done for an endgame?" Oh, I don't know...
Have a very loose advancement system focused on objectives over content. City of Heroes did this well with the Incarnate system, Merits, and the Invention system. Star Trek Online similarly offers you some points of advancement that can be worked toward in a more casual fashion. Both strongly emphasize options over straight power most of the time, and there's a real sense that you advance by doing the stuff you had fun doing for the rest of the game anyway.
Create an endgame that allows you to pick and choose pieces of it as your focus. Final Fantasy XI had an amazingly broad endgame at its old level cap of 75, with everything from raids and stories to small-group fights being viable as an advancement technique. Final Fantasy XIV borrows from that by giving players several different things to do while including a currency system that encourages playing the content you want and leaving the rest to one side. The big raid-style content in that game is the Binding Coil of Bahamut, which I've never run, but I've always had plenty to do without it.
Keep the endgame as a fundamental extension of the existing game. Guild Wars 2, by and large, never really steps away from the leveling game. Sure, you aren't going up in levels any longer past a certain point, but you're still gaining experience, filling out achievements, and getting stuff. You can be as involved or uninvolved in instances as you'd like from level 1-80 and beyond. Guild Wars does much the same thing with a very limited power ceiling. I understand it's changed a bit since then, but when I played The Secret World, there was a very real sense that leveling was just something that happened rather than something with a defined endpoint.
All of this isn't even getting into games like EVE Online, which have very different structures from the beginning. They're not really relevant to the discussion at hand, but even so, they're worth pointing out as evidence that the raiding endgame is not the only possible system in place.
If you want to make a game that caters to the small percentage of people who like this raiding environment, by all means, do so. Just like making a game that caters to people who really enjoy full-loot open-world PvP, you're making a niche title, but if the niche can support you, great.
But if you're not making that, stop trying to get me to raid. Just stop. Stop offering me bigger rewards, stop shoving me further off to one side with each content update, stop trying to make it easier for me to raid until I start liking it. I don't. I've done it. No matter how large you make the carrot or the stick, I'm not going to enjoy raiding.
I don't want to raid. I'm not the only one. Trying to tell me I like it just makes me less inclined to bother with your game.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!