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MMOGology: End game means game over for casual players

Marc Nottke

At long last I finally hit level 70 in World of Warcarft! Thank you, thank you! I know many of you out there probably hit 70 a month or two after the launch of Burning Crusade (almost a year ago), but being the alt-a-holic and casual player that I am, this was a significant accomplishment for me. I never achieved maximum level in Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, or City of Heroes because I've always had a limited amount of time to devote to gaming; typically an hour or two a night. By the time I was midway through playing those other games, a new game came along and stole my attention. World of Warcraft is the only MMOG I've played where I've hit the maximum level, and now I've hit it twice. A little over a year ago I hit 60 and enjoyed several months at the top of the food chain before Burning Crusade was released and added another 10 levels of questing and grinding. In any case, maxing level is a big accomplishment for a casual player like myself.

So at level 70 I'd accumulated enough gold to buy my flying mount, and for the next few nights I flew all over the Outlands. I had fun getting shot down by fell cannons and torched by dragons in areas that I discovered were apparently no-fly zones. But after the shiny newness of flight began to wear off I realized I was beginning to get the same feeling I had when I finally hit 60. Now what? I know for most people, hitting max level means the fun part finally starts. You can finally go after the great gear, do all the fun raids and engage in end game PvP like arena combat. As a casual player though, I've started to realize that end game content means even more of a time commitment than leveling up did. And for a casual player like myself, that might just mean game over.

One of the main things I've noticed with end game content is that the increase in required time is a different allocation of time altogether. When leveling up you can spread your time out over many real-world days. Most of the content I'm trying to access now requires more time spent during a single play session. Another reason I'm finding the end-game difficult is that, with the exception of PvP and rep-grinding, end-game content is heavily focused on large group content. Large groups typically mean lots of waiting around: waiting for the group to form, waiting for the group to get to the instance location, waiting for bathroom breaks, disconnections, someone's kid waking up and barfing, etc.

Even trying to finish up quest chains at 70 has become challenging. Some of the longer group quest chains I've been on have been almost impossible because I can't find anyone to group with. For example, I'm trying to complete a chain of quests in Shadowmoon Valley and I'm currently on a quest called The Cipher of Damnation. This is a quest that requires five players near level 70 to complete. Each night for the past week I've logged in and asked for help in the general chat channel, the looking for group channel, and I've used the looking for group tool as well. It usually takes half an hour to an hour to get more than one or two people into my group. Then typically, people get tired of waiting and go PvP or get better offers on other quests or instances. I've only been able to attempt the quest with a group of four. We died. Repeatedly.

I'm sure this is where a good guild helps to alleviate the pain. Unfortunately for me, being a casual player makes finding a good guild that much harder. Many of the hardcore raiding guilds don't want you unless you're already attuned to the raid instance, already have decent gear, have alloted your talent points a certain way, and have hours to devote to raiding a dungeon. I don't have any of those things. Casual guilds, on the other hand, typically don't have enough players of the right level online at the same time to help out. I left a small, but great guild of close knit friends in search of a guild that could better meet my needs as a player. The guild I moved to has a large player base and is very active. Despite this, most of the level 70s are usually busy with other endeavors when I need help. I've had a few 70s help me in attempting to get attuned for Karazhan, but I've yet to see a full group of 70s in my guild run a 10 man like Zul'Aman. It's a catch 22. To get in an organized guild that regularly runs raid instances it seems like you already have to have the gear and attunement procedure completed. But how can you get the gear and complete the attunement quests when you don't have the help you need to get there? Never mind the fact that the content itself excludes casual play because of the time commitment.

Part of the reason why I'm having difficulty with grouping at 70 might be simply because I'm playing a hunter. We all know that hunters are a dime-a-dozen and aren't in high demand for raid groups. There are also plenty of other DPS choices to take on a raid. Yes, I have a degree of crowd control with my traps, but then, so does a mage with his sheep spell, or a warlock with his pet and his fears, or a rogue with his sap. It seems sort of unfair. Like most DPS classes, I know that hunters are one of the easier classes to level up, but why should any class be "punished" for that when the end of the game rolls around? Unless you're a protection warrior or a holy priest, it seems that you're not in demand. And one of the reasons why those classes aren't as common is because they're harder to level up. Doesn't that scream bad logic? It seems like a fundamental flaw in designing end-game content. But what can you do? If you're not a healer or a tank you're not in demand. To that end, I've also been working on a much more group friendly character; a druid. Healers are always in demand and I can also tank if need be, and cat form really helps to speed up the leveling process. Then again, I hear that gearing up a druid is even more difficult than a non-druid character because of the varied roles a druid plays. My level 54 druid is flying through the 50s thanks to rested XP combined with the XP boosts in patch 2.3. I just hope that when I hit level 70 I won't have the same hopeless, frustrated feeling that I do now with my hunter.

Have any of you experienced end-of-level blues like I am? Do you think it's possible to enjoy end game content as a causal player? Is the end game for other MMOGs different from my experience with WoW? Every second I spend sitting in front of my computer waiting for the that last crucial member of a party to participate in a raid or group quest is a minute I start thinking about all the other things I could be doing with my precious few moments of gaming time. I start thinking about going back to my level 30 hunter in Lord of the Rings Online or clocking in some time with Super Mario Galaxy. If MMOG developers want to keep their casual crowd, they're going to need to consider how to keep that crowd entertained once the player has maxed his level. If end game content excludes casual players because the time commitment exceeds a casual player's available time, then there's really nothing left to stick around for. If it weren't for my in-game friends I'd have already canceled my account.

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