Now don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing custom interfaces or your magical map coordinates. I don't use them because they don't float my boat, but I can see the appeal to them. It's easier to yell out "61,21" rather than explain to someone where things are in the game, because typing out "North of Fairbreeze Village" is an intensive process. (So they tell me, at least.)
What I am getting at is how people define what the "game" is anymore and how that definition may actually be crippling game play at a fundamental level. For many players of the MMO community, the "game" truly begins when you reach the level cap and can go off to either PvP or raid or do whatever it is you do at the end game.
While this definition may be true and perhaps the best content is during the endgame, what happened to the whole journey? What happened to the bulk of your play time -- the standard first level to max level content? What happened to "the game." We've left the game in the dust, just because we'd rather see the end than enjoy the journey there.
Let's pretend for a moment and say we're all game designers for Blizzard. We're going to make a new game that only centers on what people talk about on blogs and forums and think is the most extreme part of the game, namely PvP and raiding, and call it World of Endgame (TM). To make the game, we're going to remove all the parts of World of Warcraft that just aren't necessary to endgame, remove all the monsters and quests that are no longer necessary, and give everyone who plays the game a free, epic level 70 character to raid and PvP to their heart's content. Now no one has to level and grind, and everyone can enjoy the best parts of the game without trying.
No longer do you need to use frivolous programs like QuestHelper to shave off time to level! Even better, you don't have to level anymore! Isn't it brilliant?
If you detected sarcasm in that last line, you were dead on. And, if you think my idea to create World of Endgame (TM) sounds really boring and lame, then you are absolutely correct. A game built like that just can't be fun. It's short, it's pointless, and it's vanilla. You can't have an epic ending without an epic journey to accompany it. It's like saying "Frodo throws the ring into Mount Doom," to your friend and expecting him to understand the brilliance and epic qualities of The Lord of the Rings -- it's not going to happen.
So, we have identified a problem with our culture. Skipping through the actual game just to get to the end does not make for a better or more fun experience. Using QuestHelper to do the motions for you does not lead to more fun being had on quests. If you're a reader of Anti-Aliased, you know what's coming next. Yes, that's right, it's the suggested solution.
First and foremost, we as players need to understand that there's just as much fun, if not more, during the journey through the world of an MMO than there is at the end. While the battles may be ten times more epic at the end, it does not mean that they are better battles than the ones you may encounter during your mid-level or low-level experience.
"But Colin," I hear you beginning already, "Some of these MMOs are just grindtastic messes! How can we have fun during those types of game when all we're doing is killing the same monsters over and over again?"
It's because some games are just made like that. Some of our MMOs are just not fun during the journey, and that's because the developers sat down with the same mindset the players have -- endgame is everything. So, the blame for this crisis isn't just on the players, but it's on the shoulders of the developers as well.
Developers and designers need to make their game fun first and foremost. Forget balance, forget timewasting reputation grinds, and forget the necessity of an epic endgame. Make your game fun to play! Tell a story, show off your world, create memorable characters and plotlines!
This is the part of World of Warcraft that so many people just glaze over when they talk about it. Leveling in that game is fun because you can run across questlines that span a pretty intense storyline, and they're not even endgame quests. Alliance players certainly can recall "The Legend of Stalvan" questline, or perhaps "The Embalmer" quests with Abercrombie the Hermit. Tirion Fordring's "Of Love and Family" anyone?
Things are not all bleak on the horizon of MMOs, though. Warhammer Online is looking to create fun experiences in all of their zones through the use of public quests that function like miniature pick-up raids. They're even going so far to redefine the experience of being in cities through the use of their "living cities" idea -- areas of the city opening and closing and characters appearing and disappearing as the state of the war changes. These concepts create the anchor of gameplay, and perhaps people may begin to understand that they can have just as much fun at lower levels as they can at higher ones.
Just remember, you play the game to have fun. Fun should never be restricted by level.
Colin Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who loves to have himself a cup full of fun during MMO gameplay. When he's not writing here for Massively, he's over running Epic Loot For All! with his insane roommates. If you want to message him, you can do so in Second Life (SL: Seraphina Reymont), or send him an e-mail at colin.brennan AT weblogsinc DOT com.