End Game: The Epic Hamster Wheel
We put wheels in a hamster's cage to give it chance at exercise.
If all a hamster did all day was eat those little food pellets and
sleep, it'd grow very fat and die. For the same reason we put wheels in
a hamster cage, massively-multiplayer online game (MMO) developers put
raid encounters in their games. Without raid encounters, players would
chew through the food pellets that are levels and become fat from lack
of challenge. Eventually, the MMO company would feel the sting of the
subscription death that comes from a stagnant end game. This metaphor
of the hamster wheel is easy enough to grasp, but what is the best way
to implement it? Normally, only a handful of hamsters reside in the
same cage with the wheel. They seldom have to wait long for a shot at
the wheel. In most MMOs, players cohabitate with a couple thousand
other subscribers in the same server/shard. The wait for the raid
encounters can really turn off a player. It's somewhat like the hamster
saying, "I can never get a shot at the wheel, so I just won't
exercise." Let's explore different ways to handle the end game.
The oldest method of dealing with end game content in MMOs is to leave
everything as a free-for-all. In the capitalistic American way of life,
a free-for-all is a common concept. The ideology embraces the concept
that not every hamster should have a turn on the wheel. Only those who
are fit enough to fight for the space will get a go. This echoes
Charles Darwin's concept of natural selection; nature automatically
separates the finest creatures and allows them to prosper through the
For MMOs, natural selection means that guilds with the best
organization, the most amount of time to dedicate to gaming, and the
right combination of classes will have the best chance to succeed at a
raid encounter. Once the guild has achieved success, they loot from the
raid encounter makes the players better equipped, and their chances of
success increase. This is akin to a stronger hamster fighting it way to
the wheel and becoming stronger because of the exercise it gets on the
wheel. We end up with super hamsters (those who have been able to get
tot he wheel) and runts (those who have not gotten to the wheel). The
positives of this setup are that it creates a (hopefully) positive
sense of competition in the community and rewards those who are the
best of the best. The unfortunate side effect is that several paying
customers feel gypped out of a chance to experience something grand.
While the hamsters cannot go live in someone else's cage, MMO
subscriptions can go to another game. Think of it as a sort of rule of
therMMOdynamics: Subscriptions cannot be destroyed; they are
transferred from one game to another,
Everyone's a Snowflake
The unfortunate side effects of the natural selection method to
handling the end game led MMO developers to conceive of another path:
everyone's a snowflake. This translates to instanced raid encounters
and is like having one wheel and one cage for each hamster. The
snowflake method ensure that all MMO subscribers get an equal shot at
raid encounters by creating a special one-shot instance of the
scenario. It encourages all players to reach the level cap and try
something challenging. The goal is foster a sense of fair treatment and
eliminate the perception of "Haves vs. Have Nots" created by the
natural selection method.
For MMOs, the snowflake method means that every guild with talented
players can succeed at raid encounters. This translates to all hamsters
getting stronger through exercise on the wheel. We end up with all
willing hamsters becoming super hamsters. Only those who do not wish to
try the wheel will become runts. Positives for this method are that
everyone is happy, everyone feels catered to, and no one has to move a
subscription to access the end game. What's wrong with the snowflake
setup is that MMO developers must learn to feed a breed of super
hamsters. Players will eat through raid content as fast as it is
patched into the game. They'll need stronger monsters in order to feel
challenged, and they'll want it sooner than possible. Additionally, a
culture where everyone is a superhero detracts from the sense of
accomplishment that comes with tackling raid encounters.
The Space Between
Some companies try to mix and match the above methods or throw in
wrinkles to the formula to compensate for the pitfalls of whichever
method they use. Some make a world based on natural selection that
culminates in a snowflake end game. Others make a purely snowflake
world. Raid monsters live on timers in many games: they style="font-style: italic;">might be there when you arrive, or
they might not. To
compensate, guilds find ways to get low level "spies" to the dungeon to
"camp" for the spawn. To combat camping, games might use a quest--a
puzzle or collection of items, perhaps--to spawn the monster. Then the
most organized guilds learn to spawn the monster in cycles by having
multiple members ready to complete the quest at any time. Even the
instanced raid encounters often have timers of some sort on them these
days. Maybe players can only complete the quest once every so many
days. It doesn't matter; the most organized guilds still find a way
around the system.
It seems MMO developers cannot agree on the best method to handle the
end game. EverQuest 2 and href="http://wow.tentonhammer.com/">World of Warcraft launched
around the same time with open worlds that featured instanced
encounters. My favorite MMO, Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO)
launched with fully instanced game play. The upcoming Lord of the Rings
Online will copy the formula established by EverQuest 2 and World of
will use the old-school free-for-all with some added twists. But what
really is the best way to do it?
It's time for you to solve the
mysteries of MMO development once again!
IN OUR POLL!
What is the best way to handle the end game?
- Survival of the fittest baby! Natural selection separates
gamers from the pretenders.
- I'm a snowflake! I'm a snowflake! All paying customers
deserve a shot
at raid encounters.
- Give us a little of both. Make some raids open with others
- Try something completely different (explain).
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited Game Page.