It is interesting times for us MMO players. MoP has finally launched, putting an end to an excruciatingly long expansion wait time for many avid WoW players. At the same time there is GW2 now, that new MMO somewhere “between the themepark and the sandbox”. One month into its release there are finally solid gameplay experiences, allowing for more meaningful and informed discussions on more longterm and complex aspects of the game. Of course the big topic that was going to come up eventually is “endgame” and “casual vs. hardcore” and other vague definitions that are MMO blogger favorites.
My favorites too – but rather than starting at the beginning and rolling up my usual three-parts argument, I’ll jump into medias res and continue with comments I already left on other blogs dealing with the subject. Before I do that though, let there be no doubt that a) I consider conclusions on all sides to be vastly based on individual player expectations and b) I believe GW2 delivers on ANet’s promises. We haven’t all read the same previews and no doubt readers always project their own wishes into teaser articles; some were therefore completely focused on WvW, others on the continuation of GW’s story, others again were looking forward to a new approach to combat, group play or cooperation. Depending to which camp you belonged pre-launch, your one-month recap on GW2 is going to look very different.
But now let’s look at that endgame / progression “issue” GW2 supposedly has.
Why “endgame” is overrated
Syncaine is vastly disappointed in WvW so far and he’s not alone. And while he regards the “journey between lvl 1-80” in GW2 as quite great, the “endgame” after that is obviously absent and the game “therefore becomes pointless”. Needles to say, this is a very linear and progression-oriented way of looking at things in an MMO that does precisely not build up towards endgame and where leveling is more or less meaningless. The big problem I always perceived is ANet not being consequent enough about that lack of progression: while it’s a viable concept in theory, why oh why could they not just omit levels altogether and opt for a skillbased system? Why not make the world truly flat by abandoning zone levels and rather install different modes of mob difficulty overall? Right now, there’s an upsetting contradiction in the “open world feeling” they tried to create and it’s undermining a good intention.
Where I disagree with Syncaine mostly is not lack of endgame in GW2, but calling classic progression a “necessary feature” of MMOs by virtue of WoW:
supposedly need it [progression] by making comparisons to WoW of all games, which to
this day still has the biggest mass of casual gamers subscribed. Despite
WoW having endgame progression, the majority of wow players are in fact
not progression gamers. Hardcore raiders/pvpers are a very small part
of wow and always have been even if bloggers don’t realize it (most
bloggers are raiders or pvpers or have been). It’s players who are
alting, solo questing, collecting and crafting and looking forward to
pet battles, with the odd PuG run in the mix. Wow’s critical mass are
‘dwellers’ in love with Azeroth.” (Syl)
WoW is not successful in numbers because of “endgame”. Ironically, it was Syncaine’s neighbour Tobold, who recently pointed this out too: “I believe that people who read forums and blogs have a very wrong idea
how Blizzard is making money with World of Warcraft. The bread and
butter of Blizzard is not the people who rush through content, the
high-end raiding guilds, the elitist jerk theorycrafters, or the
bloggers and forum posters. Blizzard is making most of their money from
people like my wife, who was subscribed to WoW all the way through
Cataclysm, and was busy leveling alts.”
As much as raiders like to believe it, Azeroth was not built on their shoulders. WoW is absolutely fine without hardcores and progression-minded players and will be for a long time to come. By the same definition GW2 should be just fine too – but it’s still not going to be as popular as WoW for several reasons unrelated to progression (of which some but not all are included further down).
Neither progressive nor casual enough
One who is probably closer to GW2’s intended target audience, or at least at peace with the way things are in Tyria, is Bhagpuss – finally pointing out the effect of this mixed beast that is GW2 right now and some of the complexities in trying to identify the game as casual or hardcore by traditional standards. I commented as much in his latest article –
hardcore features that make even fans of the grindiest grind dizzy. It
has money scarcity and difficult dungeons that are a hell to pug. This
is not casual at all.
On the other hand, GW2 can be played without
the usual partying up hubbub, obviously it’s all 5man and there is no
classic endgame or progression. So here, it’s the progression kids
GW2 is in between the themepark and the sandbox, and
it is in between the casual and the hardcore. Casual players will find a
lot more accessibility and overall blingbling and variety of easy fun
in WoW. And hardcore kids don’t get the same chances on progressive
content and server pride than in WoW, either” (Syl)
With that in mind, what is GW2? And whom does it appeal to? I can only speculate by what I’m hearing from positive bloggers, close buddies and my own experiences. I think GW2 is casual when it comes to social dynamics but not in the sense of difficulty. It’s obviously aimed at a playerbase that is looking for changes in certain areas of the traditional MMO routine, but not in others – maybe it appeals most to fantasy MMO veterans who have made the switch from hardcore to more casual, but not trivial. I don’t think GW2 is for genre newcomers, any more than it is for raiders. Then there is the PvP focus which again appeals only to a very specific bracket. From that particular point of view, GW2 expands the variety of AAA+ MMOs you can currently choose from – and combined with its already 2mio sales success, that surely is a positive thing both for players and the market.
Mistaking genre for (inflexible) audience
I always considered the definition wars of “gamer vs. player” or what makes and breaks the “real MMO definition” completely futile. The genre is not what it was 8 years ago, and 8 years ago it was
not what it was 15 years ago when UO launched. I remember it like it was yesterday, when a not inconsiderable amount of vocal UO/EQ/DAoC veterans or so-called “MMO olschoolers”, were avidly mocking that new MMO on the block, World of Warcraft: that easily accessible, casual MMO full of loot,
easy gold and no proper punishments!
Ironically, 8 years later some of
the WoW “newschoolers” have become the “new oldschoolers”, now singing a very similar tune about GW2 because they cannot reconcile this new game with their personal idea of what MMOs are. The mocked have become the mocking and so the
cycle turneth. Nothing new under the sun.
|“Come such a long, long way.”|
I loved UO for opening up the world of MMOs to me (and letting you pwn noobs while being morphed into a chicken). UO was great and
also horrible in places. Then came WoW and I loved Azeroth for a very long
time. It was also horrible in places. WoW was no MMO revolution, it was
evolution. I’m completely in love with the things that GW2 does differently today – and no doubt one year from now I will talk about the horrible things
in it, too. All that makes me is an MMO player passionate about this genre –
yesterday, today and tomorrow. And I am not done yet by a long shot.
Chris elaborated on so beautifully, we can make peace with the fact that our first games will never return (including all related effects) or we cannot. It took me a while too, in fact it took me the greater parts of my blogging journey up to now. Along the line though I realized that I would hate missing out on all the good this genre still has to offer, just because my eyes are looking back rather than forward. If the MMO genre is truly in decline, then at the very least let it not be due to my own blindness and negative expectations. “Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread!” (source).
I love to dwell in fantastic worlds. If there’s one universally defining aspect for this genre at all, it’s that MMO worlds are created to be lived in, rather than be played through. GW2 has some gamey aspects for certain but its clear lack of endgame and progression, its attempts at a “flat” gameplay experience maybe more alike to Skyrim, emphasize this very oldschool virtue. Or as commented at Azuriel’s –
rather than MMO, are also those lamenting the lack of endgame. One
popular aspect of MMOs is that they make you want to ‘live there’ rather
than ‘play through’. and by that definition GW2 IS more MMO than all
the more progressive MMOs out there which are constantly under pressure
to deliver new content just so their progression- and linearity ridden
playerbase stays hooked. In a way I am glad GW2 is such a disappointment
to all these players right away, making it very clear already at low
level that things wont change from here. That way you don’t ‘waste’ so
much time before moving on or back to WoW.” (Syl)
I’ve written about a related topic before – the vicious cycle of linear content and developers raising a playerbase of hungry cookie monsters in need to feed at ever-increasing speed. All individual challenges and inconsistencies in GW2 aside, which it has at this current early state, I am grateful to ANet for treating their player base more like grown-ups, given little guidance from the very beginning. Don’t know what to do / where to go from here? Well, figure it out yourself!
If you find nothing, maybe it’s because there is nothing. Or maybe it’s because you couldn’t find it. I leave that up to you and whether MMOs really need to ensure a linear path and constant progression rather than just a rich world with cooperative opportunities. Summa summarum, I am incredibly happy GW2 is an MMO that I only ever log on to because I truly want to – and where all paths lie before me with no obvious concept where to go next. That, among several more things, is worth having. For me. For now.