The inevitability of end game

| Friday, October 22, 2010
Is it inevitable that an 'end game' will emerge or is it a conscious decision by the developers?

To start it is necessary to have a definition of end game.  In mmos this is easily seen as the content after the level cap. At this point the manner of progression changes. I will use that: dramatic and 'permanent' change in progression. Permanent is not permanently permanent due to expansions adding to level caps, but the idea stands that within this version of the game the manner of progression changes and does not revert unless you move on to a new version.  

Most games have some type of builfup of challenge and complexity. In a fps this can mean more weapons to use, new stronger enemies, and possibly tighter ammo or time limits. Together these will push a player to develop better tactics, faster reactions, and better aim*.  However, merely pushing a player to play better does not create an end game.  The progression model of "shoot enemy, use environmental trigger, move to somewhere is retained. Even dramatic shifts such as vehicle combat or even 'spy' levels do not create an end game since most of the progression is the same even if visually different and these are usually only single missions rather than full campaign arcs. More subjectively, when Vehicle fights do end up as final missions I tend to hate them for ending the game with the wrong feel.

On the subject of RPGs, pardon my limited scope, as I've only played a handful, the majority of which were Knights of the Old Republic (and Torchlight, which you should definitely try). But again, there's not a strong concept of end game. While leveling happens and there is a theoretical cap, that cap is based on possible enemies, quests, and specialization choices. There isn't a time when kills stop advancing your character (I'm assuming you're not looping back to low level dungeons). RPGs and FPSs do have boss battles, but these are mostly isolated incidents rather than entirely new phase of the game.

Past RPGs there are the MMORPGs, which historically are related to RPGs but at times may seem to have little relation. These have strong end-game concepts. There are level caps and past them the game changes dramatically. Experience ceases, often replaced by reputation grinds. The scale of content changes with the rise of raiding. Expansions may raise the level cap, but again, the cap is reached and a new end game is set.

I've been playing Civilization IV due to lack of computer power for the latest fifth. In it I notice that an end-game also emerges, though it can be very quick (as far as civ games go). Early power is gained by expansion. Barbarians are the greatest threat and land is waiting to be settled and turned to use. Workers and settlers are the drivers of growth, building new cities and improving the landscape. Military power matters, but it is not what grows the civilization. Until one day a settler wanders out and hits a strange colored land: the territory of another civilization. It is now that the settlers are workers are done. The land is civilized and improved. Now to get any further it must be taken. Peaceful expansion ceases to be possible. This is the end-game. It can be a very long one and seems to defy the label of end, but the same concept is there of a dramatic and permanent change in how one progresses.

I can see how a game like civilization could have no, or only, end-game. Scenarios could create fully grown and developed civilizations to battle it out. But is this truly different or just auto-play of the expansion phase, comparable to how a new WoW character is created with stats in place rather than players needing to assign them manually; it doesn't alter the fact that a new character is created.

Perhaps it's only a genre thing. MMOs will have an end-game and RPGs will not. FPS will not have one, but instead will have boss fights. But maybe I'm missing a critical factor: how we pay for games. MMOs have end-games to keep us playing and paying our subscriptions, while a single-player game would front-load content to get us to buy the initial box. But that's changing with the rise of downloadable content which isn't quite an expansion but still adds to the game.

Maybe I'm looking at it entirely backward and there is no end-game at all, instead some games have pre-game content that merely delays the coming of end-game, either to gain subscription time, to introduce a story, or to teach the player.


Syl said...

I don't know that any other game genre has 'endgame' the way MMOs do. that's partly because classic games are mostly linear, scripted stories with levels to play through and it takes as long as it takes to beat them. you don't really beat MMOs and the whole idea behind them is that they never end and keep customers paying. endgame is basically everything that happens after reaching max level and if you play an online game like wow for years, endgame makes up the biggest part of your gameplay. so it's understandable that it is a big deal to developers; they don't want you to quit playing after the leveling process after all.

The emphasis on endgame in WoW is still rather strong compared to most other MMOs I've played. for one thing leveling up and soloing is so fast and easy and they've continually made it easier and faster over the years too. it's almost as if they were saying that there shouldn't be much time spent on leveling, that it's a mere formality they want you to rush through as fast as possible in order to get to where the game 'really begins'. I think that's a huge crying shame to be honest, I love the 'newbie part' of MMOs and I don't think they do themselves or the community a service by erasing most of it.
Nils has recently written an article on the whole degradation of the low-level content in wow, maybe you've seen it.


According to your definition, FPS and RTS games most definitely have an end-game: once you're finished with the Single-Player Campaign (where progress is measured in stages), you then join the Multiplayer Matches (where progress is measured in your rank on the ladder).

Klepsacovic said...

@Syl: I don't read Nils, I don't know why not.

@Dire Human: I should have mentioned that PvE and PvP are counted differently. Besides, you can play the multiplayer before finishing single-player.

Imak said...

I think there's a difference between the "endgame" in Civ/Col type games and MMOs. Civ might have an opening, mid- and endgame inherent in their model. Think Go, which has simple rules that do not change, yet there is a split between the 3 phases.
In MMOs, it's a conscious decision by the developers and they might decide not to include it (or not include the start-game). What MMOs need, is to make sure that character's progress slows down as they progress - usually by requiring (better) tactics, time or twitch. As to why did the endgame prevail, there might be several reasons:
- WoW does it. WoW has been such a huge success that it changed the whole landscape forever. (Whether anyone likes it or not.) What would be considered a commercial success pre-WoW, is now just a niche game or failure. Consequentially, investors or game creators might want to create a game similar to WoW and players might expect new games to be similar to WoW in certain aspects. (I do not wish to discuss whether the success of WoW is good or bad but feel free if Klepsacovic doesn't mind.)
- The caps are static (maybe it's easier to balance). If a 79 character would raid, she would need more hit % - on the other hand 1% to hit would translate to less rating. (I don't really think it is an issue but I'm not a game developer.)
- Bringing the players together. At least those who don't want to bother with the more difficult content. There might be another advantage in games that force players to group in order to advance as many MMORPGs do.
- There is only a limited number of quests the developers can create. (Grinding easy mobs doesn't seem to be that popular and I don't think it's hard to understand why.)

PS: I'm only guessing what the reasons might be as I'm not an experienced game developer.

Imak said...

Regarding the WoW model, I think there is a basic problem with it, players having to do too much opening or midgame content. By "endgame" I mean challenging content that gives appropriate rewards.
Why do I mind?
- Lack of time vs. tactics (similar to skill in chess) vs. twitch (similar to skill in FPSs) balance. I'm not really challenged while getting to 80 and getting the gear I need for ICC but it does take some time. I would like the players to be able to jump into endgame quickly as soon as they got the other 2 T's (twitch and tactics) covered.
- Forced grouping in the endgame. I am forced to either schedule my game time, pray for a good luck getting players who are at my level and want to play endgame or just give up on it.

Celendus said...

I think the most consistent explanation for an "endgame" is really the idea of content rationing - it's when developers know that players still want to keep playing, but have run out of / will soon run out of content, and change the game's rules or pacing or goals to spread that content out over a larger period of gameplay.

Some examples:
- GTA series games have long had a variety of "find all 100 macguffins" or "get a high score in this minigame" type tasks, which are about all that is left when you complete the game's story. This is, in a sense, how a story-driven single player game has an endgame. Some also offer a "New Game+", where you can replay the game with invisible enemies / silly costumes / infinite ammo.

- Pure sandbox games like Minecraft, the Sims or EVE online don't have an endgame, but then, they don't have an end either.

- Single-player games that aren't plot or narrative focused have an endgame of "you've unlocked all the cars / maps / secret characters". Often the hardest unlock offers the most interesting or challenging feature, which takes more time to master.

- As said by above posters, most games that offer both single player and online multiplayer content use the online multi as a type of endgame, allowing you to play the same fifteen maps or scenarios a million times without getting bored.

- MMO's have a tendency towards the "infinite treadmill", where rewards and new content becomes more and more rare. Fortunately, developers can add content to them and then make the old treadmill path shorter if they want.

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