Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Player-Centered End-Game Content

On September 21, 2006, Iron Realms Entertainment CEO Matt Mihaly conducted an online interview with MUD1 co-creator Richard Bartle.

The major issue discussed was that of end-game design in online games. Richard's contention was that neither raiding for epic loot nor "relevelling"/"remorting" were ultimately the best kind of end-game content -- what's really needed, in his mind, is the "honorable retirement" of characters. Your character's name gets enshrined in the pantheon of heroes or whatever, but Achievement-oriented play as a regular character comes to an end.

My feeling is that Richard is probably right, but that it will be very difficult as a practical matter to offer this in an online game. The whole notion of forcibly -- by design -- retiring characters who reach the "top level" of a game is probably a non-starter with the publishers of the largest online games. I have the impression that they would regard any such design as telling players, "Nah, we don't want your money any more." Limiting the ability of high-level players to continue actively playing seems inconceivable in an industry dominated by a few big-money players.

But if it were conceivable, I'd like to see it work the way Richard describes, where players can still be in the game world but no longer seek the same material rewards as regular players.

The idea of "remorting" or letting the same character start over at Level 1, remains popular among players of MUDs. I can see this working for Achievers, especially with those who max out as quickly as possible. It's another way for Achievers to add to their public "I've done X" badges.

But I think other playstyles would look at remorting very differently. Explorers might like it because trying different characters would let them explore the possibility space of a gameworld. Even Killers might enjoy remorting as a way to keep experiencing novel sensations.

On the other hand, I suspect Socializers aren't much interested in remorting as an end-game reward or option. If you've spent years investing emotionally in a particular character, you're not likely to appreciate being forced to unceremoniously delete that character.

Still, at least remorting is an alternative to raiding-for-loot as an endgame, which is merely Achiever gameplay in another form. It's good to see designers thinking about providing end-game experiences that might satisfy some non-Achievers as well as Achievers.

But aren't there more end-game alternatives than just remorting or the semi-permanent public recognition that Achievers like? What about the other folks?

What if end-games were designed by playstyle? Just as some off-the-cuff ideas, you could have something like:






can earn Inspiration Points by Inspiring a selected PC or group

Killers [Manipulators]


can change odds + or - for any PC/group for a while



can write datapads/books/scrolls as player objects



limited ability to organize group events

Each of these end-game forms would let the player remain in the game doing something they enjoy, while offering a set of rewards that are (mostly) unconnected to the basic game.

Would this be a reasonable balance between the permanent playing that publishers want and the "honorable retirement" that Richard endorses?