MMO Rant #10: The Mid Game

I’ve played a lot of massively multiplayer games. I think my MMORPG play count is somewhere in the mid dozens at this point, ever creeping toward triple digits. Back in the day, I was willing and able to max characters out–I had the time and dedication to do so. I was willing to get through all of the mid levels and soldier to the end game. But, you know what? At this point in my life, I’m only playing through those levels if they don’t suck.

I haven’t reached the max level in an MMO for years. I’ve been playing MMOs for more than a decade now (holy crap, can you believe it?), and have maxed out in a number of them, but for the past couple years, I have not capped out in any game legitimately.

Why? Mostly, because the mid game is crap. That’s the time between the “newbie” levels during which you learn how to play the game and your character matures and the “end game,” where the game tends to change to something completely different (read: endless raids or PvP in some games).

Now, the fact that by some mid level my character and game experience are essentially complete is only part of the problem. It does truly suck that I don’t actually have anything new to do between level 20 and 49 in a game that caps out at 50. It does suck that it is endlessly repetitious and boring for days on end while I soldier on toward the end game, where the game becomes completely different.

Okay, I think that’s actually about 75% of the reason I never get to the end. The game doesn’t change! I get slightly different abilities as I advance, but the challenges are all essentially identical. There are no new mechanics thrown in to make it truly interesting. A mount that makes me go a little faster when out of combat is only so interesting, and if it comes too late in the game I get so underwhelmed by it, I become more likely to quit.

Throw some freaking wrenches into my spokes. Make mobs do things that I wouldn’t expect, thus revealing some hidden usefulness of abilities I already have. Add in jump puzzles to some of the zones that actually require me to be good at playing the game to get through (of course, you must not require these to advance or you’ll lose the people who aren’t good at playing games). Give me SOMETHING to look forward to.

In most games, all I have to look forward to is cooler looking equipment and different looking zones. When everything plays identically, that isn’t going to draw me any further into the game. It’s not going to get me to continue playing, because there’s no point. Yes, I AM tired of killing bears and boars that have the same tactics they did when they were half their current level.

I only said that was 75% of the reason I don’t play through the mid game. The other 25% is polish and, more encompassing, attention not given. Developers work really hard at polishing the hell out of the early levels to get players into the game. They like to make great first impressions so players will really like the game. Unfortunately for them, I’m not willing to forgive future stupidity based solely on good first impressions.

They only ever make the beginning and end of the game super polished, and they only ever really update the end game. Give me some new options in the mid game so the second or third or eighth time I play it, I can take another path or at least see or do something different. Make the world more dynamic so things at least change a little bit, even if you don’t give me an entirely new zone.

Someday, the mid game will not suck. Someday, I’ll get new mechanics and new content types and new stuff along the way that will keep me playing. Someday the end game will not mean “different game,” and I might actually care about getting there. Someday the mid game will be as polished as the newbie experience and will have the variety and change of the end game. Someday, I’ll get through the mid game again, and I will max out a character in another MMO.

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