There's nothing strange about repeating yourself while playing an MMO, of course. We all know the MMORPG genre was built almost entirely on repetition from the very start. Indeed, all the way back in 1999, when I was doing a little research before deciding whether to plump for Ultima Online or EverQuest, I remember being struck by the extent to which the anecdotes I was reading centered around doing the same thing for what sounded like a very long time. Chopping wood, mostly, as I recall.
In the early years there was, by and large, a distinct division between that sort of repetitive rote activity, required to raise levels, skills or faction, and what we might loosely call story-related content. Quests tended to be a once-only affair, often relevant only to a particular class or race.
There were also, usually, many classes and races in an MMO and many starting points for the leveling journey. Add to that the length of time it took to take a character from creation to cap and the problem of finding yourself doing the exact same thing on a new character you'd done only the week before on another rarely arose. By the time you did get round to doing something for the second time, chances were it was so long ago you'd pretty much forgotten it anyway so it might as well be new content.
|Wait a minute...haven't I been here before?|
One of the innovations that WoW brought to MMOs, many of which swept through the genre like a forest fire in the years following Blizzard's unforeseen runaway success, was The Quest Hub. It established The Quest as the basic unit of currency for both progression and narrative and that has caused problems ever since.
Certain activities, it seems, can be repeated ad nauseam by many players, with the nausea not appearing for thousands, tens of thousands, millions of iterations. We call it "grinding" and whether it's good, bad or neutral has been discussed, debated and battered into the dirt as a topic for as long as there have been MMOs, without a consensus ever being reached.
Still, people will do it, if grudgingly. Over the years there's been a move by many developers to hide or soften the grind to make it more palatable. Daily quests, weekly quests, bonuses, points systems, you name it, someone's tried it. Perhaps the most dramatic of all these shortcuts has been the move from character-based play to an account-based focus.
When MMORPGs began they were very strongly rooted in the RPG tradition. The idea of characters being interchangeable bits on the drill-head of the player's account, slotted in and out to fit a specific purpose, would have been an anathema to the core playerbase of the era. There was an expectation that the player would have done at least some minimal imaginative homework in preparing the character. The Paper Doll often came with a space specifically for that background to be entered so that it could be perused by other players in the longueurs between pulls or in the fashion parade in front of the city bank.
|No, but I have.|
WoW changed that not by any intentional move away from its roots but by the sheer, runaway success with which it mainstreamed the genre. With an overwhelming influx of paying customers for whom "RPG" had a very different meaning and with every developer scrambling to re-bottle Blizzard's lightning there was a race towards convenience and ease of access that led directly away from the granular nature of character-based progress towards the inclusive, smooth integration of Account play.
At the same time and for much the same reason, leveling and progression paths were flattened, focused and accelerated. Starting choices were restricted, divergent options were culled and bottlenecks through which all characters had to pass were created. Players arriving in a new game would learn to ask "Where do I go to level at 20?" and expect to get a simple, unequivocal answer.
With each new character taking a fraction of the time to level up and with the progression path taken by a healer, a tank or a scout looking very much the same, player resistance to going through the same content was considerable, exacerbated by the indissoluble connection with narrative through the Quest Hub mechanic. Some developers dealt with this by mono-focusing their design to encourage players to stick with just the one character but, since it's presumably commercial good sense to encourage players to keep making more characters, the more common approach was to make doing so simpler, easier, more convenient.
And then that stopped. Last year several major MMO developers seemed to decide that the trend towards encouraging large stables of characters should come to an end. I'm sure that's not what happened but reading back from the decisions that were made it does look a little like a gentleman's agreement. However it came about the outcome doesn't seem to have been entirely what was expected.
|At least it gives me a chance to admire the amazing Art Nouveau interiors.|
As Telwyn and others have pointed out, basing a major selling point of your expansion around diversity (Class Halls) and then implementing mechanics based on unity is not an entirely coherent through-line. At least that all involved new content. In EQ2 and (as I understand, not being a player) SW:tOR, the requirement included going back and re-doing (or doing for the first time had you chosen to dodge it first time round) older content.
Since Kunark Ascending was announced and the pre-reqs revealed there's been a continual grumbling about it in the EQ2 community (although when isn't there, over everything, he grumbled?). A few months after release the positions seem to have hardened to "It sucks but suck it up", "Well it's your own fault - you should have done it the first time" and "Stuff this for a game of soldiers - I'm out". Naturally, because all MMO communities are in the end, a self-selecting group of "willing" volunteers the consensus is settling on "Suck it up".
Whether this is a valid or sustainable design decision in commercial terms I guess we will have to wait and see. Wilhelm has an excellent analysis of the current prospects for the remaining DBG MMOs and as he observes the litmus test is whether these games continue to get expansions. If development money continues to be spent making expansions then the least unlikely explanation must be that those expansions make money.
DBG has a year to assess whether taking this particular approach has made more or less money than they expected or hoped. Only a year because for all the troubles and tribulations of recent times SOE/DBG have always managed to knock out full-size expansions for the EQ titles at least once a year and they have already confirmed that work on the 2017 EQ2 expansion has begun.
|And I'm still too short to reach the pestle and mortar. #ratongaproblems|
Blizzard takes a lot longer. They may not even announce an expansion this year and certainly no-one on the planet expects them to release one. With those longer gaps between them WoW expansions tend more towards game resets anyway so it's always likely that each will see a sharp change of emphasis, direction or approach.
I'm in two minds. Emotionally I'm a fervent backer of character-based play so I see enforced requirements for each individual character as a positive. For that reason I back the return to content that needs to be completed by each character individually, not just by the player as controller of the account.
Which is fine in theory. In practice I have become soft just like everyone else. I've become used to convenience. Having to do the same thing on my Warlock that I just did on my Berserker and thinking while I'm doing it that I'll have to do it on my Inquisitor next week is not necessarily firing my pleasure centers.
Then again, I don't dread it, either. When all's said and done, this is entertainment. I am choosing to do it. If I decide I don't want to click through another fifty screens of overwritten fantasy twaddle or click on another fifty glowing ground spawns there's no-one making me but me. When I stop having fun I can stop trying to have fun.
|The stage awaits. Who's on next?|
Trends and fashions in game development come and go and we as players live through them. This, too, will pass. For now I'm probably going to set my focus a little more narrowly and try to run a smaller team in most of my MMOs than I have been wont to do. Something closer to The Legion of Super Pets then The Legion of Super Heroes.
Which, come to think of it, is an analogy that's more apposite than I'm likely to admit.