I was very interested to read this recent quote from Bashiok, regarding Diablo 3’s lack of an end-game:
We recognize that the item hunt is just not enough for a long-term sustainable end-game. There are still tons of people playing every day and week, and playing a lot, but eventually they’re going to run out of stuff to do (if they haven’t already). Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. But honestly Diablo III is not World of Warcraft. We aren’t going to be able to pump out tons of new systems and content every couple months. There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now.
Historically, singleplayer and cooperative multiplayer games have followed a linear path across a series of levels with an end objective (“Kill the big bad”) in mind. Once the objective is completed, the game is over. Even Tetris has an ending. Replayability is offered via a choice of difficulties and a points scoreboard to encourage competition between players.
Theme park MMOs work differently in that the developers are paid via subscriptions and cash shop purchases to constantly produce new content. Defeating today’s big boss and winning the magic sword does not end the story, but rather signals the end of the current content cycle and preparation for the next one, with its own big boss and better magic sword.
Indeed grinding out gear and achievements can be justified by the fact that you will continue to play with the same characters and your gear will help your guild get a ‘head start’ in the race tracked by sites such as WoW Progress.
Diablo 3 blurs the lines between singleplayer game and MMO, best summed up in the following points from Ocho from Casual Aggro.
-Real money auction house
The combination of these 3 factors, alongside Blizzard’s history with Diablo 3 and Starcraft, all serve to create expectations in players of a sustainable endgame – content that can be repeatedly played for months, if not years on end.
It has been suggested in the past that Diablo 2’s fixed talent build system and 100 level character grind fulfilled this function, both features which have been omitted from D3.
It is natural that players want more content. But I believe there are financial incentives for Blizzard to keep us all playing. The Real Money Auction House has seen a lot of trading action in the last few weeks, as everyone competes to get the best gear the quickest. But 6 months down the line, with the first expansion to Diablo 3 yet to be announced, will anyone but the most hardcore players be interested in spending real money for virtual gear? Particularly as the best gear does not deteriorate but simply bounces around the top players in perpetuity, decreasing in value as it randomly drops for more players?
Imagine you are a developer for Blizzard and are being asked to justify why RMAH revenues have halved in the last quarter. What will you say? How can you address this revenue decline before expansion 1 drops?
Diablo 3 needs an end-game to keep people playing and thereby keep people spending.
That established, what will this end-game look like?
It is clear that Blizzard believe the PvP arena will fulfill this function, as indicated by the fact that it is being withheld at present for polishing. According to developer blogs, this was not intended to be anything more than a fun minigame. But I believe that expectation will change when it is recognized that the fate of the RMAH relies on it being a success. Expect much ‘class balancing’ in future.
Other options for further Diablo 3 content could include ‘infinite dungeons’ as seen in Torchlight, PvE arenas similar to the new scenarios being introduced into WoW and perhaps a ‘survivor mode’ whereby your task is to fight off increasingly larger waves of opponents before your hero is overwhelmed.
I believe that Bashiok’s recognition that Diablo 3 needs an end-game is a turning point in how video games are produced. If you make a game with all the trappings of an MMO, players will expect all of the features of an MMO too.