autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

[Gaming] “End Game Gear” & false constraints

Cross-posting this from a gaming forum where the topic under discussion/debate has lately been: Should solo players in an MMO be able to attain “end game” gear?

Pretty self-explanatory, methinks.


You know, folks, this really doesn’t have to be an “one or the other” equation.

It is entirely possible to have a track for solo players that nets “end game” gear and to have a track that nets grouping players “end game” gear. To pretend otherwise is to fall victim to the “perfectionist” and “slippery slope” fallacies of logic. (Ref links: and, respectively).

As we all know, a mechanic in a game can be created and implemented in a way that rewards or punishes choice. In fact, the entirety of a MMO can be summed up as an elaborate “Skinner’s Box” (ref link:…ditioning.html) designed to reinforce the desire to endure infinite progression against an unwinnable goal (this is called the “Red Queen Dilemma”; ref link –

The question is not “can this be done?” as there is no question or doubt that it can be.

The question is “why shouldn’t it be done?” and frankly, the reasons generally given are baseless in light of the reality that all any game company needs to do is create two “Skinner Boxes” and either (a) require you to choose between them, (b) allow you to choose one or the other with some penalty or constraint for switching (i.e., like a cost or a time delay/cool down, etc), or (c) to allow it if/as you like and see if it does, in fact, mean that MOST people really would solo if they had the chance/choice (which, frankly, means that the genre overall is missing out on a significant audience in their insistence that grouping MUST be the way of it).

It stands to reason that a game offering more choice would find more players willing to choose and willing to remain because additional choices are available (this is demonstrated in both Nick Yee’s work as well as past research on game longevity and replayability; both of which decline when choices become exhausted OR are repetitive and thus, no longer attractive).

Taken logically, the only people who care or are concerned about solo players getting end game gear are those who know that large-scale raiding is (for many reasons) exclusionary in nature; be it for socio-cultural reasons, lifestyle reasons, or existing mechanical reasons in the game itself (usually a combination of these).

Game companies tend to care about this because they continue to labor under the (increasingly challenged) perception that end game raiding is a significant protection against monthly subscription erosion and player attrition. (Handily disproven by expansion returns as well as the point of diminishing return on expansions…. links, alas, are subscription based, but if you’re an IGDA member, you know where to find them.)

Is solo flashpoint and raid content a “good idea”? Well duh… of course it is. As is any iteration of increasing player choices in relation to types of flashpoints, number of people required, whether or not to use companions, etc.

Can all the above overcome existing bias in relation to subscription erosion and popular perspective? Well, to date, obviously not.

Afterthought: In relation specifically to the BioWare offering “Star Wars: The Old Republic”, the following idea was submitted pretty much via every channel available:

I heartily agree with the idea that single-player or player +companion (singular) missions/flashpoints would be an EXCELLENT way to ensure both longevity, interest, and playability overall.

In separate feedback to Bioware (the recent survey received by email as well as by in-game feedback and now, the forum), I specifically mention this as something that I have longed for in MMOs and only seen “done well” in one – Anarchy Online (mind you, I’m not a big fan of that game, but it did have its moments).

A customizable mission system where the player can CHOOSE the following options/preferences and receive a generated instance that meets them would be STELLAR… GALACTIC… EPIC:

1) Party size (1 – 4)

2) Reward preference (credits, gear, schematics, materials, social points, light/dark points, etc)

3) Mission focus (diplomacy, fighting, evasion, kill count, courier, timer, etc)

4) Mission length/duration (short, medium, long, OH-MY-GOD-EPIC-QUEST)

5) Exposition/story preference (light, medium, heavy, etc)

6) Mob preference (humanoid, droid, beast, jedi, sith, etc)

One could layer entire systems of both “sinks” and “sieves” onto this, as well as leader boards, status/rewards, and even linear/gateway progression to things like expansions.

One could additionally set codex achievements and unlocks for either/or titles, legacy benefits, and expansion content access here, too.

Also, this would provide the means by which content extension, reuse, and expansion could proceed upon an all but infinite path; it also paves the way for monetized content access (should you choose this) a la the lesser implementations as done by Sony OR the revenue generating add-ons as recently attested to by Turbine with LoTRO (a 500% revenue increase is nothing to sneeze at, folks; the increase is directly attributed to moving to a “free to play” model and monetizing choice by offering perks and benefits at recurring cost).

But, most importantly, this would offer your players (as well as your groups, should you so choose) alternatives to the static content paths in addition to granting players CHOICE…. choice is never bad.

Note: On the matter of “solo flashpoints” or “companion-based raids”, etc…. I am not necessarily saying we should or should not be able to “raid with companions” or even “run missions with equivalent drops”… simply that there are many people (myself among the number) who simply will never have several hours at the time to devote to things like high end raiding. That said, it is unreasonable to say that there should never be a means of providing for folk like me to enjoy and achieve because I cannot devote the “time” when, obviously, I am devoting that monthly subscription (and am just as prone to choosing not to do so for lack of options that suit me).

This particular theme (i.e., if you can’t spend the time, you should never be able to get the same rewards as those who do) is kind of a “diminishing returns” situation for publishers and game developers; primarily because (frankly) avid gamers tend to run out of time over time and the pipeline of new players (barring advents like WoW appearing which, you must admit, was a gigantic boost to the life of the MMO as a genre, regardless personal opinions of it otherwise) is, itself, a diminishing thing over time. (Upshot: Gamers start young, grow up, get families, jobs, go to college, enter the military, etc… and their play time goes down.)

It is, I think, wise for a company to consider ways to encourage “even” solo play in this genre and there are ways for this to happen that do not automatically result in degradation of those who have the commodity of time to spare/spend.

Mind you, I’ve gone from being someone who could easily spend 25+ hours a week gaming to someone who frequently has <10 hours a week to spare, so I see both sides of the coin (and think it would be nice if this were more than a wistful wish of possibility).

Mileage may vary, of course; this is just my perspective and there are many others.