Natural end
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 March 2013, 4:36 am
I finished Ni No Kuni last night, killing the final boss after 55 hours of overall play time. After the end credits you get a chance to save your game and play on in the "post-game". There are a few additional side-quests, and the post-game gives you the opportunity to complete anything you didn't finish before beating the White Witch. But essentially the story is over, you've already beaten the hardest fight in the game, and leveling your characters up any further is rather pointless. The game has come to a natural end. You could start over, but as the game is story-heavy and has about 10 hours of gameplay before you can freely choose your familiars and thus really play the game differently than during the first go, Ni No Kuni isn't ideal for replayability.

I was thinking that such a natural end occurs in every game which has some sort of power progression and some sort of story. At some point inevitably the story is over, and your power is at a point where it is either capped, or you are already able to beat anything. Even Dungeons & Dragons has a level cap at 30 (although I'm not sure I want to play my campaign that far, most power progression games develop flaws at the end of the power curve).

I paid 49 Euros for Ni No Kuni, thus ended up paying less than 1 Euro per hour of entertainment for it. That business model works well for this sort of game: At the natural end of the game I feel as if I got my value for money, and the developers are also happy with their one-time payment from me. But if we take a game which should have a natural end and use a different business model, like a monthly subscription or some Free2Play model, the match is less perfect. The devs don't want me to stop playing a MMORPG just because I hit the level cap and finished the story. But at the same time they can't produce new story and new power progression content fast enough to satisfy everybody. So they want you to wait for the next expansion, while continuing to play and pay for the game.

But as the game is already past its natural end, what you keep playing is some sort of zombie version: You get to grind 9,999 dinosaur bones, do the same daily quests over and over, or get to play some sort of elder game, with some illusion of progress that will be shattered when the next expansion comes out and you replace your purples with greens. You do that for a while, and for a few different games, and you start seeing it for what it is: Essentially a money-grab by the devs, and the part of the game which offers less and less fun for the money.

So unsurprisingly many people now play MMORPGs like a single-player game: They start, they play until the game comes to some sort of natural end for them, and they stop playing. Of course if the developer had counted on them paying subscriptions for years, or even made the start of the game available for free in some sort of Free2Play model, this behavior is likely to break their business model. Which I think is why the genre is in some sort of crisis now.
Tobold's Blog

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