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A thing that always gets a lot of attention when it comes to MMO's is endgame. In many games this basically comes down to raiding and to lesser extent PvP. Let's take WoW as an example, just because its probably the most well known MMO and therefore allows us to discuss the endgame more easily.
I personally never understood how so many people could ever enjoy the raiding in WoW. For me it was the main point why I never was motivated to continue leveling my character to the point where, according to many diehard WoW players, the game really shines. Because what is the point of raiding in WoW? In the end, it is acquiring gear. Now this is not my main problem with it, it is the fact that the gear is mainly wanted for the stats that turns me off completely. To me it seems entirely pointless and totally out of sync with the idea behind mmoRPG’s.
In these forums, people often criticize Anet’s approach to dungeons in GW2. Which in my opinion, is probably one of the best ways to handle dungeons and raiding. In GW2 the acquired gear is mainly fluff and does not grant the player any better stats than crafted or normal gear. People therefore seem to judge GW2’s dungeons as uninteresting and pointless. But I can not get this point of view, as it is just devoid of any logic.
I will try to formulate multiple points in which the problems of raiding that focuses on improving stats become clear and get contrasted with the solutions and advantages of raiding that focuses on acquiring fluff rewards.
1. Waste of content
Because of the sole focus on stats, all gear gained by raiding will eventually be rendered useless when new dungeons are available with better gear. An important problem that is directly related to this is the fact that the whole raid itself becomes pointless and in the end will see very little player participation. In short it results in a waste of content.
With fluff oriented raiding, these problems have been directly tackled, because fluff is the main attraction and fluff has a static value. Both the rewards and the raid itself remain to be valuable and worthwhile content.
2. The endless treadmill
People are forced to repeat the same content over and over to get the best gear available in the game, only to repeat this cycle till the end of time. Really, if you look at it, this system is probably the most laughable excuse of endgame content, as this can in no way be called true content. It is content the first time played, and by no means does the amount of content increase due to the need to repeat that same content endlessly.
When it comes to fluff oriented gaming, this becomes as non-issue, simply because fluff is no necessity. Some fluff may require grinding or whatever, but it doesn’t matter, as the piece of fluff is not necessary. In fact this is where fluff shines, some of it may be very tedious to get and are thereby more unique.
3. Increase in stats has 0 value
When people have finally acquired the best gear available at the time, what is the point of having it? I have seen people calling this character progression, which I believe is mistaken. Gaining the best gear grants the player a stat increase, yet, what to do with this stat increase? Is it to give and advantage over other players in PvP? That would be ridiculous, as it completely ruins any value PvP could have. PvP should be about skill, playstyle and tactics, NOT GEAR. Also, stat increase is relative, therefore loses its value when time progresses and most people have acquired the gear. Really what is the value of the stat increase, please somebody explain this to me?
Fluff gear has RP value, achievement value and most importantly static value. It also doesn’t destroy PvP.
4. Difficulty level and time investment result in player exclusion (and thereby player limitation)
Raiding requires a lot of time investment and alongside that requires quite some skill. These requirements are not by definition problematic, as difficult and time-consuming content is necessary to make a game challenging and fulfilling. However because of the focus on stat improvement, it will exclude casual players from certain content and thereby also gives them an unfair disadvantage when confronted with hardcore players. Both need little explanation: Lack of the required gear makes certain content impossible and thereby also access to the best gear available, (in)directly making the casual playerbase incapable to compete with the hardcore playerbase.
Fluff solves these problems instantly and moreover improves the possibilities concerning raiding content. As fluff is no necessity, it will have none of the problems listed above. Because of this it also allows the developers to add more difficult content, thereby pleasing the hardcore playerbase as well. Fluff oriented raiding keeps all raid content in the game interesting and allows for much harder and rarer content.
5. The playersbase’s competitive approach to the raid content
Due to the focus on the improvement of stats, the playerbase will approach the content in a competitive way that is entirely out of sync with the purpose of mmoRPGs. I can go into great detail explaining this, but this is were WoW comes in handy again. What I mean is simply the behavior of the wow playerbase concerning raiding. And by this I mean all the drama, hate, griefing, ninjaing, the second job mentality, the corporate approach of guilds, the whole competitive gaming vocabulary used in chat, the race to endgame etc. ALL OF IT. All of it is simply because the way raiding plays a role in WoW. Its results in an overly competitive approach to the game, which completely destroys the RP elements of the game.
Fluff simply avoids this problem due to lack of competitive value. It also enhances role-playing greatly, as you can now have unique and cool looking items that will show off what you have achieved in the game. Some can be made very hard to be gained, really making it a prestige to have the item.
6. Out of sync with other game mechanics
Making raid gear the best gear in the game renders crafted items useless. I never understood how developers can choose for a certain system and thereby undermine and limit other functions in their game, it baffles me. This is not limited just to crafting. Point 5 is an example of it aswell: How could you want your game to be a race to end game?
Fluff has none of these issues, as it is only important visually and as achievement. Moreover, fluff can have nostalgic value. Think of rewards that are given during character progression.
All in all fluff oriented raiding puts the focus where it belongs: A fun experience that fits in the game’s lore and goes well together with the mechanics and other content of the game. Remember we are talking mmoRPG’s here. People who play these games just for the competitive elements it offers should be able to partake in fair, balanced and in-depth PvP that is not broken by gear stats.