We Need More Aspirational Content in MMORPGs

We need more aspirational content in MMORPGs. Nowadays whenever new content is released for a modern MMORPG like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV it's typically cleared pretty quickly. Mythic Emerald Nightmare Xavius, the hardest World of Warcraft: Legion Raid at the time, was cleared a mere 18 hours after launch. Deltascape Savage 4.0 in Final Fantasy XIV was also cleared within hours of launch. While I don't mean to downplay the effort taken to down clear these dungeons, having content beaten so quickly after launch cheapens the MMO experience.

I remember when Naxxramas first launched in World of Warcraft and it was so difficult that less than 1% of the playerbase even attempted it. It took a full 2.5 months after release for a guild to clear it and even afterwards completing Naxxramas was a badge of honor that few could ever wear. Spoilers: I never completed Naxx, but I do remember looking up at it with awe while outside of Iron Forge and telling myself that one day I'll be able to do it. While that day never came for me, seeing such immensely challenging content made me want to keep playing and improve myself. I'm not too familiar with World of Warcraft anymore, but in Final Fantasy XIV people routinely clear the game's most challenging content with pickup groups. This in and of itself isn't that bad, but if there's nothing to aspire to in an MMO why even play it? MMORPGs need content that no one has cleared yet to keep people motivated to stick around. After all, we all want to be the hero, but it's not very heroic to clear a raid that thousands of others have already done.

Naxx Floating Outside Ironforge

So what's the solution? I'm not suggesting ALL raids be tailored towards the mega hardcore, but ideally there should be SOME content at all times that no one has yet cleared. It doesn't even have to be a raid. One excellent example of aspirational content in a modern day MMORPG is Palace of the Dead (PotD) in Final Fantasy XIV. PotD is a 200 floor dungeon that gets progressively harder as players fight their way higher and higher. While challenging, it's not particularly difficult to reach the top floor with a competent group of players. It is however, immensely difficult to do it solo. So much so that NO ONE (as of this writing) has been able to reach the top floor by themselves yet, despite the content being available since November, 2016. Arguably soloing it before the release of the Red Mage class was near impossible, but even since Red Mage launched on June 19, 2017 the closest anyone has gotten as of this writing was floor 194. Players who solo their way to the top are rewarded with a special in-game title that currently no one has.

Obviously trying to achieve something that no one has isn't something most players strive for, but it does convey a message to the entire playerbase that "there's content in our game that no one has cleared yet" and I think that's a pretty powerful message. It lets casual players tell themselves that maybe one day they'll be the hero and be the ones to clear it. While this is obviously unlikely, it does give players motivation to keep playing. I've been casually playing Final Fantasy XIV and while I have no intention of trying to be the first to reach floor 200 in Palace of the Dead, I do enjoy watching other players attempt it and LOVE the fact that there's this cool piece of content that NO one has cleared yet. Currently 2 players in North America have been streaming their attempts; Angelus (personal record 190) and Whichi (personal record 188).

Angelus Attempting Solo POTD (Floor 180)

I just think that an MMORPG where literally everything has already been done is kind of boring. We all want to be the hero in our online adventures but it's hard to feel like the hero when you're the 1000th person to clear that "end game" content. On the other hand, just imagine being the ONLY one on the server with a special title. A title that tells the world that you were able to achieve something that no one else could. That dream is what keeps players like Angelus and Whichi grinding away hundreds of hours trying to be the world's first to clear Palace of the Dead solo. And even as someone not in the "running" for this great achievement, I think it's awesome that something like that exists in Final Fantasy XIV and it's something I'd like to see in other MMORPGs.

Am I alone in feeling this way? What do you think?

Been playing MMOs since I first got my hands on Ultima Online when I was 12 years old. Played so many games from Star Wars Galaxies to MapleStory to DAoC to World of Warcraft. Long time League of Legends player too! I'm also Known as "ReMo" and "Remotay"

  • lazarus_arkane

    You are definitely not the only one to feel this way good sir. Its been a long time since I've felt truly challenged by any mmo content. Everything these days seems to be watered down to bring in more people rather than offer any sort of challenge to give people something to strive for. Any games that do introduce challenging content seems to be pretty quick to nerf it when theres a large enough outcry that its too hard to complete. 🙁 I honestly don't understand this mentality of making things easier. To me, it cheapens the experience if I complete content after they nerfed it.

  • Nubatron

    It would indeed be pretty cool to have more challenging content for the truly dedicated. Even if it's just a really high grind that needs to be done besides doing the usual "chores". (I really enjoyed grinding "the Insane" title back in WoW.)

    I don't really agree that Naxxramas is a good example though. Honestly, I never stepped inside Vanilla Naxxramas however, I did some research on it and to me, it just seemed like that the amount of epic items dropped overall on a realm each week was just way too low to even have a chance to grab a few on your raids and enter the necropolis. It's "challenge" was more about having enough luck to grab the right items to enter, rather than it actually being a challenge in the best gear possible. I feel like the difference is day and light.
    Going by the talents and ability complexity, playing each class was actually easier than it is now.

    I myself like to play classes that and not really accepted by the community as "viable" and master those. It makes me feel like the "hero" your described when I can stay toe to toe with others in content which the class is not suitable for. I remember how, at the start of every expansion in WoW, Fire was the "shit spec" for mages, because "not enough crit". I really enjoyed outdoing most people though.

    That said, I think that "challenge" didn't really disappear from MMORPGs, but changed form. Instead of the developers providing the challenge for you, you have to find it yourself, so it took on a way more competitive form. Just look at all the MOBAs. Is there something more challengeing than beating up better and better players?

    But still, not everyone is keen on PvP and not every game offers PvP. For these, it would be really nice to have something really tough.

  • Yea Right

    I think what would be really cool is to see an MMO that answers the question of "Why am I chasing after this end game gear?" Like I don't know the exact answer to this, but I would like to see an MMO out there come up with a reason to chase after the gear in the first place, that doesn't involve the answer being "So you can chase after the next set of gear of course!!!" Like imagine if you leveled up in an open world. Then you did the raids for gear, and the reason for getting the gear was for some sort of solo engagement that tested how "Good" you are at your class, and then ranked you as a player. Because now the gear has meaning right? You chase the gear in raids so you can go off on your adventure to prove that you are in fact the best Dark Knight, or the best Warrior, ect ect. I don't know, that's always been my biggest gripe with MMO's when dabbling in the PVE aspects of it all. Guess that's what made Dark Souls so much fun, you'd get all the gear in PVE so you could use it in PVP. Gave killing all those bosses a sort of purpose.

  • DontStandInStupid

    Won't happen anymore.
    Every time a game tries to do this, the unwashed masses gets their butt hairs in a tizzy because "it isn't fair that they got something that I didn't - I play 3 hours a week, I should be able to achieve just as much!".
    In all seriousness, though - the decline of exclusivity did a lot for taking the "soul" out of MMO's. Back in the days of EQ, UO, even Vanilla WoW, seeing someone will full tier sets, class armor/mounts, epic weapons, etc. was an event, and the person was lauded.
    Now...every mouth-breather thinks they are entitled to every pixel simply for signing on.

    • ivan_

      Imo there should be a balance. Sometimes the unwashed masses are right, sometimes the grind is just so ridiculous and tedious that those who do get it are rightfully labelled as tryhards or no-lifers, because they spent hours completing an artificially-difficult task. Examples of this include: high damage "trash mobs", unavoidable attacks, RNG-based damage from bosses (i.e. unlucky crit and you can't outheal a boss hit), and highly difficult mechanical manoeuvres (1-second window for reaction). A lot of the new content for old school runescape is like this, just artificial difficulty, and I never found that fun - or challenging. Just punishing.

      On the other hand we have bad incentives in some games (especially those with pvp modes) that reward participation or failure with a fraction of the desirable outcome. Awarding stuff like silver or bronze is fine, but anything below that should not be rewarded. Consider games like Heroes of the storm, while having many good mechanics, too often rewards bad performance with loot or exp. Now you have a game where many veterans with very high levels are actually bad skill-wise, because they've been rewarded for poor play.

      More importantly, considering the way the industry is evolving, maybe it's time to split the casuals from the hardcore and design games differently with those populations in mind. Path of Exile did fine with their hardcore model, diablo 3 did fine with their casual model, so maybe we should punish developers for trying to attract too many kinds of players and consequently creating bad incentives.

  • Kelborne

    Don't care. Someone else having something they can waste their time on failing to do is not and has never been a reason I've played any MMO. I don't care if someone beat Omega 4 Savage on the first day. I won't care when someone beats Bahamut Extreme on the first day. And I don't care if anyone ever clears floor 200 of Place of the Dead. Sitting around obsessing over how other people choose to play the game seems a dumb way to play any game.

  • Derek

    Imo there should be a balance. Sometimes the unwashed masses are right, sometimes the grind is just so ridiculous and tedious that those who do get it are rightfully labelled as tryhards or no-lifers, because they spent hours completing an artificially-difficult task. Examples of this include: high damage "trash mobs", unavoidable attacks, RNG-based damage from bosses (i.e. unlucky crit and you can't outheal a boss hit), and highly difficult mechanical manoeuvres (1-second window for reaction). A lot of the new content for old school runescape is like this, just artificial difficulty, and I never found that fun - or challenging. Just punishing.On the other hand we have bad incentives in some games (especially those with pvp modes) that reward participation or failure with a fraction of the desirable outcome. Awarding stuff like silver or bronze is fine, but anything below that should not be rewarded. Consider games like Heroes of the storm, while having many good mechanics, too often rewards bad performance with loot or exp. Now you have a game where many veterans with very high levels are actually bad skill-wise, because they've been rewarded for poor play for so long (not saying their loot system is bad, but maybe reevaluate how much exp you get after losing a match). The MVP system is also a massive part of the "incentive" problem, because some players play to get on the MVP list (playing for stats) rather than playing the game. Yes, high stats usually mean good performance, but it ignores playmaking, leadership, "clutch plays/kills", and many other factors that should be contender for this "MVP" award, let alone top 5.More importantly, considering the way the industry is evolving, maybe it's time to split the casuals from the hardcore and design games differently with those populations in mind. Path of Exile did fine with their hardcore model, diablo 3 did fine with their casual model, so maybe we should punish developers for trying to attract too many kinds of players and consequently creating bad incentives.

  • Morgan Gauthier

    Don't care. Someone else having something they can waste their time on failing to do is not and has never been a reason I've played any MMO. I don't care if someone beat Omega 4 Savage on the first day. I won't care when someone beats Bahamut Extreme on the first day. And I don't care if anyone ever clears floor 200 of Place of the Dead. Sitting around obsessing over how other people choose to play the game seems a dumb way to play any game.

  • niceee

    Don't care. Someone else having something they can waste their time on failing to do is not and has never been a reason I've played any MMO. I don't care if someone beat Omega 4 Savage on the first day. I won't care when someone beats Bahamut Extreme on the first day. And I don't care if anyone ever clears floor 200 of Place of the Dead. Sitting around obsessing over how other people choose to play the game seems a dumb way to play any game.

  • justin thompson

    It would indeed be pretty cool to have more challenging content for the truly dedicated. Even if it's just a really high grind that needs to be done besides doing the usual "chores". (I really enjoyed grinding "the Insane" title back in WoW.)I don't really agree that Naxxramas is a good example though. Honestly, I never stepped inside Vanilla Naxxramas however, I did some research on it and to me, it just seemed like that the amount of epic items dropped overall on a realm each week was just way too low to even have a chance to grab a few on your raids and enter the necropolis. It's "challenge" was more about having enough luck to grab the right items to enter, rather than it actually being a challenge in the best gear possible. I feel like the difference is day and light.Going by the talents and ability complexity, playing each class was actually easier than it is now.I myself like to play classes that and not really accepted by the community as "viable" and master those. It makes me feel like the "hero" your described when I can stay toe to toe with others in content which the class is not suitable for. I remember how, at the start of every expansion in WoW, Fire was the "shit spec" for mages, because "not enough crit". I really enjoyed outdoing most people though.That said, I think that "challenge" didn't really disappear from MMORPGs, but changed form. Instead of the developers providing the challenge for you, you have to find it yourself, so it took on a way more competitive form. Just look at all the MOBAs. Is there something more challengeing than beating up better and better players?But still, not everyone is keen on PvP and not every game offers PvP. For these, it would be really nice to have something really tough.

  • niceee

    I think what would be really cool is to see an MMO that answers the question of "Why am I chasing after this end game gear?" Like I don't know the exact answer to this, but I would like to see an MMO out there come up with a reason to chase after the gear in the first place, that doesn't involve the answer being "So you can chase after the next set of gear of course!!!" Like imagine if you leveled up in an open world. Then you did the raids for gear, and the reason for getting the gear was for some sort of solo engagement that tested how "Good" you are at your class, and then ranked you as a player. Because now the gear has meaning right? You chase the gear in raids so you can go off on your adventure to prove that you are in fact the best Dark Knight, or the best Warrior, ect ect. I don't know, that's always been my biggest gripe with MMO's when dabbling in the PVE aspects of it all. Guess that's what made Dark Souls so much fun, you'd get all the gear in PVE so you could use it in PVP. Gave killing all those bosses a sort of purpose.

  • slayer929

    I think what would be really cool is to see an MMO that answers the question of "Why am I chasing after this end game gear?" Like I don't know the exact answer to this, but I would like to see an MMO out there come up with a reason to chase after the gear in the first place, that doesn't involve the answer being "So you can chase after the next set of gear of course!!!" Like imagine if you leveled up in an open world. Then you did the raids for gear, and the reason for getting the gear was for some sort of solo engagement that tested how "Good" you are at your class, and then ranked you as a player. Because now the gear has meaning right? You chase the gear in raids so you can go off on your adventure to prove that you are in fact the best Dark Knight, or the best Warrior, ect ect. I don't know, that's always been my biggest gripe with MMO's when dabbling in the PVE aspects of it all. Guess that's what made Dark Souls so much fun, you'd get all the gear in PVE so you could use it in PVP. Gave killing all those bosses a sort of purpose.

  • Matteo S

    Don't care. Someone else having something they can waste their time on failing to do is not and has never been a reason I've played any MMO. I don't care if someone beat Omega 4 Savage on the first day. I won't care when someone beats Bahamut Extreme on the first day. And I don't care if anyone ever clears floor 200 of Place of the Dead. Sitting around obsessing over how other people choose to play the game seems a dumb way to play any game.

  • justin thompson

    Don't care. Someone else having something they can waste their time on failing to do is not and has never been a reason I've played any MMO. I don't care if someone beat Omega 4 Savage on the first day. I won't care when someone beats Bahamut Extreme on the first day. And I don't care if anyone ever clears floor 200 of Place of the Dead. Sitting around obsessing over how other people choose to play the game seems a dumb way to play any game.

  • Vincent

    It would indeed be pretty cool to have more challenging content for the truly dedicated. Even if it's just a really high grind that needs to be done besides doing the usual "chores". (I really enjoyed grinding "the Insane" title back in WoW.)I don't really agree that Naxxramas is a good example though. Honestly, I never stepped inside Vanilla Naxxramas however, I did some research on it and to me, it just seemed like that the amount of epic items dropped overall on a realm each week was just way too low to even have a chance to grab a few on your raids and enter the necropolis. It's "challenge" was more about having enough luck to grab the right items to enter, rather than it actually being a challenge in the best gear possible. I feel like the difference is day and light.Going by the talents and ability complexity, playing each class was actually easier than it is now.I myself like to play classes that and not really accepted by the community as "viable" and master those. It makes me feel like the "hero" your described when I can stay toe to toe with others in content which the class is not suitable for. I remember how, at the start of every expansion in WoW, Fire was the "shit spec" for mages, because "not enough crit". I really enjoyed outdoing most people though.That said, I think that "challenge" didn't really disappear from MMORPGs, but changed form. Instead of the developers providing the challenge for you, you have to find it yourself, so it took on a way more competitive form. Just look at all the MOBAs. Is there something more challengeing than beating up better and better players?But still, not everyone is keen on PvP and not every game offers PvP. For these, it would be really nice to have something really tough.