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Embrace the Apocalypse: Why competitive endgames and server resets in strategy MMOs make sense

When designing our strategy MMO we decided to build in a competitive endgame race that would result in periodic server resets. We got feedback that people would be upset by this, but I think it will be popular if we can get the message out. Here's why.

Why an MMORTS with an endgame?


Most MMOs with a persistent world go on forever.  Players get emotionally invested in their online real estate, the items they’ve collected, their reputation, and the alliances they’ve made. So why consider periodically burning it all down and restarting?  Well, just as forest fires are an integral part of certain ecosystems, periodic apocalyptic endgames are essential for maintaining a dynamic RTS game.  My first time experience of this was alarming, but then I decided that the true value in an MMO lay in making friends, building my reputation and creating epic memories.  The second time I was the one who triggered the world ending when my guild started the apocalypse by winning the server.  Then I was hooked.

 

Meaningful Victories


I’ve played WoW, Clash of Clans, and dozens of other MMOs.  I love games that are a challenge to master and that feature difficult PvP. The feeling of delivering a serious, lethal blow to an opponent and emerging a champion is an incredible natural high.

 

But it’s my experience that many of the current games out there offer this feeling in little, unsatisfying doses, or not at all.  Most games have quick matches where I fight someone for an hour or two, someone wins and that’s it. Having tasted the satisfaction that winning an empire vs empire campaign over the course of months brings, I can no longer be happy just winning a quick round.  I want more intensity, higher stakes. Total world conquest of an MMO with my guild by my side!  

 

A Concrete Goal


MMOs can be a giant timesink.  That’s great for kids with nothing else to do, but I’m a busy woman and I can’t spend a lot of time on a game indefinitely.  Having an endgame goal that can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time means that I can put my full focus into the game for a while, hopefully emerging as a winner, and then decide whether I want to have another go. There are many MMOs I know I would love, like EVE Online for instance, but their open-ended nature means there’s no natural stopping-point.  I know myself too well. If I got really good at say Clash of Clans, I’d want to keep playing every day and not let down my clan. I know I’ll quit eventually, but with a game like Clash of Clans it’ll be a bitter decision out of boredom or necessity.  With games with an apocalyptic endgame, I can retire in a blaze of glory, honorably.

 

Dynamic Competition


Late starters on a base-building strategy game are at a disadvantage unless, like EVE Online, they’re set in infinite space and bases are mobile.  People who fall behind in a finite-space world have the near-impossible task of catching up.  Eventually the top alliance on a server will dominate, and the competition to be the best will functionally be over, even if a game doesn’t have a formal endgame.  Looking at older MMORTS games like Evony or Ikariam, the older worlds always lose population over time and die.  


Embrace the Apocalypse

When I was first confronted by the idea of a server-ending apocalyptic endgame, I was sad about the prospect of losing all the stuff I worked so hard to build.  But then I figured nothing lasts forever, particularly in virtual online worlds.  All I would ever have is the memories and friendships I made, and the tactics I’d learned.  A fresh start would give me the chance to do things better, and give me another shot at ultimate victory.

 

So I think it's a good way to keep MMOs dynamic and lively. But I had to learn to let go of my pixel real estate. We've made the design decision to go with it for our strategy MMO. Will we be able to overcome people's emotional attachment to their online stuff, though?

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