There was a time in which I loaded up MMOs just to be a part of an online world. For me, it was just an extension of my text-based MUDs. Yes, there was loot and levels to lust after in those games, but there were no raids. It was so rare to have a full group that you may not be aware of mechanics like maximum group size until you had played for hundreds of hours. There was nothing to do at max level except hang out, or maybe join the coding team and make new content. Today, end-game raids are the only reason I bother installing an MMO.
My first few MMOs, I didn’t reach level cap. I wandered around and explored Britannia without ever becoming strong enough to kill anything bigger than a rat. I never went very far from my starting city the first time I played Everquest. When Star Wars Galaxies first launched, I worked hard with my only character at becoming a Master Architect… not because I wanted to experience some kind of crafter’s end-game, but because that was the minimum requirement for creating the building required to form a guild back then. Final Fantasy XI was too hard-core for me back then. I quit when groups in Quiffin said my monk/red-mage wasn’t wanted.
My next foray into casual playing was in Everquest 2. My husband and I created a guild and made friends online. We didn’t race to end-game, and we never saw end-game. We explored areas with our friends and tried content out. We didn’t farm content for loot, and I don’t think I was even aware what the maximum raid size was. I didn’t know the fastest way to level, and I don’t think I cared that much. We grinded to get our guild to level 15 so we could get cheap horses, but our focus was on things like housing, cool looking equipment or gameplay mechanics. I quit when I became bored of the game.
Surprisingly, the game that killed my casual nature was Star Wars Galaxies. SWG launched with no end-game, and still has a comparatively weak end-game. I came back because my husband and his brother had both started playing again. I rushed to 90 because I wanted to catch up and be the same level. Everyone kept complimenting me on how fast I was leveling, and it felt good to impress people. It felt really good. Before I hit max, my game was about grinding all night to have someone say, “Holy cow, how’d you get two more levels since last night?”
Once I ding’d 90, I started getting tells from random strangers asking me to do the end-game instances. There was a shortage of medics, so groups were often sitting around waiting for healers. I became friends with another guild who was always short on medics. They took me into every instance and taught me the ropes. Suddenly, the game changed. No longer did failure mean you could you just gain a couple levels and come back. No longer can you just bring an extra person to help out. It was the first time I had reached max level as a combat character in an MMO. Later on, I would refer to max level as when an MMO “begins”.
My husband and his guild had not even tried an end-game instances in all the months they were max-level before I started playing. They were a guild who saw no problem with level 30’s and level 90’s grouping to do the same content. It was a guild which might spend the entire afternoon protecting a level 40 from a bounty-hunter. They… would never be a raiding guild.
In order to obtain the coveted Cloak of Hate, each of my Sith friends had to make their way into all the heroic instances and kill bosses. One by one, I helped my lightsaber holding friends get into instances by recommending them. At times, I even said I wouldn’t join unless they took one of my friends too. I was the healer, so I got to make the rules after-all. They became hooked as well, and the game changed for them.
My brother-in-law who refused to trait light-side for roleplay reasons, gave up his roleplay for the sake of having a competent tank. His beloved red lightsaber was traded in for a lightsaber color that had better stats. Our policy of never grouping with rebels was abandoned. “The war is suspended during heroics” we would say. Armor’s appearance didn’t matter nearly as much as the stats. Whenever we couldn’t do heroics, we worked on making our characters even stronger.
We left and formed a new guild. We stopped grouping with our low-level friends. We urged them to rush to max level so we could enjoy the ‘real’ game with them. We couldn’t be bothered with quest-lines that had poor armor as rewards or killing rancors just because they looked big. We wanted power, and we wanted it bad. My husband asked for a sith-holocron as an early Christmas present. At one point he said, “Real life money isn’t worth as much to me as in-game money.”
I began leading groups through the heroics and I grew to love that as well. Directing members of a team where to move, who to target, and what to do was more challenging and a massive rush. As much as I enjoyed my early experiences in heroics, none of the times I followed orders as a medic could compare to the bliss I felt after successfully leading my own team through the content.
Eventually, we had everything. We had every piece of jewelry and every item that we could want. There was no content left to master, no power left to chase. I was becoming bored. I had multiple level 90’s with heroic jewelry across multiple accounts… but I started wondering why? I had to invent goals for myself to keep playing, but nothing seemed to excite me as it once did. My husband and I canceled all our accounts. We needed to find a game with more raids to begin the cycle again.