Man cannot live on loot alone. Well, I've never actually tried, but I assume so, anyway. Blizzard, however, speaks with the experience of a developer that's feasted on gold coins (that weren't made of chocolate) and wiped the sweat from its brow with gleaming, mythril-infused hauberks (that, regrettably, also weren't made of chocolate). It knows loot, is what I'm saying. So when it says that forcing Diablo III players to subsist solely on the stuff just isn't doing the job, you know it means it. Once upon a time, though, this wasn't even a concern. People hacked, slashed, and looted until they got their fill, and then they moved on to a different game. So why are players suddenly demanding that an entirely different sort of experience be duct-taped onto the end of Diablo's?
The hack 'n' slash titan explained its plans in a forum post:
"We recognize that the item hunt is just not enough for a long-term sustainable end-game. There are still tons of people playing every day and week, and playing a lot, but eventually they're going to run out of stuff to do (if they haven't already). Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. But honestly Diablo is not WoW. We aren't going to be able to pump out tons of new systems and content every couple months. There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it's not there right now."
"We're working toward 1.0.4, which we're really trying to pack with as many fixes and changes we can to help you guys out, and we're of course working on 1.1 with PvP arenas. I think both those patches will do a lot to give people things to do, and get them excited about playing, but they're not going to be a real end-game solution, at least not what we would expect out of a proper end-game. We have some ideas for progression systems, but honestly it's a huge feature if we want to try to do it right, and not something we could envision being possible until well after 1.1 which it itself still a ways out."
It's a bit weird, though. For one, Diablo's main claim to fame is the singular purity of its experience. Kill stuff, acquire loot, repeat. The pitch-perfect rhythm of that simple formula is, in large part, why people love it so much. Second, when I initially read Blizzard's comment, I thought to myself "Well duh, Diablo lacks an endgame. It's not an MMO. It actually has an ending." But honestly, between the auction house, constant connection requirement, and now this, it's quite obvious that Blizzard desperately wants it to be one.
And that's kind of a shame, because, even if a lot of players don't feel the same way, they seem to be tapping their watches impatiently and expecting it. This response from Blizzard, after all, arose from a thread full of player complaints about the fact that Diablo's grind eventually grinds to a halt. I'm not even sure if they know exactly what they want, either. They just see a void where MMOs tell them some infinitely repeatable activity that'll keep them occupied for another 400 hours should be, so they bang down Blizzard's doors asking for one. So then, the implicit message? Leave things open. Make your game last until the sun gives out and the world explodes. Out with endings, in with endgames.
Moreover, endgames have always been something of a confusing proposition to me. MMOs have told players that they're supposed to spend the entire game doing one thing (leveling, questing, experiencing a story) so that they can reach the end and do something else entirely (raid the same places over and over, PVP in battlegrounds, farm tedious daily quests, etc). But still, it's a bit strange, isn't it? Nowadays, we play games and get angry when - at the end - they don't morph into completely different (and, depending on who you talk to, lesser) experiences.
So really, where does this leave us as players? Are we so unwilling to wait for another helping of "real," probably expansion-based content that we're willing to wolf whatever watered-down-but-long-lasting activities developers serve up? Do we hate the idea of moving onto a different game that badly? Is this endless content churn healthy for anyone - player or developer? And how much are MMO-style business models hurting game design? For the sake of their servers, these games need to keep a lifeline to your wallet, so delivering the most enjoyable experiences possible quickly and efficiently is no longer in their best interest.
Even so, this doesn't have to be all-bad. Diablo's "plight" could even be a solution to the problem of endgames in disguise. The Diablo team is, after all, actually incapable of producing a traditional MMO-style endgame. As Blizzard admitted, it lacks WoW's granite-like content producing muscles. And hey, if I never do another raid or queue up for another PVP battleground again, skipping while humming an upbeat showtune will become my main mode of transportation for the rest of my life. So maybe this will force Blizzard to think of legitimately interesting alternatives. Maybe it'll finally pioneer something again - instead of just polishing things to the point of sun-blinding perfection. I don't know. But I can hope, right?