How many times have you quit playing a game because you lost? How many times have you quit a game because you won?
The first is rarer than the second, right? We view defeat as motivation to improve and try again, while often times victory is indeed followed shortly by ‘game over’, both figuratively and literally (I may not be using those words correctly, some English major feel free to correct me).
As games transition away from a product model and more towards a service (which IMO is a great thing, but that’s another topic), it becomes more and more important not just to get someone to try/buy your game, but for them to KEEP playing/paying, be it a monthly sub or DLC purchases.
Tie these two things together, and its interesting that so few games really push or focus on defeat. Dark Souls is of course an excellent example, and I’d put games like Civilization with its long list of difficulty levels here as well. A game like LoL has basically infinite difficulty, because as you get better, so do the players you play with/against, and I think that is a HUGE contributor to that games amazing sustained success.
In the MMO space the exact opposite push has happened in many games; defeat is almost impossible in WoW today outside of very specific content (non LFR raids for example), and the leveling game in almost all MMOs is borderline trivial. The strategy in the MMO space is not to defeat you and focus on improvement, but rather to stretch the road out so instead of 40-60 hours of content, you plow through thousands of hours. The flaw here is once you have been through one such road, you more or less know it, and so you won’t be as excited to repeat a similar process in a different flavor or theme, and I think this is a major reason why we are seeing an overall decline in MMO interest.
One of the themes the PvE Sandbox MMO Design tab touches on is the concept of the players fighting an ever-increasing, and ultimately ‘impossible’ battle against the world. The main reason I think this would be successful is players of all levels push themselves to improve, and we like seeing that improvement. Easy example; we all like the feeling of finding a really powerful item, and the short-term effect of being able to easily handle something that was more difficult prior to finding that item. But long-term, if said item has now trivialized a lot of content (or worse-case, made everything too easy), that item is a net-negative to the whole experience.
The solution isn’t to remove the item, but rather to allow the game to escalate the difficulty until, even with said item, you are challenged. And by challenged, I mean defeated until you again improve. Fallout 4 is a great example of this flaw. When you find a great legendary weapon with crazy DPS, its a great feeling. Its also great fun to use it the first few times and melt enemies. But long-term such a find trivializes the game, and you are left with the option of either not using the item, or starting a fresh game. Wouldn’t it be better if instead the game was able to handle such a find, and keep you challenged?