Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 21, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 21, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

The End Of The World
by Tora Teig on 05/04/11 10:52:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I am obsessing on fictional worlds right now. How worlds draw us in and why, how, and what makes that so enticing. It is fascinating really. And it has really got me thinking about how escapism makes us want to remain a part of that game world, even when the game technically is over.

And it is worst with linear games. Especially games that have really fetching universes have that bitter taste once they are done. When the story is over, you are evicted from that universe. Sure, you can play the game again. But it will be more or less the same things occuring - at least not anything dramatically different. That reduces the escapism to a mere replay, like rereading a book or seeing a movie twice. It is not really as enchanting, and the world loses its edge, its tenability, at least after a couple of times.

Open world games face much of the same issues. Because even though they allow a lot of freedom and appear to provide you with a story you helped create, we are still forced down a general path. We notice that especially when playing them again.

BUT, open world games have the perk that they often allow us to remain in the world even when the main storyline is over. The problem is that the world then remains the same, more or less. And anything occuring is repetitive. So the world will eventually feel pointless. After all, there's not a lot to do but to do weird things like kicking chickens to get the achievements you're missing. Or collecting all the collectibles you couldn't bother picking up on your way through the first time.

The MMO I think, has found a way to allow everyone to remain in a (more or less) dynamic, "real" world. And this also means people usually feel more ready to commit to the game. I'd never thought about it, but when a friend told me, it really got me thinking. Because the things they do in an MMO will always be there. If they level up -- they are never going to be demoted to a lower level again. And the game is never going to be "over", so they can always keep playing.

So the MMO worlds are more stable, they change, but will never take away your investments in time or effort unless you are exploiting the game or they are making changes that nerf your items or class.

So, the MMO worlds keep changing, new content is added, what lacks in content is fulfilled by the social aspects. All in all, the MMO world never "ends" as such. It wont kick you out and tell you "The Story Is Over!"

That doesn't mean MMO's have got it all right. A lot of MMO worlds lack possibilites and diversity, encourage griefing and grinding. All in all it is just the idea of the universe never ending that I think is one of their strengths.

A plausible universe, a world with its own history and culture, its own flaws, its own tears and its own laughter - it's a good place to immerse. A good place to play and learn and explore and experience. Game worlds have the interactivity that books and movies can't provide (no, duuh). And it's extraordinary, like magic. We don't know what will happen when doing this, or how people will react when doing that. It is truly unique, and very powerful.

Then suddenly--


Related Jobs

Zindagi Games
Zindagi Games — Camarillo, California, United States

MOBILE Art Director
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

Senior UI Artist (temporary) Treyarch
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

Lead UI Artist
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

UI Artist/Visual Designer (temporary) Treyarch


Sean Farrell
profile image
Very nice piece. Although I prefer linear games, because the story I fleshed out, I see what you mean. When a game ends, I feels like leaving a place you live in for a long time and now you will never be able to return. Even if you return, it is not the same place, you have changed. With games this because you experienced the world with incomplete knowledge, now you know it is not the same.

Robert Schmidt
profile image
So glad I'm not the only one to feel this way. I can remember quite a few games that, once I beat the last boss and the ending began, could feel the anxiety start because I knew my time with those characters and their world would be coming to an end.

I think the ability to evoke these feelings has a lot to do with having a good storyline and character development. The games that manage to make you care personally about the world and characters in it can be far more enjoyable than a game that might have better gameplay without those two things.

As far as MMO's go, I have to disagree that they currently have this ability. While the world never ending is great, I haven't seen anything in my years of UO and WoW that made me care if all the NPCs suddenly died of the plague or the cities burned to the ground. I think the longevity of these games (or addiction of its members some people would say) has more to do with three things: personal investment you've made in your character collecting gear and leveling, how fun the game is to play, and the live people you make friends with while playing. Eliminate one or two of those factors and people don't care if they ever visit again. At least this was the case for myself and people I knew.

Joao Beraldo
profile image
I understand what you are saying and it makes a lot of sense. The thing is that (supposedly) when you design a MMO's world, you create more of a groundwork with support elements and background (AKA you create a world and not a story). Writing a single-player game is more like writing a book: there is a world to develop but there is most often a serious focus on a single story, region or group of characters.

But, in the same way MMOs tend to have a richer world to live in, it seems to me in my experience both playing and designing MMOs that MMO players are less predisposed of being the character then when playing single-player games.

Could DLC save de day? It would be an interesting idea. Maybe if single-player games were designed from the start with tools to facilitate content creation and several DLC releases... (akind to Dragon Age: Origins)

Another very good piece, Tora. I'm looking forward to the next one!

Scott Atkins
profile image
Which gives me an interesting thought: By finishing the game.. you're destroying the world. Congratulations hero, you stopped the evil villain casting a reality-voiding spell.. only to void reality yourself.

I wonder if there's a 4th wall breaking story somewhere in there...

Jim Burner
profile image
I still return to the worlds of Super Mario 64 to this day. The design of those playground-like environments are like familiar songs I enjoying jumping into and "dancing" around in. Because they are sandboxes to some extent, I can improvise and come up with new choreography :) Of course, I'm limited by Mario's moveset (which is maybe my favourite of any game) and the environment, but there's enough freedom there to bring me enjoyment 15 years later. Maybe I'm odd. Thanks for the article!

Bart Stewart
profile image
As one of those who invests in the world of a game, rather than racing through the mechanics to "win" as quickly as possible, this question of leaving behind static, dead worlds once the game is over is something that's been on my mind as well.

For me, as a bit of an introvert, the question gets framed a little differently: what would be the shape of a game that focuses on me like a single-player game, but that changes continuously like a MMORPG?

My answer to that was the Living World concept. The details are here (
Living_Worldquot_Game.php); the gist is this: build a detailed world with complex NPCs living in society with each other where their cumulative actions over many years can alter the world. Then give that code away for free, but define your business model around continuously creating and (digitally) selling high-quality content for that world.

The combination of these things would, I think, produce a gameworld capable of generating its own unique myths and legends as time passes, and -- especially if you also permitted players to create and distribute their own content -- you'd never run out of different things to do and different stories to experience.

That's what I came up with, anyway. I'd enjoy hearing any ideas from others about how they would keep a satisfying gameworld alive.

Max Moroz
profile image
Tora - your article summarizes precisely what I like about MMO, even though I hate the grinding, the lack of balance, and many other core MMO traits.

However, I noticed that some MMOs don't give me the same feeling of immersion in an endless world as others. For instance, when I played FFXI, I cared about the world. Then I switched to WoW. Out of all the numerous pros and cons of the two games, the most powerful difference for me was that I didn't care about the WoW world. Just like Robert Schmidt in the post above, if the WoW world was entirely destroyed and replaced with something new, it won't bother me. That doesn't mean that I didn't like the game; but it did lose one of the biggest reasons I would play an MMO.

Why did I care about the FFXI world? I wish I knew. Maybe the personalities of NPCs, the character of the cities, the unique geography, the plot, and so on, were much better developed. Maybe the world was simply more suited to my personal taste. Maybe talking about the world with other players made the world feel more "real" (WoW players rarely, if ever, talk about the game lore).

Tora Teig
profile image
Thank you, Max! I totally agree. Some worlds just work so much better than others. The WoW-world, though detailed and very varied - really lacks something I can't put my finger on! The only place I think I cared a little bit about was Duskwood. Gah, I'm going to have think about this now. Figure this stuff out!

Maybe WoW is just too big? Is that it? Is it too empty? Hmm.. Thanks for bringing this up! I mean that, seriously, not to be ironic or anything! I'm going to go wring my brain up.