It’s a simple fact that all games that want to have retention need re-useable content. Sandboxes have a distinct advantage here as the content is generally created by the players and not the developers. EvE, UO, ATitD are examples of user-generated worlds. Themeparks have contained experiences that, by and large, are the same for all players. The “ride” is balanced against other rides and provides a more uniform experience. UO, until the shard split, was near death-trap for any new players venturing outside, with a completely different experience depending on time spent in-game. Themeparks are the same formula from 1-max level, with a few variations at the top (raiding, achievements, PvP, collecting, etc…)
While I have posted a bit about Wildstar and its approach for end-game activities (there are many), ESO has taken a slightly different approach. First though, some quick context.
ESO has 3 main “phases” compared to the typical 2 in other themeparks. There’s the 1-50 phase, following a central quest structure through a half-dozen zones for your faction. As you level, you have full access to PvP and level appropriate dungeons, across all factions. Once you hit 50, then you reach the veteran levels, of which there are currently 10. That’s phase 2. This phase encompasses a central quest structure for the other 2 factions, split between the levels, with a bit more challenge. Phase 2 is therefore twice as long to get through as Phase 1. You still have PvP access and you now have access to veteran-ranked dungeons, which are rather unforgiving in terms of tactics compared to their regular variants. Phase 3 is what happens at veteran rank 10, and this is where the new Craglorn content comes in to play. Group-based open world objectives, is the main gist of it. That said, there are dozens of quality of life changes in the pipes (fixing many grouping issues).
J3w3l goes into it from her personal experience. Phase 1 is simple, phase 2 is significantly more complex and unforgiving and then phase 3 has no relation to either previous phase. Due to the odd grouping mechanics, where it’s rather difficult to find someone to play with during Phase 1-2 (phasing, quest progress, etc…) you’re in a solo-only world for about 400+ hours. I am curious how Phase 3, with a heavy if not singular focus on group content will work with the player base.
On top of that, given that 99% of the content is consumed by phases 1 and 2 (all quests across all factions) and that you have enough skill points to fill out 80% of all skills (which works out to more than 100% of the useful ones) there’s no replayability, outside of the 3 class-specific skill lines. There’s a difference between a Dragonknight and a Mage but not enough to fill out 400+ hours.
Finally, as current metrics seem to indicate that the wide majority of players are in the mid-30s at the end of the first month, or somewhere around 60 hours in, and that the new content requires 400+ hours to even access – you need to wonder about the design direction. I give a lot of flak to Wildstar for their 20-40 person raid commitment as end-game content (it’s just stupid to do in 2014) but ESO deserves a fair amount of head scratching too. If you want to retain people, there’s only so many turns on the Magical Tea Cups that people can stomach before heading to the door.