The idea of trash in a dungeon is not new, at all. What is more of a construct of online gaming is the idea that trash is infinite.
Way back in the Ultima Online days, which I still consider the grand-daddy, each dungeon had spawn cycles because it was all open. 500 people on a server could all be in the same location. Dungeons needed to respawn so that multiple people could participate. They were also structured in a way that there weren’t any bosses per say, you just had enemies.
EQ took the concept of open dungeons and then started adding bosses. It didn’t take very long for people to realize that bosses were not a good investment of time, at least in the leveling process – enter spawn camps. What we saw next was the concept of uber bosses at max level, which were designed for more people and focused rewards – raids. In most functional respects, they were just like dungeons, tons of regular enemies that respawned quickly. The bosses though, in order to reduce the odds of ‘farming’, they had day/week timers to respawns. If the good stuff was once a week and everything else took up space with no rewards (you didn’t need the xp), well, everything but a boss was trash to needed to wade through.
WoW’s model took the raid structure from EQ and found a middle ground with instancing. Group sizes were limited, depending on the content type. Raids were effectively just longer/harder dungeons. You had trash in both, and the trash could respawn if you took too many attempts at taking down a boss. Vanilla was really painful, like 15 minutes between dungeon respawns. That eventually got longer. Raids had a longer timer, a few hours, but also stopped certain spawns if you killed a boss.
They were still called trash, and for a reason. With very low odds, you could get a random drop upgrade while taking out trash. For some well designed areas, the events were a precursor to a new mechanic from the next boss. Otherwise, all the spawns up to a boss were just a time sink.
We’re 2021 and the top two dungeon runners have an interesting and split approach to this concept.
WoW – All dungeons are based on trash. Regular dungeons this is a time waste, while bosses are the challenge. In M+, trash is actually the hard part as you’re racing a clock. Raids have trash, and now there are spawns used to farm other items. There are a LOT of pulls of trash in raids, including patrols. The challenge here are the bosses, which can take dozens of attempts.
FF14 – All dungeons have trash, none respawn. Interestingly, you can often kill all the trash in 1 single mega pull, if you know what you are doing, dramatically speeding up the clear process. There are also trials and raids. Trials are just boss fights – no trash. Raids are quite limited (works out to 1 per expansion), and has a group of 3 parties. There’s non-respawning challenging trash (if you’re at-level), and they often represent the next boss’ attacks. Usually works out to 3-4 pulls between bosses, which is pretty quick all told.
This goes back to the fundamental understanding with players around time management. WoW still focuses on a single relevant tier at any given time, and in order to make that have some sense of value, it gets padded with as much stuff as possible. Castle Nathria is 100% irrelevant today (even less relevant than any Legion-era raid), and it’s less than year old. The Praetorium is 8 years old and groups are still running it. FF14 doesn’t have a need to pad anything, it can just offer you a seemingly endless buffet of choices. I will rightfully admit that WoW’s carrot-on-a-stick of increasing numbers by 2% is the core driver that pushes this model, and therefore has a different set of expectations that FF14’s ‘do what you want’ vibe.
I keep finding more and more example of conflicting design philosophies between these big games. You can read all about Ion explaining that he has a lot of players, with different playstyles to accommodate, and he can’t please everyone. Ok… so does every MMO, including the ones with bigger audiences than his. It’s interesting that the others have figured this out.