By definition, Diku is heavily combat and character progression driven. In modern times, thanks to the influence of EQ and especially WoW, that progress for the most part happens after reaching the level cap, through the acquisition of better and better equipment.
One could say that essentially raiding focused games today are group dungeon crawlers that also feature an open world fit for socializing on the side. A cynic could say the open world has been reduced to nothing but a lobby space from which players enter various minigames – but we will leave that debate for another time. Anyway, if the player isn’t currently raiding in a game of this type, it is very likely they are at least working on something that is related to raiding or increases their raid performance.
At this point I should probably point out that I realize not all Diku-inspired MMOs focus on raiding – LOTRO for example has shifted it’s focus almost completely away from group content. And it should probably be mentioned that in this post I purposefully choose to ignore the most casual population of the games that feature raiding – those players who in WoW for example, despite the existence of features like Looking-for-Raid, do not raid.
Back to raid-centric MMORPGs. For many of them, raiding is quite simply the end-all-be-all of relevant content (some would call these type of games WoW clones). Now, raiding being as important as it is begs the question: why spend resources on other content when you could spend it on improving the raiding experience further? Why have, for example, an open world full of quests a lot of people will find to be an annoyance anyway when you could just spend the development time on designing interesting dungeon encounters instead?
I have mentioned before that for hardcore raiders a big motivation to do what they do are the bragging rights. Standing in the middle of a great city in your spiked armour known to drop only from one of the hardest boss encounters in the game with newbies drooling and whispering as they walk by feels extremely rewarding.
And while even the hardcore cannot raid 24/7, they will from time to time want to play the game outside of their group’s raid times. Hence, incentives to log in outside of raids times are needed – as fun as raiding might be, people don’t want to be completely tied to the schedule of others to do anything relevant in-game. Farming money or consumable items, or maybe simply working towards cosmetic improvements like mounts in the open world turn out to be valuable timesinks when it comes to keeping players interested.
Because of the above reasons, the open space, the persistent world outside of raid dungeons that defines these games as a part of the MMORPG genre, can be considered to be an almost necessary part of raid-centric games, even if nowadays less and less time is being spent outside of instances. I don’t believe a lobby-based game consisting of 100 % raiding could be made to work very easily. But one cannot help thinking: would a game focusing a greater proportion of it’s resources on raiding work?
Take WildStar for example, a game prior to release advertised to be a raider’s paradise. Personally, in the case of this game I believe most of the development time spent on the questing experience may have been, to be blunt, wasted. Of course development of the game engine probably took the most money, but I have been pondering whether the game would be doing better than it is now, financially speaking, had it only focused on the endgame without the fluff of the linear and (to many) boring quests and other scripted events that fill the outside world. The leveling simply feels like it was slapped on top, for no other reason but that’s how it has always been. But was it really needed? What if the game had simply been designed so that you started at the maximum level, or rather that there were no levels at all, and the only progression there was to be made was through gaining better equipment or some other form of character power and status?
For just about all the Diku-derivative MMORPGs today leveling isn’t what it once was. Level caps are expected to be reached in a very short time. Levels still increase character power, but because of the comparably small time investment, the real game may as well be treated to start at the maximum level. I know I am not the first one to say this, but leveling in games that focus on raiding has been reduced to a sort of a tutorial to the game or the player’s chosen class.
To get to the point, I feel the concept of character levels may be needless if you are to make a game focused on keeping the hardcore raiding niche entertained. It would be very interesting to see whether or not a raid-centric game without levels would work. Personally I think it well could.