Two weeks ago, I hit level 80 on my priest in World of Warcraft. This was a bit of a momentous occasion for me, not because it was the first time I hit the level cap, but because it was the first time I hit the level cap when another expansion wasn't arriving imminently. While I play WoW pretty often, I wouldn't classify myself as anything more than casual with it. Part of that is because I really, really hate playing with people.
I know that really misses the entire point of the whole MMOG-deal; it's a game that you're supposed to play with other people, it's pretty much made clear in the acronym. Having sampled almost every online game from text-only MUDs to Ultima Online (which I recently discovered not only still exists, but is releasing an expansion soon even) to EVE Online and onward, WoW finds itself in a funny position of really enabling a good chunk of the content to be experienced by players until you hit the level cap, then the necessity to play with other people is forcefully slammed in your face. As such games go, it's possible to play through most of it without needing to involve other people: I've done it twice with two characters, so I'd know. While every now and then you'll come across a quest that requires (because you have to kill some creature that's a billion times stronger than you) participation of others, these quests can always be skipped (but you're going to forgo the better loot and experience) or come back to when you're ten levels higher and can finish it in a blink.
So it's perfect for anti-social people like me that hate playing with others, but when you hit the highest level and have to start the "endgame" content, it rapes you with a radical shift in perspective.
For the uninitiated, "endgame" content in WoW consists of two paths: you either join a guild (an alliance of other players working together) and set about helping them take down the uberbosses in the various raid dungeons so you can collect increasingly better weapons and gear until you've killed them all and have all their stuff, or join an arena team and set about killing other players so you can collect increasingly better weapons and gear until you've killed everyone else and sit at the top of the pyramid. Both paths require an inordinate amount of time and seriousness, not to mention the grind, and as a predominantly solo player disliking the participation of others, neither idea entices me.
In the past this has never been an issue. As I said, this is the first time I've hit the level cap when there weren't more levels of leveling to look "forward" to. My original character was a warlock, and I didn't hit level 60 (the first level cap) on him until after the first expansion had already been released, thus increasing the upper limit to 70. When I started to approach the end on that account, I started over with my priest. When the second expansion was released I finally hit 70 on that one, and took both of them through the next ten levels. I've now capped out the priest at 80, and the warlock is almost at the end himself. When I get that character to 80, I'm not sure what I'll do. I suppose I can always start over with another character, but frankly I don't have any interest in the other classes and the thought of 80 levels of content I've already seen– twice– is not enthralling to me.
For a variety of reasons, the endgame stuff is not appealing either. As I pointed out, it requires a significant time sink; there's a high expectation of other players that you begin treating the game as a second job if you're going to do the raids, and as my priest is an integral healing class, that would be the expectation even more than if I was just playing backup damage. There's also a ridiculous hierarchy in place: you have to grind the instances to get the gear to enable you to grind the instances that are harder; every guild has restrictive expectations on equipment that must be in place to join, but it's prohibitively difficult if you're just starting out because you have to do instances to get the gear to begin with. It's like needing credit to apply for a credit card. And my experience with guilds has always been lackluster all around, both because of a maturity-level issue with the player base and the inevitable dramatic in-fighting issues involved in playing with a group of others. You've never seen ridiculous until you listen to four grown men violently scream at each other in voice chat over a pixelated weapon in a video game. So this is the first time I've found myself at the end of the game without a clear idea on what to do next. Not to mention that months of perpetually repeating the same dungeon fights or arena fights that I'll already have seen a hundred times by then, after grinding my way through 80 x2 levels, isn't very sexy either.
There's also always the unspoken option: suspend my account until the inevitable next expansion and pick up a new game in the interim. I've a feeling that that's where I will probably go when I truly do get bored, but it has its own negatives too. For whatever reason, no other online game has managed to engage my attention the way that WoW has. It's hard to quantify why that's the case, but I'm obviously not alone when you look at its record-breaking subscriber numbers that no other game has managed to approach, much less topple.