Regardless of how good a game might be, regardless of how many hours of entertainment it provides, a game that dares to end is a game that has damned itself. We don't want our games to end, and the recent complaints around the Diablo III endgame are a testament to that desire.
Taking a look at a thread on the Blizzard forums reveals players who felt robbed on their $60 dollar purchase despite wringing hundreds upon hundreds of hours of play-time. Hours of play time from a single-player game that isn't meant to continually update with new content like an MMO would. Hours of content for a game that lacks something like a ‘season pass,' or a subscription that would pay for additional content.
I don't think it's entitlement. I don't think people are expecting Diablo III to be something it's not—an MMO, for instance. I think this is the natural outcome of an audience that has been weaned on games as services. Games that do not just end.
This is true even when artistic vision begs the user to consider a definite ending, like in the case of Fallout 3. Nope, there's no room for artistic vision—not if it gets in the way of a player engulfing themselves in their universe of choice. Bethesda undid the original ending of Fallout 3 so that players could continue their adventures for as long as they wanted to.
It makes sense that players are expecting more than what Diablo III currently provides. This is the type of audience the gaming industry—with its day 1 DLC and long-term content plans— has primed. An audience hungry for more, because there always is more.
I'd go as far as to say that games like Diablo III are already somewhat complicit in that reality. Games that have procedurally generated elements have greater replay value, and if a player doesn't lose interest, the game does its best to provide ‘new' material to stay engaged with indefinitely.
Consider, too, that design sees constant player engagement as the holy grail. If a game doesn't provide content in equal measure, however, then creating a game that knows how to keep users playing is useless.
You can't create an environment like that and wonder why users clamor for more. Of course 500+ hours of content is not enough. 500+ hours is still a game that ends.
From a business perspective, this is great news. It means there's an audience that is very eager to keep playing, possibly keep paying to make that happen. Of course, there's a benefit to the player, too. Games can go on for as long as someone is willing to play them.
We know all of this. What I'd like to consider for a second is the long-term implications of an industry that works this way.
Creating games that do not end is the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, I see everything in a game working toward endless engagement. Imagine an industry that creates experiences that are constantly evolving. Imagine returning to a game you played as a child and finding that it speaks to your adult sensitivities—not through nostalgia, but through a game that grew up with you.
Imagine being able to interact with artificial intelligence sophisticated enough that we don't have just static characters, but dynamic ones that we can really get to know. Something that might resemble a person. We already find characters incredibly compelling, already find it difficult to say goodbye. I don't think it's going to get any easier.
Imagine a reality where the hardest choice a player can make is the decision to stop playing.
Right now, development is not agile enough to meet consumer demand: it takes months for content to be produced. This is why development of DLC often happens in-tandem with development of the game proper. As tools get better, that might not be the case in the future.
For now, nobody wants a game that ends.