I hear endgame being brought up occasionally when EVE is discussed. A lot of gamers these days ask "What is the endgame like?" when thinking about getting into a new game. EVE is no exception to this. However, I find it a very difficult question to answer, though not because I don't have one. The endgame usually refers to the range of content a player will have available when they reach "maximum level" in a particular game. This doesn't truly apply to EVE since there isn't a max level. Also, you don't really have access to the entire game when you make a brand new character. For example, a brand new character can't do Incursions on day 1 therefore the whole sandbox isn't available. The whole "endgame" isn't available if you wan't to think about it like that. If you say that a game "doesn't have an endgame" the connotation is that it doesn't have much content. So, if an ex theme park MMO player who wants to try out is told that EVE doesn't have an endgame, it can put them off. How do I then answer the question? Most EVE players would say that "no, EVE doesn't have an endgame since its a sandbox". However, I would disagree with that. I'd say that EVE does have an endgame, just not in the traditional sense. I'd tell them that the endgame is up to them and that they are empowered by the sandbox. How they use the tools is up to them.
Endgame in most other MMOs is usually reaching maximum level then dipping into all the various types of content available until one gets bored of them. EVE is a game where you set your own goals. You essentially choose your own endgame, rather than have the game automatically direct you towards it. I mentioned Incursions. A brand new player might quite like the PvE content. So they might set the long term goal of training into a ship suitable for running Incursions. Getting to incursions and running them regularly might be that persons "endgame". It might be the only content they want to do. In the shorter term they would focus then on running mission content, essentially progressing through the various ship types and training support skills for their endgame goal. However, Incursions are maybe a poor example since the mission running progression "model" is similar to the tiered progression model commonly followed in theme park MMOs.
What about Industry. I think this is a nice example since there isn't really an obvious progression path. Within Industry a single player sets their own goals and follows them. One player might be to work all the way up to Capital or even Supercapital manufacturing. However another player may simply stick to T1 manufacturing and work towards that particular niche on a larger scale. Another might be more flexible and do a little bit of everything across a range of manufacturing "tiers". The endgame for these players is simply maintaining that continuous process or setting new goals. You cant really "complete" or "win" at manufacturing, like you might do at the last tier of content in a theme park MMO, since it is a continuous process. However, I would still consider it an endgame activity regardless of what level of manufacturing you stop at.
A third area, and probably the most hotly debated, is PvP. PvP can be split into many categories but the simplest divisions are usually to divide into areas of space. High sec, Low sec, Null sec and Wormholes. Null can be subdivided further into Sovereignty Null and NPC Null. You can then further work your way down from massive supercapital battles all the way down to solo PvP. It is interesting because there are players who reside in these areas of space, participate in a specific type of PvP, and refer to their style of play as "THE" endgame. As an example, there are minorities of Null Sov players who proclaim their style of play to be the true endgame of EVE and that everyone should be working towards that style of play. While I think it is fair to choose that style of play as one's endgame experience I feel that it is a false conclusion. I also think it could be detrimental or offputting to tell a new player that any one particular playstyle is the endgame in EVE and everything else is simply leads to it or supports it.
As I said, many players will state that EVE has no endgame have come to that conclusion due to the vast amount of things to do in the game. Their conclusion might be that there are so many paths to take that one simply cannot ever reach an endgame. Others might say that there is an endgame but hold onto the idea that their particular style of play is "THE" endgame. Really I think EVE's endgame is up to the individual. The sandbox nature of the game puts the player in a great position. The linear progression paths and content driven nature of theme park MMOs often puts the player at the mercy of the developer. However, in EVE the endgame is largely put in the players hands. It is very empowering and one of the most refreshing things about EVE in my opinion. I think it is fundamental to EVE as a game that this power of choice remains. I'n my opinion EVE is about setting goals towards a personal endgame. It is satisfying to reach those goals and to reach that endgame. However, one must never forget the journey that got them there. I think that sentiment has been lost to a degree in other theme park MMOs and I hope it isn't lost as EVE development continues.