Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Why no MMO feels right for you anymore

The Distance

We've all been around for a while, I'm willing to bet.

Maybe you started playing in a multi-user dungeon; somewhere you could congregate and RP with similarly likeminded pioneers of online gaming. Back when playing an incredibly technical genre of game required a technical mind to access. Requiring imagination and reading ability to process the shape of the world around you, how your character looked, how other characters looked, even.

But I'm willing to bet most of you didn't. Like me, you probably started at the dawning of pop-internet, a couple of years either side of the turn of the Millennium and the years that followed. The time where internet was infiltrating households with ringing dial-up tones and kids/teens were flocking online after 6pm, with explicit guidance not to tell anyone your real name lest you be kidnapped through your beige CRT monitor.

There, we found worlds online filled with people like us. Fledgeling MMOs like Rift, Ultima Online, Aion, Phantasy Star Online, Star Wars: The old Republic, Knight Online, World of Warcraft, FFXI, Neverwinter Nights, Ragnarok Online and City of Heroes. Just to name a few of the big titles.

At the time, much of the appeal to these games was in the enormity of the worlds as well as the ability to play with complete strangers with whom you would quickly form relationships with. It was new, it was exciting, it was vast, it was engaging, and to be honest, it was a little daunting. The huge scale of the worlds combined with the active trade chats and bustling cities and the prospect of growing stronger beside the friends you made along the way.

You didn't really have many responsibilities IRL and every day at school you were excited to get home and log on. Perhaps you even got some of your RL friends to join you if you were lucky.

I guarantee you feel nostalgia for this time. You miss being able to experience those first experiences again, of finding your way around and trying tons of different MMOs to see what you liked and the worlds that they brought.

The Near

You might call it a kind of golden age, somewhere in the years starting 2005/2006 onwards. I think the end of this golden age depends on the person, but it starts around here. Games like Guild Wars, WoW TBC & WotLK, LotRO, Runescape (still), Aion, Maplestory, Flyff, Trickster Online, Wurm Online even.

MMOs are booming - undoubtedly at their most popular and for good reason. You're probably in your teens or twenties, it's easy to make friends because the servers are packed full of people enjoying themselves, plus you've still got no real commitments but have greater autonomy on your bedtime and weekends or whatever.

Your technical ability has improved. Concepts like health, mana, strength, dex, int, spirit/wisdom, damage, mobs, bosses, dungeons, all come as easily as breathing. You perhaps try and be more competitive and clear dungeons and raids with your friends, join a guild, really immerse yourself in your game of choice. Set yourself goals like getting a piece of equipment or a rare mount and really invest the time and energy into achieving these goals.

You miss the sense of companionship, taking on challenges and trials to test and improve your ability, and the vibrancy of the servers throughout with similar voices of your own.

The Turn

When did you first notice you weren't... reaaaally ... having as much fun anymore? There can't be a set date here as we no doubt felt it at different times. But at what point did you log-on, wander your character round a town for a bit, before getting off? Spin your ship in-station (as they say in EVE) and log-off?

You've felt it before no doubt, when a game has stopped being fun - so it didn't feel particularly abnormal at first. You write off a game as "done" or "done for now" and uninstall it. Go to look for a new MMO. Maybe download one or two, feel ehh, a slight lack of interest in investing time towards it. Maybe it's the combat system or the storyline or the class design that doesn't feel quite as fun as you're used to. You give something new a try like Black Desert Online, Guild Wars 2, or FFXIV, enjoy it for a bit but something just feels kind of. Different.

You retry games you played countless, countless hours before - the latest WoW expansion for a given year or the new Runescape (or the old Runescape) and it kind of tickles that urge for a bit from the nostalgia and getting to replay your characters again and conquer new content with your proficiency of the game mechanics. But then your goals like getting to the new end level or completing all the quests are done, and the game drifts from your heart again.

In the industry, MMOs have fallen out of favor and the old audience is looking to new horizons - MOBAs or FPS are what you find your friends playing and you join them and genuinely have fun. But it still doesn't quite scratch that itch you have of wanting to find yourself in a deeply entrenched story - your story - with the sense of adventure in your heart.

You miss the optimism of new MMO prospects, the enjoyment of revisiting old shores, and doing it all with the longstanding friendships you have cultivated.

The Current

You're sure of it now - something's changed. What happened to being able to pull all nighters and set goals for your own enjoyment or explore the world genuinely? Or getting a rare drop, making a new friend, completing a hard quest - where's it all gone and why do I feel like this can't happen anymore? I have a job and/or a family suddenly? I left college how long ago? Wow.

You decide to research titles before committing to the time investment and read up on Steam reviews and check the N4G and the community forums - and are met with negativity. Imbalances in game mechanics, P2W, spyware masked as anti-cheat systems, deaf community teams, toxic communities themselves, or even lack of community entirely.

You give a few new titles a shot anyway but it doesn't work out. You're a seasoned MMO player and you know how minmax your stats and push the most DPS or keep your tank(s) alive. You can very efficiently level and have wikis to look up any quests which don't already hold your hand and make every quest object glow - once your quest helper has pointed you in the right direction.

It's begun to feel like a chore to log-on. You realize you're applying a significant amount of your effort, previously spent exploring and learning in naive wonder, into theorycrafting and maximising the return on your effort. You set goals to get a piece of gear but either your own ability or the game's tuning to a more casual crowd has made obtaining the goal trivial, and you're quickly at a loss on what to do next. Each game you play has some kind of logon reward or timegating to help you continue logging in but after that it's... No longer fun.

You don't think about the current game you're playing all the time at work, like you used to back in school, as you have other responsibilities to worry about. Your coworkers, unlike schoolfriends, don't really understand what you do in your free time and every Monday you admit you didn't really do anything on the weekend because explaining that you sat in Lion's Arch hopping on different fences whilst watching Netflix can't even be made to sound like fun.

Desiring community, you might revisit old titles, for the 7th time, see an old guildie online and decide to shoot them a message but they don't even reply. You know you don't really have the time for them either after that initial connection; you just miss the feeling of sharing such a connection in the virtual world you used to enjoy. You're forced instead to accept that you're passing ships in the night to a sea of responsibilities and adulthood.


Changes in IRL circumstances, the need to minmax and prioritize efficiency over fun/community, reduction in players (including your friends) in favor of other genres leading to subsequent changes in game design to focus on player retention/generation, and the communities are jaded & critical towards developers, are the reason no MMO feels right for you anymore. Probably in that order.

End note: I truly hope you are all still having fun and I hope we met at some point in-game!

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