Podzilla 1985

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

MMO Ramblings From a Veteran

Let me start this one off by reminding you guys of how I came into this wacky industry we lovingly abbreviate as MMORPGs.

I was never much of an RPG player growing up. The first game I can remember playing was at a friends house, on a pre-NES Sega system that I can't for the life of me remember the name of right now. I begged my mother to get me one, but instead she went out and got me the brand spanking new Nintendo Entertainment System.

It wasn't what I asked for, but I forgave her. Quickly. Also, yeah, I'm feeling pretty old right now.

My gaming tastes ran the spectrum from Mario to TMNT to Contra and even one of those point and click detective games that, again, I can't remember right now - possibly because I am so old. However, I never played the RPG staples of the times. I never touched Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior, and to be honest I can't think of a single RPG I played during my much younger days. It wasn't until the SNES came along that I dipped into the Final Fantasy's, that awesome Mario RPG, and the like. I didn't dislike RPG's, I just preferred platformers and sports games at the time. I played a mean game of NBA Jam, let me tell you.

It was around this time period that a friend of my mother, who had also sold us our first computer in the form of a past its prime C64, filled my head with info about this game called Ultima Online. I had played the original Ultima's on that Commodore 64 he sold us and I didn't understand at the time just how influential and epic those games truly were. Ultima Online, though, sounded too good to be true. A completely open world with no levels and complete freedom? BOOMSHAKALAKA, indeed! I could be anything I wanted to be! I could be a warrior, a fisherman, or in my most random and useless personal quest ever - I became a grandmaster detective. I could tell you who opened chests and murdered other players, but not much. Still, it was pretty bad ass that you had that option. That was what UO was about - options.
The screen that changed my virtual life forever
Beginnings

I'm not going to go into my love for Ultima, again, but I just want to hammer home that point that my addiction to this genre started the first time I got to that starting screen while an MIDI version of the song "Stones" played in the background.

I've been as big a supporter and detractor of the industry as anyone since then. I cheered loudly for World of Warcraft when those gates open. I booed till my throat went sore when SOE turned Galaxies into the bastard child of poor decisions and uncaring greed. I've kicked and fought and screamed and laughed at the events that have shaped this business into what it is today, and make no mistake, it is thriving quite well. Just look at the influx of titles every year in the genre and you can see that we're apart of one of the most popular forms of entertainment going right now.

And that brings me to my point, one which makes me both sad and fearful for our beloved genres future as a whole -

As we grow, we can only grow apart.

When I started out in this world Ultima Online boasted about having 200,000 subscribers and those were incredible numbers. This was a group mostly made up of your hardcore RPG fans and they made the world truly unique. We talked, we adventured, we even had wars that felt like they meant something. It wasn't just a big battleground with consequence free PVP, these fights actually meant something to us. We were nerds, the world looked at us like nerds, and it was a badge of honor. That time, in the early years of the graphical persistent world, was the golden age of MMO's we will never get back. Why? Because of games like Warcraft, which at its peak had over 11 million subscribers, and the people it brought along for the ride. From gamers to housewives, now everyone wanted a piece of that persistent world pie.

The nerds quickly became the minority.

Some bad things are about to happen...
Some gamers need to get knocked the fuck out
That is not a bad thing, as the boost to the genres popularity has helped launch many projects that wouldn't have been possible under UO's now paltry 200k subscriber base. No, my concern lies with the gamers that have become so jaded and bitter by this industry that they give the player base a black eye the likes of which we haven't seen since Debo knocked out Red over that bicycle.

Ask your parents.

Just looking at the forums shows you a breed of gamers so vicious and devoted that it polarizes the industry. In the same way other mediums expect things to be a certain way or else all hell breaks loose, MMO fans can make or break a game on a whim. As I've said before, look at games like The Old Republic, Warhammer Online, Secret World, Age of Conan, Aion, and Darkfall. From traditional Western MMO's to Eastern titles, so many have been heralded as the next great WoW-killer and released to great fanfare and sales, only to be tossed to the side and designated as a failure when the MMO gamer looks beyond it to the next big release.

I myself am guilty of this, as I've tried just about every MMO that has been released but never stick around longer than that first month. But even I don't just start singing about doom and gloom a few months after an MMO is released.

Even Guild Wars 2. the popular new kid on the block, is beginning to fall into this trap. I was browsing the forums on another site and couldn't help but laugh at all of the posts talking about what a failure it was. It's been out for just a few months! I myself am not completely happy with it, but never would I say it is a complete failure. If you listen to the right people though, thousands are leaving the game every day and it feels like one big abandoned world. Sure, I noticed it seemed lighter than when I first started playing, but all MMO's have that exodus after the freshness wears off. It's hardly the apocalypse.

It made me think though. What makes a gamer so callous and quick to switch? Are we just so devoted to this genre that we love that nothing will ever truly be good enough to satisfy us? It's entertainment, so of course we will be divided by what we want out of it, but I have never seen a community more vocal and unforgiving as the MMO community. Whether or not that comes from passion or immaturity is up to you, I suppose. The two border each other dangerously close.

In other game series there is a sense of disappointment if a game didn't quite meet expectations. I thought Saints Row 3 was good but lacked the magic of the second one. Modern Warfare 3 was a huge disappointment to me compared to Black Ops and MW2. Arkham City felt more complete yet less entertaining than Asylum. Still, I enjoyed the games for what they were, told my friends how I felt, and moved on. There was no outrage or uproar over changes like when I logged in to WoW find my talents were gone and the entire system had been overhauled.

I have more time invested into these characters, not to mention I'm paying a monthly fee just to have access to them. So you're damn right I get upset. But it's their game, not mine, and they can change whatever they want about it. If I don't like it I can stop playing, which I did eventually. But damn was it hard to get away. I walked away with a little bit of sorrow in my heart, but I didn't reach anywhere near the rage level of some players.

umad mmoplayer?
How I look when I sleep
Sometimes I get fed up with all the negativity in the community. Not everything is life or death, but if you listen to some people there can be nothing else. I'm aware that this isn't just a gamer problem, the internet itself breeds hateful cowards who hide behind anonymity of a computer screen. That doesn't make it any less disheartening. We used to be a group of like minded souls that came together in these virtual worlds to experience a different life. Now that kind of kinship feels like a lifetime ago.

What have we become?
 
I don't believe it's our fault, though. We are a product of our environment, and our environment has been the same cut and paste system for the past ten years. When I started it was undiscovered territory, but so many years of more of the same has killed that wonder inside of us and turned us hollow. As more and more gamers enter into our world they will be greeted with that stale air we've been breathing for years, and like us they will slowly turn from wide eyed kids in a candy store to lost souls drifting from one game to another. Or, like the very people who will read this and react accordingly, they will become jaded and grow bitter towards this industry. They will be cursed to wander, yelling to everyone they see how dissatisfied they are with things, all the while building up a hope inside of them that the next one will finally be the one.

But there is no next one that will satisfy them. We are cursed by a passion and desire that developers today can't seem to understand. It's not about sales to us, it's about the world. We're free to expect and want without marketability and demographics to crush our visions. The rose colored glasses for what they show us are gone, and all that remains is the nostalgia from the first time you ever logged in and killed your first trash mob.

That is an itch you will never be able to scratch.
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