The State of the State of MMOs in 2012 (Part 3)
Part III: Too much is never enough
Earlier I asked what went wrong? Why are we as a group so discontent with our MMOs? Every year we see more games release, there are currently hundreds of MMORPGs along not counting MMOFPS and the other niche games. Tens of millions of us play those games and an ever increasing number of us are discontent with the games we have to choose from in one form or another.
I’ve gotten considerable input from other gamers who have been around since at least the days of Ultima Online and Acheron’s Call, many who like me gamed in the days before there were computers.
It’s true that we have come a long way technologically in our games. Stunning graphics are a given now days, surround sound helps complete the feel of immersion, and there is no lack of games with a deep and rich story line. So while we may grumble about this or that, any comparison to the graphics or sound of say 15 years ago should end those complaints quickly.
So technically games have gotten much better.
While we have seen several instances of games simply failing to deliver content that they promised, or features not working as advertised, such as combat or crafting interfaces which sounded innovate but often turned out to feel counter-intuitive or cumbersome when actually tried. Yet all but the worst of them are again better than what we had a decade ago, if we had them at all back then.
So game play has evolved:
Much of the input I have received unsolicited from readers who were long time gamers reminisced about a feeling of accomplishment with MMOs of yesteryear. Often stories and comments about how they felt like they had overcome more back in the days when archers had to count the arrows they could carry and every player had to worry about actually carrying water and food with them. Planning for encumbrance and how it would affect their class performance, torches to see by not to mention spell components for casters, all seemed like a pain at the time.
But many players looking back today get the feeling that the current stable of games let us take too much for granted.
Today we play MMOs where we can all carry a half a dozen bags at all times containing countless sets of armor, weapons, potion bottles and scrolls all ready in the blink of an eye. Gone are the days of needing to eat and drink if we wanted to regen health and mana at all. Travel is given no thought or very little as nearly everyone has skills or items that can instantly port them from spot A to spot B. And instances insure that there is seldom even a delay or danger in reaching a quest or spawn area, we just gather together flip a switch and POOF! There we are at or very near BoosMob#22015 where we proceed to wail on him/her until treasure drops out. Then we pull the lever again and POOF we are all home safe and secure and throwing away gear that we just got 2 days ago for the shiny new gear that ole #22015 dropped tonight.
Ask the average player today what a corpse run is and they are likely to think it’s the name of some creature in another game. Today, not only are there no such things as corpse runs there is not even a death penalty. This of course has led to a mentality of charging in first and never mind the dead, as long as we kill stuff someone will get us back up on the fly and damn the person healing if they could not keep up anyway.
Fast paced playing does not make for a very fulfilling night in an MMORPG and yet time and again when I try a new game that is the kind of groups I find. Players who know no caution because there is no down side to failure and no reward for skill. Players who are not interested in the story line much less the details of WHY they are trying to complete the current quest. The only reason for a quest it to get loot and to hell with the back story. Players who will take any path they can find to jump to the end and bypass content to get the sparkly stuff at the end.
And when the content cannot be rushed through then the developers feel the wrath of the players who cry and scream that the play is too hard and they generally vote with their money, moving on to games that are more rewarding and less challenging.
Add to this the fact that we have hundreds of games to choose from today and you have an atmosphere where developers feel forced financially to cater to the whims of the players or lose them to the games that will.
Players don’t appreciate new content they just race through it as fast as possible and yell for more.
Recently while researching for another story I saw reference to a behavioral study where the test subjects were asked to rate the chocolates from a very limited selection and again rate the chocolates from a much larger selection. The short version of the conclusion is that the more choices the subjects had, the less likely they were to be as satisfied with any of them. I think this is another important factor in the general discontentment of MMO players today. We have so many choices that it is staggering. I know people who play 5 and more MMOs regularly. They bounce back and forth every time they get angry with one and leave that game as soon as they find something they don’t like it.
It is my opinion that what we need is more challenging game play that cannot be crashed through in a matter of days. We need real penalties for failure to make players slow down and think their way through storyline and content rather than following the all mighty zerg rush that seems to be the strategy of choice in too many cases. There is no risk in most games today only rewards and bigger rewards.
I may sound like some old guy giving my version of the “back in my day” speech but its true. In a world where devs are pushed to make everyone is a winner or risk losing paying customers to the game that will make them all a winner, there is no obvious reward for challenging gamers. Thus every game becomes a candy coated trip down rainbow avenue where golden armor and skittles drop from every mob, or they become grind fests where you repeat the same task over and over and over until by increments you get the golden armor and skittles just by virtue of the amount of hours you put in.
Unfortunately I don’t see a way out of the cycle. Only a developer who is willing to take risks would put time and money into a game that made players actually think and work for success and no one is willing to put that kind of time and money at risk. Everyone is going to continue to develop games based on the models we have now, giving us a long list of games that are 80% the same with different graphics because they are a proven money maker.
And the odds of the gaming community as a whole standing up and saying “give us more challenging games that have not been dumbed down” is about as likely as every 5 year old in the world standing up and demanding more green vegetables in their diets.
There are some more subtle complaints about the current crop of MMOs that I personally have but I will save those for another time.
For now I want to make this one point clear and I will be blunt about it. We need games that make it less easy to succeed. This solves the problems of zero to end game in 30 days, and it will weed out crybabies who need to go back to phone games until they learn some patients, strategy and manners. I’m not talking about a step backward in technical features the advancement in maps, graphics, sound and interfaces are all good things. But in the end and MMO is about engaging story line that people won’t or can’t skip over and challenging game play that you can be proud to have taken part in.
I will end with a personal example of this. 3 of the most frustrating weeks of my gaming career were spent in EverQuest with my guild struggling in the Planes of Power to beat Coirnav the Avatar of Water and the The Rathe Council. In the days before voice comms running a 72 man raid of this type took days and sometimes weeks of practice and learning to form strategies and even then having one person in a key role loss connection could make the entire 3 hour event unwinnable. At the time it seemed maddening but looking back on over a decade of MMOing those are the proudest moments of my gaming career. I ask each of you to think back about that one event that you are most proud of accomplishing in you gaming career and I bet it the road to it was paved with difficulty and I bet it took time and along the way you thought more than once about quitting.
That is what we need again and I just don’t see anything like that being offered in the newer games we are being offered.
Discussion on show as aired 21 July 2012
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