(The Good, the Bad and the Nerfed)
I’ve been intentionally out of the MMO scene for the last 6 months. Broken games and broken promises and broken guilds finally led me to a point of frustration that I could not overcome. I simply reached a point where I would rather stomp repeatedly on a large rusty nail than log in to my then current game for 3 hours of figuring out how to play now that my character class had been radically changed and trying to find something to do in a guild that had become a ghost town because 75% of the other members had left for other games. I’m still looking for my “next game” and several are due to launch in the near future that look to have some promise. And yet it occurred to me, I’ve been through this cycle before more than I would like to remember. I’ve also watched countless gaming friends and acquaintances do so even more often. Thinking about it for a while, I suddenly realized it all seems like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day. That’s because it is. Too many of us seem to be caught in this cycle of pre-release expectancy, release day euphoria, new game scramble and new guild introductions. This in turn gives way to post launch disappointment, content inadequacy, class choice remorse, balancing patch rage and ultimately new game yearning. It’s a vicious and for many an emotional cycle and each one costs us hundreds of dollars and likely thousands of hours of our lives. At the end we have little to show for it but a deactivated account and a feeling of loss or maybe even betrayal. If we are lucky we have made a new friend or two along the way but even that may not last if they move on to another game, or decide to stay with the game where you met while you move on. It’s like staying in touch with people you knew in high school, you intend to stop by and chat regularly but when you lead different gaming lives you often have little to discuss besides the inevitable “you should come play this game with me” and them saying the same to you.
So how as gamers did we get here?
I’ve been playing MMOs since the early days of Everquest. A daily player of 1 – 6 hours a day in games like Everquest, Eve Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and Warhammer Age of Reckoning, to name a few. Like a lot of online gamers I got my start in the late 70’s with what is today referred to as PnP or pin and paper gaming in games like AD&D and Mechwarrior. But my gaming career if you will started much earlier.
(queue up the way back time machine sound effect)
I remember a time when I actually used to juggle work and a family in the 80s and 90s to manage getting together with friends around a table for a precious 4-6 hours of gaming one night per week with maps and books and graph paper. Eating handfuls of pizza and other takeout while trying (unsuccessfully) to keep the books and papers free of food stains. Some of the best times of my life were spent huddled around a table trying to puzzle out some riddle or negotiate with a powerful warlord or slay a flame spouting dragon at the kitchen table. When the time came that our gamming out grew the limits of my kitchen table and became too loud for my wife to tolerate, we were relegated to my workshop where we set about the same tasks with the same gusto despite the lack of heat or air conditioning and questionable lighting. But with more than one talented Game Master in the group we never lacked for fun and unique adventures that saw us matching wits with undead overlords, over-fed underlings and over eager henchmen. We traveled the various planes of existence, saved cities, discovered worlds, started and ended wars, avenged the innocent, made a nice profit and in general kicked ass in every imaginable way. We had adventures that we still talk about years later. Oh there was death on our part, injury to mind and body and humiliations abounded. But in the end none of us ever vowed while packing up our pens and papers and dice at the end of the night that we would never ever play this stupid game again. On the contrary we could not wait to get to the next game night and pick up where we had left off or start a new adventure that one of us had been carefully crafting for the last 3 months.
Several of the members of our gaming group were early PC users and even worked with or on them in our daily lives, and I can remember sitting around on more than one occasion dreaming of the day when we could computerize our gaming experience. It would be so great to automate dice rolls of NPCs and display maps on a screen! How cool it would be to track the health and saving throws of all those orcs and kobolds, rust monsters and henchmen and somehow we would have an entire campaign on a computer dazzling our fellow players with all the marvels of this new computer age! We were a little sketchy on how exactly this was going to be done but we had every confidence that as computers and software advanced it would be so. Oh we all played computer RPG games like Wizardry, Ultima and Pool of Radiance, Might and Magic and such, but it was all single player and was really just a time filler until we could get together on the weekends for “real gaming”.
The eventual discovery by us of our first MMO Everquest seemed a dream come true! Now we could game together without having to be together! We could now adventure any night after dinner and still be on hand if our spouses needed us. Brilliant! We were at the dawn of a new age, we could play our games any time of the day or night someone else worried about writing the adventures and all was right with the world! It was a heady time indeed.
Fast forward to today. There are more MMO games than you can shake a stick at, MMORPGs, MMOFPS, MMORTS, MMO anything you can imagine. Countless servers host countless games in, on and from every continent and millions of fellow gamers are available to join us online 24/7/365. It all sounds like gaming nirvana, a veritable promised land of milk and honey for gamers. And yet join any voice comm channel or watch any public chat channel in any MMO out there and a sizable portion of the discussion sounds like “this game sucks so bad!” “OMG they nerfed me again” “I hate this game and want my money back” and “I can’t wait till game XYZ launches, I will be gone to play that and never come back to this game again”. Dozens of new games are launching each year in every genre imaginable all to great fanfare and expectation fed by game publishers and hopeful gamers alike. And yet a six to twelve months after launch half of the people who tried it out, are gone sometimes more. Most of whom have either moved on to try the next game to release or gone grumbling back to a game they say sucks and swore they would never play again while mumbling about dealing with the devil they know.
Why do we seem to live in an age where so many games despite dazzling graphics, tantalizing lore, sophisticated skill trees and revolutionary combat systems seem to suck so bad? Is it the game studios lying to us about what to expect? Is it the reality of limited budgets and ruthless deadlines? Is it a dumbed down player base? Is it the limitations of our current technology? A player base with a short attention span? What has made us a population of dissatisfied, grumbling resentful, skeptical, unhappy players who move to another game every 6 months always getting our hopes up that this one will be THE game, the one that fulfills all our expectations.
Over the next several weeks we will be exploring these and other possibilities in an attempt to explain the general discontent felt by a majority of MMO gamers today. Along the way we welcome any and all input from our listeners and readers. Share your stories, insights and opinions with us and maybe, just maybe at the end we will have some answers. At the very least maybe we will have a clearer understanding of what the question is.
Our discussion as aired live 7 July 2012