a recipe for a great MMORPG that started me thinking about how and to what extent my own MMO wishlist might have changed over the years. The game Armathyx proposes would have fitted me like a bespoke chainmail shirt back when I began thinking about braving the unknown waters of online gaming around the turn of the century.
Even now several of those bullet points hit the target almost dead center. Yet when I consider whether it would be a game I'd settle down and live in the way I have in GW2 these last few years I'm not so sure.
In another thoughtful post, Jeromai joined the ever-lengthening line of about-to-become ex-MMO players. He wisely nuanced his resignation notice with an essential qualification, saying "I think I’m done with MMOs for the time being". And that's the thing, really. The time. And being.
It's not just MMOs that have changed. Our involvement with them has changed too. For some of us they've long since ceased to be just something we play, if they ever were. As the hobby and I grow older together I find myself not only playing Massively Multiple Online Roleplaying Games but writing about them, thinking about them, picking over their minutiae endlessly. Here, on this blog, in the comment threads of others, on forums and in conversation at home.
And if I really think about it, I've been doing something similar almost since that day late in 1999 when I installed EverQuest and took my first, terrified steps into a virtual world. I never could just shut up and play the damn game.
You might think, then, that after more than a decade and a half, after hundreds of thousands of hours of game time and what must certainly by now amount to millions of words of argument, declaration, pondering and plain gossip, I might at least have begun to come to some kind of concerted, considered position on what, exactly, it is that I want out of it all.
Well I haven't. I have, if anything, less of an idea now than I did when I began. A lot less, if I stop and think about it.
Looking back, for the first two or three years my views on what made for a good MMO were somewhat rigid. Unbending. You might say harsh. Yesterday's post on exploits alluded to it: zero tolerance. And not just for cheats. If I'd had my hands on the controls back in 2000 people would have been kicked from game not just for exploiting but for talking out of character or dying their armor the "wrong" color.
Anything that broke the fourth wall was entirely unacceptable. I switched the /ooc channel off in EQ as soon as I discovered what it was. I was confounded that such a thing could even exist. It seemed to me to be the antithesis of the immersion I sought. And if I wanted it, everyone should want it.
I was an extremist in other ways, too. For the best part of a year I played a Druid who was so in thrall to the teachings of Tunare, Norrath's Goddess of Nature, that not only would I not attack any animals at all but if animals attacked me I would root them then camp or zone to drop aggro rather than cause them any harm. At one point I was so gung-ho about following Tunare's mandates (none of which I had actually read, if indeed they even existed, but all of which I had, somehow, intuited and made up) that I refused to kill any living creature that did not attack me first.
You can imagine how popular that made me in groups. And how slowly I leveled.
So, eventually, I stopped doing that. Of course, I'd been having my cake and stuffing it down all along, playing other characters that allowed me much more freedom of action. My Necromancer, for example, who killed anything he pleased even if it didn't look at him funny. But after a while, as I began to get really good groups with my druid, main-healing at back door in the Sarnak Fort in Lake of Ill Omen or outside The Tower of Frozen Shadows in Iceclad Ocean, I felt those self-imposed restrictions beginning to chafe. So I dropped them.
Slowly, piecemeal, bit by bit, all my lines blurred. Twinking, for example. There was that time I was in Riverdale and some halfling asked me to hold an item for him then he sat down and disappeared and a diferent halfling popped up a minute later and asked for the thing back. I felt like I needed a shower after that one, yet a few months later, there I was in the upper back rooms of an inn in Freeport, dropping my valuables on the floor and camping out to log in another character to pick them up. Just like the twinker I'd become.
Sometimes it hasn't been moral slippage towards self-interest that's changed the way I think or play. Armathyx suggests that, in the perfect MMO, "trading should be done between players and not via some server wide auction house". Been there, done that, ripped up the T-shirt and used it as a duster. When EQ introduced the Broker to Norrath with the Shadows of Luclin expansion I thought it was about the best thing that could ever happen to the game. I still do, or at least one of the best.
Daily quests, when I first heard of them (which, I think, was probably in EQ2's Desert of Flames expansion) seemed to me to be the very definition of a terrible idea. Nowadays I live for my dailies in GW2. I look forward to doing them and I feel happy when they're done. I don't want or need the rewards they give but they form a ritual in my daily routine and I have always loved ritual. And routine.
I could go on and on. Fast movement, flying mounts, in-game maps, achievements...you name it, I was against it. I thought it would ruin the game, spoil the world, wreck immersion. Maybe it did. Maybe it did and it didn't matter.
Either way, all now things I want, even maybe need, in any MMO I'm thinking of giving serious time. Modern, convenient, casual : good. Traditional, challenging, hardcore : bad. Right?
If only. At the same time I relish all those new, fast, automatic contrivances I yearn for sloooow leveling, meaningful death penalties, falling damage that hurts. I want vast, open worlds that take forever to explore, distances that take hours to cross. I want crafting that requires dedication and commitment, dungeons that need nerve and forethought, quests that make you think and reflect not just click and collect.
Yet at the same time I want to auto-path to the killing fields for my ten rats and have my reward automagically delivered to my bags. I want to shop in a window for things I can't be bothered to chase down in game. I want my log-in freebies and my xp pots and my fireworks and silly hats and and and...
I want it all. There's no point asking if MMOs are better now or were better then. They were best, they are best, they will be best. There is no right way to make an MMORPG. There are many ways to make an MMORPG right.
And that, I think, is about as close as I'm going to get to understanding how I feel about the genre and what I want it to be. The possibilities are endless. MMOs can hold all the variations imagination can conjure.
Individual MMOs, alas, cannot.
If I have a wish for the future of the form, then, it's for more focus. For developers to contour their enthusiasm and direct it towards a specific audience. I want more MMOs that are more different one from another, developers who concentrate on what to leave out as well as what to include.
As a player I can decide whether I want to log into GW2 and have free-form, no hassle fun within seconds or into EQ, where, even in 2017, it will take me twenty minutes just to get set up before fun can begin. I can decide to give half an hour to the craziness and color of Digimon Hunter or three hours to the psychodrama of The Secret World. That's where my choice lies, not within each game but outside them all.
Pantheon does not need to take account of every modern trend and I very much hope it never does. The audience it's seeking to attract shouldn't balk if there are no dailies, no flying mounts, no achievement leaderboards. Crowfall doesn't need an overarching narrative that twists and turns and grows year after year.
And I don't need to beat myself up over why now I twink with glee and kill with abandon. Each MMO world needs to lay out choices, codify what is and isn't permitted, expected, required, then serve whatever audience those decisions attract. I'll fit myself in.
At least, that's how I see it today. Tomorrow I may think very differently. I have very strong opinions and I often violently disagree with them.
The perfect MMO doesn't exist but as the wise man said, nobody's perfect. We'll get by.
Nighthold and Senpai
1 hour ago