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Entries in mmo (5)

Wednesday
Sep042013

A massive(ly multiplayer) realization

At some point when I wasn’t paying enough attention, I seem to have become an MMO player. What started out as an academic dalliance to figure out what this World of Warcraft thing was all about has slowly progressed to become a Thing I Enjoy. Over the past couple of years (which, not coincidentally, also represents the time frame since which I acquired a decently beefy gaming PC), I have slowly begun to notice that I’m actually paying attention to MMO launches. I might even go so far as to say I’ve looked forward to some of them.

I’ve not yet devolved to the point that I’m pulling all-nighters on launch day, chugging lukewarm pizza and Red Bull, trying to be the first to reach level 60. I’m not planning weekly raid events or drawing up spreadsheets with PvP stats. But, more and more, I’m treating big MMO launches as something to look forward to and participate in. This is something of a big deal given my prior disdain for the genre.

To be sure, I have not yet conquered my general tendency to hop about wildly from game to game and purchase the newest, shiniest thing that catches my attention. When considered along with that pesky “job” thing I’m forced to drag myself to, it’s little wonder I rarely make it to the big boy levels of these things before losing interest. Nonetheless, only recently I've seen The Old Republic, Tera, The Secret World, and Neverwinter come and go while dabbling in the early stages of Firefall and looking forward to The Elder Scrolls Online. I can keep telling myself I’m not going to play these things all I want, but it’s clearly not working.

I’ve written before on some of the reasons why I like this genre, despite my frequent criticisms of it, but the realization that it may have morphed into something more than a guilty pleasure is relatively recent. There are many possible reasons for this development. The acquisition of my gaming PC makes me more likely to hunt down interesting PC titles, of which new MMOs represent a significant chunk. The drought of JRPGs these days leaves fewer outlets for long adventures and the oh-so-satisfying thrill of seeing your level number increase than there once was (a niche that western RPGs can only sometimes fill in quite the same way). MMOs as a whole have also increased dramatically in quality, both mechanically and graphically, as well as, crucially, user friendliness. Even repetitive games like Tera can impress with a solid set of combat mechanics, or games with tired combat like The Secret World can thrill with a unique setting and focus on story.

There has always been a certain something to MMOs that I enjoyed that nothing else provided. That sense of grand adventure, of scale, and of permanence is an addicting concoction. I think, simply put, the genre has gotten better at capitalizing on those strengths while not getting on my nerves nearly as much as it used to. The future looks bright indeed for the genre, and I am becoming more and more comfortable with admitting to myself that I genuinely like these titles, because the titles are more and more worth liking.

Not so bright, however, is the outlook for my staggeringly large backlog of unfinished solo games. Not a pretty sight. 

Monday
Mar142011

The Undying Lure of the Pocket Monster

of new Pokemon games on shelves, I found myself facing a familiar conundrum. On the one hand, there was the unquestionable desire to play; to collect, level, and explore; to bask in the familiar glow of a growing Pokedex and a troupe of friendly creatures with which to kick the ass of cuddly things the world over. Simultaneously, a curmudgeonly part of the back of my brain was yelling to get that children’s game off of his damn lawn and go do something more productive. 

“Pokemon games haven’t changed in twelve years,” he said with an air of cranky authority. “You played it back then when you were only knee-high to a Charizard. Now you’re grown and out of college and you want to do it all over again? I understand you’ve got a lot of free time on your hands. A return to “simpler” days might sound refreshing, but Pokemon? That’s just desperate. Grow up and go play something for adults.”

I tried to remind him that I actually played Pokemon Diamond a couple of years ago and rather enjoyed it for a while, though I had to give it to a roommate to finish after losing interest. He mumbled a series of indecipherable grunts and the only words I managed to make out were “dang blasted nostalgia” before he trudged his way back into the recesses of my mind and let me stop talking to myself. 

This particular brand of desire is not unfamiliar to me. It is the allure of being drawn into an epic game combined with the excitement of collection and leveling up, growing ever stronger and exploring every corner of a vast world. It’s also laced with that nagging feeling of guilt that comes with believing that I’ve done it all before, with thinking that there must be better ways I could be spending my time.

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Wednesday
Dec152010

Best of the Decade: World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft

Platforms: Windows, Mac OS

Release Date: November 23, 2004

Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment

Developer: Blizzard Entertainment

This one took some soul searching. After all, I have a history of hating this game about as much as I love it. World of Warcraft is undoubtedly one of the biggest time and money sinks that this industry has ever seen. It’s mindless. It’s repetitive. It’s expensive. It’s a waste of so much time that could be better spent playing other things.

Right?

Well, maybe not.

Yes it’s true that I seem to treat it like an addiction, something to be shoved out of the way and ignored for personal health rather than indulged in and enjoyed. 

What I was finally able to admit, after much thinking over the subject, that there must be a reason I continue to be drawn to this world. Beyond seeing numbers crawl upward as I gain levels, beyond the addiction of growing stronger and gaining cool new stuff, there is truly something greater here that no other game in the past decade could match.

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Friday
Sep112009

Fun With LotRO and Nerdy Music

Take the awesome nerd anthem "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar" by Felcia Day and the folks behind the awesome MMO comedy "The Guild" and replace the human crew with the actual virtual characters from World of Warcraft competitor Lord of the Rings Online, and what do you get?

This, which was made with the help of a couple of my friends and edited by the leader of my kinship in the game:

If this isn't the very definition of nerdy/cool, I don't know what is.

Tuesday
Aug252009

MMO Madness

Time and time again I have demonstrated to myself quite thoroughly that I have neither the patience nor the dedication to stick with an MMO for longer than a period of about one month.

My problem is not so much figuring out why I quit MMOs. That is simple enough.

It is because once the shiny coat of newness has worn off I find them repetitive and boring. Doing the same quests and killing the same enemies over and over again, grinding and fetching into eternity all for virtual shiny things is something that I can put of with only for so long, it would seem.

What I’m finding harder and harder to quantify, however, is why I keep coming back.

Why, after repeated attempts at staying with MMOs, after putting them down again and again, and with my trials now spanning two separate games, do I keep wanting so badly to be interested in this stagnant, repetitive genre that I keep telling myself I should have no interest in?

What is it about these games that keeps drawing me back despite all rationality pointing me firmly in the other direction?

I think it’s a combination of things, but the simplest way to put it is that MMOs are an addiction. They are the modern variant on the old arcade machine. They are built to keep you playing for as long as possible and to suck your virtual quarters into the endless black hole that is the publisher’s wallet.

And they’re good at that.

That’s why they’re so hard to put down. Just like the arcade machines of yore, they do a great job of keeping you hooked, only this time it’s not “one more quarter, Mommy, please!” it’s “one more month, Mr. Visa, please!”.

They’re an addiction.

I can understand why people spend half their lives playing these games. I can understand why people get obsessed with them. I can understand why people ruin relationships over them.

Luckily I get bored really easily, which is probably the only thing saving me from that exact same fate.

I never thought being easily bored would work in my favor, but there you have it.

I do think MMOs have their high points. Most notably, they offer a sense of scale and magnitude that no other more traditional single player game can match. The sheer scope and size of these games is only possible when you have a continuous stream of subscriptions pouring in to finance the operation.

Mind you, most of this massive space is repetitive wasteland of some sort or another filled with laughable amounts of the same creatures over and over again, but even so there is an appeal to this setup for me. The size of these worlds makes them feel more real, more epic, and more fun when you finally reach a high enough level to move on and see what wonders await you in a new area.

I wish exploration were featured more prominently as a part of the quests these worlds provide. Instead, the old mantra of necessary addiction keeps coming back to gum up the game design gears.

They can’t let you focus on exploring because they need to keep you in one place as long as they possibly can. If they let you explore, you would see all there is to see far too quickly. You might get bored of seeing the sights and you would stop paying them money.

Therefore the focus is not on this aspect, but on killing as much crap as possible and on the “experience” it grants you and the shiny things you find along the way which, notably, are good primarily for acquiring more “experience”.

This need to keep you stuck in one place for as long as they can manage is one of my eternal frustrations with the genre. It’s why I’ve put these stupid games down so many times. Sooner or later, this tricky balance between trickling out progress to the player to distract them from the fact that the developers are tying their shoelaces together to make progress more difficult becomes tilted; it begins to lean too far to the side of repetition and backfires for a less patient player such as myself, causing me to get bored and leave.

But I keep getting drawn back in.

I see trailers and teases of new areas being added and new races to play and new quests to go on. I see new high level stuff that is tantalizing and more exciting than what I ever got to play.

What if I was able to reach this stuff? Wouldn’t the game be more fun? Wouldn’t the game be worth sticking with then? Shouldn’t I just give it one more try to see if I can finally reach that high level zenith and see what all the fuss is about?

After reluctantly picking one of the things back up, I quickly remember that I have to slog through the low level stuff first and since that takes seemingly hundreds of hours of doing the same thing over and over again, the likelihood of me reaching that level is low. The shiny cool stuff is shimmering off in the distance like a mirage of a vending machine in a desert while I’m stuck in a corner of Nowheresville killing spiders for hours, nary a drop of tasty soda refreshment in sight.

It doesn’t stop me from being reeled back in and giving it another go, though.

Perhaps the most reasonable theory to explain the mysterious hook these games have on me is their easily accessible nature. The gameplay is far from deep, but it is easy to pick up and perfectly fun, in a mindless sort of way. Combine this with the lure of virtual shiny things, the occasional adventure with a friend, and cool places to explore, and maybe the draw isn’t so hard to figure out after all.

MMOs are the gaming equivalent of a cheesy television cop drama. They’re mindless entertainment at best and they don’t even try to push the boundaries of the medium, but sometimes you don’t need to push the boundaries. Cheesy cop dramas have their place and I think MMOs can too, even for someone like myself.

As long as they don’t take over and become all that you do.

Maybe that’s the key to retaining my interest in these games. Maybe the focus shouldn’t be on slogging through the crap just to get to the end. Maybe my outlook is all wrong.

Perhaps I should instead embrace the mindless fun of killing things and leveling up and worry less about the end game. I’ll get there when I get there and hopefully it’ll be worth the wait when I do.

In the meantime, I need to learn to enjoy the ride more. MMOs are far from perfect, but even amongst the tedium there is fun to be had, and maybe in my impatient race to the end I’ve lost sight of this.

Or maybe all MMOs are tedious grind-a-thons with nothing new to offer and little lasting appeal except to obsessed weirdos.

I’ll let you know in a month.