Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's not the game: it's you

Anjin over at Bullet Points put up a great post yesterday that struck a nerve with me. He points out that, having raced to the cap, a lot of MMO commentators are now bored with Cataclysm and suddenly turning on it; some even going so far as to call it the "worst expansion in the history of WoW." More generally, he points out that for some bizarre reason many MMO "fans" consider a game that fails to hold their attention for years a failure; an expectation which is hardly realistic. I think he's dead on.

Why is it that so many commentators that would be perfectly happy with an offline game that lasts them for a week or two consider an MMO that lasts them a "mere" two or three months an abysmal failure? If you have gotten bored with your current MMO and find yourself bitter about it, ask yourself these questions: (1) Before you hit the grindy annoying endgame (or whatever it was that put you off of it), were you having fun? (2) Did you play it for at least as long as an average offline CRPG? If the answer to both of those is yes, I would argue that you got your money's/ time's worth.

I think some of this bizarre expectation comes from the games that many of us cut our teeth on. In launch era EQ it could easily take a week of grinding, sometimes in the same spot, just to get a level. And the levels themselves were often pretty meaningless, with new abilities coming along maybe every four to eight levels. Some MMOs like Anarchy Online were even more glacial. I can't imagine how long it took to hit the level cap of 200. I think I made it to 20 or so in a month when I tried it. If you had the patience for it, you'd be playing for something like a year just to get to the level cap in many games back then. In EQ, even at the cap there was the whole AA system that could keep you grinding even longer. Players expecting that kind a snail paced grindfest would be put off by a game that they can blow through in a "mere" hundred hours I suppose.

Yes, being stuck in molasses for a solid year just to be able to see all the zones on offer did give players a lot of time to get to know each other and build up relationships. Judged as a social experiment, you could argue that old school MMOs were rather successful. However, judged as "games" I'd argue that they were largely failures. The moment to moment game play tended to pretty much suck. Launch era EQ was slow, repetitive, and demanded the sort of spare time that only a single college student is very likely to have.

More to the point, what really mystifies me about some MMO commentators is that once they decide they don't like a game, they can't seem to get past it. They act like a jilted lover, or the victim of a war crime. For ever after whenever a particular MMO is mentioned they can't help but pipe up about how "sucky" it is. If the MMO that burned them happens to be something popular like LoTRO or WoW, they may even concoct all sorts of unlikely explanations as to why a game that "obviously sucks" can be entertaining to so many players. Often, these theories boil down to something along the lines of "I simply have much better taste/ am a much better gamer than the mentally deficient masses that inhabit that shallow carnival ride." So endearing, not at all arrogant...

I think it's a good thing to let people know what you didn't like about a given game when you stop playing. It warns off players that might have similar taste, and potentially provides feedback to the developers. However, at some point you need to move on. Let the players that like the game (often some tens of thousands even in the case something like WAR that hemorrhaged subs after launch) have their fun. Move on to something you find fun. Spending months (or even years in some cases) attacking a game and the players that enjoy it says a lot more about you than it does about the game.


  1. I think it's the addictive property of WoW.

    WoW tends to draw you in by offering a significant upgrade just a little ahead of you, like a carrot dangling in front of a donkey.

    However currently it's possible to get all the stuff you can reasonably get from the heroic dungeons, reputation rewards and badge shops without being able to get much further because you're not open to the start of expansion hardcore style which is very wipe-heavy.

    So having addicted people to upgrade after upgrade, WHAM!, the door gets slammed in your face - no shinies for you!

    Personally I'm find with WoW because I haven't finished gearing up, even if I had I love alts, even if I didn't I'm quite happy to move off to something else and come back to WoW in a couple of years.

  2. I do get taken aback a little when I see how hateful some people are towards a particular MMO. The majority of commenters are still thankfully the kind that moves on, or at the most would leave a few criticisms or reasons why they didn't like a game. But there are still a handful of those that scare me, those that bring down the entire company and make personal attacks towards the devs or worse, the players that like the game.

  3. If I remember correctly, Richard Garriott presented some numbers a couple of years ago when he was still at NCSoft that on average an MMO gamer spent maybe 2-4 months with a particular MMO. The number of players that actually stay with a particular game for years is probably really a small minority. But that minority group probably has a higher than average representation of bloggers, forum dwellers and other vocal people.

    The situation is not exclusive to WoW, but as many other things the situation is more accentuated with WoW because of its size.

    I think you are quite correct in that it is more about that the players change than that the games themselves signficantly. If anything, what games change to is to emphasize the core features that work for them.

    I know certainly that my taste and preferences have changed over the years - it is just a matter of adapt how you play a game or what games you play. That is much easier than a single game changing to accomodate any whims of thousands or millions of players.

  4. I think I agree with your last statement more than anything. While some people realize that many people "bashing" a particular MMO are doing so as a review for other like-minded players, others get very hurt that anyone dare insult their favorite past time.

    So I think it goes both ways. I have read plenty of negative reviews of MMO's/games/books/movies I enjoy and it never leads me to make negative comments or rants about the reviewer. I assume that as individuals, we will all enjoy different foods, clothes, color and entertainment.

    So to me, the people that get very angry over the bad reviews are not very different from the people they are criticizing for creating the bad reviews. And that is not a comment about this particular blog post, but about comments and posts I've seen elsewhere concerning this topic.

  5. Aaaaawesome post, Yeebo.

    It's a mentality that I have a hard time understanding. If I don't like a game, I stop playing. I stop going to the forums. I stop thinking about it, and I move on. At most, I may be disappointed if it's a game is used to love, but the hate that some people are able to produce repeatedly is scary.

  6. I agree - it's a mentality that I've never understood. How much energy is wasted by these people continually slamming a game or feature that they don't like?

    I'm all for expressing one's opinion, but once you've stated your case, it's time to move on. Especially if you're no longer playing the game; I haven't played WoW in years, and there are plenty of things about the game that I don't celebrate, but I would never consider myself qualified to comment. Precisely because I'm not viewing these things from an informed perspective. I shake my head and move on. But I guess I'm not that kind of person - so it is them, not the game.

    Great post!

  7. Agreed, excellent post, Yeebo. As I've noted elsewhere, I'm not surprised at the vitriol generated by the game. As it pretty much demands gaming monogamy, it's not unlike someone bashing on an ex-spouse. Some folks just can't let things go.

    To be fair, Wolfshead does tend to also be concerned about the MMO industry on the whole, and WoW is undeniably a gravitational force there. Like it or not, it affects MMO design in other companies, and if it's not a game that you like any more, well, that effect can be unwelcome.

  8. Great post, Yeebo. If only more people wrote about things they liked instead of things they do.... well, they'd get a lot few hits. But I bet the posts would be better.

  9. This is a great post. I am very much guilty of the jilted lover syndrome with LOTRO, and to a smaller degree FFXIV. Often times I forget that what sounds great in my head should sometimes just stay in my head, or I could just be more creative in my complaints.