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I'm Considering Divorcing My MMOG
My son is 11-years old and has discovered Pen & Paper RPGs. He’s even started with D&D. I suppose I should be proud. I remember, in 1976, drawing dungeons on graph paper for the boy next door. I graduated to MMOGs with Asheron’s Call in 1999. He started with Asheron’s Call in 2000 – earning his first 2 Cub Scout belt loops for Computers and Chess. He played Chess in Asheron’s Call. It is a story I tell often. Like mother like son?
I have, in some way or another, been involved in RPGs all of my life. When I gave up rolling characters I provided beer and pizza and a comfortable place for the guys whose girlfriends “didn’t get it”. Sometimes, I’d sit in and run a character if someone was missing. I liked MUDs, but simply didn’t have the time to devote to the experience. I knew early on that once I started down that virtual path, I would be forever lost.
We, of this “grande” community are not as large as one might suppose. Same said 11-year old wants to be DM for the first time. Mom wants to be a kleptomaniac bard. (He so hates me *grins*.) When discussing all of the really wonderful ways to mess with a DM that exist, a friend - in England, over Skype – said it was “just like Eric and the Dread Gazebo.” Apparently, I’d missed this one.
Apocryphal, I know. I didn’t know an internet legend of a story. That is, until he started reading it to me...
“In the early 70s, Ed Whitchurch ran...”
“Wait, Ed and Debbie Whitchurch?”
Yeah, I know them. They gamed at my house at least once a month for more than 10 years. Ed was in my wedding. I started labor at his house during a Christmas party. My husband, then in high school, was at the famous Dread Gazebo incident. I know Eric Sorenson of the “I shoot a +3 arrow at it” fame.
Who needs MySpace or Facebook to connect us around the world? We have P&P RPGs and now MMOGs. Except...well...
Where once I was married to them (and in them) I don’t seem to be playing them much recently. I filed for legal separation last year when I stopped playing six different games. I’m considering divorce.
Someone once said, “You will only love two MMOs, your first and the one you’re looking forward to next.” I hope I one day find where I read this because I’ve repeated it so often I’ve found it attributed to me. (I didn’t say it.) I did love my first MMO, but it wasn’t, by far, my first RPG and I’d played MUDs.
What I loved about my first MMO was – like every person – the social aspect: That ability to attach an avatar to the perceived personality of your “friends”. You never forget that, even if the experience is bad, it is indelible.
For me, my first MMO was also a training ground in game design. I was one of the few, fortunate people who was able to connect with the developer and publisher and learn just how this “thing” worked. Why did they make decisions? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? It was to be the foundation for what I do now, 9 years later.
I still love MMO design. Of all of the genres, and the myriad of different systems, I find it the most inspirational because the designers take the most risks. They have some of the most spectacular failures in the industry. But when they succeed, even the little stuff, it sets precedent for years to come.
For me, it’s rather like NASCAR. Watching them drive round the track is exciting! (But not because they go in an oval... All... Freaking... Day... Long.) Because when they wreck, oh man is it awesome! There is a limit to human physiology and mechanics; because of this there will only be incremental differences in speed records over time, but to see someone make a new record? That’s just cool.
I especially adore MMOG designers. They’re insane. They have to be. They design for MMOG players. (I’m one of them, I’m allowed!)
The stupidity that has followed the success of World of Warcraft has ensured that no designer can ever make a successful game and be satisfied. Success is no longer defined as being profitable, having a stable player base, moderate growth and enough revenue to produce another game. Success is now defined as competing with WoW. *beats head against table*
Actually, that is unfair to a degree. The entire game industry has unreasonable profit margins placed upon it by investors. Music, movie and certainly books are not expected to bring in the margins imposed upon games to be considered successful. And if that game is an MMOG, the margin is just plain stupid.
But the designers are creative. They’re caring. And if you catch them before the jade dragon colors their world they want to try new, exciting and disruptive ideas. It is amazing and infectious and I can only liken it to a writer in the middle of a story – they ARE that story; they ARE that game design.
The profits. Perhaps that’s part of the problem.
MMOGs are no longer about making fun, exciting, profitable games. Jeff Freeman aptly points out “there has only ever been one MMO” Someone, please tell me what I’ve been playing all of these years because that game? It wasn’t the one...
And because of this, I, me, Ophelea, Kelly – this person – I become invested as a member of the press and as a person in new ideas, in new companies and what they try to do when excited at the beginning. As time passes I see the bloat, the creep, the mandate to be more than the conception until ultimately, failure is the only option.
That there have been so few successful MMOG launches in previous years doesn’t discourage me. That several have been so close to launch and shut down doesn’t either. But because I AM so close to the picture, because I care about the people who make the games, I care about the people who play them – I play them, my kids play them – I weary of the reasons for so few success and closures.
I especially weary of the negativity of my peers and am myself disappointed to find myself in some small way parroting their doom and gloom. Do I think the industry is in a freefall? Certainly not. But I think that everyone – player, press, PR, producer and investor (couldn’t come up with another P) – has lost sight of what makes these games special. Yes, they are cash cows. But so is a slot machine.
The creativity inherent in the design, the amazing depths to which the players go to build a community around their hobby, the nurturing that the developers give to their ART – these are the qualities that MAKE THEM CASH COWS. Remove those from the equation and you are left with fewer successes and multiple closings because you look for formulaic wins.
Am I playing less? Yes. And no. I don’t play any single game any longer.
I cannot afford the time to feel beholden to a group. I have children, school, a site – a fear of caring about a game again. It is something I miss – the camaraderie, the shared experience. But I cannot do it.
But I play a LOT more games casually. As I sit here writing this I realize that in the last month I have played Guild Wars, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, Dungeon Runners, and several online TCGs. So, one traditional MMORPG among them and many that allow for quick play.
It may not be time for divorce, but counseling is in order if I am to save this marriage.
Now, I have a kleptomaniac bard (with pickpocket and buffoonery) to prepare. My son is SOO in for it!
Would a kleptomaniac bard steal other people's music? Or just their gold?
Oh, and get this. Once we explained kleptomania to him he INSISTED I take lock pick. AHAHAHAH
And I'm going to be a true kleptomaniac and just take everything. And be very friendly when they come looking for their stuff!
I particularly resonate with the ideas regarding one's love affairs with one's first MMO, although for me it was my second (and it was a MUD).
However, I take task with the claim that "there's only one MMO" - there's only one hugely profitable MMO pattern, and that's the style modelled on the classic RPG (i.e. D&D) progression structure, descended from the LP MUDS and Diku MUDS that have given us WoW. But there are surely three MMOs: the chatroom, the progression RPG (the commercial form) and the narrative MMO (the games where story and character matter - i.e. the non-commercial MMOs!)
"Yes, [MMOs] are cash cows. But so is a slot machine."
LOL! Okay, but this statement belittles slot machine design - quality game design and clear understanding of the psychology of players are hallmarks of the best slot machine designs. That you are not engaged by pure games of chance doesn't change the fact that they are highly popular - it's an industry some 30 times bigger than videogames (approx. $1,000 billion versus $35 billion).
If videogames were made to the same standard as slot machines, we'd both have a lot less to complain about!
Best wishes, and I look forward to seeing you at GDC!
But, you can't make EVERY game that way.
And Freeman's blog post...it's sarcasm! Why does everyone miss this.
Curry, right? We're eating curry?
I'm 36, a working professional, and am about to have my first kid. Even without the kid in the picture, my gaming time has been reduced to 15 hours a week or less as other things in life have taken up my time. I find that I am less able to play games that require massive time sinks to level, separate me from gaming with my friends due to level or gear restrictions, and simply do not have time to do raid content that requires me to play 4+ hours in one sitting.
As a result I'm starting to gravitate more towards FPS games where I can log in to play for a few minutes, get something done, and log out without feeling guilty about needing to help the guild "progress". Guild Wars is also a decent game that doesn't require a huge time commitment, and I could play games like that if more of them were developed.
So I'm like you in a few ways. I didn't leave MMOG's, but they have certainly left me as they have required more and more of my time. UO was not as time intensive as the games today and it was fun, but unfortunately we're going to be stuck with MMOG models that are timesinks for years to come.
The Agency - and I know these guys from when they were working on Mythica - this one gives me hope. It's specifically designed for "us".
But...it's less of whether there are casual vs. time intensive (I won't call them hardcore because you can play a time-intensive MMO title very casually) games are being made. It's the fact that unless it seems to fit a VERY specific formula, it doesn't get made AT ALL.
A year ago, I was interviewing a company making a game based on a 13-year old TV show. The show is has sci-fi elements, is squad based and has no school/archetype/class as is defined by MMOs.
But every time I would ask a question the then executive producer?? (I forget what his title was then...he's moved on) continually said "well, it's like this in WoW" to which I responded EVERY time..."I do not and have not played it for more than 60 minutes. As I stated when we began, I installed it three times but after 20 minutes of playing stopped. And eventually uninstalled it for space."
After three times, the PR rep - who could not answer my questions, suggested I visit the studio for further answers because...there are no answers when not couched in those terms.
Now, this is an EXTREME EXTREME case and a personal irritant of mine but it also is not the first time I have had this experience. (Usually, I say I don't play - I've played more since then - and they stop comparing and tell me THEIR game not their game like WoW.)
It's like the iPod. There were MP3 players before...and there are others now. Some have features that "shock" the iPod doesn't offer other people might actually LIKE.
But everyone - EVERYONE wants to "BE" the iPod. Because if you can make your MP3 player JUST like the iPod, you're going to be successful, right?
Except, the iPod has already been made...
As far as whether to divorce MMO's... It's becoming apparent to me that the mainstream MMO player is, by nature, a polygamist anyway. Even when you begin playing one, you know deep down that you're just waiting for the next one to catch your eye and pleasure you in ways that sleep can never hope to.
Sure, the big flashy MMO's work like the magazine girls (and guys I guess) in that they're 'what games should be' but I'm not in love with WoW. I'd go back to the glory days of Meridian59 in a heartbeat if I could... but I can't. So I'm sure I'll continue meandering through meaningless relationship after meaningless relationship, keeping my M59 account active just for some stability.
My biggest frustration, as a casual gamer, is continuously hearing about content that I'll never experience. I repeatedly make the mistake of complaining about it on forums and get flamed. Profiteers run the Western World. Nobody wants the risk of marketing to a niche...
But I also hate that my worlds, my homes, my friends, are being pulled out from under me so the companies can make another quick buck via expansions. I'm tired of being thrown from world to world, and home to home. Instead, I've given up.
It's a sad day in my life, and typing it even now almost makes me cry. I guess I should go back to MUD's. It's probably where I belong anyway.
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