Well it’s been a while since I’ve put pen to paper but those of you who watch the stream know, I’m still alive and as awesome as ever! Today I wanted to talk about a genre I’ve had a love/hate relationship with for a very long time, MMORPG’s. For the uninitiated that stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. The genre is actually quite broad with games ranging from heavy fantasy types like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, or Guild Wars 2, to the other side of the spectrum with space types like Eve Online, Star Wars The Old Republic, or Star Trek Online, and everything in between. The 6 games mentioned above only scratch the surface given that in recent years there has been a huge push to release, and in some cases rush these games to market, for better or worse. But what I want to talk about today will probably lean more toward the nostalgic side of things, how they use to be vs what they are now.
It’s no secret that in gaming terms I’m ancient, and by internet terms even older. I got my cane and started yelling at kids back in the PlayStation 2 days. In other words: I’ve seen some shit! The grand daddy to the MMO’s we know and love today are the MUD (Multi User Dungeon), a text based online RPG as it were. In fact, I even ran one for a few years (I still have the code somewhere…). This doesn’t really have anything to do with the topic at hand, but I figured I’d ramble on and give some history like an old person should. *shakes cane*
Anyways… the first MMO that really caught my attention was Final Fantasy 11. I tried other games like Ultima Online and Everquest first, but I always went back to my MUDs. It wasn’t until Final Fantasy 11 released that I was finally hooked and proceeded to spend the next 9-10 years of my life playing it. I found a group of people, many of whom I’m still friends with to this day, joined their Linkshell (guild), and never looked back. Fast forward to today. I’ve played tons of MMO’s always trying to find one to recapture that feeling I had in FF11. So far the only one I stuck with for any length of time was Final Fantasy 14, but even that one grew old quicker than I imagined it would.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is. Why have I played all of these different MMO’s but I just can’t find one that sticks? What exactly changed? Personally, I think the issue stems from the move to a more single player based experience, hence the title of the blog. Company’s have moved from a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online RPG) to just a ORPG (Online RPG).
“BUT VOID,” I hear you cry! “What do you mean?!?! When I login to (insert MMO here) there are hundreds of people (and gold sellers) online actively playing!”
Well that’s certainly true, and some of the more popular MMO’s currently out certainly don’t suffer from a lack of players. But out of all those people logged in I’ll bet you 80% are doing something solo. (75% of statistics are made up on the spot!) Company’s have shifted the games entirely so that aside from the few raids offered, and some dungeons hardly anyone runs anymore, everything you do is solo. A lot of people might not even know any different. I came from a time where you partied up to get anything done, period. In Final Fantasy 11 there were no quest zones/hubs. You didn’t have 10 NPCs all standing in a row just waiting to hand out quests where you just mindlessly ran around murdering creatures, clicking alters, or collecting items. If you wanted to level up you joined a party, ran to a zone, looked for an exp spot that wasn’t taken, and THEN started mindlessly murdering creatures. See there’s one important difference here: you were with 5 other people. Maybe they were guildmates, maybe some randoms, or maybe a little of both, but you were all working together toward a common goal: getting that next level! After a time, you’d start to feel a sense of camaraderie with these people, partially because of the time spent, and partly because exp’ing was dangerous. One wrong move and you might wipe your party, and back then that had serious consequences. When it was time for you to leave someone might say, “HEY I just need 2 more kills“, and chances are you’d stick around (fuck chemistry class) because they helped you get that level you were after. All of that and this is just leveling your character; I haven’t even gotten into the other group content or end game! Final Fantasy 11 wasn’t alone in this push for people to party up though. Games like EverQuest, Dark Ages of Camelot, and Asheron’s Call are just a few examples of games that had a strong push toward the party mentality.
Fast forward to the modern MMO’s we have today. When’s the last time you went “leveling” with a group (dungeons don’t count)? Did you hop into a group of 4-6 people, head out to a zone, and just start murdering creatures? Hell no, because that isn’t the best way to get exp by a LONG SHOT. You ran around, grabbed every quest you could see and set off ALONE, cursing the occasional player who just cleared out all those wolves you needed for YOUR QUEST GOD DAMN THE RESPAWN TIMERS……..*breath*…….. And you do this all the way to max level, running the occasional dungeon on the side if you “wanted” some party interaction. Although lets face it, these days almost everyone stays silent unless someone fucks up bad. You do your job as efficiently and quickly as possible so you can all get the hell out of there.
Along with this group content talk comes “achievements” or working toward something. And I don’t mean achievements like *Kill 10,000 wolves* or *Loot 1 million gold*. I mean actually working toward something with a group of people. Back in FF11 getting a special piece of gear could be a huge deal for a few reasons. Most required some form of help and some of these things took months of hard work to obtain. Not only was the person trying for the item heavily invested but so were his friends/guildmates. It felt like a huge group achievement when your buddy finally got that drop, or worked up enough currency for said item that you helped with. More importantly though, these items were useful and or relevant for years to come! In today’s MMO’s gear is tossed aside so quickly you rarely have a chance to become attached to it or even remember the struggle to obtain it (if there even was one). Some modern MMO’s have replaced these “item grinds” with cosmetics or mounts. Some you have to work toward, but most are simply a RNG drop from a 15 minute encounter. Sure there is a sense of accomplishment when it drops, but in my opinion that feeling fades much faster than with an item you’ll use for years!
What about end game? Some of the modern MMO’s do this well, most do it passably (I guess) and some are just crap! A lot of times I see one maybe two raids for MONTHS on end, if not longer. Maybe it has a higher difficulty setting, but essentially you’re running the same content OVER and OVER again. The same goes for the end game dungeons that you might be grinding out for gear, favor, points, tomes, rep, or whatever random number you need raised. It’s the same 2 to 5 dungeons, and it gets old. Again I’ll jump to Final Fantasy 11 since that’s where my time was spent. Now I’m not going to stand here and say that I never repeated content in FF11, far from it. But there was so much to choose from that our weekly guild raids could be different for 3 months straight before going back to repeat content if we wanted. The other amazing thing was most content was open world or if not open world the player cap was set at 64 people. We could split the guild into two or even three groups and all go farm different content or just dog pile the shit out of something! The choices were essentially endless because we had no limits.
I could go on about the differences but let’s explore why this happened in the first place. Honestly I think the biggest reason is time. What I mean by that is some people or maybe even a large majority of people don’t have the kind of time that used to be required for all this “group” play I keep talking about. “That item took you how long?!?! 6 MONTHS? Ain’t nobody got time for that!” The push toward this solo play makes sense in that respect. You’ve only got an hour to play today? Login, pick up some quests, complete them, and you feel like you’ve accomplished something that day. For those of you who have 2 maybe 3 hours to devote, we have some “end game raids” for you, enjoy! It just feels like so much has been lost compared to what we use to have.
I fully admit I’m nostalgic for the old days, but I’m not oblivious to the fact that the old ways had some flaws. I remember before people realized Thief’s were actually useful in FF11, searching for parties for HOURS on end, sometimes not finding one for the night. Ultimately, that’s what made me switch to White Mage: everyone needs a healer! I still feel like a great deal of gameplay has been lost to catering to those who only have an hour to play. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to exclude anyone, but I feel we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. I hope in the future developers can find a balance because while I miss the old days I don’t think reverting back to them fully is the answer either.