There And Back Again?

I came across a thread on Reddit which was a pining for the “old days” of MMOs when you either grouped up or didn’t get to actually play the game. Which, now that I think about it, is a scenario not all that different from empty FPS servers. Anyway, the top-rated comment concluded with this:

The truth of the matter is, those of us that grew up on the hardcore MMOs, we’ve already done it. Most of us just don’t want to do it again. I don’t want to play a MMO that takes over a year to hit the level cap. I don’t want to play a MMO where I have to stand around for hours before I get to play. I don’t want to play a MMO where I can permanently lose everything I’ve done in the last few hours. I’ve already done that; I don’t want to do it again. The novelty of the MMO is gone. There are better ways to enjoy my time.

There is a nuance to this argument that I don’t see all that often, and I’d be interested in what other veteran MMO players have to say about it. It’s one thing to say that once some auto-grouping functions are released, like LFD or LFR, that there is no removing them. But put those aside for a moment and ask yourself: how many times do I feel like I could start over in a “pure” MMO (whatever you define that as)?

Maybe the question is nonsensical, considering we technically “start over” each time we play a new game. On the other hand, I’m not entirely convinced another MMO could bribe me enough to get back into raiding as a full-time job again. Even if your game of choice was EVE, how willing would you be to starting over in a completely new game with similar time-investment requirements? Still willing to spend 1-2 years of real-time building up a skill set? Or do these sort of investment mechanics have diminishing returns regardless of “dumbing down” or other streamlining that might go on?

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Posted on October 28, 2013, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. As someone who briefly played EQ when it was THE MMO, I would never want to go back to those days. It was a microcosm of real life. All of the inconveniences of the real world were skillfully translated into the game. If you wanted to go somewhere you had to hoof it, begging for a SoW the whole way. I remember getting in over my head and running from a bear and that son of a bitch followed me across the zone and into a building and killed me there. No mob leashes. At the time it was new and exciting to be in this digital world of the future but time has improved the genre IMO so I have no desire to return to the primitive forebearer MMO. /camp

    • Yeah, I started WoW during TBC on a “Recommended” server and thus have almost no emotional connection to what most people pine for in the vanilla days. Those elite mobs? It just meant that I couldn’t quest over there. While I was lucky enough to be recruited into a guild before I left the belf starting area, the guild itself imploded by the time I reached the Hinterlands. There were no people in Local chat, no dungeons runs outside of the Barrens, and an empty succession of rote, unfun quests killing generic mobs.

      I ended up “quitting,” but on a whim decided to give it one more shot as an Alliance. Rolled Azuriel, and the rest is mostly history. Magical though it was, in certain respects, I don’t miss the old days at all.

  2. I am not sure if I can classify myself as “veteran” but my first MMO was EQ2 back in 2004 and it was brutal by today’s standards. I had to camp a mob for 12 hours straight for mere level 30 raid quest. People will cry murder if they have to do that now!

    EQ2 is “dumped” down now but the brutality of the EQ2 vanilla brought people together. You were dependent on people to get stuff done and you sometime had to play with people whom you hate since they had a required class! You sucked up to crafters who can make rare items. There was lot of drama, lot of fighting over contested mobs, shared harvesting nodes etc. Raids guilds posturing among themselves, measuring their epeens, etc. Players betraying each other and at the same time forming lasting bonds! When you found a good player and a good person you treasured them! it was a brutal (GRRM style) fantasy world just like our brutal real world and that made it *real* and I believed in it and loved all the crap! And yes I would like to do it all over again once I get *enough free time* (may be when I am retired? lol).

    • It would be interesting to see if you actually would, even if you had all the free time in the world. I mean, camping a mob for twelve hours for a quest? That’s like half a season of an TV show. Twelve hours playing a game is no big deal, but twelve hours for something like that in comparison to anything else I could be doing… nope.

      • The 12 hour was a one off thing due to a bug and its not normal occurrence. However mob camping for 3 or 4 hours wasn’t unheard of for some heritage quest etc. I will gladly do 3 or 4 hour mob camping.

        Mob camping wasn’t a solo thing you did. You did it with 5 other people and you are not simply waiting for the mob to pop. Most of the time you have to clear the area and kill place holders etc. Exp was hard to come by back then, so all this killing also rewarded you so the names wasn’t the only price. During downtime you spoke and socialise with the 5 other people and that made all the difference. The camping process was fun and yes it was more enjoyable than some tv shows at that time!

        Don’t get me wrong, these days I don’t have the luxury of time for gaming so I do appreciate the conveniences of LFD/LFR and instance named pops for quests etc. However, to me, these conveniences have a price and that is lack of “real and meaningful” socialization between players.

  3. If the world is sufficiently convincing I’ll happily go back to the old ways or stick with the new, whichever the designer predicates. I put in all those hours in EQ because it was and remains a compelling and fascinating virtual world, not because I particularly liked the mechanics.

    As for pre-Hartsman EQ2, it was appalling. Everything Lostforever says about it is true, which is why within six months every single person I knew there, both the ones who’d come with me from EQ1 and the many more I met there, had cancelled their accounts and either gone to other MMOs or given up MMOs altogether. Personally, I went back to EQ1 until Hartsman turned EQ2 from something only a masochist could appreciate to a rollicking fun MMO.

    • Hmm. I’ve sorta wondered about your very distinct tastes insofar as whether it matters that the world contains a game at all. You do still want to interact with it, yes? Or would you conceivably play something like a procedurally-generated Dear Esther forever?

  4. Having gone back and played on the Emerald Dream server and “relived” old school WoW a bit. I have to say that leveling was surprisingly many cases too easy (and yes that’s me having gotten better at the game than I was when I started but still). I did however truly treasure the fact that while one did not have to group there were opportunities and incentives to do so behind every corner. I also liked the social atmosphere it formed and as such I’d like to go back to the old days. I am not sure though people are really ready for the old days since whenever an MMO tries to go that way “shit hits the fan”.

    Just give me that one new old school MMO and I am happy. Diversity is good after all not everybody has to like everything.

    So yeah I really liked the grouping and the world feel that old school MMOs had you don’t get either in the newer generation.

    • I agree that it certainly has a different feel for it. I am still friends with and talk to the original Alliance guild that I joined on Auchindoun (or the people still around, anyway).

      The thing I’m realizing though, is that I don’t necessarily want to make more friends; I have people I like to game with already. And even if we aren’t playing the same game at the same time, I’d still rather talk to them about my experience than do the whole “meet new people” dance in the game itself. While that’s not the fault of the game, it’s a reality any game designer is going to have to face, at least if they want my gaming dollars.

  5. @bhagpuss

    I never knew any EQ1 player who thought EQ2 was “brutal”. All the EQ1 player I met in EQ2 told me that EQ2 was dumped down lol

  6. @bhagpuss

    At which point did Hartsman took over EQ2? I thought he was there from the start.

  7. ” The novelty of the MMO is gone. There are better ways to enjoy my time.”

    I think out of the paragraph you quoted, this right here is the single most telling part of it. I can understand not wanting XP loss on death. I can understand not wanting your corpse lootable. But grouping is an absolutely essential part of playing an MMO; it’s the second M for crying out loud.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with outgrowing the genre. There’s nothing wrong with disliking it either. But the fact is, that this is a genre of video games that was built around long term goal setting and social interaction. MMOs are, and should be, about playing with other players. It should be about banding together, and setting your sights on something, and achieving that something.

    I get that there are a lot of players these days who don’t have the time, the inclination, or whatever else to want the things that made the genre what it is today. But I truly believe that the widespread corporate mindset of catering to that is not only unsuccessful, but that it is actively harming the genre as a whole.

    Look at TOR for a solid example of this; so much energy and time was dedicated to the leveling experience that it’s eminently clear that the tail end of the game was ignored. As a result, the game has largely floundered. It’s hardly the only game out there like that; Rift has suffered equally. And even the 10 ton gorilla in the room, WoW has had a steady decline since Wrath over the development team’s waffling on difficulty and accessibility; watching and playing that over the last 3 expansions has been an exercise in frustration as Blizzard has seemingly turned their backs on the design decisions that made the game so huge in the first place.

    So, for the players who don’t have the time to dedicate to MMOs, accept that the genre may not be for you. This isn’t a bad thing, as so many people want it to be. It’s no different than playing FPS or RTS games. If you don’t have the dexterity or mental acuity for FPS, you don’t go around broadly demanding that the game be made to suit your skill level; same goes with RTS if you lack the ability to multitask. Why make the same demand of MMOs if you’re not the target for the segment? Just accept it and move on.

    • I mostly agree, actually.

      The tricky part for designers though, is how I am no longer really a customer of the genre at all. I can and do play all sorts of other FPS games even if one particular franchise doesn’t appeal to me. But is there enough people willing to make the commitment necessary to play old-school MMOs to replace me/other bittervets? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. I think the sub numbers are lowering across the board for MMOs.

      Could technically be a good thing; that’s always what Syncaine’s point is, e.g. MMOs don’t need millions of people. But still, it’s a time and era gone.

  8. Hell, I played a MUD that was the precursor of these “early MMOs” and after going through the whole cycle of intense investment and burnout, I couldn’t bring myself to do it again in Everquest or WoW.

    Not to mention, didn’t have those college years any longer to play 12-16 hours a day either.

    I’m squarely in the camp of give me new innovations, smooth out inconveniences so that I can enjoy more games in the time I have left on this earth.

  9. With the imminent shut down of the Al’Kabor server for EQ, I’ve been thinking about this a bunch. Al’Kabor, the Macintosh server, was stuck back in the Planes of Power era, so it was EQ from the vintage of 2002/2003. It was always starved for resources and had one GM-Dev (Hobart) who kept the server limping along for years.

    People who like the nostalgia aspect actually played there. And when a hack that let PCs play the Mac client, the population soared as a lot of players came from Project 1999 (an emulator). The problems arose because they brought a lot of the ruder behaviors of the PC world into the Mac server: training other raids to cause them to fail, so that they can’t beat your guild. Without that influx, the server probably would have been shut down at the first attempt 18 months ago. However that influx lead to a number of customer service (and hacking) issues that led the managers at Sony to say “shut it down”. I’m convinced that if those incidents didn’t happen, Al’Kabor would have been out of visibility for those sorts of decisions even with the layoffs this summer.

    I’d say that such nostalgia does exist, but that it is too small for any company to keep their lights on. With about 1k players, Al’Kabor ended up not being able to support a single developers full time.

    I agree with you that no game could get me back to raiding in such a time consuming manner as before. Three day Plane of Sky raids are just not feasible. As one example, I’ve got a sister who lives with me. She’s financially, emotionally and physically incapable of living by herself. She can’t afford to live in a nursing home where she belongs. And she’s so high maintenance that I can’t play any game for more than an hour without interruptions.

  10. I don’t think we need the return to the golden age of Everquest nor are we in any danger of that ever happening, but after playing Dark Souls I think there is something to be said for the value of punishing mechanics even today. The game is an excellent example of getting people banded together to face a common goal of a world that posses fierce opposition the the very existence of the player. It’s a really big deal if you summon someone and finally get down that boss you have been struggling with. It also contains a lot of risk reward mechanics that would be off the table for most MMOs immediately.

    I think what this game is selling is more what people longing for the good old days of MMOs should be pushing for. No one wants to login and not be able to play for 2 hours because no one is on. But being able to log on and find a challenging unforgiving world? That part I think is severely missing from MMOs ever since WoW set everyones focus on removing every potential challenge in the leveling game and backloading it all to endgame raids and dungeons.

  11. I knew right from the very start that punishing in older games mechanics are the reason why WoW will be so big -it removed almost all of them, while keeping the usual hooks there. It made for more fun game – “game” part was the part missing behind all the grind in “old school” mmos (that being EQ and AC)

    I also knew that WoW started deviate from the world part right into the “instance” land way too much. LFD/LFR are not very bad ideas, but the implementation in the way it was done was imho bad for MMO. They make building friends or community in game very hard . Community and world are the things disappearing from MMOs

    Grind = bad. community = good. Developers will eventually realize that community/world is what makes MMO stand apart from instance lobby games (which WoW resembles really close nowadays for a lot of their player base)

    I dont want eve, I dont want grind, I want reason to play MMO and not one of the many many multiplayer games . MMO dont play their trump card right now -which is world and community, and they never had strong “game” part to begin with will not have it for the nearest future as strong as lobby multiplayer/single player games.
    (or do you really think wildstar gameplay will be better than that of borderlands2 – which is not even all that great of game)

    • “Grind = bad. community = good.”

      A “meaningful” community can only exists if people *need* to depend on each other. Based on my limited understanding of anthropology, this is why we have communities in real world.

      I don’t know what you mean by grind exactly but I think “grind” is one reason way people have to depend on each other. In other words grind creates community!

      Like you I play MMO over single player games for the community but community has a price which is mainly what you call “grind” / “time sinks”. I paid this price when I had lot of free time.

      • I do not think grind creates communities -communication and overcoming challenges together does . Forcing people to stick together only goes so far , in fact it doesnt go anywhere nowdays- it worked back in the days there were only few games you could play and all had grind and forced mechanics on top of horribly bad gameplay

        Here is the elephant in the room no one ever talks or notices about – MMOs have horrible horrible tools for communities. IN fact they have practically NONE! you need a third party website , third party voice chat and third party organizational tools to run a serious guild. MMOs never had tools (and still dont have ) to group together with players you would like and avoid players will you dislike . the only “tool” for that purpose was to belong to a large guild so there is always selection of some players with some filtering (which was better than nothing)

        Forcing me to group to play a horrid game not gonna make me stick and organize people around me.I rather be organzing people around game which is actually fun to play (like World of Tanks)
        Not forcing me to group and giving me a horrid game not gonna make me play game either- i can play a better game and since there is nothing that your game gives me except the “MMO” prefix I am not playing it

  12. I would never go back to spamming lfg chat for groups, 2 hours looking for a tank. Never again with that BS. I’m annoyed these days in WoW because you can’t queue for things like world bosses. As much fun as it is to have to log on at the right time, when there are enough others on that are interested in doing a world boss, just give me a damn queue.

    Once they got rid of all the forced socialization, people went back to the level of socialization they were comfortable which, which frankly is not really that much. Most people are ok with just incidental and occasional contact with others in game. Let’s all face it, we don’t like each other so much that we always want to be dealing with each other just to do the most basic in game tasks.