MMO Badlands

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MMO Badlands

I don’t know if this is the summer drought or indicative of something much bigger. You all feel it. MMOs have dried up — bad. Multiple people have come to me and said, “I’ve lost faith in MMOs,” and “I haven’t felt the urge to play one in months.” I’m right there with you guys.

You know things are dire when we are actually playing the games we bought on Steam’s summer sale and the MMO news sites have posted about Marvel Heroes 3 times in the last 2 days. I’ve given up trying to keep up with Generic Asian Publisher Game X or MOBA Y that launches the day after its very first appearance in the media.

Looking at the MMO landscape, I’m confident it’s not just us; Meaning we are not the ones responsible for feeling this way and it’s not an issue of us becoming jaded or bored. There’s just nothing there, and what is there should more often than not be avoided.

People view MMOs are either outright boring/uninteresting or they’re looking for the angle. Instead of felling like we’re playing a game, it feels like we’re participating as consumers in a marketplace where every action we take is being watched for ways to monetize and exploit it. And when we do find a game that might be fun there’s always this nagging feeling in the back of our minds that the game will probably just go F2P in a year after being a ghost town after the first few months.

MMOs require a time investment from all parties involved. It’s tough to stomach the idea of spending time in something you suspect may not last. To me it’s the same feeling as playing an MMO beta; Back in the day I would play and love it but I always knew it was going to be deleted so I held back and stopped playing.

We’ve become cautious and wary of MMOs due to our realistic suspicions. As a result, MMOs in general feel like the badlands of gaming. Depending on which metaphor you’re going for here (Star Trek or real-life desert) it’s either a place you and risk being destroyed among the dodgy characters looking to exploit you for their personal gain, or you get lost in a barren wasteland where there’s truly no depth or anything to sustain life.

The consumer now sees the MMO industry this way. How do you change their minds? You’re not going to do it by hyping people up with trailers or dev blogs/vids. You might pull in a few suckers, but you’ll end up spending way too much money on advertising and influencing the “press.” You have to change our minds by proving everyone wrong, and that takes actually launching your game — actions do speak louder than words. Show. Don’t tell.

  • I’ve been having a great time with FFXIV. The story is pretty well written, it looks beautiful and the people are (mostly) nice. I like that I can switch class at will so I can do ‘alts’ all on the same character.

  • “You all feel it. ”

    Um, no I don’t. I play every night after work and for a good part of each weekend, same as I have been dong for the last decade and a half and I’m having as much fun as I ever was. I’ve expanded my current range of MMOs in which I’m actively leveling or progressing characters to five and I have a couple of dozen more on my watch-list.

    What’s more I have well over fifty blogs in my Feedly that post regularly and excitedly about MMOs so I get plenty of positive reinforcement from other people who also don’t feel the genre has “dried up”. It doesn’t surprise me that you’ve had “multiple people” come to you and tell you they’ve lost faith in MMOs because it’s seemed to me that you lost faith in them long, long ago and naturally you get readers who tend to find your viewpoint sympathetic or persuasive.

    I would definitely agree that MMOs are no longer of much interest to the mass media in they way they were when WoW was at its peak as a cultural phenomenon. Equally, the huge success of LoL has drawn the interests of business away from MMOs and towards MOBAs so we don’t get a new “WoW Clone” every three months any more. Both of those are good things in my book.

    The MMO scene is always changing, always fascinating. When you talk about committing time, there are way, way more MMOs worthy of serious time commitment already running than ay of us is ever going to have the time to explore in the detail and depth they deserve.

    It’s been clear for a very long time that whatever it is you want from MMOs you’re not getting, which is sad for you, but it doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way.

  • MMO games don’t even try to hide the meta game anymore. You open up your dungeon finder and grind some generic token used to buy epics from various NPCs that are just standing around.

    The meta game is basically the same in every MMO now. Everyone is just grinding generic tokens to buy gear. Boss fights in every MMO are a bizarre game of Simon Says. This is to cover up how uninteresting combat is. Giving players 100’s of abilities also just covers up how stale MMO combat is.

    FFXIV story was pretty good even though you were always touted as a Warrior of Light. I usually hate stories in MMOs where everyone is the Almighty Chosen One but it somehow worked… The Echo wasn’t exclusive to the hero and there was more than one Warrior of Light in the lore.

    EQ had rather basic combat but it really worked because enemies were usually MUCH stronger than you. The terrain was always creative enough so that you could use it to your advantage. Levitate could be a great defensive tool. “Don’t stand in the fire” and other stupid games of Simon Says didn’t exist in early EQ.

    The way MMOs have been for a long time for me now is that something that could really change everything is like 2+ years away. And every time it ends up being a bust. Right now we’re seeing EQ Next crash and burn before it even opens. I was looking forward to that one. Please, Star Citizen don’t let me down but I am somewhat afraid that it will.

  • @Wulfus: FFXIV is a fun game while leveling for the story. I found the story very intriguing for a quest-grind themepark model. I do not like the end-game gear/token-grind, nor the overuse of questing. The model has become so stale over the years.

    @Bhagpuss: You have to see that you are in the minority as far as the common point of view/sentiment goes. The fact that you’ve stuck with GW2 for so long clearly illustrates that. You enjoy these games for reasons most people do not. You’ve been open your very, very different take on the consensus of all things for years. That is absolutely awesome for you. Was I generalizing a bit? Yeah, I do that. When I say, “You all feel it,” I could have included a few exceptions. If the 50 blogs you read all share your PoV, then it’s no different from my readers sharing mine. The difference here being I tend to sway more to the side of “everyone” when you sway more niche. I’ve built my blog on my ability to predict, identify, and analyze the trends.

    @Gringar: You bring up the key here. Every 2 years we get hope that something will be different. We all jump on board and support it, then find out it wasn’t any different. The key is we have that belief in there being a chance for change. And that is why when it inevitable one day (hopefully) happens, it will work. We’ll jump onboard and support/adopt whatever will fix the problem. All we need is for someone to actually do it — make the game or style of game that will reverse the damage. Clearly people will jump onboard.

  • I agree that it’s not particularly innovative, but I think they tell a story better than any other MMO and it’s well polished. I went to FFXIV because I had some friends playing already and I’d given up find the ‘brand new thing’. I’m not sure what would have to happen to reinvigorate the market.

    I’m interested to see how some of these newer, smaller games like Crowfall or Pathfinder pan out.

  • I completely agree that MMOs nowadays feel like marketplaces where your free time is openly traded at a rate set by the hosting company. I’ve been enjoying my time on the recent EQ TLP, but every time Krono is discussed I feel like my net worth is being calculated and monetized and it leaves a horrid feeling in the pit of my stomach.

    I’m trying to get behind up and coming MMOs that match my own views and help out any way I can. Who knows if that will be enough, but I’d rather do that than keep throwing money at the same game over and over again.

  • @Wulfus: Crowfall and Pathfinder are…. let’s just say I’m staying away from those mirages in the Badlands.

  • The MMO market has changed, it has reverted back to its original niche status. Maybe Keen you’re trying too hard. It is entirely possible you are no longer the target market for MMOs, it is entirely possible that you might have also changed enough that it’s time for you to move away from the genre. That’s okay, there’s plenty of other types of video games to enjoy, you don’t need to play a MMO, you don’t have to chase a certain form of nostalgia factor or to chase a dream game. It’s fine to accept that you have moved on, That feeling doesn’t even hurt 😉

  • AdricLives described the current state of MMOs perfectly. The masses may not notice the current state of things but there are also a large number of people who aren’t so easily fooled.

  • Some of my guildmates have been messing around with Skyforge. They’re enjoying themselves seems like, but I’ve not bothered to take the plunge. I’ve been playing World of Warships myself to scratch the online gaming itch in 15 minute increments.

  • I think you are right, and bhagpuss is right.

    I’m not saying this to beat up on you, my gaming habits closely mirror yours, but I don’t think I’ve seen you stick with any MMO for more than a couple months in the years I’ve been following your blog. I think many of us “chase the dragon” trying to recapture our first MMO experience and never really do.

    I can think of many RL and online-only friends I’ve played MMOs with over the last 15 years or so and I can safely say 90% of them have given up on the genre altogether. They either just don’t have an interest in it anymore or don’t have the time/aren’t willing to make the time.

    I do think there’s a lack of innovation in the genre but there’s also a tremendous amount of choice. There are so many flavors of MMO now it should be relatively easy to find one that appeals to you. Maybe the concept of finding a single game to capture all of your attention for years on end just isn’t realistic anymore. I’m sure some of my nostalgia for olders game I stuck with for so long was simply because there wasn’t a whole lot of alternatives back then.

    You might find more fulfillment if you just picked a game and devoted yourself to leading a guild there, for better or worse. The longest running guild I’ve seen is my cousin-in-law’s WoW guild. He’s been the GM for 10 years and has a loyal group that has either stuck with him or comes and goes but also back to that guild. He plays other games, too, mostly non-MMOs, but he always devotes enough time to keep things running and play with the comrades he’s fostered over the years. I’m always amazed they are still going but he is a trooper. Most of my best experience with games were built around strong leadership whether it be an individual or a small group of people, and when that leadership faded out so did my interest. Dunno just throwing some thoughts out there.

    I’m playing a handful of games and enjoying myself for the most part. I’ve kinda given up on the idea of there being a single game so compelling I devote all my gaming time to it and it alone. There are too many great games out there to devote all my time to one anymore.

  • Pathfinder is *really* rough right now and looks and feels worse than even EQ circa 1999 (based on my recent putting around in Project 1999). The graphics, controls, and overall feel are very mediocre in my opinion, which is a shame because I love the design principles and features they are trying to go after.

  • I agree with you.

    I think the real problem is we lived through a golden age of mmos that is very unlikely to repeat. There were simply very few, or no, choices back then. EQ could be hard as hell and if you wanted to play that was it. Or you could go back to UO or The Realm? It was way better than those, especially if you didn’t like getting ganged or pick pocketed.

    Then the choices started appearing, AC, DaoC, WoW, etc. The market has continued to split ever since. Now there are a billion choices and none of them are really that hard because there are a billion choices and only hardcore nut jobs like us would pick them.

    I kinda doubt you and I will ever play another game over a 3 monther.

  • Yeah, I just went back to FFXIV but admittedly it’s with limitations. I don’t really plan to do anything end game, just enjoy all the content that was added since I had left and complete the story through the new expansion. But paying $13 or $26 for that seems perfectly fine for me, thats hours of fun entertainment. A bit of a far cry from the idea of living in a virtual space though, it’s just something to experience.

  • Not really, I play FFXIV daily, I enjoy doing the content, questing, running around as new classes, playing triple triad, collecting pets, putting together outfits etc and just chatting with my social linkshells. It gives me most of what I want right now from a MMO and the storyline quest keeps me waiting for more, the accessibility of the new raids has been fantastic as well.

    While DAoC was my golden age, I dont pretend it didnt have problems, but it had things that I wish games today would implement (hello WS queueing system).

  • I think I’ve changed and don’t really enjoy them like I used to. I would like to see a return to smaller player made worlds, like in NWN. It was a much more intimate gaming experience.

    TBH dragon age would be awesome if they incorporated server and world building tech into the game.

  • @Maljjin: For the record, I probably should say that I don’t just sit around in my rocking chair bitching at the kids walking down the street. I really do play lots of other games. 😀 I just beat AC Unity, I’m playing through AC Rogue (Review soon), Dragon Age Inquisition, and about to start Fallout New Vegas. I just like MMOs the most and want them to return to what they could easily become again.

    @Misaligned: Here’s where I disagree with people. It’s not my gaming habits that make me bounce around. I stop playing a game when it stops being fun. I don’t stop sooner than the most people, either. I quit right along with most people; Right about at the point where the new MMO smell wears off and you realize what you got suckered into. If the game sucks, I’m out. And another point I want to be sure to hit home: I’m not looking to recapture my first MMO experience. I’d be happy with my 4th, 5th, or 6th experience too. I played MMOs for a DECADE before they went south.

    @Baa Baa Black Sheep: I haven’t given up hope. I’m not going to be delusional and think that all is well either. There are people who will say, “All is well in MMO-Land. I can collect pets or run the same daily quests 100x and never run out of content!” I’m not one of them. I need more.

    @SineNomine: That’s pretty much the same reason I’m sticking with EverQuest TLP right now. Daybreak is doing a horrible job running this server, and they are clearly emphasizing economics over the experience. Ultiamtely, it’s $15/month for me to spend 30-60 hours. I can’t beat that value.

    @Danath: Your last point was key for me. While games like EQ, DAoC, and SWG had ENORMOUS flaws, they also had unmatched greatness in a handful of features and mechanics which have been grossly ignored and not even attempted in modern MMOs.

    @Solarbear: You touch on a point I have been thinking about too. MMOs do not provide that “I’m playing a game” feeling like they used to, or at least it’s a temporary feeling once the meta-activities take over. MMOs are more like “I’m playing a business model.”

  • while I understand that last point that you’re making there (to solarbear) I’m of the opinion that MMORPGs started to lose their magic when the balance started shifting towards “I’m playing a game” rather than “I’m living in a virtual world.” Good games to play weren’t rare then and they aren’t rare now, but a functional virtual world to live in? That was something special.

    I’m just amazed that, back then, looking at the crude but wonderfully functional first forays, I honestly believed we were just at the beginning and our ability to create living worlds was going to get so much better.

  • Are you sure? You are sounding ever more “get of my lawn” with your posts lately…
    Ever considered that you might be the problem, not the games?
    The MMO landscape has never been better imo, I’ve so many good games I can play my problem is finding time to play them all before they naturally die of age.
    To name a few, I very much enjoy and would like to spend much more time in these: TSW, GW2, Neverwinter, TESO, FFXIV, Rift
    Those are just the few that I’ve tried (except FFXIV) and loved and really want to spend a lot more time in.

    My only problem with the MMO landscape today is that with the large choice of good games my friends are now scattered across several different games so having a solid group of friends to play with means finding new friends for every game.

  • I’m having the best time I’ve had in years with MMOs. I won’t be leaving FFXIV anytime soon. Where can you find a game where crafting rotations spark more debate than dps rotations?

  • @Proximo: Our definition of enjoyment, or even how we as players differ in our method of consumption, could be placing us at diametrically opposing viewpoints. TSW was fun for a month but I sorta did all I wanted to do. GW2 was really, really boring all-around. TESO is decent — I’m actually still playing this on my PS4 — but not really MMO feeling to me so I don’t know if I can psychologically count that. FFXIV was good until the gear grind. Rift is a boring quest-driven themepark turned F2P.

    Maybe I have more time than you, or I see them differently than you? I see a quest-driven gear-grindy themepark and I’m not even remotely interested. You might see that and think, “Oh goody I can grind gear for a year this is great!” My PoV: MMOs can and should be more and bettter. Your Pov may be: I’m content and having fun.

  • Your recommendation to limit or eliminate the marketing and press hype is dead on, and something gamers have now caught onto. The flavor of the last two years has been development involving community interaction. Yet, none of the games that emphasized this have turned out to be good, and if anything have soured people on that notion.

  • Here is one more take from reading the comments.

    Gamers who enjoy structured quests, killing npcs, and gear grinds think MMOs are in a great place.

    Those who thought MMOs should be more open-ended and sandboxy, but still include good combat systems and exploration, think MMOs out now suck. For instance, playing Terraria the last month has been more enjoyable than any of my recent MMO experiences.

  • @Keen :
    You still have a better record than me! I rarely finish games, there’s always something outside the gaming world that drags me away and most of the time, after 2-3 weeks of not touching a game, as great at it is, I can’t muster the motivation to play again. A month ago, I was really enjoying Shadow of Mordor, then came the time of moving to my new house. Now that I’ve settled in nicely, I can’t get back to SoM, way too many ‘shinier’ games to play. I can’t even be the older guy jarring the kids with their short attention span, I’m even worst then them 😉

  • @Maljjin: That happens to me too. I’ll be in the middle of a game and something will come along and suddenly that game doesn’t have the pull to bring me in like it used to because the new game looks cooler. I have to ask myself in hindsight of the original game was flawed or if I was just attracted to shiny objects. There are cases to be made for both.

  • @Keen I see you finally crossed the line to join the group of jaded former MMORPG players…
    The next step is going to the MMORPG forums, whine and complain for a few days/weeks and realize your not alone and at the same time voicing your concerns and opinions has no effect whatsoever.

    The last step is waiting.. in some empty void like stasis until that one MMORPG comes out that lets us relive what we want to relive. Communities, an actual world, cooperation, danger, wonder…..

    I wrote this from inside my cocoon drifting across space…. waiting.