(First off, an apology. I have basically all but disappeared over here, but life + work + other projects have come into play, and good ol’ CuppyVille has to sit aside while more important things come first.)
When we last spoke, I was pretty enamored with WildStar. I even made some kind of proclamation on Twitter that it was definitely going to be my “main MMO” for months, and I canceled my WoW subscription for the first time in months. But to be fair, by all accounts it should have been my main MMO. I loved the world, the art style, my character, the combat, the housing, the crafting — literally everything about the game. It had the polish that I love, a fresh fantasy/sci-fi hybrid feel that I was enjoying, some humorous elements, and ticked all the boxes on my mental checklist of “things I love about MMOs”. I liked my Esper and I thought she was adorable and fun to play. I had a guild of likeminded people that I was playing with (fellow bloggers & feminists too) that should have kept me firmly solidified in the game. But I got to level 16 and then just didn’t want to play anymore.
I’m not the only one who has talked about this. That Angry Dwarf mentioned that he believes MMOs are habit-forming, and that once you break the habit they’re really hard to get into. I think this hits right at home for me. When I’m logging in nightly, I’m enjoying myself. But if I miss a day or two because of real life, I lose my desire to log in and play. And once the desire is gone, it’s really hard to rekindle the inspiration I need to log in and make any progress on my character.
Liore offered up similar sentiments over on her blog. She was super into WildStar and she’s always been a staunch supporter of a variety of MMOs, but she too has lost her desire to play the game. She’s even gone so far as to declare MMOs as dead (which she clarified in the comments — she meant they’re dead to HER) and is no longer going to be playing them at all. How has the industry gotten to this point where we have MMO community influencers such as Liore saying that they don’t even want to play MMOs at all anymore?
It’s gotten to be a joke with my friends — how long will Cuppy actually play any given MMO for? An hour? A day? Maybe a week? In that time, I’ll be tweeting and taking videos and making screenshot albums and joining guilds and writing about the game at length. Completely immersed for the moment, but then I’m unable to stick with them. For awhile I’ve been declaring that as some fault of my own, and sometimes I think my friends assume it is a trait that only I possess. But if you read the comments on those articles, if you read Twitter, it’s not just me. Sadly, I feel relieved about this because I’m glad to know that I’m not someone who is a “bad gamer” who has ADD who just can’t stick with something. I mean, look at my gaming history. I played EverQuest so hardcore for YEARS that I basically flunked out of my first semester of college while raiding with one of the top guilds in the world. My love for these games (and blogging about them) is what lead me to transplant myself to California from Minnesota so I could spend the rest of my life working on them. I ran one of the leading server forum communities back in the day for my EverQuest server. I created fanart, fan fiction (yeah, yeah), videos, podcasts, went to fan conventions. I moved onto WoW and gave that game a steady four years of my life as well, raiding throughout vanilla and TBC and flying across the country to meet up with my guildmates. Clearly I possess the capability to devote myself to a game and stick with it, but why have the last few years been so full of malaise?
Guild Wars 2 was a fantastic game. The art was beautiful, I liked the combat, and it was innovative. I made it to level 25 and quit. Lord of the Rings Online was always intriguing and had some systems that I truly admired (music, costumes, horses) but I couldn’t stick with it. SWTOR wasn’t that great of a game, but I cared a lot about my Bounty Hunter’s story up until the day I didn’t. FFXIV was AWESOME, but once I realized that I’d end up running out of quests when I want to do a second/third job, I felt exhausted with the idea of grinding and gave up before even finishing my first job. ESO was a decent game with interesting stories, but I didn’t make it to max level there either. ArcheAge was a ton of fun in alpha (and I’m still planning on playing it) but one day I just decided I couldn’t keep playing it if I was going to have to re-do my progress when the game goes live. I have played EverQuest II off and on since launch and my highest character EVER is level 45. RIFT never held onto me, even though it too was a good game. Aion, TSW, Neverwinter, I’ve played them all and stuck with none of them. You get my point.
But millions of people still play WoW. New players who stumble across these games still love them. I’m a numbers girl and I refuse to believe that MMOs are dead when millions of people across the world are enjoying them. Is it possible that those of us who’ve been around since the beginning are just exhausted with the same game mechanics and can’t commit to something because everything is so derivative and we’ve already done it? Wilhelm talks about how he’s having great fun in WoW right now because that’s where his friends & family are. Is the MMO scene just too fragmented now, and since everyone is playing something different we’ve lost that sense of community with our real life friends? Check out the r/MMORPG subreddit — it’s filled with people looking for a new MMO to play because they’re bored with the one they’re playing, and 90% of the people will be looking for a new MMO again within a month. This is a rampant feeling, so how do we solve it?
I actually think the MMO world is very fragmented. “MMO players” are lumped together into one bucket, but everyone actually wants radically different things out of their games. Some people want choice, and sandboxes, and want to be able to change the world and leave a mark on it. Some players want PvP and are passionate about it, but of those — only some want hardcore PvP where death matters and the others want to be able to casually dabble into PvP without too much negative consequence…and of those, some only want open world PvP and others want arena combat. Some players want a life-encompassing immersive experience that commands hours per day, while others want to jump into a game ‘casually’ and make meaningful progress. Some players want housing and farming, but only some of them want it instanced, private, and safe while others want it to non-instanced and take up physical space in the world. Some players want to raid, and some of those want to raid with friends but others have no friends and want to easily connect with other people in-game and still accomplish end-game content. Some players care about costumes, and pets, and collecting things. Some care about achievements, and some completely hate them. Some people read the story, love the lore, and even roleplay — while other players click through quests as fast as possible. The list goes on and on.
All of this boils down to the fact that no game, no matter how good it is, will appeal to all MMO players. I read people like Tobold and Keen (both of which I respect quite a bit for their opinions) making sweeping statements like “choice should matter” that don’t really read as opinion pieces but instead as broad generalizations that are completely false as they pertain to my gaming style. The fact of the matter is, that some people’s MMO preferences are in exact odds with each other. One game can’t necessarily accomplish both. And WoW is still a titan because it tries (and has succeeded) at mostly being everything to everyone. Sure it misses here and there, but overall — it’s a game that rewards you for how you choose to play. Other games are trying to copy that method, but without the budget and the longevity that Blizzard has been afforded, they’re unlikely to hit the mark on the nose.
Anyway, I’m rambling and I’m not sure where I’m going with this — other than to say that I think Liore, the Angry Dwarf, myself, and all the other frustrated and bored MMO players out there haven’t found the game we’re looking for because it either doesn’t exist yet, or it already existed years ago and feels archaic at this point. Just because these MMOs keep launching doesn’t mean we will like them — but we try them because “dammit, we’re MMO players” and they seem like they have everything we’re looking for. But they don’t, they’re missing potentially small-yet-important elements of what makes an MMO stick with us. I don’t want to say I’m done with MMOs forever because I have loved before and know I am capable of loving again. But I do need to start being more careful about how I’m spending my money, because buying every MMO on the market isn’t a viable strategy for me anymore. Just because it looks good and people say it’s good, doesn’t mean I’ll think it’s good. I am better off tackling my 200+ game Steam backlog than buying boxes of new games I won’t enjoy for longer than a week or two.
Agreed with your final paragraph.
I think there are a couple of things that define how long someone sticks to an MMO, and the result is how much of a home it feels like. If you are not a home-y person, are itinerant by nature, then I think your commitment to a game will be less than someone who has put down roots there. The factors that contribute to how much of a home it feels like include who you play with (and can share experiences with), how much gaming time you have, how much you can stamp your mark on the world, and how much the game caters to your preferred playstyle. I think you can compromise on that last one a lot if the first three are stronger influences. It wasn’t until my guild broke up in WoW that I realised that the gameplay wasn’t what kept me logging in.
I’m also going to blame the prevalence of what you mentioned, about most new MMOs trying to copy WoW and be everything to everyone. I think smaller, more niche and diverse MMOs are going to have to be the way forward, otherwise the industry will decline sharply.
Awesome post. You really hit it. I don’t think MMO’s are dead, either, but to say that the genre is the same as it was 10 years ago is nonsense. It’s so different now that most players are stricken with nostalgia of the old days. Old days when we probably had a lot more time, a lot fewer responsibilities, and there were a lot less choices of MMOs or MMO styles. I do the same as you, I hop from MMO to MMO, but I don’t do it ever with the intention of staying in one place. I play until I stop having fun, then I move on. As long as I leave the game with still positive feelings, I’ll come back to them. Instead of making alts, I just play a different game. There’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact, it’s caused my love of MMOs to grow because you get to see so many different interpretations on the same concepts. You get to refine what you like and what you don’t. More choices is a good thing for the genre as a whole. Heck, right now I’m addicted to Marvel Heroes of all things. I would’ve never guessed in a million years that I would like that game, but here we are.
If the MMO genre is a river, I feel like it’s better to float along and go where the river takes you than to try swimming against it.