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An MMO Life

Posted by on August 24, 2007

caves.jpg

Gosh, who are those slick looking haffers, decked in Tier 1 mastercrafted gear?

Them haffers are my new characters on Nagafen, EQ2′s most popular PvP server. I level locked them at level 10 while I get some AAs, but finishing quests has bumped Tipa (the fury in the foreground) to level 11, with Tsuki (the wizard to the right) not far behind, and both with three AAs already…

My guild on Befallen, the non-PvP server where my high level characters live, is dying. Summer kills guilds, but this particular one was helped along by a seven day a week raiding policy. Now we’re down to one or two raids a week, of old content, and guilds which are a troub short looking for a short troub…

Guild troubles depress me. Lately, I’ve just been logging in and listening to Vent while watching TV or playing Pokemon Diamond on my DS (the multiplayer features are pretty fun… my son sets traps all around me when I am mining in the underworld, one of the several multiplayer parts of the game. I get my revenge by mining his nodes.)

My first night outside the newbie zones, I was creeping through Antonica, looking for some tier 2 nodes for crafting. Out of NOWHERE comes this dark elf mounted on an armored horse, glaring at me, wanting to kill me but unable to because I’m level 10… he growls something, then… steals my node… and rides off…

*Sigh*

I’m in the MMO doldrums. I’m increasingly cynical about games built around a grind — these days, if there’s a grind, it’s there on purpose. The devs want you standing around doing boring stuff for little or no reward. I feel more and more like logging in to an MMO is a waste of my time. I can’t see how in EQ1, EQ2 or WoW that it is possible to enjoy raiding, want to see all the content, and yet still have any sort of other interests.

I left WoW because of the incredibly awful amount of time I had to spend playing in order to progress, combined with the low skill of pickup groups. Lemme tell ya, being the only healer in a random pickup BRD run is something you do once… non stop abuse from the rest of the group combined with an offer to join their guild at the end… uh-huh… Plus the heavily scripted raid encounters where there was one way to do this, the required add-in would tell you when to do everything — which was to press either my “cure” button or my “heal” button, or move to a new spot…

WoW was the worst. EQ1 was pretty bad, but at least there was a huge variety on raid strategies, plus the raids were large enough to be fun social gatherings in their own right. EQ2 usually allows one flagged person to zone in an entire raid, but the 24 person cap on raid size limits the number of strats you can try, same as WoW.

I’ve been thinking a bit about what brings people to log in to an MMO, again and again.

Number one has got to be friends. A chance to spend time with friends is never time wasted and is nearly always enjoyable; it doesn’t even really matter what you’re doing. There was always some psycho kid at the table who was playing D&D so seriously you wondered if he knew it was a game, but everyone else was there to have the kind of fun where being an odd duck just made you one of the crowd. Where, even in real life, we called each other by our mainframe account names (“Albatross”, “Wicked Lady”, “Ridgerunner”, “Kirin”, “Mediator”, “Nomad”, “Ruler”…)

Gaming was something you did with friends — even single player games like ADVENT or DUNGEON or EMPIRE or the hundreds of little games we’d write — we’d play them in UNH’s McConnell computer cluster, comparing notes, listening to loud music and Doctor Demento and eating carboard pizza.

In the real world, my parents were getting divorced, I was running out of money and real life was about to hit; but in the computer clusters, I could make my own worlds and share them with friends. And my worlds could be everything real worlds weren’t.

So: I have always thought of MMOs as ways to get back to that circle of friends, all working together creatively, making a place where the real world wasn’t welcome. I guess I have always thought of MMOs as being a little slice of those endless evenings back at McConnell cluster.

Current-day MMOs are doing a pretty poor job of scratching that itch. By promoting solo play over group play, you don’t easily form those friendships. Since you never went through any hardships together (or really, any hardships whatsoever), you never got the bonding that comes when you’re part of a team, and know you can rely on your friends and that they can rely on you.

By the time raiding rolls around, you’re in a guild of independent agents made up of people who see you only as a means to getting gear for themselves. And the moment it looks like another guild might benefit them more — off they go. Every player for themself. Guilds came and went like the wind in WoW. The top players would join a guild en masse, insist that the guild attempt harder and harder targets and demand astonishing dedication — the casual players would bail and eventually those who couldn’t keep the pace would be booted until the guild was left serving the interests of these few people, who would then leave for another guild, leaving a dead guild behind them.

Friendships could have saved that guild, or made it wise enough not to invite these people in a pathetic attempt at the limelight, but it’s a game without attachments.

I’ve been playing EQ2 for over two years now, and still feel more for the people I spent half a decade with in EQ1 then I do for anyone in EQ2. In EQ1, grouping was everything. You had to know who you were grouping with, and your own rep was vitally important — a bad rep could ruin you. Take a ninja AFK in the Bastion of Thunder and your group would wipe. Take a group to kill all four wing nameds before other groups even knew they’d popped and you could get a group any time, any where.

But grouping is dead, nine million WoW players can’t be wrong. Friendships are worthless. The social itch people scratch with games, more and more unmet. Perhaps that’s why I play them less and less.

I know — I’m wrong, 9 million people are right, solo is the way to go, every player for themself is the way to win, if the game isn’t easy, people will bail and go back to WoW, and if it IS easy, people will complain it’s just like WoW — and go back to WoW.

It’s dead, it’s wrong, the MMO world has turned onto a short road leading off a tall cliff. Pirates of the Burning Sea has levels, did you know? And you can level to 50, and raid, and get raid loot, and all that good stuff, and I’m thinking… huh? That’s all you could come up with? WoW on water?

Starting next week, I’m going to be covering issues that I believe would bring the social back to MMOs.

The first one will be — unsurprisingly — groups.

I don’t believe in them…

17 Responses to An MMO Life

  1. Cameron Sorden

    I don’t have anything witty or insightful to say, but I wanted to say that I liked this post a lot. There’s a lot here I agree with.

  2. JoBildo

    I agree a lot, Tipa, on many points here. But Pirates is anything but WoW on water. Take my word for it.

  3. Tipa

    I’ll definitely be playing it and hoping for the best. It’s on Station Pass, after all — built in playerbase.

    My #1 issue these days, though, is community — or lack of it. I’ll be interested in seeing what PotBS has for that. A game where you sail around by yourself, taking potshots at NPC ships until you ding 50 and start raiding the high level NPC ghost ships with people you don’t know… well, not much interested in that.

  4. Genjer Leigh

    I totally agree with everything you said.

  5. Tipa

    Yuh-huh.

  6. Aktad

    Tipa,

    You bring tears to my eyes. I remember fondly and clearly my 2 to 3 years of EQ1 play. Starting with my first “run” from Surefall Glade to the huge and wonderful city of Qeynos. It must have taken me 30 or 40 minutes – I was just amazed with the wonder of it all. Discovering West Karana and Blackburrow lead to the my first attempts at grouping and the wonder and excitement of “pulling” and getting the right buffs. Seeing familiar names online gave you a feeling of real belonging to a secret and wonderful group. Getting invited to join a guild meant you had measured up to someone’s standards somewhere, somehow – and that meant you were actually getting good at this game.

    For me – the social aspects of the game were/are inextricably tied up with the fun and adventure of exploring new zones, killing “heavy-duty” mobs for the first time by actually working effectively in a group. The game was not nearly as much fun when played solo.

    Dropping out of EQ1 due to family and work pressures for 2 years almost killed me, I haunted the old guild boards looking to somehow still share in the community and not be forgotten.

    Finally getting an EQ2 account and starting all over again – the first thing I noticed was how empty playing felt, not knowing anyone – just toiling alone and trying to figure out what had happened to the magic and wonder. Finally hooking up with new people and new guilds helped, but I couldn’t help noticing the lack of real community, no desperation around corpse retrieval (which I frequently found to be some of the most bonding experiences) because all your best stuff was on your corpse in the bottom of Blackburrow, or by the giants in the Karanas or some other god-awful place, and my toon can’t invis, can’t rez oh somebody, somebody please help me.

    EQ2 was almost too easy – there was no equivalent investment of “SELF” in your toons, nothing really to lose if you died and couldn’t log on for a day or two. I leveled my ranger to 65 and my mage to the mid-40′s, grumbling all the time about how they nerfed Enchanters and how similar the toon capabilities were from class to class. Few strong cross-class dependencies existed anymore, anyone could heal (to some degree) everyone could root/snare (to some degree), distinctions were more cosmetic then ever, the notion of the “holy trinity” from EQ1 (chanter, cleric, tank) no longer held.

    I’m very interested in your thought and feeling about community and the lack thereof in most modern MMORPGs. I’ve read all your adventures to date and keep thinking maybe, maybe I should give it another shot somewhere, sometime.

    Sorry to ramble on like this, I’ll just stop here – but you really struck a nerve – keep adventuring Tipa

  7. Saylah

    Great post. I stop by regularly but don’t usually comment. But this was right on the mark. I don’t know if any game is going to bring back the social spark. We’ve drifted so far off the mark and 9 million people don’t seem to want it or care that it’s lacking.

    On the one hand, I solo to level. Partly because it relaxes me to just be alone with my thoughts hacking away. Secondly because PUGs with strangers is rarely worth the bother. On occasion you meet ONE nice person who is competent, but that’s after wading thru too many adolescents and idiots. And good guilds are like searching for the Hope diamond at the bottom of the Brooklyn Bay. I have to sleep with too many frogs before the Prince of a guild comes along.

    So now that I’ve ranted I have to wonder is it the games or has the population be dumbed down because of popularity? Today I wouldn’t touch AOL with a 100 ft pole. Back when it first launched and was $4.95 an hour, I had a blast and it was one of the best online social experiences I’ve ever had.

  8. Emilie

    Hmm… I can’t say that I agree, however… Posted from Blogger

  9. Travis

    Well, hey. I don’t remember how I ended up with your feed on my sage but I’ve been reading here for a while because I’ve enjoyed reading the thoughts of a EQ player who’s now trying to find satisfaction in the new generation of games.

    I have to echo your sentiments towards EQ1. I’m playing WOW now, primarily due to a sudden spontaneous launch into the game by about 10 RL friends. And almost every time I’m in the game I’m wishing it was EQ instead.

    I guess it was the summer of 2003 when I put EQ down for good. I was in an awesome end-game raiding guild which had been built more on friendship and integrity than powergaming ability. We were rounding the corner towards the homestretch of finishing the Planes of Power expansion. Summer hit us hard along with the stress and frustration of competing with a euro guild (we were PST) who had no regard for place on the server. The officers couldnt handle the drama any longer and without that foundation around the guild collapsed in a matter of about 2 weeks, entirely.

    Now, I’m playing WOW and while I’m having a great time on a PVP server playing with some great people, I find it really unfortunate that we weren’t doing this in a better game.

    I guess I rambled this far only to make one small point. I think EQ was a better game for the social aspect, better than EQ2 or WOW, because combat was more simple. In the new games you have to press too many keys, micro-manage too many abilities, all of which don’t even add up to much in terms of consequence – they just make the fight go a little bit quicker. Cluster-fucking an encounter so rarely means a wipe in WOW because the margin for error is gaping wide in comparison to the old-school EQ approach. There is so little incentive to really excel at anything other than DPS in the game. And because reaching the DPS ceiling means pressing 5 million buttons, social interaction during grouping is sacrificed to the bare minimum in order to have more “fun” playing the DPS mechanics game. Either that or you leave someone out because they don’t have headset/microphone/vent ability. But anyway, text has the charming way of somehow staying in character and not being too real or mood breaking like vent is.

    So yeah, that’s my submission. EQ2 has of course tried desperately to emulate a lot of WOW qualities. I did try to get into it a couple times in between EQ and WOW but they seemed to have thrown away all of the raw qualities that EQ had in favor of a more generic, massively appealing approach, in the end appealing only to people who had burned out on EQ yet still still wanted to play some sort of fantasy MMO and wanted to avoid Blizzards offering for whatever reason.

    You’re welcome to join us if you like, I promise a group of skilled players who can speak proper english and even use punctuation and capitalization (at least half of the time!), something WOW is seriously lacking. Ha. Ha. Ha. ha. ha. ha….

  10. Ceadrick

    Great post. When I played EQ1 I grumbled about always having to find a group to play with. I cried I couldn’t solo past level 10 unless I was a druid or necro. I moaned about corpse retrieval. Screamed at the sky about xp losss at death. Now I long for the days of old…. Umm ya I must be nuts…

    Ceadrick

  11. Mythokia

    Very well written post there.

    Imo, MMOs should encourage more grouping and have a tougher grind. From my experience in L2, I feel that these contribute greatly to community bonding. In L2, groups needed specific classes, or it wouldn’t work. Also, you can spend days, up to a months in a specific zone and hence you HAVE to know people. The way groups are formed in that game also foster social connections. Everyone sat at the entrance of Dragon Valley Cave, sometimes up to hours, looking for and forming groups. While doing that, chat is inevitable. By the time I was relatively high level, I knew almost everyone that ever leveled in that area.

    Compare that to my initial journey to level 70 in EQ2. The grind was so quick that I never spent more than a few days in a zone (sometimes just once even). Grouping was a breeze, just pluck any guy who could hit a mob and you have a functional group. Most pick up groups work fine, you don’t really need a Dirge, but one helps. After the group, you all thank each other for coming. Some of these guys were alts, who I never knew their main, and for the rest of them, I didn’t chance upon them anymore when I hit the next tier. By the time I hit 70, I realized how few people I knew.

    MMOs have shifted towards more mainstream in the recent years, and during this shift, game mechanics have been simplified and it feels very much more like a casual game where you can just pop in as and when, without any consequences. Gone were the days where you actually had to invest in your character and there was an emotional attachment to it.

  12. Bildo

    The main problem is, the companies who publish these games want results. MMO is a hot-button word right now in videogaming, and one thing WoW has done is show publishers that, “Hey, people can play that game solo… which means they’ll only play it solo. Make me a solo-friendly MMO!”

    And it’s very hard to balance solo-friendly with group-friendly. Or maybe it’s not, and no one’s trying. I know PotBS will be very solo friendly, but also encourages grouping by increasing XP gain by 50%, and most if not all of the PvP will be safer in pairs or more. The general vibe if “nation versus nation” will also create a very social atmosphere, not unlike DAoC or UO in their haydays.

    I’m rambling, but my point is, there are companies out there who are trying to do it both ways. In an MMO, I believe there’s plenty of room for the solo-play and the group play… it’s just that no one’s struck the right balance, and encouraged both to be harmonious yet.

  13. Rob

    Looking forward to your next article. I agree 100%. I desperately trying to get those I forged close bonds with to join me in game A. or Game B. So I can have the same experiences I had back in EQ1.

    Maybe I am a bit selfish =)

  14. Damiano

    It will be interesting to see your list, and see how it matches my own. Very much looking forward to it.

  15. Relmstein

    I know people always look back fondly on the first MMO they played usually EQ1 or UO but in truth most of the first generation MMOs were more a pain in the ass then they should have been. The only reason we look so fondly back at them is because there was little or no competition at the time they first came out.

    I played a monk in classic Everquest and I remember often having to wait 1-2 hours before I could get into a group, let alone one doing what I wanted to do. I wasn’t a bad puller but there simply weren’t enough healers to make groups for everyone. This problem still exists in most D&D based MMOs today but at least now with the industry standard of having solo content I can grind on monsters or do a quest while waiting.

    I admit that WoW has lowered the barrier of entry so low that I’m subjected to the grammer of 10 year olds but that doesn’t mean that friendships don’t exist. I’ve seen plenty of casual guilds based on working their way through raid content while maintaining a friendly environment. However, with so many players in WoW its also not that hard to find bad guilds obessed with loot and high performance.

  16. Boon

    Hey Tipa,

    Great article and I can’t say that I don’t feel the same why when I am logging in these days. I’ve also began to write some articles on the subject of getting our community back.

    My first was about armor sizes and how they helped promote community and communication between players. There are a lot more to come, as the social is what makes the games fun, not the game itself.

  17. Tipa

    @Boon — I couldn’t agree more. Community makes games fun. It’s the only thing single player games can’t offer.

    @Relmstein — I had trouble getting groups, too. My first class in EQ1 was a druid, back when druids couldn’t heal well, couldn’t buff, were unwanted in groups and forced to kite. I disliked not getting groups so much that I changed classes — twice — to rogue and then cleric. So I’m right there with hating LFG. On the other hand, all my friendships that I have kept so long, were because of the friends and bonds I made while grouping.