So I've been thinking a lot about time and MMORPGs. If I could choose one thing to completely tear on MMORPGs about, it would be the time commitment that these games demand from the very outset. If I could choose one reason why more people aren't playing MMORPGs, it would the amount of time that players are expected to put in per session, week, month, year, etc. But to be fair, why in the hell are we letting a game monopolize our schedule?
We don't let single player games consume our lives when they require 80 to 100 hours to complete. We're just fine with catching TV shows on a weekly basis. We don't even have a problem with waiting a year for a movie sequel. So why do we feel like we have to rush to the level cap and acquire all the epics in X amount of months?
Just why the hell are people puting 20, 30 or 40+ hours a week into MMORPGs when those hours aren't actually required by the mechanics of the game? If you leave a quest half done, won't it still be there when you log back in? Won't all those levels and shiny things be rendered worthless in the next expansion when the level cap gets raised and the next tier of epics comes out?
The cause of all this time wasteage is twofold: raiding and guilds. The lesser of these two evils is raiding. The longest raid I've ever heard of lasted 10 hours and that's about even with the amount of time that most people put into SuperBowl Sunday. If six to 10 hour raids only happened once a month, or even once every week, I don't think anyone would mind. It's when we throw in raiding guilds that the games devouring your life whole and begin feeling more like a sweat shop than a hobby.
For the record, I am anti-guild. You can tell me that your guild is different and how not all guilds are Machiavellian communities for the betterment of "geek football," but it doesn't hold a very much weight. The bottom line is that the player is expected to martyr themselves for the good of the guild by putting in a set amount of time and remaining on the guild's beck and call. If your guild is different then you need to hang on to it for dear life because it's one in a fucking million.
For the most part, guilds are about convenient grouping and loot. In theory, you're supposed to be able to call on your guild to provide party members in the event that a quest that you're working on requires more manpower. You are expected to offer the same help to other guild members in return. The net result is that everyone advances faster and gets more loot. Additionally, if the guild is big enough, you have access to high-end content that requires large numbers of players which, in turn, affords you the opportunity to get more valuable loot. In short, guilds are motivated and powered exclusively by greed.
The emphasis on loot means that guilds attach their status to their stuff and establish social hierarchy around level and gear. This inevitably contaminates the surrounding community, creating a compitition to put "those elitist pricks" in their place. Now, we have a situation where new players are forced to seek out a guild in order to get the levels and loot that signifies adequacy within a given server's community. This is generally at odds with most players motivations to enjoy the gameplay or to simply have people to hang out with in game.
Maybe it's time that we approached these games differently....
About a week ago I posted a thread about static parties and asked how many people actually engaged in them. I got a pretty mixed reply. Most people had never been in one, but had heard of the concept. Others had been trying to get a static party together over the internet for years and failed. And finally there were one or two people that were in static parties and had alts set aside specifically for the purpose. So you're probably asking "WTF are static parties?!" I'm glad you asked.
A static party is simply a group of players that get together at a specific time and group using characters mades specifically for that group and nothing else. For instance, a group may meet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for two or three hours per session. This group will also use characters that were made for this group. So everyone is free to play the rest of the week if they want, just with alts and not with static party characters.
Static parties are something of a regression to the table top RPGs of old. The main differences being that you aren't leaving the house and you probably aren't roleplaying either. This doesn't make it any less nerdy, but it does make the game way more manageable time-wise.
Think about the advantages for a minute. No more waiting for hours LFG. Minimal drama due to the smaller number of players and the fact that you aren't playing every single day together. Having limited the game to a set number of hours a week, you now have time for other activities or even <gasp> other games. The game that you're playing will last longer and be considerably less stressful since you aren't racing toward some vaguely defined end-game. You get all the advantages of grouping without having to rely on a guild that cares more about how you serve their needs than how they can help you out. After a few sessions, your party will be a well oiled machine calibrated to your group's specific play style.
That last one could arguably be done within a guild that practiced every day, but static parties will reach the same results with much less pain and irritation. And ultimately, this emphasis on the journey rather than the destination is what can make static parties more enjoyable than the way that MMORPGs are normally played. Rather than playing for the acceptance of a given game's community, you're playing for completely for yourself and the three to seven people you bring with you.
Before I get the flood of "why not play an regular multiplayer RPG" replies, let me explain that your static party is still free to interact with the rest of the community. If you want to team up with another group, help someone in trouble or just add a random PUG, you're completely free to do so. You're still playing an MMORPG after all. The only thing that's changed is the amount of time you spend playing and the fact that you're playing to enjoy the game and not stroke someone else's epeen.
Also consider how much more effeciently your time will be spent in the few hours that you play. A group that meets for four hours on Wednesday and Friday will put in 32 hours a month. In one year, they'll have put in 384 hours. In those hours, they will have spent zero time looking for group. They will have spent less time getting wiped because they will be intimately familiar with eachothers play style, roles and tactics. They will have 30% more loot and experience, on average, than other players with equal game time because the static party is always grouped. Most importantly though, a static party will still have plenty of game content left to experience after a year whereas everyone else will be bitching about how bored they are because they've already capped and done everything. Do I even have to mention the fact that you probably won't be able to play any single player RPG, aside from Morrowind, for anywhere near that amount of time without running out of content.
Raiding for epics? With the money you save up after a year why bother raiding for them? You'll be able to get them straight out of the auction house or craft them from materials that you can get in other ways. Battlegrounds? Eight players working as a single unit seems pretty effective to me. You really don't miss out on anything by being in a static party. Well, maybe hearing some douche screaming about how you just got 50 DKP Minus....
Let me sum it up with an old parable.
Baby Bull: Hey Pappa, lets run down to that field, fuck a couple of the cows and run on back here!
Papa Bull: No son. Let's walk down thar and fuck 'em all.