It is common in many games to hear people talk about how great a game once was. The players used to be friendlier. The content used to be more challenging. The company used to be more responsive to players. The game has been dumbed down. Usually this is simple nostalgia, and nothing more.
Think back to the most exciting time that you completed some content in an MMORPG. Maybe it was killing some boss, completing a particularly challenging quest, or winning some epic pvp battle. Whatever it was, it was great fun the first time.
So why don’t you do it again? Maybe you did. But why not go kill that same boss a thousand times? The answer is pretty obvious. That sort of grinding gets boring, and fast.
It is human nature to crave novelty. When you first pick up a game and haven’t played anything else like it, it’s very new to you. The mechanics of running around and killing mobs, becoming higher level, and getting better armor can often be quite thrilling the first time. It’s a lot less fun the ten thousandth time.
It’s easy to look back to how fun the game was when you started, and say, why can’t the game still be like that today? But it isn’t the game that changed. You changed. What was once innovative and exciting has become stale and mundane.
Now, certainly, games do change as time passes. But usually they get better, not worse. Content is added, bugs are fixed, glaring imbalances are corrected, and so forth. Occasionally there is a case where one particular patch (or expansion) makes the game instantly and dramatically take a turn for the worse. That’s pretty rare, though. If the game seems to not be as fun as it used to be, and you can’t trace the problems to one particular patch, it’s not the game that changed.
Indeed, even if you can trace our annoyance with the game to one particular patch, it’s still often (but not always) you that changed, not the game. An expansion may add a lot of new content, but knock you back rather far away from the endgame, which will annoy some people. Getting back to the endgame will typically be easier than it was before, because you’re better at the game now, and that will annoy other people. Having your entire build based around exploiting one particular overpowered skill, and then seeing that skill get nerfed, will annoy quite a lot of people--but the change is still vital to good gameplay. Indeed, the implicit complaint that an expansion ruined a game is usually that the game would have been better if the expansion were different in this or that way, not that it would have been better if there were no expansion at all.
It’s not merely that a player changing makes one particular game seem worse with the passing of time. Players changing can make the whole MMORPG industry seem worse.
Suppose that there are two games that are very similar. Both have a lot of features that you’d like in a game, and are pretty well-done games. You pick one of the games and play it for a while, and enjoy it. Eventually you get bored of the game and quit, as happens to all games. Then you go pick up the other game.
Which game are you going to like better? The answer is almost invariably the first one. The odds that you’ll play the second game for very long at all are not very good. If you’re sick of the first game, then you’re very nearly already sick of the second game before you’ve even played it.
The distinguishing factor is not that the first game is better. In our hypothetical example, it isn’t. If you were to play the games in the other order, you’d still prefer whichever game you played first.
Often players express nostalgia for the first MMORPG they played. If the first game you played was so great, then go back and play it now, at least from time to time. Games are rarely taken down entirely. Now, some players do go do exactly this, and I respect that. But quite often the complaint is, why can’t new games create the same dramatic feel that the first MMORPG I played did?
But again, it’s not the industry that has changed. It’s you. In the first online game you played, the very idea of playing a game online was new. Playing with real people without having to round up someone to sit next to you for a console game was new. Having lots of other actual players around doing things was new. Games that come out today can reproduce the same features, but they can’t recreate the novelty of seeing the same thing for the first time.
What is particularly absurd are the claims that it is the player base that has gotten worse. Sure, a larger fraction of the players in the games you play is younger than you today than several years ago. You were younger several years ago than you are today, too. While most players pick up computer games at a relatively young age, those who have been playing for quite a while have aged. I’d be absolutely shocked if the industry average percentage of players over 20, 25, and 30 haven’t risen substantially in the last several years. Again, the difference isn’t the industry; it’s you. People tend to become more bothered by immaturity and youthful hijinks as they age.
Nostalgia is hardly unique to MMORPGs. People often long to return to a golden age that never existed. There are no shortage of people who will insist that music was vastly better a few decades ago, or movies, or sports, or politics. Every generation worries that the next is going to hell in a handbasket.
So what is the point of all of this? Don’t complain that games were so much better years ago unless you’re willing to go back and play the games you played years ago. And please, don’t start acting like a cranky old codger until you are, in fact, old. Otherwise, you’re going to be really scary when you do actually get old.