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The Quinquennial (or sometimes more often)

Various thoughts on online gaming, often pulled from articles I've written for other sources.

Author: Quizzical

The game didn't change

Posted by Quizzical Saturday January 31 2009 at 12:53AM
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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.

axlezero writes:

I agree with some of this, but I don't agree with the game industry not changing.  Sure we all grow to like or dislike certain aspects of an mmo, but if you are honestly going to tell me that WoW is like uo or eq, I'm going to say bs.  The MMO has changed for better or worse, and it has nothing to do with my likes or dislikes.

Just actually take a look at what mmo's were and what they are now, you can't honestly believe they haven't changed, I'm not willing to believe even you can think that. 

As a veteran MMO player I can tell you for a fact the community in games has drastically changed.  Even more then that, there is alot less policing of the chats then there used to be, so people can spam racial slurs for hours without getting so much as a slap on the wrist.  In old school mmo's the community was willing to help out and give you gear and coin if needed, if some one dropped the N word, they got banned.  Public chats were full of people with questions and answers, now if you try to ask a question you get "god what a loser"  "go check website A you dumb ass".  So you really don't know what you are talking about here, unless you played some of the old school MMO's you have nothing to base your claims on.

Sat Jan 31 2009 11:06AM Report
Quizzical writes:

That a particular game today is rather different from a particular game several years ago does not, in itself, mean much.  A particular game released today can be quite different from another particular game released today.  Surely you wouldn't argue that WAR, Atlantica, and Wizard101 are all just like each other, even if they did all release within the last six months.

Regarding game communities, some games have better communities than others.  The worst game community I've seen was for Infantry about eight years ago.  Even stuff like "Barrens chat", as awful as it is, is an upgrade over that. 

Sat Jan 31 2009 12:04PM Report
sfraden writes:

Ok, I qualify as OLD (43, which is a senior citizen in the gaming world)  I played UO when it came out and loved every second of it.  Then UO changed, got softer, a non-PK world, non looting and the entire thing went downhill.  I have never found another game that has as good gameplay as the origional UO did.  I did go back to UO about a year ago, found it to be nothing more than SIMS online where everyone is selling things and building houses.  The old UO is dead, gone forever....

Or is it......(DFO is coming...)

Sat Jan 31 2009 12:06PM Report
mechtech256 writes:

 I don't agree. I would go back and play EQ2 on release or SWG on release again. They were better than current gen mmos in my opinion.

Sat Jan 31 2009 2:34PM Report
Quizzical writes:

sfraden and mechtech, you're basically demonstrating what I'm talking about.  Do you play UO, EQ2, or SWG today (or at least in the recent past with the intention to play again in the future)?  All of those games still exist.  In the case of SWG, I guess you can point to the NGE, but if you didn't play it right up until then, you're being ridiculous.

It's often a case of wanting what you cannot have.  Even if the games were returned to how they were at release, they wouldn't be as fun now as they were the first time around--and they weren't as fun the first time around as you recall today.  Do you really want all of the bugs and imbalances that were present at release brought back into the game?

Sat Jan 31 2009 2:48PM Report
Ascension08 writes:

Yeah Quizzical, I actually think some of them might want those bugs and imbalances back in just so they could hop in their time machine and be able to play it as they remember it, bugs/imbalances and all. Those kinds of posts prove your point, though.


Sat Jan 31 2009 3:45PM Report
ghstwolf writes:

It's a weird thing, I agree with most of the points and still cannot agree with the premise.  Maybe its the fact that consumers will always expect progress.  Much like we expect cars to get faster, more responsive and all around better, so to do we expect that in our games.  Also much like cars, there is no universal "better".  So yes we are different than before but that is a nearly conditioned response that can be utilized by a smart company.

I would disagree that the current communities haven't changed.  They are a reflection of the more single player and casual focus for the games that draw the most attention.  People do act considerably different when they know the community will matter to them.  If being an annoying little punk on a general channel makes it hard to get the groups you need or gets you attacked by large groups of ticked off players (especially if you have something to lose), you stop being an annoying little punk.  Today's headliners lack that just about entirely.

Sat Jan 31 2009 5:40PM Report
Quizzical writes:

The playerbase can be very different from one game to another.  If you play one game and like the players, and then go play another game and hate the players, there may well be a very real difference.  The difference between pay to play and "free" to play in particular can make a huge difference in the sort of players a game attracts.  But the difference is not that things aren't as good as they used to be; it's that you switched games.

I didn't expand on this too much in the original post, but I'm really making two separate claims about players.  One is that the playerbase for a given game generally doesn't get meaningfully worse as time passes.  This is a comparison only of game X at one particular time versus game X at some later time.  I should probably specify after release here, as closed alpha testing may well completely block out the worst people.  The other claim is that the average playerbase for the industry as a whole doesn't get worse as time passes.

Sat Jan 31 2009 6:01PM Report
Cerza writes:

That was great read! I usually don't comment on user blogs, but I feel this one is exceptionally well done.

I'm confused as to what your definition of change is though. When you say change are you talking about massive mechanical changes that result in a complete overhaul of the game, like NGE in SWG, or do you mean little changes that change the game gradually over time? I just say this because little change over time adds up to big change in the end.

I totally agree with you about players changing. People change as they get older its a fact of life. I know I'm not the same person now that I was 4 years ago.

Sat Jan 31 2009 10:12PM Report
dcostello writes:

  i'm sorry but ignoring something doesn't make it unreal.  You can't sit hear and honestly believe that prior games are EXACTLY the same as the games today.  UO and EQ are not the same as WoW.  They are completely different and you can't just ignore that fact.  "You cannot step in the same river twice"-Heraclitus

  If you mean the ideas of mmos are still the same, then yes I would agree, but that's like saying that Medieval literature is the same as Modernist literature.  They both are comprised of letters, words, etc.  You can say the readers changed, but that's pretty freaking obvious. 

  By your logic we (as people and as gamers) only have emotions once, then the rest of the time we are numb...  I know that I'll never have the same fun chasing bubbles around like I did when I was a youngin', but I don't expect to.  Yet, I can still have fun playing video games or playing sports.  It's not the SAME fun, and I understand that; but it's still fun.

  Mmos do have the same ideas -levels, quests, pvp, etc.- now as they did previously.  However, the way mmos present these aspects is not at all the same.  The practice of questing in EQ is very different than the solo, simplistic practice of questing in the "grind"-heavy mmos of current times.  You could say the both involve quests.  But, these quest practices are not the same.

Sat Jan 31 2009 10:21PM Report
Quizzical writes:

Cerza:  I'm not asserting that games don't change at all.  Rather, most of the time, changes in the way a player perceives a game are mostly due to changes in the player rather than changes in the game.

The essay is mainly a shot at excessive nostalgia, as seems to be common in many areas of life.  I first noticed this in games when playing Chain of Command about 9 years ago.  There, the discrepancies couldn't have been due to changes in the game, since the game only got maybe two patches over the course of a year--the first of which was intended to be minor, and the second solely to fix the game-breaking bug in the first.  (If all you have is a rifle and some grenades, and the grenades don't work, well, that's bad.)  I think I wrote an essay about that at the time, but I couldn't find it, so I had to write a new one.

dcostello:  the second reply on this post answers your main objection.

Novelty cannot last forever, but that doesn't mean that people can't enjoy a game for reasons other than novelty.  Well, maybe some people can't--the ones who post on this site saying they've played every single MMORPG ever made and are sick of all of them--but that's a different topic.

Sat Jan 31 2009 10:48PM Report
Cerza writes:

Ah, I get what you're saying now, and must say that I agree.

Sat Jan 31 2009 11:20PM Report
sfraden writes:

Quizz - Mmmmm, did you actually read my comment?  I stated that I had returned to UO in the last year, and no it was not the same. and yes, I have played a long list [insert obscenely long list of mmo names here] of MMO's and often returned to many of them.  I always gives games a second chance about a year later.  The old UO was great, what kileld it was the devs catering to the whiners over time.

Sun Feb 01 2009 9:47AM Report writes:
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