As time goes by, I have discovered two things about my love-hate relationship with MMORPGs. It is NOT easy to find and discuss things I like about a game, and it is EXTREMELY easy to write a couple paragraphs disparaging even the most marginal of a game's flaws.
Whereas I used to think that it was developers' faults for releasing these games with X number of annoying glitches, bugs masquerading as features, obtuse game systems and poorly thought out or carbon-copy gameplay, I have come to realize that the problem rests equally with me.
The first MMO I played was a text MUD called Gemstone III. For those who don't know, the original Gemstone was released back in 1990 by Simutronics, creators of the Hero Engine, which was supposed to be used by the billion-times-postponed Hero's Journey, and was instead optioned for use by Bioware for SWToR.
Some people may say "it's not an MMO if it doesn't have graphics", but I can assure you that it had all the trappings and polish, and FAR more complexity than most triple A games released today. At it's peak, it boasted 2000-2500 concurrent users on during special events, and some weekends, making it about as populous as the standard MMO server of today.
I played that game for 12+ hours a day, for nearly 3 years. I lived, breathed, ate and slept that game, and I was so hopelessly addicted that it caused me to drop out of high school. I've tried to go back and play a few times, and what do I see now? A hopelessly flawed shell of a game that has devolved into a grindfest that makes Maple Story look tame, lacking the community and live events that once were its biggest selling point.
So that begged me to ask the question... has the game changed, or have I changed? Well, it's a little of both, of course. There are things that never used to bother me about MMORPGs that have become deal breakers, grating annoyances, and continual sources of frustration in nearly every MMO I pick up and try to play these days. Some of them are as old as Gemstone, others came later on, when I played a graphical MMO for the first time (EQ), and still others developed over time, until they became the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
Let me take this moment to go over some of these now.
One of the most draconian features of many newer MMOs, particularly asian F2P imports, is the tendency toward fostering a sesame street environment. Hacking off a goblin's head and embarking on a quest to rescue a maiden boasting a gigantic set of 16x AA breasts from a demonic ritual is well within the bounds of good taste. As I've learned, however, many of these same games have a moratorium on language, and in many cases, this ban extends to words that even religious zealots don't censor.
Chat filters, particularly ones in games like Lunia and Perfect World, which are designed to censor words like "ass" and "tit" cause far more problems than they help to alleviate. I am not even remotely amused when I try to type the words class or pass and end up with "cl***" and "p***", nevermind actual classes (excuse me, I mean cl***es)) like assassin (excuse me, I mean ******in).
Do you see why this is a problem? You aren't helping out your community by censoring words like class and title, both of which are prominent terminologies in most MMO games. No matter how much you try to cater toward the 0.1% of the gamer population that is actually offended by these words, somebody is going to find a way around your chat filter. All you're succeeding in doing is making yourself look like an archconservative douchebag who believes that all the world's problems would be solved, if only people didn't cuss.
Go ahead, log into Perfect World International if you have it, and try to type "grasshopper". Then you can spend the next 10-15 minutes laughing your ass off as you try to figure out exactly what an "asshopper" is.
The Playtime Police
This is another trend that seems to be fairly recent. In this case, however, some games are affected in far more than just aesthetic ways. The Playtime Police is that message that appears on your screen every X amount of minutes (Aion), or on the loading screens (WoW/Lunia), or on the log-in screen (PWI/FFXI), or in any other obvious area, informing you that you've been playing the game for too long, or that you shouldn't be playing the game for a long time, or that you're an irresponsible, addicted douchebag who needs to go out and get a job, friends and a hobby that isn't online.
Look, Mr. Gamedev, whoever you are, I'm not in rehab. When I was younger, I did have problems with game addiction, but I have long since resolved them, and at the time, no ridiculous message on a splash screen would have stopped me from playing until my eyes fell out.
By posting these reminders, the only thing you're succeeding at, is informing the world that the average gamer is so maladjusted and worthless that they need their game to slap them in the face with the textual equivalent of "hey moron, get up and go outside!".
That would be bad enough, but still other games take their policing of your playtime to even higher extremes by including game mechanics that actually PREVENT you from playing to your maximum potential (or at all) after a certain point.
Atlantica has the stamina system, reducing how much XP and items you earn from mobs after a certain number of battles. The newly released Dungeon Fighter Online (which I've been looking forward to) turns out to have a "fatigue system". After completing so many dungeon rooms, you are prevented FLAT OUT from entering anymore dungeons.
I work. I have friends, I go out and meet people. Occasionally, I have a day where I just want to stay inside and play an MMO. I don't want to be prevented from doing so by obsolete game mechanics designed to address problems that are not the responsibility of the game developers.
Combined with the chat filter, I call these two the "Big Brother Tandem", representing an effort by game developers to insinuate themselves into your personal life. On behalf of myself and other hardcore gamers, "GTFO OF MY AFFAIRS!"
This is one of those things that has recently begun to annoy me. At some point, it wasn't enough for game developers to separate game worlds into servers. They then decided that each server had to be broken down into channels, separate instances of the same game world within a single server,which you can switch to or from at will, ostensibly to avoid overcrowding and lag in populated main cities and other areas of the game.
The flaws in this approach are twofold, #1 it fractures server communities into smaller, sometimes indistinguishable parts, and #2 it doesn't address the problem that it's supposed to relieve, it addresses the symptom.
Crowded main cities/areas are caused by poor planning in the design process. If there is one single area in your game that lends itself to being populated by half the server (whether afk or not) at any given time, obviously you are going to have issues with lag and slowdown. The way to address this is not by separating the server into channels, effectively chopping the population even further in the areas that are NOT part of Lagfest City, it's by giving players options or a reason to be at places OTHER than Lagfest City. Put auction house access in more places, skill trainers in more places, discounts for setting up personal shops in other places... if players feel like every integral part of the game community is in one small area, that is obviously where they're going to congregate.
On top of that, channels themselves defeat the entire purpose for their own existence. Obviously, players looking for other players are not going to go to the unpopulated channels to get AWAY from lag, they're going to go to the populated ones to sell their items, talk to their friends, and find groups for whatever it is they're looking to do at any given time. Thus the old saying, the rich get richer and the crowded get crowdeder... or something... you get the idea.
All told, these flaws make channels one of the most ridiculous and counterproductive aspects of MMORPGs today.
I may take some flak for this one, but I think one of the biggest detriments to community interaction in MMOs today is the ability to simply stare at a map and autopilot your way from NPC to NPC and from place to place. These days, quests and points of interest are all marked on the map and minimap with giant glowing neon signs that say "FUCKING GO HERE NOW!"
Rather than staring at your fellow players, or the sights around you, you know.. becoming IMMERSED in the game, I've seen far too many examples of people who have their map open at all times, taking up half their screen while they Point A to Point B their way through the game, taking each destination as though it were simply the next stop on a predetermined cruise route. Here's some food for thought, how about an MMO that mirrors the old days of mapping and exploring? Make maps that are not ENTIRELY accurate. Maybe that big city is a few screens west of where it says on the map. Maybe the map is missing a few key locations...
Make exploring WORTHWHILE. One of the funnest aspects of single player RPGs was discovering hidden areas and secrets containing better than average gear for your level. There is no reason that an MMO can't contain some hidden areas that are off the beaten track, not marked on a map, not generally known to anyone who just happens to be taking the cruiseline down the road. Have multiple maps for the same areas. Obviously, someone who lives in Area X is going to have a better map of Area X than someone who lives in Area Y across the ocean. Make exploration and puzzle solving part of MMOs, make players use their brains once in awhile instead of leading them around by the umbilical cord.
Part two to follow later.