If you've found your way to this blog the odds are that you've already been to the forums of this site and possibly others, and have seen the clamoring of the masses, lamentation of the women, and general violence inherent in the system (thank you, Conan the Barbarian and Monty Python).
MMO gamers everywhere have taken to whatever forums, message boards, and soapboxes they could find to expound upon why they believe that MMO-X "sucks", "rules", "could be better", or "couldn't be worse". Alongside every gripe, complaint, redesign, and measure of praise is usually an equal amount of disdain, explanation, and sometimes all out aggression towards whatever position is being taken in the original post.
Quite often these exchanges can become quite analytical too, as many of the participants not only come from educated backgrounds, but have been playing, programming, testing, or some other form of participation in these games, for years.
The thing is though, throughout all of this time, ever since that very first little online role playing game that enough people heard about to make it special, people have been skipping through these things as though the hundred's and hundred's of man-hours that went into creating them was nothing more than some worthless byproduct of a game that was really meant to be raged through to it's ultimate conclusion.
Recent blogs by other writers far more involved in this process than this one even admit to this trend causing the developers of these kinds of games to exploit and capitalize on this kind of behavior by making "cookie cutter" titles that were high on ascetics while remaining fairly low on the side of innovation.
In fact promises are being made, as you read this, to return to the days of the legendary "Sandbox" and the even more mythical "persistent online virtual world" by developers and companies that could genuinely bring such concepts to reality. But all the while, in the back of everyone's mind, there is still this one nagging question.
Are we worthy?
Can we, as a community of consumers, really live up to a play-style and time investment needed to not only populate, but maximize the experience provided by a world generated entirely for the intent of stealing our free (and sometimes not so free) time and money?
The first min/maxers were born out of the necessity to skirt around specific game mechanisms that were deemed "time wasters" in order to get the most out of their $15 per month subscription fees. What then would keep this same sensibility from pipelining the path of least resistance through pretty much any title any developer could make, save for possibly the type which did not involve any kind of progression of any kind, which would be ......impossible?
Mechanisms native to all MMO's like gear, levels, and money represent a persistent means for any player to "skirt" pass content in order to jump those lower rungs on the ladder of progression and get to the best gear/level/money in the game. How then will anyone ever keep this from happening ever again? And why would anyone stay and play a game where they couldn't do this if there was a place just as pretty, and just as populated where they could?
Case in point.
Vanguard - Sure, it had a rough start. Over time however it has matured in to a heck of a world to play in. Users have upgraded their computers in order to handle it's resource demanding engine, and for all intents and purposes, the game, and the world, should be getting plenty of attention as it finally comes into itself in these ways.
Vanguard is a ghost town. The reason? Those that were willing to play it in the first place have all progressed through most, if not all of it's content, and the wide, wide world left behind is skipped over by pretty much anyone who jumps in the game now.
Everquest 2 - Massive by anyone's standards. A variety of races, zones, story lines and options for the average player to take advantage of. Several expansions deep. Rich in lore and beauty.
Ghost town. Same thing. The old wait for expansions, pop in, power through them, then go away again, the new power through to meet up with the old by the time they return. No real mechanisms for persistent living exist, and so no persistent living is taking place within that game.
World of Warcraft - The one to rule them all. Much like the previous two titles massive, expanded upon, deep. Sure, by their own admission they created this game to be this way, and it has worked for them. But still, even giants must fall. A meager ghost of it's former self.
But these are old titles right? Surely they must only be struggling because of their age!
Aion - Ghost town
Rift - Ghost town
FFXI - Ghost town
GW2 - Under utilized.
Age of Wushu - Severely under utilized.
The Secret World - Severely under utilized.
The list can go on and on.
We watch these cartoons like .Hack// and Sword Art Online, these movies like the Lord of the Rings (who's mmo title is yet another under utilized one), and television shows like Game of Thrones, and we imagine these places where we could go to have experiences like the ones we see. And yet we get into these games and within one day to a week we allow some kid.....you know, that one guy who is in every game....change our direction from that of an adventurer to that of someone in petty competition with someone else over what level they are, how rich they are, or what gear they managed to get to fall.
How can we ever be worthy of a world if all we do in that world is grind? Where are the megalomaniacs? The would be usurpers? The information brokers? And the all out thieves?
Is our best idea of a role-player that one kid from the bathroom in the movie "Smoking Aces"? Or do we have people who are actually willing to follow an order, put out a hit on someone or see that hit through? Collect some taxes for allowing the use of a road? Or offer protection for a nominal fee? Set yourself up as the law, or as a serious, organized criminal element. Anyone can be a psychopath, but can you be a real one? The kind that doesn't ooc because they are feeling lonely?
Plain out take over some stuff and just not give it back, or be willing to to fight to not let that happen?
Are we worthy of this kind of experience? Or will the frustration that comes with it just cause us to log off and take a nap?
That is the question. All the rest is bunk. They have built it already and we didn't come.
So the next time you log into one of these games think about it, "Am I really being all that I could be?"
Bottom line, that person next to you will probably never meet you in real life, and this is your only shot at really helping them, and in turn yourself, enjoy this experience of this different world.
Lighten up a little then willya? Kill/extort/steal from someone in game for some messed up reason and let them know why you did it. It might make your day/week/month a lot more interesting. And it might make both you and them worthy of the actual experience.
At least, that's how it seems in my understanding.
See you in the games.