My wife would like to introduce herself to the MMORPG.com community. She is 5’2”, currently hot-pink coiffed, is in a polyamorous relationship with several cats, and is herself as cute as a baby hedgehog. But this is no lipstick lesbian, friends. She also has a gamer score over one hundred thousand, has beaten both Dark Souls AND Super Meat Boy, and has earned more coins in Viva Pinata than Mario has in 30 years of poppin’ blocks. You remember that scene in Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom where that chick plays Guitar Hero on expert level, backwards and blindfolded. That’s my wife. That’s right, boys. She’s a gamer girl. And she’s all mine.
Unfortunately for me, my wife and I don’t see eye to eye on what kinds of games would best distract us from our dreary lives. I have long since come to appreciate that absolute escape into worlds of fantasy that MMOs have provided for me. My wife on the other hand likes to kill stuff. Not people mind you. Call of Duty is for middle school boys you see. She likes to kill stuff. Monsters, zombies, cheap Rock Band guitars, that sort of thing.
So finding an MMORPG that we can play together has always been a frustrating process. Me, I’ll play anything. An entire generation of milquetoast WoW-rehashes and Korean grindfests imported via Google Translate have lowered my expectations to basically rock bottom. My wife, however, has standards. And she’d like to tell you 5 things, just 5 things, which really piss her off:
1. Beginning, Middle, and End
Every story has a beginning, middle, and end – exposition, rising action, climax, and conclusion. Video games don’t typically stray from this formula too much except in the MMO space. MMORPGs begin with the so called “new player experience.” You start usually in an instance that has been carefully curated to only simulate danger but never actually threaten it so that you can learn how to navigate the game and use your abilities without the stress of those activities turning you away. The middle is grind. However you present it – be it as quests, events, or tasks – it’s grind. The end is of course the infamous “end game”, the hamster wheel of bigger, better swords and bigger, badder baddies.
“The beginning of your game is going to decide it all. There is no 3 episode test for me. You either make a good first impression or you don’t. Tutorials are important because if you just throw me into your overly complex game I’m not even going to give it a shot. I’ll take a little hand holding but only on my first play through. On my 15th alt though are ya really going to make me do all that mail delivering and beetle crushing again? Really?”
“The middle doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter because it is guaranteed to suck. It is a weeks long exercise in redundancy and repetition. It is a necessary evil so I’ll do it. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind grind. But it is the least enjoyable part of any game (and ironically the longest).”
“After all that bullshit in the middle, I finally reach THE end game. So I hop into some dungeons and sure, it’s fun for the first few times. But then my gear doesn’t drop. So I run some more. But then my gear doesn’t drop so I craft or trade or buy whatever I can to get what I need and after all that finally I can raid! My gear still doesn’t drop but now I am a raid healer, a raid leader. My guildies live or die because of me. It’s a wonderful feeling and that feeling is the only reason I tolerate the rest of your game.”
2. Cluttered, Confusing UI
A lot of effort goes into developing a good UI. They range in design from the artistic brush strokes of GW2 to the menu flash mob of EVE. High expectations are set for UIs as they have to be functional, intuitive, responsive, modifiable, and pretty to look at. There are successes like the aforementioned Guild Wars 2 and then there are abject failures like the overwhelming mess of transparent windows and context menus of EQ1 or the clunky, low-rez interface of LOTRO. Ultimately the UI is the mechanism by which the game itself is played, so it has to work and it has to work well.
This isn’t 1986, I’m not Tom Cruise, and I am not flying an F-14. My HUD should be 100% customizable. The UI follows me everywhere in the game world. I should be able to decide what it looks like and how it works best for me. Everything should be customizable because MMO developers seem to think that the more complicated a UI is, the more menus you have to dig through to find options and abilities, the more powerful it is. I don’t want powerful. I want useable. Also, would someone please create an Ad Blocker for MMO UIs. I’m tired of playing games like Wildstar and having pop ups appear all over the place. I want to see your beautifully crafted world, not some message from some lifeless NPC. Just give me the XP and shut up.
3. Bad Communication
SOCIAL MEDIA! TWITTER! TWITCH! REDDIT! FACEBOOK! Sign up! Follow us! Get instant updates on every device – your computer, your smartphone, your tablet, your Ipod, your watch, your eye glasses, your television, and your car stereo! Never be without the latest information of your all your favorite games. DO IT! OR ELSE!
In what other genre do players have to keep up with social media to get valuable information about their game of choice? If you said “only MMORPGs”, then you get a cookie. I play your game to… play your game, not alt-tab out every 5 minutes to check on a tweet, post in a forum, or watch a Twitch stream, or look at a tutorial on Youtube. Everything I need to play your game must be in your game. I am not going to alt tab and you can’t make me. At the very least, put your patch notes in game. I shouldn’t have to hunt for those either. Oh and by the way, there is a fine line between informative and entertaining livestreams and unorganized circle jerks.
4. Pretty, Pretty Princess
People play MMORPGs for a variety of reasons; carnal, Freudian reasons. One of these is the desire to dress up little dolls in cute clothes and stand in Stormwind for everyone to gaze upon their beauty. Without the desire to fulfill UPPP (Ultimate Pretty Pretty Princess), there would be no need for people to collect armor, weapons, mounts, dyes, or costumes. Every MMORPG experience begins with Barbies and GI Joes and a bad first impression means your players won’t make it out of character creation.
A pretty game begins with a pretty engine. It’s 2014 and the hottest game out there right now might as well be literally using WoW’s 10 year old engine. Why is it that only Korean MMOs can get this right? Which brings me to character creation. The first experience I have in your game should be just as enjoyable as end game content. I want to spend some time here. I want to have choices. Not 5 choices. Not 10 choices. I want lots and lots of choices for every part of my character. I don’t want to look like anyone else in the game. I don’t want to be Night Elf with Long Ears and White Eyes #12,345,672. I want to be me. Uniquely me.
5. Colorblind mode
Approximately 9% of the male population and a staggering 0.4% of the female population experience some form of colorblindness. Put those together and we get a statistically significant 10% percent-ish. This isn’t sarcoidosis or some other out of nowhere diagnosis from Doctor House – this is a permanent disability that many players suffer from. So how do MMO developers respond to this subsection of their player base? Make their entire end-game depend on being able to tell the difference between blue and purple, of course!
“Even Candy Crush gets this wrong. Do you know what color most of us can’t see? Purple. Everyone is looking for dem phat purpz, but all I see are blues. There are some basic color blind modes in some games and something is obviously better than nothing, but really it’s just lazy design. If I can’t convince you to let me choose or filter colors in the game then at least do me the gigantic favor of not making boss tells an orgy of similar colors and shades. I understand that we are a minority of your player base but I bet if we asked your PR department they’d say that every player is important to the success of the game. Every player. Even the ones that can’t see colors.”
As you can see, my wife is very particular. Finding an MMORPG she’ll really get into is well-nigh impossible. Despite this I have purchased FFXIV, Wildstar, and Landmark for her recently. It’s always worth a shot, right? And she expressed interest of her own in each of those. So I thought “Why not?” Is she playing any of those games today? As Lana would say, “Neeeeewp!”
So let’s see if we can figure out why. In my next article, we’ll talk to my wife about SOE’s new game: Landmark.