We hear it every day. We read it here, we read it there, shrieking from one gaming site to another. There is a Thing coming and this Thing is so terrible, so destructive, so very pernicious at its very core that it will sound the death knell for MMOs as we know them.
What is it, you ask? What game-destroying, apocalyptic nightmare is even now hurtling toward an Internet connection near you? Well, that hardly matter, does it? It’s a Thing! A new Thing! And it’s the end, the eeeeeeennnd!
It’s a lot of different things, actually. It could be a new pay model for an old game. I’ve heard both subscriptions and F2P described as the Thing What Will Kill All The MMOs. It could be the way a game chooses to let players level, or how it doles out gear and artifacts. Sometimes it’s the fact that a game doesn’t allow for (or has recently banned) practices like griefing, or kill stealing. The gnashing of teeth and the rending of garments is dramatic, to say the least. Why, if we don’t make MMOs budget-destroyingly expensive, hours and hours of lobotomizing grind, or gut-wrenchingly punitive to the payer, then just anybody will want to play them! And you know what that kind of outrage that sort of thing leads to: Casual Players.
I swear, the term Casual Players has been lobbed so freely and with such invective, that one wonders why more traditional Bogeymen even bother. Seriously, as villains go, the hypothetical Casual Player has far better PR than Voldemort, cancer and the IRS combined. One mention of the dreaded CP is often enough to send your average flock of MMO devotees into a howling rage, blaming this particular malefactor for the ruination of all that is just and true and good in gaming.
Funny thing is, that’s complete crap.
The emergence of movies in the 1920s didn’t kill live theater. More people buying radios in the 1930s didn’t kill off the movie industry, nor did more people buying televisions in the 1950s. The invention of the computer and the emergence of the Internet hasn’t killed any of the entertainment mediums that came before it. Moreover, all of those things has, in decades of Cassandra-like hand wringing, been proclaimed again and again as the imminent killer of the written word. You tell me, how’s the publishing industry doing? Are people still reading? You bet they are, and in more convenient and inventive ways than ever.
More people adopting a new medium do not, by their sheer numbers, destroy that medium. In fact, they are what moves a niche market into the main market, thus allowing for more production of new media.
New (casual) players bring a constant influx of revenue to older games. The more new players, the more revenue. Some of those casual players become dedicated players, thus increasing the revenue stream. More revenue means more game content. And there it is: Casual Players build games.
Look, I understand the fear behind the villainous façade. I get that many of us old-timers are worried (or even convinced) that all these newbs, these Johnny-come-latelys with their lack of dedication and appreciation for what has come before are dragging the whole medium down. They’re demanding that game producers level the field to some fictional lowest common denominator. They’re throwing the curve, as it were. And while I won’t deny that, in some ways, some game producers have done just that, I do not for a minute believe that ALL game producers have done, or would do anything so ridiculous to the complex systems and engines that are most MMOs. It doesn’t make any sense that they should. Making a game more accessible to those who might be, shall we say, somewhat less than hardcore, is one thing. Reducing an entire established world to an automated, Monty Hall-esque sham of its former self is another thing entirely.
So, what does this all mean? It means more MMOs on the market, but that players will have to be more particular about which ones they choose to play. Just as with every other medium, not everything on offer will be Tolstoy. Sometimes it’ll be Twilight. But that’s okay. Vote with your wallet; give money to the games that please you, and ignore the ones that don’t. And if both the best and the worst manage to flourish at the same time, who cares? The existence of reality TV hasn’t made PBS illegal, or hard to find, or reduced its quality in any way. And just think, all those Casual Players crowding those lesser game worlds? Yeah, they’re not cluttering up your preferred retreat with their lack of dedication.
What’s your take? Are you confident that MMOs will survive and thrive in an ever-changing entertainment landscape? Or do you refuse to put away the sackcloth and ashes just yet? Let me know in the comments!