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The Social Hub: We Must Stop Poisoning the Well

Column By Christina Gonzalez on May 12, 2014

MMORPGs have come a long way from the time when choices were few and the announcement of a new game was something people generally got excited over. These days, it seems like the announcement of a game in development is opening the gates for an mass game of ‘let’s predict what will go wrong with this project before it even launches’. While there’s nothing wrong with discussion or debate, the rise in social media and various platforms granting voices to the community seems to have also led to a sour edge to it all. It’s easy these days to chalk it up to the younger generation, to a sense of entitlement, to the anonymity of the internet, or any number of reasons. But one question has been on my mind lately: Do we expect too much?

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To be clear, I’m not saying that players should lack standards for their MMOs, and we all have personal preferences and playstyles. It’s not bad to wish a game has housing, or open world PvP, or a multi-classing system. Years back, there was certainly speculation ahead of any game’s release, but it was much more limited, usually taking place on fansite boards or in guild chats. Nowadays, all you need to do after an announcement is head over to social media, forums, or Reddit and the opinions will flow like water. Every detail, scrap, or tidbit is taken, placed under the community’s microscope, weighed, and judged. We’re turning everything in circles so often that we might be prematurely ruining our own enjoyment and making ourselves impossible to satisfy.

Player demands as far as launch features go now seem like a mountain of requirements most of the time. If a game doesn’t have a world as large as WoW’s, housing, content, open world PvP, a bounty system, enough quest content to last a lifetime, a completely robust endgame system that includes many dungeons, all original and procedurally generated, a whole bunch of unique raids, multiple gear tiers, crafted gear supremacy, sandbox gameplay, and content updates every couple of weeks, no cash shop, a cash shop selling only cosmetics and non-essential items, player battlegrounds, open world exploration, player bounties, PvE servers, RP servers, multi-class systems, harsh death penalty, mild death penalty, and more, it’s considered doomed to fail and written off even months before release. There’s a hefty note of exaggeration there, but also grains of truth. Sometimes it seems like we need to step back and consider what we really need in a game versus what we want to have and what would benice to have down the line.

Having more grounded and possibly modest expectations might also affect the notion that MMORPG development needs to be impossibly expensive and could open the window for smaller teams and smaller games to step in and fill some of the niches that currently exist. When given that chance, a diligent enough team with a quality, fun game, could grow that game and its community over time, adding features with enough support. Granted, we will see how games like Pathfinder Online, The Repopulation, and Shroud of the Avatar will fare once they all formally launch. It simply seems like a time when smaller development with good ideas can offer a lot of fun and perhaps value, even if not a shiny, state of the art, expensive, AAA game.

Things I want in my MMOs include lots of quest content, social features (like buildings you can enter, props out in a developed world, interactive objects) a detailed character creator with sliders, and progression that isn’t too quick. I like my games to feel like a journey in a world. Most games don’t give us everything, but if we’re actively demanding everything, that increases the chances of disappointment. If we brought our expectations for features and content down a notch or two, though not our demand for a quality game and a fun experience, it might give some teams room to breathe and games room to grow later in significant ways.

With so much expected of games at launch these days, and then content updates to follow, it’s sometimes no wonder that many teams work on content that is repeatable instead of that which affects the landscape of the game and its features meaningfully (like City of Heroes/Villains). We players are sometimes our own worst enemies, and the genre is, on some level, the victim of its own success. It’s biting its own tail. No wonder there are so many disappointed and jaded MMO players. These responses are also tied into early access and the increase in marketing/promotional betas, but those don’t explain the entire self-created cloud over and predicted failure of what seems like every game in the pipeline these days.

Most recently, I’ve been playing The Elder Scrolls Online. To me, the game is an imperfect, but ultimately fun mix between RPGs and old school and modern MMOs. Do I wish it had launched with housing? Yes. Do I wish that certain content weren’t level or quest gated? Sure. That game has its issues, but as far as expectations go, I wanted it to feel immersive, to feel like ES game, and to feel very much like an RPG and a game world that felt like, well, a world. For a subscription-based game, I expected content updates and that all features would be available to all accounts. Unfortunately, the race unlock is an add-on for those who didn’t preorder (a misstep, in my opinion). Ultimately, the game has met many of my expectations. It doesn’t meet others’ (given average reviews), and that comes down to multiple factors. Yet we, collectively, seem to be examining everything on such a microscopic level these days that many seem to be setting themselves up for disappointment way ahead of time.

Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column. You will also find her contributions at RTSGuru. Follow her on Twitter: @c_gonzalez

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