5 MMO-Related Things I Hate
The word hate can have very different levels of meaning. So, to be sure it's clear, the topic of this article refers to things that fall pretty low on the intensity scale. To illustrate what I mean, my wife thinks I hate turnips. I don't. However, when given the option to take or leave them, I'll almost invariably do the latter. This doesn't mean I passionately detest them. It simply indicates that I mildly dislike them. Within this level of meaning, here are some of the MMO-related things I hate.
While I'm pretty sure some people have one, I don't possess a personal hate scale that's anywhere near granular enough to produce precise, meaningful rankings. In this area at least, my mind doesn't naturally work that way. So, while you're free to read as much as you want into the order in which the items on this list are presented, note that you do so at your own peril.
This is something that has annoyed me for pretty much the entire time I've been playing MMOGs. I suspect anyone who has played more than a few can readily think of at least one with a feature, element or system that contributed little if anything to the overall experience. Basically, if it hadn't been there at all, you wouldn't have missed it, not even a little. What's more, it's natural to think that such titles would have benefited greatly if the time and effort spent to create these things had been used more productively and in a more focused manner.
I fully appreciate that developers want their respective projects to be the very best they can be. There's nothing wrong with this type of attitude; it's clearly preferable to setting out to create something mediocre. In practise, however, teams have to make do with limited resources, even on big- and mega-budget endeavors. As a simplification, they have to choose between doing more things or concentrating on the core ones. Over the years, I've seen too many choose the former, or even worse, try to do both.
It's an extreme example, but a situation from soon after the turn of the century remains stuck in my mind. A small studio that need not be named had just announced its first project. Its leader told me very enthusiastically that the project could and would rival the breadth of play in Ultima Online and EverQuest. I had no doubt he believed this. But I also realized he was talking from his heart, and that in reality, there was absolutely no chance it would come to pass – not with a six-person team and plans to hire only three or four more.
The single element that crops up most often when I think about feature creep is almost certainly crafting. So it's clear, I like crafting. Quite a lot, actually. But this doesn't mean I want to see it in every MMOG I play. A strong system, yes. Indeed, if it were exceptional, it would be enough for me to play a game that is otherwise unremarkable. But most implementations – the large majority, unfortunately – are either poor or undistinguished enough so that I ignore them completely.
My life has plenty of things I have to do, not on pain of death, but due to expectations, those of family, friends et al as well as my own. For instance, if we're invited to dinner by friends who happen to serve squash, I'll eat it. If asked, I may even say something truthful but misleading like “It's the best I've had in some time.” But I play MMOs in order to have fun, so doing things in order to fulfil anyone else's expectations isn't exactly a high priority.
Again, let me clarify. This doesn't mean I'll only do what I want most, but rather that I won't do things that provide no fun at all. For instance, I'll help friends to do something I don't much care about because the act of helping them is still positive and enjoyable. But I'll seldom if ever do the same for strangers. I'd rather go off and do something on my own that I'll enjoy a lot more.
Obviously, there are things in every MMOG that we're more or less “forced” to do. That said, I very much prefer fewer and less stringent obligations. Accordingly, the less choice and freedom I have in terms of how to do something or whether to do it at all, the more likely I am to hate it. As a relatively simple example, I'm not a great fan of raids or other content that can't be completed solo. I prefer to tackle them with friends, but when that's not possible, I hate having no viable options except joining a PUG or doing something else.
As a more specific illustration, I still miss Star Wars Galaxies for various reasons. But this game also included one of my all-time pet peeve elements, battle fatigue. I appreciate that it was implemented to make playing as an entertainer viable, and I enjoyed watching a fair number of them. At times, I did so voluntarily. What annoyed me was being forced to because it was the only way to reduce and eliminate battle fatigue. I regarded those instances as the game design wasting my time.
The ongoing decline of straight, open communication with developers
I've been covering the MMOG landscape since the days before UO launched and started the modern era. The industry was very different back then, not just far smaller but also a lot more personal. Communication was considerably more open, with teams and individual developers alike. They were much less insulated by their PR folks. Accordingly, they were more able to talk freely on the record, and it was also considerably easier to find opportunities to sit down and talk off the record.
I'm still tremendously grateful to certain people for the enormous amounts I learned from them during impromptu sit-downs over drinks and/or dinners all those years ago. A fair bit wasn't game-specific. That was actually a good thing since it helped open my eyes to how different developers think about various topics and matters. Some of these were less than prominent at the time, but would go on to help shape in industry as we know it today. Two prime examples are free to play and the Far East. I remember sitting and talking (actually, I mostly listened) about these things for hours at a time even back before the turn of the century, when few people, myself included, even imagined they'd become as influential as they have.
By the time I stopped writing full-time a few years ago, the industry had largely evolved away from one in which this type of interaction and communication could easily occur. To a large degree, this was an inevitable effect of its growth. While I don't blame anyone and know we that can't go back again, I hated this change while it was gradually, inexorably occurring around me, and I hate it even more now.
The unrelenting increase in emphasis on review scores
While I wish I could say I've never written a review in which I scored a game, it wouldn't be true. But as best I can recall, I have only done so once, for a non-MMOG nearly 20 years ago. The piece was my first ever freelance article, and assigning a grade was mandatory. Since then, it has always been up to me, and I've chosen not to use either number or letter grades.
The main reason for this is that when I put my gamer hat on, I care very little what score a reviewer has given a game. What I most want to learn is how well it's likely to fit my personal set of wants and needs. Over the years, I've played releases that I enjoyed much more than their review scores would have suggested, and others that were considerably less fun. As a rule of thumb, titles that grade out higher are better. But within the context of my individual preferences, there have been plenty of exceptions.
Over time, I've learned that certain reviewers' perspectives tend to be quite similar to mine. As a consequence, I pay more attention to the scores they assign. But we're talking about a handful of writers, not the dozens whose ratings get aggregated. And even then, the grades may not be completely trustworthy. I can't say it still happens (I hope not), but in years past, I heard a fair number of writers complain about publications having changed the published number or letter from what they submitted. This was all hearsay of course, but regardless, every instance slightly eroded how much faith I'm willing to give to reviews.
Since I stopped reviewing some years ago, I haven't had to be concerned about how well or poorly a particular MMOG suits various types of gamers. Primarily, I care how much fun it is for me. Either way, where a title was made has never mattered to me at all. Accordingly, I have always hated “not in my backyard” thinking, especially when it is expressed in ways that stereotype dozens or even hundreds of titles.
I cringe when I see over-generalized sentiments like “all Korean MMOGs are grinders” or “all Chinese MMOGs are clones”. Never is a very long time, so I'll just say that it's highly improbable I'll ever agree with such points of view beyond the level of accepting them as unavoidable stereotypes. Sadly, such views may suggest the unspoken inference that gamers in those countries are somehow less discerning because many millions of them apparently enjoy such games.
On a positive note, I do believe that as the MMOG industry has grown and become more global, such feelings have pretty much disappeared within the development community. I hope this isn't just because PR people are much better at muffling them now. I also think that overall, western players are moving in this same direction, although in certain vocal circles, it would be great to see more rapid progress.