It’s easy to get carried away with cynicism. The MMO market is lacking in both quality and quantity for new releases, as well as overall diversity. We’ve reached a point where the games available cater to a wide range of different audiences and anything new is seen as little more than a hybrid of concepts or unappealing to the mass market. Innovation isn’t dead; it’s just harder to come by these days.
But at the same time, we’re always more critical of that which we care about the most. All of you in the forums and comments love to write hundreds of words about why you agree or disagree with us and each other, but at the end of the day we are all on this site for the same reason: we care about MMOs. Like it or not, they’ve got a hook in you and while you might even bounce around between games, but ultimately there’s no denying that you’re an MMO gamer and you love it. Let’s talk about why.
5) Interacting With Other Players
Multiplayer – it’s right there in the genre’s name: Massively Multiplayer Online games. Obviously one of the most important cornerstones of what it means to be an MMO is to have robust mechanisms for player interaction. Virtually all games nowadays allow you to interact with others in some way – team deathmatch in Call of Duty, visiting farms in Farmville, or fighting each other in Mortal Kombat. But what sets these games apart from MMOs, is that in an MMO it’s about more than just existing in a space together for a short period of time to serve a specific purpose – it’s a constant element.
If you logged into your favorite MMO right now, I’d be willing to bet you’d come across another player in a handful of minutes, max. While the presence of other players certainly adds elements of unpredictability to a game world, it also incentivizes social participation. You’re not just wandering around alone anymore – other real-life people with their fake-live avatars are wandering alongside you. It’s a magical and surreal feeling to exist in another world with someone potentially on the other side of the planet, yet they’re fighting monsters and exploring wildernesses with you just as if you were the best of friends.
4) But Having the Choice Not To
Alternatively, MMOs are great because of the degree of flexibility and level of choice afforded to the player. If I want, I can pretty much play through the main story of most popular MMOs on the market today and not ever have to speak to another player. I can quest on my own, explore on my own, and level up on my own. “Why would you want to do that?” you may ask. “It’s an MMO – why don’t you just go play an offline game if you don’t want to interact with people?”
To that, I have a few answers. First, is that a lot of people do enjoy interacting with others, but just like anything, that isn’t always the case. Maybe I just want to relax for a couple of hours and do some mindless grinding or dailies. Or, this is more often the case, maybe I enjoy being a part of a living, breathing world with other people around bringing life to the characters and environments, but don’t fancy actually speaking with and interacting with those other people. Almost like they’re extras in the background of a movie – you don’t really pay much attention to them, but if they weren’t there, it’d be too empty. The choice of interacting or not interacting, in and of itself, is part of what makes an MMO so special and different.
3) Persistent Character Development
Like most RPGs out there, MMOs also feature a persistent basis of character development. This makes them stand out from the lobby-based multiplayer games out there like most shooters since you’re not playing short matches in a vacuum unrelated from one another, but are instead slowly developing over the course of a singular journey. Some MMOs segment experiences a bit, perhaps between PvP and PvE for example, but it’s still one cohesive world that features internal consistency in each segment.
And due to the aforementioned player interaction, it automatically makes that persistent development all the more meaningful. In single-player RPGs, no one is around to see how badass I look other than my NPC companions and they couldn’t care less most of the time. When you’re playing an MMO though, that’s not the case at all.
2) Immersive Atmospheres
It’s hard to really describe why, but MMOs almost always end up being much more immersive experiences. In a non-MMO, you can pause the game or even turn it off and it will be just as you left it once you return. So the simple fact of knowing that when you log off in an MMO, the game and world continues to run and live, is part of what makes them so immersive, but it goes deeper than that as well.
My actions while playing affect not only the game world around me, but other players as well. Messaging and speaking with other people about in-game politics, fictional worlds, and otherwise meaningless things significantly increases your willingness to suspend disbelief and get wrapped up in the world of your choosing. It’s a feeling that no single-player game, Elder Scrolls or otherwise, can truly capture – unless it’s an MMO.
1) Being Part of a World
But really the big one for me is when all of these aspects come together to create one cohesive world that’s dynamic and always changing. Essentially, it’s what puts the Massive in Massively Multiplayer. The unpredictability of other players, the option to interact or not interact, and developing a character in a persistent and immersive world are the foundations of what cultivates my love for MMOs.
Given the diversity of the genre these days, it also means you don’t have to settle for any one thing to get your MMO fix. Massive, sprawling sci-fi shooter battlefields that are always changing and evolving like in Planetside 2 or FireFall are ready for deployment. I can hop into a fantasy epic with Guild Wars 2 or Final Fantasy XIV, or maybe something else all together with games like The Secret World or H1Z1. All of these MMOs are dynamic in their own special ways, which is what makes the genre so wonderful.
That concludes my love letter to the MMO. Why do you play MMOs? What keeps you coming back for more? And more specifically, what are some of your favorite moments in MMOs? We’d love to hear your thoughts down in the comments below!