Five MMO Misconceptions
In the age of the internet, it seems like everyone's an expert at... everything. With opinions being bandied about as though they were fact, it's hard to get a handle on what is fact and what is fiction.
In this week's list, we count down five of the top misconceptions that people have when it comes to MMORPGs. Some of them are more general, and some of them are long-standing beliefs held by long time gamers.
#5 They're Just for Geeks
Whenever I'm in a new social situation and someone asks me about what I do for a living I tell them about my job with the Department of Veterans Affairs, to which they applaud me for helping our country's vets. When I add that I also write videogame-based articles for a site devoted to MMORPGs I get blank stares mixed with wary looks of "But-he-seemed-so-normal."
One of the most common misconceptions, and one that gamers in general still face (though admittedly less these days) is that MMOs are filled with only the most socially inept and maladapted people on the planet. It wasn't long ago that simply being above the age of twelve and enjoying videogames instantly labeled you a reject of society. Slowly but surely gaming is moving into the mainstream as "Geek Culture" takes center stage in the American mainstream. But for some reason MMORPG is still an acronym that many people seem to associate with basement-dwelling and eternally virginal loner.
We are coming out of this myth as World of Warcraft brings the MMORPG into the collective minds of gamers across the globe. Even non-gaming friends of mine have been persuaded to pick up the keyboard and play Blizzard's triumph of accessibility. Perhaps that's all the MMO needed to begin breaking away from the label "For Geeks Only". Then again, maybe it's just that the rise of the Geek is at hand.
#4 Under One Million Players = Failure
It's funny, because when you read the number one item on this list, you'll undoubtedly look back at a few of the other items and see I make reference to Blizzard's mega-popular game a few times. But really I think that's a sign that the popularity surge of World of Warcraft these last few years has a large part in creating many misconceptions about the genre as a whole. No doubt every developer will tell you they'd love to have WoW's subscription numbers, but the truth is that the millions upon millions the game has achieved is nothing but an anomaly.
As Torchlight developers Max Schaefer and Travis Baldree stated recently at the GDC, you don't need to spend fifty million dollars and maintain more customers than some countries' entire population to be a successful studio. Likewise an MMO does not need a million subscribers to remain profitable. Of course if said MMO has a budget larger than many Hollywood movies, then the company responsibly might be setting itself up for failure. That said; just ask companies like CCP if you need to shoot for the stars with a bucket of cash on hand to make a splash in the industry.
#3 Free = Crap
Maybe it used to be true, but I have to say I'm starting to think that the days of every F2P game being shrugged off as something to do only when you're really bored or starved for entertainment are over and I think we ultimately owe it to Turbine and their decision to shift DDO to the F2P model. There were certainly quality games before DDO changed revenue models, but when it went free it showed that a Western developer was finally brave enough to attempt something that was once only reserved for shovel-ware. Now we have games like Runes of Magic, Allods Online, Free Realms, and more coming down the pipe that will hopefully continue to usher in an era of F2P games that don't suck.
The only key? Let's hope they all act responsibly when pricing their micro-transaction items. We've seen with Allods the kind of backlash outrageous pricing can create. Really, just follow Turbine's lead with DDO and you'll do fine.
#2 MMOs Aren't Evolving
There's a trending thought held by many that these games we love are pretty much the same iteration after iteration. Maybe because an MMO gamer tends to play every MMO that comes out this perception is inevitable. But by simply taking a broader frame of reference, it's not difficult to see that not only is the genre evolving, but the games that have been around for years are as well. Now maybe the MMO isn't evolving quite how everyone wants it to, but to claim that Star Trek Online is virtually the same game as Meridian 59 is absurd. The video game itself is an infant in terms of technology. And yet in the time since PONG I think it's safe to say that gaming has matured quite nicely and continues to do so.
The graphical MMO has only been around for a couple decades. Sure it's nearly as old as this author, but that doesn't mean it's not done its share of growing up. And as a genre that's only very recently begun to crack into the mainstream gaming scene, I think it's safe to say that we've only begun to see the changes that are coming to MMOs.
#1 World of Warcraft Invented the Genre
I love World of Warcraft. I know it's super-accessible and quite trendy to hate on Blizzard's game, but I still have a soft spot for the behemoth of the industry. That said, I've really grown tired of every game that comes out being directly compared to WoW. I know why this happens. A combination of WoW being so massively popular and at the same time a lot of gamers first taste of MMOs does very little to help mitigate the issue. But I'm starting to wish that when a new player signed up for WoW, Blizzard's customer support staff would send out a welcome e-mail that chronicles the history of the MMO and highlights just where it all began. Maybe I'm only perpetuating the movement by bringing it up in this venue, but I really do think it's the number one misconception about MMO gaming. It's not the fault of the development studio, and I really can't blame new gamers for drawing comparisons to what they know. I'm just saying it's a misconception, and an annoying one.