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My MMO Midlife Crisis

Robert Lashley Posted:
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For the better part of a decade I played MMORPG’s almost exclusively. I would sprinkle in the smash hit from other genres that came along but chances are if you caught me playing a game it was a MMORPG. I was also a sheep for the PC master race campaign. Over the past year I have quickly evolved into something else. Probably something I should have been all along.

I’ve become a more well balanced gamer, I’ve started my regression back to the mean.  I never started as an online only game player, much less a MMO only gamer. They didn’t exist back then. My first love was The Legend of Zelda on my NES.  Before that I had a Commodore 64 passed down from my uncle who had bought himself a shiny and new Commodore 128. I played platformers like Jumpman and Jumpman Jr. but it was The Legend of Zelda that really evoked something inside of me. The story it conveyed with a short amount of text. The open world I could explore. The sense of accomplishment I felt when my 8 year old self actually found a secret cave.  I would walk around the edge of the screens trying to burn and blow up everything. I really took the plunge into RPGs when I received a copy of Dragon Warrior for free with my subscription to Nintendo Power and after that with Final Fantasy. I still played other games though.

I never got into MUDS. I didn’t even realize they were a thing until I had already started playing MMOs. I only dabbled in MMOs until 2004 when I dived head long into World of Warcraft. But WoW for me wasn’t just about playing the game, it was also about connecting with my younger brother who was eleven when I joined the military and moved away from home. MMOs gave him and I a chance to hang out and work together to accomplish virtual tasks even though I lived on the other side of the globe. For me it turns out the underlying reasons I chose to play MMOs is because of the social aspects it brought along with them. For a while I lost sight of that.

All things change. They get older, they evolve, they grow, and sometimes we don’t like the change. The same is true for MMOs. I firmly believe that as MMOs have become more inclusive they have become less social. That may sound counterintuitive but if you read on I think you might agree. Developers have done their best to make their products reach a broader audience, that’s business. In certain cases you see backlashes over these changes, that’s the cost of doing business. I’ll continue to use WoW for this example even though they are not the only ones guilty of it. When wow added the LFG tool to their game they made it easier for players to group up. That’s a good a thing. At the same time people no longer had to look for other players to join their group. It allowed everyone to become a little less social. That’s not such a good thing. WoW added in LFR. This allowed some players that would have never seen the inside of a raid the chance to get and participate in that content that Blizzard spends millions of dollars developing. That has to be a good thing right? But now players no longer have to depend on their guild or friends to go on raids. They can hop in and out of the content as they want and no longer have any social consequence. Along the way the LFG tool became cross realm which even further cut down on wait times for players to get groups together but even further removed any pretense that players were in a social game. At times the other players might as well be NPCs. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. They are granular events that each taken on their own are not the root cause of this problem but when looked at we can see the slow erosion of the need to be social to play a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.

At this point you could tell me that it is up to me to make the game as social as I want it to be, and you’d be right. I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon. I don’t sit on my porch and tell the neighbor kids to get off my lawn. I don’t pine for the days where I had to spend 30 minutes running back to my corpse to avoid a stiff experience penalty. A lot of the changes the developers made really were incrementally for the better. I do miss a lot of the social interactions that organically took place, but no longer seem to, in MMOs when you would run across a camp of tougher than average or elite mobs and had to form a pick up group on your own or with your friends to achieve your goal. It was that sense of accomplishment that kept me playing. Not a shiny gold box pop up that told me I had achieved something. Unfortunately most camps like that have been removed in the name of progress.

MMOs have never been the most effective games at conveying a story. Single player RPGs will continue to trump them in this aspect for the foreseeable future. I feel most MMOs have become too much a jack of all trades and a master at none. Recognizing and reconnecting with the reasons I started playing games to begin with has me revitalized. I’m tired of playing half-baked games. I’ll play games in Alpha or Beta states for work but on my own time it’s not happening. I’ll stick to released games that most accurately represent the creator’s vision. I want to be told a story and have fun with it.

The other day Bill called me a cynic when I mentioned on Facebook that I don’t get hyped about MMOs before they launch. I haven’t given up on MMOs. I can’t imagine a time when I won’t play them. I just don’t play them as much. I spend more time on my couch playing games on my PS4 or Wii U than I do on my PC. I also think that small focused MMOs are instrumental for positive change in the industry. I mentioned in a column earlier this month that Pathfinder wasn’t ready for me to start playing yet but I’m glad that it exists. The same can be said for Shroud of the Avatar, Albion Online, Camelot Unchained, and Crowfall. These smaller games in development have built or are building amazing communities around them and I’ll be happy to join them shortly after launch day.

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Robert Lashley

Rob Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can chase him down on twitter @Grakulen or find him on YouTube @RobUnwraps.