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State of the Game: People Still Play That?

Shawn Schuster Posted:
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One issue that's near and dear to my heart is that of dedication to an MMO and MMO community. I wrote about loyalty a few weeks ago, and this goes hand-in-hand with that, but from a different angle.

I have a five-stage period I go through when any new game launches. You might be able to relate.

Step 1: Trailer Envy

This one's fun because drooling over a new game's teaser trailer embodies everything we are as gamers. We love innovation, features, and the unknown potential that's alive and well in a game we've known about for three minutes.

Step 2: Research

I just HAVE to know everything there is to know about this new game with the trailer that made me forget that there have been trailers like this before. I just HAVE to find out about the available classes and races at launch. How many alts can I make? Is it a sandbox or themepark? Can I craft? Will there be open-world PvP?

Step 3: Denial

At this point, I look at my wife and children and realize that I can't possibly dedicate my life to playing this new MMO as hardcore as I'd like. Even with a bit of back-and-forth with myself(Step 3.5: Bartering), trying to figure out how much sleep I don't really need in order to maintain an effective relationship with my guildmates, I finally just realize that this game isn't for me. The graphics look totally stupid anyway. I mean, did you see how that dwarf's left hand moved? Psssh, so unrealistic. FAIL.

Step 4: Mockery

When the game launches, every single one of my gaming friends picks it up and proceeds to tell me about how much they think I'd like this game. At this point, I make fun of them for falling for the same old tricks and picking up a game on pre-order or on launch day. I tuck my launch-day copy back under a pile of papers on my desk.

Step 5: Acceptance/Goodbye Family

OK, so they were right. This game is everything I've ever wanted in anything ever, and I'm having fun with it. I mean, that's why we game, right? That's why I work so hard at my job... to afford things like this. I deserve a break from the hustle and bustle. I owe it to myself to set aside a few hours a day to immerse myself into a fantasy world where I can shoot bolts of dark plasma at flying pig-giants all day long. Ahem. Yes dear. I'll put the dishes away right now.

So with that said, I understand that there's a large emotional commitment to a game during its launch phase. You don't want to fall into the same traps you've fallen into before, but it's inevitable that you will. Why? Because we all want to find that same experience we had with our first MMO or RPG.

Well, then why don't we just play our first MMO or RPG and be done with it? For me, it's not that simple. I'm enticed by the new shiny because it's... well, new and shiny, but I have faith that one day I'll find that perfect game again. I've come close a few times, but large open worlds are boring when there's no one else playing as intended for the game's full effect.

And this brings me back around to dedication. It's often perceived that games are dead unless they have 16 billion players and are featured on MMO news sites three times a day. The truth is, most of these games are simply enjoying a calm period when the tourists have all gone home and the people who truly love the game are left playing with other people who truly love the game.

There's nothing wrong with this from an enjoyment standpoint, but there's often a problem with this from a business standpoint. And that, my friends, is where failure starts, especially when large publishers are involved.

I'm not saying that the business decision-makers are wrong when they cut their losses and close down a game that's sucking money from the company, but it's a difficult situation when you mix emotions and business.

MMOs involve lots of people coming together to experience a common interest, and they're not unique in that respect. People have been doing things like this forever. But the sheer number of available online worlds allows very specific interests to be addressed and catered to. Never before have we had so many choices and never before could we be so picky in discovering exactly what it is that gives us the most enjoyment.

Just the other day, I got an email from Notorious Games about coming back to see what's new in Xsyon. Remember that game? I loved the concept when it launched, but soon lost interest. OK, so I suck at PvP and got tired of being killed by squirrels, but I digress.

I hopped into Xsyon's forums and saw that there were 103 active users online in the forums at that moment. That's really not too bad considering the fact that no one really talks about that game anymore.

Not to pick on Xsyon, but it's a perfect example of how a living online world should be able to settle back into its comfort zone and carry on its way without worrying about catering to millions of players. I respect the fact that the game is still around and wish it a long life.

I realize that this isn't an ideal situation for the big-budget games, and that's a shame. But let's not forget the little guys out there keeping a handful of people happy with what their game has to offer.

If you fondly remember a game from your past that had features you loved, why not hop back in and see how it's doing? I'm sure the developers would appreciate the attention, and you might just rediscover what you've been missing by playing the new shiny MMO.


Shawn Schuster

Shawn Schuster is the former Editor-in-Chief at Massively.com and founder of the indie gaming review site Shoost.co. Shawn has been writing professionally about video games since 2008 and podcasting about games since 2005. When he's not leveling yet another alt, he's running his organic farm with his wife and four kids.