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Community Spotlight - We're All Orcs?

In this week's Community Blog Spotlight, Laura Genender takes a look at a blog that asks what ever happened to feeling special and different in an MMORPG?

We're All Orcs?

This week while browsing the blog, user jesad’s newest entry in “In My Understanding” caught my eye. Titled We’re All Orcs, this post immediately aroused my attention. Last I checked, I’m a human cleric, and anyone calling me an orc is in for a bludgeoning!

Luckily, jesad wasn’t really calling me an orc, he was making a point: we’re all the same. The allure of fantasy and RPGs is in character progression – not just levels, but the ability for us to play the part of farm boy-turned-hero. We want to be The One mentioned in prophecy, the undiscovered blood of royalty, the savior of the universe. In online games though, we are confined by level caps, class restrictions, and competition. My cleric is no more a hero than the other 7 clerics in my guild, who all have (or want) the same gear, spells, and abilities. We’re no different than the Orcs we slaughter.

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But as much as I’d love to be the hero of Lineage II or EVE Online, I’m just one subscriber out of hundreds of thousands. Giving players special advantages or events is actually somewhat possible in the MMO model: we want to be heroes, not supporting characters, and there can only be one hero. The modern solution to this is instances – developers are letting us affect the world around us and be the hero in our own private little scripted area. But honestly – we’re not stupid. We all know that everyone else is running that same instance and being told the same nonsense about being “the one” the world has been waiting for. We know that our effect on the world ends when we zone back out into shared areas. We don’t want NPCs to tell us how much we matter – we want it to be true.

As jesad puts it:

“MMO’s lack the theory of wonderment. Obstacles such as ‘balancing’, ‘the gestalt formation’, and the overall greed of the player base vs the overall laziness of the produces has made the word ‘wonderment’ almost unattainable in most games we play…after all that balancing is done, after we learn that a good group needs a Tank, a Healer, and DPS at it’s base, and after we figure out which one of these things is going to bring us as close to being a key player in any configuration, we all end up just being orcs.”

So what’s the solution? For jesad, the key is in post-launch “player/development interaction in the context of role-play and world changing events.” In-game events and unique situations are what make us feel like heroes; jesad cites, as example, the EverQuest Awakening of the Sleeper.

For those of you who didn’t play EverQuest or don’t know the history of the game, the Sleeper was an extremely scary monster in high-end Velious (the 3rd expansion) gameplay. As name suggests, the Sleeper (also known as Kerafrym) was asleep. She was kept in this state by four Warders in the zone Sleeper’s Tomb. These Warders were, of course, raid monsters and dropped some fantastic loot. The catch? If all four Warders were dead, Kerafrym would wake up and rampage across the continent, never to return to her tomb. The Warders would never return. That piece of history had transpired, and would not respawn. Sleeper’s Tomb is doubtless a wonderful memory for the 70 or so people who woke Kerafrym on each server.

Myself, I never visited Sleeper’s Tomb, but I had my own unique, heroic story play out in A Tale in the Desert. In the first year of ATITD there was an event called the Contest of Seven, where players competed in seven competitions to win Teardrops. At the end of the contest, the player with the most Teardrops received a prize. I won the Contest of Seven with 336 Teardrops, over 100 more than the 2nd place contestant. My prize was an island – yes, you heard me, an island! – that only I had access to. This was a life-changing event that made me a hero and a winner.

But the fact of the matter is, most servers have thousands of players, and everyone who didn’t wake Kerafrym or didn’t win an island was suddenly made into supporting characters. Guilds intentionally woke Kerafrym up as their competition got closer to accessing the Warders, ensuring that no one but them saw this content. My island could be seen in the distance from a shoreline, but only I had a special skill to teleport to it.

Furthermore, Sleeper’s Tomb was an entire dungeon and deeply scripted event that was seen by a limited amount of people. From a business standpoint, what’s more intelligent: creating content that can be seen and enjoyed by thousands, which will up retention rate across the board, or a special event that only effects 70 people per server? And despite all the coding and land building that went into my own personal island – I quit shortly thereafter.