I don't normally write much outside of the scope of my weekly column, but I wanted to share an experience I had during the Wrath of the Lich King launch that I think sums up the MMORPG experience for a lot of us.
Many of you, I am certain, have spent a considerable amount of time trying to decide what to do first in the expansion. "Do I level my main character to 80 first?" "Should I start playing a Death Knight immediately?" There have even been stories about the first person to hit level 80, or the first level 70 Death Knight, or the first person to reach Grand Master in each of the various professions in the game. While I can admire, to an extent, the enthusiasm of such players and the guilds and friends who support these types of players, I'd like to take a minute to go in a different direction.
I recently recruited a friend to World of Warcraft. My friend, let's call him "Peter" for the purposes of discussion, had never played World of Warcraft until about a month ago. He had played some Final Fantasy, but I think we can all agree that these two games are as unlike as it is possible for any two fantasy-based MMO's to be unlike. He didn't do theorycraft, had never heard of WoWWiki, (or WoW Insider for that matter) He was that rarest of rare breeds, the "True Noob" The only reason he picked up the game was because he heard me talking about it incessantly with my friends and in connection with my writing here at Massively. Not that he knew anything about Massively, per se, he was just shocked that someone wanted me to write for them.
In the month or so that he's been playing, "Peter" has managed to level his druid to level 48. A respectable, if not break-neck, pace for a first character. (in case you're wondering... 6 days played.) Sure enough, after jumping through the few hoops necessary to get Lich King up and running on Thursday, most of which involved my heavily customized UI, I log on, and there's "Peter", plugging away and doing his best to level up. "Peter" joined my guild purely because he wanted some folks to talk to while I wasn't logged on but has managed to make a few friends in his brief time in the guild. While most of them were playing in the new playgrounds of Ebon Hold or Borean Tundra or Howling Fjord, "Peter" was plugging away in the Hinterlands.
So when I finally showed up (Server queues are back! YIPPEE!), I made my Death Knight and played through the start area for a couple of hours, then faced the decision of whether to continue with my Death Knight or take my main into Northrend.
The decision was easy. I took my main... and went to the Hinterlands to go help my friend.
The expansion isn't going anywhere, and two weeks from now, you will forget who the first player was to do pretty much anything connected to this expansion. My Death Knight will have some rest XP saved up and, with any luck, a freshly minted healing druid to play with when he is ready to tackle Outland. It may be tempting to see everything this expansion has to offer in the first two weeks of release, but Northrend isn't going anywhere, and there won't be a new expansion for at least another year (more likely... two years)
I've played literally dozens of MMORPGs in the last decade or so. World of Warcraft isn't the prettiest, nor is it the most innovative game that I've ever seen. What keeps me involved in WoW are my friends, both old and new, that I've made in this game. The difference between an MMORPG and a single player RPG is that you can play with your friends while experiencing the content. Challenge? Strategy? Conquest? All of these elements are present in single-player RPGs. Do you pay any attention to the first person to finish a single player RPG? Why would it matter in an MMO?
Thankfully, I don't believe that I'm alone in those sentiments. Last night, in guild chat, I saw my guild leader and officers strictly enforcing a "no spoilers" policy. As a group, it was more important for us to enjoy the content than it was to "get there first". I saw guild mates who are choosing not to do anything in the expansion until "so and so gets back from her trip" so that they can play together. I saw guild mates drop what they were doing in Northrend to come help a lowbie stuck in an old world quest. I saw guild mates doing nothing but hanging out by the guild bank in order to make sure everyone had the crafting materials they needed, or potions, or food, or whatever.
End game will come, you may as well enjoy the ride to get there. I am extremely proud of my guild and my friends within it. We won't be the first ones to tackle Naxx or wear "Tier Whatever" armor, but we'll have more fun getting there and make no mistake, we'll get there.
Remember that the next time you read about all of the drama on Guildwatch before deciding who the "winners" are in this expansion. MMOs are not sprints, they're marathons, and in most marathons, the challenge isn't to finish first, but just to cross the finish line. Of course, they keep moving the bloody thing every couple of years, but that's the nature of the beast.
I'm not saying that hardcore players "have no lives". I was a hardcore player for a number of years in other MMOs, and I respect the dedication and commitment it takes to be a "server first" type of guild. On the other hand, now that I'm older with a wife, child, friends, and activities outside of gaming to worry about, I know that "hardcore gaming" isn't nearly as much fun as it once was. Don't get so caught up in the rat race that you forget about the things that are more important in your life. Take some time and help a friend or even a complete stranger. The game isn't going to go away anytime soon.