Sitting in a strange town, I got a call from one of my best friends back home. He told me all about this great new online game he'd been playing called EverQuest
. It was an entirely graphical world where people would role-play together, group up and go adventuring. He insisted that I absolutely must come play it with him. I told him computer games weren't really my thing unless it was LAN parties, but two days later a copy of the game was sitting in my mailbox along with a note from my friend about how he missed hanging out with me -- and at least with EverQuest
we could hang out together in Norrath. The emotional appeal worked (best friends are good at that) and I was in-game that evening.
We spent a long time playing together, and along the way I met tons of great people. However, as I continued playing -- and role-playing -- it became harder and harder to find groups to just run around with for short periods of time. The friends that had kept me logged on during so many off-days were spending all their time either grinding or raiding for days at a time: something I couldn't justify spending time doing. I considered becoming a Guide, if only because I loved RPing and the lore of Norrath so much, but I couldn't commit the time between a day job, volunteering, and my social life. Eventually, EverQuest
was reduced to a shiny subscription chat client so I could keep in touch with my friends. The loss of that group to both level and role-play with ultimately killed the game for me.
This pattern has repeated over the years in more MMOs than I can count. I'd join up either at launch, or just after, play fairly casually, and the core group I would be a part of would blow past me within a few weeks. Ultimately the story was the same -- I'd be left plodding along, grinding levels behind the curve, while I heard great stories of things friends would be doing. Oh, and would I please hurry up already? It got old.
It wasn't until City of Heroes
that I truly fell in love with the MMO genre again, as there was great role-play on Virtue. Also, people didn't seem to care what level I was since there were mechanics to ensure even the most casual of players had a viable chance to group with higher-level friends. As one of the earliest TaxiBots, I could be level 15 and have all the skills I needed: Recall Friend, a heal, a travel power, and a rez. Suddenly, even at a low-level, I had more group invites than I knew what to do with -- and it was wonderful
With the turn towards more MMOSPG (MMO single-player game) design in recent years, I've been able to get a great deal further in games -- essentially allowing me to grind up to endgame solo, like World of Warcraft
, but seemingly at the cost of role-playing. While it's better than being stuck, unable to level due to lack of solo content (early EverQuest
), I feel like we're missing something enormous by making everything entirely too solo-friendly as opposed to making disparate-level grouping easier and more rewarding.
Don't get me wrong -- I love the time that developers and writers have put into the worlds crafted for MMOs. I've written many story-lines myself, and I really appreciate the detail and care involved. But at the core of it all, I'm a social creature who wants the full multi-player experience in my multi-player games -- oh, and some role-play wouldn't suck, either. That's why I play MMOs as opposed to burying myself in one console title after another. I want a compelling reason
for players to get together as a group. You know, as opposed to just gaggles who meet up in towns periodically, then go spank the loot pinata until it spits out sparklies.
Ultimately, the only games that have -- or frankly, will -- keep me successfully engaged for long-term periods are the ones that allow me to find groups, but more properly, enable everyday players to give those groups some point
. As much as people denigrate EVE Online
for difficulty, I managed to find a good corp that welcomed me and made my slow-leveling noob self feel useful even now. I've also encountered quite a bit of role-play while flying around: even if it was just people trying to blow me out of the sky. Fallen Earth
has pulled me in with a great storyline, a solid role-play community, and an experience designed to make players go through it a bit more slowly than many other recent MMOs.
Beyond that, I'm also happy to be part of the team here at Massively, as it means I get to watch the social-gaming MMO genre as it continues to evolve. (Looking out for any good role-play on the way, mind you.) No matter where I go, though, I'll continue to follow my heart, spending my off-time helping to create real-life
or in-game social gatherings
for MMO players
. I've spent way too long organizing LARPS, p&p games, large-scale events, meet-ups, and parties to not continue to follow my heart now -- both in and out of the MMOs I call home.