I can hear some of you grimacing right now: "But Justin -- if that is your real name -- are you really so doe-eyed and naïve? Don't you know that all MMOs suck, that it's all the same old crud, and that you have gray in your beard?"
That's where I'm different, I guess. I'm not blind to some of the serious issues that plague the MMO industry, and I've had my fair share of burnout, disillusion and frustration with the games, but I can't bring myself to become an MMO cynic. On the contrary, I feel that part of being an MMO fan is that it's fun to look on the bright side and get excited about this hobby we all share. So in that spirit, I present to you 10 reasons why it's a great time to be an MMO fan right now more than ever before.
And, yes, I'm still calling spiders "bugs." You can't stop me. I'm immune to all conventional weapons!
It's like the kid who moans "I'm boooored" as the mom looks incredulously at all of the games, toys and books on the shelves behind him. Maybe if that kid had, like, two games, then he'd be justified in his whine, but as it is, he simply looks silly. Likewise, we're no longer diddling about in the year 2000, when flying cars became a reality (according to pop culture) and you could still count the number of operational MMOs on one hand.
Today we are absolutely spoiled by the sheer bounty of MMOs on the market. Yes, there's a lot of chaff and wasted bytes to sift out of the mix, but it's hard to defend the position that there's nothing good to play. The numbers are on our side, with more being added every day -- really, MMO gamers never had it so good. There's pretty much something for everyone, no matter whether you're looking for sandbox, theme park, fantasy, scifi, superhero, post-apocalyptic, horror, PvE, RP, PvP or PvPBDTTH (Player vs. Player But Don't Touch The Hair) experiences.
As Massively's Beau said, "The first thing I think when someone tells me 'I'm burned out' -- I think 'You have played maybe (and I mean maybe) a dozen out of the hundreds and hundreds possible.'"
While the war still wages in forums over whether subscriptions rule or drool, the truth is that MMO consumers have more choice than ever before when it comes to how they spend their hard-earned money on gaming. While subscription options still exist, the market is playing with a variety of other options, including unlimited trials, hybrid subscription/F2P, pay-once-play-forever, microtransactions-based, donations-funded, and lifetime subscriptions. Players in EVE Online and Lord of the Rings Online can even earn additional content and play time through in-game activities, if so desired.
This ties into the first item on this list -- that there are more games vying for your attention (and your wallet, of course). More competition ultimately equals more choices and better payment options for consumers. And that's without mentioning how, hour for hour, MMOs are still some of the cheapest forms of entertainment out there. I like how Massively's Greg put it: "MMO games offer the most bang for your entertainment buck."
Get a bunch of strangers in the same room and see how awkward it becomes. Now give those strangers an experience to share together, and suddenly bonds are formed through a communal activity. This is -- in a nutshell -- how MMOs work.
At the core of MMOs are social connections, even if you "play alone together." Relationships are born, friends begin to bond, and the world becomes a lot smaller as generations, racial lines, nationalities and social groups merge in the crucible of dungeon runs, guild events and mutual adventures. It's an awesome thing that's spawned inspiring tales of players rallying around causes and people that they would've never known if it weren't for these games.
When people ask me why I love MMOs (and they do with shocking regularity), I give a gleaming smile and say, "Because they're always changing and there's always something new to talk about." Love the industry or hate it, one thing is certain -- we aren't lacking for news, issues, topics, debates and controversies to bat around.
On any given day, I never know if a major news story's going to break, if a dev is going to spout out a forehead-slapping quote, if a new game will be announced or if another one will close. The ever-changing nature of MMOs means that even when we're not playing them, we can still be engaged with them. If it weren't so, I don't think we'd be here, do you?
It used to be that MMOs were so on the fringe that even other gamers would mock online players out of ignorance. Flash-forward a decade or so and MMOs have made significant headway into not only geek culture, but pop culture. College classes are being taught about online games, MMOs are popping up in sitcoms, and promising IPs have been snatched up not just by movie studios, but by online game studios as well.
Being an MMO player today doesn't automatically lump you in with the stereotype of the lonely guy living in his mother's basement, because his mother is playing, the guy's wife whom he met in game is playing, and half the block is raiding nightly.
Call me crazy, but balance and variety is important in gaming. It used to be that the norm was to see players invest 100% of their gaming time into just one MMO without even thinking of seeing what else was out there. Now? Now it's more common for players to be dabbling in two, three, or more MMOs at a time -- something that is facilitated by more games being on the market and by progressively flexible pricing plans.
While there's certainly an element of gamer ADD at play, I think that MMO gaming began as an artificially limited experience and is only now getting back to how gaming happens in the rest of the field. Sure, you have those guys who play only Madden or Halo exclusively, but it's more conducive to long-term sanity to try new games, rotate interests and not merely limit yourself to a single flavor.
Another upshot of this is that it's breaking down the walls of elitism that have formed between MMO communities (the "my game is better than your game!" folks). When you don't have to choose one or the other but can have both, what's the point of investing your identity into just one title?
Legs as in "longevity," that is. While sometimes we buy into the popular perception that a new MMO is only relevant until the next one is launched, the truth is that if a game can build up enough of a playerbase to survive the first 18 months, chances are it's going to be around for a long time to come (NCsoft notwithstanding).
I'm seriously encouraged by companies and gamers who aren't just jumping on the latest and greatest, but are continuing to invest time and money and effort into older MMOs. Several of the first generation 3-D MMOs are beginning to hit the decade mark, and yet they still have die-hard players and even newcomers who populate those worlds.
I know I'm going to get pushback on this point, but I think it bears saying. No matter how often players accuse dev teams of being completely unoriginal, maintaining the status quo, refusing to innovate or playing it safe, the truth is that there is evidence all over the place that these teams are working to push forward with new ideas. It's just that they happen in smaller increments that don't make as big of a splash.
We often forget that the MMO industry is still very much in its infancy and that teams are still trying to figure things out for themselves. There's no one "best" way of doing anything, which is prompting a lot of exploration of ideas and concepts. Some of these fail spectacularly, but some sprout into a beloved features. Change and innovation may not be progressing as fast as you'd like, but it is happening.
This kind of ties in with a few previous points on this list, but it bears repeating (according to repeating bears): There's never been a time when we've seen as many MMO players as we do right here, right now. The games themselves may be niche, but the industry as a whole is growing into something bigger, more widespread, and far more recognizable.
A larger playerbase is a great boon to MMOs, because it keeps the older ones running and the newer ones under development. If new players weren't introduced to MMOs on a constant basis, then the industry would stagnate and shrink, but we seem to be in no danger of that at the moment.
Part of the joy of being an MMO fan is the anticipation and discussion that swirls around upcoming titles. For me, new games are like Christmas: I know they're coming, it's cool to speculate what they might be like, and it's fun getting worked up as the date draws near.
And right now, the industry is prepping multiple Christmases for us all. Most of us have at least one title we're looking forward to trying out, if not a dozen or two, and the number of games on deck is wicked awesome. There are AAA mega-budget projects, sleeper hits in the making, free-to-play gems and secretive projects waiting in the wings, all ready for us to discover at some point in the future. And I've not even mentioned how the industry's finally getting past "fantasy and only fantasy" as the guideline of MMOs. It's finally giving other genres a fair shake.
So while I have no doubt that many of you could come up with a list of 10 -- if not 100 -- reasons we should be bummed about MMOs as they stand, I'm pretty darn psyched to be a fan of these games and living in an era when they're taking off into the stratosphere.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.