Something's been on my mind lately, though, something that's not entirely unique to Age of Conan but is nonetheless a significant part of the overall fan experience. In a nutshell, I'd like to discuss AoC's community, and at the risk of offending (or more likely, inciting) portions of it, why it's so unfortunate.
While it's hard, if not impossible, to find an MMORPG that doesn't boast a few loudmouth malcontents, our fair Hyboria seems to feature these folks in excessive amounts, and I'm left wondering why that is -- and what it's doing to the game over time.
I should add that my observations here are hardly scientific (in fact, they're exclusively anecdotal), but as I play a lot and have a certain fan-driven interest in the game's doing well, it wouldn't really serve my purposes to cry wolf relative to this particular problem. No, Age of Conan really does have a larger-than-usual contingent of forum whiners, global chat trolls, and other undesirables, and prospective players notice these sorts of things. I routinely get comments and emails to the effect of "yeah, fun game, but egads the community drives me away."
So why does AoC serve as such an a-hat magnet? It's hard to say. It could be related to the game's PvP-centric marketing, its mature rating (and the gory animations and bouncing boobs they entail), or its grim and arguably low-culture source material. A couple of friends whom I discussed this with chalked it up to the game's focus on open PvP. When I reminded them that the game's PvE servers are by far the most populated (and that almost all AoC PvP is entirely consensual), they scratched their heads along with me.
Why ask why
If you accept my observation that AoC's community has in fact grown fouler than most, what generally follows is the question of why. Why are some players so bitter? Why are some of them so angry that they feel the need to dwell on the game's boards (supposedly after canceling their subs) and spread vitriol in the direction of both Funcom and those players who still enjoy the game?
Is this desire to tear down akin to a bizarre form of closure? Is it not possible for them to gracefully leave something they once enjoyed in the hands of those who enjoy it now? Do these folks feel that by attacking the game -- and those who still support it -- that it's somehow easier to cut the cord and move on? If not, is it simply a form of spite and/or immaturity that compels certain folks to continually bash both developers and players?
Don't get me wrong -- I completely understand the attachment issues that long-term commitment to a flawed MMORPG and its community can generate. It took me five years to finally stop logging into Star Wars Galaxies, even though the well-publicized changes that drove me away happened way back in 2005. Though I was pretty unhappy about the NGE and the disintegration of the game's original community that accompanied it, I didn't resort to haunting the SOE boards and making life miserable for folks who chose to stay on.
Shutting up and moving on can be hard for some players, though. After all, MMOs aren't disposable single-player RPGs (yet) or shooters that you pick up every once in a while for a quick fix. Despite the casualization of current-gen titles, most still require a significant time investment, which can lead to feelings of entitlement and subsequently anger when things don't go a certain way.
Also, many MMOs are now marketed in the same slick manner as a summer blockbuster, right down to the heart-pumping choral-backed action trailers that make it seem like new grindfest number 1,138 is going to be the ride of your life (even though it's likely going to be as thrilling as a ride to the grocery store). Shiny videos and PR-driven dev speak can conspire to make people ignore the logical part of their brains that tells them a given MMO is going to be a repetitive gear chase rather than a personalized heroic journey. Regardless, many of us want to believe, and that makes the resulting disappointment, well, disappointing. I'd like to see some in the AoC community handle that disappointment like adults rather than like a kid with a dirty diaper, though.
Of course these are just a few of the possible game-related reasons for the sustained juvenile behavior on display in Hyboria. When you combine game-related frustration with anonymity and the probable aggressive personality types that gravitate to PvP titles, you've got a recipe for a snarky, newb-unfriendly, and at times, mean-spirited bunch.
This isn't to say that MMOs and MMO developers are above reproach or constructive criticism. Far from it. Rarely a column goes by that I don't devote a few lines to one of AoC's many shortcomings, and I generally spend the majority of the time I devote to thinking and writing about MMOs reflecting on how, and more importantly why, the games have gotten simpler -- and suckier -- as the genre has hit the mainstream.
What should be avoided, though, are personal attacks (and trust me, I know that's sometimes easier said than done). So the next time your fingers start flying over your keyboard, poised on the precipice of an F-bomb directed at Craig Morrison or a fellow group of players, take a minute and ponder the ultimate gravity of what exactly is causing you such consternation. Think about it from your perspective, then attempt to take the perspective of a fan who disagrees with you, as well as a developer (this last one is really tough for me personally, as I tend to view dev decisions as obstacles to my enjoyment more often than not).
Spend a few seconds thinking about how you might adjust your playstyle to mitigate or ignore what's bothering you. If you can't think of any solutions, it's time to move on (and by move on, I mean move on, not continue regaling everyone in global with your impeccably reasoned "AoC sucks" insights until your sub runs out). You'll be happier, Funcom and its fans will be happier, and Age of Conan will go about the business of entertaining those who enjoy it. And most importantly, of course, you'll always be able to check out this concept art.
Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran, as well as the creator of Massively's weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via firstname.lastname@example.org.