Free for All: A small case of burnout

Last week, we asked you fair readers what you thought about the sheer number of free-to-play titles out there. Could there be too many? we asked. I read the comments; I even posted one myself. Oh, sure, free choice is always a good thing, but let's be sure to understand what we were asking. The question was not only are there too many titles? or could there be too many titles? but also will quality go down as the number of titles goes up?

Or in my particular case on this particular day, is burnout inevitable when we're faced with so many choices?

I only ask because I have suffered from a slight case of burnout myself recently. Now, I need to explain. I can already hear the tick-tacking of the keyboards as free-to-play "opponents" rush to say, "AH HA! See? We told you!" in the comments section, without bothering to read the rest of the article. Let me explain, if you don't mind. Then you can make your comments.

Click past the cut.

See, it is my job to play as many games as possible, to tell you about those games and hopefully to pass on some good information. Actually, the most important part of my job is to tell you what I think. That's right, I have somehow weasled my way into a job that allows me to say what's on my mind. Being that I have to say a lot of stuff every week, I need to find topics to talk about. I'd like to think I do a pretty good job of balancing issues and ideas. I present some pretty neat subjects occasionally. Only a close follower of mine will notice much similarity between all of my writing, but hey... I'm no perfect writer.

So as I look for games and subjects to write about, I also have to occasionally write about new titles that come to our attention here at Massively. Generally, I am the Bizarro-Mikey -- I seem to like everything, or at least I will try anything, so I often get passed the less-than-stellar or oddball games. Don't get me wrong; this is what turns me on as a gamer. I can look at screenshot after amazing screenshot of the latest and greatest "AAA" game and not bat an eye. A lot of what I see is simply the same stuff, repackaged in a nicer, shinier skin. Sure, I get excited about TERA or Guild Wars 2, but the real thrill comes from discovering some small game or new idea that some developer put her heart and soul into while living on a shoestring budget. Sure, the products might be rough or even barely playable, but they are often attempting something that AAA games seem to have largely forgotten: originality. Somewhere along the way, the most expensive games have often been the most bland.

It's started to get to me lately. This is where the burnout first showed its head.

I am not just suffering from too many AAA game announcements. The other culprit is a product of my own doing. Free-to-play titles -- and no, I am not talking about former AAA titles that are having a go at some form of freemium or velvet-rope payment options -- have started to become a sore spot for me. The sheer number of the titles swarming my inbox is a little much. I am getting them all confused. I'm starting to see patterns where there were none before. Free-to-play gaming is starting to act like Western AAA gaming... how ironic! They are both blending into a grey mass of repeated-activity gameplay.

Please, do not ask me to kill one more rat, not even ironically. I don't care about levels, seriously I don't, so please stop asking me to. Giant swords, pink bird mounts, the same class-based gameplay we've seen for years, rehashed lore, "dynamic" content that is only dynamic until the patterns emerge, no housing or any other social tool... so many issues and so many repeated designs. Click here to move, open your inventory, respawnrespawnrespawn.

This probably sounds familiar to anyone who plays more than a few titles.

I have to say, though, that this small case of burnout has done nothing to affect my love of the really good games. That's right, good games do exist, despite everything I just said -- good games from the free-to-play world but also from the AAA world. For me, an older AAA title (like, say, Dark Age of Camelot) is still brilliant and still plays better than more modern titles. The older AAA titles that are still up-and-running have had time to grow and mature with mountains of lore and thousands of quests... all reasons that an older AAA title is still a better representative of Western gaming than most newer ones.

So I find hope in the past of AAA Western titles and hope in the more independent or original free-to-play titles. Odd ducks like Wurm Online, Illyriad, Glitch, Pocket Legends, Vindictus and APB Reloaded. Games that allow me to jump in without worrying whether I will be the same level as my buddy or not. Games that force me to think and play differently. These games bring me back from the brink of gaming-exhaustion. If I am having one of those days -- you know the ones I am talking about -- when I just look at that screen and shrug because nothing sounds any fun, I can load up those titles or others and feel the warm lion's-paw of contentment on my chest. They give me hope for the future.

So as you are reading this, I will already be at E3 2011 in sunny Los Angeles, California. I fully expect to be bored to tears by some, if not many, of the games I will see. That's fine because someone else will probably love them. But I know that there will be a game (or several) that will make me feel great about what I do.

Then I will come back home and tell you about them. Hopefully, they will help you turn away the burnout.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!
This article was originally published on Massively.