Ask Massively: Canada Day edition

Yes, Canada Day was last week. But a couple of our readers expressed some displeasure about the fact that America's birthday gets observances in MMOs while Canada's birthday doesn't. And you know what? That does seem unfair. So let's hear it for Canada! I've had the good fortune to meet a number of wonderful Canadian players in various MMOs over the years, and I can say without reservation that the nation deserves more recognition beyond the ubiquitous jokes about its relationship to America. So hooray for Canada, and happy belated birthday to our northern neighbors!

Seriously, let's hope BioWare gives us a Star Wars: The Old Republic holiday for Canada Day. I would be thrilled.

As you've probably guessed, this week's edition of Ask Massively is just a wee bit subjective, and considering that our questions tackle the issues of humans in game stories and microtransactions in MMOs, we really saw no way around it. Got a question of your own for a future installment of the column? Mail it to ask@massively.com, or leave it in the comments below.

Audacious asked: I know we're all human at the end of the day, but can't speculative fiction get over how great we are every once and a while?
It's a basis of comparison. No matter what we do, humans are going to use other humans as a point of reference. You can make Star Trek Online characters in the Klingon Empire, and you can tell a story in which the humans are less warlike than the Klingons... but we, as human beings, still use ourselves as the point of comparison.

Put another way, if I tell you that the elves are smarter than the orcs, with no other data points, do you have any way of knowing how the two races relate? Without a human level of intelligence in there, the elves could be brilliant or stupid. All you know is that the orcs aren't as smart as the elves. It's only when you add in familiar references that statements like that make sense.
Sgt Benton asked on the forums: Are microtransactions in MMOs a bad thing?
Definitely not.

That having been said, microtransactions can lead to all sorts of horrible things in MMOs. But that's not a fault of the microtransactions, nor is it a problem inherent in having cash shops in subscription MMOs. The problem all comes down to a question of leveling the playing field.

Honestly, MMOs have always had items that only certain players could obtain, with the limiting currency being time. Players with plenty of time could get all sorts of things that players with less time would never be able to do more than look at. And this has remained true up to the present day. You can say that World of Warcraft has become a non-stop nightmare of raiding, but unless you have the time to dedicate to cutting-edge raiding skills, you're never going to see that cutting edge. Microtransactions skew that equation -- time is entirely meaningless. The only thing you need is money. For a genre that has long put players in a position where all they need is time, this is somewhat unsettling.

But this doesn't make their execution inherently bad. Done right, microtransactions allow a company to justify the time to make new things available to players by showing that smaller doses of content (usually cosmetic ones) are profitable. Done poorly, microtransactions make the players angry, as if they're not getting full value for their dollar. Everyone is going to have a different point where he draws the line, but the idea isn't inherently bad. It just requires a delicate hand. (The general consensus is that buying permanent increases in power that cannot be obtained in-game is a bad idea, but even that gets fuzzy in some areas.)
C Rose asked: Dinosaurs could speak, right?!
It's getting them to stop speaking that's usually the problem.
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This article was originally published on Massively.