It's a natural problem: MMOs are all about making you feel invested in your character and your playstyle. The best games let you choose your style, your preferred content, the way you want to level, the times you want to play, and so forth. And so it's only natural that you'll gradually start to think of the way you like to play as the one part of the game that actually matters.
Sure, you aren't going to say it out loud, but you still think in your heart that PvP or raiding or small-group content or roleplaying or dancing naked on a mailbox is the real core of the game. Or you think that free-for-all PvP or crafting sandboxes or directed themeparks or whatever are the real kind of MMOs and everything else is a pale imitation. And that's a shame because even if you like those sorts of things, not everyone does.
It's for someone
Eric Burns of Websnark (or its reincarnation, hopefully not to go similarly silent) was fond of the idea of the Penny Arcade Defense -- taking something and simply pointing out that for better or worse, it's not for you. And while he generally applied it to webcomics, since that was what he wrote about, it applies to everything: movies, books, and definitely MMOs.
I, personally, don't care for the console-based first-person-shooters that seem to be everywhere these days. I look at games like Call of Duty and really don't get the appeal because to me, it seems like the same game as the last several dozen times, which itself is essentially a long-running take on Unreal Tournament that's been stretched far beyond anything I care about. And that's all right because the fact of the matter is that they aren't for me. They're for the people who do like that game, people who look forward to the next installment of the franchise.
There are open PvP sandboxes with a dearth of directed content that are also not for me. There are games without any freedom of player exploration and a themepark ride that's almost strangling, which also are not for me. And in the games that are for me, there are game systems and features and patches and expansions and updates that are not for me, updates to elements I don't care about for character types I don't play in regions I don't go.
That doesn't make any of the above bad. It just means that it's not my show.
Something heard far too infrequently in critical discourse is acknowledgement that a given game or movie or novel might just be for a different audience than the critic. It's easy to get caught in the notion that for something to be good, you need to like it, but really, it's eminently possible for something to be good even if you don't like it, just as it's possible to like something that isn't "good" in the strictest sense. (Dumb summer action films certainly fall under that category.)
The usual counter, of course, is some variety of the anecdotal defense and the development defense. "None of my friends cares about PvP/PvE/dance animations on mailboxes," comes the cry. "And the more development time spent on those things, the less there is to be spent on the parts of the game that actually matter."
Now, yes, it's quite possible -- even probable -- that most of your friends in the game also do not care about the elements that you do not care about. This is part of the reason why you interact with these people instead of others. If you meet 12 people in a competitive StarCraft II tournament, odds are good that all of them care about competitive gaming. We surround ourselves with people who have at least similar opinions and priorities, which is great for enjoying oneself and kind of lousy for getting a sense of the world that you don't care about.
But it's also very true that more development time for X means less for Y. Even if you have totally separate teams working on separate parts of the game, there is still a finite number of resources to go around. So it's true, insofar as it goes. And if you look as MMOs as being about one thing, then it's strictly true that time spent on something not for you is time wasted.
However, the fact of the matter is that MMOs don't work like that. MMOs are huge, brilliant, often beautiful machines with a huge number of elements working together in concert. And none of the aspects of game design is as mono-dimensional as we like to make it. PvP isn't just PvP; there's instanced PvP, open PvP, competitive PvP, ability balance, and so forth. There's PvP that developers want to encourage, and there's the sorts that most developers would prefer didn't exist.
And yes, sometimes one does limit the other. Sometimes you find out that you can't openly attack other characters in the field to protect other players, and it frustrates you because you like the thrill of open and unexpected combat. But it's not for you; it's for the player who only logs in once a week but loves the game, to ensure he can play the way he enjoys without having someone much more powerful use him as a speed bump.
The game isn't just about what you like. It's about every part of the machine working in concert, letting players enjoy different parts of an overall world, ranging from those who like just one aspect to those who like to take part in almost everything. To say otherwise is limiting at best.
There's someone out there who wants that
Obviously, it's impossible for us to all be equally passionate about everything. We like what we like, and that's fine. But it's also important that even if we can't appreciate every update, we can have the perspective to understand that there's someone out there who really enjoys it.
You might prefer more realistic graphics, but there are people out there who like stylized graphics. You might prefer open PvP, but there are people out there who really dislike it. You might think that EVE Online is the greatest thing to happen to MMOs ever, but there are people out there who think that it's the absolute opposite of fun and wouldn't willingly log in under any circumstances.
And since we're talking about games that you play to have fun, both sides are right. There is absolutely no objective way to create fun in a game, just like there's no easy way to create a best-selling novel or a hit record or a beautiful painting or a brilliant comic book or anything else. Why you enjoy is something so objective that no matter how unfun you might find something, there's someone out there having an absolute blast with it.
Joel Hodgson once said about Mystery Science Theater 3000's barrage of references that the writing staff didn't worry about the people who wouldn't get the joke. The right people would get it. And the same is true for MMOs, whether you're talking about a game or a patch or even an element of the game that you think no one cares about. You might not give it a second thought, but you aren't the person it's supposed to please. The right people, the people who like that game or patch or element, are the ones who will care.
It's not for you. And that's OK.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!