MMObility: Reaching the MMORTS sweet-spot, slowly

Relaxed knight
As a player of many MMORTS titles, I have grown to understand that patience is not only a virtue but a necessity. Many titles from the genre are designed to make you spend real time to do anything. It's not that they are boring or tedious; instead, they are representing what it might be like to actually grow an army or trade hub and to explore the often massive world around you. The pacing is meant to be slow. These are not games of instant leveling or non-stop quest grinding. They're meant to be played in as little as a few minutes per day. This explains a lot of their success -- just imagine how popular they are with time-strapped players.

There is a time, however, after months of toiling away at building up various structures, growing a small army, or finally getting to the maxed out level in a certain area, when you can finally settle down for some real gameplay. It might sound silly to have to wait that long for glory, but come on... this is city-building we are talking about. It takes time.

8Realms screenshot
That moment, that wonderful moment that makes me feel less tension and eases me into the next phase of my time with the game, is called the sweet-spot. I can live in that moment and often do. I might work for months on a single game just to get to that moment when everything seems in balance and all is right with the imaginary world.

This moment almost happened recently in 8Realms by Jagex studios, maker of RuneScape. It's a great MMORTS with fantastic art and a neat multi-age system, but I just couldn't get hooked into it. I tried to enjoy how sluggish some of the gameplay felt, but the timed server meant that at some point, my casual style of play would see my town destroyed. In fact, that is what happened. I would log in after forgetting to check in on my little village and both times found it destroyed by robots sent by someone else who had raised his town to a futuristic age. I was distraught. I really want to like 8Realms because it is a high-quality product that can easily become very popular despite many of its flaws.

"Overall, I prefer a never-ending server. I can slowly but surely make my way through the world and maybe even find a place in a server that doesn't end."

That darned timed server gets me every time. In case you don't know what I am talking about, some MMORTS games host servers that reset every so often. Perhaps it's months, maybe longer, but eventually, the server collapses after some cataclysmic event. Often players are competing for a top spot in the leaderboards, and in some games players are even trying to conquer world-eating dragons while they fight each other. I've talked about timed servers before, but overall, I prefer a never-ending server. I can slowly but surely make my way through the world and maybe even find a place in a server that doesn't end.

Before my run-ins with customer service, I was approaching the sweet-spot in Ministry of War and Golden Age. I had grown my towns, had found myself with a formidable army, and was starting to understand the game. I first ran into problems when other bits of gameplay started confusing me, like how to hold an area or how to get someone out of my town after he had taken it over. Even though he seemed to cause no obvious damage, I couldn't fathom what it meant when someone held my town and what I was supposed to do about it. I gave up. Between the unfriendly communities and the confusing and less-than-perfect localization, I just wasn't enjoying myself. Any game that starts to give me a headache for no good reason is not one I will return to.

Illyriad screenshot
The most recent game to bring me to the point of sweet, never-ending, world-conquering bliss is Illyriad. It's a simple-looking game, but the very harsh open-world PvP means that players actually take attacking each other very seriously. You cannot just gank someone on a lark. The process might take days and cost you and your alliance a lot of money. Consequently, I have been able to lay low and build up my town. Before too long (and after many 20-minute check-ins), I found myself in charge of several towns, with plenty of money and a lot of resources pouring into my warehouses. I could almost hear the crowds of workers and the noise of my city.

Now I am at the point when I can sit back and make some serious plans. I'm no military player, though. The general rule about PvP gaming is there is always someone tougher than you. Always. I don't care who you are reading this; there will always be someone who can beat you up and take your stuff. To me, pursuing effectiveness in combat is a bit like chasing your tail. I'd rather practice like Tyrion Lannister and use my brains to stay out of trouble. I have decided to become a trader and use my leftover goods and incoming gold to cover my digital butt. I will build up defensive structures and seal away as much as I can inside a vault that protects much of my hard-farmed goods and materials. If I am lucky I will be able to survive a fight or at least be able to do some damage thanks to magic and a few carefully placed but well-trained soldiers. We'll see when the time comes.

I am in the sweet-spot now, that great moment that allows me to grab my morning tea, sit back and look around the map while envisioning masses of people, millions upon millions of them, scrambling and fighting and losing their minds. I'll be there to calmly sell them some swords or food. I'll also be digging myself deeper on my little island home and enjoying the sweet calm of the sweet-spot.

It took a long time, so I deserve it.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
This article was originally published on Massively.