The Think Tank: The things that keep us coming back to MMOs

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Last weekend, Massively columnist Beau Hindman penned a Free for All article titled Five reasons to continue loving MMORPGs, a tribute to the heart and soul of games in what can sometimes seem like a snark-filled, cynical industry. He mentions value, variety, accessibility, and sociability as being among those reasons he still adores the genre. I wanted to find out what the rest of our team members thought, so I posed the question to them: What one thing keeps you coming back to MMORPGs above all else?

Anatoli Ingram, Columnist
@ceruleangrey: The thing that keeps drawing me to MMOs is their (mostly) persistent nature, I think. Even though not every game embraces the "virtual world" idea, there's still something uniquely charming about MMO environments existing as places which can be visited by a vast number of people and have things happening in them even if I, personally, am not there to witness them.

Beau Hindman, Columnist
@Beau_Hindman: The social aspect is easily the most appealing thing about MMOs. I'd like to say that MMOs feature mechanics that can not be found in any other genre, but that's not entirely true. The one thing that MMOs offer that no other type of game can offer is real time interaction with massive numbers of players. As I've written before, the only real threat to the MMO genre is the increasing popularity of social networking, not innovative gameplay from other genres. Innovative mechanics are awesome, but people make MMOs what they are.

Brendan Drain, Columnist
@nyphur: The main things that keep me coming back to MMOs week after week are exploration, figuring out game mechanics, and doing things I'm not supposed to. I love exploring dangerous zones that are far too high-level for me or are full of PvPers and having to stay on my toes to survive and explore there. When I'm not dodging pirates in EVE Online or sneaking past giant spiders in fantasy games, you can usually find me climbing about on the rooves of buildings or otherwise trying to get somewhere else I'm not supposed to be.

As a game designer, I also really enjoy picking apart a game's mechanics and design and then figuring out problems that the developers will need to overcome or ways to optimise play. Just knowing how the game mechanics work in detail can provide an advantage in competitive games like EVE, for example, and crunching numbers can put you ahead of the curve in raiding and dungeon-crawling in themepark MMOs. The exploration of the unknown is what drew me to EVE Online in the first place, and it's why I adore sandbox MMOs or themepark games with explorable open worlds. Every MMO contains its own unique virtual world full of content and physical laws just waiting to be studied.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: For me, it's the (relative) permanence of the world and the collective challenge we all face inside the walls of a player-driven economy that can exist only in an MMO. I love my guildies, and they're the reason I go to specific MMOs, but the truth is that I can play with them in a lot of non-MMOs just as easily, so the social aspect isn't at the very tippy-top of my list. I love my single-player games and my mods too, but playing against the game or crafting in a single-player game is nowhere near as thrilling or fulfilling or challenging as playing against living people on the other side of an auction hall.

Jef Reahard, Managing Editor
@jefreahard: I can't honestly say that I "love" the MMO genre at the moment, simply because the title that I love the most is routinely ignored by developers when they're designing and implementing features. Similarly, some of the closures in recent years have been especially hard to take because they were games for which no reasonable alternative exists. As a result, I can't take seriously any assertions about MMO variety or something-for-everyone rhetoric.

That said, I keep coming back because I'm hopeful that the genre will eventually feature something for everyone and tons of variety beyond the surface details. I've played an embarrassingly large number of video games over the past 30-plus years, and even though the MMO genre has in most cases abandoned what made it unique, it's still got that glimmer of potential and so is still more interesting than every other genre put together.

Justin Olivetti, Senior Contributing Editor
@Sypster: When it really comes down to it, what MMOs have to offer me is the feeling and perhaps the reality that my time spent in game matters. The persistent worlds have a lot to do with that, allowing me to play my character as long as I want and building him or her up without kicking me out due to a "game over" notice. But more than that, the relationships that I've built and the memories I've collected are important to me to the point that I feel "less" not playing an MMO. I hope my presence has made a positive impact in others' experiences as well.

Larry Everett, Columnist
@Shaddoe: I used to play a lot of RPGs before I jumped into the world of MMOs. However, there always seemed to be a degree of separation between me and the character I was playing. Link was was always Link in The Legend of Zelda, even if I named him Globberfish. When I was introduced to MMOs with Ultima Online, the world expanded. I could actually be whatever kind of of character I wanted to be, and at the same time, I could interact with other people playing characters that they wanted to be. Although I do play linear MMOs and I enjoy them for what they are, I always attempt to make my character unique, which is why I roleplay quite a bit. MMOs are the only place where you can play a video game RPG in a world that is actually living; they are artificial constructs breathing with the life of other players.

MJ Guthrie, Contributing Editor
@MJ_Guthrie: Of the two things that I love most about MMOs, only one is really unique to the genre -- the socializing! (Just for the record, exploration is the other.) I actually really got into MMOs right after moving across the country from all my friends and my table top group; it was a way to keep in touch with them and still hang out together. When I became ill and unable to venture out and be social in my new area, MMOs became a lifesaver. Social creatures do not fare well in solitary confinement, let me tell you! In MMOs there are vast communities of people to interact with, become friends with, and enjoy experiences with. As a person who would travel the world just to live in every place possible if I could, the games opened up the world and let me interact with folks from all over. I love watching the development of communities as well as being a part of them. Even though many single-player games have the other things I want in a game, the fact that they do not have this in-depth social interaction keeps me from really jumping into them.

Shawn Schuster, Senior Editor
@Epykbeard: For me, it's the interaction with so many people at once. I play a lot of single-player games, but I never abandon my MMOs because no single-player game can match that feeling of playing with so many real people at the same time. I don't care as much about min-max strategies or topping the leaderboard because you can do that in so many other types of games. PlanetSide 1 and 2 always come to mind when I think of how the whole "being part of a group" thing is done well.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the most caring of the carebears, so expect more than a little disagreement! Join Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and the team for a new edition right here every Thursday.
This article was originally published on Massively.