Free for All: How a smaller workload affects my MMO playstyle

Genia Brain Storm screenshot
As I'm sure you have all heard, we recently went through some budget and workflow changes here at Massively. For me, the revamp meant that I went from three columns, several livestreams, and the occasional news post down to a single column and an occasional stream or feature.

A strange thing has happened, but I can't say that it's uncommon in the industry: Once my workload decreased, my gaming MMO habits changed. I have been sort of reset to the position I was in before I worked so much for this site, back to when I was a silly blogger who wrote and played just for fun.

Allow me to explain.

Trove screenshot
Years ago, around 2006, I decided to move from playing MMOs (I started with Ultima Online in 1999) to writing about them. I had already been keeping a steady blog since 2002, but it mostly consisted of posts about life with a traveling rock band. I referred to most of it as "The Ducttape Drummer" because I used to use the sticky tape as a cure for everything. In hindsight, I've always been a writer. I have writing awards from gradeschool and junior high. The only thing I did more than write was draw and paint.

So moving into games writing was natural. MMOs quickly became my favorite topic because I loved the fact that they were a virtual world, a place to meet people from all over. They were bigger and more interactive than a chat room (kids, ask your parents about AOL's chatrooms in the '90s!) and allowed me to explore unknown worlds, languages, and species. To this day I get excited to explore an MMO. That hasn't changed.

What has changed is the fact that before I was paid to write about MMOs, the games were simply part of my hobby. I had other hobbies, but MMOs provided something that those other hobbies never did. Because I didn't have to write about my favorite games, I found that I was able to dedicate myself to one if I wanted to, but I could also move on at any moment. In the end I developed a playstyle that was loose but dedicated. I often subscribed (kids, ask your parents about maintaining several subscriptions!) to a few MMOs at one time. Free-to-play didn't really hit until 2006 or 2007, and when it did, most of the titles offered were grindy Eastern models, the kind we suffered through before they were designed as nicely as Western MMOs.

Aura Kingdom screenshot
I had my home games, for sure -- games like Ryzom or Vanguard. Before I blogged about games, my home games were City of Heroes, the occasional Star Wars Galaxies, or some random indie title. But those older titles were often grindy, annoying, buggy messes. World of Warcraft changed the way MMOs were developed because it did away with a lot of miserable gameplay. I often struggled with those older titles because even though many of them were sandboxes -- and I love sandboxes -- I was still required to level or grind in order to access fresh content. To me, the grind has always been an issue. I would attempt to explore in games that were not that friendly to people who cared more about worlds than levels. To this day I hear from gamers who seem to think that the grind is a necessity, like a job to pay the bills or is something needed in order to prove dedication.

Flash forward to now, to a market filled with many titles from all sorts of different genres. We also have pseudo-MMOs, MOBAs, social games, mobile games, console MMOs, and everything in between. Technology, better computing, and faster internet have made an MMOs and multiplayer games more of a default design. It's simply easier to host more players than it was before. (Please note that I did not say it was easy, just easier!) Now we have markets like Steam offering wonderful indie titles that can connect players to each other in a relatively streamlined fashion. In other words, multiplayer or virtual world fans have never had it better!

As I began to write about more and more titles for Massively, I found that it became harder to make time to dedicate myself to one game. It's not as if I ever wanted to dedicate myself to one game, but the option to spend extra time in one world has not been as available to me over the last four years, save for weekends.

Pirate101 screenshot
I've gone from having to cover sometimes as many as three or four separate titles a week to, well, covering whatever I feel like to fill up one column. That might sound easier or more fun, but the open schedule has done nothing to change my professional writing responsibilities. The only thing it has really affected was my other gaming, the gaming I do when I play a game that is not intended for coverage. I still approach my column in the same way, but my "free time" gaming definitely feels like it did several years ago.

Does this mean I have found myself glued to one game for days at a time? No, not really. What it means is that I am not as twitchy when I am playing an MMO. I do not feel the urge to download and play every single game I come across. I feel as if I can breathe a bit more, but just a bit, and take more time to explore, roleplay, and play.

See, writing about games is not as simple as it might sound. There's a certain level that a writer has to strive for, a typical amount of detail that, unless reached completely, can lead to feelings of guilt. It's an odd thing, really; I can be in the middle of a fine adventure and feel panicked because I'm not writing down skill details or taking screenshots. It's a fun way to make some cash, but the best way to ruin a good hobby is to make a job out of it.

The point is that when you do something for so long -- like writing about MMORPGs -- it's easy to forget just why you started doing it in the first place. Honestly, I've never reached the point of severe burnout like many writers or gamers I know, and for that I am lucky, but it's been really nice to explore an MMO without worrying about what the comments might say.

Every Saturday, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, mobile, classic, 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.