Ask Massively: Misconceptions about game criticism, free-to-play, and lazy scrubs

I like this vision of Anatoli and his rifle protecting our comment section from trolls.
In previous editions of Ask Massively, we've covered misconceptions about new, old, and sunsetted MMOs as well as misconceptions about jerk players, Kickstarters, and untrustworthy studios. Let's tackle a few more this week: who gets to dish out criticism, what F2P portends for a game, and which MMO generation really has the most lazy scrubs (answer: all of them).

Misconception: If you can't link your completion achieves, you can't complain about content.
Also known as: If you haven't built a game personally, you can't criticize games.
Reality: You don't need to be a chef to know when food tastes like crap.

This one is irritating because overzealous fans wield it so triumphantly in their attempt to shut down criticism of their pet games. But trying to disqualify someone from a fight by saying he hasn't got the street cred to participate is logically fallacious. If you want to counter criticism effectively, you need an actual argument with actual facts and examples that disprove something being said, not cheap one-liners that attack or undermine the speaker.

Assume for a moment that only game designers got to debate game design or that only people who've done every achievement for every dungeon in a game were permitted to complain about dungeon content. That's a tiny, self-selected pool of people with very specific and limited knowledge. It'd become an echo chamber in short order, and the genre would collapse on itself in the absence of a wider perspective. In the real world, designers want and need to hear from people who aren't designers because studios are making their games for players, not devs. They want to know why people unhappy enough to skip content did so. You don't need to be employed in a field or playing a game full-time to provide worthwhile feedback, so we don't need to let overprotective fans argue otherwise.

Misconception: Free-to-play is the last resort of a fail/dying game.
Reality: Free-to-play is just another business model.

There are two issues with this particular form of the false-cause fallacy. The first is that people throw around words like "fail" and "dying" for games they merely dislike, not for games that are financially in the red and on the verge of closure as a result. To hear some gamers tell it, having "only" half a million players spells doom! DOOM!

The second is that free-to-play is no longer some niche browser import model from Asia that no one takes seriously. If you still think it is, I invite you to research the last five years' worth of MMO business model news to bring your knowledge into this decade. The vast majority of MMOs, AAA and not-so-AAA, are now free-to-play or hybrid free-to-play in some form or another, and those few that still require subscriptions usually adopt F2P-style cash shops on the side. In other words, there are so many games adopting free-to-play models and free-to-play tactics both before and after launch that you cannot infer anything about a game's health or a studio's motivations other than that someone wants to make money. Because duh.

Free-to-play is just an umbrella term for just another business model now, so generalizations are inadequate. Good games use it. Bad games use it. Some average games will use it and make piles of money. Some will use it poorly, and some will use it well. Some will switch to it mid-career; some will launch with it. Some will use it and then sunset anyway, some will find it makes no difference, and yes, some will be pleased that it prolongs their lives. And for those few games, I'm glad.

Misconception: Players are lazy scrubs nowadays, and that's why games suck.
Misconception: Players were lazy scrubs back in the old days too.

Look, people are generally lazy -- if by "lazy" you mean "can think of more entertaining things to do with their time than whatever it is people who moralize about video games think they're supposed to do." MMOs attract achiever types, and most achievers are looking for the fastest way to achieve something because then they can add their rate of accomplishment, not just their accomplishment itself, to their achievement bling. This was true before MMOs had levels. It was true before themeparks. It's why Ultima Online players macroed and 7v7ed their skills. It's why EverQuest players soloed hill giants and dwarves when the camps were open. It's not because they were bad-asses willing to break the rules or go it alone; it's because that was the fastest way to the top, and most video games still lack the creativity to reward anything else.

Early MMO players put up with more time-wasting in their games because they had few other options within the genre. Given more options, most of them and most newcomers to the genre choose to reduce that time-wasting. That's not laziness; that's just smart leisure management by people who recognize their own mortality and already did hard time waiting for the boat. Yeah, I'm a big fan of old-school MMOs myself, and yeah, I remember how we all walked both ways uphill in the snow, but blaming the state of the genre on Millennials seems like a cheap cop out like the sort I used to hear from the generation before mine. We can do better than that.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every other Friday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at Just ask!
This article was originally published on Massively.