The Think Tank: Finding the magic in MMOs

About a month ago, a Massively reader wrote to our team to ask for help on an issue many of us -- and probably many of you -- struggle with: a genre with lots of games and not enough stickiness (and patience!).
I've been around the MMO block (since EverQuest); I even dabbled in Meridian 59. And I keep seeing game articles that make me want to try or retry lots of MMOs, but between my schedule and investment in other titles already, I cannot bring myself to jump into old or new games for more than a few play sessions. There's so many to play that I just can't bring myself to settle down for a little bit to really get enough of the experience to enjoy it.

For example, I recently played Asheron's Call for a total of three hours after subbing and reading articles that compelled me to try it. But it felt foreign and clunky. I couldn't stick around to really appreciate it. I fear the same results in other games I'd like to try. Can you give me advice on shedding the urge to judge and dismiss a game if it doesn't click with me immediately? Is there a way to not be jaded or lazy with being a newbie (yet again) in older titles? Help me play more MMOs for the sake of experience and new loves!

- MMO junkie seeking help "finding the magic"
I polled the team for advice in this week's Think Tank!

Eliot Lefebvre, Senior Contributing Editor
@Eliot_Lefebvre: I wrote a really long Soapbox article about this a while back titled Commitment issues. Short version? In order to stick to a game, you just... stick to a game. You have to make the choice. If you wait for the game to force you to stay, you're kind of missing the point.

Justin Olivetti, Senior Contributing Editor
@Sypster: I don't think you should ever force yourself to play games that don't appeal to you just for the sake of building up gamer cred or getting a full experience. There are so many choices out there that I'd recommend you figure out what you want out of MMOs, find a group of friends or guild that aligns with that, and play games that intersect with both. I love marinating in one game to get the fullest out of it, yet I also want to play all the games, so I find a nice middle ground where I hop around three or four at a time.

Larry Everett, Columnist
@Shaddoe: I think I've said it before, but for me, gaming in MMOs is as much about the community as it is about the game itself. I don't necessarily know if this is good advice, but I can tell you that hooking up with a good guild with similar interests has really been able to change MMO gaming for me. I've become less worried about which game I'm playing and more about whom I'm playing with. I've stuck with games longer than I normally would have, and I've learned more about the games that we're playing because of the collective experience.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: I agree with everyone here, especially the parts that seem to contradict. I know how frustrating it is to read about a game that looks like an amazing experience viewed through someone else's eyes when you can't figure out how to replicate that experience and desperately want to.

First, quit beating yourself up when a game doesn't click with you. You can't like everything, and you can't play everything to the fullest. As Justin said, forcing yourself to play when the game isn't doing anything to try to keep you there is pointless; you'll wind up resenting the game and wasting your time. You do need to know when to walk away, and you need to be OK with walking away. No guilt. You're playing for yourself and your own enjoyment. Ignore what Judgey McJudgersons say; you don't have to be playing the newest newnesss at all times or rushing to endgame or doing anything but what you want and defining your own fun.

But Eliot is right that you have to meet a game halfway before you chuck it. The immersive experiences of older games especially aren't usually found in the first hour or even in the first week, so if you want give a game a real chance to woo you, commit to a week of serious play. Read gameplay guides and tips for newbies and take them to heart so that you're playing the game and not just playing at playing the game. Dive into the mechanics; don't wait for them to compel you. And then if you last a week or two, follow Larry's advice and join a social network within the game, even a low-key group. Guilds, even loose guilds or roleplaying crews, make gaming sticky; they'll help you adapt to the game and make you want to keep going.

I routinely say that my favorite games became my favorites several years after their launch when I returned and gave them another real chance. There was always some nugget in the game that I loved, like housing or customization or crafting, but I wasn't always willing to slog through launch-month messes to get to those (heck, I'm still not). Returning is the best way to see a matured game with lots of developed systems, but you have to practice discerning between a game that will let you make magic and one that simply lacks the spark. And the only way to practice that is to keep trying games, period. I know it sucks, and after so many of my main games closed down in the last few years, I fell into the same pattern of listlessly drifting because I couldn't find what I really wanted. I'm still looking. Keep looking. The magic is still there, but it won't come to you.

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.