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MMOrigins: The play's the thing, too

Sitting in a strange town, I got a call from one of my best friends back home. He told me all about this great new online game he'd been playing called EverQuest. It was an entirely graphical world where people would role-play together, group up and go adventuring. He insisted that I absolutely must come play it with him. I told him computer games weren't really my thing unless it was LAN parties, but two days later a copy of the game was sitting in my mailbox along with a note from my friend about how he missed hanging out with me -- and at least with EverQuest we could hang out together in Norrath. The emotional appeal worked (best friends are good at that) and I was in-game that evening.

We spent a long time playing together, and along the way I met tons of great people. However, as I continued playing -- and role-playing -- it became harder and harder to find groups to just run around with for short periods of time. The friends that had kept me logged on during so many off-days were spending all their time either grinding or raiding for days at a time: something I couldn't justify spending time doing. I considered becoming a Guide, if only because I loved RPing and the lore of Norrath so much, but I couldn't commit the time between a day job, volunteering, and my social life. Eventually, EverQuest was reduced to a shiny subscription chat client so I could keep in touch with my friends. The loss of that group to both level and role-play with ultimately killed the game for me.

This pattern has repeated over the years in more MMOs than I can count. I'd join up either at launch, or just after, play fairly casually, and the core group I would be a part of would blow past me within a few weeks. Ultimately the story was the same -- I'd be left plodding along, grinding levels behind the curve, while I heard great stories of things friends would be doing. Oh, and would I please hurry up already? It got old.

It wasn't until City of Heroes that I truly fell in love with the MMO genre again, as there was great role-play on Virtue. Also, people didn't seem to care what level I was since there were mechanics to ensure even the most casual of players had a viable chance to group with higher-level friends. As one of the earliest TaxiBots, I could be level 15 and have all the skills I needed: Recall Friend, a heal, a travel power, and a rez. Suddenly, even at a low-level, I had more group invites than I knew what to do with -- and it was wonderful.

With the turn towards more MMOSPG (MMO single-player game) design in recent years, I've been able to get a great deal further in games -- essentially allowing me to grind up to endgame solo, like World of Warcraft, but seemingly at the cost of role-playing. While it's better than being stuck, unable to level due to lack of solo content (early EverQuest), I feel like we're missing something enormous by making everything entirely too solo-friendly as opposed to making disparate-level grouping easier and more rewarding.

Don't get me wrong -- I love the time that developers and writers have put into the worlds crafted for MMOs. I've written many story-lines myself, and I really appreciate the detail and care involved. But at the core of it all, I'm a social creature who wants the full multi-player experience in my multi-player games -- oh, and some role-play wouldn't suck, either. That's why I play MMOs as opposed to burying myself in one console title after another. I want a compelling reason for players to get together as a group. You know, as opposed to just gaggles who meet up in towns periodically, then go spank the loot pinata until it spits out sparklies.

Ultimately, the only games that have -- or frankly, will -- keep me successfully engaged for long-term periods are the ones that allow me to find groups, but more properly, enable everyday players to give those groups some point. As much as people denigrate EVE Online for difficulty, I managed to find a good corp that welcomed me and made my slow-leveling noob self feel useful even now. I've also encountered quite a bit of role-play while flying around: even if it was just people trying to blow me out of the sky. Fallen Earth has pulled me in with a great storyline, a solid role-play community, and an experience designed to make players go through it a bit more slowly than many other recent MMOs.

Beyond that, I'm also happy to be part of the team here at Massively, as it means I get to watch the social-gaming MMO genre as it continues to evolve. (Looking out for any good role-play on the way, mind you.) No matter where I go, though, I'll continue to follow my heart, spending my off-time helping to create real-life or in-game social gatherings for MMO players. I've spent way too long organizing LARPS, p&p games, large-scale events, meet-ups, and parties to not continue to follow my heart now -- both in and out of the MMOs I call home.

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