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Free for All: Are MMO transients bad for the industry?


I hate downtown Dallas. When I was a kid, it used to be the place to go. We would drive several hours to see a punk rock show, stare at the cool people we didn't have in Oklahoma, and then drive back. Back then, Dallas was a paradise. Now that I am older and have played in bands for nearly 24 years, I realize Dallas is a pit. I hated playing the clubs there. One of the major issues that the city has run into is what to do about all of the homeless people.

I hate to sound like a jerk, but right now you can't go into downtown Dallas without being asked for change a dozen times or asked to "look at this spider bite." (This did happen to me once, and it it was nasty-looking.) Despite my attitude of understanding for people in all sorts of situations, I still wonder what a city is supposed to do with a constant influx of people, people who do not reside permanently in the city yet continue to pass through? You can't tax them.

MMO gamers who enjoy multiple games are often talked about as though they are the pitiful homeless. While I can see some parallels, I think that such a judgment is not only insensitive but the opposite of the truth. Let's look at the variables past the cut.

I'd like to use myself as an example of a member of the healthy, functioning MMO-homeless. Actually, it would be more accurate to use the pre-Massively Beau as an example -- I was someone who celebrated his transient lifestyle and made it work. Before I worked at Massively, I hosted a "successful" (success meaning internet dollars) podcast and blog. These items actually helped get me hired at Massively, so I am still proud to use them as an example of how to do it right. I skipped around from game to game to game, never really reaching the high levels that all of my friends and fellow bloggers were bragging about. I would like to point out, however, that I did maintain a group of what I like to call "home games" -- games that held a special place in my heart and on my desktop.

These games included EverQuest II, Mabinogi, The Chronicles of Spellborn, Lord of the Rings Online, Vanguard, Ryzom and Free Realms. I could name many others, but those are some of the ones I logged into loyally every week to at least gain a level or do some quests.

As I listed those, I know that there will be some readers who laugh and say that there is no way for me to "get anything done" or to "achieve anything" even with all the time in the world. The fact is that most "normal" players I know literally play maybe one or two games per year. They have all the gold they could want, several max-level characters, and a great guild that raids on the same night every week. In some ways, I am jealous of this constant lifestyle. The reliability of such a playstyle is tempting, but in the end, I know my wanderlust would get the better of me.

So, for me, the question is not "are transient players bad for the industry?" but "are dedicated players good for anyone other than the developers they support?"

Look at this recent news post we had on Massively, the one that talked about World of Warcraft bloggers pasting virtual stickers on their blog warning others it would be a "RIFT-free zone." I understand that they were trying to say that their blogs would remain dedicated to the original topic, but why couldn't they also talk about RIFT if they found the game interesting? After all, if they did not like the game, then why worry about a topic that they would not even talk about in the first place? By that logic, shouldn't they put a banner across the top of the blog that stated "Dead-Kitten-Free Zone" as well?

"Yes, I understand that the purpose of the blog was to hand out opinions and strategies for a specific title, but some gamers seem to think that talking about other games is akin to talking about crocheting on a stamp-collecting blog."

Why would it be offensive or disrupting in any way if a WoW blog started to feature other games? Yes, I understand that the purpose of the blog was to hand out opinions and strategies for a specific title, but some gamers seem to think that talking about other games is akin to talking about crocheting on a stamp-collecting blog. It's not, though. Talking about WoW and RIFT is more like talking about two different baseball teams -- not two entirely different sports.

I see the same desire for division when I talk about free-to-play games. Free-to-play fans are often seen as transients, "tourists" (my favorite term), and players who generally do not care about their characters. Strangely enough, most players who would have a hard time with the playstyle of the free-to-play fan would also claim that most free-to-play games are grindy messes. If they were all filled with a grind, then how could players play them without participating in the grind? If there is one thing a player is ever "dedicated" to, it's a grind. There is some truth to the stereotype of grindy free-to-play games as well as grindy subscription games... so for every dedicated subscription gamer, I could point you to a dozen high-level players in Perfect World -- one of the hardcoriest of the hardcore free-to-play games. How can a F2P gamer be both a tourist and a dedicated grinder? Which is it?

Even in today's economy, there is an idea that owning a home is superior to renting. Renters are often seen as wasting their money, despite the fact that it has been shown that the fluid lifestyle of renters actually allows them to become part of the upper class faster since they are able to move to the cities that boast the best jobs. As the job climate changes and better jobs move around the country, so do the renters. The same false stigma applies to free-to-play game skippers. They aren't settled down, after all. They aren't dedicated and doing what is expected of them by the game.

I tend to think that skipping around from game to game is not only good for the industry but much better than staying in one game for years, pumping money only into one game. Sure, that six-year veteran of World of Warcraft is dedicated -- but not to gaming. His money goes to Blizzard, not to the industry as a whole.

"The truth of the matter is that a healthy industry depends on players who will take chances on different things, not on players who will turn their noses up at anything outside of their favorite worlds."

This is not to say that being dedicated and spending years and years only within one or two virtual worlds is bad or good -- that's not for me to decide. The truth of the matter is that a healthy industry depends on players who will take chances on different things, not on players who will turn their noses up at anything outside of their favorite worlds. I face this resistance every week as I present new games to the readers at Massively. My column Rise and Shiny was originally started so that readers would join me in new games during a week of play. While initially I was joined by a handful of readers, it was obvious after a while that the readers were using my column as evidence to download (or skip) the game, to save themselves some time. For many players, jumping into a game -- even a completely free game of only a gig or two -- was just not something they would do unless they were utterly convinced to do so.

After saying all that, I do think that dedicated players have their place. Without them, many games would not have anything to depend on. Without their steady flow of money, some developers would shut down in a week. At the same time, developers have to know that the general popularity of games -- games in general -- is as good for them as it is for the industry as a whole. The more popular something is, the more money flows into it, and that means more money to make more games.

So here's my solution. If you are a game-skipper, a homeless transient without a place to rest your head, or someone who will never see the max-level of any game, continue to enjoy what you do. Forget any "goals" other than to have fun and explore. But -- and this is a very big but -- spend a little money if you can. If you spent a month in a game before moving on, try to pay the developer back some.

After all, you got all those hours of fun for free, so you might as well give something back. And please, don't ask if anyone wants to see your spider bite.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, 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!

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