The Soapbox: There's no such thing as a miracle MMO

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|02.28.12

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The Soapbox: There's no such thing as a miracle MMO
Disclaimer: The Soapbox column is entirely the opinion of this week's writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Massively as a whole. If you're afraid of opinions other than your own, you might want to skip this column.

They're out there, in every forum, in every comment section, and across the blogosphere. They number in the thousands if not tens of thousands (just spitballing here), and they all share three common traits. One, they're discontented with any and all current MMOs; two, they love to gripe about said discontentment to anyone who will listen; and three, they have a grand hope that a particular upcoming title will finally break the discontentment code to become the be-all, end-all MMO for them.

The miracle MMO, if you will.

This is going to be the MMO that will right all wrongs. It will shift paradigms, break us out of whatever rut we're supposed to be in, and make us all fall down on our knees in gratitude that we have the privilege of living in such a grand age as this.

So let's cut to the chase: There's no such thing as a miracle MMO, and there never will be -- except in your mind. If you can come to terms with that, you'll be a lot happier as a gamer.

Wishful thinking

I tend to buy into the theory that discontented gamers are a lot louder about their feelings toward the genre/a specific game as those who are enjoying themselves. It's why I don't visit MMO forums unless I have no other recourse; I'm generally content with my games, and I don't like being infected with negative attitudes. But it always fascinates me that those who seem so upset over how things are stick around instead of just exiting the MMO genre altogether.

I think that these hangers-on have some sort of hope that while no single one of the vast array of MMOs out there today can satisfy their urges, there is one superb title in the wings that will do just that. It's the miracle MMO, the one that is exactly everything they'd ever want an MMO to be. It's here that expectations go from "silly" to "absurd" to "are you out of your gourd?"

It's wishful thinking, perhaps based on nostalgia ("This will be the game to restore us to the glory days of yore!") or willful ignorance ("This game is going to fix everything wrong with MMOs today!").

The worst part is that when this game does reach launch, it might be hailed as a conquering victor over the urges of their hearts, but the basic truth will eventually win out. All MMOs, past, present, and future, are flawed games that simply cannot fully appeal and satisfy everyone in every way. This may seem like the most common sense statement to utter, but I assure you that there are those who need to hear it, those who learn the hard way find themselves even more discontented and disillusioned than ever before because their miracle MMO "failed" them. Cue a downward spiral into cynical rants, jaded taunts at those having a good time, and an eventual breakup with MMOs entirely.

And I'm not being down on MMOs here. I think that recognizing them for their flaws is just realistic and a needed step on a road to contentment. If you're always breaking up with girlfriends or boyfriends the moment you find out they're not perfect, then you're always going to be alone -- and you'll never find happiness. You need to have your standards, of course, but don't set expectations so high that they can never be fulfilled, either.

Your miracle MMO is nobody else's miracle MMO

The point's been made here on The Soapbox several times, so I won't belabor it except to add my agreement: Nobody out there is making an MMO just for you. In fact, whatever concept you have in your head for a "perfect" MMO would be just as flawed and vulnerable to criticisms as any other. You could assemble all of the elements of a hit MMO into one package -- say, theme park quests, sandbox tools, a killer IP, low competition, big buzz, a major studio -- and still end up with, say, Star Wars Galaxies, which might have been a fine game but was not the miracle MMO some hoped it would be upon launch.

Because nobody's making an MMO just for you, and because companies have to appeal to as broad an audience as possible in order to make a profit, there are going to be elements, directions, and features that aren't your thing. You can try to ignore those when getting excited over an upcoming title, but trust me, they'll be there.

Miracle MMOs demand a level of innovation that is impossible

Maybe this is a rant best saved for another column, but boy am I tired of the impatience among MMO gamers when it comes to the pace of development and innovation in the genre. It's as if we think MMOs exist separately from the rest of the world, a place where true revolutionary ideas and great innovations come infrequently and amid plenty of failures. No, our MMOs have to reinvent the wheel each and every time one is launched or else we're going to get all pissy about it and express ourselves with the caps lock key set to "on" and logic set to "off."

Listen, I'm all for innovation. I love new ideas. I want developers not to get too comfy with the status quo but rather to push out into untried, untested areas. But I know well enough from both MMO history, video game history, and heck, entertainment history as a whole that these advances aren't just waiting for a group of people to demand it. The people making the games want this just as much; it's just that it takes time and compromise and trials to get it done.

Yet when it comes to an MMO we hail as The One, it's nothing but awesome, perfect innovation after awesome, perfect innovation. I'm going to use one MMO that I've seen elevated to miracle status as an example, but this could go for all of them. Guild Wars 2 looks to be a terrific game. I have little doubt at this point that it will be great in many respects, and I'm as excited as anyone for all of the clever little features that ArenaNet's come up with that we haven't seen (as much) elsewhere. However, it is an MMO. As such, it has levels. It's steeped in a fantasy setting. It is constrained by classes, skills, and quests (in a different form). Its dynamic event system is an iteration on what's been done already. It will have ladies in ridiculously impractical outfits that show off cleavage. It is not a miracle MMO because it's just as much an MMO as anything else out there.

Like it or not, the types of MMOs we see today will be the ones we have in five, 10, or 15 years from now. Formats and templates don't change, just the way they're presented (or in other words, there's no such thing as an original story, just an original way to tell one). Look at video games as a whole and tell me how often massive innovation and miracle titles that are flawless and infinitely replayable come along. If we've made peace with the fact that 90% of video games are meh and 10% are well-done or occasionally push the genre forward, then why can't we do the same for MMOs?

Miracle MMOs won't happen because there's never been one

I want to stress something here: I am certainly not saying that out of all the MMOs in development, there is nothing out there that you'll embrace and enjoy. I sincerely hope that you will, in fact. I'm only trying to dispel the illusion that there exists the possibility of a game's being the grand finale of MMO design, and when you play it, you'll never want or need to play anything else again.

Miracle MMOs are myths because we've never seen one. They're just as much a myth as those Day One patches that naive testers think will somehow fix everything that was wrong in the beta. We know we've never seen a miracle MMO because even the most significant releases have never attracted every player out there. They have never retained a majority of their playerbases. There has never been a title that hasn't needed patches, balancing, and hotfixes to address myriad problems.

I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to exclude your first MMO love from the answer, OK? What MMOs since that first love have fulfilled all of your fondest hopes, wishes, and desires in a game? I'm betting none of them. Face it: We're chasing an impossible dream when we chase miracle MMOs, an impossible standard that does not and never will exist.

I feel the solution is far more sane than putting one's hope in wishful thinking. We should strive to be more patient, learn to be more content in what we do have, be OK with leaving games without throwing a snit-fit, enjoy a variety of titles, and realize that all MMOs are flawed entities that require an assessment of their virtues to drawbacks. If the good outweighs the bad, I kindly submit that it's worth enjoying without worshiping.

It's totally fine that there never will be a miracle MMO for you or me because there will be a lot of glorious adventures and exciting prospects come tomorrow. They'll just be a little less than a miracle.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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