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The Think Tank: How long does it take you to judge an MMO?

Shawn Schuster

About 3 years ago, I did a Soapbox article called "You have an hour to grab my attention." It was basically a little something for me to express how frustrated I was with the way MMOs were designed to push you through to the end and how players were falling for that whole "the fun starts at level 50" rigmarole. I still stand by that, and I believe a game should offer something enticing right away to keep potential customers going.

Jef also wrote a Daily Grind about this topic last month where we got to hear your opinions on the matter, and I thought that it would be interesting to hear what the rest of the team thinks. It might be especially interesting considering the fact that we usually devote a bit more time to games as potential news or opinion articles rather than simply for gaming pleasure. Read on past the cut for our thoughts on time limits for MMO interest.

The Think Tank How long does it take you to judge an MMO
I'll give most games at least a few hours or levels. It's rare that I'll write one off entirely if I even mildly enjoyed it; sometimes I go back to games I barely got to level 5 in just to mess around. Because I spend so much time in the MMOs I play, though, I usually know pretty quickly whether a game I have some affection for is going into the "casual fan of" pile or the "cannot bring myself to log out" pile.

The one thing that can turn me off a game immediately is really hideous character models or clunky animations. I'm going to be spending the majority of my time looking at that character, and if I can't make one that I like the look of, I won't be able to get into the game.
The Think Tank How long does it take you to judge an MMO
I think "judge" is a tricky word, because when I use it it's usually to levy a judgment after all the facts are in. And to be honest, I don't always get the full MMO experience by the time I've decided whether or not I like it. Sometimes a game can turn me off in the first half-hour, as Final Fantasy XIV and Aion did. Sometimes I'll play an MMO extensively but never make it past the mid-levels to see what the endgame looks like.

But generally I'll know within the first hour or so if I like the combat mechanics, the visuals, the "feel," the complexity, and the world. If a dev team can't put their best up front to hook me, then the onus isn't on me to keep pushing into the game hoping that it gets better. For the record, I feel the same about the first couple chapters of a book or the first few episodes of a TV show. I didn't need to see the entire Twilight series to know it wasn't really for me after I viewed the first film, after all.
The Think Tank How long does it take you to judge an MMO
My answer to both of your questions is "yes." Yes, I'm very quick to judge a game's bad art, shoddy animations, and -- the sin of all sins -- poorly designed UI. That being said, none of these things alone are enough to make me kick a game to the curb before I've given it a fair shake. The one game that immediately comes to mind as an example is EverQuest II. The character models aren't the greatest, the animations are mediocre at best and downright comical at worst, and the UI is a cluttered mess that epitomizes the phrase "information overload." Underneath all of those things, though, is a fairly solid game with a good deal of interesting mechanics and features. Do the aforementioned faults impact my enjoyment of the game? Yeah, definitely, but they're nowhere near severe enough for me to completely overlook the things the game does well.
The Think Tank How long does it take you to judge an MMO
I'm pretty quick to judge, and for the most part that is the direct result of my knowing what I like to play. "Yet Another Fantasy MMO with Spells on the Hotbar" is something that doesn't take a whole lot of investment to understand. Either the story grabs you and the animation/mechanics feel right, or they don't. If I don't enjoy a game early on, I don't tend to come around on it later. Mechanics are more important to me than graphics -- Guild Wars 2, TERA, and World of Warcraft are MMORPG examples that just feel "right." Even Scarlet Blade, which is rightly lambasted for its horrible everything else, has slick, responsive controls that almost redeem it.

That being said, I have a 10-hour rule for any new game I'm curious about. This is especially true of MMOs, where sometimes the good stuff doesn't start until you're away from the newbie zones and into the fray. Some developer spent an incredible amount of time fine-tuning every detail of the world; the least I can do is give it a few hours to marinate.
The Think Tank How long does it take you to judge an MMO
While I like to give an MMO a chance before I judge it, the two games that I have poured countless hours into, World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2, struck me the very first time I played them. I knew right away that both of those games were going to resonate with me and hold my attention for months and years to come. When there's a healthy mixture of polish, eye-popping visuals, fun leveling content, and accessibility, it just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
The Think Tank How long does it take you to judge an MMO
For me, it only takes a few levels. I've discovered that I'm pretty picky when it comes to tutorials. I loathe the idea of having to figure out how to play a game. Make it easy for me to play a game. Make it easy for me to learn how to craft. Make it easy for me to learn how to fight. But most importantly, make it drop dead easy to communicate with other players. If I have to stop my character in a dangerous area and hit "alt" in order to access the chat box? Yeah, I won't be playing much of that game. Give me a perfectly sound WASD and a chat box I click into quickly and I'm golden. I've already given up on two games because of this and it's frustrating. I'm not quite as hard on graphics as other people are; I tend to look at graphics more as a stylistic choice. If all games looked alike, it wouldn't be much fun. I like the style/graphics differences in the games I play, from Star Trek Online to Lord of the Rings Online to The Secret World.

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 carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.

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