Liores from Herding Cats got me thinking today. And of course, whenever Twitter’s 140 character limit can’t encompass my rambling, out to the blog I ride…
Her post, “MMOs are dead and I don’t feel so good myself” did a good job of capturing my melancholy over MMOs for the past 3, (4?!) or more years, ever since my WoW guild broke up and we lost our passion for that game. People started to dabble. We thought we could support multiple MMOs. But the truth is, MMOs require mastery, and we turned into dabblers, those Jacks of All Trades, who master none.
My problem with how things changed in WoW, and how they have changed with my MMO play in general, is complicated. My lack of real passion for Wildstar, a game that should have pushed a lot of my buttons and didn’t, comes from some of those other factors. You can only package the same basic game concepts in different wrappers for so long before they all start tasting like ramen noodles; and we all know how eating only ramen noodles for too long can make you start hating them. I lived on them in college for WAY too long, and to this day I still can’t bring myself to buy them. I could probably eat them again and enjoy them by now, but I remember how much I started to loathe them and that is enough to trigger my avoidance instincts. WoW’s endless dungeon and raid repetition and the gear treadmill did the same thing to me where MMOs are concerned.
The sad thing with becoming more jaded over MMOs is that they have a lot of the things I really want in online gaming. Sadly, they still contain, and are structured around, a lot of the things I no longer want in online gaming. And, for the most part, they are built to supply the need for cooperative exploration and adventure that things like MOBAs (shudder), don’t. But one problem with being jaded, and having a lot of jaded players, is that we are pretty much impossible to satisfy.
Ever since the old days of Neverwinter Nights’ multiplayer mode, where me and several friends could hop into the same online modules and adventure together, I’ve loved that type of game. We put up with the bad graphics and the movement issues because the stories were interesting and we could experience them together.
Considering how much nostalgia I have over the player created mods for that old game, you would think I would have hopped into Neverwinter Online with a vengeance. But I didn’t, and it took me a while to figure out why. Aside from the inventory hassle within the F2P game model, not enough of the people I knew were willing to jump into that game with full commitment and enthusiasm. There were too many other games still holding sway over us. (This is the common thread in all of my game attempts over the past several years.)
I enjoy an epic single player RPG as much as the next person, but there will always be a special place in my heart for sharing adventure and exploration with my friends. We still get together and role play over a good Pathfinder module face to face, but that leaves out a lot of people who no longer live close by. And it doesn’t cover those times when you want to sit in your PJs in the comfort of your own home and just get lost in adventure.
Once my online gaming friends got scattered like seeds to the winds, none of us have managed to sync up our gaming interests and stay committed to the same game for long enough to settle in. I’m getting gun shy about it. I only want to invest time and money into one game at a time these days, and I don’t want to pick the wrong one and then end up adrift, constantly trying to find a group of people I’m comfortable sharing adventures with. It is one of the reasons I didn’t buy Wildstar. I was fully convinced, turns out I may have been right, that people would turn into the usual content locusts, devour every fresh green shoot in that game, and then look at the desolation and swarm away.
Really great games, games that can capture your imagination, require immersion. They require commitment. And they require a group of enthusiastic friends who are in the trenches right there with you. MMOs are designed to be that way. They enable solo play, but the really good stuff, the stuff with staying power, calls for density of a committed player base. Really great games are going to die in droves if we keep treating them like fields of grain to be devoured, especially when there are fresh fields being planted around us. They also require new content. A lot of new content. Constant new content.
Lately, SWTOR has had staying power for me because it has enabled me and 3 other friends to get together over Skype and run around in a high quality online game questing and slaughtering pixels to our hearts content. No other game has the cinematic group dynamics that it has and none has been scaled to 4 players the way it has been. We keep hoping for something fresh and new to fill this niche, since we’re on our 3rd set of characters by now and stuff is feeling stale, but nothing else has quite done the job.
We tried Defiance, which let us run in the size of group we wanted, for the most part, but it wasn’t quite the group adventure environment we were looking for. It was a bit too frantic on the massive explosion and shoot or be shot front. We kept getting distracted by bright shiny objects, but that kept us from ever feeling a sense of progressing through the story.
We really should go back and give Neverwinter Online a try, but I worry that it has dwindled into a place where it can’t survive as an MMO and wasn’t built to support being played as a small group (still takes 5…) or single player experience. And it has to support really good group play. I’m past the days of putting up with a single player game that just happens to support multiple people playing it together.
So here I sit, wondering if I should go buy some instant ramen noodles and see if I can stand eating them again…