The Life of an MMO! Is it worth it?

Aug 17, 2011


I will admit to anyone now that I used to be an MMORPG-aholic. I found time to play, found time when I didn’t have time to play and then some. Are you one of these types of gamers trying to get your money’s worth, trying to hit max level and get all the rare loot? Well, your not the only one, MMO’s are designed very carefully and you can see similarities that make them what they are at their core whether they be extremely popular or fail almost as soon as they hit store shelves. You pay money for a game you can take home and a subscription to be a part of it, but what do you really get for your money and your time?

An MMO at it’s core is a vessel to attract a mass audience to spend time and money primarily on virtual vanity. This may come in forms of gear, exotic pets, collectibles or maybe bragging rights, but the fact remains that this cycle is prolonged by those it supports.So if you think about it, you are paying $60 for a game, plus a subscription to get on a ship that is going to take you to another $40 expansion and more gametime. Some may argue is the experience worth it though?

That is exactly what I argued to people over the 5.5 years I was playing WoW or the 3 years I spent with Final Fantasy XI, on multiple occasions. What is the soul experience of an MMORPG versus another or just in general? Is it the social avenue you have to live as a virtual hero? Could it be the appeal to be rolln’ down main street with sweet armor and a weapon that only has a 1% drop rate? Could it be the epic tale of good versus evil or the conclusion of a story long in the making from previous games? The wonderful thing about this question is that all those are potential answers because it depends on who you ask. Even so, the core mechanic I am getting at is they are all the same. I had never thought about it until recently when I watched an interview on youtube about account cancellations and their experience. But the end game content is the killer of MMORPG’s. It’s true, once you get to the end game, whether you have a ways to go on your gear or are at the top of the ladder in the pvp world, the end of the game, is the end of the content. This is when a veteran steps down, cancels and moves on to another game or long time players hit the forums to tell developers all about all the bad things concerning the game and it’s politics.

The politics and community really can change a game drastically. That is one reason I started to despise WoW at the end of my run. It seemed the longer I played, the worse the community, party play, running dungeons and general chat was. When your max level and raids and dungeons aren’t fun, well, there isn’t really anything to stay for, cause the story is over.

I want to touch on end game content again while we are thinking about it. This really tapers the open world concept because it limits the places you haven’t been. Often times in new expansions in any game, developers will make new places for you to explore or open up previously locked out areas for players to quest, explore and search for new things. At end game, the world itself really looses all importance to the player, which is sad. In my opinion a good game, whether it be MMO or RPG or another type, really can be held up and given so much dimension by the world and setting the story takes place in. In games like WoW when you basically take a while getting through each zone, you exhaust your appetite to explore and the game begins like a grind, a means to an end, an end when you hit max level and the resulting action is dungeons and raiding.

On to the experience over years of playing. The best I have had in games has been with MMORPG’s. The strength of these games is the wave of hype that come with each one and getting in on it at the beginning and fighting people for mobs and drops brings another layer of social gameplay similar to that of pvp while you quest. Playing with friends and family has been a pastime of mine and we all spent many sleepless nights waiting for PlayOnline to update or heading through the Deadmines after VanCleef. This is the way to play an MMO, get some friends, slap the credit card down and play together. For me this was the draw. Once a game gets old though, friends play less and less and the people you had fun with eventually quit or you yourself. Then you subscribe in the future because you think you miss the game, now of course the game is different and you feel that finally there is more for you to do. This is the hook that gets all players. These games are given just enough content to keep old players interested, new players looking to join and not too much that developers are continuously patching and providing big content updates in between expansions. Developers are aware these games will not last forever, as a result you can be sure you aren’t going to get the best game it could be, your getting a piece of a software that transitions the current world and prolongs the subscription. These in between down times are when games like WoW throw in new UI functions or limited time mounts or recruit a friend deals to keep people playing by giving them the illusion they will have a new experience this time around. Let me remind you that the life cycle of the MMO already came around and ended and what you are playing is the inevitable boredom. The question is, how long does it take?

My closing thoughts are those of future game design and my perspective on what I think an MMO is worth and how those should play into a normal rotation of things to play for your hardcore or average gamer. First of all I think that the development that goes into games is huge and the investment that is made is substantial at the very least. I believe that these games could not survive and be maintained without having a subscription, however, I do think that a subscription isn’t always worth it for what you get in an MMO. The initial price tag I think should be more, maybe $100 and I would like to play that game for free while I learn how to play, explore the world for the first time and get that early experience with my friends without the race factor. After that, as the next expansion comes out I think the story should be episodical. Keep the story going for those that want to pay and allow those that do not, to continue to experience the original game. My point is not that the subscription is too much but it does deter people from playing the game and changes the pace at which it is played. If I was a game developer I wouldn’t be too thrilled with the idea that all my hard work isn’t being experienced to the extent it was meant for because there is a 30-day time constraint on players game-time, thus creating a rush, a grind of way too many hours to experience this expansive, richly detailed environment and story. Let me clarify most game developers in my opinion probably are concerned with this to some degree but have their hands tied. Games are made to make money, period!

So how does my episodical approach improve things, keeping players and developers happy? The story of MMO’s is shallow and stretched out. Hardcore players hit the end very quickly. I would like to play as much as I like of the “world” and the original story for the initial price I paid. Each episode or “platinum content” should be paid for, ushering in more revenue, from players that want more or those looking for the new expansion. Each episode furthers the story. This could be huge for game design as players could alter “their world” in terms of story content while still being in the general world as every other player. In other words, imagine if your actions determined which add-on story you download? Wouldn’t that be cool to see your effort manifested on screen and have a unique experience? And to make the drama escalate, there should be pause in between, to build climax and relevance into the content. To balance these small advances in the story I think questing in general, at it’s current “gathering” form, needs a huge makeover. Quests need to make sense, have relevance to the story and be interesting enough by themselves to be more than just a means to an end. I don’t want to pay for quests that require me to gather wood or kill 8 kobolds in a small section to the left of the NPC. I want to pay for a world that changes as ours does and supports a good line of quests on many different fronts to keep me wanting to quest, continue to farm mats for crafting and continue to explore this world for what it is, not to find the next NPC marker. With these focuses in place, I think that developers can maintain a better environment, sell content for those that progress through the story and provide a basic setting for those to enjoy the game they purchased initially without feeling like they have to continue to grind to get their money’s worth. Why should they, it’s already been paid for. Lastly, it is my opinion that other than the first few years of an MMO, playing with friends and hitting that fabled max level, MMORPG’s are not worth the time you put in and have a long way to go to warrant an extended period of subscription from me and serious gamers that want solid content. No hooks, no bs, give us a solid game please!

This is an interesting tidbit for you to think about. For those of you MMORPG fans, which games were the best in your opinion and depending on your answer, were they free to play or subscription based? For me, it just isn’t the same getting everything for free, I couldn’t get into the F2P as much, isn’t that weird? Why should it matter if you have to pay to play, a game is a game. My thought is that you form an investment subconsiously between what you pay for and what you put it to get it, the game itself has less and less to do with it, so why do we care so much about letting others know how we feel about the game? Answer, it’s a crutch!