When Is It Too Late To Begin A MMO?

White_Rabbit_by_kyohtOne of the reasons that I’m an early adopter of MMOs is that there’s just something hardwired into me that I need to be there at the beginning.  I absolutely hate feeling “behind” in MMOs, and no, I’m not talking about leveling so much as coming late to the party and having to absorb a pants-ton (pants is my new word of the day, thanks Britishies!) of info and patch updates and whatnot that everyone else knows as common knowledge.

The truth is that the longer a MMO lives, the more complex and overburdened with information it becomes.  This isn’t a problem to the vets of the game, because they’ve been absorbing and adapting to this over the course of months and years as it’s been slowly updated.  But for a newbie to come to a game three years after launch?  It’s like an info waterfall, smashing you down and making you feel helpless.  Where do you begin?  How do you avoid feeling and looking like a total noob?

Not to mention that there’s that nagging feeling that the game might be past its prime, that its “best years” are behind it before you even set foot in it.  The initial rush of the crowd, the huge growth of the first year or so, that’s all settled down.  The community is established.  People know people, but you are a stranger.  And how long will the game continue?  How many more expansions lie in its future?  You have no idea, but you know that it’s a lot less for you than it was for folks at launch.

What about the social situation?  Even if you find a great guild, or join the game to be with your friends, they’re all going to be level infinity while you’re still a dirt-grubbing peasant.  It might be months and months before you’re high enough to do anything meaningful with them.

These are just thoughts that run through my head whenever I consider jumping into an older MMO.  If a game is more than a year old, I usually can come up with more reasons why not to try it than to jump in.  I need to feel as though I can actually play with my friends and guildies, instead of just having access to a chat channel with them in it.  I consider the learning curve and see if it’s just too much to absorb.  I wonder if it might just be better to wait for the next game from that company, or better yet, the sequel, and then get in on the ground floor for that.

For example, after seeing the recent trailer for Guild Wars 2 and reading up on it, I’m pretty excited about it, and have even considered giving GW another try.  But I remember what happened earlier this summer when I attempted to do exactly that — I stalled out before I even left the newbie zone, because I had doubts as to whether or not what I was doing would end up being fun, since everyone else was probably all maxed out and doing high level stuff.  Now, I see GW2 and go, why bother with the first one when I know I’ll be dipping into the second?  But the opposing voice in my head tells me that I had a lot of fun with GW when it first launched, and it’d be a shame not to at least give it a try now and then, especially since its free.  What will I have to learn, though?  What’s changed?

I’m not trying to come to any sort of conclusion here — I just wanted to share what bounces around in my head when it comes to stuff like this.

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21 thoughts on “When Is It Too Late To Begin A MMO?

  1. Ryver August 29, 2009 / 8:32 am

    Another way to think about it is that when you come in a bit late to a game you are not burdened with all the baggage that the vets have. Yes, they have gone through lots of patches and changes to the game. But quite a bit of their previous knowledge probably does not even apply to the current game. As the devs tweak the game, the important set of knowledge changes and that’s mostly what you need to know.

  2. Starayo August 29, 2009 / 8:46 am

    I guess I know what you mean, Syp – there’s a different atmosphere at launch. WAR was an excellent launch, where I had great fun tearing it up in scenarios and open RvR with my guild, and even Darkfall was fun before I started thinking about what exactly I was doing. LOTRO, I think I never really could get into that properly because everyone was already high levels and my timezone means not many people on when I’m playing anyway.

    With WoW, I never got into that properly in the original game – I got my warlock to 42 and lost interest. There just weren’t many people around besides my friend who got me into the game (the fact I was on a US server instead of Oceanic could contribute of course). It wasn’t until the burning crusade expansion that me and my friend rerolled on an oceanic server as horde and I got to know the game with the masses of blood elves that were levelling from scratch. Almost wish we had stayed Alliance. Almost. Draenei > BE. 😛

    Anyway, I’m in the champions head start, and I’m having fun in that too – but I need to find a proper active supergroup since only one person in my multigame clan is playing champions.

  3. Longasc August 29, 2009 / 8:59 am

    Syp, I exactly worried about the same thing as you twittered you decided to play Guild Wars.

    I really love Guild Wars and play/played it for years nonstop. But I think this game is definitely NOT as casual as it was designed to be.

    Even if there is only a level 20 limit and items with max stats easy to get, they added TONs of new things to the game that IMO became a burden for new players.

    Heroes – you do not have the skills unlocked, the gold and not even all heroes unlocked as beteran players. And they are a major advantage nowadays.

    PvP – easy to get into, but GW PvP is hard to master. You have no social network and there is a lot of elitism in everything but the more casual arenas like the Alliance Battles and random arenas.

    Being a lowbie – there are not many non-veteran lowbies anymore, and having a high level WIN and run you through all early Prophecies missions is not fun.

    While chronologically Prophecies is the first and “original” Guild Wars, you are not level 20 for a long period of time. But level 20 is where the game “starts”, actually. Factions levels you to 20 in zero time, but you are often overtaxed in the following missions.

    Guild Wars: Nightfall is probably the best place to start GW. You level fast but you also get access to heroes and you actually learn to play the game a bit.

    You cannot turn back time to the early excitement as fighting the Charr near Piken’s Square was SERIOUS HARDCORE BUSINESS. People laugh at them nowadays, even in Hard Mode.

    I fear regardless where you started, you will have to experience Guild Wars a lot as “Singleplayer online with Henchmen and Heroes” game.

    But it is a cool game and the storyline is quite enjoyable even solo, unless you are a very social creature.

    Guild Wars 2 will be VERY different from what they revealed so far, back more to the usual MMO roots IMO. Guild Wars 1 knows no soloing in the world in the sense that one char goes out all alone, this is called “farming” and only for special builds and areas. Solo play means you plus supporting henchmen and heroes, as GW is designed around a team and not a single character.

    But hey, I loved the game a lot, and even if getting into it might be a bumpy ride nowadays, I think it is still worth it. If you need an advice, the Wiki is a great place, as are the inofficial forums. And you can always ask on Twitter, too, after all.

  4. Scott August 29, 2009 / 9:04 am

    Since you’re specifically asking about Guild Wars, the answer is both “a little” and “a lot” depending on your personal interests and playstyle.

    I had doubts as to whether or not what I was doing would end up being fun, since everyone else was probably all maxed out and doing high level stuff.

    First, I’m sure you’re well aware the level cap is 20 so it’s not like you have to spend weeks or months grinding levels. Second — and most importantly — Guild Wars is not a levels-based game. The only thing seeing that 20 over your head tells me is that you’ve gotten far enough (along the story in Prophecies, or off the “noob isles” in Factions and Nightfall) to get max armor, possibly a max weapon, and enough skills in your collection to put together a decent enough build to be able to participate in the group. You have to have a different mindset when playing GW; if you try to play it like a levels-and-gear traditional MMO, you’re playing it wrong and you’ll leave quickly because you “don’t get it.”

    On the other hand, addressing the first part of that sentence regarding “fun,” any game should be fun (or not) within the first few minutes. If it’s not, then it’s not. No biggie.

    Feel free to add me to your in-game friends (shoot me an IM or a Twitter D and I’ll give you my character’s name) and I’ll be happy to run with ya and try to help out if you stick around in GW.

    In regards to the overall sentiment of the article, for the most part I think it’s only too late if a game is canceled. I suppose other factors can come in though, like I never tried Horizons and “I hear” (for what that’s worth) the community is downright tiny. Same for Matrix Online. Then there’s EVE, which uses time-based training. The EVE players always say otherwise but it’s difficult to convince a non-EVE player that we can “catch up” so to speak and have the same/similar game experiences if the veterans have years of skill training that we can’t match. How much do those skills matter? No idea, but it’s certainly a consideration of mine (that and the game just looks atrociously boring to me) that keeps me from trying it out.

  5. Slurms August 29, 2009 / 9:19 am

    I like to be there on day one. But, to be honest, I can’t think of an MMO that I’ve went back to play after it’s been released for a while, so I have no frame of reference as to how that would go. I’ve just always had it in my head that the most excitement would come from being with the first bunch of the games explorers. The pioneers if you will. I usually get left in the dust of leveling, but oh well hehe.

    Something similar (non MMO) actually came up in the podcast we recorded last night. Zeli is very new to TF2, and it’s interesting to see how people react to someone new in that game. Most players just assume that anyone playing is a TF2 vet, or has at least played a FPS before. Was an interesting little topic. (get ready for the Reading Rainbow ending) But don’t take my word for it, tune in for episode 5 when it hits!

  6. Green Armadillo August 29, 2009 / 9:26 am

    I jumped into EQ2 for the first time after the four year mark, and didn’t have that much trouble with it. In some ways, it’s fun not to have to go through the launch growing pains.

  7. Kelly August 29, 2009 / 9:34 am

    It’s the truth. I just started playing WOW in May and I’m only now starting to be able to do things with my guild. And I know I don’t understand more than half the game because all I’ve been focusing on is levelling to get to them. The plus side is that I don’t feel that push to play 24 hours a day and can kind of relax and enjoy the ride.

  8. Syp August 29, 2009 / 9:50 am

    Good thoughts, everyone — this really was more stream of consciousness than usual, I was just trying to jot down how I feel about returning or trying out these older titles. I certainly don’t mean to say that it’s futile — quite the opposite! Just that there’s a lot to consider when diving into a very, very deep pool like that.

    @ Scott — I got in the game last night, found a guild, etc. I was amazed how quickly a lot of the mechanics came back to me from, what, 2003? We shall see. It was pretty enjoyable.

  9. Anjin August 29, 2009 / 10:39 am

    This is one reason I’m a soloer: I don’t give a good goddamn about other people, so I can join at any time. 🙂

    Hope you have a good time in GW. The low level cap really does keep long time players from outstripping new ones. The only difference between you and them is most long time players have many high level alt characters to swap in for different purposes.

    Oh, and PvP is just as cliquish as ever. Good luck there.

  10. Regis August 29, 2009 / 10:48 am

    Although it would be painful to level a new character in WoW without a rich main and heirloom items nowadays, it is doable. And once you get to 80 you can run heroics to get Ulduar-level loot, get into a raiding guild, and you’re set.

  11. Stratagerm August 29, 2009 / 10:51 am

    Interesting, I’m buying Guild Wars Trilogy in a couple days (tried to yesterday but was out of stock). I’ve been meaning to check it out for a couple of years. The tips here will be useful. I’ve already been rooting through the wiki.

    To me, no game is too old to try except an MMO on its last legs. I picked up Majesty Gold on your recommendation and enjoyed it (I’m only about 2/3 through). At only 10 bucks it’s hard to go wrong.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of giving EQ2 a try, and may do so at some point.

  12. We Fly Spitfires - MMORPG Blog August 29, 2009 / 12:14 pm

    It’s a very good question and I think that MMOs now are starting to cater to a continual supply for new users. EQ2 for instance, kept trying to relaunch itself with expansions such as EOF and ROK and suceeded for the most part, attracting new gamers. Of course the original EQ was pretty much a middle finger up to any new gamer and the devs almost only made content for existing, high level gamers.

    I’m a big believer in MMOs being a solid experience from level 1+. You shouldn’t need to grind through something just to get to a certain level to enjoy the game. It’s why I’m so excited about Cataclysm.

  13. Hiryu02 August 29, 2009 / 12:28 pm

    I haven’t commented here for a while, but I understand totally what you mean.

    Which is why I feel the upcoming revamp and simplification/removal of stats in WoW is a stroke of genius. I almost never praise WoW, but I gotta give credit where its due.

    Thanks to this, my fiance and I are going to start playing again before the next expansion hits, and for a casual gamer like her, never again having to worry about spell power/AP/mp5 etc is gonna be great.

    When you think about it, that decision specifically addresses your post, it minimizes the info deluge and makes the game somewhat newb-friendly again, even though it’s nearly 5 years old.

  14. Slurms August 29, 2009 / 1:15 pm

    @ Hiryu02

    agreed. While I don’t see myself going back to WoW, if ever there would be a time to, the next expansion would be it.

  15. spinks August 29, 2009 / 1:32 pm

    I suspect strongly that EQ2 is really a lot better now than it was at launch. I know I keep commenting to Ysh about things I like, and she’s all, “It didnt’ used to be like this!”

    I know what you mean though. It’s a definite barrier. The games keep getting more complex as new subsystems get added to entertain the early starters, but as a newb you get it all loaded onto you at once.

  16. Vesta August 29, 2009 / 1:51 pm

    I too like to be in at or very close to launch in a game. I have an unreasonable and stupid amount of patience for bugs and patches and whatnot. Part of it is the whole bragging rights to being in it from the beginning, or “since Beta”, etc. But another part of it is that I just hate playing to get “caught up”.

    My very first MMO was DAoC, and when I finally gave it a shot I was WAY behind my buddies. Our game play consisted of a whole lot of “stand here and try not to die while we Powerlevel you”. My one job was to loot everything. Now that I understand (and love!) MMOs much more, I take a lot of enjoyment from the levelling process and don’t want to rush it. Thus, starting with everyone else always means theres plenty of toons your level to run with.

    Although I was in WAR at the beginning, theres a very interesting dynamic that developed there. Going through first time, there wasn’t a lot of open RvR and a lot of my focus was on scenarios. When I broke down and started playing an Alt (for a number of reasons) I found that 6 months after launch, the players seemed to finally “get it” and open RvR was always populated and was a blast. Many players in my guild have alts in all tiers so they can shift gears and do completely different RvR. So, in fact- I think the actual game content would be BETTER for those who started later.

  17. Adam August 29, 2009 / 2:45 pm

    Honestly I like to be in when the game is just getting started, because then you get more of a sense of discovery, the immersion, and the “this is awesome!” factor just hits me so much more. Of course this is very closelt linked to server pop for me, I know I started playing Vangaurd (which had the making of a GREAT MMO) but since I could never quest or group with anybody due to small server pops, I just stopped playing.

  18. Pete S August 29, 2009 / 4:20 pm

    The biggest downside to me is that when you join a group, everyone *assumes* you’re an alt and know exactly what to do.

    On the other hand, in a lot of games, new players have a value that is in some ways unique. Lots of guilds, over time, start to dwindle as players move on to new things, and getting a fresh, enthusiastic player to join your guild can get everyone pumped again.

    The level issue is only a problem in games where the devs are too short-sighted to put in some kind of mentoring/sidekicking system.

  19. Brian 'Psychochild' Green August 29, 2009 / 8:02 pm

    I think part of the motivation about MMOs is the marketing that game developers have poured into people over the years. EA doesn’t make as much money if you buy Madden ’05 as if you buy Madden ’10, so they have a vested interest in making sure you are pumped about the latest and greatest instead of buying an older version. Same with pretty much every other single-player game. The graphics are one aspect of this, but not the only reason people upgrade.

    Now put this in MMO terms. Getting into an older game just doesn’t sound as appealing, because there’s got to be something newer and better out, right? Digging into a 5 year old MMO is like playing a 5 year old American football game. Of course, it’s not just marketing, but complexity as has been mentioned.

    One of the reasons I never got into Guild Wars is complexity. With so many expansions, I’m not sure what to buy, exactly. Should I buy an expansion and hope that’s a good one to start with? Try to find the box with the first few expansions in it and hope they don’t suck completely? Trust Longasc’s instructions above? The uncertainty is enough to keep me from a game I might otherwise really enjoy.

    I think the secret here, though, is to take a game at its own speed. I got into LotRO when Mines of Mora was released. Even though many of the high level people were in a place I couldn’t even reach until I gained a lot of levels, the world never felt empty, even on a supposedly lower population server. I played with my better half, and we’ve had fun working up different characters, even a couple to max level. We joined a guild when we were near max level with our main characters, and we’re having fun participating in content with them, even if we’re not quite as experienced and advanced as they are. It’s worked out well for us, I think.

    My thoughts.

  20. Scott August 30, 2009 / 8:18 am

    On the flip side of that, though, publishers like EA or Activision make a lot of money from their annual sequel franchises such as Madden or Call of Duty and sometimes have more than one studio working on the franchise at a time. One-shot games like that tend to cost much less and take less time to develop, especially compared to MMOs, at least that’s what I’ve gathered from the various industry interviews out there. An MMO studio spends 3-5 years in development, but how long does it take to make that money back and start turning a profit for the company? They don’t have the luxury of cranking out WAR 2010, WAR 2011, etc.

    If I wanted a newer, shinier WoW I have many choices out there, though I’ll admit none of them stack up in every single aspect. But they’re out there if I don’t want to load up a 5-year-old MMO. But if I’m in the mood for a newer, shinier Star Wars Galaxies, there isn’t one. If I want a newer, shinier Neocron, there isn’t one. If I want a newer, shinier EVE, there isn’t one.

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