Over the past few years, I’ve struggled with the question of why MMORPGs aren’t as easy to pick up and put down as other video games.
I know, I know, the answer seems obvious and lengthy and worthy of a #geekworldproblems hashtag, but stick with me. It probably also seems laughable coming from me, since I have this reputation of playing every MMO under the sun (which is not remotely true — it’s mostly appearances). But let me lay out what I’m feeling and see if I can’t drum up some sympathy.
So take your average video game — PC, console, mobile, what have you. One you’ve never played before. You have a few obstacles to really getting into it and enjoying it, namely price (if there is one), installation difficulties (if any), and an acclimation period in which you learn how the game functions and what it offers. Some games get you in and playing really quickly, some take a lot longer. But on the whole, there’s less mental stress and difficulty just grabbing some random title from Steam and giving it a whirl.
MMOs, to me, seem like there’s a lot of added barriers between you grabbing a game and getting into the fun. A lot of it has to do with the nature of the games — that they are much larger in terms of potential time investment, that they don’t “deliver the goods” right out of the gate, that they have the added complexity that comes in a multiplayer environment, and they come loaded with just about every feature under the planet.
In fact, MMOs seem to hoard features like the apocalypse is coming and they’ll never see a feature again. Bullet points out the wazoo. Simple concepts — armor, weapon, skills, stats — made infinitely more complex by intertwining them in systems that are dreamed up by a clever dev for this game alone. There is usually a level of commonality when you go into an MMO of control schemes and features that you recognize, but every game seems to revel in doing something really weird and different and unwieldy.
When you’re really into an MMO, its features hoarding isn’t that much of an issue. You’re used to it all; it’s all second nature. Adding another feature, why, it’s a delightful day. A present. It’s not going to overload you, because you’ve marinated in the game for a while and can see how it fits.
But take it from the perspective of a player who goes, “Hm, this looks interesting,” and then downloads an MMO to play. There is simply so much to absorb in those first few hours, while the player (me) has to mentally judge if this is a game worthy of continued play (because there is no game over and time investment is important), if the fun is coming quickly enough, if I’m playing it right, what all of these menu options do, where I should go, what I should be saving, what I should be selling, how do I find a guild, and so on. MMOs just aren’t casual fare. If you’re picking one to really get into, then you can acclimate and enjoy gradually. But if you’re flitting around, looking for a different experience one evening, then it can be mentally exhausting to get into a new (or one you haven’t played in a while) title.
Coming back? It can be even worse than a fresh start, as we’ve all mentioned many times before. You have to remember so, so much, and adapt to any changes and new features that the hoarding MMO has accumulated. The more time that passes between visits, the harder it is.
I’m often amazed that MOP’s MJ can play so many different MMOs, far more than I, during any given week. I try to figure out if YouTubers such as HiveLeader feel that mental drag from constantly picking up and putting down games. I just can’t log into an MMO and have a good time if I know that there’s little chance I’ll be sticking with it.
Thinking about all of this took me down a road where I mused over MMOs designed to be more pick-up-and-put-down casual. Your action-MMOs, like Marvel Heroes and Path of Exile. Trove, definitely. Probably anything Cryptic does. Wizard101. Maybe I should be playing more of those? There’s nothing wrong with any of them, although they’re not immune to feature creep.
I used to think of Guild Wars 2 as one of the most delightfully casual MMORPGs out there, a relaxing and not overbearing game. Just come and play and don’t worry too much about high-level stuff. But now it’s become this thing with difficult zones and jumping everywhere and raids and fractals and people freaking out about legendary weapons, and that pushes me away. I’m waiting to see if the expansion announcement will be a siren’s call of sorts to get me back, but right now I’m not feeling it.
Well, thanks for reading my wall of crazy anyway!