Posted in General

MMOs have a “features hoarding” problem

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!

11 thoughts on “MMOs have a “features hoarding” problem

  1. As someone in the same boat, I realize that I have come up with a mental checklist of things to look into when tackling a new MMO. Can I do X? If so, how and when? Can I do Y? No? OK, cross that off and move on. In the end, I have a sense more of what _I understand_ the MMO to be in terms of all of MMO-dom and maybe not as much as what the game _acutally offers._ That helps with the understanding, but I’m not sure that it helps me enjoy the game in front of me for what it is.

  2. Over my years of game-hopping, I have found that learning new games is an acquired skill that can be improved like any other skill. The more games you’ve learned, the easier it is to learn new ones. Partly it’s that the more games you play, the less likely it is you’ll find a feature or mechanic you have no experience of, and partly it’s just training your brain to have the flexibility to constantly learn new things.

    I find this can even apply within the same game. I’ve spent Legion hopping between all of the different classes, including some that I have virtually no prior experience with, but I’m now so used to learning new playstyles that I can pick up a new spec and achieve at least basic competence in a matter of minutes.

    As for returning to old games, I find I don’t ever really forget how to play things, at least not enough to significantly impede me, so that’s never been an issue for me.

  3. I find myself much more interested in games that have a more narrow scope these days. Path of Exile, Albion Online, Destiny. These games all know exactly what they are and what they aren’t, and they don’t try to be something else.

    I think it’s very, very hard to decide you’re not going to support a system in your game, because it often feels like you’re leaving money on the table. Especially when the supporters of that system are calling out to you directly via communication channels to talk about how badly they want PvP, or Crafting, or Legacy Servers, etc. It’s tough to be able to stand up for yourself and say “that’s not the game we’re making,” because all you want to do is please as many people as possible and include as many as you can.

    Games like EVE are as clear as they can be up front that THIS is what the game is, and if you don’t like it, you probably shouldn’t play. But that’s a rare exception these days.

  4. Time and money investment are what keep me from playing more MMOs. I don’t mind learning new systems; that’s half the fun if they are working well.

  5. How about Trove? i was thinking about this issue, complex expansive MMOs vs simple easy to play MMOs, i’m wishing to see more simple MMOs, this is a topic worth writing more about it, maybe Top 10 in MOP? or in the podcast, should i send a question? 🙂

  6. I find that, at least in the first hours of trying an MMO, I pay more attention to the story, graphics, combat mechanics, UI, and such, than to broader systems like armor stats, secondary mini-games, etc. While I don’t deny that games can get bloated with features, it not at the forefront of my mind when trying to decide whether I will like a game or not.

  7. For some players, myself included, what you describe as problems are actually one of the main attractions. One of the best things about playing a lot of MMOs is learning the new systems. Also comparing and contrasting them with the systems other MMOs use.

    There’s a reason why I often play a new MMO intensively for 4-6 weeks and then drop it, often never to return; the point at which I leave is often the point at which I find myself feeling comfortable with the game’s mechanics. At that stage all that’s left is playing the game itself, which is very often a much less appealing prospect than learning how to play the game was.

  8. It’s a consequence of a genre that’s now long-established, and where the games compete on features available. Anyone developing an MMO that wants to be a contender needs to have the features from all of the competitors and bring something new to the table, and players will always call out for any missing feature to be added. If you don’t have everything, there’s a fear that your game will be dismissed as nothing.

    On the other hand, it’s amazing how many features WoW doesn’t have. You can’t give a character a surname, can’t dye your armour, there’s no real housing system… yet somehow this feature incomplete, totally inadequate, evident failure of a game remains at least marginally profitable 🙂

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