Why is jumping into a new MMO harder than a non-MMO?

Here’s a situation that I’ve been wrestling with for a while now, which is the question of why jumping into an MMO that I’ve never played seems about ten times more prohibitive and intimidating than picking up a single-player or limited multiplayer title. For me.

And that’s always, always struck me as strange, seeing as how MMORPGs are my preferred game genre. I love them. Once I get hooked on one, then it becomes a good prospect to return to after absences. But MMOs I haven’t played much or at all have a difficult time getting into that exclusive club.

Strange enough, while I was making dinner the other night, the solution to this popped into my head. I had assumed that it was primarily the barrier to learning a new MMO — the annoyances of setting up an account and figuring out the different systems. That’s still a valid obstacle, but single-player games contain some of that learning curve too.

No, I think the answer has in what I look to get out of gaming.

You see, with non-MMOs, I’m always in them for the moment-to-moment experience. They’re fun games in what they offer me right in the here and now, whether that be the joy of arcade action, the narrative of an unfolding story, the relaxing thrill of the build, or what have you. That’s generally easy to pop in and play, because the game isn’t asking much of me beyond my immediate attention. Without the social component and with a generally more focused nature, these non-MMOs are strings-free experiences. They don’t ask of me more than a small slice of my attention.

That’s not how MMOs are at all. Above and beyond the learning curve of these games looms a massive mental obstacle that has everything to do with its social, massively multiplayer structure. These games ask of a long commitment from me, because it takes time to learn, navigate, and progress through them. They promise social connections and other features that could establish roots and “stickiness.” What I want to get out of these games is character permanence, real relationships, and long-term investment. MMOs are made for us to dive deep into them, not to dip in and out.

That presents a huge problem when I’m either sampling an MMO or contemplating trying one out. My mind is doing all of these checks before I even get to the loading screen. For starters, does the MMO look like it’ll actually last for years to come or is it on death’s door? Is it the type of MMO that might appeal to me? Is it user friendly? And if I actually end up liking this game, do I have the time to really commit to it?

In the case of that last one, if the answer is “no,” then the immediate follow-up is “then why bother trying it?” Am I going to torture myself with a game that I’d do best to just ignore lest it try to suck up my attention and precious limited game time?

I’ve found that it’s all but impossible to get a handle on an MMO with just an evening or two’s worth of playtime. You need to commit to a week or so to really get the shape of it, and that’s a lot more to ask than a flirtation with an offline title that doesn’t care how often you log in. Sampling or trying out an MMO ends up being frustrating because mentally I haven’t decided on it, and so I’m not really doing all I can to learn it and get the most from it. I’ll avoid other people, I’ll just rush to go fight things, and I’ll walk away unimpressed. For the most part.

Obviously, some MMOs have made it through this mental gauntlet of mine to be viable candidates, but as of late I’ve wanted to explore some of the lower-tier games and kept getting held back from really getting into them. Maybe that’s also why I haven’t been fully immersed into Project Gorgon’s world either, despite professing my love for many of its mechanics.

I’d like to try out more MMOs. I probably need to develop some patience and commit to a testing schedule, but so far this year that hasn’t happened that much. Any other MMO fans find it hard to try out new games? For the same or different reasons?

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Playing MMOs with a timer ticking down

While this will make me sound really stodgy, I generally order my day by half-hour and hour blocks. Until I’m off work in the late afternoon, I’m always thinking ahead of what I want to be doing next and how much time I want to allocate to each task. Get up and start exercising for 30 minutes, then a half-hour to dress and make breakfast, then a half-hour to get a few things written, that sort of thing.

One tool that I’ve used — not always, but on occasion — is a countdown timer. This is mainly when I have tasks that are too big to do in one day or when I have a lot of things that need to get done and have go dedicate only a portion of time to each. So I’ll put a timer on for, say, 45 minutes and see how much of a task I can get done before moving on at the end of that.

Out of curiosity, I started doing this for when I play games at night. Oh, I’ve timed my gaming sessions before, but I’ve never had an active countdown timer sitting on my desk ticking off the minutes remaining. Initially I thought that this might make gameplay more stressful — I want to unwind after the day, not feel like I’m pressured or under the gun — but in actuality, it’s freed me up to enjoy my sessions more.

That sounds weird, I know. But for me, it really works. Gaming with a timer results in satisfying and more focused sessions, and I’m not stressed out in the least by it.

I think that part of my problem in trying to juggle more than one game in an evening is that I never knew how long I should be playing each one. I’d be thinking about the next one I wanted to squeeze in, which would make me cut short my first game session or feel guilty about playing it when there were others to do. Instead, now I take the gaming time I have that evening (say, two or three hours) and divvy it up between the titles I want to play. I set a timer and then go, making it a fun meta-game to see just how much I can do before the time is up.

The timer not only subtly challenges me to do more in the time I’m given, it keeps me in games longer as well. I think I pressure myself to log out earlier when I do just one or two quests and then lose focus and start puttering around. Knowing that I’m committed to playing a game for the next 45 minutes removes that constant evaluation of whether or not I want to call it a night for this title.

Ack… I don’t think there’s any way to make this sound helpful or non-nutty, but I’m telling you, I’ve been doing it for over a month now and find that I’m blasting through more MMO and solo game content while freeing myself up for more pre-bed reading. I don’t think that I’ll ever want to push more than three games a night with this, but two or three seems to be a really nice spot for play. Thought I’d share that with you, is all.

When MMOs won’t let you start over

The other night I logged back into Warframe to give it another try, and when I did I bumped into an odd issue: I couldn’t start over.

I’m the type of MMO player that if I’m unfamiliar with a game or haven’t been in it for a while, I like to start from scratch. I want to go back through the early levels or tutorials, I want to bond with a freshly made avatar. And usually, that’s not an issue at all. Most MMOs want you to create a stable of characters as a way to keep you in and playing as much as possible, but this isn’t the case universally.

In this case, Digital Extremes made Warframe as a game where you’ll only really need one character, because you can collect all of the suits and swap between the classes as you go along. And since you don’t have any facial visuals or other significant choice to make at the start, rerolling isn’t seen as needed.

Except that people like myself and others would still appreciate that. I looked up how or if this was possible, and I got a touch annoyed at responses by others along the line of “Why would you want to? You don’t need to!” Even if that was the case, why not give us that option? The only way I can figure out how to make this happen is either to create a brand-new account or petition support. And for someone who’s basically asking the game to woo him, this is something that gives me an excuse to walk away.

I bumped into this in RuneScape a while back as well. There I see this as an even more serious issue, since you DO have the gender and visual choices, and when I came back to the game I didn’t necessarily want to be the goofy dude I created the last time around. Sandbox or no, would it really have been that difficult for this feature-rich MMO to let you, y’know, reroll?

Apparently not:

No support for these reasons:
1) Hackers
2) Regret
3) It’s just as easy to make a new account

This feels so weird and alien to me — and a good reminder that some of these MMOs live in a bubble apart from the wider genre at times. A feature that’s standard across the board (including in other sandboxes) is negated here for… reasons.

I experience a mixture of frustration and annoyance at this attitude from both the studio and the players who defend this omission. I’m a big boy, give me the option to reroll if I want to. You may not see a reason for it, but I may have very valid motivations for doing so. At the very least, it would have been more welcoming and less off-putting for this one player who is now not playing your game. Is that a good reason enough?

5 favorite non-MMO games I played in 2018

MMOs weren’t the only games I played this past year — there were plenty from the single- and multiplayer varieties as well. Continuing with my look back at 2018, here are my five favorite non-MMO titles I enjoyed this year:

#1: Rimworld

Rimworld has earned a permanent spot on my computer as a go-to game whenever I want to have an enjoyable 20-30 minute gaming session. I love management sims, and this scifi colony game is full of challenging surprises, interesting interactions, and a deep satisfaction in seeing a colony take shape.

#2: Bloons 6

I’ve always been a sucker for tower defense games, and the Bloons series have set themselves apart with the addictive pop-pop-pop of the “enemies.” Every morning in the winter while I’m biking at home, I’m usually lost in yet another round of balloon warfare.

#3: What Remains of Edith Finch

Played a lot of great adventure games and walking sims this year (Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, Grim Fandango, Tacoma), but by far Edith Finch is the game that amazed me the most with its experimental storytelling, evocative setting, and bittersweet tones.

#4: Telltale Games’ Batman

The week I spent at family camp was largely devoid of gaming and internet — except for finally going through the Batman adventure game. Like most Telltale Games, this title offered choices that didn’t matter TOO much, but it still gave off a great illusion while in the moment. Love the take on Joker, too.

#5: Pillars of Eternity

My big RPG for this year, I vowed to get through the main game by December 31st (and trust me, it’s going to be a race down to the wire). But I’ve really loved the writing, RPG mechanics, and worldbuilding that this Baldur’s Gate spiritual successor created, and I’m encouraged that there’s an expansion and a sequel after this to enjoy!

Bonus: Your Favorite Games!

I asked Twitter what was their favorite games they discovered this year, and here is what they said:

  • Woolydub: Into the Breach
  • Neschria: Black Desert
  • VBarreirojr: Ashen
  • Capnhoppy: Lord of the Rings digital card game
  • Rubi/Dolvic: Monster Hunter World
  • Endgame Viable: Rimworld
  • Johnny: Divinity Original Sin 1 and 2
  • Khadre: Grim Dawn
  • DruStorm: My Portia, Farm Together, Garden Paws, and Warhammer Inquisitor: Martyr
  • Bleuchz: Tales from the Borderlands
  • Donapel86: Two Point Hospital

A look back at 2018 in MMOs

As 2018 draws to a close — and happy Christmas Eve, y’all — I felt like it was a good time to look over the MMO Timeline and evaluate the year as it pertained to MMO gaming.

I’ll say that, by and large, it was a fairly disappointing year. I was hoping to hear more new game announcements (at least we got Torchlight Frontiers and Atlas as nice surprises) and that more of these in-development indie MMOs would have launched already. But 2018 ended up being a year more defined by its downward marks than its upticks, which makes me yearn all that much more for a better 2019.

That said, there were bright spots and a lot of fun gaming to be had, so let’s give it a look as a whole!

MMO launches

When MapleStory 2 ends up as the most high-profile full MMO release you get, you know it’s not been the most exciting of years. That game actually became a nice little sleeper hit, but other than that, it was a sad crop.

We had piddly indie titles that nobody really looked at (Stash, Wild West Online, Darkfall: New Dawn, Boundless), a few eastern imports that underwhelmed (Bless, Closers, SoulWorker), and several high-selling but rocky online multiplayer titles (Sea of Thieves, The Crew 2, Fallout 76). Atlas kind of came out of nowhere to have a sort-of launch, but it’s far too early to judge that one. Defiance 2050 tried to rope in players by rebooting the game, but that ended up being a non-starter that’s resulted in two games being run in parallel that barely anyone plays.

And a special note for Shroud of the Avatar, which “officially” launched for like the third time and demonstrated how early access fatigue can make such a day a non-event. If you were already playing, you were playing, but it brought virtually no new people to the game.

Expansions

With dull launches, it was up to MMO expansions once again to pick up the slack of hype and excitement. They performed that role… adequately in 2018. Most definitely the biggest release was Battle for Azeroth, which dominated headlines and interest in August and September before slipping south quickly.

The second most-anticipated expansion launch was Elder Scrolls Online’s Summerset, which again was good-not-great. Didn’t hurt the brand but wasn’t nearly as thrilling for players as Morrowind, let’s just say.

EverQuest II: Chaos Descending got a lot of player kudos for being a pleasantly strong pack, and there was plenty of hype for EVE’s Onslaught and Path of Exile’s Betrayal going into the final months of the year. Star Trek Online’s Victory is Life got Deep Space Nine fans excited as well.

Closures

WildStar’s demise, while not unforeseen, still hurt like a mother when it happened in November. By far, this was the biggest MMO to close its doors this year, but not the only one.

We witnessed the end of Devilian, Jade Dynasty, Swordsman Online, and the sad saga of H1Z1 Just Survive. Jagex closed down RuneScape Classic due to far too many unfixable issues, and while Pirates of the Burning Sea looked ready to close its doors, it got sort of a reprieve when the community took it over.

Other developments

What was the best part of 2018, at least to me, was seeing how MMOs developed in some other significant ways. Black Desert earned some respect by bringing out a “remastered” graphics and music update, and I was excited to see RuneScape release an orchestral album as well.

We saw Ultima Online roll out a free-to-play option, sort of, which was interesting. But by far the most fascinating development was the move toward progression servers with both RIFT and LOTRO. Had a lot of great times on both.

In any case, I’m definitely looking forward to next year with the hopes that we’ll see some stronger releases and better surprises than what we had in 2018.

LOTRO: Take me Winter-home Hobbit roads

A week or two out of the fall festival reprise, we LOTRO players are able to jump right into Yuletide for a good month of snowy fun. As much as I love — and I really do — the Haunted Burrow and the Halloween storylines, as a whole package, I love LOTRO’s Christmas festival even more.

It’s simply one of the best-packaged holidays that I’ve experienced, moreso that it takes place in its own little self-contained Christmas zone. It’s convenient, it’s atmospheric, and it’s less a contemporary Christmas holiday that you might see in many MMOs and more like Christmas would actually be in Middle-earth.

Even though I’ve done Winter-home to death, I’ve never really grown sick of it. I suppose that’s because I don’t overstay my welcome here. In fact, I’m inspired to make a quick list of six things I love about this in-game holiday:

  1. It’s remarkably easy to pick up and run the full gamut of daily quests in a short amount of time (15 minutes or so). None are hard or annoying, but there is a nice variety.
  2. For the most part, it’s a lot of goofy, light-hearted fun where you can build snowmen, have a snowball fight, and clean up Hobbit puke! Wait, why am I praising this?
  3. The interactive theater is a really clever idea that obviously took a lot of effort to make work. It’s a shame that there’s only one “play,” but having both the audience and actors participate makes it pop even so.
  4. There is a darker side to this holiday with the whole “rich vs. poor” storyline that forces players to take a side. Bonus points for not letting you pick the other side (at least, not until the next year!).
  5. I always crack up at trying to cheer the grumpy snowbeasts. Poor guys, they just want to nap.
  6. So. Many. Rewards. Loving the new outfits this season, including a slick robe and a furry mantle!

In fact, it’s proving to be a godsend to my progression server Minstrel, as she’s still working hard at building up a solid wardrobe and decking her Hobbit hole with holly. Doing a quick round of daily quests, earning a bunch of tokens, and then going shopping with them is a fun diversion.

In other news, I’m making good progress in the Misty Mountains, although I’m a little worried about getting bogged down around Goblin-town. At least my epic book is done in that zone, and afterward, it’s off to even MORE snowy goodness in Forochel. And then comes Angmar but we shan’t think about that right now. No we shan’t.

Daybreak, Trion, and Carbine: Handing off the future of MMOs

Last Thursday afternoon, Daybreak was set to reveal a new, never-before-seen game from its inner development sanctum. I don’t think we were holding great hope that it was going to be something more than a crappy battle royale knock-off, but still, it was like hearing the post-death whimper of a studio when crappy battle royale knock-off was announced.

I felt like it was extra confirmation of what we already knew: That Daybreak just isn’t ever going to produce or develop quality MMORPGs any longer. It already killed off H1Z1 Just Survive earlier this year, and the mass layoffs of a couple of weeks ago (the second such batch this year) didn’t exactly shout confidence from the rooftops.

I mean, we knew it. We’ve known it ever since they gave up on EverQuest Next without any plan to try again. And so what once was a studio that boasted up to a dozen titles in its library, a studio that ran a fairly popular yearly convention, a studio that was synonymous with MMOs — is now just a shambling corpse of its former self.

Nobody cares about PlanetSide Arena. It’s part of a lackluster franchise that’s trying to break into an oversaturated market that H1Z1 helped to start. It was probably in development for a while now and is the only halfway finished project that Daybreak even has to show, so they had to fire that bullet. But it’s not going to do much to save the company or revitalize development in the types of games that fans were hoping to see.

More and more these days, I’m realizing that the future of the MMO genre — and yes, I do believe that there’s a future — is simply not going to rest in the hands of the usual suspects. Daybreak’s done with MMOs. Blizzard walked away from them after Project Titan went belly-up. Trion Worlds and Carbine are both dead after a rocky 2018. Old Mythic and Turbine are fading into memory. Nexon and NCsoft are still very invested in these games, and so there’s some hope there. But more and more, the future of actual, full-featured MMOs are being handled by upstarts and indies.

Maybe it was high past time to shake things up, to stop being complacent with big numbers and WoW clones and more of the same. We needed to go back to being more on the edge of pioneering space, where uncertainty, risk, and innovation dwell. It’s most certainly going to be a messier and more chaotic era for us moving forward, but there’s the possibility that some gems are going to emerge untainted from the baggage of studios that are more willing to copy the latest craze and milk fans dry with crowdfunding before a viable product is launched.

We’ll see. In any case, wherever this genre is going, Daybreak will not be leading or following it. It’s going to be over here trying desperately to survive with half-finished projects and a community that won’t forget the wounds that it caused with Landmark, EQN, Just Survive, and other failures.