Perfect Ten: Weird questions that I want answered before I play an MMO
Jumping into a new-to-me MMO can be a heady, nerve-wracking event. I think there's a reason why we find our "comfort" games and feel a pull to stay with the known than to venture out more regularly to taste the fruits of other online titles, and that's because there are so many small but crucial factors that play into whether or not we'll enjoy our time in a game.
I see people all of the time asking for matrices of MMO features, which on the surface sounds like a good idea -- but gets pretty insane when you consider how big these could grow. After all, knowing a business model and genre and combat type isn't always enough. There are other deciding variables that can mean just as much to us.
So today I want to rattle off 10 weird questions that I would personally love to have answered before I head into a new MMO.
1. How easy is it for enemies to knock me off my mount?
This might be a silly question, but consider that no two MMOs seem to handle this issue the same way. In some games, one hit by a mob is enough to toss you off a horse and force you into combat when you were just trying to get to your next quest objective. In other games, it might take multiple hits or even infinite hits to ever get you off your high horse.
I want to know this. I want to know how inconvenienced I will be by the local wildlife if I'm trying to traverse a zone. Also, does your MMO allow me to re-mount even if I'm in combat? Because if so, you are my new best friend.
2. Will I have a choice of weapons?
The newer trend in MMOs it seems is to give each class a fixed weapon type instead of a range. Not every game subscribes to that (lazy) school of design, so if your MMO gives my character a choice in weapon types, then this I would like to know very much.
3. Where's the screenshot key and folder?
Before you say with scorn, "It's the print screen key, fool!" realize that it's not always. No, sometimes it's F12. Or F11. Or Ctrl-Z. Or some other random key hiding in a forest of clones on my keyboard. And not every game throws screenshots into the same place (I prefer my documents folder, thank you very much) nor tells you where these magically captured moments in gaming history are stored. Tell me up front, please. Don't make me hunt around for them.
4. What's the most popular class?
Frankly, I'm terrified of playing the most popular class in an MMO if for nothing else than I think it increases the odds that developers will think that it's overpowered (massively, even) and nerf it to the ground. Plus, I'd rather take the road less traveled and not be part a swarm of identical professions.
5. Do you have an insane dev on staff who thinks that jumping puzzles are the bee's knees?
If so, do you put a lid on that noise or do you let that developer spend 100% of her or his time on creating aggravating platform puzzles for the next patch?
6. Where are your patch notes?
I love scavenger hunts as much as the next childlike middle-aged adult, but there is a time and a place for them. Some studios appear to think that the time and place for such hunts is with the patch notes, which are often so cleverly buried that players have to hire private investigators just to find out what happened with this recent update.
Maybe I sound bitter about this, and if I do it's because I've spent five years of my professional life trying to hunt down patch note locations for news stories. My therapist (Jef) said that I'm close to a breakthrough with it.
7. How toxic and/or welcoming is your community?
This is outside of (although influenced by) the power of the studio, but I still want to know what kind of social situation I'm stepping into when I enter your game. Is it a lake full of grizzled, territorial veterans who resent any fresh-faced goon asking newbie questions in chat? Is it a tight-knit community that will fawn all over my character's debut? Are there divisive features such as gearscore and DPS meters and welfare epics that serve to fracture the population?
8. How much time and work will I need to put in to catch up with the crowd?
Obviously, this question isn't as relevant to brand-new MMOs or those that have a fairly even level spread among the population. But for games that have been out for a year or more, usually it's pretty important to know going in how long it will take to "catch up," especially if there are expansions on the way that are going to move the finish line.
Oh, and if your game has any features that will allow me as a lowbie to mentor up to a high-level friend or otherwise do content with veterans, please let me know that from the outset.
9. What one or two stats do I need to concentrate on?
I know that we can't really divorce RPGs from stats, whether they're shown or under the hood, but my eyes glaze over when I see pages of numbers that I can't manually influence anyway. Just tell me the one or two stats that I should gun for, and I'll be happy with that. The rest of your stats can go jump in a lake, unless "lake-jumping" is another stat I am expected to track.
10. Are there any red flags for your game's future operation?
Let me put this bluntly: Does it look as though your title is going to go belly-up within the year? Because if so, I don't want to be wasting my time in it.
Is there a small and struggling population? Are you slapping "subscription-only" together with "free-for-all PvP" and expecting crowds to come in? Are your lead developer and game servers on a freight train somewhere trying to stay one step ahead of Johnny Law? Have you ever used the phrase "WoW-killer," ironically or not?
Inquiring minds want to know.