Perfect Ten: My demands to MMORPGs after 13 years
I’ve mentioned many times that my first MMO was Final Fantasy XI. It released in North America 13 years ago as of tomorrow. I remember that very well, as I had two copies pre-ordered, one for myself and one for my college roommate at the time. I hadn’t even been planning on buying it at first, but my girlfriend convinced me to, and I figured it could be a fun thing for my roommate and me to do together.
That was most definitely not what happened, but 13 years later I can say that my girlfriend was right on the money about buying it being a good idea.
In the intervening decade-and-change, of course, my tastes have changed, by opinions have developed, and my experiences have been shaped by Final Fantasy XI as well as more or less every other MMO I’ve played. As an older man, I am no longer as fascinated by the same things that once hooked me in for FFXI. Here, then, are my demands to MMOs, new and old, now that I’ve been playing in this genre for 13 years. Yes, it’s sentimental;, I always get sentimental around this time.
1. Don’t expect the idea to delight me
I have played a lot of MMORPGs at this point. When I played my first one, sure, I was amazed that a game could in fact have several people online at the same time. It was earth-shattering. That was, as mentioned, 13 years ago. In other words, you have to do more to prove your merits as a game than just tacking “with other people” onto the end of anything else.
2. Don’t waste time getting to the cool stuff
This is actually one of my pet peeves for games as a whole. When I start your game, yes, I am a new player. I entirely accept that and recognize that I should not be given the coolest stuff in the game right away. But don’t give me a stick and one basic attack and then tell me that if I do well enough for ten hours, I can have a slightly better stick. Start letting me do cool stuff right out of the gate, even if you’ve got much cooler stuff waiting in the wings.
Mercifully, a lot of MMOs do get this at this point. Sure, you’re not nearly as cool as you will be after leveling in World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV or Star Wars: The Old Republic, but all three of those games try to make sure that your starting experience is still cool and full of neat stuff to do. That’s not counting games like Star Trek Online that do their best to make sure that the opening starts with a great big bang. No, you’re not going to see all of your cool stuff now, but you at least are starting off by showing me that there’s a cool baseline instead of telling me I might get to start seeing something cool in a couple of months.
3. Don’t build progress on pure randomness
I do not mind if it takes a while to do things. I didn’t mind how long it took me to pick up IO Enhancement sets in City of Heroes or the work it took to get the right materials, runes, and so forth in Guild Wars. I don’t mind slowly assembling my tomestone sets in Final Fantasy XIV. What I mind is when my ability to progress comes down to pure, stupid random chance. There’s a place for randomness, but that place is not when you cross your fingers and pray that this Scorpion Harness synth doesn’t explode for no reason whatsoever.
4. Don’t make doing stuff onerous
I sat in Jeuno and I looked for parties. There was neither a group finder nor instanced content to be done in FFXI, so instead I sat, and I shouted for parties, and I waited, and I asked people to join, and I slowly, laboriously assembled parties by hand. To level. Not to actually progress in the story or anything, just to level.
If you expect me to form a party like this again for repeated content, I’m out. My interest is gone. I’ve done that dance, it wasn’t fun, and I no longer have the patience to spend half an hour assembling a party for an hour of stuff to do. The more effort you ask me to expend just preparing to do something, the less I want to expend actually doing it.
5. Don’t force every session to be endless
I remember Wailing Caverns in vanilla World of Warcraft. I remember wandering hither and yon with no real idea of where I was or what I was doing or where the rest of the party was. I remember a party where there seemed to be two sort of healers and three sort of tanks, none of whom knew the layout. I remember when trash pulls were just as likely to cause wipes as bosses, and bosses were notable only because sometimes they dropped blue stuff. I remember runs lasting two hours, easily.
My patience for that has also been exhausted. Sorry, I have a lifetime patience reserve, and that has been depleted. If I’m playing a game for two hours at a stretch now, it had better be because I was having fun for two hours, not because that was the only way to get something fairly basic done. I’m not even getting into Blackrock Depths, you understand.
6. Don’t demand time instead of requesting it
I nearly broke down crying when I logged back into FFXI and found that you can now easily transport between the three capital cities for minimal cost. Over and over. Instantly. I was ready to thank a convenient deity for that change because finally, it meant I could spend less time traveling and more time actually doing things. The first airship ride is fun; the twelfth is not.
Yes, this ties into the last point. Don’t force me to spend an hour in your game because that’s what I need to do just to do anything. If I can’t make any headway in your game for an hour, I am going to start looking at the many other games out there which will let me spend that hour doing actual stuff. Requesting time is giving me an hour of content to play through; demanding time is giving me an hour of work just to get to that hour of content.
7. Don’t make me search for basic information
If I go to your game’s official page, I want to be able to find, with minimal searching, all of the following.
- Your game’s business model and how much subscribing for a month will cost.
- Where I can download the client.
- What my character options are.
- What sort of content is available.
- A clear explanation of basic game mechanics.
Failure to provide any of these earns side-eye. Failure to provide all of these or requiring extensive searching means you’re doing something wrong. If I’m getting items that say “Enhances Cast Time +2” I should have, at the very least, an idea of what that means beyond “well, I guess the cast time gets… better? Two better?”
8. Don’t assume I don’t know how to play
The most bizarre thing about most MMO tutorials is that they spend ages explaining things I know and no time explaining the things I don’t. You can get seven or eight tutorials on how to control your camera and move your character, but absolutely no tutorials on “here are the mechanics you’ll see in most dungeons” or “here’s how these stats matter” or “here’s how the endgame structure works.” (Major points to FFXIV for doing its best to include guides to all of that, right up to including several forms of group content tutorials.)
Don’t waste my time explaining WASD to me. I know how to use my keyboard. Or, if you want to be really awesome, let me select between tiers of tutorials, so I can tell you if I’m experienced with MMOs but need the specifics for this one. Your tutorial is your first impression, and I don’t have a good impression of you if you either can’t be bothered to give a decent one or if you think I have no idea what a mouse is.
9. Don’t expect time to earn my loyalty
I’m a firm believer that what gets you committed to an MMO is your decision to commit. The game itself won’t force you to commit; you decide to commit. I’ve been committed to FFXIV for several years now, for example, and it’s rewarded that loyalty by delivering really fun stuff to do and a whole lot of happy experiences.
That being said, far too many games seem to assume that if I’m committed I’ll just never leave. So, for example, they think they can just stop updating at all for a year and I’ll stick around because I’ve been around this long.
Sure, that might have worked back 13 years ago. But at this point? No. Commitment is part of a multi-step process, and one of those steps includes giving back. I’m happy to be devoted to a game, but I need that game to also reward my time with fun stuff to do and interesting gameplay. If I’m committed but I’m not getting any sort of return, I can move on. There are lots of games out there, after all; I don’t need to fixate on one or two when they don’t offer anything worthwhile.
10. Don’t forget the puns
What? I like puns.