Massively Overthinking: The best MMORPG developer quotes of 2016

One of the fun things we implemented on the site this year is a database of quotes from developers (among other entries) that are relevant to the MMORPG industry. In the spirit of the end-of-the-year posts that we’ve begun rolling out, today’s Massively Overthinking is a simple but fun one: I asked our writers to submit a favorite or memorable MMO developer quote from 2016 and explain why it matters. When we’re done, we invite you to do the same in the comments! (And yes, the best ones will be chucked into that widget for posterity!)

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Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Can I vote for all of Raph Koster’s AR is an MMO? No? Well, let me pick one piece of it that really stands out to me:

“I asked a high-powered Silicon Valley exec about the ethical implications of social VR and AR. Their response was ‘what ethical implications?’ To some, particularly vets of online worlds of various stripes, this may seem obvious. But most days, it feels like the average person working in social VR, AR, and the like, is ignorant of this. It’s evident in the very large pile of past lessons they are failing to heed in their designs.”

The Koster quote we used about players as avatar is a good one, but discussing the ethics of VR/AR is something worth remembering. I’ve got a Rift and have embraced Pokemon Go. I’m of the belief that games are and should be more than a distraction, but life training, in the same ways many animals play at hunting and evasion. The game isn’t the end but a way to try something new in a safe environment before going out and applying it.

VR/AR is still largely stuck in all-game mode. Koster notes that some of the big wigs in charge aren’t thinking about what it means to bring digital games into the real world in a more grounded sense. There’s so much that can be done differently now, and certain companies are doing it, but maybe the consequences aren’t being discussed enough. I get the feeling traditional game mechanics and monetization are taking the lead. Games don’t all need to be educational, but anyone who played Ingress or watched someone who did could tell you the issues Pokemon Go might have if it repeated certain design issues. And that’s exactly what happened.

I love experimentation. My biggest “problem” as a gamer is that I usually value novelty and innovation above polish and accessibility. However, I also try to consider how the new brings about change, and often look to research and social commentary about how games address issues or concepts people may struggle with and gives them a way to play with it safely. Here’s hoping that in 2017, developers stop looking at VR/AR as just “games” but virtual worlds connected to our own, especially when it brings virtual activities into meatspace where the consequences, well, real. Our genre in particular is fertile ground for this, but we need developers who are considering not just the virtual concepts of the game, but the holistic ones that interact with the real world.

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Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): My pick is from the comments of MJ’s interview with Mark Jacobs a few months back. He wrote,

“Yeah, you folks know me. There will be no lock boxes in Camelot Unchained other than if we want to have them as holiday gifts, random surprises and little treats, etc. but NO RMT associated. As free pinatas, they work for a good way to give away stuff, as a way to make money, not for this game. And yeah, you know my opinion on gold sellers as our Banhammer usage during WAR’s peak times aptly demonstrated.”

I have teased Jacobs endlessly about the Warhammer Online banhammer — those days when the popup announcing that Mythic had banned another goldseller was actually more annoying and intrusive than the goldsellers, goldfarmers, and goldspammers all put together. But whether I personally agree or not, Jacobs’ stance on the genre’s monetization woes has been utterly consistent and resolute, and that’s something to be proud of. He is one of the very few developers who’s remained opposed in word and in deed to the excesses of RMT even when every other studio out there has backpedaled on cash-shop currencies and lockboxes in order to make easy money off the foolish. As I said on the podcast: We need to recognize the developers who put their foot down and refuse to give in to the temptation to squeeze every penny out of a game using every nasty monetization trick in the book.

Bonus quote from Mark Jacobs:

“True story, when I tried to get the phone company to install nine phone lines [for MUD Aradath], they balked for a while. They said that the only reason I could want so many phone lines was either because I was a drug dealer or running a brothel.”

Joke’s on them; it was both! (Kidding!)

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Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Back in October, Scott Hartsman said some goofy stuff (only six MMOs before WoW? What?), but he also said some pretty astute stuff. Case in point:

“Players are spread across so many more games. As long as the number of titles keeps growing, they’re going to keep spreading out. What we are also seeing is that the generation of people who grew up playing MMOs for four hours a night are now more interested in games they can play for ten minutes at a time. We’re seeing a shift. Online is still strong. A lot of classic MMOs have become more approachable online.”

I think this is one of those things that is easy to ignore if you are a veteran of the landscape, if you got used to the way things were as the way things should always be. As the field has gotten bigger, people have spread out more. The reason you see populations becoming more segmented and more likely to go of in different directions is the same reason people have always moved on to different games over time. Frequently, these players were never there because they loved this game specifically, they were there because they loved an aspect of the game enough to overlook the aspects they didn’t like. Once they had the option to get more of the former and less of the latter, they left.

It’s not that there are no MMOs out there that succeed at casting a wide net or that offer content for diverse player types; rather, it’s that we no longer have to all be standing under the same big tent if we want to take part. And that’s a sign of health, not weakness. It’s not a bad thing or a sign that games were so much better when everyone had to be in the same place; it’s a sign of health, that you can focus on the things that bring you joy and not on the things that don’t. I had fun back in the day with Final Fantasy XI, but I had a lot more fun going back recently with my wife, because so many of the game’s time-consuming barriers have been knocked down; a two-hour session resulted in two hours spent doing things rather than two hours of waiting for airships. That is, on balance, a good thing.

[Addendum: Hartsman has pointed out that in person, his comments to the interviewer in the article Eliot’s referencing were a joke. “Hell, I worked on more!” he tweeted. We apologize for the slight!]

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Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): My pick is from Chronicles of Elyria’s Jeromy Walsh:

“We never imaged people would be surprised by the news the game would require more money to finish. That section of the update was simply intended to remind people that MMOs are expensive.”

I found the response to Chronicles of Elyria’s “moneygate” pretty fascinating on two fronts. The first was that a studio thought that any attempt to double-dip into the wallets of supporters wasn’t going to come with at least some measure of scrutiny and hard discussion. The second is that it was a harsh reminder that a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaign is usually only the beginning of a string of fundraisers for an MMO, not a one-and-done proposition.

As Walsh said, MMOs are quite expensive, and even a wildly successful fundraiser (Crowfall, Chronicles of Elyria, Shroud of the Avatar) is still going to require a lot more capital beyond that to produce a finished product. Maybe the Elyria team should have done more to brace expectations in this regard, and maybe players should’ve been wiser about the nature of MMO funding and development. In any case, it triggered a sour PR moment that could’ve been avoided with a lot more transparency and understanding.

Your turn! Make ’em juicy!

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