Perfect Ten: What the mainstream games media doesn’t get about MMORPGs

Ever since becoming an MMORPG player and especially since covering these games professionally, I’ve realized one of my greatest pet peeves is the attitude the broader video games media maintain toward our genre. I don’t want to accuse with too broad of a brush or construct a strawman here, but too often I’ve read articles covering MMOs as if the author were either worried about contracting some sort of horrible disease by even mentioning the game or suffering from a superiority complex about how much better other types of games were.

Somehow worse are the sites that employ a “token” MMO player as a writer, as if to foist this terrible genre on some lunkhead so that the rest of the staff can cover the latest groundbreaking edition of Call of Duty, Madden, or Battlefield.

See, I don’t claim that MMOs are better or worse than other video games, yet they do have something special that seems to elude journalists who sneer at grinds or roll their eyes at players foolish enough to care about these games. Sometimes it feels like nerds dumping on other nerds so that the first group can feel superior in some aspect of their life. I don’t know.

Today I’m going to attack my pet peeve head-on by listing 10 things the mainstream games media doesn’t get about why MMORPGs are special, beloved, and captivating.

1. The community

Why do I love MMOs? First and foremost, it’s all about the community. Other video games feel like isolated affairs, where you’re playing either solo or with limited multiplayer, and the community for such games exists mostly outside of the game itself on websites, forums, etc. In MMOs, the community is alongside of you, playing, talking, partying, and even fighting.

Seeing others as I adventure, having encounters with other players from across the world, and joining my guild for festivities and activities are often the highlight of my gaming weeks. On the occasion that I do branch out and play a single-player RPG, I soon find myself feeling all alone in these game worlds. I’ve just become used to other people being around in my games and use that as a baseline for my expectations.

2. The game growth

MMOs at launch are not the same games a year or five later. I don’t always deal with growth and change well, but I deal even worse with stagnation. If I’m going to spend hundreds of hours in an RPG, I want that game world to develop and new adventures to present themselves over time.

Even with expansion packs and patches, single-player games don’t get the kind of long-term continued development and growth that MMOs do. We still have communities playing games that are 20 years old and experiencing together all of the changes that have happened during that period.

3. The course corrections

Every video game launches with bugs, some more severe than others. And in this day and age, patches and updates are expected for pretty much all titles. But unless you’re playing an MMO of a sort, those updates and patches will start to trail off soon enough until the game has been abandoned and the team moved on to a different project. An MMO has a dedicated live team — and that makes all the difference. There’s always the hope that even years down the line, some of these problems might be addressed and fixed.

Not actually my character.

4. The persistence

While I would certainly agree that excessive grind and play can result in some nasty burnout among MMORPG players, I still prefer these games due to the persistent nature of the worlds and the lack of a “game over” screen. In RPGs, I don’t want my adventures to end. I don’t want to spend 80 or so hours on a character only to get through a final boss battle and then call it a day. I like knowing that my characters endure and still have adventures to go on if I desire.

Before I played MMOs, I used to buy new console and PC games at an alarming rate because I was quickly dissatisfied with most of them. They were disposable (yet expensive) entertainment. When I switched over to MMOs, I channeled my time and budget into a smaller roster of titles and became happier for it. MMOs satisfied me in a way that other games did not.

5. The diversity

When I speak of diversity, I am not referencing the playerbase (which, as with any large group of gamers, is always going to be as diverse as a Simpsons character sheet), but of the activities available for players to enjoy. Sure, single-player games can and do specific things way, way better than MMOs. Better graphics, better storytelling, better action, etc. But where MMOs shine is that they offer a huge buffet of options for any given evening whereas many other games keep their diet far more limited. The wide diversity of features, events, and activities present in MMOs is what gives me things to do long after I would have grown bored of a much more specialized array of possibilities.

6. The loyalty

The time and personal investment that players pour into MMOs has an interesting effect of creating stronger ties of loyalty than you might see elsewhere. When games media act boggled that anyone would give these MMOs the time of day nevermind be fanatically devoted to them, my eyes strain from rolling so hard and so quickly. These journalists just don’t get how loyal gamers grow to particular titles (and even the genre at large), identifying with games and factions and classes during our long-term stays.

7. The longevity

Due to many other reasons on this list, player populations have stuck to MMORPGs for the long haul, giving these games a much longer relevant lifespan than most other video game titles get. I’ve read media stories where the author is fascinated by how, say, StarCraft players are still fanatically invested in that 1998 game (which is quite the accomplishment and testimony), yet you rarely see the same sites find themselves in awe of how MMORPGs are still running from that time period, still pumping out expansions, and still harboring sizable communities of players. If those MMOs do get mentioned, it’s usually in a “can you believe this is still going?” instead of a “how cool is this?” sense.

8. The artistry and design

Large open-world RPGs are all the rage these days, from Zelda to The Witcher, and everyone seems to fall over himself in praising how vast and explorable these settings are. Personally, I’m not always one to be awed by size alone, but such exclamations in media make me want to point at how large, detailed, and designed some of these game worlds have become. There is just so much art, music, sound, and design that goes into making these ever-expanding game worlds, and just because most MMOs don’t look as photo-realistic as the top AAA games on the market doesn’t mean that they lack visual and audio talent. Plus, isn’t it more fun to ooh and ahh over neat vistas or dungeon bosses when you’re visiting them with friends?

As a bird.

9. The technical accomplishment

By people who base their opinions on eyecandy alone, the technical accomplishment of MMORPGs is never seen. You’ve heard it said a thousand times that MMOs are the toughest games to make, and that’s in large part for the fiendish complexity of getting the whole backend to work to allow players to mingle and play together on a massive scale. Before MMOs, gaming used to be isolated or small-scale affairs, but now we live in an era when large crowds can pour into the same title, the same virtual world, and share the same experience. To make that happen requires incredible feats of hardware and software design that are often underestimated by those outside of this field.

10. The fun

What really irks me about the attitude that some in the media have taken against MMOs is the perception that these games simply aren’t fun. That they’re work. They’re grinding. They’re outdated designs. The implication is that MMO players really should know better and move on to buying the latest EA DLC.

I won’t deny that MMORPGs have many unsavory details and occasionally faulty designs. But I also won’t stand here and say that I’ve been misled or that I haven’t had any fun over the past 16 years of playing these games. The sheer enjoyment and fun factor that I get from MMOs is what keeps me in them ever since I started back in 2001. These can really be fun for reasons that perhaps not everyone can see, especially if coming from an outsider’s perspective. But they are and continue to be.

Honestly, I find these subtle (or not-so-subtle) putdowns of MMOs pointless here in 2017, especially as massively multiplayer features start bleeding into the domain of these other types of games. With the industry shifting and reshaping, why denigrate what you might be playing tomorrow?

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Code of Conduct | Edit Your Profile | Commenting FAQ | Badge Reclamation | Badge Key

LEAVE A COMMENT

33 Comments on "Perfect Ten: What the mainstream games media doesn’t get about MMORPGs"

Subscribe to:
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most liked
Reader
Suikoden

This has to be one of my favorite Perfect 10s. I really enjoyed the read. I don’t have much to add, just wanted to say Thank You for the article Justin.

Reader
jaif13

Persistence? When I get the bauble from the dungeon in skyrim and return it to the store owner, the bauble stays found, the dungeon is strewn with bodies and empty, and the store owner remembers me for doing it.

In an mmorpg, none of that is true. The only persistence I’ve found in MMOs is in realm v realm type fighting, or in sandboxy situations like shadowbane.

The fake feel of the world is ultimately what drives me out of MMORPGs. Simply chatting with people, regardless of setting, is not enough.

Reader
Jeff

Very true and if developers try to make it feel more persistent by adding features that skyrim has the grind kings that live for games like this have a baby fit, that in itself keeps MMOs niche. Honestly this is why myself and many others are flocking to Co-op rpgs that have massive elements, and not the massive amounts of terrible representations of humanity.

Rustyblades
Reader
Rustyblades

What I don’t get is the need for MMOs to change so much that if I take a 2-3 month break and come back the mechanics feel so off from before and the things that were once a joy were converted to a gruel.

Of course the big rub is the community – at times the community is awesome, non-toxic, and although I just read really add flavor to the game however there is chat that is so toxic (racist, sexually deprived, and abusive) that it is a huge detractor to the game. Toxic chat is a sign that the company is so apathetic to the customer base they won’t take a few moments of their time or a poorly paid intern’s time to clean up chat. Some of the more popular games have rather toxic chat (BDO) but at the success and income level have done next to nothing to assist players in “block watch” style reporting.

When major companies whine and say, “but we get literally 1000’s of tickets and it takes time to hit them all,” I find it a joke. If instead of hiding behind a ticket mountain they put a casual mod in game – most people can follow chat and do their day job – there wouldn’t be chat violation tickets as the mod could ban hammer the offender before the ticket even gets created. Toxic players will get the message, or get lost – to no one’s heartbreak.

Think about it – a MMO where the community is prioritized enough to at least clean up toxic spills. The seeming utter lack of modding in chat keeps me from using it more than I need to use it. Most of the time I have chat turned off – not the best way to join a community, but the best way not to have to do piles of tickets because of immature jerks.

Reader

Great read.

Besides #1, it is 4 and 6 that keep me playing. I hate the “game over” part of my RPG and even most of the new games have left me unsatisfied that I havent bothered to finish them (looking at you FFxv and the last DA and ME). And the loyalty flows more than just to the game. I am fortunate enough to be part of a community that plays 5 mmo’s so I always have a buddy to play with, and can keep advancing character across all different stories and universes.

Reader
rafael12104

Hmm. Ok, gloves off. I’ll try and be brief and blunt.

It is sad. It fucking really is. E3 should include a healthy amount of content and pressers surrounding MMOs, MOBAS and MMORPGs. But instead we get barely a drop. This year, the big splash? South Park’s Fractured-but-hole and BDO on the Xbox One X.

Oh, there is other news out there. MOP covered a few bits, but really E3 is the fucking Sarah Desert for MMORPGs news and updates.

Why? One reason. The general gaming media, MOP excluded, doesn’t fucking go get news. They don’t even listen to their audience for tips and info on what to cover. Instead, they wait for the AAAs to serve the news up for them. The AAA set the agenda and the provide the content. Provide the fucking content! Just watch a bit of E3. What is covered, generally, in interviews or “newsmakers” is nothing more than a regurgitation of the big pressers from the AAA.

It is pathetic. AAAs are not the only thing at E3. Indies are there. What they are calling AA’s now are there. News, hard hitting news, in the form of Q and A’s could be had, but.. nah. Why bother? The big corps will provide the talking points. LOL.

Sadly, I think this applies outside of E3 as well. IGN, Gamespot, etc. all wait to pass along “news.” There very few sites who dare to be journalists. You can count them with one hand.

Reader
Stropp

The big problem with E3 is that it is a hugely expensive event, both for exhibitors and attendees. Not to mention that traditionally it has been a press event. (That’s changed in recent years, but it is still primarily for the gaming press.)

That all means that only big wealthy publishers and developers can afford to exhibit there. Indies and small developers simply can’t afford it. Not easily anyhow.

That didn’t matter years ago when nearly every game went through a big publisher in order to get on to store shelves. But these days, it’s easy for anyone to make a game, but much much harder to promote it.

I don’t keep up with these things as much as I used to, but I think that if you’re an indie, then it’s the GDC where this sort of promotion becomes more viable. You’re not so much competing for attention, and there are opportunities to be seen, like awards and such.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

Yeah, I mean I appreciate the compliment, but I don’t think the press are the problem with E3. We can’t generate news if there isn’t any, and neither can those other outlets. Interviews are about as close as we come, and interviews are a waste of everyone’s time I’d say 80% of the time, so they’re a risk to assign. E3 has never been big for MMORPGs and really never been big for anybody but the very biggest publishers and platform hustlers. Our meat comes from PAX and in between.

Plus, E3 is set up for demo and interview appointments – that’s the format we can take advantage of. It’s not out of laziness or anything. People kind of hate it because it’s stressful and expensive and a lot of work in between waiting around being bored. E3 especially.

FWIW, we have a lot more hands-on stuff coming. Andrew was slowed down by a bad reaction to a crap VR demo, but he’s feeling much better now and back in business. We’ll probably be rolling more out tomorrow and the weekend, judging by our drafts bin of his work. :D

Reader
rafael12104

Hmm. As a consumer of games, but one who has attended E3, I don’t agree.

You are right about the fact that AAA dominate. They spend and get their pitch out because they can. And yet, Indies aren’t absent from E3. They actually have broom closet like booths but there are quite a few there. Sure, they don’t have the Vegas show feel of the big corps, but they are there demo’ing and showing off their wares. Gaming journalists should see through the show and get to the games. They should hustle and get those interviews and give us a better more varied view of E3.

Reader
thirtymil

I have sympathy with that bad reaction to VR stuff. It’s the primary reason I am avoiding VR for the moment – still waiting until the refresh rates, resolution and actual game design are top notch before I risk my brain’s attempts to process it.

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

i dislike the whole convention thing that has become so big in this industry lately.

they big stressful expensive affairs for everyone involved. they have not just upfront monetary and man hour costs for developers but require development time be wasted on vertical slices and tech demos and sizzle reels to be shown at them.

i mean sure give us gameplay trailers of to be launched games. but you don’t need a convention to do that. the world has changed since the 90s and now we can put out these trailers on youtube or w/e and send out an email to the press to get the coverage of them unlike 20 years ago.

we talked in irc the other day of the insanity of CIG doing all these conventions every single year and the insane costs both upfront and wasted dev time they must spend on doing multiples of them every year, even the ones where they just rent a room for a qna or send devs down to the floor and have drinks after hours at them. and they literally do this with just about even single convention every year. teh costs in both cash and man hours has got to be rediculous.

other publishers are a bit more sane with conventions for sure and peg maybe 1 or 2 conventions a year for their big reveals and vertical slices and what not. but it’s still a rediculous cost to do them, when there are much cheaper ways to get the hype out.

Reader
Sally Bowls

The Gamasutra recap was questioning what/why is E3. They said it is a misnomer to refer to them as press conferences since the devs are going around the press and streaming what they want to their target customer.

Yes, conventions are very expensive, not just money but more importantly distraction. And EA went on Sat, Microsoft on Sunday. A million people watched the Legion announcement live. Hard to see conventions being that cost effective any more.

wandris
Reader
wandris

The only true grind is the grind of life.

Reader
thirtymil

Things some of my friends don’t get about MMOs:

– fishing
– why monsters don’t chase or attack you when they can clearly see you
– why anyone would run the same dungeon dozens and dozens of times
– why a world with people in it is really any different to a single player game world like Skyrim
– why people would PvP in games where gear dictates your chance of winning 99% of the time…oh wait, no, that one is mine.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

Your 2nd point I would describe as bad AI. I always enjoyed original EverQuest’s trains because it seems more realistic, lifelike, and logical.
Why wouldn’t a fierce band of orcs attack all foes in their proximity? This “oops, gonna run back to my home spot and ignore everything ’till I reset” stuff kind of sucks to me. They seem less alive when they don’t respond to stimuli around them.
Just another reason why old-school EQ is brilliant.

Reader
thirtymil

Partly it’s AI, partly it’s a concession to gameplay. Games where true line of sight rules are used by bad guys are usually games where you end up sneaking slowly around all the time (ARMA springs to mind) and are constantly on guard. Most MMOs are a lot more relaxing to play than that otherwise we wouldn’t be playing them for hours on end.

Other games do, of course, use more relaxed detection rules for the bad guys (Ghost Recon Wildlands gives you plenty of warning you’re about to be spotted, for example), but nothing is quite as myopic and deaf as a boar standing in a field in Goldshire :)

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

It’s intentional, though; both the limited aspect (to make sure players are able to “outsmart” the mobs and feel good about it) and the snapping back to the origin part (in order to prevent mobs from being used for griefing purposes).

The part about the AI being limited isn’t exclusive to MMOs, BTW. Plenty modern single-player games, including AAA titles released this year, have NPCs dumber than a doorknob for the same reason.

Reader
Sally Bowls

Insert the usual dirge for EQN StoryBricks. /sigh

Reader
Panzerbjorne

I agree on some points, disagree with others. I’ve found that if number one is missing or I just can’t connect then number 10 might not happen.
Even after playing MMORPGs full time for some years I still feel that games like Witcher 3 or Dragon Age Inquisition provide an all around higher quality experience. It’s also 2 and 3 that can provide me a ton of stress though I do enjoy the persistence and getting invested in your Avatar.
The biggest thing that I’ve found missing across the genre is a challenge. I need that in a game generally. I’ve never made it past level 20 in WOW just due to how mind numbingly face roll easy and boring it is.

Reader
Paul

“rest of the staff can cover the latest groundbreaking edition of Call of Duty, Madden, or Battlefield” – ok I actually did LOL there – so true :)

Great article, covers why I’ve played 99% MMOs since logging into Eve online during the xmas hols of 2004 and being totally blown away by the fact that all these other ships were actually being flown by other players.. Single player games just feel hollow now.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

MMOs are the only games outside of virtual worlds like Second Life where you can actually “live a life” in a game. You can travel, make friends, find love. Experience adventure, danger, amusement, wonder. You can play at your own pace. Race to a goal, or just idly kill time – you decide.
The single player games or multiplayer shooters like Noun of Noun just can’t deliver that.

Reader
scarlet_shocker

I’d play Noun of Noun just to troll the adverbs!

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

i feel like skyrim does a better job of most of that than most mmo’s including teso.

most mmo’s make very poor virtual worlds imo. they are shitty amusment park rides that we have gotten bored of before even riding the latest iteration of the same ride we’ve been riding foir 20 years.

which is why most of my friends i’ve made through playing this genre cba to get invested in them anymore.

Nathaniel Downes
Reader
Nathaniel Downes

Battlefield of Homeland!!!

Reader
thirtymil

I lol’ed at ‘Noun of Noun’ :)

Reader
ThreeSpeed

I agree with everything you wrote. The downside for me is when an mmo I’ve sunk hundreds or thousands of hours and $ into transforms into something I don’t enjoy playing, this has been happening to me a lot lately.

Reader
Alex Malone

Nice article.

I would have possibly added “depth” as one of my points. No other genre has provided me the depth of character advancement and depth of combat that MMOs have. In nearly every other game I’ve ever played, I can master the combat and stats system in 20 hours or less (from an intellectual point of view), at which point the only challenge becomes reacting quickly, or aiming better – hardly engaging.

A well made MMO will keep me thinking for months, potentially years, and that is something I really appreciate. Vanilla LotRO, for example, probably had the deepest combat system I’ve ever played and I was still discovering nuances to group dynamics 6 months after release. Then, each expansion would change something in the system and the learning would begin again. Even once mastered, it was setup in such a way that every balanced fight required brain power to win, not just twitch skills or hammering out a rotation.

I’m glad you put community as number 1 as that would be my number 1 too. “Massively multiplayer”, it is literally the only unique selling point of the genre and is what allows great communities to even exist. We need much more focus on the community and social side of MMOs.

Reader
MesaSage

To make that happen requires incredible feats of hardware and software design that are often underestimated by those outside of this field.

And especially by those attempting to get “inside” the field. To say it’s only underestimated is extremely kind.

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

i find it amusing that pserver people can run much higher concurrent populations on their servers with better latency/less lag so to say than any retail version of the same game.

and while i chafe at pserver players judging retail stuff based on pserver tuning/balance/etc the fact is pservers tend to have much better tuning nad balancing of everything than the retail stuff.

which is crazy for hobbyists to outperform the “pros” in every area outside of making the game itself.

Reader
Soulbreeze

It feels like mmos have gone backwards in this regard. Channels, instances, phasing. Maybe it’s just they put more population on one “server”, but I miss giant open worlds like Galaxies had.

Bobuliss
Reader
Bobuliss

Great article! You hit the nail on the head with referring to single player games as disposable and expensive. Every year, mainstream gamers run out to buy the newest iteration of x shootemup or y athletic competition sim, while MMO gamers stick with a good MMO year after year, sometimes for a decade or more.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

Depends on the game, though. The Elder Scrolls and Fallout single-player games have been among my most cost-effective entertainment sources ever, often better than even B2P MMOs in that aspect. My last playthrough of Oblivion, alone, is approaching 200 hours, and I’m not even halfway through it.

Reader
Sally Bowls

What really swings the needle is if you can play your SPG after they have been debugged and the DLC included for free in a 75% off Steam sale.

wpDiscuz