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.
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?
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?