Massively Overthinking: Our favorite MMORPG articles of 2017
For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’ve asked the writers to do something most of them hate: brag! We’ve tried to isolate our favorite personal work from the year and talk about why we think it matters, then identify our favorite work from somebody else on the site this year and do the same. I always tell them it’s easy, but it never is!
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I think my article on lockboxes, keys, and boosters in terms of their gambling label according to various countries’ laws fits the bill. It’s from the start of the year, so it’s disappointing I wasn’t able to do anything better the rest of the year, but I had other things to deal with. I know a lot of people will shout for either side from the gut, but getting *gasp* real lawyers to talk about this and weigh in, bring in their experience and other cases mainstream (gaming) media doesn’t really shows how ahead of the curve MassivelyOP has been in the games and gambling debate.
There’s a lot of good articles to choose from this year, especially towards the end in regards to this lockbox debate, but to change topics, I want to go with Eliot’s piece on how Funcom learned nothing from Square-Enix about rebooting an MMO (even if they didn’t want that genre being applied anymore). There were so many redflags going up about the reboot that I honestly never jumped into it. I always loved the idea of TSW and its lore/puzzles, but the execution (especially in terms of combat) was lacking. For the devs to think they needed more repeatable content that relied on systems they weren’t getting right was baffling, and needing to reboot a game to do that seemed downright silly. Eliot also noted how even when you do understand your audience and game reasonably well, such as with Darkfall, you can fail, but as a gamer, DF2 got me back in for a while when TSW2 couldn’t.
Brendan Drain (@nyphur): I pretty much exclusively covered EVE Online this year, and it’s been a good year for EVE reporting. We got some good coverage of EVE Fanfest 2017 and EVE Vegas 2017, I was pleased with how the EVE Online war reports I did in August turned out, and September’s record-breaking political betayal was genuinely exciting to write about. I think my most important piece this year though has to be the issue of the EVE Evolved column following CCP Games’ layoffs and VR pullout. It’s all too easy to look at layoffs as par for the course in this industry, so I considered it important to put the situation in the context of CCP’s history and highlight the very real impact it could have on EVE Online. I consider articles that chronicle major events in an MMO’s life to be essential for the future too, if only to act as a snapshot or reference to look back on just as we sometimes do when mentioning the Monoclegate scandal.
I particularly loved Eliot’s Soapboxes on toxicity and inconvenience versus immersion in MMOs this year as Eliot has this way of getting to the core of tough issues, but the article I’d most like to draw attention to is Andrew’s “tough love” piece on Pokemon Go. Nobody on the team has been as deep into Pokemon Go as Andrew, and it’s from his love of the game and wish to see it succeed that this harsh assessment of Niantic’s appalling track record emerged. It follows the game’s second underwhelming birthday celebration and the disastrous Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago, and Andrew seriously doesn’t hold back. Once again, I consider there to be historical value for the future in articles like this that chronicle the missteps of game studios, and it’s up to the biggest fans of those games to pen them.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): My favorite work the whole year of my own isn’t actually an article at all — it’s a video. I am not a video expert by any means, but I’ve had fun rolling these out over the last year or two, and in May, I did one celebrating classic Guild Wars, explaining why it’s still so beloved by those who played it, and hopefully convincing somebody out there that it deserves a sequel. (That’s not a slam on Guild Wars 2, which I also love – just recognition that they aren’t very much alike in format and goal.)
Since no one can stop me (muahahaha), I want to highlight something from everyone else too!
What I like about Andrew is he never lets being a superfan of a game get in the way of harsh criticism. He really let Niantic have it over the botched Pokemon Go event in Chicago last summer, pointing out that the trainwreck wasn’t the first or last but one in a long series of willful studio blunders.
The best work Brendan did this year hands-down was his excellent follow-up analysis of the massive CCP VR-inflicted layoffs and downsizing, exposing the real damage to EVE Online (in terms of community team members laid off) after the company claimed EVE wouldn’t be impacted at all. And that’s saying something, given the other drama Brendan covered earlier in the year!
Others have already mentioned Eliot’s epic editorials on toxicity and immersion, so let me instead point to the one on business models, where he draws a clear line between game studios making fair profits and being abusive and tries to broker understanding between players and companies. Bonus? Conversations with anthropomorphic concepts of MMO studios. It flattens me even all these months later.
From Justin, take a look at Why Star Trek Online is an underrated MMORPG. I love these types of articles so much, the ones that dig out a game nobody’s talking much about and brings it back into the limelight, and he lays out the very specific things the game has going for it. It was a tremendously popular article to boot. Who says listicles are just fluff?
Star Wars: The Old Republic is perpetually dinged because of its cash shop model, and even though he’s been extremely critical of the game, Larry put aside his gripes to re-examine the cash shop specifically this past fall, finding that BioWare has actually done quite a bit to repair the game’s model (if not its reputation). Solid work there.
Matt’s been immersed in academia and I don’t get to use him as much as I’d like here on the site, but of his work for us this year, his deep-dive into Crowfall’s crafting in February is my favorite. The irony is a lot of the crafting in the game has changed significantly since then, but I think he demonstrates why it needed changing in the first place.
You guys have to admit MJ has had a rough couple of years as first and foremost a fan of the EverQuest franchise. In September, she did a soul-searching editorial facing up to the possibility that EverQuest II is in a downward spiral, soon to suffer the same fate as Landmark and EverQuest Next; she lays out the problems Daybreak has had and more importantly what the studio could do to fix them.
I have long said that I hired Tina originally to write the column I wish I had time for, MMO Mechanics, but in reality she does it better than I could, so this is a win-win for everyone. I want to highlight especially her mechanics piece on Guild Wars 2’s mountgate, which effectively and clinically examines the lockbox problem in a much-loved game and applies the lessons to the whole genre.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): This is always a bit rough for me, because, well, I don’t like my work much. That’s not a subtle try at a humblebrag or something; imposter syndrome and low self-esteem are seriously a hell of a drug. That having been said, I’m happy to highlight some great work this year done by other people!
For example, Brendan’s piece on EVE’s collapsing state was on-point, timely, smart, and pointed out the huge number of ways that CCP has overextended itself in recent years. Larry’s done lots of good work covering stuff this year, but his piece on the Star Wars: The Old Republic server merges highlighted a major issue from an often neglected side of the MMO fandom. Justin has done lots of good work this year, including a great piece talking about how poorly Lord of the Rings Online handled its expansion pre-orders while being on-point about the other issues the game has had through the year. MJ did great work on documenting the downslide of the EverQuest franchise. Tina unpacked the Guild Wars 2 mount lockbox issue marvelously. Andrew looked at some great stuff regarding Nintendo’s scattershot offerings and its social ventures. Bree analyzed Master x Master’s cultural disconnect. Seriously, that’s just scratching the surface.
But me? Honestly, I don’t feel comfortable evaluating my own work, much less praising it. I do still feel good about my response to Final Fantasy XIV’s self-inflicted housing problem, though.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): My pick might not be super-obvious, but I’m going to go with my Game Archaeologist column on Furcadia. I had been avoiding doing that game for years because the whole furry scene felt weird and I steered very clear of the game itself. But when I went in to research it, I found a truly surprising (and long-lasting) MMO that had some thoughtful design elements and huge amounts of player creativity. Sure, I probably will never get the furry subculture, but I developed a respect for what this team did and how the community supported the game.
As for another staff’s work, I’ll give Eliot a shout-out for his excellent soapbox on immersion vs. inconvenience: The Soapbox: Inconvenience is not immersion in MMOs or anywhere else. It was a well-timed piece that felt fair in its presentation and struck at the nerve of these retro-themed MMORPGs in the making. Good stuff that needed to be said, and I really think it’s a piece that should be passed around MMO studios.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): That’s not fair! My most favoritest piece isn’t live yet! It is set to publish next week or just before the new year. Why is it the best? Well, once you see it, you will instantly know why.
For runners-up, I am going to say the two-part guide to survival games. I’ll be honest: It is because of the column graphic. I am super proud of it; it is one of my all-time favorites I have made and the first column was its debut. I also select them because not only was it eye-opening how many games are out there in this budding genre but it signaled a bit of a paradigm shift for me, Miss Virtual World Enthusiast. This is where I was finding meaningful worlds to live in instead of my much beloved MMORPGs.
For effect on me, I’d add in my loss of Landmark EverQuesting. That was written in the throes of grief — and I can still see the many stages right there in it. It isn’t anything major in the scheme of things, but impacted me.
As for my favorite from someone else, I honestly have to say none. Too many are totally awesome! I cannot pick one or even 20. Everyone has incredible thoughts, insights, and I can’t forget the humor. You all rock!
Tina Lauro Pollock (@purpletinabeans): My answer popped into my head fairly quickly when I read this question because I still think about this article (Dealing with the anxieties and pressures of MMORPG guilds) often and I really hope it empowered the individual it was written for. I could nominate each and every Guild Chat entry as personally important to me because that content is triggered by someone writing in with their own guild problems, which obviously carries weight with me, but this one was special because it stretched me as a writer and I feel that this submitter really needed the support.
One thing I always am is honest: I admit in the article that my personal experience with mental health issues and coping strategies is limited and I initially wasn’t going to take on this submission, but I thought that I’d be failing the submitter and the entire purpose of the column if I passed over such an important topic and I jumped into the research. I couldn’t leave someone who reached out for help to struggle in that way, not able to enjoy one of their historic methods of escaping from the strife of daily life.
I was astounded by the figures and personal accounts I uncovered and armed myself with resources to throw at the person in question, and I want everyone to read this particular edition of Guild Chat because mental health issues are so widespread in the gaming community and we all could help our gaming friends out by being aware of that fact. Many affected people are never able to reach out publicly, which is why static resources such as this edition of Guild Chat and those I reference in the article are so important.
I mourn the loss of the comments on this one: This was before the system migration and we unfortunately lost a treasure-trove of fantastic, supportive advice that was formed by experience on this one. I hope the person who submitted the question got to see those before they went poof!
As for an article from someone else? I choose Getting to the heart of toxicity in MMOs. Eliot is very often bang-on-the-money with his work and many of my favourite MOP articles are his, but this particular offering takes prize position in being so well crafted and accurate! I particularly loved how he made the point that the anonymity of the target — and not simply the behind-the-keyboard nature of the aggressor as we tend to think — is a large contributor to toxicity problems in the MMO industry. This is one of those points that is so frequently missed when people discuss the toxicity issue, so it’s fantastic to see it brought to the fore of the argument.
I truly believe the high degree of avatar customisation is at least partly why the wider Guild Wars 2 community is relatively mild on the toxicity scale, yet we see a marked rise in toxicity in competitive scenarios where players don’t have time to focus on individual enemy avatars and often play such content with standardised enemy models turned on anyway. When you can see a reflection of an actual individual on your screen, rather than a cookie-cutter, default avatar or, in EVE’s case as Eliot points out, a cold, angular, business-as-usual ship model, it’s all too easy for people to miss that inextricable link between the player and character. Eliot, I want you to take that Soapbox back up and write a piece on solving toxicity in 2018!