Massively Overthinking: What are your criteria for recommending MMOs?
Last week, we got a well-intentioned email from a reader named Rick, who proposed a column in which readers tell us what they are looking for in an MMO and we offer up suggestions for just the right MMO. It’d be like Guild Chat, we imagine, only instead of dispensing guild advice, we’d be telling you folks what to play.
The email prompted some discussion among the MOP staff about whether that would be an effective column to write (or to read). We do answer some questions like that for the podcast from time to time, for example, but I seldom get the impression we’ve actually helped. Most times, the listener has already tried everything and is hoping for a game that simply doesn’t exist yet, so we’re destined to fail. And even then, it’s really difficult to recommend MMOs to people without really knowing their full history with every studio and game. Some of us can’t even find an MMO we want to play!
So we thought we’d open that discussion up for everyone. How do you go about recommending MMOs to other people? What are your criteria? When your sister says she’s done with WoW, your co-worker requests input around the watercooler one day, or Some Dude On Reddit asks for pointers – where do you start?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Generally speaking, unless they’re an MMO fan, I don’t. Sorry, but especially if you can’t be bothered to answer a few questions about your situation, Bree’s hit it on the nose. This gets complicated further by the fact that some MMOs are judged by their size, and the niche communities I love may not be sticky enough for someone unwilling to try smaller and/or indie games.
There’s another problem though. A fellow MMO fan and I were lamenting one of our favorite aspects of MMOs: community. With even single-player games having online options, gamers have tons of communities and games to choose from, and often hop not just from MMO to MMO these days but from online game to online game. It was one thing for someone to take a month break for a new Zelda and come back, but when even traditional single-player Final Fantasy games have multiplayer components, those people just end up disappearing. If you can’t afford to keep up with the game jumping, you’re left out. In fact, one of the people I was trying to play Monster Hunter World with is already distracted by the new Dragon Ball fighter which, again, is online-capable and allows him to play with other friends.
But let’s say someone tells me he’s looking for specifically for an MMO to hit up. We’re talking persistent shared worlds, social areas to chat, avatar customization, guilds, updates, community/GM events… something, say, Overwatch or Splatoon just can’t do. I first ask him what other game(s) he’s playing lately. That gives you an idea of tastes. When someone says, “I want a game like old school EverQuest,” but is playing Fortnite, I always question whether there’s nostalgia blocking out the real reasons the person isn’t just still playing EQ. Then I ask if there’s an MMO his friends are playing. There are a few factors that go into that, but sometimes people don’t like to admit that their RL friends aren’t always the best in-game friends, and that’s OK. Sometimes, though, they want to play with their friends but there’s a social situation going on and we can talk through that.
Assuming that’s not true, and there’s no hardcore money issue (i.e., can’t afford a $60 game or subscription), I ask what the person wants to do in an MMO or get out of that experience. I don’t recommend TERA to people who want to eat a sandwich while raiding, and World of Warcraft isn’t going to cut it for someone who’s looking for innovation.
I may ask other questions from there, but usually at this point I can start recommending MMOs, but I sadly don’t assume people will be happy. Again, when most people ask about what MMO they should play, they tend to hope there’s some secret game out there that will make their dreams come true, and that game doesn’t exist. I tend to refer to more mainstream games because there’s a higher chance they know someone who’s at least heard of it, or may increase their chance of meeting someone local who also plays. At least in my own circles, the best part of an MMO is the people, and when our communities feel like they’re constantly being torn apart, finding locals to play with seems to help make the genre sticky again.
…all that being said, I still bring up Project Gorgon in my recommendations and hope I can get the people I know to give it a whirl with me.
Brendan Drain (@nyphur): When I reccomend a game to someone, the discussion is always of the same form: “You liked X and Y? You should really check out Z!” I think the best way to do a recommendation column then would be to take a different game in each edition and write up an overview of everything the game has and how it compares to other games. It could be presented in a standardised format with sections on character creation, PvE, PvP, community, and any unique features or special highlights. Certainly there are enough MMOs out there that share broad features such as dungeons and quests that it should be relatively easy to compare any game to a number of other titles that the reader might have played.
We wouldn’t necessarily have to make value judgments here or fall back heavily on personal opinions, but it would need to be written by someone who has played practically all the MMOs on the market today and comparing game mechanics and content across games in a way people would agree on isn’t the easiest thing in the world either. MassivelyOP has the advantage that we’ve built a brilliant little community that could help though, so the comments could serve as a discussion platform for people to expand on the article if it’s missing any information or if there are other perspectives to consider. A column like this could end up being a very useful resource.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I always feel as if answering is a trap, as if I am suddenly tasked with representing the entirety of the MMORPG genre, and if I can’t come up with a winner, I have failed it as well as the petitioner.
If it’s a relative MMO newbie – or somebody who’s been playing only one or two games for a decade, which is pretty common from some playerbases – then it’s easy. There’s always a game in the top dozen that I can recommend without much hesitation that would be new to the asker.
If it’s a veteran, who prefaces the question with a list of everything she’s played and everything she hated, that’s harder. It’s not that I can’t come up with a dozen games she hasn’t played; it’s that if the top 20 MMOs aren’t to her tastes, the next tier isn’t going to be either. I could recommend indies out the wazoo too, but it’d just be a waste of both her and my time in most cases.
The truth is that a lot of people would probably be happier waiting out the current MMORPG cycle in a different genre and don’t want to admit it, which is why so many of us are in our own holding pattern in older games. Throwing obscure MMOs at those folks won’t help when what they really want and need is a brand-new, high-quality, AAA MMORPG from a major studio with major funding and follow-through.
That’s not going to stop me from telling everyone to try stuff, of course; you will never learn what you like until you’ve sampled a ton of things that suck. (And more than just a no-thank-you bite, Timmy.)
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): If it’s just a casual acquaintance or someone who wants an answer on the spot, the answer is pretty easy. I’ll just run down a list of the most relevant MMO in terms of their current popularity, content addition, and youth. It’s pretty much the entirety of our annual “healthiest live MMO” list, and most MOP readers would be able to come up with the same list off the top of their heads.
But let’s say it is someone who has been around the block with MMOs, likes the concept of MMOs, but is dissatisfied with all of the obvious prospects and needs to branch out. What then? The first thing I would recommend is preemptively building up a “games I want to try” list over time. When you see a title mentioned that looks interesting but you don’t have the time right now? Put it on the list. Hear some good word-of-mouth about a particularly MMO? On the list. That way when you feel burned out on your game and have some time free up, you don’t have to go far for recommendations. You’re already set.
Past that, I’d really recommend reading the comments in WRUP every week to get some good ideas of what our community is playing and perhaps be pointed to the direction of a title that you overlooked or haven’t thought about before. And while this might sound weird, check out One Shots every Sunday. It can be really helpful to see pictures that players have taken in MMOs and read their stories of playing these games.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I don’t. And I really don’t like when people ask me to recommend things that they would enjoy. How would I know? Even those closest to me have such an intricate web of internal qualifications and tastes that I can totally miss a mark. What a person’s likes/dislikes/must haves/dealbreakers are is so incredibly personal there is no way to tailor something adequately. And to top that off, what they tell you they want isn’t even necessarily what they will play! We’ve seen that over and over again in the industry. I think people don’t even honestly admit their criteria to themselves at times. Heck, sometimes I can’t even quite put my finger on why I like or dislike something, so how can I nail that down for some whose brain and inner feelings I am not privy to? All I can know is what I actually enjoy, and even that can vary by mood and time available to play.
The most I feel comfortable doing is giving blanket statements like, “If you love puzzles and creepy Lovecraft stuff, you should try Secret World Legends,” or “If you like survival games and dinosaurs, give ARK a try.” Mostly, I just say, “I have no idea what you’d love, but <this> is where I am having fun.” If I am really having a blast, I will totally encourage everyone to give it a try because I’d love to share a great experience. Of course, I know full well that plenty of folks would not have a great experience. My suggestion is just try it and see for yourself. That’s what I need to do myself.