massively overthinking

Massively Overthinking is a weekly feature in which the Massively Overpowered writers take turns weighing in on a particular MMO-related topic before turning the discussion over to the readership. [Follow this feature’s RSS feed]

Massively Overthinking: Disentangling MMO classes and races

Last week, a guildie of mine mentioned that he’d been interested in Crowfall until he realized he couldn’t be a gerbil (Guineacean) of the class of his choosing. It was a total coincidence that the Crowfall devs had literally that same week announced they were nuking their race/class-locked archetype system and disentangling races and classes, so I got to tell him his wish had been granted.

I think this pushes the game more solidly into MMORPG territory, so I’m happy to see it: More customization and choice and variety is what I’m all about. But I was going to play it before, too. For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’m presenting the idea of locked vs. unlocked archetypes to our staff to mull over. How important is it to you to be able to play any race/class combo in a game? Is it something you see as critical to MMORPGs? Is archetype-locking more the domain of MOBAs and ARPGs? When do you let it slide to play a fun game?

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Massively Overthinking: Is the MMO genre facing an identity crisis?

MMORPG blogger and MOP commenter Isarii (@ethanmacfie) recently published an excellent video positing that the MMO industry is facing a “massive identity crisis.”

“The MMO genre has sort of walked away from the things that made it unique and has faced an identity crisis since then as MMOs have reinvented themselves as these big giant titles trying to appeal to as many people as possible,” he argues. “As a result, you end up with MMOs that try to do things that smaller scale games tend to do better while not doing any of the things that make MMOs themselves unique.”

The whole video is worth a look-and-listen as he pins down what exactly does make MMOs unique and which MMOs have excelled as actual MMOs (protip: It’s everything from EVE to SWG to WoW, so don’t think this is about subgenre elitism at all). What do you think? Is Isarii right? Is the genre facing an identity crisis? And how do we solve it? That’s what our writers will be debating in this week’s Massively Overthinking.

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Massively Overthinking: Competitive PvE in MMORPGs

During last week’s podcast, Justin and I bumped into a tangential topic about competitive PvE and how relatively rare it is in MMORPGs, which seems weird, right? It was once the nature of MMOs to make us scuffle with other guilds in open-world dungeons, but with the dawn of instanced PvE content, devs didn’t replace that type of content the same way they’ve embraced raiding and PvP. You’ve got achievements, sure, and gear show-offs, but outside of Guild Wars-esque challenge missions and WildStar PvE leaderboards, it’s just not something most MMOs bother with.

Why is that? Should they? And how do you want to see it done? I posed all these questions to the Massively OP team this week for Massively Overthinking!

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Massively Overthinking: Are MMORPG players a minority in their own genre?

Deep in the comments of the MMOs-vs.-survival-sandboxes thread from last week, reader miol_ produced a beautiful comment about how MMO players have become a minority in their own genre, which he then expounded upon for us in this provocative email.

“I’ve reached the opinion, that since the launch of WoW and its clones, the ‘original’ MMO-playerbase became a minority in their own genre. Before, we were but hundreds of thousands of MMO players, but then came Blizzard with WoW and its legions of fans in the dozen of millions at its peak, starting to dictate what the new success of MMOs should look like. Even if we others tried to vote with our wallet and feet, we became a minority, having only a fraction of our initial influence, while many devs tried desperately time and again to find ways to get at least a portion of the new Blizzard playerbase.

“Am I wrong with that perception of history? Am I totally missing something? Or are ‘we’ are slowly becoming a majority again, now that WoW and its clones are seeing steadily declining numbers (instead of us winning more players to ‘our side’)? How do we lobby better for ‘our cause’? Or can we only wait and see, until the genre is small enough again? Or is it too late? Have we ourselves grown too far apart into our even more niche corners of personal taste since SWG, while production costs and our demands for production value have skyrocketed at the same time? How could we come closer again?”

Let’s tackle miol_’s questions in this week’s Massively Overthinking.

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Massively Overthinking: Disassembling MMORPGs for parts

This week’s Massively Overthinking comes to us from Xijit — and I think you’ll agree it’s quite timely.

“In light of The Secret World getting reworked into more of a single-player or online-but-not-actually-an-MMO title, what other MMOs would you like to see downgraded from the full MMO format and turned into a single-player-focused or limited multiplayer title?”

I’d like to say I can speak for everyone and say NONE ZERO NEVER STOPPIT. But I bet our staff — and you — can probably think of a few MMOs that might be better suited for a different format. Let’s dive in to this pool full of poop jello and fight it out.

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Massively Overthinking: MMOs, from hardcore to casual and back again

Massively OP reader Suikoden wrote this great question to the podcast — too good to let just Justin and me answer it. It’s a two-parter!

“Back when I used to be a hardcore MMO gamer circa 2000-2010, I felt that MMOs of that era were designed more toward the hardcore gamer and even catered to us more. Within the last 5 years, I’ve had to develop into more of a casual player. However, I now feel that games once again cater to me and my current playstyle. Did the MMO genre evolve alongside me, from a more hardcore-centric genre to a more casual playerbase? Or is it the same as it always was and I just feel that it caters to me because it’s designed to feel like it caters to all playstyles? And if there was a change, do you feel it is for the better or for the worse for the genre?”

I posted Suikoden’s questions to the team for this week’s Massively Overthinking!

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Massively Overthinking: It’s the end of The Secret World as we know it

I think I can speak for most of our staff in saying that in November when Funcom first promised a “major upgrade to both retention and acquisition mechanics and content of the game to counter the declining revenues” in The Secret World, no one expected this.

Ditto in February, when Funcom said it was going “relaunch to broaden the appeal of the game through [a] redesigned new player experience, major improvements to gameplay including combat, [the] introduction of new retention systems such as daily rewards, [and] adjustments to the business model, including allowing access to the story content for free” — people murmured “NGE,” but no one even considered that the studio would dump MMO players overboard in pursuit of ARPG fans.

But in retrospect, the cagey language and lack of actual updates in the game were right there all along, as was the casual maintenance-moding of Anarchy Online and Age of Conan.

For this week’s Overthinking, I’ve asked our staff to consider Funcom’s plans here — not the rumors and leaks but the set-in-stone plans — and reflect on what they say about the studio, the game, and the genre on the whole. What do you think about Secret World Legends?

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Massively Overthinking: Competition vs. community in MMOs

Quantic Foundry, the games research group we’ve been tracking ever since it posted its original Gamer Motivation Model, has a new piece out this month on competition and community.

Dr Nick Yee (yes that Nick Yee) explains that one of the things his team’s survey and resulting model have demonstrated is that commonly held assumptions about the “spectrum” of MMO players — that is, “warm, fuzzy, social care bears on one end” and “cold, anti-social, competitive griefers” on the other — are wrong. In fact, he argues, the model shows that competition is not the opposite of community; on the contrary, “there is a strong positive correlation between competition and community,” disassociated from the gender and age of the respondents. This is the kind of stuff a lot of our readers are going to love, especially since the researchers are smashing related assumptions (like that ganking is PvP or that competition necessitates conflict).

So for this week’s Overthinking, I sent the summary of the research to our writers and asked them to discuss whether Yee’s results match their experiences when it comes to community and competition.

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Massively Overthinking: The City of Heroes Master X Master debacle

On Tuesday, NCsoft announced that it plans to introduce Statesman, from the long-sunsetted City of Heroes, as a playable character in its MOBA, Master x Master.

Complications ensued, as anyone familiar with the history of MMORPGs can probably imagine.

For this week’s Overthinking, I asked our team of writers — both those who loved CoH and those who never much played it — what they think about the whole ordeal. Are gamers right to be angry? What exactly is NCsoft thinking? Have we seen the end of any hope of the game being resurrected or sold, or should we infer just the opposite?

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Massively Overthinking: When social play in MMOs is predatory by design

Blogger Tobold recently wrote a provocative piece on social play in MMOs, as pointed out to us by our dear tipster Sally. In a piece cheekily titled “Why I can live without other players in my games,” he writes that far from being the foundation or glue of MMOs, guilds are actually one of the worst bits of the genre, being platforms for selfishness and drama.

“Guilds were never designed for positive social interaction, they were always a means to an end of individual character progress. You needed those other people to get the most powerful gear in the game. And the way there wasn’t exactly a constant stream of friendship and happiness. Look at what MMORPG blog posts have been mostly about when talking about their guilds: First people complain if others aren’t investing as much as they do and become a hindrance to killing raid bosses, and then when the raid boss is finally dead they complain that somebody else got the loot.”

“The people most loudly complaining about the lack of other players being forced to play with them,” he finishes with a zinger that resonated most for me, “are the kind of people with the most predatory play styles.”

I’ve presented Tobold’s piece to our writers for this week’s Overthinking. Do they — and you — agree with his thesis? Let’s Overthink it.

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Massively Overthinking: That moment when your MMO looks like a ‘fire sale at an exotic pet store’

Massively OP Podcast listener John recently sent us a really great question that saw Justin and me sharply divided in terms of our responses, so naturally, we decided to kick it to the whole team and the readers too.

“When you walk through a city in WoW, you very rarely see two adjacent characters riding the same species of mount,” he wrote. “I just walk by, thinking, ‘Unicorn, griffin, dragon, wyvern, skeleton of a horse, motorcycle, floating-on-a-cloud, mammoth, turtle, rocket, sparkle pony, rancor, miniature TIE fighter,’ and so on. Once there’s a cash shop, special instance rewards and PvP mounts, a flood of new (and increasingly implausible) mounts hit the scene. It makes it hard, for me at least, to imagine that I am in any kind of a coherent setting. Why not add an optional checkbox for ‘Traditional Mounts’ that would cause other people’s mounts to render as normal mounts for their race? Everybody else would be able to see what they want to see, and cities wouldn’t look like a fire sale at an exotic pet store. I also propose the same solution for people who find female gear too revealing and impractical: Give me a ‘Sensible Armor’ checkbox as well!”

Why not indeed? Let’s hear it!

(With apologies to Trove, whose screenshot I just had to use above but is actually wholly justified in being wacky.)
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Massively Overthinking: Mainstream misconceptions about MMORPGs

Massively OP reader Arsin Halfmoon pitched the team a great question this week, poached straight from the podcast list:

“As someone deeply invested in the MMO genre, I find our reputation as a playerbase just as important as the games we play. I’ve heard people say MMORPG stands for ‘Many Men Online Role Playing Girls’ or something derogatory. And the mainstream media loves news story about players dying from excessive MMO playing. I’ve even watched a documentary about people addicted to our genre — let’s just say that didn’t really put a good spin on us either. Overall, the media doesn’t shine a positive light on us. But I know we’re more than that. If the staff could dispel any misunderstandings about the MMO community to the mainstream, what would they be?”

I posed Arsin’s question to the staff for Overthinking this week. How does mainstream news — and mainstream gaming — get our genre wrong?

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Massively Overthinking: Is the MMORPG genre taking a much-needed breather?

Massively OP donor and commenter Tibi sent this epic question to our podcast and kindly allowed me to share it here instead for maximum impact! Tibi wants us to consider the state of the genre and consider that maybe we’re taking a much-needed breather from the hectic chaos of a few years ago.

“Much has been said and written about the decline and even death of western AAA MMOs, but assuming that New World and future games end up coming out, I am actually happy with this quiet period. It can give already launched games the time to mature and grow into what was originally promised. I doubt that if we were still getting the onslaught of games from a few years back, Elder Scrolls Online could have thrived the way it does today or that The Secret World could have kept its smaller but constant playerbase. There are so many good games out there and it’s great to see them able to keep the lights on and welcome new players who would otherwise have gone chasing the new shiny and miss out. What do you think?”

I posed Tibi’s question to the Massively team for this week’s Overthinking, but they were all too busy playing quiet MMOs! Just kidding. Batter up!

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