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The Daily Grind: Do you prefer ‘work’ simulation MMOs to more fantastic game worlds?

In the comments of my piece on Raph Koster’s book last week, a commenter brought up the idea that mimicking the real world in MMOs was a “sad” sort of “obsession” – why would we want to work in a video game in our spare time, he was essentially asking, when we could do something fresh and creative with our video game spaces instead?

I took a stab at answering the question, supposing that just because we can theoretically do a job in real life doesn’t mean we are realistically or physically able to do it, and exploration of the unreachable can be fun. A post on the Psychology of Video Games blog answers it even better: Author Jamie Madigan writes that games like Farming Simulator 17 and Euro Truck Simulator do so well precisely because people like to explore those types of jobs in a low-stress, who-cares-if-I-run-my-semi-off-the-virtual-autobahn environment. “These games remove the worst of the uncertainty, helplessness, ambiguity, and consequences for failure that come with those real world jobs and turn them into game systems that are interesting and fun to interact with,” he argues. “They give players clear goals, unambiguous feedback, winnable challenges, and predictable rewards. All things that most jobs sadly don’t consistently provide.”

That certainly explains it: I really hate thinking about money in real life, but I love playing around in MMO economies where my market mistakes simply don’t matter.

How about you? Do you prefer simulation MMOs to more fantastic game worlds? Or something in between? And is there an activity that you love in MMOs but hate in the real world?

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The Daily Grind: What’s your biggest ever MMO splurge?

Ever since Trove launched its superhero-themed expansion Heroes, I’ve been hemming and hawing over buying the big mama upgrade package for the Vanguardian and the gobs upon gobs of currency that comes with it. You guys, I want it, but I have such guilt over spending that much dough on a single class and the costume fluff I’d probably buy with the rest of it. For the same stack of cash, I could buy five or ten whole games on Steam.

It’s silly. I’ve paid way more for dumber things; ask me how much I paid to move a bunch of toons across accounts in Star Wars Galaxies back in the day when that kind of cash was far dearer to me. So I should just get it while the fam is still into the game. And yet… I keep stalling.

How about you? What MMO have you splurged on lately, and what’s the biggest MMO splurge you’ve ever made?

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The Daily Grind: Does teaching toxic MMO gamers what they did wrong actually help?

As RPS reported this week, Valve has taken the relatively unusual step of making your Dota 2 and CSGO report cards semi-public – that is, players can see reports made against their accounts, and the rationales given, even if Valve took no action on them. The author was bemused to find that he’d been reported for “intentional feeding” when in fact, he just sucked that match. Hey, it happens.

But I wonder whether the reports are useful to actual toxic players who’ve been actioned to teach them where they went wrong; it’s certainly an idea League of Legends clung to for years. MOP reader TomTurtle recently suggested something similar in terms of forum moderation too. “I’d like to see how viable it’d be to have moderators give an infractor a chance to edit their post to be constructive in an attempt to have them learn why their initial language was against the rules” in the service of “informing players why they were infracted in the first place,” he wrote to us.

Even if we agree that moderators’ and gamemasters’ jobs should include not just protecting the community from toxicity but actually attempting to – as Raph Koster puts it in his new book – “reform bad apples,” I wonder whether it’s even worth the trouble, never mind the expense. Does knowing what they did wrong actually help toxic players become less toxic? Or does it just cause them to double down to save face? Is the industry just wasting time and money trying to reform players who aren’t just poorly socialized or clueless but willfully destructive?

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The Daily Grind: How do you handle content lulls in MMORPGs?

MOP reader Joel recently wrote into us with a link to a Dark Legacy Comic (#634) that succinctly captures the problem of content lulls in MMOs. It features a bored World of Warcraft hero character staring at his friends list full of buddies who haven’t logged on in weeks (“wake me for prepatch,” one friend’s tag reads); he then becomes super excited at a newly delivered mail, only to find out it’s an automated brew-of-the-month club missive telling him to share his drinks with his friends. Womp womp.

“I can’t speak for everyone but this episode really spoke to me as there have been a lot of times I’ve felt exactly this way in quite a few MMOs that have hit a lull,” Joel wrote.

I thought it was particularly relevant this summer for MMORPG players; World of Warcraft is in a bit of a lull right now ahead of the launch of its expansion, while Guild Wars 2’s next big patch has been delayed so significantly that I heard the word “drought” being kicked around yesterday.

So how do you handle content lulls in MMORPGs? Do you stick it out, play alts, grind cash? Or do you wander away to play something else?

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The Daily Grind: Will you sub to EA’s new ‘Origin Access Premier’ service?

During EA Play this weekend, EA announced Origin Access Premier, its attempt at a subscription service on PC. For $100 a year, you’ll basically get a service pretty similar to what already exists on Xbox: You’ll be able to play all the big new games, like Anthem, plus other titles within the Origin Vault, for that flat fee.

Subscriptions rise again, right? Is this a good thing for games outside the service?

“As always, I want to Bree to win the lottery, buy up some MMOs and take them to the Island of Misfit MMOs where $200 per annum gets you sub/pref access to all of RIFT, LOTRO, STO, SWTOR, et al.,” MOP tipster Sally wrote to us, urging us to write about the sub. “But picture that you are a hard-working indie dev. You already have the issues with dealing with Steam. Now a customer has to decide whether to buy your game or just play something like Anthem for no additional cost.”

Will you be subbing to EA’s new Origin Access Premier service? Do you think it’ll have a catastrophic impact on indie games or MMOs with subs?

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The Daily Grind: What’s the best MMORPG vet reward you’ve ever gotten?

CCP Games rolled out a pretty sweet veteran reward for EVE Online vets this week ahead of the game’s anniversary: Everybody who’s been playing since the game went free-to-play in 2016 picked up a tier one Abyssal Filament.

That got me thinking about vet rewards in general. It’s actually become a pretty rare concept in MMORPGs, largely because they were originally intended to reward people for being loyal subscribers, but of course, fewer and fewer MMOs have subscriptions anymore.

I’ve picked up some really good rewards over the years that actually made me want to keep my sub going. Remember the vet reward resource crates in Star Wars Galaxies? My favorite might be my ethereal mounts in Ultima Online, or maybe my seed box (it holds hundreds of gardening seeds to cut down on the inventory mess).

What’s the best MMORPG vet reward you’ve ever gotten, and what did you have to do exactly to earn it?

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The Daily Grind: Do you start over in MMOs when your character or account is maxed out?

Over the last year or so, my six-year-old has been making his way through LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga on our old PS3. Yes, I know it’s not an MMO, but bear with me a sec. Last week, he broke 4B studs in the game, completely legitimately, which is apparently as high as it goes. We didn’t even know there was cap, but there it is. And my son was despondent. He wanted to nuke everything and start over because, as he put it, there was no point to playing if he wasn’t getting a score and racking up studs. He’d rather start over with nothing as long as it meant he had goals to work toward.

This is not at all how my husband and I play games, especially MMOs: Life is too short to worry about scoring; we play for fun, and if it’s not fun, we quit and find something that is. We don’t delete characters who hit the level cap and max out their gear, or abandon maxed out accounts, because the point wasn’t the characters but what we can do with them. And yet somehow, our kid has come to the opposite conclusion, which was an eye-opener to me.

Then again, I can see the appeal. I used to start over on fresh servers in Star Wars Galaxies just to see how far I could get with nothing but knowledge. There’s definitely amusement and challenge to starting over. (We did talk him out of deleting his saves entirely, at least!)

Do you start over in MMOs when your character or account is maxed out?

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The Daily Grind: Do you feel pressure to play MMOs for daily bonuses or experience events?

On Wednesdays, we farm gems.

In Trove, that is. That’s because ever since Trion revamped the daily login system, players get a daily bonus for doing a specific type of gameplay, with an even bigger bonus for subbers. It’s on a fixed weekly rotation, meaning every Monday is the same, every Tuesday, and so on. Wednesday is gems, so everybody in the game is farming gem boxes because they are just that important to character power.

The bonuses are extremely generous, and objectively, I can say it’s a great system. Buuuuuut I find myself being mildly annoyed by the compulsion to go do that one thing, knowing I’d be missing out if I didn’t. Anybody remember old-school Ultima Online and power hour, when your skill gains were accelerated for the first hour you were logged in every day? It’s even worse than that because at least that was over after an hour and people could relax and go back to ganking miners or shuffling bags of regs around their houses. This one basically never ends. It’s a weird sort of pressure to go forth and achieve, constantly. And on Wednesdays, when I feel like working on our guild map instead of farming gems, I spend the whole time feeling guilty, and then feeling foolish for feeling guilty.

First-world problems, sure, but still something I think about. I’m pretty sure the system is a net positive for game retention, but I don’t love the extra pressure. And in a way, I can understand some of the complaints about even shorter-term events, like the one Elite ran two weekends ago. Do you feel pressure to play MMOs for daily bonuses or experience events? And does it work?

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The Daily Grind: How important is person-to-person trading in an MMORPG?

Earlier in May, Neowiz clarified that the western version of Bless Online, like Black Desert, would eschew player-to-player trading, sticking instead to just an auction hall. It brought up all the old arguments over whether or not this is a good thing for online worlds.

Those in favor of kicking personal trading to the curb claim that it helps the studio crack down on goldsellers and spammers. Those opposed say it definitely doesn’t and that even if it did, the place of those goldsellers will just be taken up by the studio’s own cash shop anyway, such that the net effect on the economy is negligible.

My own line in the sand is clear: I side with those who say even if it does cut down on goldselling and spam, it’s never worth the loss to the fidelity of the game world and player community. MMORPGs have already been stripped of so much of what made them unique; I hate to see even more paved over just for the convenience of the customer service team employed to clean up chat, and I reserve a special set of side-eyes for all the studios “saving” us from goldsellers just so they themselves can corner that market.

Where do you stand? How important is person-to-person trading in an MMORPG to you?

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The Daily Grind: When was the last time somebody recommended an MMO you actually wound up liking?

Across the MMORPG universe, gamers are always asking, what should I play? It’s in our comments, on Reddit, in every guild and global chat channel, and surely in every Discord chat that’s ever seen the letters “MMO” uttered. We get so many podcast emails asking for advice on what to play that I fear we’re repeating ourselves.

I’ve always kind of suspected that most of the time, when we get to the point that we’re asking strangers what to play, we already know there isn’t anything we haven’t already tried and we’re just casting about in hope and desperation. But I know it’s not true; sometimes, other people can point you back to a game you’d dismissed, giving you a new perspective or forcing you to rethink the one you formed ages ago. For example, reader recommendations that I give Trove another try got me back in there and loving it.

On the other hand, I wonder how many times I’ve recommended something only to have the person try it and hate it. I know I got a few people back into Ultima Online for F2P, for example, but I also know some folks who now think I am nuts, in spite of my million caveats. When was the last time somebody recommended an MMO to you that you actually wound up liking?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMORPG would you want to ‘live’ in if you had to live there forever?

MOP reader Oleg suggested today’s Daily Grind in the bowels of the mystified comments under our piece on Entropia Universe on Wednesday. In a nutshell, the Swedish studio MindArk is angling to use the game as a “potential reality where human consciousness can be inserted into virtual characters, making it possible to continue to live on as an Avatar well after their human body has passed” – in other words, to make us immortal, to let us live on in MMO Entropia.

The objection, as Oleg and other commenters noted, is that you might not actually want to live forever in Entropia. It’s a neo-capitalist technotopia where you cash in and out of the game to reality and back again. The game practically pioneered pay-to-win.

So let’s say MindArk actually pulls off the kind of sci-fi AI it’s saying it’s working on. Would you actually want to do it, and more importantly, which MMORPG would you want to live in – forever?

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The Daily Grind: Do you feel an obligation to ‘finish’ the MMOs you start, even if it feels like ‘homework’?

A quote from legendary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro I saw on Twitter the other day is fast on the way to becoming my mantra. io9 transcribed a Q&A del Toro had with an audience there to hear about his book; someone asked him about the video games he played (apparently he’s making games now too). He listed off a ton of games from multiple genres, but apparently, he doesn’t care to finish everything.

“He plays a ton of games, though he doesn’t finish anything he doesn’t like — and this holds true for books, film, whatever. ‘If it doesn’t engage me, I leave it,’ he said. ‘I do not do homework with my life.'”

Oh hell yes. This! This! I freaking hate games that feel like homework, and MMOs can be egregious offenders. Consequently, I’ve tried a lot of the stuff I’ve bought on Steam, but I no longer feel an obligation to finish anything. If it wants me badly enough, it’ll keep me, I have no doubt. Of course, you can’t really “finish” an MMORPG, but there’s probably a point at which you can get close enough to feel as if you’ve done it all, so I think it can still apply. So: Do you feel an obligation to “finish” the MMOs you start? Bonus question: Can you think of a specific MMO or moment that felt like “homework”?

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The Daily Grind: Have you ever walked away from an MMO over a studio’s treatment of its playerbase?

Star Wars Galaxies’ NGE is one of the MMORPG genre’s favorite bugbears: We pull it out as a warning, a label of doom, every time we see a game studio doing something that will upset so many players that it could actually tank the game. We pulled it out for Funcom when it abandoned The Secret World in favor of Secret World Legends, certainly; the fact that so many core MMORPG players meekly accepted that Funcom would trade them for a chance at a totally different playerbase – at the expense of veteran characters and loyal income – continues to baffle me.

This is probably why I was soured on playing Conan Exiles this weekend. I’m extremely distrustful after the way Funcom once again sacrificed one playerbase to secure another, even if the impact wasn’t felt quite as widely as in TSW or SWG. Of course, Conan Exiles is not an MMO, and as MOP’s MJ reminds me, I can always go play on a private server and avoid the studio’s blundering entirely. Would that TSW and SWG fans had that option!

Have you ever walked away from an MMO over a studio’s treatment of its playerbase?

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