The Daily Grind: What's the most stable MMORPG (besides WoW) right now?

Massively OP reader Gail made an interesting observation in one of the City of Heroes Master x Master drama threads about what she called "corn flake games." A family she knew that ran a grocery store quibbled over how to stock it: One sister "always wanted to cram the cereal aisle with the latest cartoon character high sugar high profit fads." The other sister's refrain?

"'Corn flakes. People in this town buy corn flakes.' Corn flakes, while not hugely profitable, were steady dependable sellers. In the MMO market, CoH was a corn flake game. It wasn't going to magically turn into WoW overnight. It wasn't going to suddenly break out and take the gaming world by storm, though with the huge surge in superhero movies I wonder what some good advertising would have done. But it had a sizable group of steady customers who provided a stable profit. That's nothing to sneeze at."

That's precisely why the sunset was so baffling when most games would kill for a subscription playerbase of 100K: It was a steady earner. And it was and is surely not alone. What else do you think is a "corn flake" MMO? Or to put it another way: What's the most stable and dependable MMORPG (besides WoW) right now?

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The Daily Grind: Where do you stand on depictions of animal cruelty in MMORPGs?

Last week, when Guild Wars 2 revealed its latest minipet, there was a minor squabble on the forums as some players objected to it. The minipet depicts a fish flopping around gasping for air, like, y'know, dying fish do. Worth pointing out here is that this fish doesn't die; it just follows you around suffocating eternally because minipets are magic.

The original poster wasn't screaming for PETA or anything, just raising the question for feedback. "While I know it’s not real, it does give me an 'Ick feeling' as I watched it lie there gasping for air, so I would vote for a change in animation," the player wrote calmly, asking for other opinions. The replies started out well, but it didn't take before the insults started: the OP was "ruining a gag" with "political correctness" and "whining" and "safe spaces," the usual. Oh, MMORPG forums.

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The Daily Grind: How do you channel your anger in MMOs?

I don't get super angry in MMORPGs anymore -- if something really upsets me, there are 20 other solid games waiting for my attention. But I can think of specific instances that really upset me over the years, like when I spied exploiters I'd reported half a dozen times continuing to exploit, or when I realized a dev studio still hasn't fixed basic problems like ganking the opposite faction's spawn point a decade later, costing me hours of time waiting for wackadoodles to get bored and leave. I definitely still shout at my screen when I see terrible players fighting on the road and not the node, lemme tell ya, but I've probably been the most angry at people I thought were friends who turned out to just be using me or my guild for some benefit.

I have not, however, ever been so angry that I rammed my head into a monitor causing it to shatter and my friends to have to extract my bleeding face from its shards. Like this guy.

Nope, nowadays, I just walk away, find something else to do or play. My time is too precious to waste on leisure activities that tick me off. Plus, I like my monitor. And my face.

How about you? Have you ever become extremely angry in an MMO? Why? And how do you channel your anger in MMOs?

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The Daily Grind: What one thing should MMORPGs do to increase player retention?

Zubon at Kill Ten Rats recently spied a lovely tidbit over on Dr Richard Bartle's blog. Bartle, I shouldn't need to type, is considered one of the founding fathers of the MMORPG genre, having inspired through his research the infamous Bartle test. So it should be no surprise at all that he sees online worlds in everything: As his piece explains, he examined a document intended for advising universities on how to improve their student retention rates -- and Bartle realized it read like an "MMO newbie-retention handbook."

"A place where people can hang out between teaching events and make friends? Check. Organised groups led by experienced students that you can join? Check. A communication channel for students just like you? Check. A method of finding other people who are interested in the same things you are? Check. Fun tasks for people with different skills working together ? Check. Easy challenges with small rewards to get you into the swing of things? Check."

It's worth a quick read, especially for the cake joke, but I want to focus your attention on retention and stickiness specifically for the purposes of today's Daily Grind. Do you agree that developers should be spending more time on retention? And what one thing should MMORPGs do to increase player retention?
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The Daily Grind: Do you roll multiple MMO characters of the same class?

I'm closing in on "done" -- my own peculiar version of done, anyway -- on my ninth character in Guild Wars 2. I've rolled one of each class and put off actually leveling and learning my least favorite classes to the very end. As I've been playing my unloved Thief and Revenant upward, I can't help but think about characters and classes I prefer and wonder whether my time wouldn't be better spent on them... or maybe even on another version of the same class with a different race.

I seldom do this in MMORPGs, but in Guild Wars 2, leveling is easy and options are many, so why not? I'm apparently not alone in considering this; here's one thread from a few years ago where people are admitting to rolling dozens of characters -- some for different regions, some for cultural armor, some for different builds and armor setups, some for roleplaying, and some just because they love the leveling process. Plus: Buying a new character slot is the most efficient way to expand an account's storage.

Do you roll multiple MMO characters of the same class in the same game?

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The Daily Grind: Should MMOs ever retire classes?

Last week, I asked the Massively OP readers whether World of Warcraft needed another class (I want the Bard, obviously). But one Facebook fan proposed something different entirely: Why not "retire a few classes" to "keep it fresh?"

I suspect that nearly everyone reading is recoiling in horror at the thought of deleting classes from MMOs, which is exactly why I wanted to stare the concept full in the face to sort out why. MMO developers seem to have few qualms about retooling classes -- your characters -- to be almost unrecognizable from their original versions, applying band-aid after band-aid to make them functional and keep them around. Would it really be so bad to nuke them entirely and start from scratch with something built from the ground up?

Yes, say thousands of Star Wars Galaxies Bio-Engineers and Creature Handlers. I hear you. But what if they'd done it more gracefully and replaced them more immediately with something, as the commenter put it, "fresh," as opposed to nuking them overnight and replacing them with nothing?

Should MMOs ever retire classes? Can you think of acceptable circumstances for such a thing?

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The Daily Grind: How many MMOs are you currently playing?

After a long time of fighting my habits, I have finally figured out that I just need to stick to one MMO, maybe two, at a time. I have tried and tried to mimic Justin's system for rotating through MMOs -- all games, really. I always feel that I should be playing a little bit of everything, no matter how absurd that is. And his schedule-centric system should be great for playing seven or more games and never getting bored. Clearly it works for him.

But I lose interest long before the rotation starts over again. I far more enjoy being single-minded and almost obsessive about a game in chunks longer than one session or day. I can sometimes get away with two games if they're very different, but it turns out I like the idea of variety a lot more than I like actually playing that way. In short: I prefer to binge-MMO.

Does this happen to you guys? Can you rotate through half a dozen MMOs, or do you like to focus on one at a time -- or somewhere in between? Take stock of your current situation: How many MMOs are you currently playing?

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The Daily Grind: How often do you play outside your comfort zone in MMORPGs?

During the first couple of years I played MMORPGs, I was a pretty timid gamer in terms of my comfort zone for actual content. It took me a good while (and a lot of pressure from guildies) to mentally gear up to kill people and cut off their heads for my collection in Ultima Online. In EverQuest, I picked an alt to force myself to practice pulling (pulling was more of a skilled thing back then). In Camelot, my puller was my main. And by World of Warcraft, I was main tanking for my guild. (She's up in the screenie above, circa 2004. D'awww.)

It seems like a silly progression now, I'm sure, but I had to force myself to play out of my comfort zone to get good at new things -- and to appreciate them. Now, in my two main MMOs, I'm playing up-close-and-personal tanky melee as a matter of habit, when as a teenager I would have made a beeline for the nearest healer class to hide. (Although I still like healers too!)

How about you? How often do you play outside your comfort zone in MMORPGs?

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The Daily Grind: Does World of Warcraft need another new class?

During this week's podcast, Justin expressed some frustration over his efforts to enjoy an alt in World of Warcraft. All of his characters, he said, just didn't feel the same, and he wasn't loving them. In the end, he rekindled his love for all things demonic with his Warlock, but what went through my mind -- prompted by other topics on our agenda that day, like Black Desert's Dark Knight -- is this: Isn't it time for a new WoW class altogether?

I ask this because I've shared Justin's annoyance over losing my own emotional attachment to my WoW characters as they've taken so many twists and turns in what they can functionally do over the years. I really liked the Monk class because it didn't have that baggage. (Demon Hunters, not so much, not really my thing -- I thought they were a bit redundant in theme.)

A true bard class, however, would basically get my instant preorder, and this from a girl who hasn't had an urge to play in a long time. And I'm not crazy: Go forth and google "WoW bard" and take a look at all the people anxious to see it happen post-Legion -- and not just in April Fool's Day fun.

Also, bards are the best class, period.

Do you think WoW needs a new class in the next expansion? Do you think it's ever going to happen?

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The Daily Grind: What provokes you to kick MMO group members?

Yesterday, Blizzard Watch writer Dan O'Halloran recounted -- unfavorably -- dispiriting tales about looking-for-raid scenarios in World of Warcraft that end in vote-kicking -- not for abuse or AFKing but for simply being the lowest-performing damage character.

"Tichondrius, for example, has an enrage timer and if you don’t kill him in a certain amount of time, he goes HAM on the raid, everyone dies and you have to start that encounter over. Twice that has happened in my LFR raids on him and both times someone in the raid has immediately called to kick the low performing DPS players arguing that we need better performing replacements to down the boss."

Maybe I'm too nice for my own good, but I'm with Dan: I would never dream of booting someone in order to replace him with someone with better damage meter performance. Sure, I want to win, but not more than I don't want to be a giant jerk to my groupmates. I've seen enough bullying for one lifetime; I don't want my valuable leisure time filled with it too.

Would you? What provokes you to votekick and kick MMO group members?

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The Daily Grind: Has an MMO dev ever incorporated your feedback?

In the comments of my last Daily Grind on bad newbie advice, Massively OP commenter Veldan noted that while he agreed ragequitting was a wasted effort, giving feedback to game developers might be equally pointless.

"I've made literally thousands of forum posts on MMO forums over the years, and the amount that I felt got seriously considered by dev teams is well below 1%," he wrote. "Your feedback doesn't matter nearly as much as the devs often say it does, no matter how polite and rational it is."

I wondered whether his experience with giving feedback to game devs is universal because I've certainly felt the same way about some studios, even as press. Do you also suspect that your effort crafting detailed feedback or even bug reports for game devs is a waste of time? Or to put it another way -- can you think of a time when an MMO dev ever addressed or incorporated your feedback?

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The Daily Grind: What's the worst advice you were given as an MMORPG newbie?

Join a guild.

It's the first thing everyone tells someone entering an MMORPG, whether she's a newbie or a returnee. I've even given the advice myself. Join a guild, we say, as if that will solve everything. Never mind that a lot of guilds suck and can drive people away from games rather than keep them. Never mind that a lot of the power of guilds to create stickiness comes from people who want to be in guilds, not just people who happen to be in guilds. Never mind that guilds add an extra layer of social effort and stress to people learning the ropes in the game.

Maybe it's not the worst advice I was given as a newbie, but I was given it, and the guild I joined turned out to be as corrupt as they come. (Don't worry; we saved it, and it still lives today.) Better advice might have been this: play a little, make sure you actually enjoy the game, then start poking around for a guild -- just having a tag and insta-stranger-friends won't make the game a home, even if you score some nice twink gear and a PL in the deal.

What's the worst advice you were given as an MMORPG newbie?

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The Daily Grind: Is an MMO still an MMO if it lacks chat?

In the comments of Andrew's last Soapbox on whether or not Pokemon Go properly constitutes an MMO, veteran MMORPG designer Raph Koster argued provocatively against our writer's statement that an MMO without a communication system (text, symbolic, or gestural) is no MMO at all.

"I don't think an in-game communication system is a requirement for an MMO, or a virtual world either," Koster wrote. "Consider an MMO where no one has chat because The Silence has fallen across the world. But everything else you are used to is the same... you'd still call it an MMO, wouldn't you?"

I'm not sure. I am sure that the very first thing we'd all do is pile into chat and voice channels and Kickstart a chat plugin, not unlike the way everyone piled into ICQ and IRC back in the '90s when confronted with online games sans global chat. People complain endlessly about not being able to chat even with enemies in faction-based games like WoW. Communication seems pretty critical to me, more than any other feature, miles ahead of combat, trade, or graphical avatars. Maybe it'd still be an MMO, but a very broken, incomplete one.

What do you think? Is an MMO still an MMO if it lacks chat?

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