the daily grind

No, it’s not a slow news day; it’s just The Daily Grind, a long-running morning feature in which the Massively Overpowered writers pose gaming-related questions to the MMORPG community. [Follow this feature’s RSS feed]

The Daily Grind: What's the most inconvenient MMO maintenance cycle you've encountered?

Back when my wife and I first got together, in the days when The Burning Crusade had yet to happen, World of Warcraft had a very predictable maintenance window of Tuesday mornings. This did not work out well for me, due in no small part to the fact that at the time, I was working in the evenings. Tuesdays, thus, were a period of time during which I basically could not play at all. It was exceedingly annoying.

Of course, I think we've all run into some maintenance times that have just not worked for us, for whatever reason. Maybe the maintenance starts exactly when you get home from work, maybe it always seems to be an emergency session when you really want to play. Heck, maybe you're playing something in Early Access that always is up during times when you're not playing a live game and down when you want to do something. So what's the most inconvenient MMO maintenance cycle you've encountered?

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The Daily Grind: Do you wait for MMOs to arrive on Steam?

You might have noticed that last week, Anarchy Online finally joined the whole Steam crowd. It was weird to look at that story and wonder who is out there that was holding off, for some reason, from trying out this game for the past 16 years until it finally arrived on Valve's platform.

Then again, I know many players who primarily rely on Steam to be their complete game ecosystem. If it ain't out for Steam, they ain't playing it. I'll admit that I'm starting to gradually migrate in this direction for both Steam and GOG.com, since it's nice and convenient to have all of my games organized and handled by these platforms. And they seem to do a good job of allowing me to peruse other games and easily installing them, particularly if they're free.

Are you one of those who wait for MMOs to arrive on Steam before trying them out? Have you found yourself flipping through the "massively multiplayer" section to see what else is out there?

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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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The Daily Grind: How might your favorite MMO capitalize on nostalgia?

It would be an understatement for me to say that I'm stupidly excited to see Morrowind come to The Elder Scrolls Online this summer. I consider it possibly the greatest RPG of all time (and that's not just nostalgia: The irony is that while I bought Morrowind at launch, wrist injuries prevented me from playing it for so long that I didn't actually dig into it fully until several years later!).

But nostalgia is a powerful tool, especially when MMOs are marketing toward a slightly older crowd than your average shooter or MOBA. It's got me thinking about other MMOs that could really take advantage of older material in an overt way the same way Elder Scrolls is doing. I mean, there's a reason people whine for Cantha in Guild Wars 2 (and hope the Elona rumors are true) -- though personally, it's the Jade Sea and Echovald Forest I want to see the most!

Think about the MMOs you play that have a history, lore that exists beyond the game, even previous games in a long line of games -- World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and so on -- then tell me how you think they ought to pull an Elder Scrolls. How might your pet MMO capitalize on nostalgia?

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The Daily Grind: Do you track your character goals in MMOs?

The second Final Fantasy XIV expansion is just around the corner, if "just around the corner" means "a few months away" for you. Me? I'm already planning. I'm getting characters leveled who need levels, plotting out who's going to need what. One of my alts is getting as much stuff unlocked as possible, as she's already into Heavensward content, but I'm saving the actual MSQ for Red Mage. Another is being pushed hard to 50 to unlock Samurai as soon as it's available. I'm stocking up on upgrades, earning gil, and generally preparing.

And everything goes onto the master spreadsheet I use to track all of my character goals. Yes, I have a spreadsheet. It's helpful.

Not everyone needs a spreadsheet, of course; I think that having one may mark me as some sort of ultra-nerd. (You know, aside from the "writing about MMOs" part of my life.) But I know there are other people who do form elaborate and in-depth plans about what to do with characters moving forward. Other people just sort of do whatever and make up a plan after the fact. So what about you, dear readers? Do you track your character goals in MMOs? Do you have a spreadsheet, a list of things you want to accomplish, or neither of the above?

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The Daily Grind: What's the strangest MMO you ever tried?

Last month, I wrote a column on several MMOs that walked on the weird side. Even though many online games play it safe with genre and theme, once in a while we do get very odd, very doofy, and very bizarre MMORPGs that go a whole different direction.

My question today is, what's the strangest MMO you have ever tried? Do you play it safe yourself and stick to classic fantasy lest your imagination be stirred and your perceptions of reality start to warp and bend? Or have you dipped your toes into some of the more eccentric online worlds out there?

I think one of the strangest MMOs I've ever played was actually Fallen Earth. The whole post-apocalyptic setting gave the team an excuse for rewriting society to include really whacked-out holidays and myths based on before it all went to pot. Also, there were giant, mutated prairie chickens and hermit crabs wearing old CRT monitors, so my nightmares had some fuel for a few months there.

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The Daily Grind: When do 'offensive' guild names go too far?

Oh, it just wouldn't be a week without some EVE Online drama, now would it? The latest episode revolves around an alliance whose name, Just Let It Happen, was reported and forcibly changed by CCP's customer support team as a result of its ambiguous meaning, which was apparently inferred to be a rape reference.

The EVE subreddit lost its spacemarbles; some players slyly recommended additional much less ambiguously NSFW names that ought to be banned, while others justifiably demanded clarity from CCP, and still others took the opportunity to be awful trolls contributing nothing to the debate. CCP Falcon ultimately told the community that while the original customer support staff had followed the naming guidelines properly and would not be reprimanded, the team had discussed the issue and decided to relent, allowing Just Let It Happen to, well, get back to happening.

Our EVE columnist Brendan tells me that it's not uncommon for CCP to alter player, corporation, and alliance names that violate the TOS when reported by players. And you might remember back in 2015, CCP voluntarily changed the name of the Interbus Ship Identification System browser, aka ISIS, though the studio insisted it was too obscure for newbies, not because of politics.

So for today's Daily Grind, I'm wondering what you think about EVE's naming situation. Do the "offensive" names on that list go too far, or is CCP too harsh? How sure are you that you understand the naming rules in your own MMOs?

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The Daily Grind: What MMO musical tune annoys you the most?

The worst part of going through World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is the inn music. I don't know why, but that has literally always bothered me. It feels like someone was leaning too hard on trying to make that piece sound Chinese, and it annoys me. I prefer not to listen to it, which is difficult to do if you're parking a character in an inn within Pandaria.

Not that it's the only piece that I dislike. I've always found the Gustaberg music in Final Fantasy XI unnecessarily depressing (which didn't help when it was the first zone I encountered in the game, since I started in Bastok). Ramuh's theme in Final Fantasy XIV has never clicked for me. The cantina music in Star Wars: The Old Republic has always felt like a weak pastiche of musical themes, and I may be the only City of Heroes player who didn't like the original login music. (The post-Freedom music, on the other hand, is spectacular; listen to it if you haven't.)

I don't think this is unique; I think no matter how much we may like a game's music, it has that one piece we don't care for. So what about you, dear readers? What MMO musical tune annoys you the most?

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The Daily Grind: What's the weirdest MMO glitch you've ever experienced?

Have you ever fallen through the world in an MMO? Good times, right there. It's a jarring, crazy experience in which you see just how flimsy and thin the surface is from beneath as you plummet to your death or disconnection.

We've all experienced weird bugs and glitches in MMORPGs from time to time. Often they're nothing more significant than odd character models, clipping, or rubberbanding, but once in a while we hit on some winning moments where, say, a character's face disappears save for his eyes and teeth. Or when an NPC abruptly shrinks to the size of an ant.

What's the weirdest MMO glitch you've ever experienced? Bonus points for screenshots in the comments as proof!

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The Daily Grind: Do you use plugins for your main MMORPG?

As one of Massively OP's resident modding nuts, I am drawn to MMORPGs that offer plugin support and modding APIs. World of Warcraft's modding was a whole secondary game for me, not just playing with other people's work but cobbling together my own (pieces of junk that don't remotely compare to the pros' -- I know my limits!). Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II, and Ultima Online likewise helped feed my urges, as did classic Guild Wars and City of Heroes (though that was all unofficial).

Now, I have The Elder Scrolls Online's plugin community to keep me busy, and while it's no single-player modding folder monstrosity (hundreds of gigs of files across the three big TES games!), it's still fun!

But I was reminded the other day that there are some mods that are still pariahs in the MMORPG community when commenters joked that gearscore addons are worse than murder and slavery.

So, do you use plugins for your MMORPG? If not, is it because you have something against plugins or because the game doesn't properly support them?

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The Daily Grind: What's your favorite part of MMO gaming conventions?

The last of the pre-Stormblood fan festivals for Final Fantasy XIV has come to a close, and as with the prior two fan festivals, the bulk of my interest was satisfied after the keynote. There were a lot of other things happening, of course, lots of cool cosplay contests and interviews with the developers about what leads to creating the world... but the reality is that I'm mostly just interested in the actual information about the game. You could say that it's because of my job, but it's been the case as long as I can recall; once we're done with the information, my interest goes down, despite my respect for cosplayers and the developers.

I know some of you are the same way, doing your best Joe Friday impression and asking for just the facts. But I also know that's not universal; there are people for whom seeing cosplay contests or developer interviews are the main draw. Heck, there are people who mostly go for social interactions, and that's just as valid. So where do you stand, dear readers? What interests you about conventions for MMOs? Is it information about upcoming patches and expansions? Celebrating your fandom? Finding out what went into making the game? Something else altogether?

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The Daily Grind: What do you think about slavery as a concept in MMORPGs?

Last week, MJ and I were discussing a stream she was planning on Conan Exiles where she planned to help friends capture "thralls" to bring back to their bases and put to work. The term "thrall" is the game's way of softening what it really is: slavery. The slaves are NPCs, mind you, not other players, but honestly, the idea creeps me out a little bit anyway, far more than, say, Revival's long-ago proposed NPC prostitution design.

(But the mechanic is cool. Wouldn't it be nifty if player modders found ways to replace human slaves with elementals or automatoi or summoned spirits? That would basically negate my squeamishness entirely.)

Interestingly, as I reflect on why I find it mildly unsettling, I am thinking back to folks who roleplayed slaves, usually twi'leks, in Star Wars MMOs, and while I might roll my eyes, somehow that bothers me even less: Even though they were human vs. AI, there was a voluntariness about those storylines, play-acting instead of making an uncomfortable social statement via NPC. Conan actually rewards people for enslaving NPCs -- if you opt out on a server with the mechanic, you're at a disadvantage.

I don't know. I'm conflicted. What do you think about slavery as a concept in MMOs? Are Conan Exiles' slavery mechanics something you enjoy engaging in?

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The Daily Grind: What's the most boring part of MMORPGs?

While MMORPGs are supposed to be these giant buffets of entertainment options available at our fingertips, the truth is that there are always parts of these games that are... less exciting, shall we say, than the others.

I can think of a few that are usually systems I avoid because they're pretty boring. Crafting is unfortunately one of these. In concept, I love the idea of making your own gear and forging your economic destiny, but in practice, most MMO crafting interfaces are so dull and repetitive that I can't ever stick with them.

What is the most boring part of MMORPGs to you? And for bonus points, how would you fix it?

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