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: 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: What was your first ‘wow’ moment in an MMO?

Your first MMO tends to stick in your mind in a certain way. The first time you realize that you’re in a game with other people, or you get a sense of the sheer scope of what that means. It happened early for me, pretty soon after I started playing Final Fantasy XI, but I still sometimes have moments in my preferred games where I’m all like “wow, these games are pretty great.” It’s a nice feeling when it happens.

Of course, today’s question isn’t how often those hit you, it’s when your first did. Was it your first dungeon in World of Warcraft? Your first surprising story moment in Final Fantasy XIV? Your first PvP killing in EVE Online? Heck, maybe even just your first moments of grouping with another player in Blade & Soul. Share your stories with us today about the first moment when you were playing an MMO and found yourself just… amazed.

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The Daily Grind: What’s your underdog MMO?

It’s easy to take pot shots at Champions Online these days, what with Cryptic hyping up its duration after years of stagnant development. But I’ve also been reading testimonies here and there from people who genuinely love the title and still have fun with it.

That reminded me that we all have our underdog MMOs. These aren’t titles on the top 10 lists of popularity and discussion, yet we still love them anyway. Maybe they have that spark of something special that only a few of us have seen, or perhaps we cherish them despite their flaws. I still carry a weird torch for Fallen Earth, even though it has settled into obscurity and hasn’t done much for years now.

What’s your underdog MMO? Which title do you secretly love and proudly support even though it’s not as cool and trendy as some others?

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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: What’s your favorite PvPvE MMO or experience?

It feels like I’ve been dealing with a bit of a theme lately: PvPvE games. PvPvE usually seems to mean simple PvE mechanics that get complicated by other people. The simplest example would be open-world bosses. In a single-player or co-op game, a boss encounter is easy enough. Add in teams, and even without being able to directly attack each other, some people will sabotage a rival’s raid attempt if they think they can beat the boss before getting their just desserts. Thus, PvPvE.

World of Warcraft’s Doom Lord Kazzak always struck me as a good specific example. Simply spinning him around and keeping his back to the raid makes him terribly easy. Having a rival player jump in and taunt him so he’s hurting the raid and possibly healing up makes the encounter tense, as even without direct PvP, a failure to burn down the boss fast enough leaves you open to griefing.

However, that’s not my favorite kind of PvPvE. Sea of Thieves‘ simple quests and boss encounters are a blast because knowing someone else might take my crew’s treasure by force adds tension that I can’t get from a pure PvE experience. WoW’s battlegrounds that rely on defeating or saving NPCs were fun, as was its iconic disease-themed event. But maybe you’re more about taking a rival faction’s capital city, tearing down walls so dinosaurs can invade your rival’s home, or just spreading/curing plagues. What PvPvE game or mechanic are you fondest of? And how could future PvPvE games do it better?

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The Daily Grind: Have you ever run unauthorized MMO modifications?

In the earliest days of Final Fantasy XI, you couldn’t alt-tab without crashing the game. Thus, the Windower program, a little add-on designed to force the game to allow alt-tabbing like basically anything else in the world. The add-on was also disallowed, but the developers eventually adopted a “don’t be an idiot” approach to it; you have native window support now, but if you still want to use it for its other functionality, just don’t shout about it in-game and you’ll probably be fine.

Of course, it’s hardly the only unofficial modification that affects a game’s functionality; multiboxing in World of Warcraft, various map add-ons for City of Heroes, the DPS trackers for Final Fantasy XIV. Every game has stuff that’s not technically allowed, but isn’t any sort of cheating tool; it’s just there to improve your life as a player. So have you ever run unauthorized MMO modifications? Not cheating tools, those are a different story, just mods that alter the functionality of your chosen games?

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The Daily Grind: Do you create completionist characters in MMOs?

Despite no longer being a young buck with scads of extra time on his hands, every so often I find myself foolishly rolling up a new MMO character with the ludicrous goal of making her a completionist character. This one, I tell myself, will be the character that does every quest, every achievement, goes crafting, takes the time to smell the roses, and explores all of the corners of the map.

Sometimes that resolution lasts for a month or so, giving me an interesting experience that I nevertheless cannot sustain. It’s a question of time, and I don’t have it. But I still feel pulled on occasion toward the notion of creating a “do everything” character.

What about you? Do you create completionist characters in MMOs? If so, how have those worked out for you?

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The Daily Grind: Should running multiple MMO accounts be considered pay-to-win?

In the comments of a recent Daily Grind, MOP commenter Sally reminded me that a certain MOP writer who shall remain nameless (Larry!) had an absurd number of Star Wars Galaxies accounts, and one might argue that while one sub to such a game isn’t pay-to-win, a whole ton of them might be, particularly in an economy-centric game like SWG.

The interesting thing about SWG was the diminishing returns on all those accounts: The human’s time was the limiting reagent. Yes, having another 10-20 lots per account for harvesters would bring in AFK money, but it might not be worth the human’s time to actually go deal with the harvies (or factories or storage houses) past a certain level of wealth; you could make more money in the same amount of time doing other, far less boring things. But there was definitely a sweet spot in the 2-5 account range, where you could run one of every crafter and create enough busywork to fill an entire day.

I found four accounts overwhelming but self-sufficient – and absolutely pay-to-win, for my definition of winning. (I have always assumed Larry’s stable was more for roleplaying, and might not fit the category.) Likewise, I’d argue that paying to multibox in themeparks, bypassing the need for other people, is also pay-to-win in many games.

What do you think? Should running multiple MMO accounts be considered pay-to-win?

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The Daily Grind: Is lack of text chat in an MMO a dealbreaker for you?

I wouldn’t be able to play TERA on console. Not simply because I lack the console it’s available on; that could be fixed by a trip to the store followed by a quick round of console setup. That’s whatever. No, it’s because that version of the game doesn’t feature text chat, and thus it may as well be controlled entirely by putting in contact lenses. It’s such an unpleasant proposition that it more or less poisons my eagerness to play the game’s console version at all.

Obviously, it’s hardly the only console game to focus exclusively on voice chat, which makes me think that for a lot of people this isn’t a dealbreaker. So we’re going to turn this particular musing over to our readers, because it’s always interesting to learn about that spread of opinions. Is the lack of text chat in an MMO a dealbreaker for you? Do you refuse to play on platforms where it’s unavailable, or do you outright refuse to play games that push voice chat on you? Or do you not particularly mind, either from a desire not to chat or just not being bothered?

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The Daily Grind: What made City of Heroes work so well?

Although City of Heroes is not coming back (I think we all need to come to terms with that), many successors are waiting in the wings with their own vision of how a superhero MMO should be. Valiance Online, City of Titans, and Ship of Heroes all have claimed inspiration from City of Heroes and claim that they will be replicating some elements of what made that title work so well.

But what did work well about City of Heroes? Why did it succeed when Champions Online, a title modeled after it and created by the same studio, failed? Why is City of Heroes so beloved, even years after its demise?

Let’s hash it out today in the comments. Break down City of Heroes for us and see if you can’t put your finger on what made this particular MMO fly high.

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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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The Daily Grind: Is it possible for an MMORPG to offer an optional sub that isn’t pay-to-win?

Last week, in the comments under the Bless optional subscription brouhaha article, I made an offhand comment that apparently got MOP commenter Sally’s gears grinding. I was trying to sort through why Bless fans are mad, and I wrote, “Neowiz has been promising no P2W for months, but it’s really hard to have an optional sub that isn’t pay-to-win.”

Sally didn’t disagree but said it was a “shock” to see it spelled out on Massively OP of all places: “In the current free-to-play climate, I see [the MOP] community as one of the last bastions for subscriptions. So a shot at subs from here struck me as ‘et tu, Brute?'” And Sally’s right! A lot of MMORPG vets enjoy F2P and B2P games but also hate double-dipping, and the subscription, or at least a mandatory sub without the usual gamblebox and pay-to-win trappings, is one way to guarantee healthy game design for the players.

On the other hand, if I’m honest, I truly cannot think of an MMORPG with an optional subscription that isn’t pay-to-win in some way. They’re trying to incentivize you to sub, after all, so they have to make the perks worthwhile, and very rarely do they stop at cosmetics. My Trove sub makes experience and drops fall from the sky. My Ultima Online sub lets me own a house and run vendors and hoard most everything. I’d say that games like Elder Scrolls Online, which hands out generous amounts of cash-shop credit for subbing, are on the better end of this argument, but then there’s that pesky crafting bag to contend with.

What do you think: Is it possible for an MMORPG to offer an optional sub that isn’t pay-to-win in some way? Got a contender in mind?

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The Daily Grind: When have you felt loneliest in an MMO?

One of the things that no one discusses about MMOs is the way that they can be lonely. The presence of so many people in online games is important, it’s by definition one of the features that makes MMOs unique. And yet there are also moments and times when the games thus manage to feel unimaginably lonely.

Seeing areas in Final Fantasy XI once filled with players now almost completely empty, for example. When you’re up at the right hour in World of Warcraft and all of your friends have gone offline. Seeing your friends out in other things while you have nothing much to do in Final Fantasy XIV. Being the one person sitting on the outside edge of a roleplaying group in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

So let’s talk about that this morning, because that’s an uplifting topic for the day. When have you felt loneliest in an MMO? Was it a matter of timing, or was it even just a period of time when you saw your friends leaving without anyone new to connect with?

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