All right, we’ve had just about a month of 2016 now, and I’m writing this on my birthday. Odds are good that I’m going to be writing about MMOs for at least a little while longer now, probably through next week at least. So it would be really wonderful if all of the stuff I’m about to list could make like a tree and go away forever, erasing itself from the face of the Earth.
That will not happen, of course, because we’re about a month into the year and all of this has already happened. Again.
The odds of this year marking an improvement in the listed fields are basically nil. Nonetheless, I’m writing this list just the same, so that you all can hopefully nod in agreement, and perhaps next year we can be rid of all this nonsense. In all likelihood little to nothing is actually going to change in 2017, too, but at least if something does change, I can be happy I stood vaguely near something sort of shifting.
1. Gender-locked classes
This right here is why I’m not even remotely sold on Black Desert. Even if nothing else changed about the game, I would hope that someone at least would have spoken up and pointed out that gender-locked classes are utterly horrible. There is basically nothing in this world that so thoroughly turns me off from a given game.
I don’t mind class/level systems; I think that they work better for MMORPGs than they do for tabletop gaming. (There are ways they can be improved beyond their usual presentation, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.) But shunting players into a specific gender because of what classes they wish to play is the sort of nonsense that exists in only a handful of titles and is incredibly stupid every time it comes up.
2. Kickstarted MMOs
I’ve outlined my issue with Kickstarter as relates to MMOs before, but the years have neither been kind to the concept nor provided us with a surfeit of counterpoints to my initial fears. Far from being awash in innovative ideas that could never have received funding from traditional sources, we’re awash in projects with a stuttering start-stop process, with the most successful examples facing severe troubles of one sort or another like The Repopulation‘s engine woes and the Pathfinder Online… well, everything.
There are a lot of titles off of Kickstarter that I really want to come together successfully – I’ve also said many times that I’m curious to see how Crowfall and Camelot Unchained come together, for example. But as a funding platform, Kickstarter doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to the genre. That’s without pointing out the issues with Kickstarted video games in general, which is another similar discussion but also beyond the scope of this article.
3. Arguments over what is or isn’t an MMO
First, some levity in a joke:
Q: What’s the difference between a cheetah mauling you and a leopard mauling you?
A: Does it matter?
Every debate over “is this an MMO or not” kind of winds up running into that territory. Yes, there are some games that are very clearly not MMOs. Yes, there are also games that exist in a gray area, kind of skirting the line between being multiplayer games and MMOs. But arguing over the definitions is splitting hairs pointlessly, even if a game doesn’t fulfill your personal criteria for an MMO. It’s not worth getting hung about, in short. And speaking of pointless arguments…
4. Arguments over themeparks vs. sandboxes
This is really like arguing over whether the patty or the bun is more important to a hamburger. The answer is that both are important and contribute to having a good burger. Nothing useful is gained by splitting MMOs into two camps and deciding that all features on this side need to go into one sort of game. It results in weaker games overall and fewer options for players who want them.
Thankfully, developers seem to be slowly coming around to this fact; we’ve got housing all over the place these days, and there are far more games embracing the idea that this doesn’t have to be a feud. Players are still feuding over it, though, and every time I see a game advertised as a “return to the glory of old-school sandboxes” or something similar, I cringe. Let’s focus more on features and less on camps, yes?
5. Beta and Founder Packs shenanigans
I do not inherently mind Founder’s Packs as a construct; I think it’s nice that you can buy a free-to-play game, essentially. It works out all right on balance. I also don’t mind letting players into beta early. What I do mind is when access to the game in its test state is sold to people as one of the benefits of people who want to buy the game, thus creating an odd disconnect where a game’s most enthusiastic fans have a chance to get bored with the game before it’s actually out.
I’m also not very fond of Early Access in general, but again, that’s a bigger issue beyond the scope of this column. We can at least stop selling a slightly skeevier version of Early Access with free-to-play games.
6. General abuse of test terminology
This one might just be because I run our weekly Betawatch feature, but… really, at this point I’ve opined that words like “alpha” and “beta” no longer mean much of anything in regards to testing phases. That seems kind of backwards. Rather than the term describing the test, the test is run and the studio behind the game declares what the term means. I would love if this was cleaned up, or even if “beta” just stopped being synonymous with “stress test that might move the deck chairs around.”
7. Livestreams for announcements
This is one of those pet peeves that I freely admit may be limited to just me, but I can honestly read a 1200-word article far faster than I can watch a five-minute video. Livestreams are not five minutes long, either. I understand why this is done, that the goal is to drum up excitement among players… but the net result is mostly irritation because I just want to get the information. It’s maddeningly slow, and it frustrates me when five minutes are spent saying something that could be done in just a few minutes.
Special no-prize here for Final Fantasy XIV‘s live letters, which are translated very slowly from their native Japanese. I don’t begrudge Naoki Yoshida for not speaking my language when I don’t speak his, but there must be better ways to communicate this information to players.
8. Image weirdness on official sites
Every time I cannot just click an image, right-click it to save that image, and then move on with my life, my irritation with a game grows. I admit this is purely because of the job I have, but still. Images at a reasonable size without obfuscating code to download those images should be a no-brainer; we did not just figure out how to code websites yesterday.
9. Use of the term “hardcore” or synonyms of same
Do you know how many games are out there that require hardcore group play past a certain point? The answer is darn near all of them. Do you know which games have challenging group content or PvP mechanics that require careful play to win? Pretty much all of them. We’re good for difficulty, really, and difficulty isn’t an indicator of quality any more than popularity.
There are, of course, a dedicated contingent of players who won’t be happy unless every part of a game requires just as much constant dedication to accomplishing anything, meaning that you shouldn’t be able to reach Level 2 if you aren’t willing to beat a raid boss. That was a philosophy that dominated earlier titles, but it was also one that went away around the same time that designers realized that making the whole game agonizingly slow was not winning any awards. That ship has sailed, and no amount of “designed downtime” will bring it back.
10. Shutdowns of long-running titles
Every year, the reaper claims something. Sometimes it’s a game I don’t care about. Sometimes it’s a game I do. And I’m always sad about it because it means that people have lost a game that meant something to them. I don’t know what it will be this year, but I’d rather have it not be anything if that were possible.
This one hasn’t actually happened yet, though. So perhaps there’s hope that nothing will shut down this year. It’s a slim hope, but it’s there.