The weird thing about our perception of time is that we don’t always realize just how much things are changing around us unless we take the effort to notice or have one of those jarring experiences in which we’re faced with the past. What always astonishes me is how we get used to gradual progress in technology without realizing how dependent we’ve gotten on such things.
Take video games, for example, because this is an MMO site and we talk about them quite a lot. A game that you enjoyed 10 or 20 years ago might be absolutely horrid to you now because it lacks a lot of features that have become commonplace in the meantime (personally, I’m always irked that my console JRPG characters don’t regen health after battles). Then again, these games might hold up well and pass the test of time.
As much as we whine and moan about the seeming lack of progress in MMOs, the truth is that in many ways, we used to have it so much worse back in the earlier days of the industry. Oh, there was a lot to admire about the first couple of waves of MMOs, but they were still figuring things out and contained quite a few irritating features as a result. Today, let’s look at 10 MMO problems that we don’t really have these days thanks to newer features and a desire to make games more casual friendly.
1. Long travel time
Oh, travel time is still in MMOs, but the first item on this list refers back to an era when you could expect to spend an hour or more just trying to get wherever you wanted to go. Waiting eons for boats, slowly moving across zones, and constantly worrying that you’d be killed and would have to do the run all over again were facts of life. Now? Now we have instant ports, waypoints, flight paths, teleports, summons, and all sorts of other glorious devices that knock out the boring (if “realistic”) part of waiting to get to the action.
2. Rollbacks and downtime
Yes, rollbacks still exist and so does the occasional day or two of downtime, but modern players have all but forgotten the sheer scale and frequency of both of these. Losing a a few hour’s worth of progress now due to a rollback today is news thanks to how rare it’s become; losing a week’s progress or twiddling your thumbs for days on end because your game is down used to be a fact of life for MMO gamers. Studios have gotten so much better at keeping their games up and backing them up thanks to years of harsh lessons and technological advancements.
3. Camping bosses
How much fun does this sound? There’s a world boss out there with some really good loot, but it can only be attacked by the 0.01% of elite guilds on your server. Better than that, the boss, when killed, will take 12 to 24 hours to respawn, which means that interested guilds will either need to camp that respawn spot faithfully (and frantically call all members when the boss appears) or work out a schedule with other guilds for the rights to fight that boss.
Yes, this is how it used to be. So fun. So stupid.
4. Unduly harsh death penalties
These days, dying in an MMO typically results in two things: a few seconds lost and a small repair bill. You can thank this whiffle bat of punishment due to the overwhelming player dislike of how cruel and excessive death penalties used to be.
We don’t even need to bring permadeath into the conversation because things like mandatory corpse runs to find your body before it dissolved and took all your gear with it were almost worse than being banished to oblivion. XP used to get messed with, sometimes in the form of XP debt (that would slow progress as you had to work it off) or losing large chunks of XP. Quick, what was the last MMO you played that actually de-leveled you thanks to a death? It used to happen, and no, it wasn’t a joyful experience.
5. Hideously ugly graphics
Debate me on this if you must, but I’m deeply grateful that we’ve crossed into an era when I don’t have to choose between good looks and playing online with lots of other people. Early-era MMOs had the tendency to come off as polygon nightmares, looking years behind single-player titles released at the same time. MMOs today have produced some incredibly good-looking vistas and design. Back then it would be a case of needing to get a better graphics card just to run an MMO, period; now you want to get a better card to bring out those gorgeous details in your favorite game.
6. Few — if any — social features
I still think that most MMOs have a long way to go to providing players and guilds with a full range of useful social tools, but at least today we have the ability to, y’know, talk to others in-game. Chat windows and channels? Weren’t always there, nor were easy-to-assemble guilds. I remember trying out Final Fantasy XI when it launched on PC only to find myself puzzled by its obtuse and needlessly complicated linkshell system.
7. A sparse selection with only one business model
Maybe you feel that we have so many useless MMOs today that it’s like getting a full cable TV package: so many channels out there and all of them are crap that you won’t watch anyway. And while that is a problem in a way, I’ll gladly take it over a time when you could count the number of graphical MMOs on one hand. Plus, finding MMOs to try and play without plunking down cash was pretty much impossible (and let’s not speak of the time when you had to pay by the hour for online gaming). As much as we debate business models today, with everyone having a favorite, at least there are options and the desire for studios to get out of a single revenue channel.
8. Trading in chat/in person
For the economists and entrepreneurs out there, it must have been a welcome relief to be given trading tools such as COD mail and the auction house. Oh, MMOs didn’t always have these (because MMOs didn’t emerge from their eggs with a fully formed and tested set of features). Instead, players looking to trade goods would either need to yell into trade channels, often repeatedly, or would have to go to certain locations in the game where others would congregate to do business. East Commonland Tunnel time, anyone?
9. No maps/radars
Knowing where you are in a large game world and where you’re going are pretty essential to any adventurer’s life. Of course, MMOs didn’t always think that we needed hand-holding in this regard, choosing instead to trust to an older CRPG design where you’d have to make maps by hand and manually keep track of your character’s location. Sounds fun, no? Heck, let’s disable our radar and map features and bring back the graph paper already!
10. Being able to seriously cripple your character
One of the MMO industry’s smarter moves in its drive to create more casual friendly titles was to take stat allocation out of the player’s hands and make it automatic. Today we level up and our stats adjust based on class and we don’t give it a second thought. But what if you had to choose where each stat went? And what if there were dozens of stats? And what if you couldn’t respec those stats? And what if you spent a 100 hours on your character only to realize that you created a build that’s completely sub-par and the only way to fix it was to reroll?
Our children will never know such pain.