It’s kind of hard to be thankful this year. Sure, some good things have happened this year, but we also have some things that, to put it politely, are unqualified messes. There’s everything around Star Wars: Battlefront II. There’s the shuttering of Master x Master and Marvel Heroes (the latter I actually flagged a year ago as being robust and healthy). There are titles like Lord of the Rings Online and ARK: Survival Evolved that have doubled down on methods to enrage players. And last but certainly not least, there’s still no sign of a sequel to the Warcraft film.
That one might be a grey area, actually.
But the year hasn’t been devoid of light, and there’s still stuff to be thankful for. So rather than being bitter and cranky about it, I want to focus on what we do have to be thankful for even while I hope for better in the future. Let’s talk about some stuff that’s good to be thankful for, even if it doesn’t tickle your particular fancy, and be a little more hopeful.
The past year has definitely brought more than its fair share of expansions. The first thing I thought of was Final Fantasy XIV and The Elder Scrolls Online, but then I remembered that Guild Wars 2 got an expansion (one that I even talked about). And Warframe had a huge expansion that downright challenges its genre categorization. Oh, right, and Lord of the Rings Online finally brought us casually strolling to Mordor. And I am sure that I’m forgetting some big ones here.
Next year is a bit more of a question mark, maybe, but we know that World of Warcraft’s expansion is more likely than not going to be launching, and I wouldn’t be surprised about a few more big entries. There’s a lot of stuff coming out, and that alone is pretty great.
2. Ascent: Infinite Realm
This came out of nowhere, and that makes me happy as heck. You work in thus industry for a long enough time and you get used to the idea that you know most of what’s coming. Even shutdowns usually have the signs ahead of time. But all of a sudden, bam, here’s a game with airships and robots. That is my thing.
Will I actually like it? Who knows? That actually isn’t the point right now; maybe it’ll be great, maybe it’ll be awful, but it’s something new and unexpected.
3. The Battlefront II debacle
Yes, I am actually glad this is happening. Why? Two reasons. First of all, this is a debate about valuation, business models, fairness, and so forth that we’ve needed to have for years. There’s been something rotten in the state of Denmark for a while now, but it’s always been simmering under the surface. Here, it’s out in the middle, it’s ugly, it’s obvious, and the industry as a whole needs to take a hard look at what’s going on, especially since this particular game is subject to oversight by a company that is not happy about what’s being done with its IP. It sucks, but it is in fact something that needs to happen.
And second, it’s happening around a game I was never going to play anyhow, so my personal stake in it is entirely tied to the health of the industry and not to actually wanting the game. Fun!
4. World of Warcraft: Classic
Really, I don’t see this one working out in the long term. I think a lot of people who have long said they want to play this game are actually saying that they want to play a version of the game which is a mix of fictional and temporal. Never fall in love with a bar, and never expect the reopened bar to be like the old bar, because that was then. But I’m still thankful for this despite that fact.
For one thing, it’s the first time in a long while that we’ve seen Blizzard be willing to learn lessons from its own past; one of the biggest problems that the game has had over the past few years has been a steadfast refusal to really pay attention to lessons that, again, were already learned and examined by the game itself before now. It’s kind of silly. For another, it brings in the option to mine more things out of the past, to make the live game better for their inclusion.
And hey, it’s a kick to the shins for the shady-as-heck private server community. It might be schadenfreude, but that’s still thankfulness.
5. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (in an odd way)
While there are a lot of issues with the idea of classic World of Warcraft (which is something I intend to re-examine at some later date), this is a case where I really just don’t like the game or the community surrounding it. But in a weird way, yes, I’m thankful for this game being around and making a big splash. I don’t see it as terribly sustainable, but that’s kind of the point.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds strips away a lot of other debris to give people a trimmed-down and directed experience of just smashing each other in the face. It’s like the ultimate gankbox experience. And yes, I’m hopeful that serves as a coda for requesting more installments in the rolling gankbox theater. If you just want to smash people in the face for existing, well, here’s your experience. When that starts to wear out, we can move on to other things.
Plus, hey, a lot of people are enjoying the game. So that’s good.
6. Small, weird projects
This is the other side of my above comments, because on some level PUBG couldn’t exist without a proliferation of iterations on idea that don’t, ultimately, resemble a lot of classic MMOs. You have stuff like Dark and Light and Wild West Online that’s releasing and making waves, and they’re not quite MMOs but also not quite something else Or to use our own classification, they fall under the larger header of “MMO” without being full-fledged MMORPGs.
I’m thankful for that. I think the industry as an aggregate is moving on from copying World of Warcraft, but there’s still some fumbling being done to find what there is to use as a source of inspiration. So I tend to be fond of games trying something new and having a different structure.
7. More mobile options
Mobile MMOs are great. They aren’t always fonts of perfect systems or great design, but they’re a great way for people to find out what’s fun about this genre and get into newer stuff. And they run on smartphones that you already have, thus serving as an even more efficient gateway. You might need to upgrade your computer or your network to run one game or another, but you can run on your phone just fine.
Of course, later you’re shaking in an alley desperate for just one more loot crate, but… well, that analogy got away from me. Still, thankful.
8. So much still running
There was a stretch of time when I wasn’t sure what I would do without my favorite MMORPG on the market, other than “stop playing MMOs.” At this point, my current favorite and second-favorite titles could both shut down tomorrow, and I would still have a half-dozen games before I ran into “jeez, what is running that I want to play?” I’m thankful for that. We are spoiled for different options.
Seriously, you can just hop on Steam and find tons of free-to-play titles to try right now. Will you enjoy them all? Unlikely. But they’re there and running and available. The amount of stuff that’s out there is dizzying.
9. Lots of fun
At the end of the day, I’m not playing MMOs just because it’s my job. That may affect how I play and some of my timing, but I’m still playing these games because I’m having fun. I am enjoying myself. There’s cool stuff to do and I like doing cool stuff, period end.
This is what I always go back to when I start to feel less than thankful. If I told myself at age 17 that there would be games I could play and just keep playing for years on end, I would have been ecstatic. It would have been perfect. And sure, the reality has issues, but we’re still talking about a genre where you start playing but never totally stop There’s always more, there’s new stuff to be seen, the genre is full of surprises.
Years upon years of fun have come my way as a result of this genre. Relationships, marriages, friendship, moments of hope and triumph. Even during years with lots of bad news, there’s reason to be thankful.
10. It’s certainly not dull
Hey, this year has not been boring by any stretch of the imagination. Boring would be nice for a change of pace, but I’m happy as heck to have a year that’s got a lot of active stuff going on and all sorts of new surprises. I wish a few of them were happier surprises, that’s all.