Massively Overthinking: What are your criteria for recommending MMOs?

Last week, we got a well-intentioned email from a reader named Rick, who proposed a column in which readers tell us what they are looking for in an MMO and we offer up suggestions for just the right MMO. It’d be like Guild Chat, we imagine, only instead of dispensing guild advice, we’d be telling you folks what to play.

The email prompted some discussion among the MOP staff about whether that would be an effective column to write (or to read). We do answer some questions like that for the podcast from time to time, for example, but I seldom get the impression we’ve actually helped. Most times, the listener has already tried everything and is hoping for a game that simply doesn’t exist yet, so we’re destined to fail. And even then, it’s really difficult to recommend MMOs to people without really knowing their full history with every studio and game. Some of us can’t even find an MMO we want to play!

So we thought we’d open that discussion up for everyone. How do you go about recommending MMOs to other people? What are your criteria? When your sister says she’s done with WoW, your co-worker requests input around the watercooler one day, or Some Dude On Reddit asks for pointers – where do you start?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Generally speaking, unless they’re an MMO fan, I don’t. Sorry, but especially if you can’t be bothered to answer a few questions about your situation, Bree’s hit it on the nose. This gets complicated further by the fact that some MMOs are judged by their size, and the niche communities I love may not be sticky enough for someone unwilling to try smaller and/or indie games.

There’s another problem though. A fellow MMO fan and I were lamenting one of our favorite aspects of MMOs: community. With even single-player games having online options, gamers have tons of communities and games to choose from, and often hop not just from MMO to MMO these days but from online game to online game. It was one thing for someone to take a month break for a new Zelda and come back, but when even traditional single-player Final Fantasy games have multiplayer components, those people just end up disappearing. If you can’t afford to keep up with the game jumping, you’re left out. In fact, one of the people I was trying to play Monster Hunter World with is already distracted by the new Dragon Ball fighter which, again, is online-capable and allows him to play with other friends.

But let’s say someone tells me he’s looking for specifically for an MMO to hit up. We’re talking persistent shared worlds, social areas to chat, avatar customization, guilds, updates, community/GM events… something, say, Overwatch or Splatoon just can’t do. I first ask him what other game(s) he’s playing lately. That gives you an idea of tastes. When someone says, “I want a game like old school EverQuest,” but is playing Fortnite, I always question whether there’s nostalgia blocking out the real reasons the person isn’t just still playing EQ. Then I ask if there’s an MMO his friends are playing. There are a few factors that go into that, but sometimes people don’t like to admit that their RL friends aren’t always the best in-game friends, and that’s OK. Sometimes, though, they want to play with their friends but there’s a social situation going on and we can talk through that.

Assuming that’s not true, and there’s no hardcore money issue (i.e., can’t afford a $60 game or subscription), I ask what the person wants to do in an MMO or get out of that experience. I don’t recommend TERA to people who want to eat a sandwich while raiding, and World of Warcraft isn’t going to cut it for someone who’s looking for innovation.

I may ask other questions from there, but usually at this point I can start recommending MMOs, but I sadly don’t assume people will be happy. Again, when most people ask about what MMO they should play, they tend to hope there’s some secret game out there that will make their dreams come true, and that game doesn’t exist. I tend to refer to more mainstream games because there’s a higher chance they know someone who’s at least heard of it, or may increase their chance of meeting someone local who also plays. At least in my own circles, the best part of an MMO is the people, and when our communities feel like they’re constantly being torn apart, finding locals to play with seems to help make the genre sticky again.

…all that being said, I still bring up Project Gorgon in my recommendations and hope I can get the people I know to give it a whirl with me.

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): When I reccomend a game to someone, the discussion is always of the same form: “You liked X and Y? You should really check out Z!” I think the best way to do a recommendation column then would be to take a different game in each edition and write up an overview of everything the game has and how it compares to other games. It could be presented in a standardised format with sections on character creation, PvE, PvP, community, and any unique features or special highlights. Certainly there are enough MMOs out there that share broad features such as dungeons and quests that it should be relatively easy to compare any game to a number of other titles that the reader might have played.

We wouldn’t necessarily have to make value judgments here or fall back heavily on personal opinions, but it would need to be written by someone who has played practically all the MMOs on the market today and comparing game mechanics and content across games in a way people would agree on isn’t the easiest thing in the world either. MassivelyOP has the advantage that we’ve built a brilliant little community that could help though, so the comments could serve as a discussion platform for people to expand on the article if it’s missing any information or if there are other perspectives to consider. A column like this could end up being a very useful resource.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I always feel as if answering is a trap, as if I am suddenly tasked with representing the entirety of the MMORPG genre, and if I can’t come up with a winner, I have failed it as well as the petitioner.

If it’s a relative MMO newbie – or somebody who’s been playing only one or two games for a decade, which is pretty common from some playerbases – then it’s easy. There’s always a game in the top dozen that I can recommend without much hesitation that would be new to the asker.

If it’s a veteran, who prefaces the question with a list of everything she’s played and everything she hated, that’s harder. It’s not that I can’t come up with a dozen games she hasn’t played; it’s that if the top 20 MMOs aren’t to her tastes, the next tier isn’t going to be either. I could recommend indies out the wazoo too, but it’d just be a waste of both her and my time in most cases.

The truth is that a lot of people would probably be happier waiting out the current MMORPG cycle in a different genre and don’t want to admit it, which is why so many of us are in our own holding pattern in older games. Throwing obscure MMOs at those folks won’t help when what they really want and need is a brand-new, high-quality, AAA MMORPG from a major studio with major funding and follow-through.

That’s not going to stop me from telling everyone to try stuff, of course; you will never learn what you like until you’ve sampled a ton of things that suck. (And more than just a no-thank-you bite, Timmy.)

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): If it’s just a casual acquaintance or someone who wants an answer on the spot, the answer is pretty easy. I’ll just run down a list of the most relevant MMO in terms of their current popularity, content addition, and youth. It’s pretty much the entirety of our annual “healthiest live MMO” list, and most MOP readers would be able to come up with the same list off the top of their heads.

But let’s say it is someone who has been around the block with MMOs, likes the concept of MMOs, but is dissatisfied with all of the obvious prospects and needs to branch out. What then? The first thing I would recommend is preemptively building up a “games I want to try” list over time. When you see a title mentioned that looks interesting but you don’t have the time right now? Put it on the list. Hear some good word-of-mouth about a particularly MMO? On the list. That way when you feel burned out on your game and have some time free up, you don’t have to go far for recommendations. You’re already set.

Past that, I’d really recommend reading the comments in WRUP every week to get some good ideas of what our community is playing and perhaps be pointed to the direction of a title that you overlooked or haven’t thought about before. And while this might sound weird, check out One Shots every Sunday. It can be really helpful to see pictures that players have taken in MMOs and read their stories of playing these games.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I don’t. And I really don’t like when people ask me to recommend things that they would enjoy. How would I know? Even those closest to me have such an intricate web of internal qualifications and tastes that I can totally miss a mark. What a person’s likes/dislikes/must haves/dealbreakers are is so incredibly personal there is no way to tailor something adequately. And to top that off, what they tell you they want isn’t even necessarily what they will play! We’ve seen that over and over again in the industry. I think people don’t even honestly admit their criteria to themselves at times. Heck, sometimes I can’t even quite put my finger on why I like or dislike something, so how can I nail that down for some whose brain and inner feelings I am not privy to? All I can know is what I actually enjoy, and even that can vary by mood and time available to play.

The most I feel comfortable doing is giving blanket statements like, “If you love puzzles and creepy Lovecraft stuff, you should try Secret World Legends,” or “If you like survival games and dinosaurs, give ARK a try.” Mostly, I just say, “I have no idea what you’d love, but <this> is where I am having fun.” If I am really having a blast, I will totally encourage everyone to give it a try because I’d love to share a great experience. Of course, I know full well that plenty of folks would not have a great experience. My suggestion is just try it and see for yourself. That’s what I need to do myself.

Your turn!

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Alex Malone

The first thing I do is ask them to tell me what “MMO” means!

Joking aside, that question is very useful when offering advice. If they know what it means (i.e. the definition) then it means they have a deep understanding of the genre and what it’s all about, so when they ask for an MMO recommendation I know what they’re looking for. At that point, I generally tell them not to bother, there are very few MMOs about and most are old or shit.

If they don’t know what it means, which is very common, then I’ll start asking about their preferences for theme (fantasy – low/mid/high, sci-fi, space, historic etc), combat style (action vs tab) and how much grouping they’re interested in. From there, I’ll then recommend a game, regardless of if it’s an MMO or not, because this sort of person isn’t looking for an MMO, they’re looking for a long lasting RPG.

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TotalCowage .

Two simple rules really;

1.) Do I know much about it, and
2.) Can you find out easily for yourself?

So for instance, I’d equally recommend both Star Trek Online and Lord of the Rings Online even though the first is fun but seriously shonky, and the second I found dull and grindy, but because both genuinely allow you to see most of the core content free of charge. Be adventurous and go see, it won’t cost you a thing…

And in reverse, I found EvE Online just positively awful; without the meta-gaming it’s just crap. That was an “avoid”… until it went F2P too. Now I’d say go and try it.

But I wouldn’t recommend or not recommend World of Warcraft currently because, although I once played it deeply, that was back before Burning Crusade; I have no idea what it’s like now, and without paying for it, nor can you. But as its exploring going F2P, and they have a proven pedigree, when it does I’d switch to a recommendation. If nothing else, the sheer cultural impact it’s had is worth experiencing first hand.

Otherwise, I simply express my opinion, and let people decide for themselves whether that’s a recommendation; after all, I know a lot of games my friends loved but I bounced off hard. The Secret World was one. I just couldn’t see what others did, because the gameplay bothered me too much.

It’s only if the game is outright bad that I’d make a point of specifically recommending you avoid it, no matter whether it was free or not. You know what I’m thinking of, I’m sure!

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Schmidt.Capela

I try not to recommend games, but instead to point which games have features whoever asked for a recommendation says they like, as well as noting when a game has some feature I don’t think whoever asked will like.

Different persons like different gameplay elements, after all. Quite a few things I like doing in games are extremely niche.

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Utakata

It’s depending on who is asking. As in, I love Blade & Soul…but I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend who has motion sickness issues. As I don’t want her to hurl during the Dragon Pulse training, for example. I would never forgive myself for that. :(

…the rest, I think you get the picture.

quark1020
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quark1020

I use whatever features the intended target wants in their game. Tell me what they like about a particular game or games, and I’ll do my best to match that combination to a game I know.

But that’s just for the faceless strangers of the internet. If I personally know the person, then I use the above combination on top of something I can enjoy. Its a bit selfish, but anything can be fun if you’re doing it with a friend. Besides, if they’re coming to me for my opinion, then that’s what they’re going to get.

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rafael12104

Lol! Suddenly I’m living in fear. I didn’t know I was representing MMORPGS and that my recommendations determine the fate of such games! Lol! I’m kidding of course, but Bree makes a good point.

Often criteria and recommendations get confused as you try to recommend something that your friends will like. You want them to like a game just as much as you did that first MMO way back when. And so, you recommend games that you normally wouldn’t. You provide too much guidance and get in the way. And suddenly your criteria doesn’t equate with what your friend might want to play. I know. I’ve experienced this on both sides.

So, IMO, take the mystery out of it. Don’t become invested. People have different likes and dislikes. Keep it broad and general and based on the person getting the recommendation.

And that is it. No need to refine it all that much. Make your recommendation and then stand back and let it unfold. Help them sure. Answer question etc. But let them get a feeling of the game, and then, who knows?

A few years ago a friend of mine who is not a gamer was looking for something to peek her interest. An intelligent wall flower who saw little value in games, she wanted something to occupy her down time.

So, I recommended SWTOR thinking the story at least might be entertaining.

Fast forward 2 years. I catch up with my friend again in game. She is in the top progression guild on the server, with 2 world first Nightmare clears under their belt. And you know what? She was their number one tank. Acknowledged, I found out later, as the best tank on the server. Boy, was I off. She couldn’t care less about the story. But my recommendation was great!

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Crowe

I won’t recommend a MMO to someone unless I’m actively playing it when I make the recommendation. If I’m recommending it to someone, I’d want to be able to meet them in game and hang out for a few and try to answer any questions they have. And if it’s the type of game that has helpful things for starters, I’d gift them a bag I just made or the like.

That all said, I haven’t been able to find a MMO to actively play for longer than about a month… for the past few years. Come on, developers, give me something good and complex to play! (and then don’t Trion it up)

Veldan
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Veldan

I never recommend MMOs to anyone. I mean, I would if someone specifically said that he/she wanted to play an MMO, but that never actually happens. The MMO genre is not exactly popular with gamers right now.

To be honest, even if someone really wanted an MMO, I’m not sure I could recommend one. I don’t consider any of them worth playing right now and am pretty much here only because I still believe in a brighter MMO future.

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Hravik

Its been difficult finding something I want to play myself, let alone recommend.

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NeoWolf

If I play it and I personally enjoy it and find it a good value for money and time then I will recommend it. But typically although I may suggest a game I always recommend people check them out first as everyones dream feature list of what makes a good game tends to vary greatly.