Perfect Ten: MMO arguments we need to put down

    
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Even-handed.

You know what I hate? No, not just botting. No, not people with more cash to spend on game development than sense about whether it’s wise to do so. No, not esports. I mean, I do hate all of these things, but… all right, let’s start again.

One of the things that I really hate is pointless arguing. And a lot of that ties in with terminology. I’ve written before about the idea that we need to get rid of certain terminology because it just doesn’t mean anything any longer, because it’s actively harmful to discussing and figuring out how to move forward.

Nothing here is as simple as a term; all of these are arguments or viewpoints that get parroted back and forth and are similarly unhelpful. They don’t raise discourse, they don’t improve discussion or thinking, they don’t help us understand anything. They just help create a mess. And so it’s really time to stop bringing these things up when we’re talking about the genre, because… well, you’ll see what I mean.

The most positive statement about anything Daybreak-related I am likely to make all year.

1. “This is a cash grab!”

Obviously, this is an argument that still does in fact mean something. There are obviously actions that are meant as blatant cash grabs (for example, everything related to PlanetSide Arena) and it’s understandable that it’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth. This is correct and just. The problem is that this gets trotted out for everything related to selling a product, from sales to reasonable actions to actual cash grabs.

The trouble is no matter how much a given action may be a cash grab, the once-useful nature of pointing out cash grabs has given way to just general scoffing that these companies might try to sell you something. Worse yet, it’s usually placed out there to stop discussion, instead of asking why something might be a cash grab or what it’s trying to accomplish or why this is harmful or… you know, any of that.

We get it, no one wants to pay for things, least of all my stingy rear. But if we call anything that costs money a cash grab, we sort of lose the nuance. “Cash grab” as an argument needs a rest for a while.

2. “Developers still haven’t fixed X!”

This is something that comes up a lot when you have, say, someone angry about housing in Final Fantasy XIV. It’s an understandable point of anger. What makes it a problem is when in literally every other discussion about the title, this point gets brought up, regardless of whether or not one thing has anything to do with the other. “Who cares if job balance is being tweaked? The developers still haven’t fixed housing availability!”

Do I get being upset about persistent issues that aren’t fixed? Yes, I certainly do. But I recognize that if the developers aren’t talking about them after acknowledging that the issue exists, that’s not because the team just decided to do something else. It’s because big projects with lots of moving pieces are not always easy to address, and sometimes you want to fix a balance issue but you also have a major bug to patch and new content to roll out and you’re still figuring out how to fix that balance issue. You can have more than one thing going on.

Well this is something else.

3. Categorical obstructionism

One of the biggest things that bothers me when I see it argued is “well, it’s a themepark game, what do you want?” Based on my own work, it comes up a lot when talking about the fact that World of Warcraft could be doing much better than it is, putting forth more features, more options, whatever.

But it’s hardly unique to that game or community. Toxic players in a MOBA? Well, it’s competitive gaming, it’s just like that. Buggy messes in early access? Come on, it’s early access. Star Citizen wants you to pay $10,000 for Chris Roberts to tell you about a dream he had regarding horses? Yeah, that’s just what the game does.

This is a bad argument. “Themepark” is not a justification; it’s a category that broadly describes a kind of game and only includes riders like “no housing” so long as you allow it to do so. There’s no mechanical reason why a MOBA can’t have a decent community; there are companies not interested in putting forth the effort. You get the idea. Making an excuse of “what do you expect from X” is the sort of argument that can and should always be met with “more, and so should you.”

4. The creativity/innovation gap

You see a lot of Kickstarters for old-school throwback titles offering the idea that there’s no more creativity of innovation to be found in modern MMOs. It’s always just the same old thing! So support our game, which we’re claiming is innovative and creative despite the fact that it is literally made of mechanics from the past exaggerated to a higher degree!

I don’t need to explain why “creative and innovative” and “deliberate throwback to old design” are opposite ideas, do I? That’s obvious by definition, right? If it’s not, just think about what those words mean for a bit.

This must be a definition of the word instant I was not previously acquainted with.

5. “Instant gratification”

Gosh, this one comes up a lot from the aforementioned club, too? But it also comes up from players, people who, for example, are angry that these days you can just log in and get things from doing a single run of dungeons. Why, back in my day you had to spend a year of farming items from difficult content to just have a chance at getting a good weapon!

For the record, this was in fact my day, and if MMOs still worked like Final Fantasy XI did when I first played, I would no longer play them. The idea of “instant” gratification bears little resemblance to what anyone would call “instant,” it’s just a matter of “less time spent with tedious patience so you can spend more time actually doing things.”

Now, if you think the things you’re doing aren’t fun in their own right? Valid criticism. If you think something offers rewards that are too good for time spent compared to other activities in the game? Also valid. If you’re salty because someone can now get their Sword of Really Hurting Guys in a couple of weeks instead of the better part of a school year? That’s not instant and it’s not a useful complaint.

6. “But game X did this!”

This is one I kind of debate putting here because it’s the closest to having a solid core argument. Sometimes it seems really just plain wrong to hear that, say, WoW can’t do something while FFXIV is over here doing exactly that without any sort of trouble. But the reality is that just because one game is capable of doing something doesn’t mean that other games are necessarily capable of the same trick.

The fact of the matter is that games have lots of different engines, restrictions, development teams, development tools, development pipelines… there’s a lot of things that can make something very easy for one team to do but very difficult for another, without getting into the fact that different development teams have different priorities. You can point to another game doing something as a reason a given title should do something, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy road.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't have started working on your dye system years ago, but the problem already existed.

7. “This is just pandering to group X!”

If there’s one thing I have learned players hate, it’s when something is not for them. Which means that basically anything that’s targeting a different player group than the one the speaker belongs to can be argued as pandering to a given group. New high-end challenges are just pandering to endgame meatheads, new PvP modes are just pandering to PvP trash, new cosmetic options are just pandering to RP weirdos, and so forth.

In the strictest definition, this is true. These inclusions are pandering to people by giving them something. But that’s about it.

Far more important than if a given update is offering something to a group is whether or not the design philosophy is centered around it. If every update is primarily catering to one player group, that’s the group the designers want to keep around; then it becomes a question of what appeal features not aimed at the main group might have. But more often than not this is just used as a shorthand for “this isn’t for me, so I don’t see the point.” And of course you don’t see the point; it isn’t for you.

8. “MMOs are social games”

This is – universally – brought up in favor of making games more obnoxiously group-centric or in critique of people who want to enjoy a lot of their playtime solo. And to explain why this argument doesn’t mean what people think it means, I’m going to use my marriage.

It will not surprise anyone to know that marriage is a social thing. By definition, it’s two people agreeing to live together and support one another. My wife and I were best friends for years before we were married. Our marriage is very much a social existence and a gathering between two people who respect one another.

But you know what we don’t do? Spend all of our time together doing the same things. We spend a good chunk of time together every day, talk and commiserate and laugh and enjoy one another’s company. But there are times when we’re just doing things separately. Sometimes our social time is just both of us doing our own thing in shared spaces, even though we’re not really actively talking at the time. Because “social” does not have to mean “always together or it doesn’t count.” It just means existing in a shared space.

A BLOO BLOO BLOO BLOO A BLOO BLOO

9. Health vs. merit

It doesn’t need to be said that Glitch was not financially successful. That doesn’t make it a bad game; that makes it a failure as a marketing commodity. Something can be very good and also very unsuccessful, just like something can be absolutely awful and still make a whole bunch of money. Similarly, something can be very healthy from a financial standpoint and also not very creative. And something can be so financially unsuccessful that it wound up dying while still being worthy of discussion.

To use an obvious personal example, City of Heroes is gone. It was shut down. That doesn’t mean that it no longer needs any consideration when talking about the genre; it did have a period of success, it accomplished what it did, and it had its positive and negative aspect that deserve consideration and evaluation. The health of a game is not the sole metric for whether or not it’s worth discussing unless you’re discussing the most profitable models over long periods, after all.

10. “Who cares?”

This is, without a doubt, the one that bothers me more than anything else. There is always someone who chimes in to ask who cares about something because the person asking doesn’t care and thus why should anyone else?

And the reason should be self-evident. There are people who care about things you don’t. There are games I think of as boring enough to be used as a sleep aid for insomniacs that some people adore, and even if I don’t personally care all that much they do. And the very least I can do is to not imply that no one cares about something when I know, from years of experience, that there is always somebody who cares.

Every game is someone’s favorite. Every event matters to someone. Every change has an impact, and the fact that it’s not important to you doesn’t change the fact that is important to someone.

If you’re asking who cares, you obviously care enough to ask. Just let things pass without comment if you don’t care about them.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”

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Ken from Chicago

C’mon, Justin, if only wedding ceremonies handcuffed the spouses together it would reduce divorce and strengthen the marital bond as the couple grew closer together to do … everything–especially dungeon raiding. ;-)

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Scorcher64

Usually in a discussion where players are offering constructive feedback or suggestions of new features that can be added to a game, you sometimes have that one person giving you that old, tired speech of how so-and-so company don’t have the time and resources to do that, as an attempt to dismiss what was said.

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Anstalt

This article both enrages me and makes me smile!

I’ve definitely come across these arguments before and gotten involved very passionately. You know what I figured out?

PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS!

That’s what used to enrage me. A lot of their stupidity comes from ignorance, they simply don’t have enough gaming experience to have encountered the wide variety of ways to build a game. I’m not just talking about the players here, but about the devs too.

There are, of course, some topics that I just can’t help myself with. The definition of “MMO” is still one I care passionately about – MMORPGs are my favourite type of game, yet there are so few of them. So, if you release a game with a player cap of 75 (swtor….) and then call it an MMO, you’re lying and have directly wasted my time. Horizontal vs vertical progression is another passion that I can’t let lie, nor is the terrible trend for focusing on story in a multiplayer game.

As to your specific arguments, the only one I disagree with is “Game X did this!” Sure, just because another game has a feature, doesn’t mean this one should too. Yet, I most often see this argument when comparing the modern crop of MMOs (which are lacking in features and extremely shallow and boring) to older MMOs (which had tons more innovative features, just shit graphics and too much grind). I feel this is a perfectly valid argument, and whilst the saying “Game X did this!” is a childish way to express that argument, never-the-less you cannot help but feel let down when looking back over the last 20 years and comparing it to todays pile of garbage.

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Schmidt.Capela

I mostly agree. A few observations, though:

2. “Developers still haven’t fixed X!”
This is quite valid when bug X renders newer features moot, or otherwise prevent players from enjoying a part of the game the devs invested serious development effort towards after the bug was well known, because in this case it’s basically throwing away development effort while benefiting no one.

6. “But game X did this!”
It is possible to use this argument in a correct and constructive way, but only if whoever is using it took the time and effort to actually study how programs and games are put together and the differences in implementation between game X and whichever other game they are talking about.
The same also applies to the opposite argument, “But game X never could fix this, so how can you complain about game Y not fixing it?”

7. “This is just pandering to group X!”
I look at this from another point of view: if a player with my exact playstyle would be locked out of desirable content or rewards, why should I even bother playing the game?
This mostly comes out regarding raiding. I not only don’t raid anymore, but have also vowed to never again raid for as long as I live; so, if a game keeps content I would want to play or rewards I would want to obtain locked behind a raiding requirement, why should I even bother playing it?
Do note, though, that I’m not against features I won’t use existing; I’m just against exclusive rewards or content being locked behind those features.

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Stiqman

“This mostly comes out regarding raiding. I not only don’t raid anymore, but have also vowed to never again raid for as long as I live; so, if a game keeps content I would want to play or rewards I would want to obtain locked behind a raiding requirement, why should I even bother playing it?
Do note, though, that I’m not against features I won’t use existing; I’m just against exclusive rewards or content being locked behind those features.”

So people who raid should be able to get access to items only crafters can craft? Because there should not be exclusive rewards locked behind features not everyone will use?

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Hope

Even worse than the people complaining about games “just pandering” to playstyles is people conplaining about games “just pandering” to specific minority groups.

Seriously, I can’t see a queer couple in a game without getting that, I see it pretty often when people of color show up, and the raw toxic furor that fills Reddit if there’s a trans person in a video game is just… teeth-gritting.

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Kickstarter Donor
mysecretid

Excellent article, Justin. Thank you for this one. For whatever it’s worth, I agree with all your points.

You know, though, you reminded me that I really miss my Sword of Really Hurting Guys +5 :-)

Cheers,

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Fenrir Wolf

These all seem like solid, fair, and relevant arguments. Even in a contemporary frame of reference. At least, so long as they are used responsibility and not manipulatively, but that’s true of all arguments.

I can’t imagine why a supposition would be ‘worth putting down’ if it serves to highlight public opinion or share understanding on any given point. There are certainly even new titles today that apply to every one of these, and it wouldn’t be ethical to suggest that how a person feels isn’t relevant simply because it’s an argument another might be tired of.

I’m sensing a little salt, here.

One example that applies to all of the above arguments that we should drop for arbitrary reasons is Fallout 76. Each point serves to highlight something very wrong with Bethesda’s lackadaisical effort at a survival game. None of them would be unfairly leveraged.

If I might be so bold, I would put forth that what the article writer is tired of is what I’m tired of. Not that there’s anything wrong with the articles per se, but simply that manipulative people and their Machiavellian ways are exhausting, they drain both the soul and the will.

Though I think that they could twist any argument to be a particularly toxic one that isn’t healthy or logical, yet works as a way to convince people who aren’t paying close enough attention.

These arguments, generally speaking, are fine. It’s that some uncouth, unhygienic uses of them are not.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I just recently went back to LOTRO after 9 years of not playing it to see if things were basically as I’d said they were.

It’s disturbing playing through an old zone where ‘We’re building a inn’ that was being built…9 YEARS ago in the same spot. That’s actually my bigger problem with games…where stuff doesn’t change.

Then other things like mechanics HAVE changed. Like they put in a really cool looking ‘collections’ panel that shows you every single mount/emote/pet/stable-master in the game. Which APPEARS to be something that could function across your whole account.

But adding stuff to it? Nope. You can’t have that fancy X-mas mount you earned over there on that character over here on your other character…you have to EARN IT AGAIN multiple times for numerous characters, because WE WANT THE MONIES YOU HAVE IN YOUR POCKET AND TOO BAD IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT!

But yeah, lets all be OK with games monetizing every little blip of everything and not care whether they show any ‘Thank you for giving us money, now here’s some enjoyment in return for the piles of money you forked over.’

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Utakata

*Pigtails quietly /upvote this article*

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styopa

Sounds like these aren’t so much specific “MMO arguments” that need to be put down, it’s more like “the MMO versions of arguments made by people who don’t know how to argue constructively GENERALLY”?

But…let’s be honest: the reason these ‘arguments’ take place is because we now have the fora in which to do so. Vanishingly few of us know anything about actually building games, much less MMOs; fewer still have any experience to buttress any knowledge we think we have.

To be totally blunt: if we didn’t have websites that needed to fill their pages with clicks to drive advertising to justify their existence, and if these websites didn’t feel the need to mandatorily provide comments sections in order to promote ‘engagement’ by their readers, we wouldn’t be having said pointless arguments and we’d all just live normal, happy lives without feeling we’re missing anything.
BBC.com manages to tell its news stories without inviting comments, yet it still happens to pay the bills.

I’m not even objecting to the comments section (to do so would be colossally hypocritical, yes?) just saying that pointless repetitious arguments, logical fallacies galore…they’re all part & parcel of the medium.

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Fenrir Wolf

Much the same point I was driving at. It’s not that the points will never have any merit, but rather it’s that points like this can be used by manipulators to fuel a sordid engine of dissent and chaos that serves no purpose other than the thrill of the manipulator and the growth of their power.