Massively Overthinking: Do you even *like* MMO expansions?


This seems like an absurd question on its face, right? MMO players are supposed to like MMO expansions. They’re progress. They’re content. They’re fresh and new and a hook for new and old players to return. Depending on how they’re delivered, they’re a surefire way for a studio to make money on a live game, which should be good for everyone involved in its longevity. Why wouldn’t anybody like expansions?

Turns out we have reasons, as I learned from a random conversation in our work chat last week that sprung from a chat on whether Final Fantasy XIV players were excited for Shadowbringers. More than one Massively OP staffer confessed they have big reservations about MMO expansions, while others are all in for the biggest updates in town, and we’re going to hash it out in this week’s edition of Massively Overthinking.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I love MMO expansions. They always felt like Thanksgiving with the family you like. Friends come back, the virtual house is active, someone brings their new thing you gotta try, and eventually most of them leave until the next cycle. We may not get off work and for some it means ordering out instead of cooking up a storm, but it still feels like a celebration period to me.

Andy McAdams: I do like expansions. It’s like another book in a series, or another seasons of a TV show to me. I love the feeling that anticipation of experiencing something for the first time. And I really like the new expansions tell new stories. It generally means I get to grow my character in new ways, and just lots of really cool stuff happens at an MMO expansion’s time-horizon. Plus seeing all those people running around in game having a blast and also being excited and really engaged in the game makes me happy. I like seeing everyone around me having fun and enjoying the game.

What I don’t love is some community’s reaction to expansions. Every expansion has people who go out of their way to complain every. damn. thing. They deride people who are having fun, declare the dead, start the same pointless thread on the 43 times and complain when the thread gets locked or deleted. I don’t like the fact that expansion time seems to also be prescribed time for a very vocal minority of a community to throw temper tantrums over how this class is now broken/game is ruined/kicked my puppy from 2,000 miles away. Maybe it’s just the drama? I hate the drama.

That’s the part that I hate about expansions. It never lasts, I know. Almost without fail (sup Battle for Azeroth), a few weeks into the expansion negativity fades into the background rabble and people just get along enjoying the game. I just hate that we have the three weeks of drama to get to that point.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I like the idea of expansions, I like the hype and excitement around them, I like that they make the MMO genre feel alive, and you bet I like what they do for our hits and revenue too!

But as a player, yep, I have reservations about a lot of expansions, and those reservations extend beyond the annoyance of the launch-day technical nightmares. I don’t like MMO expansions that boss around my play. I am not a big fan of expansions that all but invalidate the rest of the game and funnel everyone into them, especially when there’s an associated level cap boost. And I don’t love updates that come with dozens of prerequisites that sound like chores.

What do I like? Horizontal content expansions like Elder Scrolls Online’s DLC and campaigns or even like Guild Wars 2’s expansions. I’m done with the traditional linear expansion, I think.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): Oh man, here we go.

So I also love a good expansion, but I can’t stand the complications that go with them. And I’ll admit most of the aggression comes from every time a Final Fantasy XIV expansion comes out. I would honestly rather wait for the rush to end, but I also want to play. So I’m put into one of those rock-and-a-hard-place situations.

I still have pretty negative memories of A Realm Reborn’s release. It was so difficult to log in, especially since my wife and I were convinced to join Balmung by a friend (who then promptly quit the game). And when we actually did get into the game, I remember the duty finder problems at the time. My wife and I ended up doing hunting logs, and even that was a pain in the neck because literally everyone else had the same idea. And let’s not forget Stormblood. My goodness. I just avoided it entirely, but when I heard people were literally lining up for the Raubaun story mission, I had to do a massive facepalm. I get it, they did it in Division, but that actually needed to happen for that. We did it for the placebo effect and for the meme. Then there were the people that were exploiting the system to circumvent the 30-minute AFK system which resulted in a three hour queue time and queues in the four digit numbers. By the time Square stepped in with those serverwide logoffs, it was honestly too late. The rush was over!

I wouldn’t call myself traumatized, but the closer Shadowbringers came to release, I felt the anxiety building. “Will I be even able to play this weekend?” “When’s the next DDoS attack coming?” Suffice it to say, I was impressed at how I managed to log in at all and play the game with very few problems. But even today, as I write this post, I’m still very guarded. I’m expecting the worse.

But hey, I guess expecting the worse is good in this situation. At least you won’t be disappointed if you do get a queue of only 30 people.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): You kidding me? I heckin’ love expansions! The excitement leading up to them is infectious to me, even to the point that MMOs that I don’t actively play are suddenly of interest because of all of the anticipation and happy flapping. Of course, there’s always the risk of that anticipation being spectacularly let down, but the communal hype is far too addictive and enjoyable for me to ignore. This easily goes triple for a game that I’m actively playing; I was losing my mind with eagerness for Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers, and now I’m experiencing it in full and it’s outstanding.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I am almost always way behind on content, so the promise of new content, especially high end content, is not much of a draw for me. I am not drawn back into a game for expansions either.

On the other hand, give me a new class or race (or class/race combo) in a game I am playing already, I will be all over that.

Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): I believe I do actually like MMO expansions. When I look at how I play video games these days, it basically falls into two groups: story content that I can pick up and run through at my own pace, and quick-shot PvP content. I find myself less and less enthused spending time hammering away at achievements and miscellaneous content. As I noted in last week’s OT, the number of games I can play is so big that I need something new and shiny and awesome to really get me to sit down and open it up. Expansions so far have been a key to getting me to do that. Plus, give me those sweet upgrade deals!

Not to mention the high level of FOMO! It really feels like the most of the staff is making their way through FFXIV, and I’ve honestly never given it a third thought (third, because I have given it a second thought before). But when all the screenshots are flying, the chatter of a good story is humming past me, I do start to think, “I am missing out on something fun here!”

Tyler Edwards: My opinion of expansions is sufficiently high that I’m surprised this even a question. Sure, I can think of bad expansions (sup, Warlords of Draenor), but anything can be screwed up with bad decisions. The fact you can burn a cake does not disprove the fact that cake is pretty good most of the time.

The most negative thing I can say about expansions is that they are not, at the end of the day, necessary. A slow trickle of content updates and systems changes leads to pretty much the same result as a big expansion that dumps everything all at once, usually while costing less.

But that doesn’t change the fact that expansions are fun. They’re exciting. The launch of a new expansion for a game you love is about as close as you will ever get to replicating the feeling of opening presents on Christmas morning as an adult. It’s just a deluge of fun new stuff.

Adding to the excitement is that expansions are where the biggest changes are likely to happen, and can therefore completely rewrite a game for the better. Any bad or boring MMO is potentially just one expansion away from being a great MMO. Look at SWTOR; Knights of the Fallen Empire turned it from a game I didn’t care about at all to one of my most-played MMOs. For this reason, I always follow expansion news at least a little, even for games I don’t play. I’ve read quite a bit about Shadowbringers despite having pretty much zero interest in FFXIV. Nothing I’ve heard so far convinces me this expansion is the time to give the game a second chance, but the tantalizing possibility is always there.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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