Massively Overthinking: Problematic faves in MMOs

    
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A while back, a reader suggested that it was impossible for a fan who loves something to recognize its shortcomings, and I was taken aback. I’ve always thought that the people who love things usually know them well and might even be best-equipped to identify and call out failings if they’re honest. We’ve argued this before in regard to press coverage, but I think it’s true for gamers, too. One of my favorite article formats is the “what X got wrong” trope, where I dig into a game I love and pick some nits. “We’re most critical of the things we love precisely because we love and know them so well and want them to be so much more,” I wrote years ago in just one such article about Guild Wars 2.

I feel like this topic is really the big sister of the “problematic faves” idea – the stuff we love in spite of its flaws or objectionable bits. I want to talk about those today in our Massively Overthinking: I’ve asked our writers for their problematic MMO faves and for their biggest gripes about their favorite MMOs.

Andy McAdams: Try as I might, I can’t shake the rosy memories of Anarchy Online. I’ve gone back and tried to play recently, and there’s so much for that game to do better. I don’t know that the game was every “great,” but it’s still my first MMO and it’ll always be one of my favorites. I loved the sci-fi setting, the procedural gameplay, the fact that there was a “game” to play at all levels with Notum Wars, and Alien Invasion – I never felt a “rush” to max level because it wasn’t a big goal. It was a distinction only a few achieved during my time playing (you know, a few probably still being a few hundred people.).

But it’s a dense game, and not always in a good way. It’s a poster child for complexity for the sake of complexity. While I loved the interplay of player buffing to equip better and better gear and the constant supply and demand, I hated trying to figure out WTF gear I actually needed — what was a good for me. The fact that I needed a third-party tool to plan out my implants with the different glowy balls, then planning on the total buffs I could get from my nanos/spells, from an MP, from a trader — it was mind-bogglingly complex and completely impossible to be able to understand/plan in-game. So I love the interplay there, but it was way more complicated than it needed to be. And the graphics were… rough even at the time and especially now. Combat seems glacial compared to even tab targeting of today. I feel like I spent most of time just waiting for abilities to come off cool down.

I love the setting, I love the open-endedness of the game, I like that there’s “game” to play at all levels, but AO has some issues.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Sheesh, where to even begin? I mean, I play a pair of rogue servers as my current main MMOs. “Problematic faves” are a fact of my existence lately. These are MMOs that were rescued from oblivion by gamers operating in the shadows, and even though they’re not being hassled, it’s still not entirely above-board. I’m acutely aware of the problems of playing and talking about those games, and you can just go listen to a few podcasts to hear me complain about some of their more obscure-to-outsiders foibles.

So let me instead talk about some games whose problems aren’t now chiefly copyright and game preservation. Guild Wars 2 is probably my most problematic fave, as I mentioned, and not just because of its goofy modern design track but because of what I’d characterize as a history of labor problems and communication issues and monetization snafus. I will always love the franchise and respect the rank-and-file devs – most especially the ones whom I’ve worked with personally – but I feel those controversies weigh on me when I log in or when I praise its virtues. And that’s all separate from how I still feel the game has lost its direction and gotten tangled up trying to appease a rather small but demanding and loud endgame demographic over the last few years.

I’d still say that things like dodgy press relationships and abusive monetization are probably the two biggest things that drive me away from MMOs nowadays, more than a game’s actual design. I’m an MMO player – borky design is part of the package!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I 100% find Star Trek Online a problematic favorite in terms of its monetization scheme. Practically everything about how this thing whomps you over the head with lootbox nonsense is the antithesis of what I want out of a free-to-play MMO, and it does things that I would normally kick and punch down on with other games.

So why does STO get a free pass? Because I enjoy the game enough that I’m willing to actively ignore this jackassitry. I don’t like it, and I damn sure don’t support it with my money (pro tip: panhandling does not entice me to open my wallet), but I am willing to play ignorant because the game itself really is extremely good.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): This is a hard one for me because, well… critiquing the things I love is literally my job. It’s not hard to find me being critical of lots of aspects of Final Fantasy XIV’s design, for example: Housing is unnecessarily limited, which creates a horrible bottleneck there; there’s far too little opportunity to customize your individual choice of job; the focus on story works hard against the game when a particular story beat falls flat; it’s difficult for new players to get into; and so on. Nor is it hard to find my criticisms of how badly World of Warcraft’s design team has been bungling the game for the past five years at least, or to look back for the many times I criticized WildStar for the fact that it took a really fun premise and turned it into someone’s fever dream about endgame WoW raiding.

Some criticisms are definitely going to be invisible to someone who really loves a game, yes, but sometimes that’s also because the criticisms coming from people who don’t love the game aren’t actually correct in the first place. If my own experience bouncing off of Ultima Online led me to declare that the game’s skill system sucks and is dumb, for example, that might describe my feeling, but it would also be wrong. (There might be issues there, but the skill system itself isn’t the problem, nor even is the way you level those skills.) It comes down to fixating on things that are obvious to someone who doesn’t love the game, but it winds up being a shallow critique of the surface elements.

Ultimately, it’s conflating fans with fanboys. One is a fan who really does love the thing under discussion because it’s fun, but if the object of affection stops being fun, it’s not really the end of the world. Fanboyism is the problem, the impulse to take a thing you like as a priori good and thus framing anything bad about it as some combination of lies and misunderstandings. Someone should write an article about that.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): In terms of problematic faves, Dungeons and Dragons Online pops up quickly. It’s a very unusual MMO in terms of its dungeon-centric design, the often complex character options, the outdated (but charming!) graphics, and the difficulty in finding groups outside of your guild or regular party. Yet it offers an experience that goes above and beyond your run-of-the-mill questing adventures, interesting puzzles, tricky dungeons, and multiple ways to approach various obstacles. It’s a hard sell for a game, yet it’s one that makes very fervent followers who persist through it.

Another problematic fave that I frequently mention is Fallen Earth, which is as janky, buggy, and unpolished as all get out — yet also offers a western post-apocalyptic feel that soaks right into your bones. There’s the ability to craft most anything (using an always-persistent crafting timer clock) and black humor and loads of places to explore. I’m hoping the new team can revamp it, although I have concerns if it is even feasible.

OK, so biggest gripes about favorite MMOs. Here goes: World of Warcraft lacks housing and keeps changing the core features instead of refining them. Lord of the Rings Online’s regular questing zones have gotten way too difficult and sloggy from Mordor onward. Guild Wars 2 dived head-first into raiding and that bugs me more than I care to admit. SWTOR has awkward and immersion-breaking character animations (including idle stances). The Elder Scrolls Online has just the most awful inventory UI ever designed, which is in line with all of Bethesda’s “console first” games. Neverwinter only has one healing class (still!). Secret World Legends stopped getting supported by Funcom after making us all start over again. Project Gorgon won’t pull the trigger on a launch. Star Trek Online lacks a good exploration system in a game that really needs one. FFXIV’s vaunted story is front-loaded with so much dull repetitiveness that I’m surprised anyone persisted through to the expansions.

Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): I completely disagree that people who love something can’t find its shortcomings. I will agree that by and large those fans refuse to accept that there are things that could be better.

I think back on times I’ve put my 2 cents into a discussion about Guild Wars 2. I’m not sure why, but critiques against the game’s focus on raids or hardcore or whatever content get white knights to truly jump out and attack. A lot of times it just seems that fans would rather go down with the ship than admit that there might be a problem with heading towards that iceberg.

I think this is where the idea that we can’t be critical of things we love comes from. I’m with Bree, though: I’m so critical of games because I love them. I want them to succeed. When I say that Crowfall needs to improve its systems, it’s not because I hate it and want people to know how bad it is; it’s because I want those things to improve so more gamers can see how great it is. Can’t you see I’m yelling because I love you?

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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NecrococoPlays

I started FFXIV but wound up quitting within the first few hours because those initial quests are so. fucking. boring. I’ve heard it’s great, and I have friends that play it, but I don’t think a game should have such a bad initial design that a player has to force themselves through it with the promise that it eventually gets better.

I hadn’t considered Guild Wars 2’s issues in regard to raiding, but now that it’s been mentioned, I do see how it may be to blame for creating a schism in development. I love the game, truly, and I think both of the expansions were great (although people don’t seem to understand why PoF didn’t have content to directly rival HoT)… but I can’t be assed to get invested into the game anymore. And I still have never actually run a raid, despite having been a progression raider in other titles. GW2 raids just don’t appeal to me.

SWTOR is just unfortunate. Also loved that game. It stole me from WoW. But the concept wasn’t sustainable – especially with the amount of content people wanted. The F2P system was the worst I’ve ever seen. And the lack of support for development (gutted) basically ensured that the game would never see its full potential.

I still mourn Wildstar. I didn’t level past 35 because it hit that point of boredom where the payoff was no longer worth the continued investment, but I think it definitely had potential.. they just went in the wrong direction. It’s fine to be hardcore, but you need the not-so-hardcore players to sustain the game as well. The scale of the cities was also weird. But the spirit of the game itself was great, and I still miss it.

I didn’t think about ESO’s storage issues, because I installed a mod right away that handled it. I played briefly at launch and HATED IT, but started again this year and found it really enjoyable, and that they’d ironed out a lot of the issues I’d had. The mods definitely make it so much better – which doesn’t say much for the game I guess.

WoW is just… a mess. I don’t know if anyone is happy with it.

EDIT: I forgot BDO! The community is the worst. I don’t think it’s P2W (see, problematic fave!) but I don’t like that everything fun (aesthetic wise) is locked behind a paywall. I argue that because I never bought things to “win” but rather things that appealed to me in terms of player aesthetics. Despite the money I’ve spent, I still wouldn’t “win” against a better player. I wish we could acquire things in-world, like outfits and costumes and skins etc. via achievements or feats of strength (something I appreciated about WoW and GW2). I wish there was more structured PvE content, because I did eventually get bored with amassing a fortune through lifeskills and whatnot. I do really like the devs and their willingness to buck convention – it’s just a little too focused on microtransactions.

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IronSalamander8 .

I know I’ve seen this and it’s why I try to point out that while I love CoX, it’s not perfect and has some problems. I do have a friend that used to be so gaga over WoW that when I did play with him and pointed out all it’s problems (and man, does that game have issues), he got all defensive. He doesn’t do that any more thankfully but he also isn’t playing classic which I find very odd considering his past with the game.

I also loved EQ as it was my first ever MMO, but it’s far from perfect. It did feel like the closest actual RPG like experience in an MMO compared to my tabletop roots I’ve seen to date, but flawless it was not.

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Anstalt

If I had ever found the perfect game, I’d still be playing it because, well, it’d be perfect!

Given that I haven’t ever found it, must mean there are problems that I can identify in all the games I do actually play.

My problematic fave, in a way, would be SWG pre-cu. I loved it when it was live, and I love it on the emulators, but man, theres a ton of problems! But, it’s proper star wars, proper open world, with some lovely mechanics that keep me entertained. I think if it had a deep combat system I’d probably play it a hell of a lot more!

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NecrococoPlays

I loved pre-cu SWG too! They had something that other games haven’t been able to capture – there was that brief window of time before jedi, where people played what they wanted and the game world felt so alive and player-driven, it was amazing.

I started as a dancer, but wound up becoming an interior designer (which wasn’t even an official career) and people all across the server paid me to decorate their homes and scout townsites. It was amazing.

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Utakata

I seem to play problematic favorites all the time… >.<

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Castagere Shaikura

I am total in agreement with Andy McAdams.
Anarchy Online was my first MMO. I will always love that game no matter how old it gets. I just wish another company took it over and made it completely F2P. It’s almost 20 years old. I really can’t stand Funcom anymore.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

There’s a difference between a fan and a fanboi. The word “fanboi” was specifically created to cover the people who refuse to see anything wrong with whatever it is they’re into. Most normal fans however can.

In fact the most harsh criticism ends up coming from fans posting on forums and such. These are people that love and play the game, they are more strict on the game than anybody.

To suggest a fan can’t see the faults is so not true that I don’t find it that worthy of debating.

The “fanboi” (sometimes the females are called “fangrrl” but usually “fanboi” is used to cover both genders) group are normally loud-mouthed making themselves seem as if there are more of them than there really are, yet they still are a small minority of the fanbase in the end.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Rift was mine in 2013-2015 as I continued to play but faults of the content or service kept growing, I then stopped being much of a fan 2016 onward though I wanted Trion to get their act straight for 4.0 and revising older content and systems.

Secret World was mine 2015-2017 as I kept rooting for it and wanting MORE, but 2018 I realized I can’t hope anymore and I’ll just see what happens, stay in my cabal for updates, and very infrequently pop in for some dailies and to complete a thing or two.

Rift kept me away from maybe enjoying myself more in SWTOR (perhaps..) or GW2. Secret World kept me from exploring a lot of other titles like ESO and Warframe. Darn!

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I’d argue that if you love something/someone and don’t see its faults then you’re in the grips of infatuation or possibly lust, but not love.

Justin’s comments about LOTRO’s regular questing zones being bonkers is so true. That’s pretty much brought me to a dead halt in the game.

But the other thing that’s made me antsy about LOTRO is the utter depth of the grind to bring your legendaries up to level. It’s brutal if you don’t spend money. Other than that, I totally love the game.

I’ve been playing SWTOR of late (trying to get my Empire/Republic badge before the expansion) and it really wears on my patience. What? Yet another long loading screen? What? I can’t alt-tab out without enduring ANOTHER loading screen? G’ah. Everything you do requires another loading screen. It’s enough to make you pound your head on the desk in frustration.

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NecrococoPlays

You should be able to alt-tab with windowed fullscreen?

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TomTurtle

Like it or not, many vocal people who criticize a game come from a place of caring about the game, even the ones who always seem negative and who “hate” the game.

For developer feedback, it’s probably most concerning when the chaos of discussion dies down signaling a loss of interest.

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Arktouros

Black Desert is probably one of if not the best MMO I have ever played. It’s limitless progression, rapid content update releases, and excellent game systems make it easily one of the best alternatives to the scripted content-tourist experience (IE: max out char, run dungeons till your eyes bleed) that most other MMOs offer.

However it is easily ran by the worst fucking companies out there in the MMO space. They are absolutely remorseless regarding their business model and unpleasant game design. They basically take all of our feedback we give and dump it immediately into the shredder when it comes to things we want to see in the game. It is frankly baffling how they figured out how to deliver such an amazing product and waste money on things like Megan Fox live action trailers.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

BDO is guilty of what I call TAI (Tiny Asian Inventory) and OIO (Overwhelming Inventory Objects), both of which are hallmarks of games intent upon your spending large amounts of money to get a decent inventory and/or bank.

First they give you the smallest inventory they can get away with, then they fill it up with things you want or need or haven’t figured out whether you do yet. Then they give you a tiny pretend bank but allow you to spend oodles “upgrading” them both.

Just one of the reasons that, while I enjoy the combat, I don’t play BDO much.

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Arktouros

I find it’s really the stacked effects.

For example I don’t find Inventory Space to be all that particularly limiting. With a value pack each of my alts has 73 from just doing the inventory quests available in game. That’s quite a bit depending where you grind at. Equally if you spread out your workers among the towns then pulling resources in from nodes doesn’t overwhelm any one particular location. However then you stack on the fact that things are very heavy and weight becomes a factor the whole thing starts to get into that overwhelming territory you talk about. A lot of that can be mitigated by limiting what you do in game, but if you want to play the game fully then it’s very hard not to spend on making your life easier.

The positive is they have done things in the past to alleviate these issues. For example they made trash loot you get weigh 0.1 down from 0.3 so weight becomes less of a factor. Also they’ve recently done things like make it so you can auto throw away fish you don’t want (IE: Greens) so you don’t need a full 192/192 inventory to AFK fish over night. These are positives, but man it’s like the score is +5 for those positive changes, and -92 for the rest they refuse to address.

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Vunak

BDO likes to throw event items at you that don’t stack to fill up your inventory to push you into buying more inventory space.

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Arktouros

Yes these events are usually pretty well hated for sure. The “Thanksgiving” style events where each one is their own because you make a combined item from it.

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NecrococoPlays

Thankfully, they removed the weight of silver in inventories too, which went a long way to restore some goodwill for me. I did kind of like the immersive quality of my character not being able to carry 5000 stacks of horse hides or whatever, and the need to have a crash pad nearby with a chest to deposit them at the bank (before I got my P2W tent, of course).