On last week’s Massively OP Podcast, Justin and I took a stab at answering a fun question from MOP reader and listener Pieter about all our old soapboxes. Specifically, he wanted to know which old topics we felt really strongly about way back when – but have changed our minds on now. Interestingly, both Justin and I had changed our minds on RMT (to the point that I think we were coming from opposite ends and now meet in the middle!).
I thought it would be fun to poll the Massively OP staff on the same topic – and of course our readers will likely want to jump in too. Let’s Overthink it: What MMO topics have you changed your mind on over the years?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I think one thing that’s really changed for me is how strongly I felt about games connecting people. It’s not that they don’t, but especially after having moved to Japan for several years and coming back, I noticed that the very thing I was writing about (social isolation) had somehow happened to me. I’d play online games, be on forums, talk on Steam or Mumble (voice/chat before Discord for you newer MMO fans), even sent physical gifts between my visits back to the states and offers to meet people. When I had a few people in my life that I could hang out with, the online connections felt like they really helped round out things, and I’d even met people from games whom I’d see fairly regularly as, well, just normal friends. When I lost those real-life connections, connections to other gamers online just wasn’t enough.
Maybe there are other factors (like being at that age when everyone’s gotten married and started having kids), but I see it in some people who do most of their socializing online. When you have a balance between strong real-life and in-game relationships, games are good. But I know some people who don’t have that balance. They cling to games/game circles that are declining and not considering their physical state. They talk about loneliness but don’t branch out to try to repair that. I remember reading about this sort of thing and even talked about it with Dr. Kowert for Massively of old, but it seemed uncommon. Back then, I had one former partner and a classmate I could think of that fit the bill of “lonely gamers.” Now, I know quite a few.
Again, I’m not saying gaming is bad. My experience aligns quite well with the general findings: Online-only friendships seem weaker than meat-space ones, but offline gaming friendships aren’t necessarily any stronger. That’s something I wrote about and talked about, but it didn’t really hit home until I moved back to the US and tried connecting with new people. I’m still making friends who game, but I’m mostly starting in person these days and then taking it virtual, rather than vice versa.
Andy McAdams: I have a bit of a weird one. Back when digital delivery started, I was all in. I loved the idea, it was more environmentally friendly without all the boxes and production and etc — I saw it as almost a universal good. But then gaming companies started getting a little shifty with it; the anti-consumer stance that platforms like Steam and Origin adopt (which is basically a DRM with a pretty UI) made me less enamored with digital delivery. I still love the idea of the digital delivery, and I think overall it’s probably a net-positive, but I think the erosion of buyer’s rights that it’s spurned has soured the concept for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still only buy physical games for my Switch — I haven’t purchased a physical copy of a game since the first Starcraft 2 — but I view them with a hell of a lot more side-eye than I did before. At any point a company could say, “Oops, sorry you have to pay for the game again because we decided you need to pay for the game again,” and you have zero recourse available.
It’s a consumer convenience at the cost of basically all consumer rights.
Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I grew up when purchasing a game meant playing for it once, carrying the disk or cartridge home, and owning it forever. As such, I very much disliked the idea of continually paying for the privilege of accessing a video game. In fact, the only reason I’m sitting here writing about MMO’s today is because LOTRO offered a free-to-play model that did not require a heavy financial commitment. Without that offering, I likely would have never invested any time in the MMO space at all.
Many things have collided to change my mind on subscriptions. First off, my own understanding of the recurring maintenance and development costs of running an MMO has increased. Secondly, some MMO’s have begun to offer a more frequent and steady stream of updates and content that feels to better justify a repeating payment. As such, I am now more a fan of subscriptions than of the wonky/grindy design choices that are made in order to support a F2P title.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): For me, RMT is definitely the big one. I grew up in Ultima Online when RMT was everywhere, on Ebay, on the forums, sanctioned by EA itself with a full-on brokerage system for legally selling accounts. I sold accounts, and then I bought other accounts – using EA as broker! – and thought nothing of it. It was normal.
But within a few years, it had been outlawed in most MMOs, and partly because of that it all ramped up into a lucrative, international, criminal enterprise. It’s not gamers selling their digital stuff to other gamers anymore; now it’s credit card fraudsters and dupers and hackers and sweathouses. So yep, definitely changed my mind on that. (Although I still have mega side-eyes for studios who used to ban people for RMT but now just straight-up sell currency and power themselves. They lack shame.)
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Previously, I was excited or at least passing curious about how game development pushes forward and was intrigued at how crowdfunded titles would let the layman have a peek behind the curtain. I wasn’t waiting with bated breath at these updates, mind you, but I was at least looking forward to finding out more. But now that we’re eyeballs-deep in the era where we get these updates, I really can say that this is a monkey’s paw situation – quite literally a love of sausage without needing to know how it’s made.
So my changed opinion is this: Know what? I don’t need to know about every. Single. Little. Bit. Of progress. Made. I thought I did. I was wrong. Just compile those updates into a sizzle reel or condense them or come up from behind the office wall when there’s something substantive. I really really don’t have to be informed about the moment you sorted out making a UI element blink properly or how Linuxification works or that you can build office chairs piece by piece in-game. Please, just… stop. I’m sorry. Just stop.
Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): Limited hotbars. I used to think that small hotbars, like those of Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and WildStar, were a symptom of the dumbing down of the genre and that there couldn’t possibly be such a thing as interesting, complex combat without a mountain of cooldowns and situational skills.
Later I came to realize that smaller bars mean that developers are forced to create skills that are distilled and differentiated. There is no need for three different names for “taunt and deal some damage,” or for skills that work exclusively in stealth, from behind, under 50% hp, etc. Just give me one taunt with little to no cooldown and modify regular DPS skills depending on the situation.
Also, while I don’t always like the current trend of MMO combat becoming more and more action-centric, I do enjoy that a simpler rotation often means that developers can introduce more combat mechanics that aren’t strictly about repeating your rotation flawlessly every time. Then again, it’s also frustrating when half of your Drakkar group dies because they can’t figure out how to jump. There are pros and cons to every design choice, but I now feel that limited size hotbars are a valid one, perhaps even a preferable one.
Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I used to be a subscription snob. Real games had subs; all those other games were trash. Then I started playing free-to-play games. And then even the games I used to subscribe to went free-to-play. Now I feel like a game has to be exceptional to justify paying monthly just to have access to a product I paid for upfront.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I have two things my views have changed on, though one is just a more personal shift. For MMORPGs, I used to be staunchly pro-subscription! I preferred subs for all the reasons of getting all the content with just your one payment. Over the years, and perhaps due more to this job and my need to cover more things than I could ever afford, I have discovered that I am accepting of free-to-play — when it is done right. Of course there are so many instances of F2P that are so very wrong, but I have seen games that do it well and do not feel like they care gouging players or nickle-and-diming them to death. Some of these games and studios are actually on the forefront of treating their players right!
My personal shift in thinking is about types of games. I find that where I loved the super deep, large, immersive worlds, I am now preferring smaller, niche games. I don’t think I even want the massively multiplayer we had before. Yeah, there’s a switch! Sometimes I like being able to jump in and jump out quickly — especially when life or health can’t handle any more than that. Another very notable change is me finding a game where I relish shooting things in the head. I was always the healer, and I was never really comfortable with guns in games. And here I am now cackling with glee at every headshot. It may only be in Warframe, but that is still very much a shift for me in playstyles!
Something that hasn’t changed at all and I doubt ever will: my love for exploring and story!
Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): This one might not fall into the same category exactly as “a topic that I’ve changed my mind on” but I’d say it’s close enough – achievements! Once upon a time, I always finished all the achievements available in game. Log into my game for the evening, pull up whatever achievement I was currently aiming for, and start the methodological process of getting those check marks. I don’t know that I even loved it. I certainly had fun and enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t say it was high times. Yet I really thought, “This is a fundamental part of the game.” I couldn’t help but be a completionist. I wouldn’t say I was high and mighty about it, but there is a certain level of smugness to it. I might have thought that the game meant more to me than to those that didn’t complete the achievements, but now I can see that isn’t the case at all.
Of course, that was the olden days when sitting in one spot for 6+ hours was no big deal. Nowadays, we have to adult. I understand better now why not everyone wanted to be a completionist. Before, I almost scoffed at the thought of not completing everything. Today, I can definitely appreciate that not everyone has the time for that kind of gaming and it doesn’t mean they love the game any less than someone who does achievement hunt.
Tyler Edwards: Let me tell you a story. A long time ago, World of Warcraft introduced a new pet called the Guardian Cub through its cash shop. This was not the first vanity pet the game sold for cash, but it was unique in one respect: It was tradeable. Therefore someone could buy the Cub with real world cash and then sell it for gold to another player. It was, in essence, an early experiment with legalized gold-selling.
People, as you might expect, were not happy. Many angry people flocked to the forums to complain. I was one of them. It was, fairly clearly, pay to win. You could buy gold via the Cub and then spend that gold on high level BoE epics, among other tempting rewards.
Blizzard, as it is wont to do, promptly ignored all this negative feedback and patched the Guardian Cub into the game anyway. I was frustrated, but I kept playing. Weeks went by, and as they did, I noticed… absolutely nothing. The Guardian Cub had no impact whatsoever on my experience of the game.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of similar experiences like that. I’ll hear of some form of pay-to-win or some egregious example of lockbox design or whatever, and I’ll have an immediate negative reaction — if for no other reason than years of time spent in the MMO community has trained me to — but then I’ll keep playing and realize I don’t even notice the difference.
Eventually I realized that none of it mattered, at all. MMOs have never been a level playing field. There have always been people with better gear than I, who are more successful in the game than I, and even before cash shops were a thing, player skill was just one small factor in determining who those players were. The fact is it doesn’t make any difference whether someone’s character is stronger than mine because they’re a better player or because they spent more time grinding or because they spent $50 in the cash shop. My experience as a gamer is the same regardless.
And then I realized that “pay to win” and virtually all other moral outrages over monetization strategies are entirely meaningless concepts that just aren’t worth worrying about. I stopped caring. And you know what? I enjoy games so much more now. I can just immerse myself in the experience without worrying about how things are “supposed” to be. I would invite gamers to re-examine their beliefs and question if they’re angry because there’s really a problem, or if they’re angry because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be. You can enjoy this hobby so much more when you stop taking it all so seriously.