The Soapbox: Feeling the loss of an MMO community

This was a thing.

Back in 2012, I was almost a year deep into Lord of the Rings Online and enjoying my time both in the game and discovering the benefits of settling into an MMO community. Most of my time was not spent in the official forums, nor even blog posts, as I preferred to hunker down in front of my PC and actually play the game. My method of content consumption was podcasts. In those days, podcasts were dominated by tech journalists and hobby enthusiasts. It was during this timeframe that I discovered the podcast A Casual Stroll to Mordor, the show that would put me on the long, meandering path to eventually writing for Massively OP.

The Casual Stroll to Mordor podcast came to an end in June of 2013. The show and its hosts were much beloved within the LOTRO community, and experiencing the farewell episode was my first brush with the unavoidable feelings of loss that accompany any gaming community. It took me six months to finally finish that episode. I kept putting it off, hoping to somehow push back their inevitable departure. When I did finally listen to that show, tears welled up within my eyes as the hosts bid their final farewell.

In 2017, as I was getting back into The Elder Scrolls Online, I stumbled across a brand-new podcast on the subject called the Loreseekers Podcast. The hosts shared great chemistry and were fairly new to the game. Their curiosity about the lore and gameplay mechanics coincided perfectly with my return. When the Loreseekers decided to create a guild, I joined. I made friends and was even able to meet some of them in-person at the Greymoor reveal earlier this year. I’m of a middle-aged persuasion, so meeting people in person whom I had only previously known online is not a common (or comfortable) situation for me, but in this case, it was a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, last week, the Loreseekers recorded their final podcast. I have not yet listened to it. And when I do, I suspect the sense of helplessness I once felt upon the ending of CSTM will return anew.

Well, I feel daunted.

Gaming communities are funny. We stumble into them, almost by accident. All it takes is one podcast search or one forum question or one LFG request, the results of which could go nowhere – or take us on a years-long journey into friendship, drama, shared experiences, and loss. What starts as a shared interest in a new game or an IP or a bit of lore can blossom into friendships and change the course of our careers. Indeed, communities change the course of our lives in ways that we never would have predicted when we decided to pick up that shiny new game code during the Steam summer sale.

Turnover is a natural form of slow change present in any organization. Workplaces, churches, guilds, and social networking connections all ebb and flow. Over time, an organization and its culture may be completely different than where it started. For example, my favorite LOTRO guild generated so much fun for me that I eventually became an officer and designed our website to be used as a social hub – and more importantly for recruiting. I knew that if we weren’t bringing in a steady flow of new players, we were going to at some point be on the decline.

Apparently, I’m a terrible recruiter because we did eventually decline in membership to the point that only a few people were logging in at a time. At some point, I got burned out on LOTRO and became part of the problem myself. And while it’s a bit sad to think back on, the slow gradual decline did give me some time to grieve – and also to find alternate communities to become involved in. When I log into LOTRO nowadays, my kinship list looks a lot like the popular webcomic showing only one guildmate still online while everybody else is denoted by a “last online” date from years ago.

Sad Cortana

This slow turnover, while sad, is expected. Even an organization that is able to retain its culture over time is a different entity 20 years down the road due to the rotation of personalities and insights. More difficult is the situation where a community suddenly closes shop, as is the case with podcasts, creator content, and even some games. In 2017, during the pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, developer Gazillion ran into financial problems and controversy and had its license for Marvel Heroes suddenly revoked by Disney. After a rough launch and a much-heralded revamp that incorporated player feedback, it simply closed down in what seemed like its prime. Sure, there was some warning when content windows were missed and socials went dark, plus poor communication over the servers’ closure, all of which ensured this cluster of a closure remains fresh in the minds of players as one of the biggest MMO disappointments in recent years.

Players with longer memories (or perhaps less recent birth years) will recall the closure of the much-beloved Star Wars Galaxies. I have no doubt that John Smedley, who is several years separated from SOE and Daybreak at this point, still receives comments from ex-SWG players bemoaning the loss of the title. In fairness, at least SOE gave players six months to prepare for the event. By most accounts, the reason boiled down to a tussle with Lucasarts over Star Wars licensing ahead of SWTOR’s release. But no explanation was going to placate a passionate playerbase that spent years building up everything from houses to characters. The closure of SWG was particularly jolting considering, in Smed’s own words, the player population had stayed “pretty steady for a long time.” In other words, the game still had a lot of life left in it.

Communities have become a large part of gaming culture, even more so in online multiplayer games. They contribute to greater enjoyment for players, and they benefit game devs in the form of player “stickiness.” They create a space where we can enthuse about shared interests, exchange ideas, and occasionally (passionately) disagree. Gaming communities can feel like family. But sometimes our family is shaken by a seismic event, like the end of a show, a game-closing before its time, or even the real-life death or disappearance of a community member. It’s during those times that we’re keenly aware that the community we’ve invested so heavily in will never be quite the same.

During these times of mourning, perhaps it’s best to recall the sentiments of German poet Ludwig Jacobowski: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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