The Soapbox: Feeling the loss of an MMO community

    
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The Soapbox: Feeling the loss of an MMO community

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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krieglich

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.

We had a nice little active kinship in the first two years of LotRO, I’m the only one left who’s playing from time to time. So the “last online” date for all the other guildmates is ~ 10 years ago. Some of the members are real life friends, but nevertheless this list is such a sad thing to look at. :(

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

This becomes easier when you don’t let anyone close to you anymore. But you end up just participating in groups from afar/not actually interacting with them.

I personally watch a few people on Twitch play some games and can feel like I was social, even though I don’t even have a twitch account/have no actual way to communicate with any of them.

I did make a Discord way back, but couldn’t figure out how to get it operable…mainly because my head-phones/mic has been unplugged for years…in favor of my surround sound system…and it’s a royal pain to fiddle with all those settings/get it functional again every time I want to chat with someone…but I’m mostly fine NOT speaking with humanity due to having a severe social phobia IRL…from what I’ve seen, most of humanity isn’t worth interacting with lately…

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Morgan

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” – Obi-Wan

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Brazen Bondar

I haven’t rp’ed in years but oddly, my best two game communities (outside of just about everyone in TSW) were my RP groups in Anarchy Online and the three RP groups I was in in Second Life. Still friends with some of those Second Life people and its been at least 10 years if not more by now. I miss them terribly and often think of all the fun we had jumping into an outfit and creating really terrific stories. When the Firefly groups fell apart, it created a big hole in my life. Hope all those folks have landed well and are some where in this world having a fantastic time.

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Alt+F4

MMO entropy: prepare to cry edition

socialdarwinism, drama and fatigue, competition as the basic social mechanism. (Bourdieu, Pierre)

first. individuals create in-groups to protect vs other individuals competition via contrast images.
second. in-group competition constitutes a new context via hierarchy
third. in-groups split and decline due to hierarchy context

reset and reload.

the history of the christian religion or any guild/comm as reference

hollowhill
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hollowhill

I was thinking about TSW community lately. It’s the only MMO I’ve ever really, truly loved and I had a great circle of contacts and some wonderful cabals over the years.

In some ways it feels like I’ve lost the community three times.

The first was after launch when I wanted to stay but most of the friends I made decided to leave for other games. It’s also when I had to realize and accept TSW was not going to be a successful game. We wouldn’t get all those things promised before launch. This was when Ragnar left as game director.

The second was after Tokyo finished, Joel left as game director and it became clear that season 2 was unlikely to happen. Slowly, but surely more friends left and I found it hard to keep my passion up for a game where I saw more and more holes where things were missing rather than opportunities for tomorrow. I accepted the community was largely on the wind down and we were in maintenance land at this point.

The third was after the relaunch failed. This was all the more painful because it gave me hope again after I’d already mourned. I saw old friends returning, new players being enthused and main stream gaming sites giving press to the game. It seemed like, wow second chances do happen. I saw steamcharts showing peaks way above even the buy to play launch of TSW. It seemed like both the community and the game were in a good place. Then… just after South Africa launched Tilty left as game director, we got some intro from Nirvelle and everything went quiet. Once again we had to watch the community die.

Now in 2020 I dont have contact with anyone from my TSW days. I’ve seen all my old cabals wrap up and go their separate ways. Even Radio Free Gaia and the Beyond the Veil podcast have finished. Steamcharts show the game at its lowest ever point and Funcom are keeping mum on whether their will ever be a future for the IP let alone the game.

It might sound strange to say but the loss of this game and it’s community has actually been like losing a friend. All there is left to say is…

Fuck Funcom.

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Brazen Bondar

With you all the way here up until relaunch of SWL. The re-launch killed the last remanent of my TSW community. One can only imagine what the game could have been if Joel had been allowed to make decisions that supported the players after Ragnar left…anyone remember the mankini drama?! Can’t say Tilty’s name with anything other than venom left on my lips, but the loss of Ragnar than Joel became the death blows to the game….still for me…it was indeed, the best game ever.

hollowhill
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hollowhill

I wasn’t a fan of some of the decisions Tilty made. Especially around systems that made the game easier and added in more gamey elements (like jump pads). That said I believe the job was pretty tough. Compare Joel when he first took over and was joking about the Mayan end of days event to Joel at the end of Tokyo just before he left. By that time he seemed exhausted, depressed and often openly talked about the difficult state of the game. For instance, he said about how the Tokyo side stories failed to sell and that basically put an end to their hopes for completing the remainder of planned missions.

I suspect instead of seeing areas where he could improve the game he started to see all the places cut content was missing.

Oh well who knows? Maybe one day we will see a spiritual successor.

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James Crow

for me TSW was a spiritual successor to guildwars 1, the whole skills we had and how we were really free to make any builds we want, the story in game and ofc the great communities.

i played both until they died.

still think they could just make TSW base game free and then selling expansions like GW2 doing… sadly as GW fan i never liked the gear progression and the story line in gw2.

Zulika Mi-Nam
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Zulika Mi-Nam

I think communities are a big part of the nostalgia we all feel for the MMOs of yore and one of the reasons when we go back it does not feel the same.

Hell, I miss hearing the past voices of the Massively Podcast and hold out hope for a reunion cast to see what the voices of the past are up to.

Shawn (probably growing locally sourced & sustainable organic goats), Rubi (living the ArenaNet Dream while still cursing One Shots), Zinke, etc

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Java Jawa

Definitely went through that back when SWG closed and also Mr. Yvits & Bubbles podcast for the game.

Again during Matrix Online.

Its a bummer!

Talon1976
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Talon1976

Great article! Could not agree more. Of the MMO communities, or any game community for that matter, I’ve connected with in recent years, podcasts have been the way that I’ve found the most accessible and enjoyable. Hearthstone in particular comes to mind. The Angry Chicken is a great Hearthstone podcast that, I believe, is still going strong. I looked forward to their weekly deck talk, discussions, and just the personalities. They organized listener tournaments, and engaged the community in a lot of different ways. Building a community, in any game, is an active process and podcasts do this well in my opinion.

It’s for a lot of these reasons that myself and my co-host started a podcast for the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen community while the game is still in development. I don’t want this to come off as a plug for the show, so I’m not going to link it or anything, but if anyone is wanting to connect with a community interested in Pantheon, just search for the “PantheonPlus Rewind” on YouTube and you’ll find the show and some links there. A game like Pantheon is going to need the kind of community that podcasts can build.

Cheers!

~Therek

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XK

That Marvel Heroes header pic hits me where it hurts.