I’ve often sat and pondered exactly what it is that I enjoy about the MMO experience. After all, being educated about your own likes and dislikes can lead to a more enjoyable leisure experience as well as wiser purchasing decisions. Two obvious things come to mind: story and progression, and the better these two things are linked, the more hooked-in I become at the early stages of the game.
But what happens after the story is complete and the progression is finished? I’ve realized that a third thing keeps me playing an MMO or RPG even after the other two systems have been exhausted: collecting.
One of the first things that attracted me to Lord of the Rings Online was the chance to experience Tolkien’s Middle-earth in a 3-D, interactive world. I was already somewhat familiar with the source material and was curious about what it would be like to occupy that space. As the game progressed, I became engrossed in the beauty of the world-building, the storytelling, and growing into a hero of epic story and song. Along the way, my habit of collecting was born. I collected currencies. I collected crafting materials. I collected potions and salves, traps, and oils. I collected skills, deeds, and titles. I collected mounts. I collected cosmetic items. Not least of all, I collected countless legendary items and associated parts and pieces.
Some of these collections were important to progression, and some were just for the joy of having something interesting in my inventory. Some became nostalgic. I logged into LOTRO for the first time in six months yesterday to find a “letter of affection” in my bag, given to me by my wife when we used to play together. It has no game-related properties associated with it. Essentially, all it does is take up an inventory slot. But am I going to throw it out? Of course not!
I downloaded Marvel Heroes soon after watching one of the latest (at the time) installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The attraction was, once again, the ability to experience the Marvel world of superheroes and fit myself with Tony Stark’s suits of iron. While the explosive action on-screen was a great first hook, I soon found myself grinding away for gold gear, rare items, and most importantly, the shards that could be exchanged for a random hero box. It was no longer enough to simply master Iron Man. I wanted to collect and play all of the heroes. I wanted to play Hulk. I wanted to play Wolverine. I wanted to play Star-Lord.
While some of the game systems actually encouraged this behavior by offering boosts and synergies for multiple characters owned and leveled, the biggest appeal for me was the ability to log in and play whichever hero I felt like playing at the time. I was a hero collector in a game that centered around collecting everything.
Elder Scrolls Online was next to catch my fancy. As I’ve recently covered, there are many things that I love about the game, but as in LOTRO, story, lore, and character progression were the original draws. These are things that ESO does extremely well. However, I soon found myself needing a horse to expedite my travel from place to place. Soon after, I needed another one that better suited my character. Three years down the road, I don’t even know how many different styles of mounts I own, and there is probably a handful that I’ve never even ridden.
And mounts are just one of the more obvious examples of collecting available in ESO. There are trophies, crafting styles and recipes, achievements, cosmetic pets, costumes, mementos, and houses. Yes, for a hefty price, you can even collect as many houses as you want to own. It’s our propensity to collect that encourages the design of the once-maligned cash shop.
Even in PvP games, I’m not immune to the collecting syndrome. When I first started playing the free version of World of Warships, I was only interested in progressing through the various tech trees in order to earn/play better and better ships. My plan was to sell the lower-tier ship each time I had progressed enough to purchase the next tier.
But something funny happened along the way: I played some fun matches in the lower-tier ships. They were enjoyable enough that the thought entered my head to maybe just hold onto this one in case I ever want to come back to it. Thus, my ship collecting began. As time went on, I discovered the XP bonus that was awarded for your first daily match victory in each ship. Suddenly, it was beneficial to be playing multiple ships per day, acquiring the XP bonus for each. I also discovered the premium ships, which you have to purchase with real money but are just a bit better than their tech tree cousins and include bonuses for XP and credit earnings. I now have a port full of almost 60 ships, and it doesn’t look like that number will be decreasing any time soon.
There’s something inherent to the human condition that compels us to collect, gather, and store. I can remember as a child seeing people of an older generation sporting t-shirts and bumper stickers containing the phrase “he who dies with the most toys wins.” And while we may now dismiss this attitude as consumerism that has spiraled out of control, I’m not sure that it’s specific to our capitalistic western world. I’ve heard missionaries’ stories about tiny villages where an old, rusty bicycle was coveted by everybody in the village because it was the only one available. We all want that which we don’t currently possess (especially if it’s considered rare and coveted by others), and MMOs like to tap into that psychology as often as possible.
I think most players are aware of this subtle manipulation, but we play along anyway. We pay for the privilege of grinding away, performing the same repetitive tasks night after night, just to feel that eventual dopamine rush of pixel acquisition. We enjoy that sense of accomplishment that can be made complete only while brandishing the uber axe of uberness or cloak of slight obfuscation. After all, what’s the point of accomplishing something if we’re the only ones who ever know about it?
But this is not a complaint. For we are MMO players, and this is why we enlisted. Wash/rinse/repeat/gather/collect/hoard.