Massively Overthinking: Gratitude for the devs of the MMO genre


Thanksgiving in the US falls on a Thursday every year, which means it’s the an extremely convenient and fortuitous topic to yoink for our Thursday Massively Overthinking staff-and-community roundtable. For the last last couple of years, I’ve asked our writers what they’re grateful for in and around the MMO genre, though some years I change it up a bit. This year, I’m going to tweak it a bit again and ask our staff which MMO studio or developer they’re most grateful for this year. Which company or individual developer made a real impact in 2020?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): No surprise, Nintendo’s a big one for me. Its games often feel more accessible to the general public, so I’ve been able to better connect with mutual acquaintances who hesitate with larger online games, but also new people. It’s weird visiting people’s Animal Crossing islands can feel a bit like visiting their homes: You see their projects, their other friends, the way their decorating style reflects their personality. It also helps that the company often plays with unique/weird ideas I generally can only experience with indie companies.

All the GDC 2020 devs in attendance get love too. Even when a panel feels like propaganda, I often feel it’s much more revealing than the same stuff at other trade shows, especially because I don’t have some PR guy asking me to give positive spins in exchange for info as if I were an influencer. Noah Falstein, Cherry Thompson, and Karen Stevens really opened my eyes with their panels on games in science and accessibility. And kudos to CCP and other devs getting into Citizen Science, especially involving COVID.

Another no surprise: Raph Koster. You know when you were doing group work in class and you found something weird? And as you’re explaining it to your group, the teacher walks behind you, silently listens, and then goes, “Good. Also, these other things support that weirdness you mentioned”? That’s the feeling I often get when Koster weighs in on stuff.

Finally, I know I give them a lot of flack, but I’m going to go add Niantic. When I was focused on traditional MMOs, I was playing more with strangers around the world. That kind of invaded Pokemon GO when remote raiding became a thing, and it’s kind of cool. However, that same feature also helped me play with some of my favorite local players who can’t get out as much. However, the recent distance trading helped me reconnect with people I hadn’t heard from in ages. As much as I love traditional MMOs, during COVID, I’ve especially needed local connections more than ever before, and Niantic’s been getting better about finding ways to do that.

Andy McAdams: This is a tough one – broadly speaking I’m going to echo Tyler – all of them. MMOs remain a unique experience in all of gaming despite all the negative connotations. It is also my unabashed favorite type of game to play in a way that I can’t easily or consistently quantify. I am grateful for everyone who attempts a game. I’ve cycled through a few games in the last year, but I’m going to go with an unexpected response. I’m grateful for the World of Warcraft. It’s not a perfect game and has spawned more than it’s fair share of /facepalm and /wtf moments from me. But in a year that has been fraught with division, uncertainty, and more isolation than I’m used to, I’ve found it comforting to be able to go back to Azeroth and hang out in a place I know so well. Hanging out in game has become a major portion of social life and social interaction. I still get a weird sense of pride flying into Orgrimmar and hearing the drums start up. For all its flaws, it’s felt more like a “home” game to me than any other in recent history. I’m grateful for that, especially now.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I’ve got to hand it to the team at ZeniMax. Not only is The Elder Scrolls Online a great and ever-expanding game, but the player-facing side of the studio really goes out of its way to involve community members, content creators, and even us lowly MMO journalists in the excitement of new content releases. The physical Greymoor maps that ZeniMax scattered throughout the #esofam teasing the chapter announcement were great fun and produced some very interesting theories among the Elder Scrolls faithful. I know from speaking to the studio devs that they originally had plans to increase the number of in-person player gatherings. Unfortunately, Covid-19 put a kink in these plans. At any rate, hats off to ZeniMax, and happy holidays all around!

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I want to offer a huge chunk of gratitude for the rogue server developers out there, the ones doing their best to preserve old MMOs and keep them playable even when their original owners threw in the towel. Rogue servers for Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes have basically reinvigorated my love for MMOs, something I’d once felt robbed of. I felt adrift after all my main MMOs shut down in a row years ago, and it wasn’t that I didn’t like or play stuff afterward, just that I didn’t have my anchors, my fallbacks, my home games to keep me going in between. Now I have them back and I’m content again. And those player devs are doing what they do for nothing at all, nothing but our gratitude. So here: have some more of it. You’ve earned it.

And while I’m at it? A big hug for the studios and devs that know all about the rogue servers for their games and purposely look the other way (or even better, help) because they care more about the games, the art, and the gamers than about money and copyright. We see you and appreciate you too.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube): I’m thankful for Mihoyo for Genshin Impact. I’m so happy to see a Chinese company make such a huge impact on western gaming culture. I’ve been following its hustle since 2018; seeing so many players enjoy the game warms my heart. It makes high-quality games, and it’s the one company that knows how to do a gacha game correctly. I’ve been seeing some YouTubers make bad-faith videos on how much they hate on the game, and that’s when you know the game has reached a level of notoriety! They’re really the kick in the butt our industry needed to show just how complacent developers have become to a game like this becoming the runaway success it has become. Hopefully the game industry will realize that quality, not the monetization scheme, generates profit.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I suppose by sheer fandom I have to give a nod to the devs of Final Fantasy XIV, but there is something to be said for so many MMO devs managing to crank out content even with the end of the physical office this year. And while FFXIV did push things back and wasn’t able to deliver the Halloween content I had hoped for, the fact that it did anything at all — and near enough to its usual cadence — is pretty astonishing and worthy of gratitude.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I’m going to single out Raph Koster for praise here. The man has a burning passion for knowing and making MMORPGs that I can really respect. He’s still one of those guys who gleefully examines all of the parts of MMO design, who hasn’t given up on the potential of virtual worlds, and who loves to preserve the history of the genre. I honestly cannot wait to see what he and his team are working on with their next project!

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I am grateful for Hello Games and all the work its devs continue to put into No Man’s Sky. They keep making my favorite game better and more interesting. And they haven’t charged me for it yet.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I think I’ve been pretty vocal about devs and dev teams I am grateful for, especially how they care about players and how they treat people in general. But today, I am going to pinpoint a personal one: I am very thankful for Brian Green. I am grateful for the chance I had to know him and game with him a bit. And I wanted to share how he was a really nice guy.

Back when I wanted to play/stream events in Dungeons & Dragons Online, I discovered very quickly I couldn’t do them on my own. Brian was a member of a small but awesome DDO group that kindly took me under its wing to help guide me through them all. He was quick to jump in and help any time I needed it, taking time out of his regular gaming. And he did so for a few years. He knew who I was from my coverage of Storybricks, and I knew who he was, but he never wanted to be known as a “dev” there, just a guy gaming with friends. It is how he treated others.

I will ever be grateful for his kindness and help. Though I happily honored his request to not reveal his identity during the streams, I think it would be alright to acknowledge him now to honor his memory. Thank you Brian, for being you. Oh, and your work in gaming, too.

Tyler Edwards (blog): You know, I’m just gonna say all of them. Of course, none are perfect, and I have gripes with some, but game design is a brutal industry to work in, and I’m just grateful for all the hard work developers do to bring us the games we love to complain about. I can only imagine how much harder things have been this year with the pandemic, but game studios have kept chugging along, giving us more pixelated baddies to slaughter while we quarantine.

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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