Perfect Ten: 10 ways that MMOs kind of used to be worse

    
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Believe you me, I know quite well the arguments that have been rehashed over the years about how the MMORPG genre and these online games in general have declined in quality. If you come out with a rant about how MMOs have gotten worse, you’re not making any sort of radical statement — you’re preaching to the choir!

And I probably wouldn’t even fight you on most of what you’d say. But that doesn’t mean that everything used to be purely perfect and amazing back in the day and has soured since then. Today in Perfect Ten, I want to push back against this notion because I truly believe that there are some serious nostalgia goggles and historical revisionism that going on where veterans only recall the good of the past and completely forget about how, in fact, MMOs weren’t quite as amazing or enjoyable.

No chat client

Out of all of the features we take as a given in MMOs is that practically all of them (save for Fallout 76 for some reason) come with a built-in chat client that allows you to communicate via text chat to the zone, the world, friends, and your guild. But that didn’t always come standard, because MMOs didn’t used to have a standard.

Bree often reminds us of a long-forgotten era of Ultima Online when players had to avail themselves of third-party chat clients like IRC to coordinate and communicate over long distance, as UO launched with only speech bubbles over players’ heads.

Fewer MMOs

Imagine that you’re interested in getting into graphical MMORPGs back in 2000. Your available options could be counted on a single hand. It was a lot like watching TV before cable and streaming; you just had the three channels and made do with that. What if you didn’t like any of the few MMO options out there? Tough. You just kind of made do while you waited for a better-looking prospect to come along.

Now we have a feast of MMORPGs in operation, both officially and through rogue servers. For some, that’s never enough, but for most, there’s at least a game or three out there that holds strong personal appeal. Having options is a good thing, and we are definitely blessed with a lot of those these days.

Subscription only

Yeah, I get that the glamor of freemium and free-to-play models is largely gone from the culture at this point, but when I look back to how it used to be, I don’t see my old gamer self jumping up and down at the prospect of having to pay a monthly subscription to each and every game that I wanted to try. Subs locked you into games and made you feel pressured to “get your money’s worth” even if that meant spending time beyond actually enjoying yourself.

Again, I think this comes down, not to abolishing the subscription model, but giving players options. When we got the buy-to-play Guild Wars, that felt so freeing because now there was an easy option to play two online games while only shelling out for a single sub, as an early example of loosening that subscription stranglehold.

Limited web resources

Oh, you comment warriors who are itching to rebut every single line item here (and feel free to do so!), I’m already anticipating what you’ll say for each of these. For instance, if I point out that it used to be much, much harder to find actual useful information and guides for MMOs on the web back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, you might counter with something about datamining and spoilers.

But the thing is, we all get stuck at times and need help. And it wasn’t like these MMOs were completely intuitive — further explanation than what the devs provided was always needed. Today’s wikis, walkthroughs, mods, accumulated forum posts, Reddit threads… none of that was really around (or at least available in great quantities) in those early days. That became a serious obstacle to getting players onboard and keeping them long-term.

Limited technology

Hands up: Who here has played an MMO on a dial-up modem? Because I totally have, and there is no way I’d ever want to go back to that. The reason that MMOs — which had been around in text form since the 1970s — took so long to really take off was very much in part to waiting for the technology to improve enough to make them possible.

Early MMO gaming was a struggle on machines that couldn’t handle the 3-D graphics or the extremely slow latency from playing over phone lines. It was brutal, and sometimes the best you’d get was a literal slideshow of non-interactive images.

Now? Now we can play these online RPGs on our phones as we walk around the supermarket or sit on the toilet. Progress!

Social stigma against MMOs

It’s always the way of geeky trends that before it goes mainstream, an activity ends up being laughed at or hated by people who don’t understand. It was like that with Dungeons & Dragons, it was like that before Game of Thrones became an HBO series, and it certainly was like that with MMORPGs.

I’ll never forget a movie — I forget which at this point — from the early 2000s that had a character who was said to play EverQuest. Anytime his hobby was mentioned, it was always in a highly derogatory, “no lifer” sort of way. The irony is that those same mockers were probably dumping hundreds of hours into World of Warcraft just a few years later.

Time-demanding gameplay

There’s no way around this one: If you only had a small or moderate amount of time in which to play a video game on a given day, an MMORPG was not for you. These were slow and time-intensive games in nearly every respects, from leveling to traveling to combat to combat recovery, and making progress meant blocking out a good chunk of hours.

Sure, the slower pace of… everything meant that players filled up the time with more conversations, but it’s hard to deny that this was a prohibitive barrier to entry and continued engagement for many.

Hideously ugly graphics

In a way, I kind of wish that there had been a greater push for beautiful isometric MMORPGs back in the late 1990s, because 3-D graphics back then were so incredibly ugly. That was kind of true on nearly every system (which is why I can’t go back and play on the original PlayStation or Nintendo 64 these days), but early EverQuest, Dark Age, and Asheron’s Call were ugly, muddled messes of sharp polygons and generic terrain. The sheer novelty of massively multiplayer games had to do a lot of heavy lifting to overcome negative first impressions of the visuals, especially when there were so many better-looking games out there at the time.

Brutal death penalties

I can’t think of any contemporary video games at during the late ’90s and early ’00s that outright penalized players for dying as much as MMORPGs did. Death was no joke, kid, and when it happened, you often lost a good chunk of experience, or racked up XP debt, or even potentially lost all your gear. I do not shed a single tear for that era, and I am truly grateful that I’ve spent a majority of my MMO existence with titles that didn’t shove my face into the gravel and push it around roughly whenever I stumble.

Obtuse systems

While the lingo of MMOs kept newbies and outsiders scratching their heads, the actual game systems were even worse. So much of it was needlessly obtuse and convoluted in a way that only developers and experienced veterans could decipher, and if they could, then you should be able to do the same, right? Except that the community back then didn’t have all of the video and web guides (see above), so it was entirely possible to be playing the game highly inefficiently or craft a sub-par character because you didn’t have all of the information to make good choices — and the game wasn’t really going out of its way to explain it.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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Ald

Everything is better now and yet worse.

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Jon Wax
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Thoroughmas

I’m just glad we’ve moved on from single target looting.

creationguru
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creationguru

I can agree with most of these except for 2 there were plenty of information to be had UO statics was a godsend on many times but it also gave information about the game and not a color by numbers how to min max your character and then here is every item in the game and took away all mystery.

Second was I don’t think global chat is a great thing I missed UO in having to be present to communicate I did use IRC but thst was more to call for help or find a meet up but was not really used as much when activily engaged.

OK guess it’s 3 as I actually like death penalty as it give a sense of risk reward and gave a reason to have to re-gear in a game and gave some purpose to the economy. I feel today the only thing you lose is time and then also gear is pointless except to make you look good. Sigh

Turing fail
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Patreon Donor
Turing fail

No chat client is a valid point, but if you’ve spent any time in EVE Online’s Jita trade hub- think wretched hive of scum and villainy– you’d likely ponder a cost/benefit analysis.

T h e n o n y m o u s
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T h e n o n y m o u s

Admittedly it’s been a long time since I’ve played EVE but I see people complain about Jita a lot and I honestly don’t remember it being all that bad, especially compared to basically any F2P MMO…although maybe the fact that the last time I played EVE it also wasn’t an F2P MMO might have been a factor in that lol.

Turing fail
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Patreon Donor
Turing fail

Jita chat is incessant sales pitches, some of dubious merit, vs. offensive trolling and/or smack-talking. Though I’m sure there’s some of the latter in there, the tsunami of spam overwhelms it.

T h e n o n y m o u s
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T h e n o n y m o u s

I mean, spam sure…it’s the trading hub and any sizable population will spam an area like that.

But I’ve seen people act like it’s every racist 13 year old who plays CoD or LoL or whatever set up shop and decided to call Jita home or something lol, and in my (again, admittedly dated) experience that was never really the case…just pretty generic trade chat.

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Oleg Chebeneev

No choice to level through questing, forcing players to grind. Big meh for me.

Graphics tho.. did it really feel that bad? I mean it looks ugly from todays perspective but I remember playing games like MM6, Daggerfall and graphics felt awesome back then.

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Schmidt.Capela

That would be because MM6 and Daggerfall both use 2D characters on a world that mixes 2D objects with a 3D terrain, avoiding the big issue of low poly characters that were often nightmare fuel.

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Bruno Brito

Graphics tho.. did it really feel that bad?

That’s for you to decide, man.

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Oleg Chebeneev

I know how EQ1 looks ty. Point is it was 1999. And from that year perspective graphics could look pretty good.

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giggity

I got to admit I still enjoy the graphics of those days.

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Bruno Brito

Don’t get me wrong, i think the graphics have a lot of charm. I really like old MMOs.

That being said, they do look…eh.

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Bryan Correll

Something’s wrong with that EQ shot. The ground there should be littered with player corpses from walking off the platform edges.

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Ironwu

I have to disagree on the Limited Web Resources item.

From the early days of EQ1 in 2000, players had EQMaps, EQTrader, and a quest website I cannot remember for sure (Allakazam?). These provided tons of resources for the hardest parts of playing the game. These resources migrated to the next big title, Dark Age of Camelot. Then WoW, and the rest is history.

So, there were lots of good web resources available since the early days of MMOs.

In addition, a huge number of the web resources for MMOs today are total garbage. Many of them simply farm standard images and text from the games and post them, others are simply out-of-date. Useless. For any one single MMO, there might be two or three go-to resources. At least that is what I have found when doing searches for information.

Pretty much the same as it was twenty one years ago!

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Rndomuser

I can’t say about Everquest but there are a lot of usable resources for EVE Online now which were not available back when the game was released. Stuff like fitting tools where you can play with various fits for your ships, out-of-game market browser where you can find anything available in markets in game with almost real time price info, stuff like guides for all in-game PvE missions, stuff like daily sovereignty maps. Same was true for WoW – I remember how little resources were available back when it was released, the sites didn’t have good guides about dungeons or all quests or the fastest way to level, even Thottbot didn’t have full information about the game.

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Bereman99

For any one single MMO, there might be two or three go-to resources.

Two to three go-to resources, and a host of resources for varying other needs, ranging from very specific to more community based.

Just because we still tend to gravitate to a handful of commonly used resources, and resources are of varying quality, doesn’t change the original point – there are a lot more resources available now compared to back then.

Also, I distinctly remember hoping that Thottbot had correct info for some of the more obscure things in WoW, and back at its launch it was one of like two resources you could really turn to. Let’s not pretend the handful we had back then were bastions of incredible quality.

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Rndomuser

“Limited web resources” was absolutely bad part of old MMORPGs. I would also add “no dungeon queue tool” to that. Lack of those things meant you had to tolerate annoying spam in in-game chat of people spamming “how do you go to x from y” or “where do I find item z”, or “looking for class X to do dungeon Z, must have done this before, must have specific gear”. Spam which I personally disliked because I prefer to read random socialization conversations in general chat instead of all those questions. The real kind of socialization, with jokes, flirting, random banter about out-of-game topics.

It also meant I had to literally waste time on trying to find something in game or how to complete something or trying to manually form a group for a dungeon without possibly bothering people in general chat with “looking for person Z for dungeon Y” or trying to optimize the class for best DPS or best healing or best tanking. Time which many people have very limited amount of – not everyone can afford sitting 10 hours/day at their mom’s basement in front of PC, many people have real life obligations which give very limited amount of time to them to enjoy the more enjoyable parts of the game, even when they are young and not working yet. Many also have health issues which also prevent them from spending a lot of time on something which could be significantly shortened if the guides and better in-game tools were available. Time which I personally preferred to spend on genuine socialization with other players outside of “second job”-like activities, socializations like spending time in some area just idling around and talking about random real life subjects while also using character emotes, or going to player-organized concerts or shows.

But hey, I’m just a person who plays MMORPGs mostly for socialization factor and who has limited time even for that, not because I enjoy “real life job simulation” where I grind something for hours for some currency reward and virtual promotion in terms of character level or must participate in “group projects”, so there will definitely be people who dislike socialization and play games for other reasons and who have plenty of time on doing that who will disagree that those parts in old games were a bad thing ;-)

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Ironwu

I think the dungeon queue tool was a great idea, until it migrated to include multiple servers. Then the whole community went to the trash bin.

Note that ESO, which also has a dungeon queue tool actually works well, even though 100% of the player base is included in the pool. That is because 100% of the player base is also included in the single server. So if a person is a jerk in the dungeon, they will eventually be ignored by a whole lot of folks.

One does run into fools in ESO, for sure. But they are more of the Fake-Tank and Fake-Healer variety rather than the Griefer variety found so often in WoW.

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Schmidt.Capela

My big issue with how WoW handled cross-server LFD wasn’t exactly that it included people from other servers; rather, it was that after running the dungeon I couldn’t add that person to my friend list and later invite them to play again with me.

Which, ironically, was done out of a desire to “preserve” the server communities, because the devs have a misguided belief that the server communities will become worse if they allow them to “contaminate” one another.

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Rndomuser

I think the dungeon queue tool was a great idea, until it migrated to include multiple servers. Then the whole community went to the trash bin.

The “whole community” does not depend on such things in terms of being bad or good. It’s either trash from the very beginning, like in games such as WoW (yes, I started playing it back in 2004, yes, the community was already bad) and stays that way, or good like in games such as FFXIV, even though FFXIV has a dungeon queue tool which works across multiple servers on same data center. I’m not talking about exceptions which always exist in every game including FFXIV, I’m talking about majority of players.

Fisty
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Fisty

Wasn’t fun being on a low pop waiting on the queue to pop tho. That’s their low pop servers fault tho. We needed more merges, less servers.

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John Mynard

I’ve got a couple of friends that are DEEP into the Rose-tinted nostalgia on WoW Classic and they’ve been trying to evangelize me back into it.

And my response is as it has been since Classic was announced: I lived that life at the time. Life is different now. I am different now. I need something that I can pick up for a few hours at night and turn off when I’m “done”.

That said, they mostly complain about all the menial bullcrap you have to do at max level, while they proceed to sit around fishing or herbing or mindlessly killing elementals.

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Ironwu

Hmmm. If your friends are actually playing and enjoying it, maybe not so ‘Rose-tinted’, yes?

I think maybe they just wanted you to come enjoy the game with them. I bet if you started a character, they would begin a new one as well, just to be able to play the game with you! :)

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Utakata

I would argue subscription only was a better system than the “options” we have today…

…the rest of the list is pretty much dead on though.

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Oleg Chebeneev

You could as well argue that hourly payment for internet was better than free wi-fi today

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Utakata

…free wi-fi doesn’t come with lockboxes though. So I am not arguing that. /shrug

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Oleg Chebeneev

Games with good F2P model dont come with lockboxes neither

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Bruno Brito

Gotta agree with you on this one.

I also should mention that sub-model might be a godsend for US-EU focused players but it was a complete dumpsterfire for anyone outside these zones. Oleg is from Russia. I’m from Brazil. I can imagine that we had similar situations considering exchange rates, lack of knowledge and trust in the 90s and 2000s with people paying for games, getting an international card at that time was a ordeal, it was really cumbersome to pay the sub even if you had the money and means, because the structure wasn’t good outside said countries, etc etc.

I feel like people who wish for sub-only MMOs don’t realize the ammount of players that F2P MMOs were able to acquire for the scene, considering we got the leftovers. Where people here are commenting about games considered classics, like UO or EQ1, etc etc, we were left over with the Lineage Pservers, the Mu Onlines, the Dark Edens, the Flyffs, The Prison Tales and Silkroad Onlines.

F2P MMO literally got people outside the US and EU to play MMOs.

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Utakata

…nor does it have any of the other issues F2P comes with. Therefor, F2P =/= free wifi. It was a terrible comparison to begin with.

Cyorie
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Cyorie

I really miss the payment model during my time in Ragnarök Online during its early days.
It was either paying for game time with 5€(~5$) for 30 hours, or the usual 13 € for a month of subscription.
I know hourly payment has a bad rep for a reason, but it was usually cheaper for me when I was just playing casually, and losing a part of those 5€ wasn’t a problematic amount when I got into enough of a binge to make the sub work. Using a fixed cap for payments per month, or the ability to instantly suspend spending game time to switch to a sub, would make that model even better though.
I really wish there was still a way to pay small amounts when playing a little while keeping everyone involved in keeping the servers and development running.