As an avid MMO gamer and big fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I was extremely excited to watch Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet when it released last year. The idea that we might get a TV show with some major talent that may also represent MMO and gamer culture in a positive way was fantastic. MMOs have come a long way in the mainstream since South Park’s World of Warcraft episode aired back in 2006, so to see where MMOs fall in today’s pop culture is interesting. With the new season currently releasing weekly, I thought it’d be a good time to take a look at the series.
For those of you who may not know what I’m talking about, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a TV show streaming on Apple TV+. It’s about an MMO game studio and its wildly popular game called, logically, Mythic Quest. The show has been called a mashup of Silicon Valley and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I think that’s fair. The premise is that the Mythic Quest game (in the show’s world) is essentially WoW, and the team is looking at releasing an expansion called Raven’s Banquet.
The show itself is quite funny and the writing is zippy, but I was most impressed with the actual MMO and gamer issues addressed in each episode. The writers and cast might not have nailed the landing on each one, but the fact that the showrunners truly attempted to include actual MMO topics and didn’t just use an MMO studio as a facade or flavor text for a generic sitcom is commendable.
I’m not here to give a formal review of the show (although I really enjoyed it). If you want that, there are dozens of TV review sites you can go read, and after all, we’re an MMORPG website. So instead, I want to take a look at the how well the show actually represents MMO gamers and the issues we know and experience playing in our favorite games, at least in the first two episodes.
Also, fair warning: There’s probably going to be some spoilers slipped in here and there. I’ll try to block them out, but don’t hold it against me if some slip through.
Episode 1: Streamers, influencers, and design decisions
The pilot doesn’t really have a core MMO issue to tackle as deeply as many of the later episodes do. It’s primarily because the writers are setting up the different characters and subplots. However, the closest issue that is addressed would be the importance of a popular streamer’s opinion of the studio’s new release.
In this first episode, the Raven’s Banquet expansion is about to launch, and the lead engineer has a new shovel tool she’s excited to add. She believes it will lead to entirely new emergent gameplay as players will be able to literally dig and redesign the landscape. The creative director insists players will only use it to build crude and vulgar things, so it should instead be one of the best weapons in the game. This back and forth ultimately plays out – and whether it’s successful or not depends on a popular streamer’s opinion of it.
The show doesn’t go into the nuance of the shovel tool too deeply. While I do agree that players, especially initially, use tools like that in games for crude humor, I think the episode doesn’t give enough credit to cases where player creativity is truly remarkable. Take player housing, for instance. It isn’t my jam, but I can absolutely appreciate some of the designs that others have put together. It’s only in passing that the engineer mentions how cool it could be in players hands. But the show immediately takes its uses into the gutter and never brings it back. The showrunners chose to depict that players only really care about combat and violence. It is a bit of a letdown that they didn’t come back around to the creative side of MMOs.
Now, I don’t work for a game studio, so I can’t opine on how accurately it portrays a studio’s feelings and reliance on a streamer’s opinion of the game, but I can say that from the outside looking in, it often feels that way. I remember when For Honor was only a week or two away from release, and early access was given to streamers. It felt bad as a regular Joe. I just wanted to play the game, but all I could do was watch a bunch of kids I couldn’t care less about have a grand ol’ time on streams.
The show really captures the absurdity of the streamer’s personality. Rather than giving a review of four out of five stars, the streamer gives “b-holes.” Studios likely don’t stand by with bated breath waiting on a streamer’s “review” the way they do in the show, but we do often see the power the most popular influencers can wield over a studio. Just last week Project Steele walked back its Kickstarter plans largely due to a YouTuber’s video. And when Valorant released last year, the only way players could initially get access was by watching streamers and getting a special access code. So it really feels like it hits true. While the streamer on the show is admittedly over-the-top, I can’t help but have the same feelings of annoyance for him as the studio characters do.
Episode 2: Microtransactions vs. gameplay
This episode takes the marketing and finance team head-to-head against the development team. Marketing wants to add a casino to the game as a way to increase revenue streams with additional monetization. The engineer explains why the team didn’t want to add it: “We wouldn’t work on it because it’s an artless money-grab that has no connection to the game.” In retaliation, marketing makes all the items in the cash shop free. This in turn is a problem because there is apparently pay-to-win equipment in the store, so the players are getting the gear and churning through the new expansion too fast.
There are a ton of problems with the depiction in this one. Adding a casino to the game was off the table for the development team, but a cash shop with overpowered pay-to-win gear was no big deal? Also the idea that a single department of the company can instantaneously wreak havoc for the whole company with no consequences was a bit too fantastical for me too.
Regardless, the showrunners really missed the mark here. Monetization in MMOs is a hugely contentious point and definitely one that could’ve been explored more deeply. We’ve talked time and time again about how we feel about cash shops and gambleboxes here on MOP. The show could’ve found a way to play up the player perspective and how important it really is to deal with monetization in an even and fair way that doesn’t take advantage of the players while also giving support for the game’s development. Unfortunately, that isn’t what we got out of the episode.
I’ve discussed only the first two episodes of Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet here, and I certainly had some criticism, but overall I think the fact that the show didn’t simply use MMOs as a set piece and instead actually attempted to incorporate real MMO issues and topics was fantastic. If you’ve seen the series, let me know your thoughts on these episodes below! If there’s enough support for it, maybe I’ll be able to tackle the rest of the series in later columns.