It’s well past time for me to get something off my chest. MMOs are dumb. MMOs are full of weird stuff. This genre is weird and off-putting and full of weird stuff that I should logically hate. And I don’t hate it it at all. I actually absolutely love MMOs, as evidenced in part by the fact that I’ve been writing about them professionally for more than a decade now and can actually name more MMOs than “the one this news story is about” and “World of Warcraft,” so take that, mainstream gaming press.
And I do mean it. I love MMOs. I love the things about them that are weird and off-putting and dumb and bad. I love so many things about them that should be sins of game design or at least sins of something. And yes, today I want to celebrate them. I want to give appreciation for the many ways in which MMOs are so intensely stupid or have stupid, weird, or inconvenient mechanics. Because you know what? I love them.
Like, queues. You know what’s dumb? A queue. It’s beyond obnoxious when you decide that you want to play this video game and then the video game says “no, too many people want to play the video game, wait for a while.” This doesn’t happen elsewhere. Netflix doesn’t decide that too many people are watching The Office again and so you can’t watch it right now; you have to wait. This should be the opposite of acceptable.
But I love them. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I dislike waiting in a queue to play a game I’m enjoying just like anyone else. I’m not sitting in my seat cheering and hollering because I get to sit in a queue instead of doing something; that would be insane. But I love that we have this indicator of when a game is popular and so many people want to get in that the servers can’t handle it. I love that this becomes a shared community thing. I love that it’s just something we all accept as part of the genre, especially with new titles or major expansions.
Designers seem to think that MMO players love making bars fill up. You know what? They’re right because I am an MMO player and I absolutely love making bars fill up. There is a deep, primal joy to be found for me in making a bar go from empty to full, and then doing it again. And again. It’s such a simple psychological trick and yet it gets me every single time.
I love roleplayers. I am a roleplayer. I love that you can find people who have full novellas written about their characters and some of them are intricate, well-plotted works of creative fiction and some of them describe the love child of Akira Toriyama’s least inspired Dragonball stories and the textual equivalent of Rob Liefeld’s art and both types of player are equally passionate and invested in these characters. I love that some players will literally flood the world with character art, drawings of characters that are already fictional but based in a fictional universe that the commissioner doesn’t actually own in the first place. It’s wonderful.
I love the weird ways that player memes start and spread. The way that ideas shape and reform themselves across the MMO landscape, and how almost anything can become a meme and a concept and a discussion point in and of itself. I love the way that we can all be passionate about different things within this genre and have different opinions about what works well, and I love that there are almost always counterexamples.
Like, you can say that open PvP games don’t tend to work, but you have to explain why Albion Online works. You can say that you can’t tell compelling stories in MMOs, but you have to contend with the fact that Star Wars: The Old Republic and Final Fantasy XIV both manage it. Difficult group content needs to be the focused aspirational engine of your game to keep it working long-term? Guild Wars 2 would like a word.
There are more of these. Heck, you could argue there are more examples I could use for each of those case. And that’s wonderful, and I love it. There’s so much out there that even within a limited field, there’s a lot of different examples to draw from.
I love that when we have developers chasing “games as a service” there are a lot of games that have actually succeeded in making themselves multi-stop long-term engaging spaces for players to keep exploring even long after the initial investment. It’s kind of hilarious and sad, but it also shows some of the problem to begin with. “Games as a service” is trying to be an MMO without the hard work of an MMO. Your model already has a use case, folks. You need to actually embrace it.
Let me tell you a story. The other night I was in one of the new dungeons for Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. One of our party members (a Red Mage) died, the healer raised him, and then the healer and the other DPS died almost right away. They both released. Then the Red Mage accepted the raise and got back up, but he couldn’t raise the people who were no longer in the arena. Logically, reasonably, this looked like a wipe and like we should stop trying.
And instead, something passed between the Red Mage and I instantly. He had never done this dungeon. I had. So we both buckled down, drew our weapons, and it was two people against a boss with half his health remaining.
It would have been smarter to wipe and start over. We were doing this the slow way. But we had decided, without a word spoken between us, that this was no longer a simple matter of taking out the roadblock in the most efficient way possible. This had become a downright grudge match. We were going to take this boss down, just the two of us, with half of our party watching from outside the sealed arena.
We danced. I used every mitigation tool in my toolbox to minimize the damage that I was taking and to keep my only other party member up and breathing. He was casting Vercure as fast as he could between rounds of DPS. Every AoE had to be dodged, every trick had to be mitigated. He was dropping slowly, too slowly… but he was going down. We were taking him out.
The other two members of our party just watched, cheering, first for us trying so hard, then in awe, then in steady amazement that we were actually doing this, he was down to just a sliver of health, you can do this, and then the boss dropped and we were victorious and we all let out cheers that this sudden, impromptu grudge match against the first dungeon boss turned out to end in our victory. It was silly, it was unnecessary, it was slow, and it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in a video game even despite all of this.
MMOs are stupid and I love them.