I have never been much of a roamer. Some people are, and that’s fine; the world needs different sorts of people, and for some people the lure of going to exotic locations or exploring the unknown will always be right there and too intoxicating to ignore. But that’s not me. My favorite place to be is my home because it’s full of the things that I love. I like the place where I live and the life that I have built for myself. And I think the smart thing to do with MMOs is to settle down to one.
Obviously, this is not a refutation but more of an alternate opinion to Justin’s piece last week about jumping from game to game and exploring the breadth of what the genre has to offer. I say “alternate” because, well, everyone should be pursuing the goals that make them happiest, and if that’s jumping from game to game, that’s your decision. But I think there’s a strong case to be made for picking your place and settling down instead of roaming from game to game.
First and foremost, I want to start with what I think should be a relatively uncontroversial statement but sometimes is: If an MMO requires a hundred hours to get good, the game is not good.
I’m not saying that every MMO should have all of its best stuff available the second you start playing with no tutorial or ramp-up; that would be insane. But there’s a plethora of games that start out by putting forward strong material that can let you know right away if you are going to enjoy this game or not. You don’t need to reach max level in Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV, The Elder Scrolls Online, or World of Warcraft to get a sense for what the gameplay is going to be and whether or not you’re going to enjoy the experience. That wouldn’t be a reasonable lift no matter what.
However, hitting that high playtime mark does have an impact because while a decent game shows you what it means to be and how it intends to carry on pretty early on, a good game is one where those early moments and interactions build and improve over the course of play. By the time you reach the level cap, it shouldn’t be a case where the game changes altogether but one where all of the systems can play together in a more organic and complete experience all along.
Or to put it more simply, you don’t need 100 hours of play to know that Warframe is a good game at delivering what it wants to deliver. But 100 hours in, the gameplay has been refined and expanded to the depth that it becomes a more satisfying experience. The game hasn’t changed, but your familiarity with it has increased and gotten better.
I grew up during the era of video games when more often than not, you saw the early parts of a game and not the later parts due to massive difficulty spikes that put players off from getting past them. The only way to get through was either to get insanely good or to cheat. And while games no longer tend to have that intense difficulty spike, they usually do ramp up – just in a more gradual fashion over time, usually resulting in longer games where players get the early parts done and then often never persist through to the ending.
The same is true of MMOs. We live in an age when there is an almost absurd number of games to try out, between major titles, minor titles, rogue servers, and the like. It can definitely be tempting to sample a bit of everything, to see what’s on offer with all of these varied games, to explore all your options and just let the stream of content wash over you.
But at the same time, you’re voluntarily missing out on the most mature parts of the game. The tutorial and early levels are fun (if your game is designed well, that is), but they’re also the most basic portions of the game that don’t feature the later refinements available in the engine and with the design. That’s not a bad thing, but it means voluntarily losing out on some of the best stuff a game has to offer.
Obviously, the counterargument to that is that you’ll get sick of the same thing being offered all the time. Eat enough of the same food and you get sick of it, right? But a good MMO isn’t like a single prepared dish; it’s more like a core ingredient. Sure, you might get sick of french fries, but there are a lot of things you can do with potatoes that taste different and can offer you other options.
The analogy I use a lot is to romantic relationships. There’s nothing wrong with having a series of short relationships that are fun until they aren’t and then you move on. If that’s making you happy, great. But you need to maintain a longer relationship to have depth, to really understand what there is to enjoy and get a deeper level of satisfaction out of consistency. Not everyone is wired that way, but framing it as somehow worse is missing the trick.
Of course, that analogy breaks down a little when it comes to slipping into single-player games for a change of pace (or at least, it breaks into places where I don’t really want to detail how it’s different). But the point remains the same. A deep and rich relationship doesn’t involve quite as many diverse experiences, but it offers its own kind of rewards instead.
Just as with a long-term relationship, of course, you’re going to run into things that your MMO of choice doesn’t do well or at least not as well as you’d like. There are going to be things that bother you no matter what, areas where development is lacking or perhaps wholly underbaked. That’s important to keep in mind and is going to affect your long-term enjoyment.
Plus, there’s no assurance that any game is going to remain your partner forever. For many years WoW was my main game, and FFXIV took that spot very slowly as a result of good development practices, a more engaging endgame model, and consistent improvement. You might find that a game you loved at launch has slowly become one that you can’t stand, and you might not have an easy time finding something else to step into that space. There’s always a danger in commitment because you never know what’s waiting in the long term.
Still, I think that’s the way to go. I try not to go into new games with an expectation that this will be a short tourist jaunt but an extended time, that this new game might very well rise in my estimation to become a new main game for me. A good game has a breadth of systems and content available that keeps it entertaining and novel even as more time goes by. And I think, at the end of the day, the smartest way to play is the same as it has always been – to find a game you can commit to and stick with long-term instead of shifting between games rapidly.
“But don’t you play multiple games?”
I have never claimed to be smart.