Massively Overthinking: That moment when you realize an MMO is truly something special


MOP commenter Bruno tweeted something the other that that I thought would make a fun topic. Here’s what he said, printed with permission:

“Wanna know the moment I knew Star Wars Galaxies was special? When I wanted to play, I went to check some stuff on the Emu forums, and well, first, they will have a forum, and I miss forums. But second, there was a Bothan with a chef’s hat, and he literally had a kitchen where he made food. The guy had a restaurant, and his sign [biography window] gave the coordinates. That was the moment when I thought, ‘This game is amazing.'”

I am willing to bet that a lot of our writers and readers had a moment like this in their favorite MMOs – a moment when everything just clicks, when your wonder is piqued, when you realize the game is something much more amazing that you thought. And maybe the moment is something small and simple like seeing a Bothan in a chef’s hat, but the broader implications impressed you and the game yoinked your heart.

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, tell us about a time when this happened to you – when you experienced a stand-out moment, however mundane, when you realized an MMO was truly something special.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): For my very first MMO, it clicked before I even bought it. A friend was showing me Asheron’s Call. I’d never heard of an MMO before, and most of the games I played with this person online were antagonistic, like Starcraft. But here, there were all these players standing around, offering services, items sold to vendors could be bought by others… it was crazy to me. My friend literally begged other players to give him stuff as a “new player” (it was a new character), and he’d either keep their gifts or sell them to buy nicer things players has sold to the vendor. It just seemed so real to me compared to the single-player games I was more used to. Then he logged onto his main character, who was in a guild and had a patron (like a guild recruiter you feed XP to) who offered to give him stuff as soon as he logged in, though it was obviously also a ploy to check my friend’s stats and give him advice. I knew that when I got home, I’d have to ask my mom for permission to play (as we had dial-up and would tie up the phone playing the game), though I also knew that I did not want to play with my mooch of a friend. Both were great calls in the long run!

Another was Pokemon GO. Prior to launch, I knew a friend who played Ingress and kept notes on what I felt would need to change in POGO’s design to make it more family friendly. Niantic… did not change much. Devs around the world criticized the game on various design levels such that when the game finally arrived in Japan, even children could understand it as being deeply flawed. At the same time, it also helped us bond. It was us vs. the game devs. We went out and documented all the things the devs hadn’t explained, shared that info both in person and online. A few days or so after release, I found a tip online about a local hotspot that was a Dratini nest. The Japanese community embraced the game in a wholly different, much more polite way than other countries had; walking the track and politely saying to a friend or talking to myself in a loud enough voice just to be heard by people around me about special pokemon I found made that whole park a kind of General Chat that was incredibly helpful and positive. Much like AC and the MMO genre as a whole, that Pokemon GO moment really helped cement the idea of MMOARGs as a concept, though sadly a certain company may have over embraced the “us vs. them” designs pitting players against devs (or perhaps more realistically, upper management).

Andy McAdams: The first time for me, I’m sure it was someplace in Anarchy Online. Maybe watching a huge train running out of every cultist ever running out of the Temple of the Three Winds, or maybe the first time I finally got enough credits to get a yalm and how pumped I was. I also remember being completely floored and hanging out in my org’s city – the scope of it, all the different buildings.

I think in WoW, the moment that really, really sticks out for me was the first time I set foot in Grizzly Hills and heard that music. I loved the environment, the music – everything about the Grizzly Hills. It’s still my favorite zone in the game.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): A moment that stands out to me is my first visit to the Weatherstock music festival in LOTRO. I had never participated in an event that was completely planned, managed, and manned by players of the game before, and minus a few moments of server lag, the execution was flawless. And while I wasn’t slaying orcs or seeking to rid the world of evil, taking a step back to simply chill out and enjoy the world just felt right.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’m hoping for lots of quotidian details from folks here. I will be so disappointed if at least one person doesn’t mention the puffs of frosty air and footfalls in snow from World of Warcraft’s original beta. I guess I sort of just did that!

But for me, Ultima Online came first, and I’ll never forget the first couple of weeks in the game when I made some new friends hanging out at Britain bank and set off on a grand adventure through the wilderness that stretched until dawn (and server restart time). You wouldn’t think being murdered by ettins, chased by gankers, and overburdened with junk to sell while trudging through a 2-D map with some lagged nerds would be so captivating, but it was like a whole new world of potential had opened up for me in one night, and I could suddenly see the promise of what MMOs could do.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I have had the very good fortune to experience this kind of eureka moment in more than a few games, so I’ll try to summarize a few that bubble to the top of my memory.

The moment I went into a PvP battleground as a Healslinger in WildStar and had an incredible time with the class.

That time in City of Villains when I was part of an eight-person all-Mastermind mission team; it was madness and hard to play but worth experiencing.

Another time in City of Heroes when my Arch/NRG Blaster wiped out a huge pool of enemies with a couple of skill clicks, causing one person in my team to rethink Archery Blasters as bad DPSers.

The moment about a week ago when high-level crafting and gathering in Final Fantasy XIV went from aggravating to enjoyable, relaxing, and understood.

But my favorite moment was when I first found this genre: When I played an Iskar in EverQuest and marveled at being surrounded by dozens of other actual people. I didn’t glom on to the game, but that was the moment when I realized that MMORPGs are something to follow.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): There are two things that make me stop and realize that I have found something special in an MMO: the world itself or when the gameplay gives me stories to tell.

I love it when the environment shows me something that I find beautiful, mysterious, or intriguing. For example, way back in the EverQuest days, even in the old school graphics, I found the carvings on the walls of the gorge between Highpass and the Karanas all three of those things. A lot of games fail to add in those kinds of details that give a game a sense of being a real (virtual) place that you’ve been, which is part of the MMO magic.

I have so many stories from both Ultima Online and EverQuest that I still enjoy recounting. For instance, my UO guild was having a wedding and another guild showed up to raid it. Chaos and fun followed. (We beat them back and continued the festivities.) Or the time my late ex-husband and I were holding the fast-regenerating giant named Cazel in EQ – just keeping him engaged until other guild members showed up. A level 9 shaman came along and started “helping.” I turned to my ex in real life and said, “Watch me kill this shaman.” Cazel was rooted, and rooted mobs in EQ hit whoever was closest. I stepped back and Cazel squished the baby Shaman. I laughed maniacally (again, IRL). Don’t worry, we rezzed him, buffed him, and gave him platinum for his trouble. But the stories that arise from people playing in shared space is more of that MMO magic. More modern games have removed the inconveniences of other players and only a few retain the part that makes stories happen. If I walk away with stories, that’s special.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): My OMG-this-is-something-amazing moment is still clear as day even though it was two decades ago now. It was in Star Wars Galaxies: Shortly after character creation, my Twi’lek dancer, dressed in her blue body suit with yellow stripes (you can picture the one, right?), left the Naboo city she started in and ran through the wilds to the next town to explore. Ran. Between. Cities. I was just in awe that I was in a virtual world! I could run and explore to my heart’s content. Two things contributed to this. One, as a tabletop RPG player, I’d long had the dream I’d had of wanting to see the world around me as I played and the actions I took; yes, I wanted VR D&D! Two, the game I played before was The Sims Online, and to move from property to property you went to the phonebook and just transported. There was no cohesive world to live and explore. And live and explore I did in SWG — dancing, running a cantina, making friends, then running a town… oh man, I still miss it all.

A second almost equally powerful moment was a PvP one I had in Aion when it launched. My partner-in-crime and I were staring at a low-level rift that leads to the enemy side. We wanted to see what was over there, and we put a call out in chat to see if anyone wanted to join our first excursion into enemy territory. A healer responded (who turned out to become a dear friend even to this day!), and the three of us stepped through. The adrenaline of sneaking about, admiring the land, and approaching enemies, then running for our lives with reckless abandon as higher levels came to their support was a thrill that has never once been duplicated. We died, laughing and out of breath. And I — for the first and probably only time — found a game I enjoyed the PvP element in with friends; I could follow my heart and explore, but there was a deeper element of risk that made it intoxicating.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I think one time that stands out to me was in my first MMO, Final Fantasy XI. I was struggling to find very many reliable groups to join, so I was mostly playing solo and just joining groups ad hoc to level. But I had spent a lot of time getting +1 and similar bonus gear. I don’t remember exactly what the stats were about, but I recall they had bonuses on them.

A character running past me stopped to chat for a minute and said they were impressed with my gear. They hadn’t seen anyone decked out like that at the stage of the game we were in. I took it as a compliment. Then we continued to roll together for the next several months until I ultimately had to cancel my sub. However, I stayed in touch with that person for the next several years out of game too until eventually the time and distance was too great.

I think of them from time to time and wonder how they are now. So while the initial meeting wasn’t very eventful, it was something that never would’ve happened without an MMO and the way it can connect people that otherwise never would.

Tyler Edwards (blog): Given what came later, you may be surprised to learn I had a bit of trouble getting into The Secret World initially. I’m not really a fan of horror or urban fantasy as a general rule, and I think conspiracy theories are dumb, so the fundamental concept was a pretty hard sell to me. After participating in a week-long free trial shortly after launch, I thought the game was interesting and unique, but probably not for me.

A couple months later they offered another trial, and I decided to give it another go. It was at this point I made it to Innsmouth Academy, and as most TSW players will tell you, that’s where the game really hits its stride. The dense concentration of relatively easy and simple missions provides a huge bump of XP in a fun and exciting package. It lets you start deepening and experimenting with your build in a way not previously possible, and you begin to truly see the potential of the ability wheel.

And of course, there’s Jeffrey Combs. I think realizing Shran was in the game, more than anything else, is what truly sold me on TSW. I bought the game shortly after, even intending to pay a monthly subscription despite my great hatred for the concept, but luckily for me the buy to play transition was announced before my free month from buying the box ran out. The rest, as they say, is history.

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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