Massively Overthinking: Massively Overwhelming content in MMORPGs


This past weekend, I picked up my first premium house in Lord of the Rings Online after much hemming and hawing. I didn’t expect much out of it; surely it’d just be like my boring ol’ basic hobbit hole I’ve had for years, right? Wrong. I didn’t even buy a big house, but I still managed to get lost in it, and after hours of work, I’m still not even close to being done decorating it – and this is a pretty simple housing system with hooks, nothing like my SWG houses with 1500+ items per house and no hooks at all!

“I feel overwhelmed,” I wailed to my husband, and I was only half kidding because holy crap the size of the buildings and yards really is overwhelming. I’m literally in there putting up walls trying to block off the majority of the house so I don’t have to think about it. It’s too much! And I’m a housing person!

“Massively Overwhelming” is what I want to talk about in Massively Overthinking tonight – and I don’t necessarily mean it as a bad thing. Tell me about content or a game system in one of your big MMOs that just makes you feel overwhelmed. Is it too much to do? Too much to understand? Too much time required? Too many people? Too many awesome choices? Too much freedom? What gives you that feeling in MMOs, and how do you push past it – if you push past it?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I could talk about Pokemon Go’s PvP, since it’s very counterintuitive (“What do you mean I want low attack IVs, or that an unevolved pokemon is better than the evolved one?!”), but instead, I’ll mention crafting in Final Fantasy XIV. Everyone I’ve played an MMO with tells me I would love the crafting, but every time I try to just read about it, I feel like I’m in math class. I’m sure it’s fun, but it just seems like way too much for me at this point in my life. Crowfall (RIP) had a lot going on at the higher levels of crafting too, but I could at least dip my toes into that.

Andy McAdams: I think the only one that applies for me is FFXIV. Every time I go back to that game, it seems like there are more systems, more things to do that are all fun, but super overwhelming to try and wrap my mind around. Like, there’s an entire freakin’ casino in game with various full-feature games with their own strategies within the game itself. Chocobo racing? Yeah, I’ve got nothing. Blue Mage? Yep – opaque to me other than knowing it’s a “limited class.” Then there’s housing, the emergent gameplay within housing. There’s so much that I always feel like I’m just scratching the surface. EverQuest II has a similar impact, but with an added layer of needing to know the systems exist to find them, so it’s easy to just not know what you can do in game, and the game seems totally fine with letting you flounder.

I would counter-balance that with something like Black Desert, which has a whole tsunami of eldritch systems that are delivered with all the grace and organization of someone featured on Hoarders. It’s overwhelming, seemingly intentionally opaque. I get frustrated and ragequit.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): It’s not really a game system or mechanic, but I typically start to feel overwhelmed when I get myself into a situation where I have some kind of social obligation. I kept playing EVE Online for nearly six weeks after I had tired of it simply because it was such a pain to get into my corporation that I felt obligated to continue meeting the minimum membership requirements. Of course, this always bites me in the long run because I end up trying to play both the game I want to be playing as well as the one I feel obligated to be playing, which with my limited playtime results in stress and less fun overall.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): You get a two-fer from me since it was my experience in the intro! I fully admit that when systems get too overwhelming, whether I keep going or not depends on how much I want whatever the end goal is. I don’t think there’s anything in MMOs that’s truly too hard to understand given enough time, but that doesn’t mean the time required is worth it. I definitely feel that way about a lot of class builds. It’s seldom worth my time and effort to spend days crunching numbers to understand why a character build works or doesn’t, even if I could. Forget it; I’ll just plop in someone else’s build and tweak it with my own experience as I go. It’s good enough, and there are always more fun ways to spend my time. It’s supposed to be fun, remember?

There are some crafting systems that are overly convoluted too, and while I could push through, often it’s just smarter to buy the thing from someone else than try to learn an entirely new craft. (Works in real life too!) And on the flipside of that, I know that for the systems I have mastered, someone else can rely on me for the same. You don’t need to learn SWG chef from scratch when you can just buy food from someone who mastered it 20 years ago.

I’ll finish that house, by the way. And then I’ll probably need a break from LOTRO for a bit.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’ve pretty much fallen in love with spaceship sandboxes for precisely this reason; having a ton of things to learn, get a hold of, and eventually master is one of the major draws to this kind of game. It’s what made me OK with a lot of Elite: Dangerous and has encouraged me to peer back in to No Man’s Sky time and time again.

I also fell into a similar mindblown cat state when I first entered my housing plot in WildStar. The possibilities felt damn near limitless, and when I started to execute my vision (a combination science lab and hospice), it was all the more overwhelming in the best possible way.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I think my point of being overwhelmed is when I start to get to the late-to-endgame area of an MMO and become bombarded with all sorts of systems. Sorting through all of that tends to be frustrating, especially when I’m trying to answer the questions of “What is the most beneficial?” “What needs to be done and what doesn’t?” “What’s the best use of my limited time?” “How does this all work?” MMO devs rarely make the late game easy to suss out, clogging up the gears with obtuse systems and legacy features that have no real purpose any longer. So is there any surprise that I like leveling more than dwelling at the cap?

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): Some games have crafting systems that overwhelm me. There are so many recipes, and the more advanced you get, the more you have to craft the ingredients, and that means farming all the basic ingredients in large numbers to make the intermediate product in sufficient amounts.

And yet I keep coming back to those very same systems. And I don’t even pick the most useful crafting to get hung up on. Trust me, even I don’t understand my obsession with cooking in Black Desert Online and No Man’s Sky.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): This is kind of perfect timing as I just wrote about how open-ended the housing is in HP Magic Awakened. Of course, there the main issue is that most of the great furniture is paywalled.

Still, most of the stuff in the game can be overwhelming in one way or another. The number of events themselves is overwhelming. I’ve written a few times about how many options of things there are to do. Events are just another thing. I think it might be common with these type of Eastern gacha MMOs to constantly add events to distract from the fact that a lot of the primary content is repetitive and often grindy.

Regardless, I’ll often just barely be getting my feet wet and understanding how to do the current event when a new one is already coming up. Usually they have finite amount of content so you can get through, but then I haven’t been playing the regular content, so I start to feel a little behind in that. It can just be a lot! I kind of wish they’d slow down for a month or so, but maybe then I’d bored. Who knows!

Tyler Edwards (blog): Part of the reason I don’t often get heavily involved in MMO endgames is the sheer overwhelming knowledge burden. You’ve got to memorize stat caps and BiS item traits and optimal rotations and the safety dances for potentially dozens of bosses. Feels too much like work.

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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