Massively Overthinking: Unfair stigmas that follow MMORPGs


A few weeks back, our team was discussing the intersection of survival sandboxes, MMORPG virtual worlds, and gankboxes – and how hard it is for some games to shed stigmas and stereotypes about their genre.

“As New World has shown us, even if you hard pivot away from gankbox design, the stigma can stick around for years,” MOP’s Tyler opined during the conversation. “I still see people saying they avoided the game because they think it’s only about hardcore PvP. But it barely even has PvP these days.”

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I don’t want to necessarily focus on New World or PvP, but I do want to talk about stigmas that seem to attach the genre or specific MMOs or MMO subtypes, long past the time when they are actually valid, if they ever were. What are the most unfair stigmas that follow MMORPGs or even specific MMOs around, how did they come about, and what’s the truth?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Stylistic graphics making people think a game isn’t for “real gamers.” I think at this point we can agree that hyper-realism (aside from the usual female models that, in our industry, wear far less than the males and always need heels…) ends up making a lot of games look bland and weirdly cheap. I mean, it’s still impressive in a way, but with so many these days, I often feel like those studios are sharing assets.

They also often make the game more accessible, which is particularly important for an MMO. Yeah, having 20 people on screen is cool with awesome graphics, but having 100s with WoW-style graphics will turn my head much faster, plus will make it easier for me to get friends into the game. And these days, it also makes the game more likely to get a console port so we can have even more players.

Aloft left a really good impression on me at SGF partially because the game could have come out 10 years ago or be ready in 10 years if I weren’t considering the game features. Same with Marvel Rivals. They just age much better.

Andy McAdams: I don’t think that Wildstar was ever able to shed the hardcore cupcake stigma. Carbine did such an amazing job convincing everyone, everywhere that that’s what the game was about. When the devs finally realized there’s no money in that, the studio didn’t put the same vigor into the new marketing and never was able to shed the stigma (I personally think that this is because the group that decided the hardcore cupcakes were the crowd to go after were petulant when it turned out those people don’t pay the bills).

I think Anarchy Online never shed the stigma of its dumpster fire launch. You will still see people today saying they won’t touch Anarchy because of a bad launch 20 years ago. Meanwhile, its a delightful game.

MMOs have never been able to shed the “you can’t play these games if you want to have a life.” I’ll talk to friends about playing and they generally respond, “Oh I can’t nolife games anymore; I wouldn’t be able to play and enjoy it.” Of course, this stigma is constantly reinforced by the aforementioned hardcore cupcakes shrieking about how the only time MMOs were good were when you had to play them like a job. Or broader gaming media constantly taking potshots at the genre at every opportunity because reasons. But please, tell me more about how Call of Duty clone #943,439,212 is revolutionizing the genre because you can pay $60 to get an enhancement that’s wouldn’t even make the release notes otherwise. *cough*

Anyway. Yeah. All that.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I want to call out the very annoying stigma attached to isometric and top-down games. I consider myself fortunate that I grew up on stuff like Diablo and Ultima Online and don’t really have any issue with that perspective. In fact, I like it, and I know what can be done with it in the hands of a clever developer team. I also remember the move from UO to EverQuest, how excited I was for a “real” 3-D MMO, and then how disappointed I was when I realized the game was mostly grinding and drama kids fighting over an empty sandbox. Any illusions I had that a 3-D MMO would be a deeper roleplaying experience were utterly shattered when I realized how much more of a deep virtual world the ugly UO actually was.

And this actually does come up even in 2024. So many of our readers (and yes, even some of my colleagues) wouldn’t step foot in an isometric or top-down MMO because of the stigma that it’s going to be some low-fi roguelike. I hoped the original Shards Online and Torchlight Frontiers would turn that around, but nope. And now, of course, we have Albion Online, which is easily a top 10 MMO in terms of players and revenue, and still some folks, even PvP folks, are biased against it more because of the perspective than the gameplay. Corepunk, it’s on you next.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): For the longest time I’ve held survival sandbox titles in extremely low esteem, considering them to be low-effort, lackadaisical, lazy game types that tend to build around making something where you’re always kicked down a peg, either by in-game mechanics or FFA PvP.

Of course, that’s because most of my survivalbox experience was in games done by Funcom or Wildcard. I’ve since been opened up to the significant potential of these kinds of titles thanks to some genuinely inventive and fun games such as Palworld, Nightingale (up until endgame anyway), Valheim, Enshrouded, and Craftopia.

Are all survivalboxes as inventive, unique, or willing to let players enjoy themselves without clapping obnoxious mechanical chains around their necks? No. But there are enough games of this kind that rise to the top and have put fire to the belief that they’re barely crafted shovelware.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): There are apparently lots of gamers who think any PvP in their line of sight will ruin a game. That always gets under my skin. There’s a huge difference between free-for-all gankers-paradise games and ones that offer simple duels or battlegrounds.

I’ve gotten into too many online debates with other players about adding dueling options to some PvE areas of games. That’s consensual, one player requests a duel from another and it must be accepted type of duel. Yet I think these players remember old games that just enabled open PvP – the ones that didn’t have any proper request, blocking, and flagging systems. If a dueling or similar PvP system is implemented correctly, it won’t negatively impact those that don’t want to participate. Which actually ties back to New World: There are dueling and other PvP systems in place. but you wouldn’t even know it if you didn’t search it out.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I think there are so many things you could mention for this, honestly. First impressions are lasting impressions, and gamers love to hold a grudge. Some people still assume every free to play game is a pay to win dystopia where you can’t play without being a whale. Then there’s the whole “The Secret World had bad combat” silliness.

I’m also going to say that World of Warcraft still suffering from the “raid or die” perception would qualify. Having played a lot of the game recently, I think those days are gone. Raids are still an important part of the game, but the concept of “raid or die” came from the days of Warlords of Draenor where there was literally no meaningful endgame content outside of raids. There are so many more options for how to play and progress your character these days. The endgame of Dragonflight is more akin to Guild Wars 2 than it is to Warlords of Draenor.

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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