the daily grind

No, it’s not a slow news day; it’s just The Daily Grind, a long-running morning feature in which the Massively Overpowered writers pose gaming-related questions to the MMORPG community. [Follow this feature’s RSS feed]

The Daily Grind: Which MMORPG deserves way more hype than it gets?

According to Friday’s Daily Grind on hype cycles, a lot of folks think they begin way too early for most games. But what about games with the opposite problem – hype that just isn’t loud enough?

I’m thinking of games like Project Gorgon here. It saw a flurry of activity when it crowdfunded, and again when it went into early access on Steam, but because it’s such a small studio, it doesn’t really generate much hype on its own, being reliant on word of mouth. It’s a wondrous little game with really unusual and unique ideas, but it mostly flies under the radar.

Which MMORPG deserves way more hype than it gets?

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The Daily Grind: What’s the worst fit for a seasonal event for an MMO?

Let’s be real here, I am a sucker for Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday, so you would think I was over the moon about it being included as a seasonal event. And I usually am, but somehow in World of Warcraft it always feels… off, somehow. Just like Q’s Winter Wonderland in Star Trek Online never seems quite right to me, something that just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the game world. Like it’s being added because, well, it’s a real-world holiday and people love holiday events.

It’s not just a matter of lore, either; you can always write the lore to justify these events if you want to. But it’s just something subtly wrong about the whole affair, something that makes things feel like the holiday just doesn’t quite belong. So what do you think, readers? What’s the worst fit for a seasonal event for an MMO? Are there Neverwinter events that just feel like they don’t make sense in the game, or Skyforge celebrations that just turn you off right away?

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The Daily Grind: What is the most impractical MMO mount ever devised?

There seems to be a bizarre competition going on between MMORPG developers to one-up each other’s games with progressively impractical mounts. I guess when you’ve seen one horse done a million times, your heart yearns for something, anything different.

But then we start getting things like roller beetles, giant bees, and racing snails, the limits of credulity become strained. I’ve spent way too much time as a grown man trying to figure out how, in these fictional universes, these creatures were flagged as tamable transport when there were so many better and tried-and-true options available. Even my incredible imagination can’t summon up an explanation.

In your opinion, what is the most impractical MMO mount ever devised? What about it is just ridiculous to you?

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The Daily Grind: How early should an MMORPG’s hype cycle begin?

GIbiz put out an interesting piece this week looking 10 years into the past to see where the buzz was in the game industry back in 2008. It’s worth a read overall (that was the year some rando company called “Riot Games” snagged $7M in funding for something called “League of Legends” – pff, that’ll never go anywhere, amirite), but the segment I want to highlight this morning is the one about the industry hype cycle.

The long-ago author wonders just when the hype cycle for video games should begin, at least in terms of maximizing profits (and presumably not annoying consumers). He compares the Assassin’s Creed franchise to Prince of Persia, noting that the former’s hype cycle was twice as long as the latter’s – and performed significantly better. After all, we’re still talking about AC here in 2018!

It seems a fair topic for MMORPGs as well; for example, World of Warcraft expansion announcements and hype lulls, the difference in buzz lead-up between Guild Wars 2’s Heart of Thorns and Path of Fire, and the seemingly interminable Kickstarter MMO dev/hype/funding cycles are perennial subjects here.

How early should an MMORPG’s hype cycle begin? How long before the planned launch of a game or an expansion – or even a Kickstarter – do you actually want to hear about it?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO have you bought and barely played?

There was a time when any new MMO was only open to you if you bought it, and that made for an interesting situation. I bought a copy of Lineage II with every intent of playing it, and within a week, I found myself… logging into Final Fantasy XI, because for all its faults it was closer to what I wanted. I think my total play time in the game was something like 15 hours, tops.

At this point, you rarely need to buy an MMO, but you still might wind up having a game you bought a limited edition pack for and barely used. Or you might have an old title you bought and barely played, even though it’s free now. So how about it, dear readers? Which MMO have you bought and barely played? Is it an old game you expected to love but didn’t, a recent game you had high hopes for, or just a title that somehow kept getting pushed back on your schedule?

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The Daily Grind: What MMO is theoretically perfect but fails to click with you?

Let’s talk about Final Fantasy XIV for a minute. This game really frustrates me because, on paper, it has so much of what I’m looking for in an MMORPG. It’s a polished and popular title with tons of story, player housing, swappable classes, incredible music, gorgeous visuals, and plenty of solo and grouping content. Yet every time I’ve made an honest effort to get into the game, I can only last about a month before I give up and head elsewhere.

I think it’s one of those cases of a game where the parts come together to make an objectively great product that doesn’t click with me personally. I’m routinely bored by the story and the slow pace, not to mention put off by the clunky controls and UI. I wish I could love it more, but I just don’t.

I’ve heard many of you say something similar about various games. There are titles that should be great for you, but so far, every time you try them, they don’t click. There’s something about these MMOs that keep them from being as fun for you as they might otherwise be. Which games are like this for you and why do you think this is the case?

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The Daily Grind: What’s the best MMORPG skill system that avoids the ‘illusion of choice’?

Over the weekend, my husband and I were chatting about playing on a Star Wars Galaxies emulator again, probably the Legends one that people keep recommending to me. And yes, it’s an NGE server. I was basically weighing all the content that was ultimately added during the six years of the NGE against the skill-on-use-based classic game. I loved the ol’ skill tree system to bits, so don’t get me wrong, but I was able to do most of the same things, eventually, in the NGE using classes and specs and secondary trees like beastmaster, and I floated the idea – horrors, I know – that maybe the skill system wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Fighting words, right? So that led us to discussing whether the original skill tree offered merely the illusion of choice. We were thinking about MMOs like Ultima Online and Guild Wars 1; only a very small percentage of skill builds in those games are actually viable, after all. The same is true even of level-based games with talent trees. Most builds are terrible, a waste of time, a way to present the feeling of lots of choices, but in the end only a few combinations are worth pursuing – so why did anyone bother designing and implementing them? And interestingly, we both came to the conclusion that classic Star Wars Galaxies somehow escaped that trap. Even weird builds were viable because the rest of the game made space for them rather than tried to trick you into bad choices.

What’s your favorite MMORPG with a skill-based progression system, and if it avoids the “illusion of choice” in character development, how does it do so?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMORPG has the best user interface?

In the comments of my last Daily Grind about Star Wars Galaxies, there erupted a lively debate about the game’s user interface in the particular. I was surprised to find that some folks are convinced the game’s interface was lacking, given that it’s basically the same minimap-plus-hotbars-plus-unit-frames-plus-chat interface that every other MMORPG since has cribbed, just a bit more Star Warsy, glowy and minimalistic.

Then again, if you hate the stock minimap-plus-hotbars-plus-unit-frames-plus-chat interface setup that most MMORPGs boast, then yeah, hating SWG’s too makes sense.

Which MMORPG has the best user interface? And how does it deviate from the (at this point) completely standard World of Warcraft template?

(Note: The screenshot above isn’t actually SWG’s; it’s Otherland’s. You should check out The Repopulation’s too.)

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The Daily Grind: Are MMO collector’s editions worth it?

The allure of the collector’s edition has always been a strange one. I remember when it started, of course, when you could get the occasional little gewgaw for pre-ordering a title (I have a cloth map for Final Fantasy VIII that I later defaced due to not liking the game, for example). But then it got a bit out of control with some things, like the collector’s edition for Star Wars: The Old Republic that I couldn’t afford at the time and literally will never be able to get the stuff from. (The fact that I no longer play is, in this case, not the point.)

Usually I wind up with the collector’s edition of Final Fantasy XIV expansions simply because I have every single CE and it’s a collection thing, but I acknowledge at this point that I am paying for tradition rather than for the worth of what is contained therein. And when so many “collector’s editions” now contain nothing physical, it’s easy to feel like you’re just throwing more money at pets and mounts you might not want. So are MMO collector’s editions worth it? Or do you think they’re an outdated relic not worth the money?

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The Daily Grind: Which in-development MMOs are you hoping to hear more about?

One of the downsides of only following the gaming news cycle is that if there isn’t news, you’re not really paying attention to a game. It’s happened countless times that we initially report on a title, only to see its development or movement fall silent for a lengthy amount of time. That results in every so often remembering that game exists and going, “Oh yeah, when is that coming out again?”

I have several of these, and some days it feels like I’m alone in tracking them. Peria Chronicles is one of those, and I would like to hear a lot more about its western transition. Or what about the announced-and-disappeared Magic: The Gathering MMO from Cryptic? It’s been over a year since we last heard anything on that one.

Are there any titles like this for you? Which in-development MMOs are you hoping to hear more about after a lot of silence and lack of information?

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The Daily Grind: Would you play Star Wars Galaxies if it relaunched today?

Star Wars Galaxies is 15 years old now, and it was just about seven years ago that SOE announced it was slated for execution. Naturally, it’s been a big topic for us this week; several of our staff even joined together on the largest emulator to stream it on Tuesday. Smed even dropped by to show his support for the game and the emu.

At the end of our stream, MJ and I were chatting about why we don’t really play the emulator more. For MJ, it was the lack of a strong social environment, and if you saw how many people were botting in the cantina, you’d understand why the emu is superficially lacking in that area. For me, it’s the lack of permanence for that server, as well as the lack of features and the lack of what I’d consider a functional economy in its current state.

And yet, if a company legally released Star Wars Galaxies again right now, with all the features it had at its sunset and a clean economy and enough players to make the server ecosystem work properly, I would pretty much head right on over and get busy living, and there’d be a big fight on Massively OP over who got to helm the weekly column on the game. To this day, it’s still the MMORPG experience I am searching for, and I am clearly not alone.

Would you play Star Wars Galaxies if it relaunched today?

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The Daily Grind: Should every MMO with factions have mechanics to switch factions?

Lots of things bug the living heck out of me about World of Warcraft, but one of the bullet points on that list is the fact that there’s still no way for an individual to switch factions. It just doesn’t happen, despite the fact that we know there are members of Horde races in the Alliance (and vice-versa) and plenty of space for disagreeing with your factional stance. City of Heroes got this right ages ago, and that was a game where the factional split was based on actual morality, not just political alignment.

Personally, I think every game with factions should offer a mechanism to allow players to swap their faction. There should be no hard-and-set uncrossable faction lines. Even in Star Wars: The Old Republic, you should have the option to make a reformed Sith or a fallen Jedi if you so desire, and classes like Bounty Hunters don’t even have factions in the first place.

But perhaps others feel like that would erode some of what makes factions distinct. Having watched people develop strong factional identities in games like Final Fantasy XI (which encouraged you to swap factions) that rings false to me, but what do you think? Should every MMO with factions have mechanics to switch factions?

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The Daily Grind: What are your ‘must have’ features for an MMO space sim?

With Star Citizen on the way (eventually) and smaller efforts like Prosperous Universe, Starfighter Inc, and Dual Universe in the works and titles like Elite: Dangerous already here, the space sim looks to be on the rise in the massively multiplayer space. That’s great news for players who want to leave the fantasy realm and reach for the stars.

Of course, not everyone has the same vision for what they would like to see in a space sim. Me? I don’t want a cold and sterile space environment; I really crave colorful environments and races that are chock-full of personality.

Assuming that you’re interested in playing an online space sim at some point, what are your must-have features that you wouldn’t consider playing without? What features would take it above and beyond mediocrity to make it something special?

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