Right there, wait not quite, up a bit... over to the left, yep, that's it!

MMORPGs Don’t Really Scratch My Itch, Man

MMORPGs: An Itch I Have... Where Is Thy Scratch?

Right there, wait not quite, up a bit… over to the left, yep, that’s it!

After years of being enthusiastic about these games and jumping into one after another like a kid cannonballing into the swimming pool on the first day of Summer vacation, I’ve come to the belated and somewhat sad realization that Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs*) just don’t really do it for me.

*For the sake of brevity / readability / flow I’m going to refer to them as MMOs rather than MMORPGs for the rest of the post, even though technically there is a difference between the two game types.

I feel I should establish a bit of credibility on the subject so that even if some disagree with me (which I am sure some shall), perhaps there will at least be a sense that I have enough experience over the years to have earned an informed opinion. With that in mind:

MMOs I have played from 2000-2015:

Note that this list doesn’t include various MUDs, MUSHes and MOOs that I played via telnet before MMOs proper came along. Those text-based multiplayer games were great, but looking back I think a lot of the attraction for me was the still new social experience of the Internet (remember kids, 20 years ago Teh Interwebz were just barely coming into public awareness) rather than the games themselves. Having said that,  Dark Metal will always have a special place in my heart from the mid-90s.

I digress.

After having played all of these games I can say that although I enjoyed them all on a certain level (and have even had some really great gaming moments playing them) none of them scratched my gaming itch the way they do other folks.

Or, in corporate speak… they’re not providing an engaging, immersive entertainment experience that encourages me to consume that entertainment on a recurring basis (and fess up that recurring cash).

LOTRO Screenshot

OK, it looks tasty… but does it truly satisfy?

I’ve thought about this many times over the years, especially since some of my friends are just crazy about the genre (is it a genre, or a type of game with multiple genres, hm). With all this pondering, I think I’ve narrowed it down to some reasons why.

1. First, and most important, you don’t really feel unique in an MMO.

In most single player games, it’s all about you… or rather, all about your character. The whole game, the universe your character inhabits, is focused on them. It was literally created purely for them.

With an MMO however, no matter how much you customize your character’s appearance, no matter what name you choose, no matter what cosmetic title you have over your name, no matter the other options you select… you’re basically a penguin among penguins with all the other characters out there that do what you do and that are on the same quests that you are.

It’s kind of hard to feel you’re doing something really special when you know thousands of people are doing the same thing at pretty much the same time.

Group of penguins

Whaddya mean we all look alike???

There really is nothing that truly sets you apart. Bioware’s Star Wars The Old Republic has probably done the best at keeping the willing suspension of disbelief going with your character’s overall class quest, but it still falls far short of what I would personally like to experience.

I also need to give a tip of the hat to EVE Online in this area, because the players literally shape what is happening in the game world and the economy and etc. But I still don’t feel like I am unique, I just feel like I have the opportunity to get big and throw my weight around.

2. Some of my MMO experiences have been with buds that are fans of certain games that asked me to play because it’s SO GREAT, so I finally give it a shot and then I’m never given a chance to enjoy the steak dinner I’m promised.

Instead I’m treated to a rushed, fast food experience because I’m getting drug along at light speed by my friends who want to level me up as quickly as possible or else just want to show me everything all at once.

Steak and Fast Food Burger This or This?

I know what *I’m* ordering

I’m asked to pick this up, run over here, kill this thing, talk to this NPC, now move halfway across the world map and do more of the same. Okay, wait, now that you’ve run all the way here, we’re changing our mind and doing this instance instead because a friend of a friend sent a message. All without having a clue why my character is really doing this. Fast food. Or maybe connect the dots with a really fancy graphics engine.

Calgon, take me away.

3. I really dislike getting pressured to play my character a certain way, or to wear certain armor / use a certain weapon / equip a certain item and if I don’t I am “not playing my character right.”

If I am going to invest the time into a game and a character, I don’t want to be a clone of yours. I come from a table top RPG background and I want to play and experiment, not just max my DPS so your group will succeed in running that instance for the thirtieth time by being a square peg in your square hole.

4. MMOs are looking for that recurring cash which leads them to dilute game play / game balance with craziness like selling character levels / boosts.

Total fail.

Yeah, I understand the company needs to make a profit, but if you’re selling character levels… your MMO has either jumped the shark or is getting really close to doing so. It may be making money and adding subscribers, but trust me the actual game experience is catching air over the fin.

To draw this to a close, I guess the best knuckle chewing, immersive experiences I’ve had in an MMO were in EverQuest, and that was mainly due to the significant in game penalties for dying.

No minor annoyance there, it could be a major pain that would leave you with that sinking feeling when your character died in certain circumstances. What you earned, you earned and could easily lose.

Everquest screenshot with feet sticking out of a wall

In Everquest, sometimes you would hit a wall

Wait, maybe I’m just a masochist. Hm, now that I think about it… carry on, nothing to see here.

Penguins image used via creative commons attribution 2.0 generic license – flickr user son_gismo 
Steak image used via creative commons attribution 2.0 generic license – flickr user Jazz Guy 
Hamburger image used via creative commons attribution 2.0 generic license – flickr user Calgary Reviews

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