This will be a talk of days long gone, a stroll down memory lane - and a simple question: can making a better game, destroy the gaming experience? It is also about the communities that are generated by and through MMORPGs. I was a PvPing rabid attack fiend in Ultima Online, a mercurial and raiding fanatic in Everquest and a solo-player in WoW. I did not really spend enough time in the other MMORPGs that I have played to establish much of an online identity. I can say with certainty that years of my life have been spent online, playing these games. Slash played in EQ was just so wrong - people should not be able to see that stuff! I remember old guild buds who were significantly over 600 days played, and when I retired was around 250 on just one of my characters.
There is no question that the first time you commit to one of these games carries with it the feeling of both a new and fresh experience - but that is not what keeps people playing. It is a combination of the social and the competitive. I have known people who live and die by their eqrankings standing, and others who religiously followed the guild pages to always have the best gear, or so they could claim to be the first in beating a game event. That is, of course, the competitive spirit of the game. The social aspect comes from the enforced intimacy and teamwork that has to happen in groups and in raiding. However, in the desire to make a better game - many of the new MMORPGs coming out onto the market are striving to make the experience more interactive, with the need of increasing user input. This has been heralded as a way to differentiate the skilled from the newb, and as a way to make the game more fun. However, it also detracts from the ability to interact with your fellow players when in a group, and simply adds another forum for the competitive drive to compete. Too much attention has been spent on the need to be competitive and a lack on the social aspects of the MMORPG.
Detractors of the genre will talk about long camps for rare items and about non-interactive and boring game play. However, if you think about the stories that are most recounted when talking about previous gaming experiences, it is often the case that it is in regards to long camps and rare items. It is the very issues that people think and talk about as problems that generate the shared experiences that forms the bonds of a social group. I even read a comment made by a leader in the gaming community that they felt it would be impossible to match EQ status unless it was possible to deride the most recent film flop while in the middle of combat during an XP camp and grind. It is this duality - where better game play and mechanics, removes or reduces the almost physical force that caused people to interact and talk because of the complete lack of game interaction that made EQ such a strong and pervasive force.
World of Warcraft has certainly beaten every Everquest record ever made - the number of people playing the game has certainly exceeded even Blizzard’s expectations. But in many ways, I feel that it is still inferior to EQ. I played the game for over three months and never felt the same sense of community as I did in EQ. In many ways people actually avoided talking to each other, and chat channels were minimized or removed from the interface. There was next to nothing in terms of grouping, and only at the very high levels did people seriously commit to it. There was no sense of belonging to a gaming community. The game focused on only one driving aspect of the MMORPG - the drive and need to compete. This may be partly due to the PvP nature of the game - but I think it was primarily a design decision - they removed the social aspects of the game to focus on and increase the competitive parts. In so doing, they created a very sterile world