Are MMOs Really Better Now?

Everquest group

Everquest had a very innovative feature called 'group chat'. Sometimes even complete strangers used it.

I enjoyed Tobold’s post today in which he comforts Larisa who is depressed by the gap between veteran MMO gamers and new players but, even though he makes a huge number of salient points, I find myself disagreeing with him when he rather matter-of-factly states that games are better now then they used to be.

No doubt if one systematically and mathematically broke down the features of new MMORPGs and compared them to old games the overall score would be in favor of the modern products. New games have better graphics? Check. New games have larger worlds? Check. New games have more item variety? Check. The problem with this approach though is that it makes the assumption that the sum of all of the parts is more important than individual aspects (such as community) and that the magical and indescribable feel of the game can be attributed to nothing more than a list of features.

Fun, Not Better

The term “better” is a poor word to describe gaming because, after all, games are about having fun and not about which has the bigger list of features or the most advanced components and thus, can we really make a blanket statement saying that games are more fun now then they used to be? No, I don’t think so. I had huge amount of fun, just as much fun in fact, playing games 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago and there’s a reason why retro games like Super Mario and Tetris still sell incredibly well on handheld devices, why the Wii is the best selling console and why Bejeweled is the number one game on the iPhone. Even with all of our modern technology and innovations in gameplay, it would appear that people actually don’t care very much about a game beyond its capacity to bring them fun.

I do wholeheartedly take Tobold’s point about evolving with the times though and I know too well what it’s like to get stuck in the trap of nostalgia when nothing one sees is ever as good as what came before. Like he so well states, this is a fact of life and we need to try to roll with it. MMORPGs are changing with every release and the industry is evolving as whole, moving away from features that appeal only to the niche market to ones that appeal to the mass market. This is something we all have to accept and there is no use in trying to cling on to the old days and bitterly sneer at every new MMO that comes out.

However, even though I can probably never escape the mental barrier of nostalgia completely, I do try and be objective in my reasoning towards modern day MMOs because I accept the fact (and am possibly quite lucky too) that my life has changed in tune with the genre I so love. Gone are the days of my studenthood when I could spend 6 hours plugged into Everquest, replaced instead with busy days of jobs, wives and mortgages. Maybe I’m a rare breed but I welcome the casual nature of newer MMOs because, frankly, I just don’t have the time to play the old ones.

So Are New Games More Fun?

But does that mean that new MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft, are better than old ones, like Everquest? Well if we went with my concept of defining better as being more fun then no, I don’t think they are. Not that I don’t recognise all of the good things that a game like WoW has to offer but simply because, without a shadow of a doubt, I had more fun sitting around, doing nothing, camping a spawn for 5 hours in Everquest surrounded by a vibrant and welcoming community, than I do running 30 minutes, silent PUGs in WoW now. Of course, as stated above, I have conceded my ability to play EQ today and thus settle for the more easy, slightly less enjoyable, Warcraft. It doesn’t mean I hate the game or adore Everquest to some disturbing level, it just means that I accept it’s suitability to satisfy me at this moment in time.

I think I can speak with a certain amount of authority though when I say that the community in WoW is truly appalling and that one only needs to scan the blogosphere for numerous articles and evidence about what a dire situation its in. Players huddle in guilds, belittle the experience of playing with strangers and act like rude buffoons when forced into parties or raids with people they’ve never met before. This cornerstone of the entire MMO experience is found lacking in WoW and is a perfect example of how the enjoyment gained from a game is more than the sum of it’s parts or the technological advancement of its individual features.

The community obviously doesn’t completely cripple my experiences in Warcraft though and, of course, every experience is somewhat subjective but it does clearly demonstrate how just because something is more evolved or new or slick or easy or intuitive to use, it doesn’t actually make it more fun and, with that in mind, to state that games are better now than they used to be, I believe, is totally incorrect.

The Future

Personally, I can say that I had more fun in older MMOs than in any I’ve played in the last two or three years but doesn’t turn me into a bitter old man, hell bent on holding back the progress of the genre. Quite the contrary, in fact. Although I always need to temper my nostalgia a little, I can still learn and recognise what it was that brought me pleasure from the old games and I eagerly await for those factors to be combined with modern technologies, features and a the trend towards casual gaming. If that happens, I may well find myself saying that I’m having more fun in a new game than I did in Everquest ten years ago. And if I do, mark my words, I will exclaim it to the world with all my might.

-Gordon

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33 Comments

  1. hellfire says:

    I disagree with your disagreement insomuch as the world of World of Warcraft is not the world that was Everquest. Gaming culture and pop culture in general are just plain different now. It’s fine if you’d rather WoW be “more hardcore” like EQ was, but the fundamental “gaming experience” is vastly improved by comparison. An entire treatise can be written on the UI alone.

    I’ll leave you with this: Everquest is to Something Awful as WoW is to 4chan.

    A scan 4 years makes a LOT of difference.

  2. hellfire says:

    I butchered that, it should be Everquest : WoW as SA : 4chan

  3. Tesh says:

    Incidentally, I’ve only had about 1 in 6 PUGs with idiots in them, meandering through leveling dungeons. Maybe it’s worse in the raiding scene with all those burned out vets loitering at the level cap?

  4. Carson says:

    If you could have the opportunity to play WoW as part of a community of a couple of hundred thousand serious hardcore gaming/RPG/computer geeks, the way EverQuest was, I don’t think there would even the slightest amount of doubt that WoW was the better game.

    Or, conversely, imagine playing a game like EverQuest.. with the drooling hordes of the WoW community. You want to spend a five hour spawn camp surrounded by Chuck Norris and “anal [Rupture]” jokes?

    • Gordon says:

      Very wise words and very true. I’ll obviously always love EQ because it was my “first” and still recognise WoW as being a great game but yeah, I would transpose the communities in a heart beat… and then love WoW even more :D

  5. rowan says:

    Yes the WoW community is sadly full of puerile jokesters in trade chat and noob in PUGs. But ’twas ever so. Exhibit A: Barrens Chat, a place so horrible you can get a shirt that proclaims your survival of it. That’s one of the reasons I think this whole argument is silly, beginning with Wolfshead’s rant about not being included in the Cataclysm beta. Although if anyone should in it he should be and playing a worgen anything.

    If he were though, I bet we would all be privileged to read about how crappy the game is. “Worst Beta Evaaarrrr!!!!eleven1!1″

    Games were different. EQ improved on UO WoW improved on EQ. Is there anything out there now truly better than WoW? Again different, but better? Not that WOW is without flaws, every games has them. But the community seems be worse now than before. The “veterans” are as much to blame for this as anyone. After all I was never insulted by a noob for being a noob. But plenty of min-maxing elitist jerks, have felt it necessary to tell me how much my presence was ruining their “fun.”

    • Klepsacovic says:

      Maybe the true problem isn’t the bad parts of the community, but where those bad parts are. I’d say it’s much better to have all the spam and annoying crap in Barrens chat than trade chat. Turning off Barrens chat is unlikely to result in much loss, but trade chat used to be a significant place to find crafting.

  6. rowan says:

    Wow, crappy grammar. Sorry.

  7. kaozz says:

    I disagree with new = bigger worlds with more variety. Plus do we even need to call WoW new anymore? There is nothing new about six years ago ;)

    Look at Everquest, huge variety in zones and classes and content, massive game with seventeen expansions. I still enjoy DAoC compared to a lot of newer games. These new games offer some flashy stuff that give us all instant gratification and milk content until our eyes bleed. And communities in new games these days are bad? What communities?

    New or newer doesn’t equal more fun. Really it comes down to the play style you enjoy.

  8. Imak says:

    A quick note about my background: While I haven’t played the old “western” MMOs like Everquest or MUDs, I picked up Ragnarok Online at 2004 and played it for 3 years, then moved to WoW.
    And I consider the WoW community to be fine. Sometimes even good. :o ) “Appaling” and “dire situation” are just words that never occurred to me when describing the community. On the other hand, I understand there is a reason why the community seems to be worse than in the other games.
    WoW makes it easy to group with strangers. Yes, I’m saying that people did not think grouping with strangers was annoying because they did not group with them. I’ve heard about optimizing fun out of the game and that is exactly what was happening to the PuGs back then:
    “Bring the player, not the class” was unheard of. No priest? It’s solo time then.
    Death penalties. In RO, you lost 1% of your experience every time you died (although you couldn’t lose a level). For high levels, this measured over a hour (or even hours) of leveling.
    Less facilities to meet the players. I think LFD tool does wonders in this regard. In WoW, I was (at least) able to meet others while levelling as the quest had me visiting all places in the world. In RO, I was just grinding at one place with all the players… OF MY CLASS. Unlike the classes which I would want to group with (remember, bring the class), who were grinding somewhere else.

    I guess it’s a question of expectations. (Because I can’t think of any other explanation why your experience is SO different.) I did not have much experience grouping with strangers before WoW either. However, I assumed (based on all the whining) it would be much worse than grouping with guildies and I was surprised (in a good way) to see that the strangers are silent but not much worse than guildies. Of course, there are some that are bad but my overall experience has been ok.
    Players that expected strangers to be more friendly than guildies, on the other hand…

  9. Syl says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head there; enjoyment and fun aren’t measurable by a number of features or outstanding graphics. nor does the success of a game equal quality. and the MMO market is especially competitive, it is very hard for games to co-exist. most people aren’t up for paying several subscriptions a month even if they buy a whole load of xbox360 and ps3 games per year. this makes it very hard for a company to finance any real wow competition in the first place; and the lack of competition is quite possibly a key factor in how we judge an MMO, it seems. all the weak EQ comparisons make me think an MMO is always only so great to some people as long as there’s no serious competition. back then no EQ player would’ve called the game ’shit’. all those that claim EQ was shit and try measuring factors like fun and atmosphere by counting numbers, whereby an older game can only fail against a newer one – I wonder what they’ll say about wow as soon as the next-gen competition comes along? is a game good/bad because it IS good/bad from an objective point of view (like: tetris will always be good) or because you’re looking to play them off against each other, comparing apples with oranges? maybe it’s the ‘all-exclusive’ MMO gamer mindset that makes these discussions often so dull, there can always only be teh one?

    the games back then had some features that today’s games miss. and vice versa. so like you I’d love to see that combined one day.

    • Gordon says:

      “the games back then had some features that today’s games miss. and vice versa. so like you I’d love to see that combined one day.”

      I think some games have tried to do it (Vanguard springs to mind) but most have tried to be too hardcore and copies of games like EQ rather than unique inventions of all of the better aspects of every game.

  10. Mojeaux says:

    “Not that I don’t recognise all of the good things that a game like WoW has to offer but simply because, without a shadow of a doubt, I had more fun sitting around, doing nothing, camping a spawn for 5 hours in Everquest surrounded by a vibrant and welcoming community, than I do running 30 minutes, silent PUGs in WoW now.”

    Amen brother… Amen. Let’s just face it, those that came in on the ground floor (EQ) will always have a fundamental difference of opinion with all the “youngbloods” (WoW) and never the two shall meet. It’s two different breed of people.

  11. The only gap between veteran players and new players that has ever upset me in any game is the lack of new players at low levels kills a great deal of the enjoyment for me when I start a new game. If I tend to stay within my guild it is indeed because of all the asshatery that is often present in any game. rather than being attributable to a particular game it seems this can be attributable to the false impression have that the internet gives complete anonymity.

  12. Tobold says:

    I’d say that how much “fun” you are having in a game depends a lot on your personal situation. Thus the very same game can be “fun” to somebody for whom it is his very first MMORPG, and “boooooring, too easy” for somebody with 10,000 hours of MMORPG experience. My point was you can’t really blame the game if you simply outgrew the genre and are burned out.

    And about that “better community” thing you mentioned, wouldn’t you say that the WoW community would be better if those who are more experienced would NOT constantly look down on the new players and tell them what n00bs they are, and how worthless their game achievements are? I sometimes feel the veterans are kind of jealous on the new players still having fun.

    • Gordon says:

      It’s probably different for everyone, but I don’t actually that many MMO veterans in WoW and certainly most of the rude players don’t seem to have played other MMOs. I get the impression that the rude players are the ones who have just played WoW for years, are thoroughly bored of it, and have no time for pleasantries or new players.

  13. Bhagpuss says:

    The focus on “fun” is a big part of the problem. I don’t feel that I ever played MMOs to have “fun”. It has much more to do with a sense of satisfaction and time well-spent.

    For me, the clearer the mechanics of the game are, the less satisfying it is to play. The most addictive part of Everquest was trying to understand how it worked. The prime reason I only lasted three months in WoW was that everything was too well-defined, explained and polished. I prefer a lot of rough edges.

  14. Stabs says:

    I played EQ in 2000 and didn’t like it. I played SWG in 2003 and had an absolute blast. I have played several games since where I’ve had an absolutely wonderful time including, currently, EQ2E.

    If as a gamer you find yourself unable to enjoy your hobby something needs fixing. And it ain’t the games!

  15. Nikls says:

    I believe in good games and bad games.
    In addition to that basis, you need to consider the individual attitude of gamers. If you want a casual game, you will have less fun in a time-intensive game. And vice versa.

    During the last two expansions Blizzard put more focus on gameplay and less on the virtual world. It seems that with the next addon they shift back to the virtual world a bit. I welcome that. So, yes: Sometimes games become better. And sometimes they do not (WotLK).

    I am still looking forward to other AAA games that put a lot more focus on the virtual world than WoW does; without neglecting gameplay.

  16. Mojeaux says:

    I think when you speak of WoW veterans, you’re speaking of an entirely different breed of veterans than the old EQ veterans.

  17. hellfire says:

    When EQ launched the MMO genre was in its infancy. The “way thing were” was accepted because no one knew any better. The Everquest that existed in the age of Kunark and Velious would simply NOT be tolerated by the mass market that Blizzard has tapped into with WoW. To some extent this has been proven by some of the MMOs that have launched post-WoW designed to bring teh hardc0rez back and their fairly unmitigated failures. It’s not indisputable science, but there does seem to be some correlation. Frankly, I wouldn’t tolerate buff-lines or 1hr+ wipe recoveries in a game ever again as I know for a fact that you can have challenging and fun encounters without making every boss have a random death touch and trash on 15 minute recycles.

    Maybe that’s the real crux of the issue? “The kids” today QQ about nerfs and changes they are the end of all things, forgetting that there has yet to be something WoW remotely close to the outrages suffered at the hands of the openly antagonistic (sometimes) live team @ Verant or, going further back, to EA and UO.Well, maybe RealID…

    This old school/new school thing isn’t something that can really be solved. Any “new” gamer that’s excited about the industry and its history can fire up an emulator and play Yar’s Revenge or E.T. and “get” all the in-jokes that the old folks make. You can’t go back in time to experience the “Trammel problem”. Those are distinct and formative points in our shared experience that no amount of Wikipedia pages can fix. Much the same way, I imagine, that Cataclysm will be discussed in 4 or 5 years.

  18. Gebeker says:

    ‘I think I can speak with a certain amount of authority though when I say that the community in WoW is truly appalling and that one only needs to scan the blogosphere for numerous articles and evidence about what a dire situation its in. Players huddle in guilds, belittle the experience of playing with strangers and act like rude buffoons when forced into parties or raids with people they’ve never met before. ‘

    Such an exellent blogpost, glad to read I am not the only one that feels like this.

  19. Dyre42 says:

    I came to WoW from City of Heroes and it was a real culture shock. I finished up a free trial of Champions Online recently and the community there is so helpful. I’m not sure if its the genre or lack of focus on loot or a combination of the two that makes the difference. Accidentally pulled to many bad guys? 50% chance that a random player would drop out of the sky to save your bacon. Didn’t know where something was? Ask in zone chat and you’d get multiple polite responses. Need a group for an instance? Stand by the entrance and some one ask you to join theirs or ask in zone chat and someone would shoot you an invite. The forums? Interesting places with amusing and informative posts.

    The games themselves may not have as much polish (CoH) or content (Champions) as WoW but at least the players there aren’t out to ruin your fun.

  20. Wolfshead says:

    MMOs are indeed worse today than they used to be 10 years.

    Let me make a few points.

    Reality #1: Success and popularity does not automatically equate with high quality.

    To illustrate this let me provide an example: Consumer Reports in their latest issue published the results of a taste test survey of Consumer Union members of the top 7 fast food hamburgers sold at the major chains, McDonald’s hamburger came in dead last.

    The most successful and popular fast food chain in the universe also makes the worst tasting hamburger. Replace hamburger with the word MMO and company with Blizzard and you see my point. At the very least, we should not give Blizzard a pass simply because they claim to have 11.6 million subscribers (or once claimed this…notice they never publish subscriber numbers *before* the release of an expansion when they would reveal embarrassingly low numbers). Oh and Blizzard themselves uses the “xxx millions of WoW players can’t be wrong…” in some of their banner ad campaigns.

    This technique is what’s called “social proof”. It helps to create a herd mentality that goes like this: “If everyone is playing this MMO then it must be good.”

    Reality #2: The newness of a product does not automatically confer high quality.

    The fallacy is that “new” is somehow better is a commonly used to justify why one product is better than another. The entire advertising and marketing world has been using this little trick for years now. We now have a consumer culture of planned obsolescence. The fact that something is new does not necessarily an accurate predictor of higher quality.

    Despite the notion that due to advancements in technology would lead a reasonable person to believe that “new” products are somehow superior to “old” it is not always true. We’ve been conditioned in our culture to always want the latest and best technology under the false assumption that it must be better.

    We also have to acknowledge the perpetual state of youth and adolescence and it’s influence in our consumer culture. Since each successive generation associates and bonds itself with its own particular products, it’s only natural that they develop loyalty to brands and styles that were sold in their formative young adult years. This also can help explain the veterans vs. the newbies feuds. (Oh and newbies, here’s a newsflash: someday you’ll be the wise old veterans — just you wait!)

    There is also reason to believe that just because something is old or was created years ago that somehow it is inferior or not current. Again, this is more conditioning coming from the advertising agencies that want you to throw way your old (insert product here) and buy a brand new one.

    Take popular music for example. There are certain music artists that produce music that has a timeless quality to it. Artists like Mozart, Beethoven, Miles Davis, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin just to name few — all created timeless music that is just as popular today as it was when it was first produced.

    To make the claim that WoW is better than older MMOs by virtue of being new and more popular is not a strong argument. In fact WoW is a MMO that since the inception of its initial conception in 2000-2001 is already almost a decade old conceptually. WoW is yesterday’s news and only really 5 years older than EverQuest.

    That said there are many things that Blizzard and other companies have done that are improvements. In both old and new MMOs there are many good and bad things. Still, I think the original question of “Are MMO’s Better Now?” is a great question that more bloggers and players need to start finding the courage to ask.

    For me it all comes down to the heart and soul of a MMO: the quality of the community. For all of WoW’s refinements, pretty graphics and pyrotechnics you have a MMO where players now assemble together doing random dungeons and they NEVER SAY A WORD TO EACH OTHER.

    What a sad and appalling reality that in the year 2010 we have the number one MMO where people no longer have to communicate with each other. These are the unintended consequences of shameless MMO design philosophy that caters to the lowest common denominator so that they can attract more subscribers. This is how companies like Blizzard and Zynga do business. And it’s going to get far worse. Wait and see.

    So please excuse me for having the temerity to care and complain about the fact that core qualities and characteristics that we used to love about MMOs are literally crumbling before our very eyes. At least we have few bloggers like myself and Gordon who still remember…

    • Dril says:

      Number one falls apart simply because you have no proof that this equates to the gaming world. In fact, let’s look at GAMING REALITY #1: Call of Duty 4. That was undeniably the greatest shooter of its time, and one of, if not the best ever made. It was also one of the most popular. So let’s do what you like to do and replace CoD4 with WoW. Hey presto, I have an argument!

      Number two is something that really has no facts either one way or the other. But in graphics, animations, UI responsiveness and dare I say it combat have all become better as the years have gone on (well, apart from WAR. That was a god-awful graphics system.)

      I concede your final point, actually. In fact, I agree with it, although in a different way; the Dungeon Finder WILL kill WoW, simply because it reduces the social aspect that MMOs feed on.

      But game-wise? WoW is much better than EQ, and most of its competition. Community isn’t something a game can make, and I’m seriously worried that TOR is going to suck because the community is full of parasitic WoW-haters who have no idea what they hate. The problem, and simple truth is, that the more popular something is, the more imbeciles there are…and from personal experience the greater percentage of idiots there are as well.

      • Dril says:

        Blech, meant to say that WAR was a crap combat system, not graphics.

      • Wolfshead says:

        I should have also stated that just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it is not of high quality. Obviously popular products have just enough quality to ensure their continued production since if nobody purchased them the company would go out of business.

        You make a good point about products that are too popular drawing the attention of “imbeciles” especially in something that is so dependent on the community like a MMO. Many of us saw this during the transition from EQ to WoW.

        Too much popularity can also render a product with fad status and renders it commonplace and pedestrian which triggers a sense of resentment among early adopters. To be completely honest, I think this partially explains some of my disposition toward Blizzard and WoW.

        Still, I think it’s a healthy thing to debate the quality vs. popularity relationship. If anything it’s a battle cry that we need more nice MMOs that can appeal to different types of people. This one size fits all mentality is not going to keep everybody happy hence the continued exasperation with the dominance of WoW.

        • Dril says:

          I see your point about quality (personally I hate EVE, but I won’t deny that there’s a lot of quality there if it’s to your taste) but I think the problem is when people say WoW (as it is now, not buggy launch WoW) isn’t made with quality production values. It mostly is, whether people actually like them or not is irrelevant, but they are done far better than their competition (again, I use WAR as a far more recent MMO example of how not to do animations and responsiveness.)

          Methinks the problem with WoW is that it isn’t one thing or the other. It’s not a niche/small title that only MMO players would know about, but on the other hand it’s not as embedded into mainstream culture that people wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you said “I play Halo Reach/Modern Warfare.” There would still be the lol nerd response.

          I agree that things need to be more specialised, but the problem is that WoW still dominates the fantasy side because, as I said, most of the core game systems (graphics, animations, combat responsiveness) are so fluid that studios are only now shelling out the huge numbers to try and beat that.

        • Gordon says:

          I think that when people see something become very successful and earn a lot of money they also feel entitled to higher quality and better service – after all, the company can technically afford it. This of course breeds resentment if the company tries to increase their profits even more. I don’t know if this sense of entitlement is justified or not but it seems to happen a lot with Blizzard (speaking about myself here).

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