Are MMOs Really Better Now?
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.
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.