Is The MMO Industry Less Sympathetic Now?

Sympathy For The Devil

+5 points to anyone who gets the correlation between the image and the article title

Maybe it’s just my imagination but the MMO industry seems to be quite brutal these days. Harsh words are spoken on a consistent basis by both amateurs and professionals, whether that be bloggers, podcasters, reviewers or the guys and gals who actually work in the industry and there’s almost no room for error on any front. The smallest mistake, the slightest dent in quality, the least amount of inconvenient downtime are all slammed by critics and met with unsympathetic battle cries. It’s a tough genre to crack and MMOs, in almost all cases, live or die by their initial reception.

It seems to me that both gamers and professionals are less sympathetic towards MMOs now than they’ve ever been before. Maybe it’s because the concept of a massive multiplayer online game has become old hat and it no longer holds the same sense of technological amazement and bewilderment it once did. Perhaps we’re just so used to the idea of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people playing the same game online together across the Internet that we’ve become numb to the staggering amount of effort and complexity that goes into making them. Ten years ago no one cared much about lag or latency because, frankly, no one had even heard of the terms before and we were all too busy worrying about our dial up modems and pay-by-the-minute phone bills to care much about trivial things like death penalties or polish.

So do we have a right to be more fussy and less sympathetic towards our MMOs now? Without a doubt the industry standards have been raised slowly over the years by every game that introduced a better feature or implemented something smoother than the rest. Every MMO or expansion that has a smooth launch, every game that makes something a little more intuitive or fun, every design aspect that removes a chore or tedious feature makes it that little bit harder for any other company to compete. Each little micro decision that enhances our gaming lives becomes a core trait that we can’t live without in any other MMO and a quality that determines not only our reception of it but it’s eventual long term success.

If I’m being honest, I suppose can’t say answer my own question because I’m not sure how I feel. The basic concept of capitalism and survival of the fittest dictates that we shouldn’t flinch at slamming a game that doesn’t meet our expectations or high standards. It’s 2010 after all and players deserve basic niceties like stable, bug free games with low latency and speedy, high bandwidth patchers. If we’re going to pour our hard earned money into monthly subscriptions and “added value transactions” then we deserve perfect, polished, Triple A MMOs that envelope us in the warmth of familiarity yet gently tease and entice us with staggering innovation. Right?

But then there’s that little voice inside of me, the one that belongs to my 17 year old self who still marvels at the technology behind Ultimate Online and drools over the square polygon shaped breasts of Barbarian women in Everquest, who tells me to stop being so utterly unrealistic and just enjoy what we’re given. Who cares if a games a little buggy or a little laggy or the intro cinematic’s a little lackluster, it’s the core behind the game that matters and we should enjoy it for what it is.

It’s a tough call for sure and sometimes I envy my 17 year old self and the naive, unspoilt sense of amazement the MMO industry had at that time. And then I remember the havoc my hormones played and thank Jesus I never have to go through it all again.

-Gordon

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15 Comments

  1. Tesh says:

    This is the natural life of any market that matures. To answer the question, I’d say “yes”, undoubtedly, but I think that’s a good thing. It tips the power to the consumer, and that tends to produce better goods for cheaper prices. It’s not good as a dev, perhaps, since you can’t cruise to riches, but then again… it also tends to make for better games, too, when devs have to bring their A-game to the table.

  2. Your absolutely right. As it has been, we’re so harsh against gaming companies because they can’t fix a bug immediately, can’t fix lag just like that…it’s just sad. Eve Online, one of the premier MMO companies is slandered and slammed each and every day because it isn’t a 100% perfect game. For a game as complex as that game, it is quite frankly impossible for Eve Online to be perfectly stable, to be perfectly fixed.

    I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ngmoco:), an iPhone company that makes quality games for it. Yet not a single app of theirs has 5 stars across the board. Why? Because they have bugs, because they have lag, and their servers occasionally eff up. But they work as hard as they can with what they have to fix the problems and it shows. But no one can be satisfied with this. If it isn’t perfect, lagless and always connect, it ain’t worth jack to anyone. Just sad considering how much development they went through.

    It’s hard to say where the MMO industry is going. It seems to be in a confused state atm. Experimenting with Free-To-Play/Freemium, trying to match up to the power World Of Warcraft had and unable to experiment more, unable try something new because they are so locked in fear that it won’t pan out.

    It’ll be interesting to say the least…

    King

  3. Chris says:

    I think we have a right to expect more, sure, but I also think we may expect too much when most people’s main comparison point has been out for 5 years and leads the market in subscriptions. No game can compare to that. On the other hand, take FFXIV for example. I think people have a right to be disappointed with certain parts of the game and to express that. So, while I do think we’re less sympathetic, I do think it’s a natural evolution.

    The lack of sympathy now demonstrated in the MMO market isn’t that dissimilar to other electronics markets, I think. Take computers themselves. While the more experienced among us might look at the price of a new Dell and scoff at what’s actually offered (most of the time), we do so for the same reasons the experienced among us are more critical of new MMOs. In the same way, a person who’s new to the PC market will probably love whatever brand they get and not care.

    Oh, and Sympathy For The Devil. But, wait.. are you saying MMOs are the devil? ;-)

  4. Rog says:

    For me, there’s this feeling lately that most of the MMO companies are just in it for the money now (even more than the rest of the games industry). So yeah, the harsh side of capitalism kicks in.

    I just wrote today that I feel the MMORPG has stunted its own growth by settling for what already makes gobs of cash. I talk y don’t think they’re interested in doing more than the minimum required to put that together.

    There are bound to be exceptions but I just think the days of fascinated, inventive developers are behind us. I’m hoping a game or two may kickstart that again tho, because as much as I’m a cynic, I’m also a dreamer.

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed and things like of these cash shops popping up everywhere in every game aren’t helping the industry. I can’t but feel the more companies try to see us extra stuff, the more bitter and tougher the audience becomes.

    • Wolfshead says:

      I agree. It’s all about the money now first and foremost. Chris Metzen can wax philosophical all he wants about the “geek” revolution at this years BlizzCon but behind that facade is the truth is that It’s game design according to metrics and demographics.

      Add to that, MMO devs are appealing to the lowest common denominator and offering convenience and ease in order to attract and retain subscribers.

  5. Utakata says:

    Gordon captioned:

    “+5 points to anyone who gets the correlation between the image and the article title”

    Sympathy for the Devil? Though I am not sure whose being the devil; devs or the players.

    …and does Mick Jagger’s lips really look like a pair of large fungi sprouting from a dead tree stump? :(

  6. Wolfshead says:

    Actually I partially wrote about this problem in the comment section on one of my articles this past week. I think we can all agree that the MMO genre is no longer new — at least for the veterans among us – the magic is gone.

    This is a very complex subject and there are many factors responsible for the current declining mood of the MMO community.

    When MMOs first came out there were amazing, wonderful and breathtaking. It’s the same thing if you brought modern technology like a flashlight to some pre-historic tribe of humans – they’d bow down and worship the flashlight. Well, that flashlight is old news now and the natives are wise to the trick.

    Another cause of the anger, is that MMO companies are feeding us the same old crap and tired mechanics. How long can we keep logging into virtual worlds where we keep repeating the same content over and over again without becoming a bit jaded and frankly tired of the whole damn thing? Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? No wonder there is so much unrest and dissatisfaction.

    We MMO players have gone collectively insane as it were.

    People often point to me as being one of the main culprits in the angst department. Guilty as charged. But at least I’m trying to effect change and earnestly trying to embarrass and cajole MMO companies to get off their unimaginative butts and start putting out something fresh and new. I’m not talking about content, rather I’m talking about pushing the MMO genre forward into something beyond the typical repetitive Groundhog Day formulaic rut that this industry has been stuck in.

    The worst part of this business is that we are all pretty much helpless to do anything about it. No matter how many cogent arguments we can make for change and advancement of the genre nothing seems to change. All we can really do is have the patience to wait for the next MMO revolution. We’re going to need a wealthy visionary comparable to Steve Jobs or some fresh start-up company to come out of nowhere with the next big thing that will dominate for 10 years like the EQ/WoW paradigm did. Until then, it’s going to be a long cold winter.

    • Gordon says:

      “We’re going to need a wealthy visionary comparable to Steve Jobs or some fresh start-up company to come out of nowhere with the next big thing that will dominate for 10 years like the EQ/WoW paradigm did. Until then, it’s going to be a long cold winter.”

      This seems to be the lifecyle of a lot of products, not just games or MMOs. Someone does something successfully (i.e. popular/makes a ton of cash) and then everyone else tries to copy the idea but fails miserably. Eventually a new visionary comes along with a radically different idea which takes off and the cycle repeats itself.

  7. [...] We Fly Spitfires postulates that we’ve become less sympathetic as a whole toward the MMO industry [...]

  8. O'Neill says:

    The gaming trend now is more in favor of persistance and free roam. I can feel that zeitgeist hit me too. The main question I ask of a game before I buy it is: is it force-scripted or sandbox? I ask this of PC games as well as console games nowadays. MMO’s have a free-roam nature by default, but the ones I’ve played are level-restrictive in that it is nearly impossible to navigate through them and manage to stay alive (That, or you haven’t the mount-capability to travel to it yet). As for persistance, some of them have inklings of the concept, like Star Trek. It has no respawns and elements of the environment are manipulable. The instances of DDO are much like this too, but you can replay them as often as you like. Nothing makes my heart sink more when I see a mob respawn 30 seconds later. The concept kills the immersive feeling I can get playing Two Worlds 2 or even Oblivion. I think that’s why consoles are shy to adapt MMO’s in their repetoire of games in that they are concerned about their longevity. As the western economy sinks and as the human brain demands one step beyond, PC games push the spec envelope and the playerbase becomes smaller as they cannot affor the rig just to run the latest and greatest (which phases up every six months or so). A game that demands a 900 dollar video card and the power supply to juice can roadblock a portion of the consumer base today. Consoles don’t have this problem as one size fits all spec-wise, but they don’t have MMO’s either (save PS3’s DCUO).

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