Friday, May 30, 2008

MMO Musings

Saying that I have tried a lot of MMOs is like saying that the ex Governor of New York likes hookers -- in that it is true. At least one specific hooker anyway. I have been thinking about what drew me the most to the particular MMOs that I tried. Was it the universe the game was set in or the game mechanics that the MMO offered? Also, did I overlook some glaring faults in game mechanics because I was so enamored of the game universe?

My first MMO was Ultima Online. Back then there were grand ideas of what an MMO could be. There was talk of persistent worlds that the player would shape and create. There were grand discussions about good versus evil and PvP warfare. Ultimately (pun intended) I was drawn to that game because it was set in Britannia which was one of my favorite gaming settings up to that point. I had no expectations about game mechanics because the genre was just being invented. Fast forward a few years and the next MMO to catch my eye was Everquest. I had grown weary of the isometric graphics of UO and the game mechanics that allowed for PvP gankers and for other players to steal your hard earned items. Call me a care bear if you will, I don't much care. There was no lore associated with EQ that I could identify with. It was being invented out of whole cloth for the purposes of the game. I had no expectations of what the universe was going to be like. The game mechanics were much different than UO however, and I looked forward to the changes. I played both games for about three years each being pretty much equally addicted.

It was at that point that a new kid on the block called Dark Age of Camelot was being touted. The game had similar mechanics to EQ, but was set in Medieval England which is of particular interest to me. The game appeared to be the Holy Grail (pun intended again) of MMOs in my book. It had game mechanics that I had grown used to and was set in a game universe that was right up my alley. I played DAOC for four years or so mainly because I loved the universe so much and really only left it due to most of my friends moving on to other games (mostly World of Warcraft) and from being tired of the genre in general. Nothing changed about the game or the universe, but I had gotten about as much out of the game as I figured I could. I hesitantly moved to the WoW universe again more for the change of pace, and promised enhanced game mechanics. The WoW universe was something I could live with or without. I only lasted a couple of years in WoW, reaching the level cap and had some stints with City of Heroes. In the "tween" years I had flirtations with many and varied other MMOs.

What kept me coming back for more and trying all of the different MMOs was the initial promises that were made that the player was going to be living in an alternate world and effecting the shape of it. As it turns out that promise has never been kept. The genre has stilted and been distilled to an essence by Blizzard and now WoW is what most people think of when the MMO genre is mentioned. Looking back at my time in MMOs I realize that what most attracted me to the games was the game universe. The game mechanic never REALLY changes. Sure, publishers tout new and "unique" ideas, but it all boils down to the same thing in the end. It all became evident to me when I played Age of Conan. AoC was touted as being really different due to its unique combat system. The jury is out on that one, but from my limited experience it is like all of the other innovations promised in MMOs. It is a bit different at first, but in the end you are doing the same things you did in any other MMO. However, I am a huge fan of the Conan universe.

So to finish up what has turned out to be a long rambling post, I think what initially draws me the most to MMOs is the game universe they are set in and marginally the game mechanic. I have lasted the longest in MMOs where I was really into the game universe. I tried many others for the sake of a promised different gameplay mechanic. I suspect that is why my friend Rikathos played CoH for so long. The game was no different than any other MMO, but he is enamored with the superhero world. That isn't even a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with these games. I was gullible enough in the beginning to buy into the over selling of the genre and expected more than was realistic. These days I haunt MMOs whose worlds intrigue me and stay only as long as I am enjoying exploring them. I no longer try and level four or five characters to max level. It is all about experiencing the world to me. That is why I am continuing with LOTRO and why I will cave in and try AoC. In order to keep this from being like an abusive relationship, I meter my time and make sure that I don't burn myself out. If someone makes a Hockey MMO I may be doomed.

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