Why play an MMORPG?
I play Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMO) for one reason; appreciating creativity. I love how developers can turn concept arts into a virtual reality. I love how the game provides an in-depth approach to Role Playing Game (PRG). I love the creative design to the environment, equipment, and even Non-player Character’s (NPC) personality. I love how they create dialogs to expose the players to the culture of the NPCs. I love how they create brain challenges in form of puzzles, riddles and physical tests. There are many more aspect of an MMO I love that is tied to human creativity and the very reason why I would even bother playing an MMO. However, despite all the things I love, there are several things that I hate and every MMO I’ve ever played share this same sickness.
Why the word “role” in RPG is important?
First of all, every new player goes through a bonding process with their chosen Player Character (PC). This bonding process is not something that happen overnight rather it is developed over time. From the very first day, I can either choose my PC as an avatar of myself in the virtual world of the game I am playing, or I can choose my PC as my chosen champion to fulfill a set purpose (i.e. League of Legends). Either way, I have to bond with my character in a way we are all familiar with; leveling up. Starting from Level 1, I, as the player, do everything within my power to keep my PC from harm and defeat all enemies I’ll ever encounter, while at the same time helping the citizens of a given town, city, or kingdom. Although being defeated, dying, and resurrecting are part of the game, as a player, I learned from the mistakes thus consequently also my PC. Due to many unfortunate outcomes, I choose to build my PC to supplement my strengths and protect my weaknesses – maybe I should take more potions, maybe I need to upgrade my weapon/armor – whatever the reason, I am taking care of my PC.
As my PC gain more levels, we learn, we adapt, we build, and we practice together whatever abilities and tools are available to us. The more level my PC gain, the more we become as one and strengthening our bond. As time goes on, my PC’s role is starting to be discovered and eventually is defined; and for the rest of my time, we spent honing my PC’s skills to be effective for this role. All decisions on what skills to choose, what spells to pick, what attribute to focus on, what equipment to wear are all made for the sole purpose of fulfilling this role. After several hours, hundreds, if not thousands, of hours later, we became comfortable in fulfilling this role and every one we group with enjoys our company because we know our role. The bonding process is complete, there are no in-game challenges that we cannot overcome when we work together. The time invested in developing my PC is personal with high level of emotional bond because those the time I’ve spent that I will never get back, therefore it is not hard to hate developers who take all my hard work for granted.
Why is game integrity important?
There are many different expectations coming from the players when it comes to the developers and their game. One major expectation is that they keep the integrity of the game and discipline themselves in not making a lot of immersive breaking changes. Unfortunately the integrity of the game is the first victim of game development. We mentioned earlier about the role of the PC and the bonding process. If the game developer decide to change the effectiveness of my PC in performing my role, that is a major violation of game integrity. Everything I knew to be true suddenly is untrue. I cannot possible go back to level 1 and relearn everything. I cannot relive the experience again with the new changes. With a simple update to my PC, everything I have worked on are all for nothing since from that point on, my PC is a stranger to me, the bond we had no longer exist, my PC doesn’t do things the same way we’ve been doing since level 1, and every knowledge and wisdom we’ve gathered and tactics we’ve develop over time are now trashed.
I understand the burden the developers have placed upon themselves of trying to make their game fresh and new to prevent players from getting bored. This is where another expectation comes in to play; game stability. Part of game integrity is keeping the game stable, meaning that all changes needs to be thought-out and tested before releasing it to the live server. Constant changes may look good for marketing, but not at all to players who are playing the game. If the developers fail to maintain stability, players will look at their game as having an identity crisis. Fearing that if the developer defined their game that a big portion of their player base will simply leave, but the attempt to please everyone only brings confusion to the players, thus questioning the integrity of the game. When the players question the developer, often time honesty is the first victim that further enlarges the fissure that has developed between the developer and the players. So when the developer advertise that the game is about my personal story, about my heroic deeds, but developed the game about someone else entirely or something completely unrelated to my PC, that is a very good example when I would start questioning the developer’s and the game’s integrity. Therefore it is not hard to hate developers who violate the integrity of their game.
Why is immersion important?
Different players immerse themselves in a game in many different ways. Some believe that all information pertaining to things in-game must be provided in game and not in the developer’s website, for example. Others argue that real world holidays have no place in their virtual world, and on the contrary there are others who believe otherwise. Regardless of how each player immerses themselves, there should be a logical explanation in game for many events that are taking place. For example, in the game Guild Wars, a Christmas holiday in celebrated in game as Winter’s day dedicated to one of the human gods, Dwayna. This logical explanation is important to preserve the player’s immersive experience in the game. However seeing “Server Maintenance in 15 minutes” as a big bold letters in the middle of the screen is a violation of player’s immersive experience. The developers can pool their creative minds and come up with a more logical explanation on why the server is going down without interrupting the immersive experience. Example;
Town Crier: “Hear ye! Hear ye! The King of Rubbles has issued an edict requiring all citizens to prepare for the coming darkness! Preparation time is 15 minutes.”
Town Folk: “What is the coming darkness?”
Town Crier: “I don’t know, but I sure not want to find out.”
15 minutes later – server shuts down
A simple in-game announcement like this can fulfill the purpose of preserving the immersive experience of every player. So, it is hard to believe that a developer who has a creative team cannot come up with a more elaborate and appropriate ways to communicate with players without violating immersion. In some MMO, I don’t even do things in game; I can simply stay in one place and enjoy the surroundings, the NPC culture, the environment, and the music. Immersion is important to me because this is one way to temporarily escape from reality, to get away from the troubles of the real world – but when the real world finds itself into my game, the immersion is broken. Therefore it is not hard to hate developers who ruin the immersive experience for everyone.
Balance? What balance?
Most of the game updates and changes revolve around this dreadful idea; game balance. Each developer has different definition on what is a balanced game, thus the expectations of players are mixed and often overlaps. However, one thing is certain; players hate it when their PC is weakened (nerfed) to achieve a game balance. I have not met players who enjoyed getting their PC nerfed in favor of other players who have not bonded with their PC. Even though players will learn to adapt, the cup is now beginning to fill. As more changes come in, update after update, the content of the cup is getting closer and closer to the brim and it’s only a matter of time when player just simple stop caring.
I understand balance as way to fine tune the game to make it more enjoyable and fun for a large portion of the game community. However, when the game balance is centered on weakening certain attribute of the PC without tuning other attributes to compensate with the changes, it is viewed as developer’s personal attack towards the player who plays well, since this type of game balance is not tuning, it is called nerfing. Nerf© is a term based on the product with the same name. The Nerf© gun, for example, is a safe version of the real gun, purposely designed not to be harmful in any way. In an MMO, when a skill is nerfed, it is weakened to a point where the ability no longer function as it should or as expected – like a finishing move that no longer finishes off the enemy. This type of balance in harmful to both integrity of the game and immersive experience because it violates the logic and the virtual reality within the world of the game.
The most game-breaking experience is when the game is balanced to achieve fairness when players are fighting against other players (PvP). Of ten times, this balance in PvP is achieved at the expense of those players who are fighting against enemies in a given environment (PvE). The skill, spell, attribute, or equipment might be balanced in PvP, but if the balance is achieved by nerfing, the developer effectively violated the PvE players. The game balance should not be centered on PvP without taking PvE into considerations. Players in PvP fight other players, PvE players fight against Bosses who has ten, if not hundred, times more powerful that an average PvE player. A single point in nerfing a key skill or spell can ruin the whole PvE experience for everyone. Therefore it is not hard to hate developers who ruin PC for the sake of game balance.
Why is the player base important?
Many people, especially the developer themselves, will have a different view or definition what a “player base” means. I would have to believe that I am part of the player base since I have invested both time and money to support a game. I have market the game to those I know and encourage them to at least try the game if they are skeptical or reserved. I am part of the community where we discuss different strategy, tactics, builds, gears, and all other topics that the brought hours of enjoyment. I also have feelings; that the time I’ve spent in developing my PC has also made me emotionally invested into the game.
There are several ways I can show that I am satisfied and appreciate the developer’s decisions, and that I agree with the direction they are taking my game. I can log in to the forum and post some empty words of encouragements, but I show my appreciation by purchasing, no words necessary. As part of the player base, I want my game to thrive and if I feel that the developer is taking my game to the gutters, I have an obligation to speak out. There are several ways to display my dissatisfaction, and just like showing my appreciation, I can take it to the forums. Unfortunately, words written in the forum typically have no weight since the number of players posting in the forums is not representative of the number of players in game. I show my appreciation by spending, thus I am to show my dissatisfaction by not spending.
In protest, I’ve canceled subscriptions and stopped buying goodies from the developer’s online store in the past; and I intent to continue this practice since developer these days only have listening ears when it’s about money – which is part of the developer sickness they all unfortunately share.
What is it that I hate about MMORPG?
As I mentioned in my introduction, the reason why I play MMO, the one thing I value the most is the developer’s creativity. The sickness that each developer suffers over time is the deterioration of their creative side. As a player, I understand that each MMO is a business that in order to keep the game running, financial responsibilities needs to be addressed. What I don’t understand is when a game that is well developed at launch, where players can enjoy the creativity of the developer in every aspect of the game, turned into a market place for real world money. All the recent development time are spent in trying to entice players to spend real world money in their online/in-game store. Not only that this business model violates the integrity of the game, but also the immersive experience. Some games even allow purchase of items that provides in-game advantage over other players also effectively breaking the game balance. Eventually, the creative developer will be too consumed by this sickness and become too blind that their very action alienates the players who support their game – not even realizing that those who complain in their forum are those who care about them and the game. As a player, I love the game and everything the developer have done, but as a consumer, I know my rights and I simply cannot support an MMO that eventually I learned to hate.