Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”
(Be sure to check out Mersault’s take on the subject as well.)
There has been a number of blog posts written lately regarding negativity in the MMO community, and amongst bloggers specifically. I’ve read a few of these posts and from what I gather the concern is that the growing number dissatisfied players publically sharing their pessimism about the genre is either a sign of the end times or the cause of it. While there may be greater attention on this problem right now it’s nothing new; for as long as I’ve been reading MMO forums and blogs there have been complaints, dissatisfaction, pessimism, and open threats. There is of course the question as to whether it is escalating or not but honestly I couldn’t say. Quantifying negativity over time sounds like a dubious endeavor and so while I’m tempted to say yes, it is getting worse by a few degrees, I can’t say for certain whether I think that because it is, or if I’m simply noticing it more because it has become the topic de jour.
So what are some of the common arguments amongst those unhappy with the state and direction of the genre? I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive, but here are a few of the most common:
- The motives of publishers when developing their business models (F2P, early access, etc.)
- The competence of developers to produce a quality game experience consistently.
- The direction the genre is moving—from sandbox to theme park, from hardcore to casual, from group dependent to soloable content, from social multiplayer to selfish singleplayer—pick your own poison.
Are they wrong about all of these concerns? Or is this all legitimate criticism of the genre and those behind it? I think it’s clear that to some degree whether or not you find any of these things disconcerting depends on what type of gameplay you prefer and which MMO(s) you are evaluating. Publishers and developers need to make money but the line between sustainable income and greed can be hard to define objectively; the quality of a product might have as much to do with creator competence as it does with the resources available to said developers. As for the direction of the genre, whether the changes that have already occurred are a gain or loss will likely be determined by those iterations that are yet to come.
If you were to say that’s a flimsy, non-committal answer you’d be right and that’s my point. That negativity exists is certain; whether or not it’s justified can only be determined in hindsight. The systems involved are simply too complicated and the available data too incomplete for the average blogger or forum goer to predict the success or failure of an entire genre. Especially when these voices are often few in comparison to the silent masses happily playing the games available on the market, completely ignorant of the warring words among those most engaged with individual games and the genre as a whole.
Or are they? That’s another question I’m not sure how to quantify; I know that negativity exists within the MMO community because it is being voiced regularly in blogs, on reddit, and on forums but what I don’t know is what percentage of the overall player base actually pays attention to these sources. I certainly do, but I think at this point I’m clearly a member of this “inner circle” of MMO players and so are most of the people I interact with who play MMOs. Outside of this community that is paying close attention to new releases and the changes being made to older titles, there may be a great number of MMO players actually enjoying these games with no idea that they are approaching the genre incorrectly.
Personally I envy those players because that kind of ignorance really is bliss. The time I was most satisfied with the MMO scene as a whole was when I was playing World of Warcraft during the Cataclysm expansion. No, that’s not a typo. I was happiest playing an MMO during the expansion that killed the game that killed the genre (or so I’ve been told). The reason? I didn’t know any better. I was playing an MMO for the first time and everything was new and exciting and I wasn’t influence by anything outside my own experience with the game. No one was telling me what the genre was supposed to be, and so I was happy with what I was presented.
There have been two expansions since then and as you might expect, my opinions of those expansions have been quite negative, especially Warlords of Draenor. Ultimately that’s where much of this negativity comes from, not because the changes happening are bad, but that there is change at all. I actually long for the days of Cataclysm because in my experience that expansion was good, it was exactly what an MMO was supposed to be. Is it any surprise that someone who began playing during vanilla WoW or Everquest or Ultima Online feels exactly the same? Our initial experiences forever influence our expectations and when those expectations are not met, we grow dissatisfied. For those of us who like to be heard, that means we take to the forums or blog.
However if I’m right in that so few MMO players actually read blogs or go to forums, then at least the genre is safe from dying simply because we all complained too much. In fact I think the ongoing evolution of the MMO tells a different story, that as the genre changes with the demands and desires of the marketplace as a whole—perhaps to the point we no longer recognize it as an MMO proper—the player base broadens and the number of people happy with what’s available also increases.
The changes happening within the genre could be an entire blog post of its own—in fact it will be sometime next month—but for now I’ll leave you with a few closing thoughts. If negativity within the MMO community is of concern to you, regardless of how you feel about the businesses developing them or the games themselves, stay away from those forums and blogs that feature only outlooks of doom and gloom. Either surround yourself with others who enjoy the genre and know how to write critically without exhibiting hopelessness or stop reading blogs and forums about MMOs all together. Just find the games you like and play them with the people you like. You won’t eliminate the presence of negativity within the community but you will remove its influence on your enjoyment of the games that brought us all together in the first place.