Are older persistent online worlds still worth it?

I have been really enjoying my time in EverQuest lately. Does that mean that I will become hopelessly addicted to it? No, but it does point to an interesting characteristic of the genre that people often forget to mention: MMORPGs (or, I am trying to say now, persistent online worlds) are the most bang for your buck in all of gaming.

The reason MMOs can last so long and still be fun (like EverQuest, Merdian 59, Gemtsone IV, or even World of Warcraft which is quite ancient by now) is due to the fact that they are updated frequently by developers and changed constantly by players who change the game world just by being there.

In other words, even an MMO/POW that gets no love can still feel different now than when you first visited it, due to its online status and real human playerbase.

Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that a playerbase changes an online world as much as a series of patches do, but the point remains that online worlds are so much like real life because they need real people to be an online world, and those real people can be a great source of constant content. For example, I have returned to EverQuest a few times per year ever since I first played it in 2000. Each time, I find some new bit of patch or world content that I did not find before, but on top of that I find a new person to chat with or to ask questions of.

This time around I am playing on my lowbie troll character who is currently in the area of Crescent Reach. I love newbie areas because they can be a great way to learn about how things have changed. For example, I never get into crafting in EverQuest because it was goofy (I thought) but I participated in a quest to craft a banner and it felt great. I decided to try more of it, and then I met a froggie character who wanted me to show him all of the mounts I had collected over the years.

I would have never had this fun if I had ignored an area in a game that I had played countless times over the years. The fact that there were dozens of new characters (whether they were actually new players or not, I do not know) roaming around the newbie zone showed that the game still attracts people. Heck, EverQuest is even on Steam now, and all is right with the world.

Older games like Ryzom, EVE Online, and others are still great games and are definitely worth it, but only if you try something you have not tried before. If you were a raider and expect to go back to EverQuest to find the exact level of fun that you had 10 years ago, don’t be surprised if you get bored quickly or find out that you have no time for raiding anymore — that’s why you left in the first place. Keep in mind that these games are incredible because they do not offer only one activity. If you cannot raid, try crafting. If you cannot craft, try roleplaying. If you cannot roleplay, try meeting new people. Honestly… reach out and meet someone new.

Attend a party. Explore a new area. Organize your inventory. Craft a new cloak and give it to a newbie. These are all things that many of forgot to do when we were so busy doing the main activity that we used to do in these old games.

There’s a reason I leave my PC loaded up with old games, sometimes as many as 30 or 40. I simply like loading them up, patching them, and seeing what is new. I often find plenty to do, and I am often surprised that I am having fun all over again.

Beau

Why MMORPGs should be called POWs

I have thought so much about MMORPGs over the years that I forget many people have no idea what it means. Normally, I just say “You know, games like World of Warcraft,” and they are cool with it. They go “Ahhh, yeah, my cousin plays that,” and move on.

I have even blogged about this very topic, suggesting different terms that we can use to describe this genre. After thinking on it since then, I still have trouble with MMORPG and the other terms I suggested.

There are several issues with the term MMORPG:

  1. It sounds nerdy. Sure, I don’t care what “outsiders” think, but if the first thing you mention to a potential new player is “MMORPG” and then have to explain what it means, you are doing it wrong.
  2. It’s outdated. Like MUD, the term has become connected with an older time. Again, that’s fine and I do not care if someone thinks the genre is outdated, but it has now been around for 20 years.
  3. You cannot pronounce it. Do not be that guy at the comic shop who goes “Oh, you play morpaguhs? I do to!” You will sound silly.
  4. It is accurate, but too accurate. The term is not streamlined at all, and is even redundant. I can explain below.

For me, I am going to go with P.O.W. when I describe the games I love, or — better yet — I will say “Persistent Online Worlds.”

Persistent covers online and multiplayer. If a single player game was persistent, you come back to it and things have changed. While it is possible, (look at State of Decay, for example) when you combine persistent with online (the second word) it takes on the ultimate meaning: a world that does not end when the large numbers of players do.

Online is obvious, but also means multiplayer. You can have a single player online game, but why? As soon as you are online, it is for the sake of playing with others. Sure, you can have an online game that features just you and one other player, but that is not massive enough to qualify for a POW, which is where the third word comes in:

World. This means a place that is world-sized, or at least attempting to be. A lobby-based shooter is not a world, it is a series of rooms that aren’t even connected beyond the match. World means size, scope, and flavor.

Try it. Next time someone asks you what you like to play, go MMORPGs. If they look at you like you are growing gum out of your eyeballs, say “Persistent Online Worlds,” and they will go “Ahhh, cool!”

I am changing it now. I will use the term now. I love MMORPGs, but have always disliked those 6 letters.

If you are reading this after reading my other discussion on a new term for this genre, forget those other suggestions. This is the one.

It’s POW now.

Beau

 

So, when was the “Classic” Era of MMORPGs?

I wondered out loud on Twitter the other day, trying to figure out when the era of classically-designed MMOs was, or is. Originally, I called it the “golden age” but as a Facebook buddy said, “golden age” implies a judgment of quality, and I should go with “Classical” or something similar. I agree 100%, but it should be noted I tweeted it while out to dinner and was concentrating more on the idea of a time period of “true” MMO design.

That period means the age when MMORPGs were being released frequently, and they were of “true” design, meaning they featured open worlds that persisted while players were offline, and “truly” massive numbers of online players.

This is not to say that all upcoming or more-recently released MMOs are not “true” MMOs, but instead that there was a time — I was guessing between, say, 1997 and 2012 — when MMORPGs were not just being mentioned by the rare mainstream website articles, but when entire websites that were dedicated to the genre existed. This was also an era when developers mentioned old-school designs in their pitches, compared to today when many MMO designers mention more “modern” designs like MOBA-like matches or designed-for-solo content.

We still have some MMO websites, of course, and we still have old-school designers, but if you compare most modern-day bloggers, writers, and websites to their older cousins, you would see a group of people who have to mention non-MMOs due to fear of losing hits compared to the older site writers and bloggers who wouldn’t even think about mentioning non-MMO content.

The point is that websites, blogs, and fansites reflect the designs of the hobby. Years ago, I knew scores of people who hosted podcasts and blogs. These days it’s down to a handful. My guess is that many of them got their start with World of Warcraft and never really tried to learn about much more than the other games that cost major-league money to make. Because the big $$$ MMOs are mostly a thing of the past, these fans thought (wrongly) that the genre was dead, and moved on.

As the sites and blogs stopped, the designers decided to stop with the classic designs. “No one wants that anymore,” they thought. “We have to make a MOBA.”

This is not meant as a judgment call, by the way, but as a statement of fact.

So, if the era of the massive-world, massive-playerbase MMO is possibly behind us, when did it stop?

Did it stop with Guild Wars 2, TERA, or The Secret World, around 2012?

The Elder Scrolls Online, ArcheAge, and Neverwinter are all great and came out in 2013. But, just compare those release numbers to 2010, or 2009, or 2008!

In fact, we will compare a little bit, thanks to my old Massively partner (and current writer dood for MassivelyOP) Syp at BioBreak, who has been keeping a nice list of MMO launches on his blog. While the list is missing many titles, it’s a great list. We’ve had (I skip a few years but go to his page and use the FIND function to highlight launches) :

  • 6 launches in 1996
  • 3 in 1997
  • 13 in 2003
  • 13 in 2011
  • 13 in 2013 (the highest amount in recent years)
  • 8 in 2014
  • 8 to launch in 2016

But also, look at closures:

  • 1 in 2002
  • 1 in 2003
  • 1 in 2004
  • 1 in 2006
  • 5 in 2009
  • 8 in 2012
  • 5 in 2016 (so far)

**Syp does mention that he is leaving out “every piddly MMO on the planet or most MUDs/MUSHs/MOOs. I also stuck mostly to MMORPGs (i.e. few MMO sports games, no MOBAs, little limited multiplayer),” which is understandable, but still illustrates how MMO discussions need to become more inclusive.**

Someone posted a comment about games like GemStone IV, the awesome MUD, that has been going for a long, long, time and is still tweaking itself to be more modern like offering a free-to-play, browser-based version. I’ve covered GemStone IV many times, and it should always be considered in conversations about MMOs. Still, Syp works for a living and doesn’t have a bajillion hours to sit around collecting information, and his chart still shows us a pattern.

Perhaps the “Classical” era stopped when MOBAs really and truly caught on, signalling the next “big thing” in multiplayer design? (League of Legends, described as a “MOBA” first, was launched in 2009.)

It’s hard to say, but I am attempting to narrow it down in preparation for a book I am writing. Again, I am not meaning to pass judgement on indie and major-label MMOs that have yet to be released, as I have not played those yet, but many of the ones coming up look more to be instanced-based fighting games rather than open world exploration-fests.

This is also not an attempt to declare the end of the older and more-open MMOs that still attract me, games like EverQuest, Ultima Online, or Ryzom. Many of these games will remain for many more years, and why not? Some MUDs have been open for nearly 30 years, and remain vibrant!

As I have predicted in the past, mobile will take over, and it is showing signs of doing just that. As I used to love to say: “Ask a tween what they play games on, and I’ll bet probably 10% say ‘A computer.'” Whether we older gamers agree with their tastes doesn’t matter; they are the next wave.

I have also predicted that “classic” MMO design will die out as computers go and mobile gaming invade everything, but the recent massive success of Pokemon Go! shows what I mean when I have described a “hybrid” future MMO: an MMO that takes advantage of the sheer number of mobile players, using mobile tech that is portable and powerful.

Imagine playing a Pokemon Go!-style game, but instead of catching monsters, you find treasure, fight enemies, and claim territory in real time, in the real world! MMOs will have had their “classic” period as I have been describing, then will usher in a period of “massive, MASSIVELY” player games as the real world and mobile meets classical design.

I’m excited, but more than that I am happy to get closer to categorizing this wonderful period of design!

Beau

 

 

Are Social MMOs More Than Chat Rooms?

there dance

As part of a recent research bender, I have been playing through my past history of MMOs. I forgot how much social MMOs had shaped my gaming habits! Before I ever attempted a raid or long-winded questline, I was chatting with other people inside social MMOs, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. In looking at my account histories, I see that There, the social MMO, was my main game for a while before I joined up with Second Life. Before the pair of those, I played Ultima Online and EverQuest.

If I look back even further, (I started with MMOs in 2000) I can remember the chat rooms of the later 90s. Chat rooms were all the rage then, and I remember my friend telling me how she would stay up all night, pack of smokes and a soda pop at her side, chatting with people. I thought it sounded ridiculous. Not so long after, she hosted a get together and I found myself on her computer (after everyone attempted to go to sleep) chatting with a batch of strangers about who-knows-what. I was so intrigued!

Now that I think about it, the early foundation for my love of MMOs was set, thanks to those 90s chat rooms. It still feels miraculous that I can log into a game and talk with gamers from all over the world. Just last night (at the time of this writing) I loaded There to join a 50s dance party. I ended up chatting, dancing, and finally exploring the landscape to find a giant skating bowl, which I then put to good use.

At its center, every MMORPG is a chat room. Chatting and socializing is the core of the genre; without it you avoid the pure definition of MMORPG. Whether we like it or not, Guild Wars 2 is the same thing as There or any 90s chat room.

So, where are the distinctions between MMOs drawn? Simply put, in the activities. There is not just a chat room, after all, as I illustrated with my reference to skating above. Second Life, Habbo Hotel, IMVU, and others all offer other things to do while chatting like roleplay, decorating, paintball, art shows, or building. In this way, social MMOs still share a lot in common with standard MMOs. Compare a social MMO’s party hosting to an epic raid in a standard MMO, and you can see that the one true distinguishing characteristic is only in the possible skill level required to participate in the activity.

So, both social and standard MMOs have social aspects and more challenging aspects, but are different in the way they ask players to challenge themselves. It’s not necessarily “easier” to maintain a lovely social presence than it is to host a raid of 10 people on a Friday night, but it draws from a more common, more accessible skillset. Perhaps what draws me to social MMOs is the way they are open to almost anyone. Simply bring your ability to chat and participate in a conversation, and you too can become a social hero!

Some social MMOs literally encourage social-skills-as-game by introducing incentives to hosting parties or helping others. There is a brilliant MMO because it has “levels” to skills like “Renowned Event Host”, “Expert Fashionista”, or “Renowned Socializer” that are earned in different ways. Even basic chat rooms can reward frequent chatters with moderator abilities, special titles, or colored text. On top of that, many chat rooms and social MMOs live over years and years, and their players maintain long, winding backstories for themselves or their “character.” MUDs, which are almost a purely-balanced combination of social game and combat mechanics, often tout some of the oldest MMO player characters in the world. I have read stories of players who have 25-year-old characters and are still going strong! What do you think is more important to these players… their long history in the game world, or their epic gear?

I’d say that a social MMO is as important or effective to a social MMO fan as a combat-based MMO is to someone else. For many, socializing, meeting new people, hanging out, and decoration are closer to an expression of their true selves than they find in a combat MMO. Perhaps that is why many social MMOs are often filled with people who build a duplicate of themselves instead of a character they fantasize of becoming. I almost always name my characters after myself, and I try to make that virtual character literally me, if I am allowed to. In a way, that character is the equivalent of a Facebook or Twitter profile, and serves as a representative of me, instead of a more heroic, muscular, or skilled version of someone else that I simply control. My social MMO characters have my same quirks and shortcomings. When I meet other social MMO fans inside a game like There, I am interested in the person behind the avatar more than the avatar’s in-world skills.

So, are social MMOs more than glorified chat rooms? Yes, of course. Chat itself is more than just chatting, and can lead to roleplay, informational exchange, and anything else that chatters have the imagination for creating. To be literal, social MMOs would be better described as virtual places or worlds, or electronic societies.

Despite what some people seem to think, MMOs are not going anywhere, and it’s very likely that one day we will all play and maybe even work inside a virtual world. Once internet speeds and machines become more robust, and technologies more standard, perhaps everyone can easily log in to a virtual version of themselves to do virtual work that has very real consequences. Just look at how commonplace and integrated Facebook has become… it’s only a matter of time until your online profile becomes an avatar walking around in a glorified chat room.

Beau

How can we preserve MMORPGs forever?

If you know what a doomsday prepper is, then you might understand what I am talking about in this blog. If you don’t, a prepper is someone who is convinced that the world is going to some kind of end sometime soon, and so they prepare for this apocalypse by hoarding food, medical supplies, and weapons all in the hope that, one glorious dark day, we will look at them and say “You were SO right.”

There is more involved to a prepper’s feelings, however. If you ask me, they are acting in a way that gives them a sense of control. Sure, it can be a false sense of control, but it makes them feel better to think they have everything accounted for.

I feel the same way (in a healthier fashion) about the memories and stories of my life. They’re not exciting — mostly — but they are mine, and so I get a sense of control over my fate when I work on this blog or my virtual timeline, which helps to send images, words, sounds, and ideas into the greater universe. Basically, I am preparing for my end-times by cataloging my life. It’s a false sense of security (will these words be around in even 1,000 years?) but it is fun to do.

I also think about preserving MMORPGs for the same reason. They are works of art, and need to have a place in the history books beyond a few vague mentions about “virtual worlds.” I do not think that MMORPGs are going away any time soon, but I do think that a certain era has passed, an era of innocent exploration into worlds that we an play in, and worlds that are largely based around an aging medium: the desktop PC.

How could we preserve virtual worlds, literally?

Without the aid of the developer of these worlds, this is hard to do. Because an MMORPG depends on a server that is hosted outside of the game, once the server goes offline, much of what the game is, is gone.

It’s important to catalog the images, sounds, videos, and words about these worlds, so that one day someone can admire them like we now admire old paintings from the days of the Greeks or dramas from 1820.

Some MMORPGs are being accessed long after their last official servers shut down thanks to illegal (or near illegal) fan-hosted servers, but wouldn’t it be awesome if someone like myself could load up a cheap gaming system with, say, 50 MMORPGs, and be able to emulate a server so someone could access those games for many years to come?

Of course, even the machines themselves would break down, but ones and zeros can be transferred to a new machine, over and over, without any loss to the basic information.

In the meanwhile, I am going to continue to work on my goal of eventually printing out all of my images and words about these games so that we could have a hard copy or two that would not need a battery pack to continue to live.

Maybe the answer to the riddle of MMORPG preservation is based in the oldest of media: the page.

Beau

Is Pokemon Go! an MMORPG?

169

Before I begin to attack the question in the title of this blog, I’d like to define what I — and many others — think MMORPG stands for. Yes, it stands for “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game” but I think it’s easier to say that it stands for a game that allows players to gather together, potentially with scores or hundreds of other players, in a real-time environment that continues evolving even when the player leaves the game.

This means that I open a game, sign in, and control an online version of myself in a world that plays out in real time, with other players.

Please note that the definition does not speak about the type of device you play on, or what sort of interactions you have with other players.

That would mean that while World of Warcraft is an MMO, instanced-battle-based games are generally not because they lack that massive-world interaction, in real time. Sure, we can get complicated and technical and find that all sorts of games are MMORPGs, but we don’t need to; the definition already allows for many different types of games.

Say, for example, the game Tribal Wars 2 by very successful browser and mobile-based developer Innogames: yes, it’s in a browser, but that does not disqualify it as an MMO. It has an open world (one giant map) and each player’s city counts as that player’s “avatar”, albeit one that does not move much. It can grow, interact with other players in real time, and the world continues to go on when the player leaves the game.

Tribal Wars 2 players interacting with each other in real time
Tribal Wars 2 players interacting with each other in real time

Some MMO fans seem to have an issue with Pokemon Go! because it seems much too simple and not MMO-like at all (then again, MMO players remain some of the grumpiest and oldest players in gaming) but they need to stop to consider just how wonderfully MMO it is and should try and encourage new design.

Pokemon Go! happens in real-time, in a real environment (can’t be more real than real!) and the players can interact. The world goes on without the player in it.

I have been playing MMORPGs since 2000, and I have noticed just how eager many players are to dismiss a game simply because it is not their idea of fun, or their idea of an MMO. This has led to a funneled approach to development, leaving many MMO developers with limited design options for fear of players leaving the game for more MMO-like pastures. MMORPGs are also very expensive to make, and very expensive to maintain.

Pokemon Go! is an MMO, no doubt, and has shown to be more interactive and more popular that the almost dreadful game Ingress that it is based on. I see the players who grump about how bad it is that players are staring at their cell phones all day (while getting exercise! God forbid!) but I remember that grumpiness has never stopped progress. This is good, because as I have predicted over the years, the MMO will stop being all about many hours-long sessions while sitting behind a PC, and will morph into games that follow anywhere we go, thanks to the pocket computers many of us now have.

What is my preference? Do I prefer a game that is more like World of Warcraft or RIFT, in both scale and execution? Yes, I do. In fact I wish all games were massive worlds where we could interact together in.

But, that does not stop me from enjoying new attempts at re-defining multiplayer gaming. The mobile world has been growing for years, so it’s no surprise that if you ask a younger player what they play games on — PC or a mobile device — they will look at you and ask:

“What’s a PC?”

Pokemon Go! is an MMORPG by all definitions. I can’t wait to see what the game attempts to do!

Beau

 

My 5 favorite mobile (and multiplayer) games for the fall of 2015

I love mobile gaming. Normally, I am forced to search for mobile MMOs (I have always specialized in MMORPGs) but when I let go of the need for a “real MMORPG” and go for anything that features “multiplayer” as an option, I am opened up to so many amazing games.

Mobile gaming is seriously that… amazing. Some of the best design I have ever seen comes across those mobile markets.

So, which mobile games currently turn me on? Well, you might be surprised by the list and might not, especially considering my love for MMORPGs. So, let’s get to it. Just remember that this is in no particular order:

Forge of Empires: I have been a fan of this game for a long time, and in fact I have been a fan of Innogames (the publisher) for a long time as well. I love how they combine strategy with casual gameplay in many of their games. If you want to spend a lot of time in one of their worlds, you can, but if you want to casually poke a few buttons each day and have some fun, then you can do that as well.

Forge of Empires is a light city-builder with some combat elements (the guild-wide combat is much more aggressive from what I can tell so far) and is perfect for lazy gamers like myself who would often rather spend time making their city look “realistic” rather than “perfectly tuned to pump out resources.” If you want to, you can squeeze in tons of houses/production buildings/etc, forcing every inch of your city to be packed for perfect numbers, but I prefer to add walkways and decorations. It’s sort of like an immersion project for city-builders. I love this game.

Asphalt 8: Damn, racing games are not normally my faves, but this one looks so good and is just pure fun. The multiple ads seem…. new (I don’t remember them from before, and they are annoying now) but still, this game is a blast to play. You will be limited eventually and cannot just race until your fingers fall off (unless you pay some cash) but who cares? It’s free. Or, if you enjoy the game a lot… pay something, cheapskate. This really is one of the best racers on the mobile market.

Habbo Hotel: I still really enjoy the idea of a massive 16-bit hotel that hosts millions of players. This social MMO is perfect for the tablet. Well, it is now, I should say, after it has been updated and tweaked. If you like building, socializing, and customizing your content, Habbo Hotel is really fun. Yes, it’s made for younger players but every time I see someone cursing or I can simply report them using a rather effective (but lengthy to prevent false positives) reporting tool. I swear that someone should make a model Hotel out of Lego. That would be awesome.

VEGA Conflict: I’m beginning to think that this one is one of the most underrated multiplayer games on the mobile market. Yes, you can see how the game’s 5 or 6 basic systems could become repetitive, but those systems are perfectly made for the mobile market. I check in probably 20 times a day, and some of the play sessions last close to 30 minutes. This game is what mobile is all about: connectivity, social, casual with an option for obsessive playing, lovely graphics, and multiple ways to play.

If you like sci-fi base-building, that’s here. If you dig tower-defense with real-time elements, that’s here. If you like games like Gratuitous Space Battles (with real-time controls optional) you’ll dig this one. It really is a slick, perfect mobile title.

Galaxy on Fire: Alliances: This one is a more-serious version of VEGA Conflict. In fact, GoF:A could learn a lot from VEGA Conflict, namely in the way that VEGA provides tons of useful information and slick missions to help players get used to the game. Still, GoF:A is a bit more strategy while VEGA is a bit more action, but both of them show how much you can do with graphics and sounds, even on a mobile device.

___

This is quick, short list but I would advise any MMO fan to check these titles out. As much as people seem to think so, mobile is NOT trying to do anything but… be mobile. It’s casual, happy, and addicting. You know… like games are supposed to be!

Beau

Echo of Soul already added its first content update!

I enjoyed Echo of Soul when I played it before (see the video below) but wow — I didn’t expect the publisher to be pushing content out already. Check out the first hour of gameplay in the video. From the press release:

Echo of Soul, the engrossing fantasy MMO from Aeria Games, has just launched its first major content update, featuring a massive amount of new endgame content – including the game’s very first raid! The content update is now available and players can dive in immediately. A new trailer outlines all the great new content, and is available on YouTube.

The brand-new raid pits 10 players against the colossal Dryad, challenging them with rapidly shifting AoE damage zones, constant threats from the Dryad’s tangled network of roots, and periodic assaults from minions wielding the powers of the four seasons. Players can tackle the raid with 9 friends, or allow the game’s Smart Matching system to automatically build a balanced party. Smaller groups will love the two new party dungeons, The Sanctuary and The Blazing Peak – Echo of Soul’s most challenging (and rewarding) dungeons yet.

Continue reading “Echo of Soul already added its first content update!”

How well do MMORPGs represent LGBTs?

[[ Side note before we get started: Below is an interesting article that was shared with me as I was asking about the GW2 character mentioned below. Please read it. It’s a great read and shows you how MMOs work out in some ways for many LGBT players! Read: Sya and Me: Transpeople in MMOs. ]]

On a recent Facebook post from one of my developer friends, she expresses her concern that many of her developer friends were possibly not putting their money where their mouths were when it came to equal representation in gaming.

I see exactly what she meant: gaming is often a great place for people to make their own LGBT character…. but if you want to find an NPC who is LGBT, you can be hard-pressed. Here’s some of what she said:

(Note: I am leaving out all names, out of respect for privacy.)

While I’m loving seeing all the rainbows and all the game companies changing their logos to rainbow colors, the skeptic in me wonders how many of those game companies actually have any gay characters/content in their games.”

She was met with several responses, but a few items should be noted before we see the responses:

Continue reading “How well do MMORPGs represent LGBTs?”