Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why MMOs aren't holding me.

We've all heard the accusations leveled at the dreaded WoW Tourist. For the first few days of Aion, nothing was discussed in general chat other than World of Warcraft. It's the big elephant in the room that somehow simultaneously feeds other MMOs while pushing them out of the way.

I very much enjoyed Champions Online and Aion. I purchased both, and thought they were both fun, well-produced, streamlined takes on the genre.

Notice the past tense there.

I let both accounts lapse. This was partly because of my life-consuming addiction to League of Legends, which, by the way, makes terrible blog fodder because it requires so much specialized knowledge to have a discussion about. But my lack of continued interest in other MMOs is mostly because of how grindy they are. And I don't really mean that as a criticism, since they are exactly as grindy as World of Warcraft has always been. It's just that I can't healthily have room in my life for more than one grindy game. I already went through the grind in WoW to get where I am today, and I just can't stomach another grind to reach an endgame that I don't even know will be exciting. At least with WoW, I know I'm going to enjoy instancing and raiding and gearing up and learning my class and playing with my established guildies at 80, so I know that the grind of an alt is going to be worth it. But I really have no idea how worthwhile the effort I put into CO or Aion is going to end up being, and that makes it very difficult to put in the effort required.

(note: I played both games extensively in beta for months. So even though my live account only lasted a month, I actually played the games for longer than most current subscribers have had enough to time to. So I'm not sure I can really be called a "tourist" at this point.)

The core of the grinding problem is the same complaint that was leveled at WoW, even in its first year: it's two different games. After 60 levels of solo questing through an exciting world, perhaps sprinkled with the occasional 5-man group, the transition to max-level play was jarring, as it was suddenly completely dependent on grouping, and to a large extent, raiding, which is a very different activity from leveling. Very little of the WoW leveling experience prepares you for the max-level experience; it's almost like starting from scratch. CO and Aion felt the same to me.

So far, the MMO genre has suffered greatly for grafting together a grind engine (leveling and questing) with the actual game (grouping, PvP, raiding, etc). It's starting to feel a lot like saying that you can't play Team Fortress 2 or Starcraft unless you do 20 hours of Minesweeper first.

So I'm calling for MMOs to all start giving you the "real" game UP FRONT. From 2 hours in, at the latest. Questing can be fun (though this is highly dependent on setting and art direction), and I'm not saying you need to get rid of it. There's a reason it's been so successful as a grinding device. But Cataclysm will need to let you go to Deadmines or whatever around level 12. Champions needs to have some kind of real grouping content starting as soon as you get to Millenium City. And Aion needs to find a way to open up PvP and grouping sometime in the mid-teens. Hopefully, APB will let you engage in its core mechanics early, and SWTOR will launch you into the core story immediately, and STO will let you have some Starfleet battles and away teams right after the tutorial. Those activities, not questing, are the reasons why those games are interesting. Let the players actually play, instead of requiring they invest hours and hours of time to grinding first before being allowed to start the game they actually paid for. If you must have grinding, let me grind the actual game instead of some unrelated pre-requisite.

League of Legends has a progression system, called the "Summoner" system, where you as the player gain meta-levels outside of matches, allowing you to unlock talent points and rune slots to augment your in-game abilities. And how do you gain experience for your summoner?

Playing the game.

Let's have more of that, please.

1 comment:

Tesh said...

Shamus weighs in:

Wolfshead writes about this once in a while, as does Big Bear Butt. I've chimed in on it more than once.

Yes, MMO devs, stop making us qualify for the fun bits of the game. Give them to us from day one. Whether it's raiding or leveling, let everyone get to the part of the game they enjoy most as soon as possible.