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Editorial: Change is Good – the Evolving World of MMOs

by April 10, 2017 0 comments

In this editorial, The Lifestream’s Community Manager Micah Rodney discusses the ever-changing nature of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) and the futility of trying do everything they have to offer.

With the recent shutdown of Club Penguin, the cartoonish MMO developed by New Horizons Interactive (now Walt Disney Online Studios Canada following a 2009 buyout), my mind turns to the transitory nature of online gaming. Sure, I never played Club Penguin – in fact I was only vaguely aware of its existence – but seeing something shut down after 12 years and watching a community mourn (even though a sequel is being released soon) makes me reflect on the changes I’ve seen through my own experiences. The major difference between online gaming and single-player gaming is quite obvious – single-player games require no other participant but you and can be picked up even decades down the line to be enjoyed. With online gaming, especially in the form of MMORPGs, the community is essential to the experience, or rather, the community is the experience.

My earliest bit of online gaming was the heyday of Halo 2’s outstanding multiplayer, and when the servers for that finally shut down, the community took it hard (look up the tale of the Noble14 and Apache N4SIR). As far as MMORPGs go, I have only ever played four, or five if you count Kingdom of Loathing. My first was Runescape, a game that has evolved immensely – it’s now on “Runescape 3” – though the classic versions are still being played on private servers. I played Free Realms for a while at the prodding of my brother, but unfortunately this truly excellent game was shut down in 2014. I tried World of Warcraft next but I didn’t play very long and while I can’t comment on its growth first hand, the game has had a litany of six expansion packs since it was first introduced. Lastly, while I missed what I’m told is the glorious and under-appreciated Final Fantasy XI, I did manage to get sucked into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

“So what are you driving at, Jason?”, you may ask. Well, I’m not here to put the fear of the death of your beloved MMORPGs fresh in your mind – at least, that’s not the only reason I’m here. I’m here to tell you about how the changing nature of those games are essential to their makeup, and, in their way, a kind of beautiful thing. I’m here to put a positive spin on the life cycle of an MMORPG.

I don’t like change

Humans don’t like change. Sure, we adapt, and many of us thrive in changing environments. But at the sight of something new being done to something old that we love, tell me with a straight face that your first reaction isn’t a quiet little fear in the pit of your stomach that goes “they’re going to ruin it!” Now, whether you take that thought and bury it and try to enjoy the new thing for what it is or whether you post obnoxious comments on game trailers is a personal choice. But there is no genre of gaming that faces more change than MMORPGs, and by their very nature they have to be constantly evolving.

When users shell out upwards of $15 a month for a service, they expect to get their money’s worth, and when the quests and dungeons have all dried up – to quote Moe from The Simpsons, “they ain’t gonna stick around for the ambiance.” So we get content patches which add new features, new areas, new quests, eventually whole expansion packs which launch entirely new regions, stories, music, character models, jobs and even some new game mechanics. Case in point: Final Fantasy XIV’s Heavensward expansion added flying mounts and featured massive regions as opposed to the smaller, more intimate maps of A Realm Reborn.

But with everything new that is added there are, naturally, some things that fall by the wayside. In the case of Final Fantasy XIV, each content patch has made obsolete some types of the farmed Tomestones, which are used to purchase high level gear. If you farmed a whole bunch and didn’t trade them in before the final cutoff point, you were out of luck, though they handled this remarkably gracefully. What really drives the wedge, though, is when certain dungeons are no longer being frequented because their loot has become obsolete. I find that very few people want to line up for St. Mocianne’s Arboretum unless they’re doing the quest for the first time now, while one of my old favorites, the Fractal Continuum, hardly saw any action for a while. Going back to the really old raids, I had the hardest time getting into the old Crystal Tower dungeons, to say nothing of the Binding Coil of Bahamut, simply because nobody had any reason to do them anymore and they were, at the time, incredibly tough.

Thankfully, Square Enix saw their beloved dungeons dwindling and did something awesome, which was to create a questline which offers new rewards for doing old dungeons – a genius move which allowed me to finally experience those old raids. But now that everybody entering them is in the latest gear, their dynamics have definitely changed. What were once intimidating, menacing raids have become a walk in the park. Even the touted World of Darkness can be completed with any semi-competent team in the proper gear. And yes, there are options to play the dungeons and raids at minimum item level, but unless you’re part of a static group that does that, you’ll find it’s quite hard to get into.

But change is a good thing

So yes, some content has eluded me, and other things are slipping me by. I’ve never done Treasure Hunts, I never really bothered with the PvP, I never got to go to the Diadem and the seasonal events, once completed, really are gone for good, though a similar-ish event comes back the following year. But as sad and addiction-inducing as this knowledge can be, I argue that this is what makes MMORPGs so fascinating to begin with. Only the most diehard players will do “everything” that the game has to offer. The game is not designed around giving one player the complete experience. It’s designed around giving every player a unique experience. That’s why you really can’t just go it alone in these games. Sure, you can do dungeons with a pickup group, but the true reason to invest in a community and to make friends is to have people around to show you things you might be missing out on.

Having teammates who complement your weaknesses or have skills you haven’t developed yet is invaluable. Not everybody can be arsed with pursuing a crafting profession, but if you never picked one up and you need some materia melded, you’d better have a friend on hand who can do it for you. Maybe you are doing a crafting job but don’t like collecting supplies – well, thank goodness for the gatherers who are out there working hard to bring back raw materials to sell at the market place. Maybe you don’t really like to grind all that much and would rather fight your way to better gear – better get a team together for Palace of the Dead. If you want to get lost in a good story, then maybe you’d like to spend some time working on the Postman quests or the absolutely phenomenal Hildibrand questline. Maybe you want to create a fantasy of your own and get involved in an RP group or server. Maybe you want to spend all your time working on your card game and Chocobo racing in the Gold Saucer. Or maybe, like me, you want to get a little taste of everything.

With the constantly evolving environment it can feel like there is a ticking clock. You might fear falling behind, and I’ll admit that that’s a personal struggle that I have while playing. The peace I’ve made with it is that while some minor things will change the main meat will always be there, and if such things matters to you, the changes to the game make it easier to catch up.

Conclusion

The main point I am trying to get across here is that there is a lesson to be learned from MMORPGs, and not just about work/life balance. It is a lesson that we would do well to learn in the real world as well: Go at your own pace and create your own experience. MMORPGs are meticulously designed to be living, breathing worlds with lots to see and do. There are tons of people playing and every person is doing something slightly different from you. It’s not worth worrying about what everybody else is doing or about the fact that you might miss something or get left behind, because the key is to enjoy the experiences you are making for yourself today. Now go out there, have an adventure, and make some memories.

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