Vague patch notes: why it’s smart to stick with an MMO

You want to live here, huh?

I was never a great hiker. Some people are, and that’s okay; The world needs different types of people, and for some people, the lure of going to exotic places or exploring the unknown will always be there and too intoxicating to ignore. But that’s not me. My favorite place is my home because it’s full of things I love. I like the place I live and the life I’ve built. And I think the smart thing to do with MMOs is to commit to one thing.

Obviously, this isn’t a rebuttal, but rather an alternative take on Justin’s article from last week about jumping from game to game and exploring the breadth of what the genre has to offer. I say “alternative” because everyone should pursue the goals that make them happiest, and if that means jumping from game to game, that’s your choice. But I think there’s a strong case for picking your spot and settling down rather than roaming from game to game.

First of all, I want to start with a statement that I think should be relatively uncontroversial, but sometimes it is: if an MMO takes a hundred hours to get good, the game isn’t good.

I’m not saying that every MMO should have all of its best stuff available as soon as you start playing, without a tutorial or ramp-up; that would be crazy. But there’s a plethora of games out there that start off presenting powerful material that will let you know right away whether you’re going to enjoy this game or not. You don’t have to reach the max level Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV, The Elder Scrolls Onlineor World of Warcraft to get a feel for what the gameplay will be like and whether or not you will enjoy the experience. That wouldn’t be a reasonable lift anyway.

Reaching that high playtime mark does have implications though, because while a decent game will show you fairly early on what it means to be and how it intends to move on, a good game is one where those early moments and interactions build and in Improve gameplay over time. When you reach the level cap the game shouldn’t change completely, rather all systems can play together in a more organic and complete experience all the time.

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Or to put it more simply, it doesn’t take 100 hours of gameplay to know that war frame is a good game at delivering what it wants to deliver. But 100 hours later, the gameplay has been refined and expanded so profoundly that it becomes a more satisfying experience. The game hasn’t changed, but your familiarity with it has increased and improved.

framing!

I grew up in the video game era when you mostly saw the early parts of a game and not the later parts because there were massive spikes in difficulty that kept players from getting past them. The only way to get through was to either get insanely good or cheat. And while games don’t typically have that intense level of difficulty anymore, they usually increase — just more gradually over time, usually resulting in longer games where players get through the early parts and then often never make it to the end.

The same applies to MMOs. We live in a time where there is a fast absurd Number of games to try, between big titles, smaller titles, rogue servers and the like. It can definitely be tempting to try a little bit of everything, see what’s on offer with all these varied games, explore all your options and just let the flow of content overwhelm you.

But at the same time, you’re willingly missing out on the most mature parts of the game. The tutorial and early levels are fun (if your game is well designed), but they are also the most basic parts of the game that lack the later refinements available in the engine and design. That’s not a bad thing, but it means willingly forgoing some of the best things a game has to offer.

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The counter-argument to this, of course, is that you’re fed up with the same thing being offered over and over again. Eat enough of the same food and you’ll get tired, right? But a good MMO isn’t like a single cooked dish; it’s more like a core ingredient. Sure, you might tire of french fries, but there are many things you can make with potatoes that may taste different and give you other options.

The analogy I often use is related to romantic relationships. There’s nothing wrong with having a series of short relationships that are fun until they aren’t, and then move on. If that makes you happy, great. But you have to maintain a longer relationship to have depth, to really understand what there is to enjoy, and to derive a deeper level of satisfaction from consistency. Not everyone is wired that way, but it kind of frames it worse the trick is missing.

Of course, this analogy breaks down a little when it comes to slipping into single-player games for a change (or at least in places where I don’t really want to detail how it’s different). But the point remains the same. A deep and rich relationship doesn’t involve quite as many different experiences, but it offers its own kind of rewards instead.

It's a landscape.

Just like any long-term relationship, you’re bound to run into things that your MMO of choice doesn’t do well, or at least not as well as you’d like. There will be things that will definitely bother you, areas where development is lacking or perhaps completely underdeveloped. This is important to note and will affect your long-term enjoyment.

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Also, there is no guarantee that a game will be your partner forever. For many years Impressive was my main game, and FFXIV has been slow to take that spot due to good development practices, a more engaging endgame model, and consistent improvements. You may find that a game you loved when you launched has slowly become one you can’t stand anymore, and you may not find it easy to find something else to step into that space. Commitment always carries a risk because you never know what’s in store for you in the long run.

Still, I think this is the right way. I try not to go into new games with the expectation that this will be a short tourist trip, but rather a long term expectation that I think this new game could very well become a new main game for me. A good game will have a variety of systems and content that will keep it fun and novel even as more time passes. And I think at the end of the day, the wisest way to play is the same as always – finding a game to hold on to and stick with for the long term, rather than quickly switching between games.

“But don’t you play several games?”

I never claimed to be smart.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on in the MMO genre, and other times you just have vague patch notes letting you know that something has probably changed somewhere. Senior reporter Eliot Lefebvre likes to analyze these types of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The strength of this analysis can be adjusted under certain circumstances.

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