Launch Fever Detachment

I’ve been feeling oddly detached and indifferent to all the launch mania that’s been going on these past few weeks. Defiance, Neverwinter, Firefall, Startrek Online and Wildstar keys – I feel exhausted thinking of them all. Every other week I google a new acronym to find out what MMO people are talking about this time. Someone said on twitter that it’s not about the games anymore, that he’s just “addicted to launch rush”, a restless nomad never setting up camp. Far be it from me to criticize such behavior or rain on anyone’s parade but that’s the thing really: there are no parades to rain on anymore. There’s one-night stands and short-term flings, no more falling in love or grand statements of exclusive or at least deep affection. If you told me Defiance was great yesterday, then post an article on Neverwinter today while tweeting about tomorrow’s awesome STO session, you’ve lost me at “it was so much fun”.

Not that I’ve had any big hopes for 2013. It’s been pretty clear that TESO aside (and even that remains to be seen) there won’t be surprises or smashing hits for me this year. I am happy to delve deeper into Guild Wars 2 and maybe return to Rift’s Storm Legion. Yet, I feel gloomy looking at the current trend of MMO launches, the speed of playing and the fraction within the community. Many bloggers have predicted a future of variety and niche titles for this genre. It seems we’re slowly catching up with that vision, I’m just not sure it’s quite how I pictured it. I’m searching for genuine excitement and enthusiasm around me. Even on known community websites hasty reviews read as if written by people who aren’t “feeling it” but jump at every occasion to well, write reviews for something. How wonderful. Maybe I am deluded to think it was ever different but wow, I am so not catching fire!

If we accept this as the future of MMOs, what does it mean for the social factor of the genre? How will bonds be formed within a community of game “grazers” – will they shift to other social media, without specific games retaining their own dedicated community? Or will the experience of playing with and inside an established player base simply disappear?

There have always been MMO players happy to solo, pug and mind their own business, no matter what games they play. And then there are those still looking for the social gaming experience, scrutinizing new games for grouping and guild mechanics. Only – social and cooperative game design matters very little when games can’t retain that player base which would rather be inter-railing between virtual worlds. It seems to me this issue matters a great deal more right now than social game design, great group content, guild incentives and whatnot.

Somewhere these two factors are probably connected. Maybe division doesn’t just stem from the fact that there’s more and more variety at a cheaper price; but is it a lack of social game design that creates the current community – or did the changing playstyles of an aging target audience not rather ask for game design that requires less dedication? More importantly: can niche games do anything about this or will they too be overrun by the grazing trend?

Personally, I still yearn to be dedicated. While my life and net gametime have changed, I’d still like to play that one game with that one guild or group of people. I don’t think less overall gametime must be a hindrance, as long as it’s regular and you’re playing with peers. I could see myself doing this in Guild Wars 2, LOTRO or Rift – it doesn’t even matter that much. But I’m not close to a single stable, dedicated bunch of people anymore who play together longterm. As for guilds, they are dying and dying everywhere. It seems we’re looking at a future of loose cross-platform / cross-game communities at best, spamming raptr stats or chatting via twitter. To be clear, I wouldn’t mind either in addition, but on their own they’re horribly subpar alternatives to real ingame communication.

How well will true niche titles (which NW and the likes are not) be able to carve out their unique, stable communities? And what if I never find a niche MMO that suits me?

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22 comments

  1. I feel like I could have written most of this about a year ago. :)

    My only advice is to “be the change you want to happen”. For me, that was throwing myself into RIFT. I had a great time there for about a year. It didn’t last (Storm Legion was not as engaging as Vanilla RIFT, in my opinion, and lots of people jumped ship for GW2 grumble grumble), but it was nice to have a home.

    I started feeling that old sense of MMO despair a few months ago, so now I’ve thrown myself into EVE — found a group of people, made an effort to make friends and make it my home. And I am a lot happier with my MMO game time (which is fairly limited now, like yours).

    I think a lot of us had happy accidents in WoW where we just kind of fell into a social group, but now we are all orbiting each other waiting for things to be perfect. But the best way to find that community is to pick a game, be social, and stick with it, whether it’s 2 hours a week or 20.

    PS: I’m also working on getting people excited about WildStar. So, um, you should play WildStar with me later this year. ;)

    1. As usual I concur with Liore on this subject. :P I mean, when my friendly little SWTOR guild died, I was effectively on my own as well – not so different from finding yourself drifting between different MMOs. But I decided to pick myself up, asked someone with whom I had only chatted a couple of times to join his guild, and have overall been happy in my new home. Even made a great new friend with whom I’ve met up IRL a few times now.

    2. I agree with you both – and it’s kinda what I’m still doing, although it can be frustrating sometimes. I don’t feel done with GW2 by a long shot and I’ve no wish to move on. a lot is attitude: do you really give a game a chance or not? I’ve joined a new guild lately too reaching out to twitter people.

      I believe there’s one difference currently still between GW2 and let’s say SWTOR or Rift, in that the player base in GW2 is only slowly now losing many of its grazers for the new titles. there’s been a first ‘exodus’ with MoP, but lately more and more people are leaving for recent launches. in a way that’s a good thing, because GW2 too needs to get to the state where it consists of the die-hard core of GW2 players who are actually there to stay. SWTOR has them by now and so does Rift (which also suffered by GW2’s launch). it doesn’t bother me if GW2 has less players – I just want it to have its ‘own players’ already. my new guild is such a guild, so I’m hopeful. :)

      @Liore
      Hah, for some reason I thought you were totally skeptical of WS (or was it your post on not liking any of the races?). I will probably wait and see what you guys are writing after launch but playing (or blogging) together would definitely be fun again. :) I wish the earth was flat already so we all lived in the same timezone.

  2. IMHO, the reason WoW is losing players is that they cannot compete with the influx of new B2P/F2P MMO in the market. So, they will lose players that will migrate to that game and at the end we will not have a huge MMO with 10 million players, but great quantity of diferent MMO with one or some million players.

    I don’t think it is the end of the world of MMO, as Tobold aparently thinks, I think we are just entering at a new life phase for MMO: we had the MUD phase, the UO/EQ phase, then the WoW phase, now a new phase with diferent competiting MMO. IMHO the competition is good, it will make the MMO get better and move out the swamp that is the WoW-clone syndrome. Take note that the info we have about WildStar is that the game, like GW2, is not a WoW-clone. And it will not be surprise for me if Wildstar be a B2P game.

    1. Hmm, from what I’ve heard yesterday, WS is offering a hybrid payment model. one of the devs said as much. this means probably we’re looking at something like LOTRO, with premium players but also f2p or b2p players.

      The influx of games overall and to some extent f2p games, certainly changes the MMO demography. let’s not forget though that it also bring more money into this business – which can be a good thing for niche titles. but yes, it attracts more and more people who treat MMOs the way they treat all their games – like short flings. and for more social players that is an issue.
      as for WoW, I’m not worried. even if it loses a million subs a year, it’s still the most successful MMO out there and will be for a long time. it will always be a freak.

  3. If guilds are on the way out as a structural requirement for MMOs I could not be happier. I have never, ever liked guilds. At best I see them as a necessary evil, more commonly as a bloody nuisance. The best social experience I’ve had in all my years of playing MMOs was in a custom chat channel in Everquest. Starting with a handful of people we were able to build it into a loose but extremely reliable network of individuals across many guilds. We had members in tiny guilds and family guilds up to some of the biggest raiding guilds on the server and we used it both as a social hang-out and a means of organizing gameplay, from getting a raid together to help someone with their epic to dungeon crawls to roaming Named hunts.

    I’ve always felt that guilds are insular, isolationist and damaging to potential community. Give the players the tools to create their own flexible social structures and remove the perverse incentives from joining a more formal set-up and the whole virtual world opens up. Even better, build the game on a basis of assumed inclusion like GW2 and you don’t even need the tools. If only ArenaNet had dispensed with both Guilds and Groups they would really have created a new paradigm.

    1. It would definitely have been interesting had Anet been consequent. unfortunately we’re only halfway there – again. GW2 has this potential, yet failed to realize it in the ‘endgame PVE’ side of the game. there should be a lot more public events and quests after hitting max level (since they insisted on levels, they basically shot their own knee there) and open world dungeons for example.

      I’d be more than happy to have an MMO show me what can be done without guilds, but it always ends in more PvP-centric games. I actually agree with you that guilds are isolationist – I had my best time in WoW with my own guilds but I hardly talked to other people for years. guild cooperations can be a lot of fun though.
      it’s very hard to substitute for this model. if anyone ever succeeds, it will be a huge paradigm shift indeed. still, it can never satisfy those who do want to stick to their close circle of friends – the ones who prefer to play with the same people once bonds have been established. I think originally that’s why or how the first guilds were created.

  4. Yeah, MMO malaise seems to be a chronic disease for the past few years. It’s hard not to look at what’s currently out there and despair on some level, seeing the same old thing that tries to hit the same old marks and just fills the same old spaces that we’ve already become tired of. Just this time it’s wrapped in a shiny free-to-play/buy-to-play package and that gets a bit extra initial interest.

    I think that larger games need to change their design focus. There needs to be a shift away from pouring massive resources into theme parks, because new ones are just a pale imitation after we’ve all been to Disneyland/Disney World. I think smaller games with more niche focus will help, because those should engage a smaller group of people more deeply. I think that while many people might “graze” on a niche title, there will form a core community that will love the hell out of the game, rather than there being a large group of people who accept the game and a few really passionate people.

    But, there is hope. Hope I can’t talk about. Just keep an eye on things later this year. :3 I still have a lot of hope for the MMO future, and I think we’ll get a glimpse of it later. And, I’m working hard to figure out how to exploit this future to make awesome MMOs. :)

    1. Hehe, well I’ll be there to see it and cheer you on. ;) I will never give up on this genre, or so I hope – there’s just too much goodness to be had. the explorer and shiny lover in me is quite satisfied still, at least I can say that. things really need to change though and the ‘good niche games’ need to come out already. part of my malaise about them is that for the most part stuff like CU or SotA is being announced, and I am not really looking for hardcore PvP experiences. we’ll see.

  5. It’s pretty strange, I used to be a MMO game hopper for the past few years – everything from Age of Conan, Warhammer to Aion – but this year’s flock of recent releases hasn’t caught much of my attention. Part of it is that I think I was just waiting for the right game to come along, and so far (unless or until cash shop shenanigans go too far) that game is GW2 for me. So I just don’t have time or focus to spare for other stuff.

    Some of it is the F2P aspect coupled with uncertainty of the companies designing them, I’d like to try some of them some day, but I figure it can wait until the launch day crowds have dissipated, more bugs knocked out for a smoother experience down the road. F2P normally gives an MMO decent longevity, as long as it’s not complete crap, in which case survival of the fittest would knock it out before I wasted my time on it.

    One difference I’d note is that I’m less of a socializer, I tend to dedicate more to the ‘game’ itself and fall in and out of the communities that swirl around the game. Finding a single strong guild or group of people sounds great on paper to me, but with my intermittent play and timezone problems, I know I wouldn’t be able to commit to something so regular.

    And it seems a whole bunch of players also have that issue, real life comes up and someone who was previously logging in every day is suddenly not seen for 2-3 weeks, another gets distracted by a new game and attendance falls off, before you know it, the guild is MIA for at least a time. (It may resurrect itself later, it may not.)

    I’m still waiting for more MMOs to enable more stickability through allowing players to commit to multiple social circles and interest groups PROPERLY. Global/custom chats channels, multiple guilds, being able to hear all of them at once, that sort of thing. (See CoH (RIP), GW2 and ATITD for partial implementations of this.) I think it’ll dilute some of the impact of a single guild suddenly disintegrating for whatever reason.

    1. Those last features would certainly be a good addition in GW2 – global that it attempts to be. that said, I like small server communities too, for the social factor. I’d like to give an MMO a shot one day that comes with a very small community again.

      I’m with you on GW2 – it’s my game of choice and I say conscious ‘choice’. I want to do and see a lot more in Tyria. ANet didn’t do themselves favors with mixing up public mass content with 5man dungeons and increasing guild content though; it feels counter-intuitive and challenging to establish the right target audience.
      also, as I mentioned to Liore and Shintar, up until now GW2 was simply still suffering from MMO tourists, the way new games do. once it’s really reduced to its die-hard core, those who “really wanna be there”, I think it will be easier to find guilds and communities that last. may I ask what timezone you are in by the way?

      1. Want a tiny community? Give A Tale in the Desert a shot, but start when the next Telling begins (if there ever is one more.) Right now, the population is too diminished from attrition via boredom (but you can probably still find a group of 20-30 stalwarts in River Plains.)

        As for my timezone, GMT+8 with the added nitpickiness that I don’t just like sticking to the folks in my local territory. They’re nice, but half of them don’t type as longwindedly as I do and my eyes sear from decoding the sms-style abbreviations used.

        I currently have some free time in the mornings, so I’ve found a NA PST guild surprisingly quite suitable. Once my spare time shrinks, it’s going to be much trickier.

  6. I think “guild mechanics” may actually be contributing to the problem. Guilds in old-style games were social and mutual support clubs, and the benefits of being in a guild were… well, you were in that guild and associated with the guild’s members. Once you start adding guild levels and perks and bonuses and specialised guild content, it becomes another mechanic that people game for advantage. You have guild members who can’t give a rat’s ass about the guild or its members per se, they’re just there for the extra 10% gold drop rate or whatever other perk the guild has. When you get a player like that in a ‘traditional’ social guild, it causes drama. When you have a whole guild like that then it has very little cohesion and players will jump ship as soon as they see a better offer, in much the same way that a raiding guild that stalls on progression rapidly runs into trouble as people who were only there for the loot quit and go to guilds that are getting better shinies.

    Meanwhile, if you ignore the butterflies who flit from game to game and guild to guild, you will find that even older games have a solid core of people playing them, and there are plenty of guilds out there that are far more ‘traditional’ and ‘social’ (again, I’ll plug The Farstar Alliance on GW2’s EU-Gandara server as a good example). I tend to look for a guild that is advertising via the game forums, uses the key words “relaxed” and “mature” in their description, and I only ever apply to guilds that require a written application from prospective members. That acts as something of an idiot filter, makes sure that this isn’t some would-be jumbo guild that recruits for the sake of recruiting, and creates an initial social tie between members because by reading the applications you actually get to know something about the players behind the keyboards.

    1. I’ve disliked achievements, especially guild achievements, perks and whatnot ever since they were introduced in WoW. for me it was the second worst thing happening to MMOs after the cross-server dungeon finder. it didn’t only destroy social fabrics in PVE but undermined PVP in WoW. it gamified ingame progress to ruinous effects. so I agree completely with you.

      And the butterflies in GW2 are finally disappearing, methinks. I mentioned it few times in comments above already – I am happy to see GW2 be reduced to its core player base. it will be easier to find stable communities. oh and ‘mature’ and ‘relaxed’ are my search terms! :D I actually guested on Gandara few times after you mentioned it, but I didn’t have any idea who to contact!

  7. This article is really well done. I almost skimmed it, but much of what you were saying started to resonate with me. I recognize now that I have become one of the “grazers” as you so aptly put it. MMO’s started, for me, with 5 years of WoW, then 2+ years of LOTRO, and then a smattering of others (including many of the ones you mentioned). Since WoW and LOTRO, however, I have gone from having a very stable set of “guild” friends, with forums that were an integral part of my daily life, to a smattering of like-minded individuals that I communicate with primarily through Twitter. In fact, although I play the same games as them, I have rarely played in a game *with* them.

    I want to feel ashamed about that, but frankly, I don’t, mostly because my current real life situation hasn’t afforded me the opportunity to play in the same way I did when I was playing WoW and LOTRO. Back then, I played consistently on 2 nights per week, starting at 9PM and going until whenever. That just doesn’t happen anymore. I probably play more in total hours now, but they are inconsistent as to the length of a game session, and, the night(s) of the week that I play. I also hate “grinding” and so feel very little incentive to “get to end game”. I know, for many people, the end game is the only game, and I respect that. It’s just not what I enjoy (quite possibly because I would never have the time to Raid anyway).

    I know I am babbling a bit, and I may launch from this into a Blog post of my own since you really got me thinking. The bottom line, for me, has been that much of my “gaming” community has morphed from a single game “Guild” that plays in games together, to a “collection” of acquaintances that talks and plays a lot of different games, but hardly ever actually plays them together.

    Really interesting topic. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks! I :) think those of us who grew ‘old’ with WoW, are all in a similar boat – it’s natural that life and gametime change eventually. like you, I have this collection of friends and bloggers who connect on blogs and twitter, yet talking about the games together isn’t the same as playing them together. personally I just miss that part – obviously I need to start making more friends on my actual server in GW2. it doesn’t help that the game is all over the place though and people are essentially hopping servers frequently. it’s hard to overlook such a vast community.

  8. I wish I could tell you the answer to your problem, Syl, but I’m finding myself bouncing between a lot of MMOs myself. I’ve never been that social of a player, and considering the guilds I’ve been in have had some rather spectacular crash-and-burn blow-ups (with my current guild being the notable exception; it’s been a gradual fading away), I’ve tried to distance myself from close MMO ties.

    About the best thing I can say is that we bloggers seem to be more permanent than MMO guilds at the moment, so we might as well hang together.

  9. I understand the launch fever idea~ I downloaded and tried Neverwinter simply because Forsaken World was getting so lonely. From the crowded Freedom Harbor a year ago the the ghost town today, I’m often too depressed to even log into the game. But, honestly after investing so much time, energy, and money into a game, I haven’t found another game I’m willing to switch to yet – especially because I know that I won’t have my guildmates there.

    The real appeal of a new MMO I think is the opportunity to influence the world – to be there “first” essentially. There’s this rush of “brave new world” about it where everyone is on equal playing ground and it’s this FFA everyone is a noob environment. What really put my guildies and I off switching to some of the older MMOs like Tera despite our frustration with FW is simply the frustration at starting over again when everyone else is already so far ahead~

    1. I think influencing the world and always being there for a new launch are two very different things though and that’s kind of the problem. I understand the appeal to be there first but if that’s all you ever do, if you get addicted to the initial rush and never stay for the ‘rest’ (and MMOs ARE the rest!), you’re basically not participating in the game at all. you’re not influencing or building anything. it’s like people who are unable to commit to a relationship longterm and only ever stay for the first exciting weeks before they break up. that’s okay for the individual, but in MMOs it hurts community building.

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