Latecomers and MMO Citizenship

Back from a trip to the Adriatic coast in Italy which I spent idly hanging at the beach and enjoying their wonderful food, I have been catching up with blogging neighbours and my friends in Wildstar who have of course hit level 50 while I was away. My Esper is currently still at 40 without trying very hard, so I’m in no rush to get to any endgame or attunement questchain. I still haven’t done all the 5man dungeons in Wildstar and it generally seems difficult to find a group of people interested in running them before level cap. This strikes me as weird but is probably testament to Carbine not integrating the dungeons into the leveling process very well. I remember countless Stockades, Deadmines and Gnomeregan runs back as a WoW noob, then Maraudon, Sunken Temple and all the level 55-60 dungeons we would grind on our way to vanilla level cap.

Why are players nowadays skipping dungeons on their way to max level? I’ve experienced the same in GW2 too. Sure, these games will scale your toon and skills down to the appropriate level, still it never feels like the real deal to me running designated lowbie dungeons after hitting level cap. There’s that voice in the back of my head telling me I’m a dirty cheater.

On MMO Citizenship

Commenting on one of Wilhelm’s more recent articles on friends jumping into WoW almost 10 years into its life cycle, and remembering this tweet by Scarybooster, I realized (again) how important it is for me personally to get a chance to play MMOs at launch. I can live without alpha and beta “testing” honestly but I love the spirit and mass hysteria of launch week(-ends), no matter how plagued with bugs and annoyances. This is clearly the addictive phenomenon of shared collective experiences, as much as wishing to be among the first or being a member of the first hour. As clarified over at TAGN, I’d like to grow along with a game, I want to understand where it came from and where it’s going.

Every time Bhagpuss reminisces about the good old EQ times, which he does so well, I feel a bit sad having missed that particular train. A part of me briefly wonders if I should still visit today but no, I don’t think so. There’s simply no way to catch up, to acquire a reasonably deep understanding of EQ that I would personally seek as a player. It’s not just harder to connect to long established communities in MMOs – as someone interested in the design and mechanics of games, it’s an impossible amount of historical baggage to clear through. There is no ‘citizenship’ for someone jumping into EQ in 2014, not for a long time anyway.

eq
And then there’s the matter of dated graphics…(pcgamer.com)

This is something that I have experienced in LOTRO before and it’s partly a reason why I never made it to level cap (the other part being the mind numbing exp-grind which is daunting to solo). I was never a citizen of Middle Earth the way I would’ve been, automatically, as a launch player. I could’ve gotten there one day maybe, reaching a point where I felt comfortably established. All the same I would remain someone marveling at the veteran tales told in the Prancing Pony, never partaking in any.

Granted, games today make it easier for the late player to catch up and get boosted. All MMO business models rely on a steady stream of players over several years, not just a few months. I wouldn’t say you can’t jump into Wildstar months after launch with any noteable difference. At the same time, I draw a line somewhere around the one-year mark where joining new games is concerned. This is a purely personal choice; you can absolutely enjoy older MMOs, maybe you can even commit to them in the same way as veteran players and be entirely happy with your time in that new world, the way it is right then. I just know from experience that I couldn’t be.

I’m fine missing out on certain content or events happening in MMOs, missing an entire era of gameplay (or several) however feels like skipping the first book in an otherwise excellent fantasy trilogy. MMOs do their best to appear non-linear: they’re always accessible, repeatable, resettable. Yet there are also milestones and caesuras in our virtual worlds, game changers and evolving stories. It’s not all one big broken record so as long as I enjoy the tune, I’d like to listen to all of it.

9 comments

  1. flosch

    I never thought of this as “citizenship”, though I can’t come up with a better term, either. Citizenship sounds so formal to me; it’s more a “home” thing in that you remember how things used to be around there.

    That said, I know the feeling. I suffer from that a lot, in that even these days, I sometimes feel like I was a newcomer to WoW because I didn’t pick it up until after beta. It’s even worse with games like EQ2 of course, which I never played until the umpteenth expansion was released and the game completely overhauled, multiple times. Knowledge and memory are very important to me: I like feeling like the old guy sitting at the campfire, telling the young’uns stories of how it used to be.

    • Syl

      Knowledge and memory, indeed :)
      I found citizenship to be fitting because in a way, the process is similar to being born in a country vs. immigrating later. The admin hoops are one thing but that aside, culturally you’ll have to learn a lot and it will take time and effort to become ‘native’ like everyone else.

  2. bhagpuss

    I don’t think there can be much doubt that those who lived through the launch traumas and subsequent lurches in tone and direction that almost all MMOs undergo in their first few months will, if they stick with the game for the long haul, have a deeper attachment to it than those who hop the train as it passes through stations further down the line. On the other hand, sometimes the first few weeks can be so rough it puts people off altogether and they might have been better of waiting til the technical issues subsided.

    On balance, though, I think you’re right to be wary of coming late to an established MMO. I waited five years before playing WoW and while I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated and would certainly play it again (and occasionally do in the extended trial version) it definitely doesn’t have its hooks in me the way EQ, Vanguard, EQ2 or GW2 do, all of which I played either from the start or from the first “phase”.

    It’s not that simple, though, because while I don’t feel I could claim the same degree of “citizenship” in Azeroth that I could in Norrath or Tyria I do feel enfranchised there to some degree. I have a non-trivial affection for certain places in and memories associated with my time in Azeroth. I may have arrived late to the party but I still feel I was a welcome guest when I eventually turned up and I feel I’d be welcome back anytime.

    As for starting Everquest fifteen years late I think it would be a daunting and probably not very satisfying experience for most gamers who were either born to late to have tried it before or had previously not bothered to give it a go. For most. Clearly, however, not for all, as the evidence of Kaozz and her son attests http://www.ectmmo.com/2013/11/everquest-legacy-of-sorts.html . Of course, he had grown up knowing what EQ looked like so those 1999 graphics wouldn’t have come as such a big shock as all that.

    (That screenshot is gorgeous, by the way).

    • Syl

      The thing is I tried EQ very briefly in 2002. I had a friend who wasn’t up to play FFXI with me which I started playing around that time, so one weekend I agreed to log into Norrath with him and created a dark elf. However, having just experienced the graphical glory of FFXI at the time, it was too big a shock for me and I never intended to give it a fair chance. Later WoW happened and yeah, the rest is history. We can’t play every game out there, sometimes our timing is just different. :) I think it’s safe to say I shouldn’t give EQ another go, I’ll just keep reading about it on your blog!

      And I feel every player no matter how late they join, is a part of the community and certainly as entitled as anyone. We recruited some great people in WoW that were ‘TBC babies’ or even from WotLK – I’d never discriminate. However experienced from the other end, I don’t like being the freshman at all. Maybe it’s because I’m a control freak. ;)

  3. Shintar

    I don’t know, I feel that MMOs are still too young as a genre to evoke any feelings like that in me. I agree that it’s harder to get into a ten-year-old game now than into a freshly released one, but that has more to do with things like changing expectations (design decisions that may have seemed intuitive ten years ago can seem quite obtuse now) and system bloat making games less and less accessible over time.

    Other than that I’m happy to jump into a game whenever it attracts my interest, which might be at launch – or later. WoW had already been out for nearly two years when I started playing it and I had no issues getting into it.

    Now try actually migrating to another country and finding that people have multiple decades of different life experiences and things might look a little different… :D

    • Syl

      Hehe it sure would…..things like managing expectations and outdated mechanics etc. certainly play their role, graphics as well for me (I am such a snob). I think I could still work around that tho if I felt the community as a whole wasn’t so way ahead of me.

  4. Redbeard

    I was a (relative) latecomer to WoW, signing up in mid-Wrath, but I never felt like I was out of place. It was only once Cata dropped and everything completely turned on its head in the Old World did I start to feel like I was no longer quite part of the game.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I’ve never been an early adopter of MMOs (or pretty much anything). All it takes is being wrong once on a purchase to make you more hesitant to jump in early. Does it mean I lose out on being part of the MMO community? I don’t think so, because ultimately it boils down to what sort of community the game has. The more welcoming the game community, the more easily newbies feel part of something larger.

    • Syl

      Yeah it works the other way around too; I wouldn’t feel part of WoW nowadays. I’d be the grumpy veteran who lost touch with its reality sometime at the end of Wrath. That’s precisely why I left.

      I agree much is up to the community how well you can integrate, game mechanics play their part too though. The older games that were heavily gated with linear progression, made it a very daunting task for anyone trying to join later. There was no skipping and no more finding groups either, unless a guild was full of alts. This at least has gotten considerably easier in newer MMOs.

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