Your last MMO ever and the Troubles of Aging together

I am a 30+ MMO player with a history. I don’t speak for all 30+ MMO players with a history. This post is about many things at once.

Not too long ago I had an interesting discussion with an old gaming buddy reflecting much of the current MMO malaise that seems to have struck several bloggers around the blogosphere lately. The most memorable statement in our conversation was this: “Wildstar is going to be my last MMO” – something that I’ve heard several times now and keep reading on the official forums. Clearly MMO culture is in a phase of re-evaluation both on a personal level and otherwise.

On the surface, such final player declarations appear singularly odd and certainly unique to the genre; never would you hear anyone say “this is going to be my last RTS ever” or any variation thereof. Why would anyone make plans for their last MMO ever?

Of course the answer is simple for those among us who have been there – played MMOs, breathed MMOs, lived inside the same MMO for years. This genre is not like other genres and neither is its commitment. Players are passionate about their character progression, their guilds, their dramatic quitting gestures. And sure, there are exceptions to the rule, players content to solo and never invest in any type of cooperative endgame. Yet, there is still a consensus, spoken or unspoken by developers too, that the heart of the MMO experience lies in cooperative multiplay. A big chunk of content gets created entirely for this reason, for better or worse.

And multiplay takes extra time, in fact not just when you’re in the middle of it but way in advance. Looking for guilds, spending time getting to know a community, working around timezones and schedules in order to group up and advance together, that’s a type of effort that asks for special dedication. For the more fatalistic among us that don’t do casual solo even when they aren’t hardcore, this also means the decision to jump into a new MMO is one that must be carefully considered. There is no time to waste or something, it’s either all or nothing.

All of this resonates with me given my early WoW history. However, there are times when I wonder if it’s really such a good thing to make one’s own happiness so dependent on other people (it’s not like that ever works out in real life). I love the cooperative aspect of MMOs but they are also virtual worlds, canvases of beauty I’d like to travel and explore. The older I get, the more there is compromise to my own time spent in games. O tempora, o mores, I guess.

The Troubles of Aging together

That said, I’m a player who is still counting on social ties for longterm dedication and so many times since WoW have I been flustered about MMOs not bringing back the “good old times”. Of course there’s a pattern here; you’ll never hear an early player talk about the good old times because there are no such times (yet) to make flawed, subjective comparisons to.

The only reason I’m probably still playing Wildstar every night and enjoying it immensely is social environment. I’d still be paying a sub and exploring the maps of the Nexus but as a solo player or member of a dwindling group of peers, I would never have bothered to acquire the Genesis Key, step one of the attunement of doom. Wildstar might actually be another MMO on the shelf already, as it is for others that used to be more excited for launch than myself. I’m still in though and wondering about the reasons, knowing at least half of the answer:

I started playing Wildstar with three old WoW buddies of mine, all of which have drastically changed weekly schedules now that they’re in their 30ies rather than early 20ies. So do I, despite all of my personal time still being my own. I am not 23 anymore, I need more sleep than I used to (it’s true and I hate it), I don’t do rushed PC dinners any longer and I have no wish to be in charge of anything or anyone else than my virtual self when online. I’m still looking to be a regular in an efficient and fun guild though, one that manages to balance the hardcore casual for lack of a better word.

Facing the fact that a group of ex-WoW raiders now all in their early thirties don’t stand a chance lasting in Wildstar’s endgame (we’ve tried and failed before), I soon resolved that our small guild needed to move on and reinforce a bigger team run by fresh people full of “MMO-oomph”. It’s been the best decision possible both for my own enjoyment (and hopefully theirs too) and dedication to the game. More importantly maybe, hearing others talk about the game made me realize that MMOs are as new and wonderful as ever for players of another generation – the players we used to be ten years ago. In no way is Wildstar inferior to WoW when it comes to how it’s handling group content. Nothing has changed in that department – we have. The people around us, our original peers have.

Early MMO enthusiasm is contagious. So is dwindling enthusiasm.

Truthfully, every MMO since WoW was a game I tried to re-connect to together with my ever less active WoW buddies. You could say I’ve kept trying to recreate my old communities elsewhere, as so many of us do. A guild’s greatest virtue which is bonding with others, becomes it’s greatest peril in the long run when communities get so insular that there’s hardly room for new blood, not even across games.

Yet the more we kept to ourselves and didn’t mix, the faster we dwindled. It’s a downward spiral and it doesn’t work. Soon everyone’s frustrated that they can’t ever seem to get a full group for anything. Maybe somebody out there knows a critical mass of 35-year old MMO veterans that are mostly regulars but I do not – and you need a regular (slightly nutty) core to run a guild effectively. Now that I’m in a way more mixed guild with dedicated leadership, I feel completely boosted by their enthusiasm. Who are these people and why are they having so much fun? Oh wait, I used to!

sylvs

Luck and then some

There’s always an element of luck and timing involved when we start out in new games and looking for a new guild can be tough. I’d certainly call it a piece of luck to have chanced upon an active bunch of people with so similar a player ethos to my own. It would be amiss and incomplete however, not to try analyze things beyond luck.

Mingling with a wider age range aside, the choice of RP server and faction is probably crucial. On the only EU-RP server, Dominion side is a very calm and underpopulated place to be a Cassian, with dead zone chats and limited wares on the AH. My first instincts were calling it a bad choice when in fact, it’s the most beneficial thing to guild life. Players need their guild. Already this community feels tight-knit, the way it only happens in MMOs after launch rush is over and grasers have moved on. It’s the people who stay behind that you want to guild with.

And so maybe, it all comes down to this: staying behind and choosing to be part of a new, active community rather than maintaining an old one. Rolling on a cosy low-pop server. Sticking with that choice past launch rush. Not so different from ten years ago. We blame design a lot of the time when it comes down to frustrating social factors that ultimately, we’re both in control of and aren’t. Even if an MMO facilitates group play, and I believe Wildstar does, commitment remains a choice and unfortunately it’s not enough to make that decision yourself, you need others to make it with you. So maybe new blood is where the aging MMO player needs to start focusing his or her attention, if future gameplay experiences are meant to outlast a brief visit. I am guilty of having lived in the proverbial past.

For the Record

I love MMOs and I intend to play them for the foreseeable future. I believe that my generation of gamers especially, born in the 70ies and early 80ies, have an important and unique opportunity to be rolemodels for everyone else to come, doing away with gaming misconceptions and stigma. Yes, you can be an older gamer! No, gaming doesn’t have to stop at 30! If we can embrace ourselves and let go of the good old days in favor of new ones, new people and new experiences, there’s nothing to stop us from becoming the first gamers to happily make it to retirement (just think of all the free time!). Loving this place that is the MMO blogosphere, I hope to see you there.

29 comments

  1. Liore

    I was kind of hoping you’d write something about these topics because I wanted to hear your thoughts. This is a really genuine and uplifting post in a week when on a personal level I needed to hear it. Thanks for posting!

  2. Tridus

    You don’t hear people saying “this will be my last RTS” because the genre is meant to be played, and then you move on. Same with single player RPGs. I played Mass Effect, loved it, then was done and can go do something else.

    MMOs are sold as something else. Take Wildstar, which I’m having a lot of fun in, but will hit a brick wall once “raiding” is the only thing left to do because it’s so actively casual hostile. Is that the intention? Am I supposed to buy Wildstar, play for 3 months, then shelve it and go play something else?

    If I am, then great. But the whole idea of a “virtual world” is not that. They’re trying to sell something that I want to play long term. In order to do that, they need to give me something to do long term that’s interesting.

    WoW could get away with making me do rep grinds, attunements, and that stuff because it was new, shiny, and I was younger. Now that I have kids, my time is far less available and a game that wastes my time with boring repetitive tasks is going to quickly find itself in competition with 50 other non-MMO games that don’t.

    I actually thought I was done with the genre a while ago because of that, but now I’m playing Wildstar. I’m just not sure I’ll be playing it by next year, and if I’m not, the odds are slim that it’ll be replaced by another MMO. It’s far more likely it’ll be replaced by Assassins Creed Unity.

    • Syl

      The attunement is definitely harsh and I’ve written about that myself. At the same time, let’s not forget that to newer players Wildstar is ‘new and shiny’ just like WoW was for you and me, so to them WS can get away with more as well. You are over it maybe and so am I because we reached a saturation point.

      Now that I’m in a fairly ambitious guild though, I’ve a feeling we’ll be able to crack the attunement sooner or later. As long as you don’t make it a rush, it will happen and there’s still a few items on that list I am fairly certain have to be reviewed by Carbine (esp. gold runs).

  3. bhagpuss

    When I bought Everquest in November 1999 it was as a present to myself for my 40th birthday. I was five years older when I began playing MMOs than you are now, so when you raise a rallying cry of “gaming doesn’t have to stop at 30″ I find it a bit confusing.

    In the pre-WoW era of MMOs I felt there was absolutely nothing unusual about my age. The topic of how old people were used to come up over and over again back then. People were in the phase of finding it amazing that they could talk to a bunch of strangers from all over the world and almost every day someone would start a round of “What time is it where you are and what’s the weather like?” in /ooc which would frequently end up in a whole lot of innocuous personal information being shared, of which age was a regular example. From that I got the impression that the average age of EQ players was probably 25-35, with a very significant minority ranging from 35-50.

    Other than the children of adults I played with I think I only ever met one person who admitted to be a teenager. The leader of a guild Mrs Bhagpuss was in for a while was in her late 60s. Maybe it’s just the particular MMOs I played but it never, ever seemed like an activity that would appeal to teenagers or young adults – certainly our own three children thought it was a ludicrous old peoples’ hobby (and still do as far as I can tell).

    Of course, the flip side to that is that I never played MMOs the way you describe. I never formed deep, personal relationships with people in guilds I was in nor did I “invest in a corporate endgame”. Mrs Bhagpuss tried that for a while so I was able to observe it form close quarters and I thought it was quite horrible. Toxic, in fact.

    I did go through a prolonged (five years or so) period of making a lot of social connections in-game, joining guilds, playing mostly group content, primarily in groups made up of guild members, friends list members or, especially, the members of one of the custom chat channels I belonged to. Those were fun times to be sure but on balance they were no more fun than the way I play, which is very much more solo/open group/zerg. Six of one, half a dozen of the other as far as I can see.

    For me, MMORPGs have *never* been about finding a social network, making friends, having any kind of online social life. When that’s happened by chance or circumstance, sometimes it’s been good, sometimes bad. At no time has it ever been necessary.

    I’ve always felt, right from the first day I ever played EQ, that I am a privileged guest in a world that belongs first and foremost to my characters and to the NPCs and monsters with whom they interact. Other players are guests there too. My relationship to those other players is analogous to my relationship to other tourists I might meet when I’m visiting a foreign country – I don’t pretend they don’t exist but they aren’t really part of what I came to experience. So long as they fit into the ambiance and add to the scenic value then I’m glad they’re there but I certainly wouldn’t make them the focus of the trip.

    Oh, and as for playing on low-pop servers, I agree 100% that it’s the best choice for a solid, well-socialized, satisfying experience. We used to deliberately pick servers with names we thought would be unattractive other players in the hope that we’d be on a low-pop server from launch day. It worked too.

    The trouble is, low-pop servers get merged and then you end up on a high-pop server with a lot of grumpy people who form cliques. Happened to us too many times.

    • Syl

      Hehe you are marked down in my book as the potter king, so I fully expected you to have different experiences than me! :D I think MMOs can be about a lot of things and I certainly play them for the virtual world (vistas, music) myself but they are obviously also developed to allow for a way more social and cooperative gameplay than most other games. I’ve always loved the social factor about them, the fact that I could play with real people and not just NPCs – and being human, bonds form automatically over time. You don’t even have to seek them out actively, if you run with the same folk for a while, you get to know them and form friendships if you play regularly. Being part of such a tight-knit team is just very enjoyable imo.

      I could’ve written 35 instead of 30 but it doesn’t really matter; in the raid guilds that I’ve spent all my time in WoW, the average age was between 20-28. We had very few players around 30-33 and maybe one or two who were above 40 (and they weren’t regulars and hardly capable to make the agenda). In general too, there’s still this belief around that gaming is something ‘for younger people’, certainly not for anyone after 40. You, Wilhelm and a few more bloggers are the only MMO players I personally know in that bracket. :)

      So yeah, it sounds great that you found different guilds but I haven’t so far. It’s playstyle too though because up to now, I was always in guilds with very little room for RL compromise. I imagine the older I get, the more I will gravitate towards that? Nonetheless I like the newbie spirit of younger players also.

  4. eldaeriel

    I’ve been going through a similar thing with ESO, my RL friends (and boyfriend) are just not as keen on the whole MMO thing as previously. I’ve also thought that if ESO doesn’t work out, then I’ll probably step back and give up on MMOs (at least for a while).

    I have to agree with Bhagpuss though, I don’t think it is down to age so much – I didn’t start playing MMOs until I was 36 and and it really isn’t or wasn’t unusual (people seemed to be clustered in the 20s-40s and tbh the over 50s were very well represented too :) )

    I’m wondering if it’s more down to burnout than anything as it’s both a long time playing one genre (8-10 years) and MMOs require quite a lot of investment, planning, time and patience if you do any form of group end-game. I think, for me at least, I am leaning towards that as an explanation but… I’m not quite out yet ;)

    great, thoughtful post

    • Syl

      Once you’ve experienced the joy of playing with friends in MMOs, it’s hard not to wanna go back to that. I feel like that’s part of the issue when starting new games, you have to start over completely and that takes time and energy. And you miss people. I do.

      It’s great knowing there are older people in MMOs and also a few who didn’t grow up with gaming maybe but that joined later. In my experience that’s rare though or I’ve just been way too one-sided in my online travels thus far. ;) Glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. Tremayne

    Interestingly, the main reason I am playing WildStar at the moment is that I got lured into a guild that is explicitly for over 30′s, many of whom are regulars, most of whom are at level 50 now and plenty are well into the attunement chain. It’s very refreshing to be in an outfit that manages to be reasonably competent and successful (certainly the adventures and dungeon runs I’ve done have gone pretty smoothly) without any leeter than thou attitudes or juvenile bitching over people having the “wrong” spec, and life’s a lot easier when most of your guildies also have small children and understand exactly why your gaming sessions get fragmented or need an AFK on no notice.

    These guilds and players exist, the trick is finding them. For what it’s worth, I’m signed up with Disaster Area on Exile/Eko (disasterarea.enjin.com)

    • Syl

      That sounds awesome. In the end it’s not even age that I’m concerned with but as you say, finding that kind of mature guild that fits, that is both fun and progress oriented but also respecting RL. I really don’t care what age range people are if that’s what a guild is about.

  6. Asmiroth

    My foray into EQ was with a guild of 30+ people (I was around 20 at the time) so it made for a rather unique flavor.

    Emotions are contagious, and negative ones more so. It takes effort to be positive and I make a conscious effort in WS, though it could be larger. The social aspect helps a ton.

    I will say this though, our mark on gaming is not based on our individual achievements, as those are fleeting. They are based on the connections we build and maintain for whatever period of time we can. My positive gaming memories have rarely been game related but instead on the people I shared those experiences with.

    • Syl

      That’s definitely the case for many MMO players – which also makes such different perspectives as Bhag’s very fascinating. I’m sort of in the middle…..I am a sucker for the design and mechanics of these games, the visuals and music etc. but getting to connect with real people is the icing on the cake that makes all of it so much more meaningful for me. There’s nothing like TS laughter.

  7. Jeromai

    I’m a big believer in new blood keeping things fresh. Newbies bring an unadulterated enthusiasm and unjadedness to the mix, where oldbies tend to turn sour and become insular and grumpy. That’s one of the reasons why I’m such a proponent of non-exclusivity or inclusive activities that make it easy for people to join in.

    I’m not as strongly socializer as a lot of MMO bloggers seem to be, so I tend to take the lazy way out and just find large groups – crowded servers and large guilds where there are others more strongly invested into the social bond and community formation thing are good enough for me to dip in and out on the periphery.

    But I do agree that those who want it need to stick around and make the effort to find the social groups they’re looking for.

    I think too often people cling to the past. Trying to find that one game that feels exactly like the first, trying to recreate the exact same experience with the exact same group of people. As you say, it doesn’t work. That group of people came together at that one perfect moment in time for a purpose in one game. When the interest dissipated, people moved on in all directions following their own interests elsewhere.

    I guess I got lucky/unlucky in that I know I can never go back to my first MUD since I burned out -so- hard on it. I have zero interest trying to recreate that experience again. Even then, I log in every six months or so to check the old guild ‘who’s online’ roster to find…absolutely no one I remember. They’re all gone, to goodness-knows-where.

    With a reality like that, it’s easier to acknowledge the fact that one has to create new social bonds in every new MMO one attempts to play.

    • Syl

      I agree with everything you’re saying. :) I burned out very hard on WoW myself, especially on the guild leading thing, so am definitely valuing those experiences as happily in the past. I did not give new people a chance up to now however, maybe it was even a form of self-protection after WoW. In any case, am over it and believe I’m finally in a better place where I can enjoy new games in a much more carefree way.

  8. Doone

    Im enjoying reading everyone elses stories in these threads. You’re all right about every point you make.

    I did find it somewhat untrue for me as well, the bit you wrote about age. You and I are of the same generation, but I remember having guildies over 50 regularly in WoW’s heyday. Sometimes much older. In fact, in my experience the whole age-segregated attitudes come from my generation, where we tend to see younger players as the kids of the genre, when in fact we’re nowhere near the oldest generation of MMO gamers :) We’re more like the angsty teens in a sense.

    People make an MMO for me. I absolutely play for the community and the diversity. You just run into so many people with wildly different ideas and behaviors that it’s really hard not to have a good time in that environment. As somewhat of an introvert, I enjoy the company of extroverts a ton. So MMO server pops tend to be important for me, though I think I’ve enjoyed them all, low and high pop.

    Wildstar sure seems to me like WoW was in it’s early days. It’s hard to tell right now how it’s doing, but it’s seemed very lively so far. I really hope it can continue to deliver, but the year’s not out yet. I expect ESO to dwindle more and for WoD and WS to feed off of one another. Or at least that’s just my optimistic point of view :)

    • Syl

      It’s interesting to hear about guilds with so many people between 40-50. Personally I still find it a bit hard to believe however, given that mainstream online gaming is so young still and people around 50 didn’t have the same chance to grow up with PCs and videogames the way we did. So whoever they are who joined later and became so passionate about gaming, they must be quite rare. I’ve sadly never met anyone like that myself, only a parent once or twice playing because of their kid (and they were so casual that my own casual looks hardcore in comparison).

      From that PoV I disagree that we’re the ‘teens’ – we are exactly the generation that was the first to grow up with gaming PCs and videogame consoles the way it is ‘normal’ today. Mainstream video gaming was born in the early 80ies with Atari/Amiga/Commodore, Intellivsion/NES etc. Anyone born long before that time had to take up gaming in their twenties or thirties which seems to be an exception rather than a rule. For us, VGs were just ‘there’ from the start. In a way, it’s doubly awesome that someone became a gamer without having that childhood foundation.

      • eldaeriel

        Just a small thought, a lot of my current friends who play MMOs started with the old pen and paper games, the board games, live role playing, back in the early days of the internet the MUDS started (right acronym i think?!), so perhaps from their point of view, it was a natural progression. So perhaps, they had taken up gaming but just not via a technological platform. I don’t know if that would hold true for other genres (such as first person shooters) but for RPGs it seems a likely evolution?

        hmm thoughts to ponder? :)

  9. Roger Edwards

    My relationship with MMOs has changed over the years and I will never be in the position I was in 2008, when I could happily accommodate the time and commitment they require.

    I would also say that I have had my time in MMOs and don’t actually want to return to them. I am rediscovering the pleasure of single player games that get completed and then put aside.

    I installed ArcheAge yesterday and lasted about one hour in the beta. It just struck me as a being tired, ugly and unappealing . So I logged out and uninstalled it.

    No, my time with MMOs is pretty much done and I am comfortable with that. I ‘ll have plenty of fond memories but part of being an adult is recognising that things come and ago. When your done, your done.

  10. Pasduil

    We didn’t all start playing MMOs at the same age. For example I think Braxwolf and I both only started playing MMOs when we were already older than you are now. It’s probably not so much people’s biological age as how long they’ve been around the same type of game that determines how fresh and exciting they find it.

    I’ve met plenty of older people who play as well. The guy that taught the Coursera MOOC on Online Games is a good example.

  11. j3w3l

    The social elements are, like you said a very important part for maintaining an interest in an mmo but I don’t think that just comes from guilds . It’s more about the ease of connecting with others and of creating new bonds. Guilds are often very insular and often times exclusionary and I don’t think content solely focused towards them is a good thing. You need guilds, or structured social groups but not so much as to make people avoid all other contact.

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  17. Isey

    Great post. I needed this. I find myself getting grumpy with it – mostly because it is my own lack of capability to enjoy a MMO fully. I don’t live in the past but some of my better social memories and accomplishment and roots were from gaming. It’s hard for me to enjoy online games without them.

    Perhaps I just need to retire from MMOs and stick to RPGs. I’m back and forth.

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