Category Archives: Community

About Life, MMOs and the Good Old, Bad Times

It is one of the never-ending discussions among MMO veterans: the golden days of MMOing. The glory days of our youth when MMOs were green and so were we. When treasure was rare and special and punishment plentiful and quick. Today, we miss the hardship of the unknown, the unexplored mystery, the dependence on other people. Fond memories of our beginnings and the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia keep the past locked firmly in our mind like a place of legend.

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…minus the wardrobe, maybe

If only we could recreate the past. And why can’t we – are we the problem? The games? Our missing fellows? I have once concluded on this blog that the fairest answer to this question is probably “a bit of everything” but also, that there are only so many times that we can fully invest in a new MMO and commit to a new world and community. Witty strips such as “A decade of love and hate” by DLC or Arcade Rage’s “Gamer problems: Then and Now” make painfully obvious that MMOs haven’t objectively gotten worse; they’ve changed in some ways but also really stayed the same and they have certainly become more varied and accessible overall. None of this can explain our personal discontent. No, the answer lies elsewhere.

Chasing that which cannot be preserved

How many times over can you build a virtual life from scratch until it feels like a deja-vu and grind and the fatigue kicks in? How many social bonds can you possibly establish and maintain? I say no more than you could do in real life; there may be one big love for you during your life’s journey, or two or three. For most of us, that is the limit of our capabilities and time too only allows for so many iterations. It is the same with circles of friends or careers – the boldest among us will recreate themselves and their world a few times over during the course of their life but time and energy remain limiting factors.

It is our misconception that MMOs should somehow follow a different rule set. That something as profound and time consuming as virtual life, and WoW was that for many (just to name one possible MMO), should be repeatable over and over and never wane in its glory and impact. But how could that be? The best of things and the most meaningful must all eventually bow to finality.

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Looking back, I can say that I’ve had three serious and longterm MMO experiences or “relationships” in my life between age 20 and 35. Maybe five titles altogether have really managed to consume me for a time and make me care about people I met. However every time, it got a bit more difficult; every time I’ve felt my energy resources, my ability to care and my patience for things like ingame appointments and wait times, deplete faster.

“I have done this before – I have been here. Yet it is not the same.”

We cannot recreate our MMO youth any more than we can go back to our teenage years or our twenties. With every decade added to our life, we become more experienced which means we become more critical and picky. The roads become downtrodden and the mysteries familiar. And we have limited resources both internally (energy) as well as externally (time). The games haven’t gotten worse or better, they’ve become different – but we are different, too. And longing for the good old, bad times is merely a product of our bewilderment that life, real and virtual, is constant progress and contradiction: some things change but they also largely stay the same.

That’s why we can love and hate the past all at once, feel relief over progress made but also miss our friends and treasure our memories. (MMO) Life is complex like that.

#Blaugust2016: Unplugged

It’s been a seriously depressing year concerning all kinds of bad world news: wars still waging at our doorstep and the refugee crisis in Europe, terrorist attacks or attacks presented as such in the media, mass shootings in a closer vicinity than usual, the UK falling for Brexit and the kind of American presidential race that leaves the most wordy of us speechless. New heights of low or so it seems, and our wonderfully untrustworthy, biased media to tell us all about it – or not.

That is from our perspective, for the mostly white, well-off and pampered it’s been an “exhausting year” having to hear so much of that, naturally from the safety of our homes but anyway it’s been scarier than usual and maybe, we even know someone more personally affected. For others not belonging to said demographic it’s been a year like every other, I’m sure – getting by somehow or far worse, either way no time to follow Brexit live tickers on an expensive phone.

Being present on social media and twitter especially, I admit for a moment this shit really started to suck me in, too. I generally keep informed and I have some appreciation for political satire. Unfortunately, even the “funny” Trump videos on youtube stopped being funny long time ago. The internet has become a toxic wasteland of paranoia when it comes to convoluted trigger words like terrorism and many more -isms like it. No doubt there have been great demonstrations of “online solidarity” during events like the Paris attacks too but they’re drowned out by hysteria and frankly ever increasing racist and xenophobic sentiments, to name a few.

This is not where I want to be.

Why I choose to unplug

Over a year ago my partner started pruning and “sanitizing” his twitter and other media consumption from all negativity, including a huge bulk of political news channels, more comedic ones included. To say this took me by surprise coming from someone so political would be an understatement but by now I understand completely. It’s not just that the negativity is crushing, it’s also unhinged in many ways, often factually wrong and fueled by questionable, shady channels and sources.

Still, it took me a moment to get to that point. I followed the Brexit drama on twitter this early summer, I read different articles and viewpoints on the Orlando shooting and an ever darker cloud started to settle over all my social channels. But then I went back to Italy in July and realized I’d been starting to lose sight of reality –

“Fa caldo” says Giuseppe, like every other night when we frequent our favorite Albergo restaurant at the Adria, the one I have been going to for 30 years. During that same time span there have been several “economic recessions”, not to mention wars and we’ve been collectively afraid of WW3 at least five times, if I remember correctly. Anyway, it’s still the same building with the same blue and white fountain in front and the same home-made Italian cooking I remember from when I was a child. Some tourists at the other table read a newspaper with a big headline about Brexit, or Syria or Hillary Clinton. “The same every day”, Giuseppe shakes his head, he is clearly not impressed. “But here?” he says, “we have sun, food and each other, no? It’s all that matters”.

The world is not a scary place full of evil people. It is a huge place, not the selected fraction we hear about in our daily news. There are not terrorists hiding behind every corner trying to get us. The great, great majority of this planet is inhabited by people who want exactly the same as me: a roof over their head, food on the table, their friends and family safe, peace and happiness. Wherever I have traveled thus far there have been friendly, warm and real people with similar values everywhere, going about their daily lives being completely ignored by “world news”. Nobody reports on our shared daily life; it’s boring and it can’t be used to divide us against each other.

unplugging social media negativity

Inform or not – but always beware paranoia

Initial sarcasm aside, it goes without saying that I’m not trying to make light of horrific events that have gone down this year and go on right now in certain places of the world. Being a target of hate or becoming victim of an attack is terrifying; if it happened to me or anyone I knew personally, I’d be devastated and angry. However participating in the fear and negativity that’s being nurtured collectively through social media serves nothing and nobody. It only fills me with unproductive dread. I’ve been following stories that I have zero influence over for so long, it really begs the question how sacrificing my energy on the altar of vicarious woe is helpful when I could be using it on things and people actually around me. Because let’s face it, when it comes to scary world news, we have exactly two options:

  • A) Read/listen to more bad shit until head is filled up with worry and you’re feeling down. Then go on with your life as usual.
  • B) Don’t read/listen to more bad shit until head is filled up with worry and you’re feeling down. Then go on with your life as usual.

If there’s anything more productive created for you personally, then great – you’re the exception! Maybe someone actually drops their day-job over twitter crazy and becomes an activist or politician but more realistically, this is not what happens. What we do is dip in a daily dose of crowd hysteria and I suspect our reasons range anywhere from earnest empathy to sensationalism and privilege guilt. I sure believed for a time that I “had to” keep myself informed, that somehow as an involved world citizen, I needed to subject myself to insanity. In truth, I’ve changed nothing but my state of mind – for the worse.

unplugging social media negativity

So nope. I really don’t have to follow this stuff! I can’t trust this post-factual age of news reporting we live in and I trust fear-mongering even less, no matter how personal. Fear is the magnifying glass that leads to paranoia. Paranoia means losing sight of all proportion and reality. I know for a fact that the world is not this dark place filled with”others”. I know for a fact that 2016 isn’t by far “the worst year we’ve had” – all it takes is opening a history book. And I know that overall things have actually been getting better slowly but surely and for more people, thanks to research done by people like Max Roser (who is worth following on twitter!). If you feel down on the world, whenever possible take a trip to wherever really, as far as you can – smell foreign air, see for yourself.

I’m going to Gamescom next week. I understand some fellow gamers have mixed feelings about the size of the event or fear for their friends. I thank everyone who told me to take care because I appreciate what they’re saying; but first of all, I wouldn’t even know how to do that and secondly, I refuse to be paranoid. Already the bad feels are starting to creep in and I have to violently shake them off and deny them; this exactly is paranoia!

We will go to Gamescom and we will have a royally epic time. We will hug new friends when we finally meet them, we will play and laugh and celebrate this life because that’s the only way to spite the darkness. We’ll look after those we actually can because they’re in our immediate environment. And if we’re still all screwed anyway by next year because nuclear war / global warming / godzilla / take a pick, heck at least we enjoyed the time we had!

Blaugust 2016, Windows 10 and Gamescom!

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Spotted along the coast in Italy this July

I am back from the burning sands along the Mediterranean sea, well-nourished by sun, great food and the warmth of the people. Whenever I am back from a trip abroad, the post-holiday blues strikes and it never strikes more fiercely than when I’m coming back to grey clouds and Swiss rain. Yet there were three happy cats to welcome us back and all the comforts of our lovely home, so I am content. There are books to read, movies to catch up with and things to write –

While my gaming enthusiasm is burning low during summer, I’ve decided to sign up for Blaugust 2016 on an irregular schedule and with a different goal in mind. I beat the daily posting challenge last year and it was good fun but I’ve never been a schedule blogger. Instead, what I’d like to do is dedicate my personal Blaugust to a month of non-gaming related topics with very pragmatic titles.

There is a whole archive of thoughts and halfwritten “off-topic” posts simmering in my backlog and articles I never got to publish because they weren’t topical for MMO Gypsy. These days, I am not sure I care about that so much. I’ve always written for myself here and supposedly there’s a handful of folk who enjoy my off-topic writings too, so you shall be my audience! I won’t be following a logical order and I won’t balance or polish opinions; I am not particularly interested in that kind of writing right now. I don’t think it’s where my strengths lie, either.

That Win 10 Update

I’ve had a borderline irrational fear of the Windows 10 update which has been pestering me and everyone else for some weeks now. I decided to get it done the night before Italy and it was probably the smoothest Win update I have experienced ever. This is how software updates in 2016 should go – quick and smoothly without any re-installing and re-adjusting required! Everything down to my taskbar icons and browser shortcuts have been saved and left where I expect them to be. It appears this windows is much faster too and I like the new organization within the explorer a great deal better. *Phew*

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Gamescom 2016!

I am going to Gamescom this year! Same as for Jae, this is my first time and I look forward to visiting a games expo of this magnitude! Me and my buddy will be staying in Köln on the 18th and 19th of August and hopefully meet up with some fellow geeks and bloggers too, while checking out new games and collecting all the swag! Which reminds me: I have NO idea what to wear yet and I’ll have to get a pixel gypsy avatar printed out for a facemask – I can’t have anyone deliver proof I actually exist in HD!

Anyone else planning on hitting Gamescom this year? Let me know!

The Free and Easy Forever Status Report for Your Blog (and other Media)!

I think it was Billy Connolly who once joked in an interview that the only weather forecast you’ll ever need was this: “It will rain and after the rain, there will be sunshine until it rains again”. I have to paraphrase a bit because the clip is gone from youtube but anyway, it made me laugh as his dry sense of stating the obvious always has done.

A friend of mine who shall not be named is currently contemplating to shut down his blog; as you might have guessed, I am decidedly against it. I’ve witnessed the rare occasion over the years, and it’s been six years of MMO blogging for me now, that a fellow blogger actually quit his or her blog for good (I miss you – Tam, Chas and Larisa!) and am still grumpy they deleted it. More often than not however, blogging and/or gaming malady is a temporary thing, fickle and multi-causal. More importantly, there is simply no rational reason for chucking your blog, podcast or whatever just because you’re feeling out of steam for a while, heck even a long while. Blogging is not a pact with the almighty that terminates the contract as soon as you’re not a good girl. Even better, your blog is just a bit of code on the internet (ya rly), it takes no space in the apartment and you won’t have to dust it off! So what is this obsession with constant status reports? This is LIFE, yo!

On quitting blogs

Okay, I get it – sometimes we just need an excuse to talk about ourselves and what’s going on in our lives. That’s cool. As far as audiences go however imagined or otherwise (I imagine mine is fairly well-dressed, wearing top hats and monocles), you don’t owe anyone regular or final-ish status updates and there is certainly no requirement for grand quitting gestures. In fact, most people don’t really care much if you take three weeks off or three months and whether you’re on time every Monday morning or not. That said, it’s completely nice to announce a longer AFK but do yourself a favor and stop the quitting business! It will save you from “oh guess what, am back…again!”-followups and potential content losses (because you didn’t backup, did ya?) when that writing, ranting and rambling mood strikes again. And for most writers and oversharers on the internet, it always does!

Don’t do it, okay? I hate broken links to deleted articles!

….

Since it’s Friday and I’m in a good mood, I’ve decided to provide my neurotic friend with a “forever status report” for his blog. I don’t know if he’ll actually use it but it’s a pretty great substitute for whatever he was coming up with instead:

“Dear readers, blogging friends and commenters,
I will be blogging a little less, until I blog more again! This is going to happen forever.
Thanks for taking note, you’re all great and should totally like me on twitter! XOXO”

THE END. You’re welcome, “Bob”! Happy Friday quitters and welcome back forever!

Dual Wielding LFG Edition: Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

About two weeks ago I got into a lengthy twitter conversation with fellow bloggers Mersault and Ironweakness about good and bad ways of forcing or facilitating group play in MMOs. I believe Black Desert Online might have steered us there, being this very playing alone together experience so far. As more voices joined the conversation, we decided to re-visit this difficult topic on our blogs individually as part of an ongoing inter-blog tradition between Mersault and Ironweakness, which they call “dual wielding” on their respective blogs. I am actually quite fond of this idea and so I was happy to chime in for this one.
Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

Forced Cooperation versus Fostering Community in MMOs

I usually feel trapped in a dilemma when talking about group content in MMORPGs: on one hand I am a big fan of the cooperative aspect of the genre and would call it one of its most defining factors – on the other hand, I value the freedom of playing when and where I want to without games forcing party and setup restrictions down my throat all the time. There’s a time for all things I suppose, today I am fed up with appointment gaming. And I’ve never actually believed that some of the restrictions/requirements forced upon raiders in early WoW, for example, made for particularly good as in genuine and lasting cooperation. Raidguilds were based around common goals for sure, yet as soon as those goals were removed or someone left the community, people and relationships faded away. Game mechanics do not actually hold the power of connecting people; only people can connect to people. What games can do better or worse is set the stage for interaction.

And interaction may or may not occur more depending on whether an MMO “requires” coop. BDO is an interesting example in so far as actual game mechanics discourage many forms of social interaction (partying penalties, trade and chat restrictions) and yet, despite all of this has created a playerbase in desperate need of their fellow comrades’ knowledge. That’s what hardship can do, bring people together to share information and cooperate. The beauty is that it can happen in completely unforeseen, possibly slightly unflattering ways for developers. This could be an opportunity to talk about how MMOs can be too polished or too convenient, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

So how do you get players to play together in MMOs, assuming that’s what you want, and what’s the preferable way of doing so? My personal answer is less clever than I would wish; naturally you do it by creating content and challenges that are balanced around group numbers, be it dynamic FFA grouping or traditional partying. That doesn’t necessarily mean dungeons and raids either, it includes questing, shared crafting, trade, building effort and guild progression. The all important distinguishing factor to me across all these activities is access and this is where MMOs vary greatly in execution.

Bad examples of facilitated group play come down to a majority of linear, gated content that’s enforcing group play in a certain inflexible way – or else face the consequence of all progress coming to a halt. I would call out all of WoW’s early endgame here; it was difficult to find and set up groups outside your guild and even running successfully with guildmates required considerable logistic effort. Yet run you must, attunements needed to be followed and exact numbers met. This worked for about 2% of the playerbase back then, so not that great. Everyone else was leveling alts and complaining on forums.

What WoW did was exact punishment in form of restricted access unless all criteria were met. The rigid regimen didn’t just cause discontent outside the few hardcore but caused considerable amounts of pressure for guild recruitment too as well as downtimes from hell when trying to set up balanced raid groups. I would therefore call this a malus-system for group play. It did very much kill communities as much as the other way around, so hardly a winner in fostering community, either. The great hardcore vs. casual divide was born in vanilla Warcraft and our spoils and victories were all satisfaction, rarely fun. Not a brilliant way of handling group content and cooperation.

Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

What I generally like to see instead of mechanics that punish players who won’t meet grouping requirements, is systems that will reward them for doing so, as in bonus-systems. Whenever you are awarded more loot, experience or reputation for grouping up with others in an MMO, that is one example of a bonus-system at work. Players should feel motivated to cooperate not because they fear failure otherwise, but because it makes for the better, more rewarding overall gameplay experience. This may be a small difference to some, yet it matters greatly to everyone flying solo and to bigger, more diverse communities that operate on the premise of individual freedom and respecting real life. And no one likes to pay for a game that’s denying them access to either content or one another as soon as they can’t party up or meet exact requirements.

Thinking of FFXIV’s story dungeons here, I believe we’re in somewhat of a grey area in that particular MMO. While the game clearly dictates everyone run a dungeon at least once with others, it also makes the whole process easily accessible. The 4man dungeons generally aren’t very hard, queuing is simple and the great majority of PuGs in the game are surprisingly friendly (my experience anyway). This seems like a compromise to me, in a game that already features a lot of social engineering done right via bonus systems (newcomer bonuses in parties, wide range dungeon roulettes etc.). If players are presented with feasible tools and solutions, I can get behind an enforced dungeon run every now and then.

The Real Thing is still on us

As for actually fostering community and people hooking up in MMOs, I’m afraid to say I don’t believe any game can achieve this for you. The best and worst games have brought people together and probably produced MMO babies somewhere around the world. Social games may set an accessible stage for meeting others but the magic spark, the moment when we cooperate for no reason at all other than enjoying someone else’s company, that’s not something we can expect to be “facilitated”. Nor do we need to – being social is a free choice that’s up to the individual and fortunately it is one we can always revisit. Cooperation opportunities in MMOs should therefore be an invitation – a door that is always open, either just for a run or whatever else we want it to be.

MMOs are Here to Stay. And: Black Desert Online’s Singleplayer Experience

The last week wasn’t an enjoyable one for MMO fans and much more devastating for developers. Between Wildstar’s layoffs and Everquest Next being shelved for good, people worry about the future of the genre as we know it. I am using that phrase very consciously because massively multiplayer online games will always be a thing – we just don’t know what thing. Or in Scaurus’ words: “we are old fogies holding onto old definitions”. I am pretty sure that the fascination of chasing virtual dragons (or zombies) with other people is not particular to only my generation. MMO angst has gone from an annual bloggers favorite to a quarterly one and yet somehow, we are still here. I’ve been called overly optimistic about the genre before; I decide to remain so until proven otherwise. The fact is when we look back on MMOs an awful lot of things have gotten better over the years, and some have gotten worse or just different. Every time the wheel turns there’s what we leave behind but there’s also what’s yet to come.

And so I came across Russel Shanks giving an interview on EQN’s cancellation over at MMORPG.com, with particular note to this segment:

MMORPG: Do you think the genre of MMO, MMORPG, MMOG, or whatever you want to call it is just in a different place these days? There are a handful making a lot of money, and plenty of smaller niche titles carving out their own fanbase. But where you do you see the genre headed, as a company and as a fan?

RS: I believe the magic of MMORPGs and MMOs in general has not been diminished.  In fact, games like Destiny incorporate many of the compelling elements of classic MMOs, which expose them to a new generation of gamers.

Good MMOs bring players together. The activities within the games provide social opportunities, as well as challenges and achievements that build lasting friendships, camaraderie, and long-term enjoyment.  These elements, combined with scale, differentiate MMOs from most other forms of entertainment.  I don’t see them going out of style, ever.

Moving on to playing Black Desert Online, right now I have a few minor gripes from within the realm of polish: the fussy submenu handling and mouse cursor switch, the weird auction house, not being able to buy multiple items without choosing a separate buyer’s option and then confirming choices over and over (YES okay??), overly complicated dye management…and so forth. Am sure these are fairly popular annoyances with hopefullly fixes down the road.

Black Desert Online's singleplayer experience

“You have to enjoy solitude to be a friend of the sea.” ..quoth the sea otter.

If we are thinking more longterm however, there is one thing on the forefront of my mind since the beta: BDO is very playing alone together. There is not just very little opportunity to cooperate with other players, the game actively discourages player-to-player interaction on several levels:

– Restricted ability to speak in global channels (due to goldspam)
– No player to player trading other than potions (due to goldspam…it didn’t work because the shop allows gifting)
– Experience penalties for grouping up above five levels difference
– Guild size capped at 100 people
– Guild leaders having to afford all fees/money costs themselves
– No shared nodes / looting in FFA
– No way to share housing or crafting installations

Given there is also little traditional cooperative PVE content (not complaining), it would be nice if there was at least the basic social experience of you know, sharing your resources or housing with somebody else or within guilds. It’s also not exactly easy to group up without EXP penalties or meet new people in the game, although I have that same complaint for FFXIV which doesn’t even offer global channels. I fully understand publishers trying to fight the goldseller plague but the player base is paying a very high price for it considering it’s not working?

I realize this isn’t an issue for everybody. To me, cooperation is still to some degree a core mechanic of MMORPGs and it feels like a more sandboxy title should allow for that and not actively penalize it. Random acts of kindness between strangers go a long way. Maybe I am missing something here. All I know is further down the road, Black Desert Online’s singleplayer experience might get real lonely pour moi.

Recap: Playing Alone Together

After a somewhat contrite tweet of mine asking why anyone wants to play MMOs only ever to run solo (although I did not specify this very well), my twitter started buzzing with different reactions ranging from introvert personality to time management issues and maybe most popularly “having other people around you for feeling”. One tongue-in-cheek reply suggested other people were the better NPC AI.

The question is obviously close to the dilemma many of us are feeling towards MMOs nowadays, and it spurred two excellent elaborations by Wolfy and Gracie who can identify with the soloing aspect. Naturally so can I and if you’ve been following this blog in more recent times, you will remember me rambling on about how, as aging players, we probably have to accept that many MMOs won’t accommodate our busy schedules and unpredictable game time. There is a younger voice inside of me who judges the slacker I have become; 12 years ago I would have hated being guilded with myself. Actually, I wouldn’t have accepted myself as an applicant. “You want community, people to be around with, learn from, progress with? Put in some goddamn effort!” That’s me. Even as a much more casual player these days, I will not expect MMOs to go all solo-friendly and it vexes me to hear others demand it should be so, as if that affected nothing.

The thing about community and cooperation is that it only thrives as much as people are willing to actively partake. That doesn’t mean you have to group up or socialize around the clock in MMOs, far from it, but it requires a degree of willingness to contribute more regularly. Playstyle variety is fine, pottering by yourself is too – MMOs would be horrid business if soloing was no option whatsoever. And yet when it comes down to it, the soul of the MMO experience has and always will lie in the cooperative aspects for me personally. It’s what sets the genre apart from so many others. I know a blogger or two like Bhagpuss who would vehemently disagree on this point with me. That spares them my particular torment.

To play MMOs only ever to see people run around you that aren’t quite as scripted as NPCs sounds like a dreadful reduction of social engagement to mere window dressing. Does this experience really offer so much more than big-world RPGs such as Skyrim or The Witcher 3 would? Or is it maybe just a shadow of a memory now, a mere habit to log into MMO worlds to solo when you could be soloing anywhere? To turn your back completely on the MMO genre is tough for anyone who has loved it. Keeping at least half a foot in the door means you’re not quite gone, still a part.

I am not judging that and I am hardly innocent; I am however very torn about going against the very thing that defines MMOs for me by mostly soloing and not contributing to server culture and community much. One could take the unadorned and sober stance that as long as I’m the paying customer, I can do and demand whatever I want from my MMO time and of course I can. I can also open the goose’s belly to see if there’s more gold inside but alas, that’s when all the magic’s gone. As much as I love exploring my virtual settings, the music and character progress, MMOs come alive when that unscripted, genuine social magic is happening. I doubt that I can ever stop chasing that.

Happy Holidays from MMO Gypsy

A very happy Xmas from MMO Gypsy and thanks to all my readers, commenters and blogging buddies who make the MMO blogosphere what it is! Here’s to great new games keeping us engaged in 2016, adventures to be shared and stories to tell among fellow world wanderers. Above all, be safe wherever you are, spend time with those that make you happy and let go of anything that brings you down.

*cheers!* – Syl ^^

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Straight Talk: It’s not the Games, it’s You. Welcome to the Club!

You know how MMO players, veterans mostly, have this discussion of how everything was better in the olden days, how newer MMORPGs are sucking with their silly free-to-play models and self-sufficient playstyles and so forth? For a precursory read, I’ve recently critically addressed the whole social aspect of that debate. Today however, I’m going slightly further and just say it: if you’re not enjoying newer MMOs anymore, if you can’t get invested or find the right crowd to play with, the problem is most likely just you. Today’s array of available games is not worse than it used to be, it’s better already on account of sheer variety, polish and accessibility. There’s more of everything, good and bad.

This is something I have known for a while in my own case but it just got driven home once more, listening to two newer podcast episodes by fellow TGENerates Braxwolf and Liore. On Beyond Bossfights, Brax and Roger recently had an in-depth discussion of how getting older has affected their ability to be involved in games, as they are struggling to juggle increasing real life demands with gaming quality time. Bottom line: with changed priorities, games and online communities are just not that important anymore. Also: they have been there, done that. All the while in Cat Context episode 84, Elli and Liore admit that they’ve “already met all the people they wanna know in MMOs”. This is a very interesting way of phrasing it. Their strong WoW bonds persist and they’ll readily give up new acquaintances in new games if it means getting comfortable with old buddies they share a history with. They kinda wanna play with people but not necessarily put up with the whole effort of meeting strangers.

This is all completely fine, in fact it’s how I feel myself. A while back I made this point in regards to Wildstar, where I have had the pleasure of being part of a friendly and engaged guild full of younger players fired up about Wildstar and raiding and the whole shenanigans. They are having the same fun I used to 12 years ago and the same drama-lama, for a fact. I just can’t chase that stage of early MMO enthusiasm myself because I have already been there. Also, I really don’t want to – it’s exhausting!

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MMOs are not the problem and online communities aren’t either. There have always been trolls in WoW and elsewhere, always been horrible global chats, broken mechanics and bad parties. And there have always been many great new people to hook up with for those who are looking to spend the time (and nerves), to socialize and share moments of epic win. If it somehow doesn’t work out for you anymore after so many years of doing the same thing, then that’s simply put the natural order of things progressing. And how could it be any different?

We’re in this together

Maybe there’s a degree of wistfulness in the admission, but dwindling MMO investment is just another area where life is telling you that you’re getting older and more experienced at things, without literally handing you a pair of reading glasses and a walking cane. One way or another, it happens to all of us. That doesn’t mean we have to stop playing them, in fact it’s an opportunity to explore different ways of doing so without judgement. Thanks to a variety of titles offering playstyle diversity, you don’t have to call it quits on a genre you’ve come to love; no dramatic gestures or vows of abstinence are required.

I used to be a competitive raider, a guild leader, a PvPer. I have always been an explorer, home decorator, riddle solver, gear collector and professional screenshot taker. Who knows what else I will be in the future?

Invisible Audience: What your Podcast Stats Won’t Tell You

scott

It’s 2.5 years now since I joined Syp and Steff on the adventure of podcasting about MMO music. Without fail, we have recorded two episodes per month – about 2.5 hours of time spent on Skype and a couple more hours to actually prep for the shows. Battle Bards is somewhat more time intense than other podcasts I have participated in because the entire concept is based on thematic challenges between the three of us, meaning research must be done in advance and picks must be shared and prepped. That sounds like a lot of work for a niche podcast but we’re obviously really into the subject matter or we wouldn’t be doing it. Same as for blogging, you have to podcast for yourself first.

Intrinsic motivation or not, it doesn’t mean you don’t hope for a degree of feedback and positive reception. Blogging and podcasting in a public space are social activities and about connecting with kindred spirits. So whatever content you put out, you hope it’s somewhat useful to somebody else, informative or entertaining. Most of us assume it is at least a tiny bit, but we rarely get unmistakeable “proof”. For one, much fewer people tend to comment on blogs than there are readers; no matter a positive or more critical comment, feedback is therefore valued and appreciated. About half of my frequent commenters are bloggers themselves who understand this very well.

In my humble experience, podcasting is a similar beast yet different from blogging. It takes time to establish a podcast, get the word out and build a backlog – that last part being a major factor both for blog traffic or podcast downloads. It’s very easy to misinterpret podcasting stats by mistaking monthly downloads for individual listeners; as long as you remain active in whatever you do, you’re bound to get more hits and/or downloads over time because of a growing archive. This is especially true for episodic and thematically narrow podcast formats where individual episodes aren’t subject to time / decay of interest. It actually takes dedicated services like Libsyn for more accurate analysis if understanding your podcast’s growth and audience are what you’re after. Often it’s all you can do and even then, you can’t track downloads from other platforms such as iTunes.

Battle Bards is maybe a curious case insofar that our first two episodes were both downloaded 1000 times when they came out, looking at libsyn. I personally did not expect this and put it down to several factors including the three of us being longtime bloggers (which is three times the advertising power) as well as novelty and curiosity (“let’s hear how these folk sound in real life”). Our initial numbers didn’t remain steady – they went back to an average of 300-500 downloads per episode in our first year. Today, our first ever ten episodes all range between 800-2000 downloads each which demonstrates what has happened over time. The backlog is still being listened to.

Roughly from Q1 of 2015, our average downloads per episode have now doubled from what they were in year one. This means there must be a bigger audience but it’s difficult to say how many regular listeners we have, joining from start to finish. Really, who IS our core audience? When do they listen to Battle Bards and from where? Cold numbers give no feedback.

We receive comments from time to time and emails which are always a highlight. They’ve become more rare of late which to me indicates that our more vocal listeners have already made themselves known. Podcasts don’t really inspire continuous interaction the way blogs do; our format certainly raises no big questions to be debated and there isn’t synchronous interaction happening in a comment thread. If someone leaves us a message, it can take up to a month before we reply on air.

So generally, unless you’re part of a super popular podcast with a huge following, you have to deal with the silence of an invisible audience. Stats can tell you that you’re still alive and going but they won’t tell you anything about who’s listening. They also won’t give you a thumbs up and say how much they enjoyed that last episode. Your absence may be noted but as long as you’re always on schedule, your listeners are counting on you silently. Or so you hope.

And that’s okay. It’s still really sweet whenever one of them steps out of the shadows to announce they’re still there, though.

Thanks, Scott!