Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Why play another fantasy MMORPG?

I've read an interesting post a Download Only Gamer about MMOs offering other forms of reward than just loot: escapism, relaxation, achievement, social contacts, and a sense of belonging. And that reminded me of a different thought I had recently: If the fantasy MMORPG you are currently playing offers you all that, why would you want to quit and play a different fantasy MMORPG instead?

Whether you are playing World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, an Everquest, or any other major fantasy MMORPG, you have probably found a home by now. What could possibly make you change?

One major problem here is that even with all the different details and features and different focus, fantasy MMORPGs are all very similar to each other in gameplay. In all of the games I mentioned there are quests giving xp and levels, character classes, divided into tanks, healers, and damage dealer archetypes, spells and combat abilities triggered by pressing hotkeys, and so on. Yes, there are big differences between games, but the basic gameplay is often surprisingly similar. So if you changed from one game to another, you could play a different character class, do different quests to kill different monsters, learn different crafting skills, and at the end nothing fundamental has changed. You need the same set of skills, the same brain cells, to play any of these games.

So why not just stick to one game, and for variety try something completely different? I'd rather play a Puzzle Pirates or A Tale in the Desert or other non-fantasy MMORPG, or even some single-player games, instead of doing the same activity in different games. How about you?
I follow the MMO industry extensively and have played a lot of different games. I WANT to find other games to play besides WoW, I really do. WoW is good at what it does, but it doesn't do everything. The sad fact is, though, that no other ones can remotely compared in quality. I want to like them and get into them but I just notice how inferior they are to WoW. It doesn't help that, as you said, most have very similar content and any with similar content to WoW just compare unfavorably. I looked forward with such hope that AoC or WAR would provide a good alternative to WoW for when I wanted a break from it, but they both came out as stinkers. Now there's nothing to look forward to until the next Blizzard property, Diablo III. Sad days indeed.
For me it's not along the lines of "what would make me switch" but "what makes me not switch", and that's the loss of characters i've gotten attached to or invested so much time in.

I tried to think of a few games where you could bring your character 'with you' to the sequel. If i recall, the baldur's gate ones did this, didnt they? i honestly have no idea, i didn't play them. The penny arcade games allow you to bring toons to the sequel, but when viewed in this sense, one huge thing just occurred to me...

I've brought toons from WoW 1, to WoW 2, and now WoW 3. Zoning into the outlands for the 1s time is effectively "booting up the sequel", but you still go back to the original game to use the AH, and the sequel is pretty tiny compared to the original... and maybe this analogy isn't working so well... but perhaps that's one of the biggest draws of expansions, and not brand new games... you can 'take it with you'.

A tale in the desert vs. WoW isn't a fair comparison, as they're completely different games... Diablo 3 will be more "casting spells at bad guys", but it will be so different from wow that I won't feel like I've given up one for another.
I bounce between EVE and WoW, trying new ones as they come out but nothing has kept me hooked like eve or wow. Having friends in the game(s) helps a lot...but I get bored with any game after awhile and need a change of pace.
How I long for a Ultima Online 2.
I'd agree with trouble.. Blizzard is definitely good at what they do. Mythic hardly made a dent with their Warhammer Online (they were very ambitious in wanting to develop the game that's better-than-wow).

Other MMOG I play is Eve Online.. sci-fi genre but I'd have to say its definitely a good game. So for me, its WoW on Fantasy and Eve on Sci-Fi. :)
I have just recently gone back to WoW because end game on WAR is a slideshow for me. I am still subbed to WAR but its mainly due to friends and the characters I have there that I enjoy roleplaying.

As has been said. For all its bad points, WoW has always offered a polished game and thats why we come back to it. I rarely play single player RPGs these days as I miss the interaction of other people. Even if its only those running past you or doing the same quest.
The main reason for me would be to see new quests. I loved AoC's low level destiny quest chain in particular. Back before MMOs we used to but games just to play them through then forget about them. This seems a perfectly valid reason to buy an MMO, play it through then stop.

A second reason is that WoW (or whatever game you play) isn't perfect. It's entirely possible that a new game could come up and I could find myself enjoying it more and moving on from WoW. For me WoW is now a combination of clocking in for raids and alting to explore quests I haven't seen yet. Hardly the most engrossing game experience.
Trouble, I used to think that way too ... You see, back during my WoW playing days, when I tried out another MMO, all I could do was think stuff like, "But this isn't like WoW / This isn't how WoW does it." Then I realized that what I was doing was akin to meeting new people / going on dates with them, only to constantly compare them to (say) an ex and find them lacking because they aren't exactly like him -- which isn't exactly conducive to getting to know someone or finding them relationship material, so to speak. So I took a breath and really opened my mind to other possibilities, and found that the games that I used to turn my nose up at actually had some really great features.

And then I found a game that really catered to me. Sure, 'he' may not be as funny as WoW or do certain things WoW (or EQ2 or whatever) does, but 'he' has 'his' own awesome qualities and I find myself loving 'him' more and more as I go on. I find that, looking at it from a compatibility viewpoint, 'he' is much better suited to my tastes than I thought.
I imagine some small few of us are still waiting for Dawn. I want aTitD in a fantasy biosphere with combat, magic, and permadeath.
"Loot", "Escapism", "Relaxation" and "Achievement" can all be gained from single player games. So for me, an MMO has to offer more, which brings us to...

"Social Contacts" and a "A Sense of Belonging" apply to mostly multiplayer games (there are online communities for single player gamers however, which can make either of these appropriate. "Xbox Live" for example?). "Bragging Rights" is also something that seems to be important to a good number of players in online games, especially in MMO games ("My loot is better than yours").

For me personally, a MMO has to have that mysterious quality that makes it something more than just a multiplayer genre game (be it fantasy, sci-fi or other). It has to have an atmostphere, that is part generated by the game itself (mechanically and visually), but also by the player community. I think for me, WoW never got the atmosphere right. Whilst graphically it looked great, mechanically it didn't work for me (grind = reward), and "Loot" and "Bragging Rights" (both carried over from Diablo before it) became major components of the game, and I found those rather distasteful (especially when Guilds become looked upon as a means to better loot, rather than "Social Contacts" and a "A Sense of Belonging").

So I think that yes, all MMOs have those qualities Tobold mentioned in various degrees (and more besides), but I think the way their mixed and fused is extremely important - and hard to quantify!
Mostly it's about finding that sense of newness and excitement that you had when you played that first online RPG. I know WoW so well that nothing is really new. But when I played Age of Conan, the combat system was completely different and the voice acting in Tortage was cool. At least temporarily, it was something new and exciting. Of course it got boring a bit later but it was worth the experience.

The first online RPG I played was Gemstone III back in 1995. It was text-based but the thrill of playing with a bunch of other people was intoxicating. I've been trying to duplicate that feeling with every game since. WoW did indeed give me that same feeling at the beginning but the end-game raiding, real-time voice communications (i.e. vent) and guild comradery was something I had never experienced before. Now I expect more from a new game than just a new, novel experience. I need to struggle with a group of others to down the biggest foes and have something to keep playing for.
It's similar to playing a variety of FPS games. They're all the same in one way and different in others. Some are more tactical, some are story-driven, some are solo and others are squad-based. Plenty of people said the original Half-Life was the peak of that genre, but very soon afterwards it was obvious it could go so much further.

I'm also not a believer that the fantasy genre has been 'done perfect, so we should move on'. WoW is great, but I think a lot of us are waiting / wishing for something better.

And finally, I think the Diku-derived gameplay model works best in fantasy. A Sci-Fi setting in this genre feels more like a derivative, whereas another Fantasy game feels more evolutionary.
Happily, I have found a new MMO home, and it's not WoW, WAR, LotRO, or EQ. And what I like most about it, are the differences.

WoW is still probably the best MMO out there, but it's been out for what, 4 years now? All of the little things that would be minor issues previously, have made me tired of it. Not to say it's not a great game, but I no longer enjoyed spending my free time in that particular game, doing the same ol, same ol.
I am playing Fallout 3 right now. You are right, too many MMOs follow WoW's scheme, without delivering the same quality standard. The formula of WoW is not perfect though, it had flaws from the very beginning.

But as long as MMOs are allowed to be as flawed in design as Age of Conan was and probably still is, I see little hope for them.

So yeah, I already told another time that 2009 seems to become a MMO-free year for me.
Because I like to explore. One MMO never has all the options that ALL the mmo's have together.

Beau Turkey
I'm with ya, Tobold. Once you get entrenched in an MMO it's really hard to switch to another unless you give the players a really compelling reason to switch (or the player finally gets bored of your game, as sumdumguy notes). There are differences between EQ2 and WoW, but from a high-level view they're pretty much the same game. I preferred WoW for a variety of small reasons, and there were no compelling big reasons to change to/add EQ2, so I'm still playing WoW. When I want a palate-cleanser I switch over to Puzzle Pirates or Wizard101, or spaz out in front of my Wii.

I also think this is why MMOs should try to reinvent themselves too much after launch. Games like AoC and PotBS may fix and improve their gameplay well after launch, but if people find the game lacking after playing for three months they'll quit, subscribe elsewhere, get hooked, and never come back. It's rather futile to say "Hey folks, c'mon back, we finally got it right! Really, we mean it this time!"
Most I talk to don't even consider this, but character race choice can play a huge role in deciding what game one sticks with (since as it's been mentioned all MMOs are basically the same). I, for example, really enjoy playing a Ratonga in EQ2 much more than running around as a humanoid cow in WoW, so my choice of game is easy. I also know people who've stuck with Vanguard (or at least subscribe to SOE's Station Access) since it's the only MMO where you can play an anthro fox. These things really matter to some people.
I tend to not play 2 MMORPGs at the same time except when I'm test driving one of them of course. Who knows I might find something that will interest and keep me playing another MMORPG besides WoW.

It's not the case for FPS though. I can play multiple ones even though I already have a favorite as long as it delivers in either campaign or online matches.
Whether you are playing World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, an Everquest, or any other major fantasy MMORPG, you have probably found a home by now. What could possibly make you change?

You seem to be assuming first of all that one might only play one MMO only at any given time. I generally play multiple MMOs most of the time and I do change/switch at least some of them somewhat regularly. That is not necessarily because the previous games were bad or that any new game would be better. Even if the game mechanics are similar there might still be other interesting aspects of the game - plus of course it is also interesting where other friends etc may be playing.

The only constant is change.
Don't forget the expense factor. Subbing to more than one MMO adds up fast. The long level/loot grind also creates emotional investment.

But yes, if I'm tired of the WoW/GW gameplay, I'll wander over to Atlantica Online or Wizard 101 for their different combat engines, or Puzzle Pirates for a complete shift. (Or simply play offline with Valkyrie Profile 2, FFTA2, Brain Age or Wii Sports. When I want different, I find it, not just "french vanilla" when I'm tired of "vanilla".)
There's little reason to switch given the factors your dictated. However, I think that the qualifiers you lay out to help assert your premise are lacking. Of the games you listed, each of them have their own niche of focus. WoW actually has a two pronged demographic, end game raiding with large groups of people (that keeps shrinking with each expansion), and the eSport of arena matches. LotRO is all about adventuring with somewhat smaller groups, and a focus on interesting exploration/stories. WAR is all about the RvR, throwing your skill against your opponents and seeing who is the victor. EQ2 was historically all about medium sized (24 people max) raids, and moving through the progression, very similar to WoW, except with grittier more realistic graphics. AoC from the start was supposed to be about PvP combat, and is apparently just getting around to implementing it, but it catered to a more mature audience with higher-end realistic graphics, gore, and nudity. None of those games came out at exactly the same time, so when something new is released, you may realize that its playstyle/presentation is more in tune with your goals as a gamer.

Me? I played EQ2 end game through two expansions, switched to WoW because I thought it was more PvP focused (lol eSport), and have finally landed in WAR, which had some problems from the get-go. Why am I staying there? The devs have proven passion, dedication, and quick responses to player concerns. What I'm playing today, is so more refined than what it was at launch, I forget all the small problems that were around at launch. The gameplay is far and beyond better for me than anything else I've experienced. PvP lights my fire. There are still problems, but they are mostly minor, or quickly being resolved. Being a part of the community, and feeling like our voices are heard is a huge factor for me.
For me, I'm pretty well settled on EVE and EQ2 as "my 2" that I play. I have SOE's station pass thingie, though, and have Vanguard and SWG installed as well and (very) occasionally log in to them.

Biggest reasons I'm in EVE and EQ2 as my primaries, though -- I've got friends in them. Some are "online friends," but it's mostly RL friends. I don't know anyone who plays SWG or VG anymore except 1 RL friend, but he also plays EQ2 and EVE so I whatever social interaction I may wish to have with him I can have in those games, so no real "need" to play VG or SWG. and since they are so similar to "any other" level-based mmo, yeah... not much "hook" for me to log in to them.

I've tried WoW 2x at the urging of friends, but since my playtime hours were a bit odd then, never was really able to hook up with them, so...I think I have a level 14 priest and a level 13 mage, but that was about all I cared to play. Ended up "returning" to EQ2 and my friends there. "Returning" is in quotes becuz I never canceled that sub.

Anyway... it seem that for me it's the sense of belonging/friends. So yeah, if enough switched to another I might follow. Time will tell if that ends up happening.
If the fantasy MMORPG you are currently playing offers you all that, why would you want to quit and play a different fantasy MMORPG instead?

The simple answer is I wouldn't. But no MMO out there regardless of setting (hero, scifi, or fantasy) is going to be all things to all people. For me, LoTRO fills 95% of my MMO needs and with a lifetime subscription there is no cost to me but time. For that other 5% I have EVE Online. Does that mean I won't try new games as they are released? No, but it is likely that I won't stay with them. Warhammer is an excellent example. I played long enough to identify there it did not replace either of my current games and then I stopped.
I think an even more important question is: "Why play another SUBSCRIPTION fantasy MMORPG?"

The subscription model had a nice run, but it needs to die. The subscription model makes it cost prohibitive to play more than one MMO at a time, or swap between multiples every few days or weeks. It requires too much pre-planning, and avoiding overlap is almost impossible.

Muckbeast - Game Design and Online Worlds
I won't play anything BUT games with flat subscriptions... but that's another topic.

"why would you want to quit and play a different fantasy MMORPG instead?", you ask?

My first real MMO addiction was EQ on the Team PvP server Tallon Zek.

It was glorious.

Freeport was a city besieged by hundreds of diaper wearing trolls wielding rusty broadswords, and Dark team raids into the short/elf stronghold of Faydwer were the stuff of server legend. It was an age of Heroes when the game and the players were all about the War. But as EQ in general became more and more raid-centric and the players got spread out across the huge expansion zones, the game WE were playing slowly choked to death.

When DAOC came out, it was glorious too... until the ToA expansion changed the focus to PvE raiding.

SWG came out and it was... not too shabby... until the NGE effectively destroyed the game we'd been playing up 'til then.

My point is that an MMO isn't static, and a lot of us don't quit a game: it quits us.

These days I'm playing two fantasy MMO's: WAR and LOTRO. They're two very different experiences, even though both are fantasy titles, and I'm enjoying them both immensely. I'm praying that neither Mythic nor Turbine will do an NGE on me. ;)
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