Tobold's Blog
Saturday, September 08, 2018
Humble peeve

I like the idea of the Humble Bundle Monthly: Once per month you get an offer to buy a triple-A game for $12, and you get a bunch of indie games thrown in for free. I bought Civilization 6 and Destiny 2 that way, both way cheaper than any other offer, and some of the lesser games I got in the bundle look interesting too. Because of this I am still subscribed to the Humble Bundle Monthly newsletter, although it is a bit spammy, informing you of the monthly offer once a week. And while I am having a negative reaction to the current offer, Overwatch for $12, this is just because it pushes a wrong button for me, a pet peeve.

I have been playing MMORPGs for many years, more than a decade, and spent a considerable amount of time not only playing them, but also analyzing them and blogging about them. In my mind MMORPGs had a great potential to become online worlds in which we would want to hang out forever, but they never fully realized that potential because of lack of courage and innovation on the side of developers and game companies. So the trend faded, and even I am not playing MMORPGs any more, because they evolved into a bunch of derivative and repetitive chores instead of living and breathing worlds.

While I am somewhat okay with MMORPGs having gone out of fashion, it makes me angry what came and replaced them: Online multiplayer PvP games, from League of Legends to Fortnite. To me these games are the essence of all what I hated about bad MMORPGs: Competitive, hate-filled places instead of social, collaborative ones. Players being lured in to serve as content, so that game companies save money on creating content. Exploiting player’s weaknesses for virtual gambling in the form of lootboxes instead of subscriptions. It is as if a sociologist studied MMORPGs for years, discovered all human weaknesses in online games, and set out to exploit as many of them as he could for monetary gain.

So, sorry Humble Bundle, but I think that games like this are a plague upon gamers, and I wouldn’t even play them if you paid me $12. I just hope the trend fades away in another decade.

I must misunderstand something. Overwatch is not an MMORPG, it's an online team based shooter. And a great one too.
My real life in the actual, physical world, like most people's, consists precisely of "a bunch of derivative and repetitive chores". In that respect the current iteration of MMORPGs is far closer to being a convincing evocation of a virtual world than ever. Indeed, the closer any virtual world approaches a convincing simulacrum, the more tedious, repetitive and mundane it must perforce become.

Can you describe what a virtual world MMORPG, operating 24/7365, would look like if it wasn't allowed to have either repetitive chores or PvP? Other than a completely randomized environment without structure or coherence, I struggle to see how it could be done. All crafting and trading options, for example, are both derivitve and repetitive, as is leveling, combat vs monsters, and improving stats and gear. Exploration may not be intrinsically repetitive but it becomes so when repeated ad nauseam, especially when what you are discovering is the result of an algorithm.

About the only infinitely repeatable, non-competitive, non-repetitive activity you could have in a virtual world, that I can think of, would be roleplaying, aka talking to other people while pretending to be someone that you are not, which is already entirely possible in any MMO we have. And is a niche interest in most.
What about Second Life? It seems to fit the bill in theory, but in practice seems to have declined in popularity. Maybe a more communally-orientated Minecraft would work. But then again, if you have enough player created content you're going to have to find a way to make your game adults only. Second Life is famous for virtual sex - from what I hear it's the only working part of its economy. And the icon for a 'free creation' Minecraft will probably depict a kilometre high virtual phallus.

Something like Entropia Universe? Friendly folk getting exploited together. Eve Online? Infamous for scams and offline cruelty.

(I'm not knocking anyone who enjoys the more unusual games. But they are niche, and might not even be tolerated by society at large, especially in the current censorious climate, if they were otherwise.)

Honestly, I'd guess there probably ARE people who are still hanging out in Ironforge for the last decade! Maybe that's actually where to look.
So, I have to ask.

What is a "Living, breathing world"? I ask because I think you're asking for the wind. It was tried in UO, and, predictably, failed miserably. Any attempt will immediately run into the "tragedy of the commons" and collapse.

Also, as Bhagpuss says, if you remove "repetitive tasks" there would be no reason to log in at all for the vast majority of the player base.

Repetitive tasks create an "idle game" that engages much of your attention with a trivially easy task. But even that gets old and stale.

I'm in a similar position as you, have been playing MMORPGS since the dawn of time (There was no way to connect in the before times.) The reality is, you can only push this simulation so far for the AAA mass market. It hits the wall at "repetitive idle game" or "PvP match game."

The core problem is development cost. The only way through is Indi games. You must ditch the AAA expectation and look at niches specific to you.
I share your Open World likes and shooter dislikes.


The Earth Day Poster and more famously Walt Kelly's cartoon [q.v.] paraphrased Commodore Perry's "We Have Met The Enemy, and they are Ours" as “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I.e., the sad fact is that we have toxic shooters today, not because of game companies, but because of the preferences of our fellow gamers.
I used to feel the way you do but with my son and his many friends growing up and engaging with games like Overwatch and Fortnite I see a different spectrum entirely now on how these games are played and who is playing them. A flegm-spewing adult getting mad in Fortnite is amusing now, and no different from the psychos I avoided who raided in WoW. Most of the players in these current games are far less vitriolic and toxic I feel than the raid culture that MMORPGs spawned, I have come to see. These days, when I encounter a nutty person in Fortnite, Overwatch, Destiny 2 or CoD of choice, my feeling about them are tempered dramatically by the realization that these are just kids playing most of these games, and the genuinely bad apples aren't as common now as they used to be for some reason. Obviously though my experience is a YMMV anecdotal scenario.

That said, I am in total agreement that it is a shame we aren't seeing more games with a focus on story/creativity and social collaboration in the MMORPG scene. I suspect we're a few years away from a new point of innovation that revitalizes that genre.
Players being lured in to serve as content, so that game companies save money on creating content.

Is this not exactly what happens in a "social, collaborative" game? In your dream MMO, how much of the content is created by the devs, and how much is simply the social interactions/role-playing/etc between everyone?
I'm still having a lot of fun trying out new (to me) MMOs. That's where 90% of my playtime has gone for close to two decades now, and there are still more that I'm interested in trying than I'll likely ever get to.

I don't feel like MMOs have been "replaced" at all by newer offerings. They always have been and remain fairly niche products. Apart from a few flukes like WoW, Dungeon Fighter Online and Lineage none of these games ever end up with more than maybe 250-500K steady players (and most with far fewer). The main thing that's changed is that truly mainstream million + player titles have started to incorporate some elements of MMOs. GTA Online isn't what I'd call a MMO, but it shares a lot of design elements with them. LoL and Overwatch aren't pulling players away from MMOs any more than online poker does.
I am the same age as you Tobold and like you I once thought mmorpgs would be stepping stones towards fully immersive alternative worlds such as those envisaged by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Tad Williams. I think a few virtual worlds did try to go that way including obviously "Second Life" but also a number of titles aimed at younger audiences such as "Club Penguin" and "Free Realms" but none of them ever really took off and in the end mmorpgs became just another type of game to play.

I think that Blizzard realised this early with World of Warcraft and while WoW did offer a large immersive online world the game aspect always came first. This proved a smart business decision because pretty soon afterwards social media became a thing. Social media provides ways for people to hang out with their friends online without having to pretend to be elves or dwarves and it turns out that the vast majority of people are happier with that. I think that Facebook did more to kill of the social aspect of mmorpgs than anything that the gaming industry ever did.

I guess I am a bit dissapointed that the early promise of mmorpgs as virtual worlds was never realised. The world of computer games seems a lot less magical to me now than it did fifteen years ago. Games today have become incredibly polished forms of mass entertainment but they no longer seem offer the potential of becoming something more.

Recently I had the opportunity to try out virtual reality with an Occulus rift. While this quickly convinced me that the technology is nowhere near ready for the mass market it did briefly rekindle some future wonder in me and perhaps give me a glimpse of what might happen. I think the best hope now of the (re) emergence of virtual worlds is not from gaming but from business applications or from some form of social media. The business applications are already close. Companies are already creating 3D virtual models of buildings and towns that the engineers and designers can virtually walk through. It seems a relatively simple step to allow multiple users in to interact and work together in these virtual spaces. On the social media side of things I could imagine something like facebook messenger transitioning into a 3D communications tool and from that developing persistent virtual meeting places for people to hang out in.

Longer comment that I anticipated. I am going to cut and paste a copy of it on my own much neglected blog for posterity.
One thing that has happened with the rise of MOBAs is that the crowd that runs to the new MMO hotness, rushes to max level, then sits around whining "I'm bored" has moved onto MOBAs. What's left --outside of the WoW raid culture-- are people who like to play MMOs and not rush through content to get "to where the game begins".
Tobold, I have been reading your blog for many many years, ever since the good old WoW days. I think I found out about your website on or something.

Thanks for keeping it up. Have you considered moving to a reddit format?
I value my archive of 15 years, over 5500 posts. Which makes it impossible to move this blog anywhere.
>Players being lured in to serve as content, so that game companies save money on creating content.
Football and go players are lured in to serve as content, so that football and go tournaments save money on creating content, huh?
I'd say constant trickling of content can be seen as a life support for games that aren't deep enough to survive otherwise. In that regard, only the game that can thrive after the development is finished is actually well-made. But making games this deep is hard, because this requires creating actual functioning mechanics, not just reskinning existing content under different themes.

And, of course, it's not fair to compare team competetive tactical games to progression-based coop/solo games that you seem to prefer. These are completely different genres after all.
> I value my archive of 15 years, over 5500 posts.
> Which makes it impossible to move this blog anywhere.

Why does it make impossible? 5500 posts isn't a issue at all in 2018. Blogger gives a tool to export everything if I am not mistaken. There are various tools to move away from Blogger if you want to do so.


You have to realize that an increasing number of games are no longer developed for our demographic/age group. I'm 54, and like you, I'm disappointed that MMO's didn't become what I had hoped they would. But I don't blame developers, I blame the bean-counters and greedy pubs for taking the creative force behind MMO's and distilling it down into these simplistic design principles we see that supports and encourages all of these new and manipulative revenue models.

It's ok though, almost all of the predictions I made 15 years ago about alternate revenue schemes have come true, and to this day I still have not spent one red cent on ANY F2P game or any item shop items from any game. Do I win the internet because of this? No, but the money I have saved has allowed me to invest this possibly wasted income on a completely new hobby that I can enjoy.
"Football and go players are lured in to serve as content, so that football and go tournaments save money on creating content, huh?"

It's been known. In the old days many sports teams and associations heavily exploited their players. Nowadays the boot is on the other foot, to an extent.

"I still have not spent one red cent on ANY F2P game"

They aren't all bad. Some do give good value to non-whales, and I don't mind paying them a little. It's true that most of those can be played free without too much trouble also. Which is illogical, in a sense - you'd think that a game with cheap entry could afford to punish free-riders more - but that seems to be how it goes.
While I agree with the main point and consider Overwatch a scam:

However lootboxes have nothing to do with genres, while they are common in shooters and MOBAs, they are also plaguing other genres, including MMOs.
Yeah, I'm always irritated by all these 'players as content' bullshit PVP titles that get included in seemingly every other Bundle I've bought. I have zero interest in them, and 90% of them are those 'indie brawler' types that already exhausted the interest of their beta testsers before launch who then kill post-launch enthusiasm by pub-stomping non-testers into abandonment to the point that there's going to be no point in firing them up six months after they're released.

It'd be nice if they weren't using up part of each month's 'budget' on that trash, but it's hard to stay annoyed when I'm getting so much other good shit for such a low price. Literally a couple bucks per game, and I don't even have the time to play them.
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