Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Blowing Up

Kaylriene has a post up about losing faith with World of Warcraft and - maybe, possibly, perhaps - being done with it for good. It's a thoughtful, considered post in which he says, among other things, that it was Blizzard's failure to provide sufficient new, compelling content that opened the space that let him try out a new mmorpg, New World, and delve deeper into one he was already playing, Final Fantasy XIV, which had always, until last year, had to take a back seat to WoW.

The post reminded me of something I'd been thinking to myself, as I pounded down the dirt tracks of Aeternum yesterday, finishing up the Winter Convergence event. How necessary, or even advisable, is it to commit to a single game? 

For the longest time now, I've played a lot of mmorpgs. As I've written before, since the very beginning, when I discovered EverQuest in late 1999, I've almost never kept to a single one. Partly it's been an endless sense of curiosity. Almost as soon as I read about a new entry to the genre I want to try it out. 

As I've learned over a couple of decades, it doesn't pay to dismiss any mmorpg out of hand, sight unseen. Yes, at times (And this last couple of years has definitely been one of them.) there seem to be more mmorpgs coming on-stream than anyone could hope to keep up with but experience tells me it's a lot harder than you'd imagine to know which will end up being one you'll always remember fondly and which you'll forget forever the moment you log out.

Take Chimeraland. I'd never heard of that game until I read a very brief news item saying it had launched. I only tried it out of curiosity and in the hope of generating an easy blog post or two. I wasn't expecting to spend most of my gaming time over the next two weeks playing it, every chance I got. I could say much the same of a number of other unfashionable titles that crop up regularly here, Twin Saga, Dragon Nest, Blade and Soul, Riders of Icarus...

Those and many, many more are titles I picked almost at random, never expecting to spend much time with them. There must be dozens of mmorpgs I've spent longer playing than I have most single-player titles I've bought and enjoyed. There was a flurry of conversation in the blogosphere recently concerning which games people had played for more than five hundred hours. I thought about joining in, then thought better of it. It could be embarrassing.

There's a problem here and it's not the thorny old chestnut of how much game-playing is too much? It's the less self-flagellating "too many games, not enough time." As Kaylriene says, what he describes as "the competetive landscape of MMOs and gaming in general" has changed a lot in recent times. 

It began a long time ago in what we thought of then as the "Free to Play Revolution" but in what feels like a wholly counterintuitive backflip, it's spawned an unexpected sequel - "Return of the Subscription". As Krikket was saying, this is a much wider cultural phenomenon than just gaming but I've spoken about that several times in the past and I don't really want to go over it all again. I think we're at the point where we can all accept it's the culture we're living in, at least for now.

What's exercising me more at the moment isn't the cost, the convenience or the cultural implications, it's the more pointed question of how all of this is supposed to fit together. For once, I'm not whining about how there are only so many hours in the day, as I often do when it all starts to feel like it's getting on top of me. No, I'm thinking more of how much preparation, planning and effort it's going to take to get what I want out of what's on offer.

Looking outside of the gaming bubble for just a moment, only this week I've had to take time to download some seasons of shows I've been watching on Amazon Prime because they're going to be "leaving the service" shortly. If I hadn't spotted the warning, I'd have logged in one evening to watch the next episode and found it wasn't there. 

Netflix is losing ground to Disney+ as the mouse claws back content it was happy to license out before it had a subscription service of its own. I'm not so much concerned that I'll have to subscribe to multiple services as that I'm going to have to start scheduling what I watch based on who's showing it when. That sounds disturbingly like a step backwards, heading in the direction of the bad old days when we had to rely on broadcast media for our entertainment.

I was very interested to read Kaylriene's observations on the way Blizzard times content releases to spoil the pitches of competitors. He seemed in absolutely no doubt whatsoever that this isn't just a thing they do, it's a thing they always do.

Over the years I've seen many denials that any such practice exists. Blizzard is too big to care what others do, its defenders protest. The company wouldn't even notice what lesser lights were doing. All that's beneath their dignity. 

I've seen similar claims made for most of the larger developers and I've never found the arguments particularly convincing. If you can steal a competitor's thunder, why wouldn't you? It's not as though this is all some kind of friendly, altruistic club. It's business in the post-capitalist age.You don't raise yourself up by standing on the shoulders of giants if you can stand on their corpses instead.

Whether or not it's intentional doesn't matter so much as that it's almost inevitable. The market is so crowded now. There's no space to dodge everyone even if you wanted to try. 

For the first few years after I started paying attention to the genre, the announcement of a new mmorpg was an event in itself. There weren't so many you could afford to ignore any of them but also, with a box fee and a monthly subscription the norm, there weren't likely to be that many you could afford to play, either.

That was a long, long time ago. Everything was different then. Mmorpgs kept coming out. Many of them hung around. The MMORPG.com list runs to sixty-three pages and there are fifteen titles on each page. That's getting on for a thousand mmorpgs. 

As Kaylriene's post makes painfully plain, mmorpgs need to keep pumping out content to hold on to the players they have. It's like treading water in a deep ocean. The moment you stop paddling you're going to drown. To all those intriguing, exciting new games you can add Updates and Patches and Expansions and Events for all the ones we have with us already.

Earlier today, MassivelyOP flagged several upcoming promotional events for Guild Wars 2's fourth expansion, End of Dragons, for which, as Bree pointed out, we don't even have a firm launch date yet. In the discussion that followed it was suggested that ArenaNet might want to push the launch back into March "just to get out of the way of everything else being released", to which the reply was "March isn’t much better for major releases, both months are fairly brutal."

The schedule is congested, it's true, and has been for a long time. Last summer I was writing about the log-jam of new mmorpgs and things have scarcely slowed down since (Except at Blizzard, of course.) It's not likely there'll be much respite this year, either. Perhaps that's why Darkpaw decided to get their markers down early.

I used to wonder why anyone would stick to just one mmorpg but I can kind of see it, now. As Kaylriene complains, along with the rest of us, WoW comes with a lot of "padded busywork" to keep the core audience locked in. So do most mmorpgs. The genre is famously time-consuming.

It's not just the intentional stickiness of the regular gameplay, either. As my recent posting history confirms, every mmorpg likes to pump out holiday content for the same holidays. The more imaginative add extra holidays based around the cultural traditions enshrined in their own lore but everyone mirrors the big real-world events. 

It can be moderately challenging to keep pace with this stuff even in just the one game, especially if you like to play multiple characters. Mrs Bhagpuss has been known to burn out on both GW2 and EverQuest II holiday events, trying to get all the things for several characters on different accounts. I'm nothing like as diligent but I find it too much of a good thing sometimes.

Chimeraland has put a lot of this into perspective for me. It's a very good game with a great deal of potential. It's system-rich, there's much to learn, it has a slew of interesting progression systems, particularly in crafting and housing and there's a core gameplay loop involving catching and evolving monsters that I know has proved highly compulsive in other games but which would be entirely new to me.

I could easily see myself playing Chimeraland as a "main game" but I remember saying similar things about Genshin Impact, Black Desert, Bless Unleashed, Blade and Soul... The thing is, I'm already de facto playing both GW2 and EQII as "main games", a fact easily proved by my purchase of every expansion either of them has put out. 

It's plain I can barely keep up with those two. I haven't completed the adventure questline for Visions of Vetrovia yet (Okay, that is mostly because I couldn't beat that one boss...) and I've been doing the bare minimum to keep up to date in GW2 for a couple of years. It was a blessed relief to me when they mothballed the Living Story in favor of letting everyone play catch-up before the expansion.

If I'm going to go on playing multiple mmorpgs, which I most assuredly am, I have an uncomfortable feeling I might need to be more organized about it. It goes against the grain, I can tell you. I am not going to go as far as some people and draw up a gaming schedule but I will have to decide on a few broad guidelines based on goals and priorities.

Or I should. Whether I will is another matter. I was kind of hoping setting it down in print like this would focus my mind and it has, a little. I can say for sure that I want to carry on with Chimeraland, even if it's at the expense of something else. It's the game I most want to play each day so it would be crazy to play something I was less interested in just because it had seniority.

When End of Dragons drops, though, I'm going to feel obligated to give it some serious attention, even though right now i can honestly say I've rarely been less interested in an expansion for any game I was actually playing. If ANet postponed it for another few months I wouldn't be complaining. 

They won't, though. They're committed themselves. Maybe I should follow their example.


  1. I suppose I could always tell what MMO the WoW dev team thought their main competition was based on when Blizz timed their major releases/patches. Rift, SWTOR, Wildstar, ESO, and FF XIV all received the "Hammer of WoW" release treatment at some time or another, so I find it quite amusing that WoW was unable to muster much interest at all after Endwalker released. They went to the well once too often, and now the well is dry.

    1. Interesting how WoW easily saw all those mmos off, until FFXIV did what it had already done when it came back from the dead the first time and surged forward yet again. FFXIV's like one of those crazed killers in a slasher movie. You think you've put it down but never turn your back.

  2. I started doing a comment, but then it turned into a post. So now it's a post. :)

    1. And I just posted a reply there that probably ought to have been turned into a post. It's long enough!

  3. I'm not sure the question whether one should or can play multiple MMOs is useful most of the time, unless that a clear yes or no are probably wrong :P

    For example I tried it last year and it only worked because I was raidlogging for WoW, with my main energy spent in FFXIV. Same thing before with EVE. I admire people who can switch, for example on a daily basis, but if I play an MMO I am mostly all-in and have 20 goals and time to reach 10. Or less.

    1. I think if you want to see the endgame in most mmos you probably have to commit to sticking with one game plus maybe one more you play when the main game is down for updates or in a content drought. Multiple mmos work for me mainly because I'm largely unimpresed by what passes for endgame content in most of the games I've played. When I do get stuck into an mmo at high level, though, it does become about the only thing I play for as long as that lasts.


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