Thursday, July 28, 2022

Jumping Someone Else's Train

caused a certain amount of sage head-nodding in mmodom a few days ago with a pronouncement that all forms of NFT and Blockchain-related activity would be banned from Minecraft because the fad "creates digital ownership based on scarcity and exclusion." Amen to that, right?

I mean, who would argue against anyone who says online gaming ought to be about "creative inclusion and playing together", right? Certainly not me.

And it makes perfect sense for the kind of game Minecraft is. It's all about the creativity and the community. Mmorpgs, though, for all they like to foster an image of social harmony, they're kind of built on the concept of "scarcity and exclusion", aren't they?

As far back as the days of classic EverQuest (Or just "EverQuest", as we knew it then.) it's all been about the haves and the have-nots. What were all those endless camps for, if not to put your hands on something that was really hard to get? Something most people didn't have.

Seriously, who'd have spent days, weeks, sometimes months, wishing, hoping, praying for the Ancient Cyclops to pop or Quillmane to fly past, if it hadn't been because those creatures were so damn difficult to find but so worth it if you did?

Scarcity and exclusion is what those spawns and their even rarer rare drops were all about. Even needing a credit card to pay a subscription before you could play at all reeks of exclusivity. For every player who buckled down and powered through there must have been scores, hundreds who just couldn't bring themselves to make the effort and millions who refused to pony up at all.

Almost no-one I ever ran with successfully camped either the AC or Quill and those were some of the more accessible of the hard-to-hit targets. A few tried then gave up. Most never even started. When you know something's been made that hard to get on purpose, it feels like a trick you shouldn't fall for.

That's how I felt, anyway, which is possibly why, although I find NFTs to be laughably transparent as the con trick they are, my blood doesn't begin to boil at the thought of them inveigling their way into our games. For sure, they'll make things even worse than they already are, in the way there's stuff most of us will never see or own, for whatever value of "ownership" you care to apply, but that ship sailed before I even reached the dock.

So, NFTs are bad and Blockchain sucks but as usual that's not what I'm here to talk about. No, what that Mojang quote made me wonder was whether there might be too many mmorpgs.

It's not something that's ever really occured to me before. I've always been very much a maximalist when it comes to all forms of entertainent and popular culture. It's not as if music or movies or comics or tv are some kind of zero sum game. Having more options doesn't mean we get less out of each of them.

Or does it? When it comes to mmorpgs maybe it might. Is that the reason we all go through phases of finding the genre moribund, claiming "MMOs are dying", even as we scramble to download the latest seven-day wonder the moment it tumbles off the assembly line?

I was pondering all this while I was staring at the login screen for Noah's Heart, the new all-systems mmorpg that finally got its PC launch today. At 9AM. Or so I thought. Apparently I can no longer tell time. I learned to read an analog clock when I was five years old but it seems that's not enough any more.  

Archosaur Games kindly sent me an email yesterday to let me know they'd be opening the servers at "9:00 UTC-5) on July 28th". They told me I could download the game right away, so I did. 

They also mentioned something called "Preset Customization", saying "Preset customization is also available for you to share with your friends in advance. The character data will be saved in the game system. Explorers who finished preset customization could enter the game with their characters while the server opens."  

I didn't have any friends who'd be interested (Outside of the blog, that is.) but I fancied the idea of being able to get into the game immediately when it opened and anyway who can resist making a character in a new game, even if you can't actually log them in yet?

I stayed up half an hour later than usual making a character. There were a lot of options although most of them might as well have been labelled "Will never be seen in game". I mean, how often do you check the slant of a character's eyebrows during a firefight? Also, no nods to the zeitgeist with any "Body Type A and B" on the "Select Gender" screen; just plain, old vanilla Male and Female.

Eventually I had something I was happy with, namely the usual generic anime girl I always end up playing in these games, unless there's an anthropmorphic option. Noah's Heart is no Chimeraland in that respect. You'll be human and you'll like it although you can have pointy ears if you want to pretend you're an elf. (You can show yourself out over there, if that sounds like a good idea to you.).

I did try to make her short and round but you can see how that went. Archosaur's idea of "plump" is quite different to mine. The balloon pants pretty much make up for it, though.

This morning I was very keen, excited almost, to get back from walking Beryl and see how the game played. At eleven in the morning I thought the servers would have been up for a while. They weren't, of course. 

It took me an embarassingly long time to work out why, and while I was fiddling about I somehow managed to delete my saved character appearance. Never mind. Turns out I had three hours to work on another.

Four hours, actually. Even after I reminded myself how UTC works, I forgot to allow for British Summer Time. The servers finally came up at 3PM my time, either one or six hours later than I expected, depending where you stand.

As I was sitting around, messing about with sliders and mithering about the delay, it occured to me how very, very many times I'd done the same thing over the years. I used to know how many mmorpgs I'd played but I lost count long ago. Still, I'm pretty sure it has to be well over two hundred by now. 

"Scarcity and exclusion" may still drive mmorpg gameplay but the days when it also applied to how many there were and how difficult they were to access are long, long gone. For many years now, there's been an absolute glut of mmos to choose from, more than any rational person could ever try, let alone really play.

As for the monetary gatekeepers that once had offline gamers shaking their heads in disgust and disbelief, not only do most games no longer ask for a monthly subscription, many of them have waived the entrance fee altogether, handing out the whole game for free to anyone with an email address and sometimes not even asking for that.

If we're all a little cynical about the process it's hardly surprising. If we find ourselves gobbling down games like candy and feeling just about as satisified after, whose fault is that? 

Well, everyone's I suppose. The companies for piling games onto the ever growing pile without much intention of curating the experience for longer than it takes to get away with the cash and us for falling over ourselves to grab each new toy as it appears, only to throw it aside a hot moment later to play with the next.

Alright, maybe that's just me. I really can't resist a new mmorpg, especially if it comes with a flashy promo and some great scenery. If I ever had any genuine wish to find a new virtual home where I could settle down for more than five minutes, it long ago evaporated. Now I just want to get in, see the sights, take a few photos and get out. And if I can finesse a few juicy posts out of it all, so much the better.

Once in a while something comes along that sticks for a while, like Chimeraland or New World, but not very often. For all the money and time they take to make and the supposed longevity they enjoy, most mmorpgs entertain me for a handful of sessions at most. It does make me want to ask if a bit more "scarcity and exclusion" wouldn't sweeten the pot.

Forget about the cultural, technological and moral dead-end represented by NFTs. If mmorpg developers made fewer games and made those they did more exclusive to play, would that re-kindle interest in the genre from sated, satiated vets like me?

Nah. Shouldn't think so for a moment. It'd just be very annoying. I'm with Mojang on this one. Let's stick with "plenty and inclusion" at least for a while longer. I'm not bored yet!

Oh, Noah's Heart? Yes, I did get in, eventually. I logged in at two minutes past three and played for an hour and a half before I had to stop so I could write this post. First impressions to follow, although if you're a regular here you can probably guess what I'm going to say and save yourself the suspense.


  1. I'm over playing every new MMORPG. I want to, but I just can't commit to playing it for the 6 months to a year necessary to really get deeply enough into a game to understand and enjoy it. I've missed so many MMOs now that I will never catch up.

    1. I do sometimes wonder if I'd bother if I didn't have the blog. I get so many posts out of every new release, though, and I really love doing First Impressions posts. I have no intentions or expectations of hanging around longer than it takes to get the feel of the game and maybe hit the mid levels, though. The idea of staying in a new game exclusively for even six months, let alone several years, seems positively weird these days. Valheim was maybe six weeks and that ended up feeling really strange.


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