Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Worlds Upon Worlds

In one of those confluences that happens surprisingly often, this morning I read three unrelated posts that all seemed to point roughly to the same thing. UltrViolet at Endgame Viable asked what happened to all "Those New MMOs", Redbeard at Parallel Context framed "A State of the Game Request", wondering how many people play our games and what they do while they're there. Finally, Bree at MassivelyOP questioned the supposedly popular belief that the mmorpg genre is in the middle of a damaging creative drought, asking "Is the MMO Genre Thriving in Scarcity?". 

I dropped a comment on that last one which, to save myself some typing, I'll repost in part here:

"I agree that the whole idea of mmo scarcity is flawed to begin with. There are more good, new mmos released than anyone is ever likely to have time to play. Most of them barely get reported beyond the initial launch publicity but they also don’t go away and plenty of people play them. In 2021 I’ve played two of the better new mmos I’ve played in years in Chimeraland and Noah’s Heart and just this week MOP has reported favorably on a third, Tower of Fantasy. Looking back a few years, how often does anyone talk about the excellent Blade and Soul, now looking at a sequel, or the highly entertaining AdventureQuest 3D?"

In saying as much, I was following up my comment to UltrViolet, an experienced mmo player and blogger whose posts I always enjoy but with whom I frequently find myself in considerable disagreement. I'd repost that comment too but although I could see it displayed in the thread after I posted it, when I look now there's no sign I said anything at all. (Just in case you're reading this, UV, which you may well be since you linked Inventory Full in the article, the link to the private server where comments are hosted returns a "404 page not found" error.)

Luckily, I can remember the gist of what I said, which is that we in this part of the blogosphere have a pronounced tendency to behave as though the only mmorpgs that matter are a couple of dozen titles (At most!), mainly Western, almost all over a decade old. Everything else is either invisible, ignored or dismissed for a variety of reasons, most of which could probably be summed up as "Not our kind of thing".

And that's more than fair enough. These are personal blogs not commercial gaming websites. There's no reason for anyone to waste a moment posting about any game that doesn't interest them. As Redbeard very rightly points out, we don't even have any objective way of finding out how popular any of these titles are, let alone which elements of their vastly varied gameplay people enjoy.

The best we can do is try to piece together a patchwork of detail by way of quarterly reports, Google Trends, Steam charts and if we're really desparate, sites like this. It's all very ramashackle and not very convincing.

I've ragged on the likes of MMOPopulation.com before but at least they have a list. A list of one hundred and thirty mmos, all of which I've heard of and most of which I've played. Okay, some of them have closed down and some are still in development so I'm not suggesting it's a good list, but it does give an indication of the depth of the field. There are a hundred or so MMOs on there that wouldn't be a waste of anyone's time to try.

I'm beginning to wonder if the whole idea of "scarcity", coupled with the belief that "they don't make 'em like they used to", might not be some kind of unconscious response, designed to make us feel more comfortable with the disturbing fact that there are actually more mmos than most of us will ever play and that many of those are really (Whisper it...) quite good.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that two of the new titles I've tried this year, Chimeraland and Noah's Heart, are among the better examples of the genre as I know it. I think it's pretty much self-evident that, in any era of genuine scarcity, either of them would have been seized upon as imaginative, entertaining games, stuffed with enough content to last most players months if not years. 

The same could be said, even more forcibly, about New World, currently being written off by almost everyone as a commercial and artistic disaster. Only in a genre with such redundancy could titles as deep and complex as these be consigned to the Five Minute Wonder file.

It's always been the same, though. I wax nostalgic occasionally about the days when every new mmorpg release was a major occasion and fans of the form made sure not to miss anything new but honestly? It was never like that. Even twenty years ago there were more mmorpgs than I was able to play and believe me, I tried. 

Even leaving out genre giants like Lineage, Fantasy Westward Journey or Dungeon Fighter Online, hugely popuar but not often played in the West, there are too many significant titles, like Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa or Club Penguin I never even got to try before they were gone. More tellingly, there are some very well-known titles still active that I haven't played, either: Age of Conan, for example, or Albion Online.

Naturally, all of us, who knock out these posts for our own amusement and the entertainment of our peers, tend to focus either on the games that interest us or those we think might interest our readers, if we're lucky enough to have any. (Trigger warning: Self-deprecation. Also Irony.) We also tend to re-frame the arguments in ways that seem obvious to us, even though our assumptions are frequently based on little more than direct experience and anecdote, rather than any kind of objective, analytical research. 

When I say "we", of course, I really mean "I". Making sweeping statements about how things are and what people do, when what I really mean is how they are for me and what I do, is a tendency I've tried to curb over the years but old habits always seem to have a rez on hand. I was going to hammer out a quick reply to Redbeard about how most people in mmorpgs don't raid and never have and how what most people really do is bumble around amusing themselves with a bit of this, a bit of that, but although I do still believe that's generally likely to be the case in most games, I can't stand the argument up with anything other than a few, increasingly dated anecdotes, so in the end I decided it was better not to say anything.

What I can say, though, is that far from feeling there aren't enough good mmorpgs to go round, I feel exactly the opposite. There are so many there's no chance I'll ever get to see more than a sample. And that's fine. I don't expect to read every good novel or see every good movie, either. I'll take what I can get and make the most of it.

All of which is a very roundabout way to say welcome to Blaugust's Creative Appreciation Week. I might come back around later to big up someone specific or I might not but I just wanted to put in a generic "Well Done and Keep Up The Good Work!" to everyone working in the genre: in both quality and quantity you all go well beyond expectations.



  1. Speaking of *Club Penguin*, did you ever give *Toontown Rewritten* a try? So far out of your normal line that I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

    1. I played the original Toontown, briefly, in beta I think. I mean, I know I played it - I think it was in beta. I haven't played the emulator version - I did actually think it had been shut down by Disney until I read a very interesting post about it a week or so back on one of the new Blaugust blogs (Sorry to say I can't remember the name - Bad Mentor!). That was intriguing enough to make me consider giving it a look but I don't imagine I'll find the time.

      Have you played it? Is it good? I found the original very confusing and hard to follow as I recall, although it was so long ago I really can't say why.

  2. Ah, Age of Conan. So much promise, and the intro zone is so fantastic that the bait and switch back to a "normal" WoW-esque MMO afterward is kind of jarring. (The bugs didn't help, either.) But for pure immersion into Robert E. Howard's world, it's hard to beat.

    1. Oh, and thanks for the reference!

    2. I actually own an (Unopened) boxed copy. I've been meaning to play it for years just to see those fisrt amazing 18 levels everyone goes on about. I'll probably get around to it when Funcom announce they're shutting it down.


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