Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Sunday So Far Away

Ten years ago, when I was thinking of starting a blog in which I'd write about playing MMORPGs, I wanted a catchy name for it that would sum up the compelling, satisfying, immersive nature of the hobby. When I thought of "Inventory Full" I knew I'd struck gold.

In those days a full inventory meant one thing: you'd been playing so long and so hard and so intently your bags had filled up to the point where you couldn't cram any more inside. Every game had it's own idiosyncratic way of handling storage space but none, at least that I played, used lack of space punitively or as a source of revenue.

Getting bigger bags and more bank space did come with an element of character progression. It was tied to how much gold or platinum or credits your characters could earn in game or how advanced their skill in tailoring or leatherworking or some other box-making craft might be. Some games even linked the size of your inventory to your level.

The bigger the bags you had and the more of them, the larger your bank vault, the more capacious your storage options, the more time you had to spend keeping them tidy. This was the infamous inventory management, loathed by some, loved by few, accepted by most as necessary and inevitable.

You might, if you were an organized sort of player, sort your bags as you went  along. More likely you'd clear them out at the end of a session. If you were like me, you'd keep piling things into bags and boxes until you realized you had no idea where anything was any more.

When that happened you'd put aside a big block of time, a Sunday afternoon, say, to go through the whole lot, sorting, stacking, selling and reminiscing. At its best it felt like going through a heap of dusty boxes in the attic of the house you lived in as a child, turning up forgotten treasures and embarrassing reminders of your past.

It was also one of the very, very few occasions (outside of crafting) where you'd find yourself spending hours clicking and shifting, selecting and choosing, sorting and discarding, all as a form of gameplay.

A decade ago and back in time from there, MMORPG gameplay involved making your own entertainment, even in so-called theme parks. There might be a storyline. There would certainly be progression. There were always quests and missions. You still had to come up with your own plan on how to approach the content laid out for you. It was a buffet, not a banquet.

When I soloed I'd start with choices; which character, which zone, what quest? When I grouped the session would begin with a discussion, suggestions, ideas. Yes, gameplay was repetitive but it wasn't predictable. I might log in thinking I was going to work on my weaponsmithing and end up tanking in a dungeon. Or vice versa.

In that context, managing my inventory came as something of a treat. A somewhat self-indulgent slice of me-time. I could relax, listen to the Test Match on the radio, let my mind wander as I sifted and sorted and stacked.

Things have changed. It happened so slowly, so gradually, I scarcely noticed. In part it's just time. Another ten years in the same games and stuff doesn't just pile up, it towers, looms, darkens the horizon. It takes me as long to sort the inventory of a single character now as it took me then to put an entire account in order. And I have more characters and more accounts. In more games.

That, though, is the least of it. Today's MMORPGs crawl with mechanics and systems that all come down to opening windows and clicking on lists. Selecting from menus is a major part of gameplay, be it talents or alternative advancement or wardrobe or dyes.

The games are far more directive than they used to be, too. There are login rewards and dailies and weeklies. There are time-limited events. There are features and mini-games and horizontal progression mechanics, all of which need managing and tending and sequencing.

Over the past few weeks, months even, I've found myself playing less and less. Not logging in less. Not spending less time on the hobby. Just not playing as much.

I guess it depends how you define "playing". There are certain things I do just about every day. I collect my log-in rewards and do my dailies on two accounts in Guild Wars 2. I let my inventories there fill up on every character until I can't fit anything else in, then I sell and sort until I have enough space to carry on. The sorting takes longer than the dailies, most days. Then I log out, sometimes not having played at all.

In EverQuest I log in early in the morning, then again late in the evening, to set, complete, collect and reset my Overseer quests. I sort my Agents and trade the lower quality ones for the higher, if I have enough.

In EverQuest II I set another batch of Overseer missions. I collect the rewards from the completed ones and sort them into the shared bank. I log in various characters to do more missions and while I'm doing that I check the progress on all their passive progression systems for Mercenaries and Mounts and more. I restart those where needed, swapping mercs and mounts in and out. Click, click, click.

Every other MMORPG I hop in and out of has similar recurring tasks, all of which can be carried out through the UI as my characters stand in safety at the bank or in their homes. The dailies and weeklies that do involve combat or travel always seem to make sure it's simple, straightforward, unchellenging and accessible. That's the point.

Sometimes it feels as if most of my gameplay, whatever skin it wears, is functionally indistinguishable from sorting my inventory. Much of it literally is sorting my inventory. It's hardly surprising that the prospect of spending most of a Sunday going through my bags and putting them into apple pie order no longer fills me with joy.

Sunday's just another work day, now.


  1. There’s a certain quantity where inventory management is fun. I’ve been at that stage in Boundless recently. when storage is sufficient or even more than the stuff that needs to be categorized and stored. At that point, it is pleasant to buff and shine and rearrange and put on display like things.

    The problem arises when the storage is no longer sufficient for all the stuff that keeps accumulating, a problem exacerbated by games selling extra storage space as microtransactions, as there is an unspoken incentive to keep increasing the amount of stuff players might want to hang on to. This is all very well, but then you run into the hard limits of maximum allowed storage space and -now- one is really in trouble.

    Rearranging and sorting is nigh impossible without enough white space as temporary holding locations, and the quantity of accumulated stuff also is probably quite unmanageable at that point.

    1. We were so lucky in GW2 to have played when the original Guild system was in place. One of the main things Mrs Bhagpuss and I put work in on for the first twelve months was expanding the Guild storage not just for our main guild but for a couple more private guilds as well. If I'd known what they were planning to do I'd have gone flat out and maxed all our personal guilds but as it is we have five guild vaults available between us as well as access to the vaults of acouple of large guilds we're nominally members of. Without all that I'm not sure how we'd move stuff around.

      The real problem in GW2 is all the endless boxes that stack but whose contents don't. Because of that I daren't open any of them unless I have immediate plans on using the contents, which means I end up not using most of the stuff I get.

  2. Hey, that's what my bags look like in GW2!!

  3. I haven't thought about this in a while, but fortunately ArcheAge is really one of those games that does not bombard you with ton of stuff all the time. I can play for hours and all of five or so new items/stacks might have appeared in my inventory - depending on what I do during that time of course.

    It's also one of those games where my inventory looks completely different than any I've ever seen on other people's screenshots.

    I have 150 slots total, 10 horizontal by 15 vertical. The top row and the four bottom rows are always filled, as are the four columns on the right hand side, meaning that about a third of my slots are empty, but those are located in a rectangle on the left hand side, rows 2 to 11, or something.

    I do think it's weird myself when I look at it, but at the same time I just can't imagine sorting my stuff any other way...


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