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To Play an MMO
A Reflection of Past and Prediction of Future by Ryan Tullis
In between finishing the revisions to my first novel, I've spent a lot of time playing Ultima Online. I've been on and off with the game for about five years; and, like many others, it was my first MMORPG. I hopped on today to get UO Automap (a free program that was fan made and STILL shipped with the disc) to rediscover the final parting words of its creator. He had moved on.
In short. I'm feeling old.
Aren't we all getting there, though?
MMORPGs are a fairly new breed of game. Even UO, the oldest existing one, is ten years old. How does it show its age? It has a tiny little staff working on it for the subscribers still playing--75,000 last I heard. The game is massively large, of course, but still... I feel something when I run through the towns.
I feel fear.
Fear that the game is going to shut down. A growing concern for any MMO player in any game. This is not Super Mario Bros. 3. If Ultima Online shuts down, as Tabula Rasa is about to, I cannot pop the disc back in years later for "good time's sake." It will just vanish with nothing but memories to back it and, if you're lucky, a few illegal servers.
Other games have grown old and died, wether it was from old age, or from the sudden illness we call bankruptcy. It is possible for every game. And, the thing is, MMORPGs are, perhaps, one of the most emotional, intellectual, and time consuming genres playable.
The only forum conversations for games older than five years are, "Is this game about to die?"
Would it die if people stopped asking those questions and played it? I'm not speaking for UO, but for everything. We jump to new graphics and new gameplay. The big news is not what is for the games we already have, but for the games we can spend more money on. In this recession, a new MMO, to me, is financial suicide. There's a limit to our time. There's a limit to our money.
And most important, there's a limit to US.
For every four hundred players going to World of Warcraft that it isn't their first MMO, four hundred players leave other MMOs and hurt them. Eventually, they all leave for this new fangled game or that one, until finally the old beast's bloodstream finally dries up and it dies.
Why does this matter? Because for years we've argued that games are an artform. The Mona Lisa did not shut itself down so people later went, "Hey, guys, remember the Mona Lisa?" But, see, MMOs are different. They're a social commentary, a microcosm of world community. And, as such, always evolving, always changing. Is this why so many people leave games because of "this update" or "that one," or are these merely excuses to move on?
What if we all still played Ultima Online, Everquest, and Dark Age of Camelot to this day? What if we gave them our time, attention, and precious money instead of these uncaring Korean MMOs. Here, I'm pointing my finger at Gravity, NCSoft, and the others that rape us with a new gimmick called graphics. I can't even name all the others ones out there begging for attention on their money shops.
And, in the end, I can't blame THEM. I can't blame these companies for cashing in on us like sheep. Why? Because it's OUR decision to do this. Developers and publishing companies follow the patterns they see in US. Because WE jump from game to game, they realize the lifespan of their title is a short breath.
I love and believe in game companies that believe and love in their customers. EVE Online, Ultima Online, the original Everquest. They're still there, pushing themselves, despite their small remainders. What did NCSoft do to Tabula Rasa? Crushed it. The news of an MMO shutting down used to be something rare and taboo, now it's "Really? Huh." Unacceptable. It's unacceptable to those that joined it.
What I'm saying here is why give money to companies that are going to use that money to continue, but rather, create new games? Because people do want updated versions of games? Ultima Online did it by making Kingdom Reborn. EVE Online did it by constantly updating their graphics. Not to mention Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot.
I can tell you what's going to happen. Games are going to start shutting down for new ones because companies will profit off of this "game hopping" we have fallen for. The original Marios and Zeldas, despite their age, are still loved and played to this day. So why do we not give the same respect to the amazing games that have given us their love and attention? The small developers that aren't making much money anymore.
I'm not ranting over the popular MMO. That's fine. UO, EQ--these were popular, at one time. But, in ten years, they're considered barely standing relics. The reason their standing is because of dedication and love from players and developers alike.
In the end, companies are going to learn long-term commitment to a project doesn't make money--and we're going to become even more conditioned that MMOs aren't meant to be a long-term affair.
If the MMO you play and love is new and shiny. Will you love it when it's not so much that way anymore?
There's many MMOs that have shown their dedication and trust to the customers over the years. I recommend checking one of them out and giving them a try. There's a reason many are still there, despite the growing odds against them:
Ultima Online, Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Anarchy Online--I'm sure many more on these forums can trump my list indefinitely. But PLAY one. TRY one. Keep with it. There's a reward waiting there, a gem that's kept players and developers alike smiling for years.
We are the customers. We are the lifeblood of businesses. They cannot survive without us. We, not they, dictate the fate of these games as a combined entity.
May your MMO, too, last you many good years,
Ryan Tullis, writer and proud player of good games.