This post is going to be a little self-analysis about why I play MMOs, how I play then, and what keeps me going. For readers who have been around for a bit, you can probably guess some of the stuff below, but hopefully this post will give everyone a clearer picture of what keeps me, and players like me, logging in day after day.
The thing that drives me most is progression in an endless environment. I like to know that I’m stronger in whatever game I’m playing this month than I was last month, whatever that gain may entail. The other key is that this progression must be in an environment that rewards that progression, and one that the progression has some meaning. The event that got me to quit WoW was the imminent release of The Burning Crusade; not because of any upcoming feature or change, but because TBC was a character progression reset, instantly invalidating everything your character had done since hitting level 60. Once you hit level 70, it did not matter whether you just started that character or had Nax40 on farm, everything was back to square one. For me, that’s a killer in an MMO. When I went back to WoW, it was in a completely different mind frame; I was there to see the sites and sounds, knowing that regardless of what dropped or how I played my character, at the end of the day it did not matter. Progression for me matters, and knowing that at a set date its going to reset destroys my motivation and leads to playing half-assed. Once that mentality sets in, it’s only a matter of time before the sites and sounds grow old and my account expires. This in part explains my preference for sandbox gameplay over themeparks, as no matter how well designed the themepark is, at some point the ride progression gets reset, and that knowledge makes it hard to fully commit to going all out to progress, and also in my mind undermines the true value of a massive world that continually grows based with its players.
The progression itself does not necessarily need to be my character doing more dps, it can be simple things like knowing the lay of the land better in DarkFall through exploring, or learning a little trick in PvP after being the victim of it, or our guild growing and having more solid members who can hold their own in a fight. One of my major issues with Tier 4 in Warhammer is that while the campaign is well designed and fun from start to finish, once it’s finished it simply resets. Your character is a bit more powerful, and you slowly gear up to eventually take down the king encounter, but what then? Either another layer of progression is added (good for me), or some form of a power reset is implemented (bad for me). Furthermore, while winning the campaign is rewarding, it only goes so far to help your side against the enemy, and for good overall balance, that power swing can never go too far to one side or the other. The issue I have is the game has to balance the power structure, rather than the players being in control. In a sandbox like DF or EVE, if one alliance gets too powerful, the game rules don’t change to hurt them, the players’ band together and take them down or deal with the oppression. The powerful alliance knows that the longer they keep their position, the more meaningful their accomplishment. Anyone who has ever played EVE knows about BoB, even if you have never set foot in 0.0. That’s a goal worth chasing IMO.
Another feature that keeps me going in an MMO is the ability to play smart and have it count. For instance, one of the main reasons I stopped playing Atlantica Online is because that game only rewards time invested (or RMT money spent). As long as you keep grinding mobs, your power increases at a steady rate, and playing poorly changes little. In direct contrast, playing poorly in DarkFall has consequences. You might have eight hours a day to play, but if you spend five of them grinding iron to get a full set of scale, only to go out and lose that set stupidly, you are no further ahead than someone with an hour or two a night that runs with a solid group and wins more than they lose. A player can grind his way to 100 armorsmithing with enough time, but a guild that organizes and specializes their crafters will get ahead faster and more efficiently, and before that solo player gets to 100, the guild as a whole will have moved on to greater things. On a much smaller level, if you plan ahead and scout an area, identifying the safest and most profitable spots to harvest, you can accomplish the same result in an hour that takes a lesser player three or four. It might not always work out that way, but just knowing that HOW you spend your time matters as much as how MUCH time you have is important to me. The true value in an MMO is that you are competing with thousands of players, and the game rules should not reduce that competition to a pure race against time.
Finally, I look for an MMO to have a story, and community around that story. I don’t mean hardcoded lore, but the story of what the players have done. The lore behind Onyxia is not important to me, but the story behind the world first kill is. The raiding progression thread on each WoW server was, for me, the story in WoW. How fast is a rival guild progressing, how do we stack up against everyone else, and what can we do to get to the top? I can’t recall a single piece of lore from Asheron’s Call, but I’ll never forget the Blood hierarchy on Darktide. Similarly, while my guild Inquisition is a small-ish guild in DarkFall, we are working to establish both our reputation and presence in our area of the world, to either establish better control of what we have now, or perhaps to become a key piece in some greater, further reaching plan. The point is, what we do today will actually impact what happens to all of us tomorrow, independent of what the patch notes next week might contain. It’s a force that keeps me logging in; to see not only the world progress overall, but what part my guild plays in that progression.
I consider myself a power gamer on a now more limited time budget. Realistic or not, my goal is always to progress towards the top tiers of power, or impact the world in a meaningful and hopefully memorable way. Even if in the end that does not happen, knowing that it COULD is a huge driving factor. And knowing that my actions reflect on hundreds, if not thousands of other players all striving for similar goals is why MMO gaming is miles ahead of any single player or less worldly game, console or otherwise.