I’ve been pretty much MMO-less for the last month or so. In the span of about a week at the end of May, I bowed out of LOTRO, let my SWTOR and Rift subscriptions lapse, and, as an encore, finished up my last Empire: Total War campaign. Mount & Blade: Warband has filled the void somewhat, but most of the MMOs I want to play are still too far off and I didn’t think there was anything else I really wanted to play. (We won’t talk about what happened with TERA *shudder*)
Then on Saturday, I devoted my weekly livestream to Guild Wars, where, with the help of the inimitable Elixabeth, I finally ventured into Eye of the North with my level 20 warrior/elementalist. I created him when the game went live in 2005 and then promptly abandoned him, along with the rest of the game, about two months after launch. I enjoyed the evening thoroughly enough that I played another few hours last night and I think I’ve found my new MMO — at least until Guild Wars 2 comes out.
So why did I take so long to re-engage with Guild Wars? Part of it was my initial belief that the game was, apart from the brief leveling experience, a strictly PvP experience. This was pretty much the case in the game’s early days, and I carried the notion with me until last year. Even once I “obtained” a copy of the Guild Wars Trilogy late last year (it fell off a digital truck), I only puttered around for a few hours, working my dervish up to level 7 and just taking in the sights on my 20.
We’ve all heard stories of people who have left an MMO for a while and finally come back, but there are probably more people who left and didn’t come back. Some of them might have developed an active dislike for the game. For others, the task of re-assimilating oneself into the game might have seemed too daunting a proposition. When you’ve been out of a game for years, coming back and having to adjust to all the changes and puzzling out all the new content might seem to be more trouble than it’s worth.
That was my issue with Guild Wars. I wasn’t exactly an endgame expert when I left, and seeing all the expansions and additions to the game just added to my confusion when I logged in once a year or so. It took that nudge from Elixabeth to get me into sampling actual new content, and I know there are lots of other places out there waiting for me to discover them. (I’m a big boy, I can do it alone, I swear.)
It would seem to me that MMO companies would benefit from making it easier for lapsed players to re-acquire their games. Sure, there are all sorts of web resources out there, and you can get advice from friends and guildmates, but you risk of running into something you’re not ready for, gear- or skill-wise, and the last thing you want to do when stepping back into a new game is to be frustrated by the content — not to mention possibly being embarrassed in front of your party or causing a wipe because of your noobishness.
When I was with Beckett, we used to do introductory guides for new games. I always thought there could also be a market for “re-introductory” guides for older games, but I never figured out a good way to approach them that didn’t seem too text-heavy and difficult to parse — not to mention that they would be outdated as soon as new content hit. Recently, though, I came up with what might be the perfect solution: flowcharts.
I can’t create a flowchart to save my life, so you’ll have to make do with my description. Imagine that each node is an area or bit of content and each line connecting them lists what you need to access that content. For most games, this would be pretty straightforward for the leveling experience, and increasingly complex, with more varied requirements, as you hit endgame. Of course, this would all be totally optional, and you could ignore it completely, traipsing off on whatever path you wanted, but it would still be there if you needed it.
For example, you could find out that you need X gear to do the big raid, that you need to be level Y before you can do PvP, or that you need Z reputation before being allowed into a certain area. To keep the chart from becoming too bloated, it would only list requirements — hard or suggested — for content. That way, you could at least know what you need to go from point A to point B, though you might need to do a little digging, in-game or out, to figure out exactly how to get there. Plus, it would have the added benefit of giving prospective players a better handle on all the content that’s open to them — which would prevent certain Guild Wars players from thinking there’s nothing but PvP at max level five years after the game’s come out.
Ideally, the flowchart would be available on the game’s main site and possibly include links within it to help players find out more information. It would be updated regularly to fit new content, or changes to existing content, a process that shouldn’t take too long and only be needed every few months. Most of all, it would be relatively easy to read and be viewed as a “one-stop shop” for directing players around in the games.
You might think is that MMOs are already too linear and that something like this is unnecessary. While that might be true for the very basic task of leveling, for other content, you have to step back from your game and view it from the point of someone who hasn’t played the game for a while, maybe forgotten some of the important details (or had them changed on them), or even is a totally new player. MMOs are HUGE — this can’t be stressed enough — and while they might seem easy to digest when doled out in update- or expansion-sized chunks for current players, having to “play catch-up” with a year or two (or more)’s worth of material is going to be a difficult task for anyone. Even a linear-leveling game typically offers you lots of choices at endgame, all of which seem equally good until you get into the instance and realize you’re pitifully undergeared for it.
The games themselves don’t help much, typically just throwing a ton of people with exclamation marks over their heads and forcing you to figure things out on the fly. Of course, you could read the quest text, but even that’s an iffy proposition, as you have to figure out, in NPCspeak, what you should do. (“This evil cannot be overcome by one hero alone, I fear; only a well-equipped and ready party will stand any hope of survival.”) I faced this exact situation when I hit 50 in SWTOR and had no idea what led where or why I should do it.
I think it’s a certainty that I would have checked back into Guild Wars earlier if I’d had a resource like this to go by, and I’d love something like this to get me started in a game like EVE Online. The flowcharts wouldn’t lead you by the nose from point to point; rather, they’d help make you aware of all your options, and I think that even experienced players might be surprised at how much they’ve missed along the way.