The object of a game is to have fun, isn’t it? If that’s the case, then what makes an MMO “fun”?
The simple answer is that everyone has their own definition. For some, it’s challenging the toughest content, on the hardest difficulty, and earning a full set of gear for their troubles. For others, it’s the social aspect, the interacting and working with groupmates and guildmates to achieve success or just to hang out and be chummy. For others it might be honing one’s skills in PvP with no set goal in sight other than to just be the best they can.
So what category would I place myself in? The answer is far below, but first a little – OK, a lot – of boring background:
When I first started playing MMOs, City of Heroes back in 2004, I didn’t figure I’d ever become any kind of hardcore, top-level player. I just wanted to play, group up, maybe make some friends, and have fun. After about six months, I petered out at around level 40 – damn that XP debt! – and have only glanced at it since.
I approached LOTRO in pretty much the same fashion, meandering my way to level 50 in about eight months, doing plenty of side stuff and instances when I could find a group – which wasn’t too hard back then – whenever I could. My mostly casual kinship did a bang-up job on the max-level instances, like Urugarth and Carn Dum, and then we decided to pair up with another kinship to take on the 12-man raid – my first raiding experience, ever.
And I hated it. What do you mean, if we make one mistake, the whole group wipes? WTF is this?
I think we made it to the first boss, but not past us. (No power is stronger than Barz!) Over the next couple months, we half-cleared it, and I even got a sweet piece of loot, but after what I’d been doing for the past several months – or years if you went back to my COH days – it seemed like an intolerably greater challenge than anything I’d ever done before.
And that just struck me as bad game design, like in old Nintendo games where you play for hours, growing accustomed to what the rank-and-file monsters do and then face off against some end boss that is light-years beyond anything else you’ll face in difficulty, if it doesn’t outright cheat. If that was what it took to have “fun,” I wasn’t interested.
Eventually, however, that kinship mostly broke up and I hooked up with another, more “serious” one that already had that raid on farm. With skilled teammates, it was much easier, and we cleared it most nights. I grew more accustomed to the difficulty level, and the lure of the loot didn’t hurt, either.
Fast forward three years, when I was still in that same kinship, though it had lost a lot of good members in the interim. Suddenly, the top-level raids were kicking our asses again, and we couldn’t clear them no matter what mixes or strategies we tried. Being an officer and one of the few captains in our kinship, I felt obligated to keep trying, but eventually it grew to be too much pain for very little fun. After another year or so, most of our core was gone to other kinships, or had left the game entirely, and we effectively dissolved, with most of us going to another kinship that was doing much better at raiding than we were. I thought that, like with my last “switch,” that going to another kinship that could handle endgame better would rejuvenate me.
That wasn’t the case. I joined this new kin for two or three raids in the first couple months, but I wasn’t anywhere close to the weekly (and sometimes twice weekly) raider I’d been with the last one. Part of it was because I wasn’t needed as much, but I think another reason was the general feeling that I was playing out of my element, that I wasn’t meant to, or that I didn’t really enjoy, high-end raiding.
This isn’t just the typical “All MMOs are the same, grind grind grind, then endgame raid raid raid,” sentiment or a simple case of burnout, at least not in full. I go to max level in SWTOR, DCUO, and Rift and found myself equally disinterested in trying top-tier content, even once, just to see what it was like. Rather, I tried to think about why I raided, and whether it was something I truly enjoyed doing. And the answer was, “not really.”
On some level, I think I felt like less of a player if I couldn’t beat the toughest thing the game threw at me. (And it’s not just in MMOs; I’ve read forum posts about people complaining that Shogun 2 on the highest difficulty level is “too easy” while I’m still struggling to beat the game on Normal, which is the second-easiest of five settings.) I won’t say I spent sleepless nights or that my hair fell out while I was trying to figure out how to beat raid bosses, but it definitely affected me, and my frustration at not being able to progress led me to severely question my own skill and that of my teammates. It’s no exaggeration to say that the reason I barely play LOTRO any more is because my kinship(s) was unable to beat the last two raid bosses on the highest difficulty level or the one prior to that until about nine months in and a nerfing patch.
It all added up to stress I don’t need, so I’ve decided that, going forward, I’m going to worry less about my e-peen and more about my enjoyment. I still think I’m an above average player, but trying to be a hardcore raider when it’s really not in my makeup, is just not worth the hassle. I sort of took this approach with SWTOR, when I learned that my guild was doing five- to six-hour raiding sessions, and I said to myself, “No thanks, I’ll just keep PvP-ing and leveling alts.” And when SWTOR goes free-to-play, I’ll probably keep doing just that.
Going back to my original question of what kind of a player I am – raider, social, or PvP-er – and how I’ll find my fun, I think the answer is just going to be “whatever.” I don’t feel any more like I have to complete certain tasks or achieve specific, uh, achievements, to be considered 1337. And if I see a challenge I can’t handle, whether alone or with friends, then to hell with it. I’ll find something else to do. And if I can’t find something else fun to do, I’ll find another game to play. Simple as that.
Maybe this makes me a “casual” or whatever other derogatory term you want to label me as. It’s doubly damning in my case because I’m a “perfeshunal gamer,” and I’m supposed to be uber-good – which I think also fed into my obsession with completing top-end content the past few years. I’m still good at parties, can write funny things in guild chat, and am (mostly) housebroken. And if you need me to fill a spot in a raid, I might be able to swing it. Just keep in mind that I’m liable get very cranky after the third wipe.