Less is More; Or, Twinkies and MMOs

Twinkies are going away. Or maybe they aren’t. But for all the gnashing of teeth, lamenting of a fallen American icon, and political opining that came our way when the news broke a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t help but think: So what?

After the bomb, all that will be left are cockroaches and Twinkies

I haven’t had a Twinkie or other Hostess snack in at least a decade. Maybe it’s the same for you, and maybe it’s not, but unless you’re a ravenous devourer of the pillowy snacks – and judging by Hostess’ sales numbers, you’re not – you probably won’t actually miss their demise either. I’d wager that the vast majority of people who scribbled panicked “OMG no more Twinkies!!!” onto their social media outlets probably hadn’t had one in years.

And if you are a Twinkie connoisseur, you’ll live. There is a staggering range of choices for snack foods – maybe too many, considering the health of many Americans. No more Twinkies? There’s always Little Debbie’s. Or you can move on to some other kind of snack, like chips or cookies. Even better, maybe you’ll cut them out entirely.

Put simply, you don’t need Twinkies nearly as much as you think you do. Any feelings toward the contrary are likely just a mix of nostalgia and a general ennui regarding the state of the American economy.

City of Heroes shuts down next week. It was my first MMO and had, as of 2008, over 120,000 subscribers. I last had a subscription in 2005, and have only played it for a couple of hours since it went free-to-play last year.

Obviously, some people are still playing CoH and wish it wouldn’t go away. But, just as with Star Wars: Galaxies last year, they’ll live. Old games with dwindling populations probably have vastly more former players than current players, players who are essentially unaffected by its shuttering but still feel a certain sadness to see their old favorite die. Deep in the back sof their minds, they all harbor the notion that they’ll return to it someday, that they’ll find the time and/or money to resub for a month or two.

This is my first MMORPG screenshot. Ever.

But that’s just being dishonest with oneself. You left that game for a reason, and you’re probably not going back. It’s because new things, new games, or maybe just new life experiences, like starting a new job or a family, get in the way. It’s just how it is.

Then there’s another school of thought that reasons that more options are always better, and that shrinking the MMO market is automatically a bad thing. The first thing I’d do here is ask how many hotbars you have in your current game du jour and whether you’d like to see your number of skills doubled or tripled because, hey, more options are always better.

Less facetiously, I’d propose that this isn’t the case with MMOs and I think is part of the reason why it’s so hard for an MMO to gain traction these days. In a way, you can treat the entire MMO universe as one big MMO, with each game being a server. If you have too many servers, the population is spread out too thin and you have trouble finding people to play with on your server. Yes, you can have characters on multiple servers – i.e., play more than one MMO – but you’re only one person. You can’t play both characters at once. And, invariably, one or two become favorites and the others tend to be neglected or abandoned entirely. Too many choices of MMOs is just as bad as too few.

I don’t know if we’re above that “critical mass” for a healthy MMO industry, but as quickly as people try new games and abandon them, either for old faves or the new hot thing, it sure seems that way. Back in the day™, when there were fewer MMO choices, were people more patient and more likely to stick with a game, even when it didn’t suit them perfectly, because there weren’t greener fields somewhere else? Are the general bad feelings regarding subscription games a result of thinking can easily get something equally enjoyable for (almost) free? Maybe.

With all the other fine musical acts out there, do we really need this one?

As far as my personal feelings go, I think we have enough right now. In fact, I’m not so sure I’d be upset if there wasn’t a single new MMO launched in 2013. Sure, I’m interested in The Elder Scrolls Online, but between everything I’m playing now, other, non-online games that are coming out, and a backlog of older games that I’m meaning to get to (someday), I think I’d be perfectly content if nothing new came out next year. And I’m an unmarried, semi-employed adult. I’ve got about as much free time as anyone. An embarrassing amount, really.

If you go into a grocery store right now, there are thousands of items for sale. Losing Twinkies would go almost completely unnoticed. And, apart from a select few very large titles, I think that the same could be said of MMOs. An aging, stagnant MMO going under isn’t as big a deal as people think – at least not for those directly affected, like the employees of the company – and certainly not for you, even if you’re a current player, and certainly not for the industry.

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8 Responses to Less is More; Or, Twinkies and MMOs

  1. well said, my first MMO was EQ and I was a hardcore EQ player, when I left it was because everyone I was playing with had left to the “greener pastures” of WoW, and instead of follow them I became spiteful of WoW and to this day have never even considered playing it. I have however played virtually every MMO since and soon unsub because I can never get that emotional attachment I had to EQ. With so many new MMO’s coming out all the time it has gotten so hard to commit to a game when you are promised a better game coming out just around the corner.

  2. Molotova says:

    Took me a while (well the time to reach paragraph 2) to realise you were not talking about twinkies as in “Level 19 Rogue Twink” 🙂

    • jasonwinter says:

      It definitely couldn’t be that, because I have no idea what that means 🙂

      • Molotova says:

        In games where you have PvP brackets for battlegroudns: like 10-19 or 20-29. A twink is an overgeared character (usually an alt) that is purposefully left at the max level of the bracket.
        That gives the twink an advantage over the average level, average geared, average experienced toon just passing through a random pvp match as part of their levelling.

  3. You make good points, but I also think a certain degree of sadness and shock over a fallen MMO is only natural. Even I feel twinge of regret about the fall of City of Heroes, and I never even played the game.

    MMOs are special beasts; it’s not like a movie that you can watch over again or a single player video game that can be reloaded at your leisure. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Couple that with the social aspect and how many memories are made in these games, and I think it’s to be expected that people will mourn the lost potential and the memories that will never come to be.

    And in the case of CoH specifically, it comes as a bit of a shock since it was one of the oldest and most well-regarded MMOs around. It gets people to thinking (rightly or wrongly) that if it can die suddenly, then so could any game.

    • jasonwinter says:

      Sure, there’s going to be some shock and amazement, but I don’t think it should come as that huge of a surprise. First of all, if a game goes from a sub model to F2P, it’s doing it for one reason: the current model wasn’t making enough money. Will F2P change that? It might, and it might not, but I don’t know that we can think of any sub game that went F2P that wasn’t “in trouble” or at least was so small that it wouldn’t be surprising to see it go away entirely.

      This isn’t the same as a game launching F2P (or whatever GW2 is). People just somehow expect MMOs to continue forever, just like they probably expect TV shows to go on forever, and people hate change.

      • I think that’s it, really. We’re not used to entertainment options that can just vanish into thin air. Even if a TV show is cancelled, you can still buy the DVDs.

        MMOs are a new enough medium that most of us haven’t yet gotten used to the idea that these games won’t be around forever, even if we understand that fact intellectually.

  4. dndhatcher says:

    Hostess’s problem was a unionized development shop that kept operational costs too high. I dont think going F2P would have helped them.

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