RESPONSE TO: Pay the Man
This is going to be an odd rebuttal. It won't be direct. Why? Well, at the core, I think Heath Hindman is right. If you want an MMORPG with more compelling content, maintained servers, top of class type everything, you should pay for it. It is capitalism. The people who make these things and release them for free are doing nice things but as a simple rule, if you want professional quality stuff continuously, it has to be paid for. These people need to make their wages and such.
That said, I'm somewhat obligated as the most ardent anti-MMORPG individual on the site to give a little counter-argument. I come, primarily, from the folks who buy their offline RPGs and enjoy them thoroughly, sometimes as many as twenty times such as the folks he alluded to do. I've meddled very mildly with MMOs, though I do follow them and their communities like a hawk. I've kept track of them since they began in the early nineties and, to this day, have never felt the urge to pay up. There are a few reasons why.
One may suggest, truthfully, that I pay considerably more for the amount of games I have then I would have if I had kept up an MMO subscription for my entire life. 12-16 dollars a month over twenty or so years wouldn't really mesh with the days that I'll go out and buy five hundred dollars worth of games. What do you lose with that though? Well, I have this game here in my hand called Commando. Was made in the late eighties I believe, twenty-ish years back. If I plugged it in, as I am wont to do, the game would start up and splash across the screen COMMANDO as the groovy eighties style background music played.
If I tried that with Meredian59 I would find myself in need of paying a bit of change to reactivate or start an account. The same would occur with Ultima Online. The same would occur with World of Warcraft. I paid to own the game, not just to subscribe for temporary usage of it. I paid to be able to play it whenever and however I so choose. Not to log onto chatrooms grumbling angrily that the servers are down, overloaded, or that an update patch is happening that'll take 3 hours and obliterate my entire night's entertainment time allowance. There's something to be said for this. In the end, paying two to four hundred dollars for playing a single dynamically changing game is nice and all, but nowhere in that payment is it implied that you can just pick it up whenever you want.
I like Quintet. They, in the history of gaming, go down as one of my favorite quirky developers. They're no longer supported here in the US in any way, shape, or form. You can't buy their games unless you hunt them down in a used store. I addict folks to these games every so often and they can go out and find them despite their rarity. I can lend them the cartridges. They can try it out and enjoy it and see what I rave about. Try that with an MMO that no longer has support. Want to hand them the disks you paid fifty bucks for at a store to let them see what the fuss is about? Nice try there. Want to hold them up as an example of the history of gaming? Hah, what servers are they going to connect to when they've all been abandoned? It can't be done. That gets lost in the rush for MMORPGs. We trade the permanence of ownership in exchange for a temporary subscription to enjoy the content they are creating for as long as they feel hosting it. Unlike cable, we can't even record this content to 'play' a couple of times. Unlike single player games, there's the risk of being unable to finish the game if the company goes under a week after you paid your subscription fee. With offline games, what you pay for is in your hands, in its entirety, and owned by you.
I like finishing games. Yeah, stunning, but I do. I like starting off weak, ending up strong, fighting my way through a story that concludes, shutting it off and reminiscing long after the ending credits have rolled. I like knowing that when I put a game down I have experienced most if not all of the beautiful content that has been made for me and that I will now have time for another such game. That's right, I like moving on to other games too. To new characters, new faces, new stories, and new adventures that are different from what I was just playing yesterday. This is something important that is absent from MMOs. Not only is there technically no clear cut end to a 'good' MMO, but they have an active and economic reason to keep you there as long as possible. They profit if you stick around in their game forever. The designers' job is to make sure you do not finish and stop the game satisfied and desiring to take a break or play another game for a while. They would like nothing more than to know you're going to keep an account for twenty years. Does anyone? No, not really. Eventually everyone gets tired of what they are in and moves on. This doesn't change the though that the designers have an honest interest in not having you quit the game to check out whatever is new.
Here's another one. I like following dev teams that do good work, and there's something to be said for a contained project. Providing the yin of appreciation to their yang of artistic creation, if I get the metaphors right. One might say this happens with MMOs. You can always see them creating new stuff. Isn't that accomplishing appreciating their designs and creations? I don't think so. Instead you have designers and developers who can't leave. For the majority of the life of the project, they are tied to it. Their work is necessary to continue to provide that dynamic content that players devour hungrily and inattentively, often mere days after they are launched. They don't get to totally reinvent the creative design from the ground up because whatever they make has to fit in with what is already there. The creative freedom, in other words, is limited to a degree even further than the brutal publishing market permits.
Also I've got to show some love for contained stories. MMORPGs, in the last couple of generations, have managed to get this sort of thing sort of working and, in the future, I assume that they will get better at it. They've thousands of brilliant people doing all kinds of inventive, cutting-edge design work on how to tell stories in this fashion. I'd like anyone to point me to the Planescape:Torment of MMORPGs though. You can't do it, and there's a good reason why. The best stories need to be contained. Things are simply lost otherwise, things that cannot be matched in an uncontained, unending environment. Literature, to this day, proposes that one of the superior forms of story telling is the five act play from Shakespearian times. You can't really do this in a series that does not end. It doesn't work, at least not as currently implemented. In the end, you can tell different stories through them, but they come with the handicaps inherent in the genre in telling them. They also are a lot harder to tell well, for a variety of reasons, which leads to the average story just not being as compelling or accessible.
But they've got dynamic content, one might mention. You can't match that with single player non-subscription based games. There are no new levels. If an interface is bad, it is going to stay bad. If the enemies are too hard or too easy, there’s no way around it. When you beat the game and finish all the content, there won't be any more. You won't find a secret dungeon ten years down the line that you never saw before that the developers thought was a neat idea but didn't have time to implement. That's quite right. Sans the occasional remake, they don't get to fix stuff or continue to improve and expand it. That is all good stuff right? Something static content can't match? Well, it also means putting up with unfinished stuff launched prematurely. With updates to fix issues that involve ruining your fun. Enjoying that nifty just too good dragonslayer sword +37? How about after Sony's GMs decided it was too powerful and nerfed it into uselessness? Or overcompensated in their balancing act such that everyone else now has similar type stuff and it is no longer special at all?
What is special anyway in a world where by necessity there is infinite of practically every item? Where in order to expand, they have to eventually dumb down the old awesome equipment and replace it? Where you step away at level sixty for a couple of months and then come back to find that all your armor and weapons are worse than you remember them being? It isn't that uncommon. In general, putting down any MMO means that when you pick it up, you won't be able to just start up where you left off. You may have lost your house. You may find all your old quests have been replaced. You may find all your friends are level sixty billion and you're level retarded and you'll never reach them just because you had to tend to life and a job. Simply put, dynamic content isn't all positive.
Heck, on a personal note, I can remember one reasonably fun, small-scale (only a few hundred people) MUD I played in for about a month that decided, in its wisdom, to release a new content pack. This content pack was mandatory and represented tons of hard work to 'better' the game. It also replaced the main city where I played with something totally different. I deleted the game the next day and didn't look back. Can someone playing an MMO count on such occurrences? Well, I'd have to ask the dozens of friends who quit WoW when the new honor system came out and reworked the game interaction. Sometimes more isn't better. Sometimes the game staying the same is an advantage all of its own.
Sidetracking a bit, I was having this discussion in irc while I was writing this. Slayer was rushing the Breath of Fire 3 goodness and I asked him how many rushes on the goddess Myria he was making. Then we started having a talk about her spawn rate, the xp benefits for camping her versus doing runs of the corridor up to her. Karlinn chirped in demanding to know whether or not he'd managed to get her to drop her rare. I would've warned him to be wary of Korean's ninja'ing the phat lewt when she dropped it or killing him so that they could control the spawn point but the discussion was really all in jest anyway. After all, single player games don't have that garbage to put up with.
Sure, technically that game allows clear game runs of Myria, but the game ends when you beat her. She doesn't drop a rare or anything like that and most bosses that do tend to have pretty sane drop rates since there's no return tries or reason to keep a player stuck continually attacking the same boss. You don't have to worry that a group is purposely driving up the cost of leathers to unfriendly levels for newbies just to make a profit. In pretty much all of them, the price for an item is static. You never have to wait in line to kill a boss who will respawn one hour later because someone else needs to kill them. There's little encouragement for the designers to make the better items tied to miserable drop rates either.
You do have to put up with that stuff in MMOs. You have to worry when the almighty 'horde' is outnumbered 3 to 1 by the valiant alliance and they are camping the orc high chieftain practically as soon as she spawns. When you go to kill the big bad boss to fulfill your 'quest', you have to deal with the three hundred others who also simultaneously have the same quest. You have to consider that the second after you finish a duel someone is going to come up behind you and stab you in the back for the 'honor' points and the XP, or even one of your items assuming you play one of the older MMOs. There's a whole lot of bad that comes with the good of social interaction and the massive paradigm.
So, yeah, I'd agree with Heath on the basic bit. If you're going to play an MMORPG, you should pay the guys making it so that they can keep doing their work and handling the server loads. On the rest though, I don't think that MMOs stack up so well as people like to claim against their single player or small group equivalents. I'd rather have a game with fourty five good and unique quests than twelve hundred random ones. He's right, the comparison is unfair between content you own permanently and reliably to enjoy and content that twists and changes like a moving snake that you only subscribe to for a while. But it is unfair in the other direction. In more crude language, we don't need your stinkin' MMOs. We do just fine with the excellent and fun single player games that come out.