A little while back, Syl mused about how World of Warcraft has changed her in an article thisaway. Others chimed in like Victor, over here, and Rakuno over here. I figured I’d jump in, since I haven’t done enough navel-gazing lately. To dig into what MMOs have done to me, I need to go back to the 90s, before I did anything with them.
I work in the game industry. I play games. A lot of different games. MMOs are just a small slice of my game library and vocabulary (though they tend to consume a disproportionate amount of time), but they have had some significant effects on me over the last 6 years or so.
My background is primarily in RPG games and tactical games. I’ve played RTS, FPS, driving, fighting, puzzle, and other games, but most of my gaming time before MMOs was with epic RPGs like Final Fantasies, Chrono Trigger, Star Ocean 2 and the like. Back in… 2002? or so, I remember seeing an advertisement in a magazine for the upcoming World of Warcraft. It wasn’t the first online game I’d heard of (Sierra’s The Realm gets that honor, I think, and I was aware of Ultima Online), but it looked really good, and I liked the Warcraft IP, having spent many fun hours with Warcraft and Warcraft 2. That was the draw, really, the ability to prowl through the jungles at ground level as a single character, rather than the third person nonentity I was in the Warcraft RTS games. In short, I was captivated by the idea of exploring the WORLD of Warcraft.
Of course, the blasted thing is an online game, and the only place I had internet access was at school or work. Those were the only places I had a computer capable of then-modern gaming as well. Yes, I spent a lot of time with classics like Master of Magic, Master of Orion 1&2, X-Com (the old, good one), Privateer and the like well past their heyday. I’ve always been a late adopter of games, really. It’s better on the wallet. Anyway, while WoW looked appealing, there was no way I was going to be able to play it, so I ever-so-slightly wistfully pushed it aside and ignored it.
In the meantime, I graduated from college in 2003, then got a full-time job that let me buy a then-powerful laptop that I fully intended to play games with. I still didn’t have an internet connection (and to this day, I still think the darn things are too expensive), but I had a computer that could finally play Morrowind. I was hooked, finally happy to be wandering through a fantasy world that was so much more interesting to me than my FPS experience in Wolfenstein (the old one) and Doom (also the old one). I got lost along the shores outside of the starting town, died a few times, and then downloaded a few hacks. I found I wasn’t all that interested in playing the right way, I just wanted to putter around in a fantasy world. Imagine that.
It was while I was working in that first post-graduation job that I ran into someone actually playing that World of Warcraft thing. He played during lunch, mining, mostly. I watched him maneuver his zombie-ish guy around some barren-looking canyons, mining some sort of rocky nodes. I think, looking back, that it was maybe in Thousand Needles, one of my favorite locations in the game before the Shattering. He showed me around a little, noting that his “real” character was an Orc Shaman. He offered me a ten-day buddy key to try out the game, and I graciously accepted.
I still didn’t have an internet connection.
So, I installed it on my office computer and played a little during lunch like he did. Yes, we played games at work. We were working in the game industry, and every one of us were gamers. One guy played Magic the Gathering Online for lunch, and sometimes we all played the actual card game for lunch. And it was good. The bosses didn’t play games as much as we did, but they didn’t mind us playing, even with company assets like the computers and internet connection, so long as we got all our hours in and got our work done.
Anyway, I had ten days to play, only during lunch, only at work. It was little more than a taste of the game, really. I fired up a Tauren Shaman and puttered around. I learned what the WoW notion of quests were, and I followed some breadcrumbs around the hill to a small Tauren town, then made my way up the road to Thunder Bluff, still my favorite capital city in the game. I learned Skinning and Leatherworking, charmed with the ability to make my own gear. It felt like my Tauren was a self-sufficient adventurer in a larger world. It was good.
The game’s reality lurked in the wings, though. I wanted some more backpack space since I kept winding up with lots of junk I picked up off of the critters I killed, but I couldn’t buy anything from the auction house and vendor bags were too expensive. I figured I’d use Leatherworking to make some kodo hide bags, since there were kodos just downhill. Silly me, I figured it should be easy. Just go kill and skin a few kodos (they are huge, and should have plenty of leather apiece) and then stitch together a bag or four.
…the last three days of my trial were spent trying to make those stupid bags. I had to skin several dozen critters to qualify for skinning kodos. I had to kill dozens of kodos just to get one scrap of kodo leather. I needed six such pieces to make one bag. I stuck with it because it was my “endgame” goal for the time I had. I never actually did finish even a single bag.
It was stupid.
That, in a microcosm, is the WoW experience, I think. Fascination with the world and its potential, ownership of your own little avatar in that world, seeing new sights and new monsters… then running face first into the soul-crushing time sinks that the game uses to suck people into that next sweet month of subscription money. I learned enough about the game to know I still loved the idea of the World of Warcraft, but that the game itself got in the way. Even if I had internet access at home at that time, I still wouldn’t have bothered with the game because of the absurd subscription business plan… and to be honest, I did want to keep playing, but I was already getting burned out a bit, just because of the stupid grindy pacing of the crafting system. It was probably good that I didn’t keep going at that point, since I was still on the edge of still liking the game for what it could be, and could go on pretending that it was exactly what I hoped it was.
Soon after that, I found Puzzle Pirates, and it was like I had found a home I never knew I was missing, and I didn’t have to pay a sub for it. It’s still my MMO home. I was hooked there by the gameplay, not so much the sense of the world, though I did love “memming” the ocean solo, still scratching that Explorer itch. It helped that I was pretty good at the game (skill is more important there than time investment), and that I got my own ship without reaching some arbitrary “endgame”. I didn’t much mind that I was missing out on the WoW craze. I had something that fit me better, and really, it still does, seven years later. In fact, last night I finally won my first Swordfighting tournament. Sometimes it’s the small goals that make the most fun. It is also the only MMO that my wife has played with me for more than a half hour. She gave Guild Wars a good try, but it just didn’t stick.
It wasn’t until… 2008 or so, when the ten-day passes were obsolete and anyone could just sign up for a ten day trial, that I tried the game again. I played another ten day trial, this time with my home desktop and internet connection (albeit a cheap one, which made the game laggy… which didn’t help). The game still looked nice, and it was fun to make a new character, hoping for good times. This time I did a little more research on the game and fired up a Druid. I’ve loved Druids ever since. I have a soft spot for Hunters and Shaman still, but I’m a Druid player at heart. I had fun, learned Bear form, messed around a bit shifting between forms as necessary… then my time ran out. I still mostly liked the game, but still wasn’t going to pay to keep playing. I was mad enough that I had to pay $50/month for the internet connection.
The wider world of MMO gaming had been opened to me, though. I tried a bunch, from Dungeons and Dragons Online to Guild Wars to Lord of the Rings Online to Atlantica Online to Star Trek Online to Allods Online to Wizard 101 to Neosteam to Free Realms to City of Heroes to DC Universe Online to my latest experiment, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and others in between that I’m not remembering at the moment. I (quickly) grew tired of the DIKU grind, always chasing levels and loot. I decided that playing with others can sometimes be OK, but that I’m still a soloist at heart. I studied game design, business models and the game industry. I found some MMO blogs as I studied the silly things and their communities, and eventually started a blog of my own. This is why this blog still has a backbone of MMO analysis, but it’s not devoted to any one game or even stuck solely on games at all. I came to this blogging world because of MMOs.
I may not be a MMO groupie, but I still find value in the sociality involved with the games and blogging in general.
So that’s what MMOs have done for me. They have introduced me to bloggers I consider friends, they have increased my knowledge of the game industry and game design, and given me well over 6000 screenshots that I can use for inspiration (I’m an artist, after all). My knowledge of games, my chosen career, has been enhanced by the wider world of the internet and how games work in that shared social space, whether or not they are designed for it.
My life is richer, not necessarily for having played MMOs, but for what they have led me to.
…but I still hate subscriptions.