I feel there has been a “lost in translation” moment with the transition from traditional style gaming to the Massively Multi-player Online extravaganza taking place. When looking back at games that will echo for eternity in my psyche, I tend to not remember all that much about the specifics of the game’s end. Of course I remember the general layout of the event, “stuff exploded, I barely avoided death, saved the <insert helpless individual> and the world, and stopped the evil guy/gal from completing their dastardly task”. Yet, specifics about what the boss said before the fight or the brief conversation between myself and any survivors from the mayhem the villain and I dished out completely allude me. It’s the jelly of the game that I recall. Those, sometimes tedious, in-between beginning and end moments that I spent learning about my character, other characters, towns and peoples, the villain. When the game finished I was excited, full of energy, and at the same time a bit upset. Upset to see the game end, the story I had just put so much effort and attention into come to a close. This is what brought me to MMOs, a game story that doesn’t end.
What I want to know is, why is everyone around me trying to rush to the end of a game that doesn’t (technically) end? When did it become ingrained into players that the game doesn’t start until you’re at the end? How did all the middle-ground get saddled with being synonymous to “fluff”. If that were the case I would think developers would cut out leveling and all the content in general to provide a handful of instances, and leave their players sitting around until they get a group.
What made playing the game such a painstaking experience? Is it the fault of early MMO developers that wanted to simplify and reduce the time sink of certain mechanics in order to allow more players to experience the game? All in all that doesn’t sound like a misguided goal. If I was planning on creating an MMO and the current MMOs maintained a trend of isolating the players who didn’t play as frequently as other, I would want to implement a way for those “casual” players to enjoy the entirety of the game as well. However, now the content is too simple. No longer is it even required to read what is going on around you.
MMOs are creating a new trend. The term “grind” was once used, in my experiences, as a way to describe the process of killing mobs (usually the same ones) that either had the shortest respawn or the best exp per hour. Now it is commonly used to describe the process of interacting with the world around you and engaging in, relatively basic, forms of problem solving. The difference is like having someone repeat 1 (one) over and over again. Whoever says 1 (one) a 100,000 times receives a star, they need ten stars to stop. Easy to step in and figure out what’s going on, but not very challenging. New MMOs tried to break away from this by making it a problem that needs solving: 1+1=?. Attempting to get players to think will add a layer of complexity, challenge, and enjoyment (hopefully). Eventually even this became predictable and repetitive.
SMBC did a good job of satirizing most MMOs. Sadly, this is accurately depicts what some players have turned these games into.
Currently, I don’t see a way of escaping the monotony worked into the content of MMOs. Even I find myself quickly processing quests without any thought, at times. All the blame can’t rest on the players for that either. The developers provide a certain repetition to their quests that can be expressed as “Kill x, grab y, talk to z“. However, the players are my primary source of interaction when it comes to whether or not the game is enjoyable. You can see it in how the game is played and discussed. Are players involved in the storyline, talking about certain characters/events/places? Do players skip quests and content entirely for a more expeditious method of leveling? I’ve been playing Aion of late and witnessed players partaking of the older definition of the word “grind” in order to level quickly. I’m sure the quests start tasting a bit “dry” on the third time through and I fully encourage the attempt at enjoying the game in a different way. What I don’t understand is why these same players think that all other forms of leveling are suddenly inefficient for anyone else. For example, I was bombarded with group invites (the first few I declined) one day while leveling in Verteron. Upon joining a now full group I said my hellos and asked what was going on. The leader informed me that we were going to grind elite Krall (big orc/troll looking things) until we were level 30. I declined the process, left the party, and continued to do my quests. Instantly he whispered me, asking me why I didn’t want to level quickly. After my explanation about being new to the game, wanting to experience the story/content, not wanting to rush to endgame, he begin to tell me all of that was a waste of time. This type of thinking was also frequent in global chat with players asking for the fastest way to level or the best class for pvp (which is a different discussion altogether).
I know I’m not the only one who enjoys the leveling process, aka the content, of the game. However, I would like to know what may be the cause for players to want to get to endgame so quickly? Thoughts?