Editor’s note: Spurred by our discussion on a recent Mobcast, Christian writes in defense of MMOs, explaining not only the dynamics of the game but the workings of his guild as well. -Jason
I have to admit that I got a little bit angry when I listened to Episode 18 of the Mobcast. It followed what seems to be a recent trend in some podcasts: hating on MMOs while not really having an informed opinion. Or rather, showcasing exaggerated negativity that just isn’t true.
I’ll start off with my background regarding MMOs. Star Wars: Galaxies was my first proper MMO, and I enjoyed it a lot despite not having that much of a clue of what I was doing. It was fun, though, even if I came in way late in the game.
I heard about World of WarCraft through SWG and from real-life friends. I decided to get a head start on that one and see what it was like to really play a MMO.
I bought World of WarCraft on release and starting playing it a great deal. I was pretty awful at it, though, and only reached about level 35 before stopping for the summer and enjoying my summer vacation.
When fall came I started playing again, and sometime that winter, at about 6 one morning after not sleeping, I dinged level 60, grinding in Tyr’s Hand. For those of you who played vanilla WOW, you know what place I’m talking about.
The sense of achievement was immense, and I felt that I could finally experience the real game: raiding.
Soon enough I applied to a raiding guild and got in. The requirements on player skill in those days wasn’t really high, and I still was quite a noob and made mistakes. However, I displayed my leadership abilities and became a class leader for Shamans in that guild. We had some progress, but we really didn’t get that far. I got bored and stopped playing.
I only started getting hardcore and really understanding all the fine mechanics about WOW and MMOs in 2008, when I started anew with a real-life friend and joined his guild that he had been leading and raiding with for about two years. I finally saw what it’s all about and also why people might seem incredibly elitist to outsiders. Raiding in WOW takes time, but it doesn’t require 5 hours a day seven days a week. Unless you’re really hardcore.
We’re a quite casual guild but have strict discipline. We raid three days a week for 4 hours each run. We have a nice, tight knit guild where most of the members have known each other for about a year, and I am one of two raid leaders (my friend’s the other one).
We enforce rules, point systems that reward for good behavior and punish for bad (like being late for a raid), and don’t tolerate fuck-ups or people that just don’t improve in the long run. We also have an application that you need to fill out where you specify age, location, connection reliability, gear, and what you see as your good and bad additions to a raid group.
Why do we have all of the rules and requirements? Because we value our time. When you spend 12 hours a week on something that you find very enjoyable, you don’t want someone who doesn’t care about the game like you do or generally is lousy in your group, because they’ll “wipe” all of you and hinder not only your progress but also your enjoyment of the game. Or, even worse, they’ll wreck nine or even 24 other players’ evening plans because they decided not to show up at all.
“Wiping” is when you all die in a boss fight. One of the better examples on why a weak link might destroy you is the Shade of Aran encounter in Karazhan, which is old now. Aran casts a spell called Flame Wreath, which raises flames around your feet, and if you move during the time the spell’s in effect, you cause a lot of damage to everyone in the group, basically killing everyone. Therefore, you can’t have a stupid player jumping around and not listening to directions, because they’ll kill the rest of the group.
When you raid, you need everyone these days to be at the top of their game, since the player count in raids has dropped. Before the expansions WOW had 40-player raids, and you could easily have about 10 people that were lousy (like me way back when!).
But these days WOW only has 10-player and 25-player raiders (10 is what my guild goes for), so you need to be able to rely on anyone and eliminate potential weak links. Otherwise, you’ll just continue to fail, get nowhere, and not really enjoy yourself. Do you want to pay $15 a month for that? The game’s also more fun for the player if they feel that they’re doing their best and are getting encouragement from their raid leader.
Eventually, after raiding successfully together, you bond, and become friends. These bonds often last and carry over to other games — and even to real life. I can easily say that my friend and I weren’t that close when I started playing with him. Now, thanks to our virtual adventures, we’re the best of friends and trust each other with everything.
Story also exists in MMOs, although in conventional game-story form. In WOW the story’s told through quest texts, which often, at least in the expansions, give quite some background to why you’re killing those boars. The lore in WarCraft is much, much more thick, rich and thrilling than most fantasy worlds, and if you just take some time to read up on it, you may find more enjoyment from the game.
It’s a special feeling when you’re killing a story figure that you’ve followed for some time and become the new hero in the WarCraft universe. You basically write yourself and your friends into the history books of that world and add to the continuation of the lore.
Story’s something that BioWare’s going to explore in Star Wars: The Old Republic, since it relies heavily on its voiceover work and chronological story. I’m very interested in seeing how this works and develops, since it really hasn’t been done before.
Another important aspect that haters don’t seem to grasp is the leveling and the level cap. Most people agree that the endgame, which is at the level cap (currently 80 in WOW), is where the real game starts: either PVE (players versus computer-controlled monsters, and E stands for environment, which is basically raiding) or PVP (player versus player, mostly in the Arena, where small teams of players square off against each other).
The reason why you continue playing past the level cap is often to either raid for the social experience and to improve your character with loot (which can often be quite more significant regarding increases in power then reaching another level) or to play against other players to gain rewards and experience the thrill of testing your skills against human opponents.
In WOW these days, there’re also a lot of other players that just level a lot of different characters, hunt achievements, or collect minipets, which are small, often cute, noncombat companions that exist in a hundred or so varieties. Some are rarer then others. You can also run 5-player dungeons with a group of friends and gain nice rewards by buying items for certain badges that these bosses give when you run the dungeon on a higher difficulty level, tuned for max level players.
You don’t need to spend tons of time to enjoy your MMO. I use WOW as an example for this since it’s the only one in my opinion that’s executed it to perfection, offering every player something rewarding and fun to motivate continued play.
I am currently taking a break and enjoying other games while I await the Cataclysm, where you will find me as a Goblin Hunter on the Ravencrest EU server, in the amazing guild Amateurs Extraordinaire, probably killing a certain huge black dragon.