April 18, 2011

Why I am not Fond of Theme Park MMOGs

It's probably been on the minds of a few people that last few times they see me bring up a rather sharp distinction of me saying I don't like theme park MMOs and would rather have sandbox MMOs back on the market. Now for some, this is probably a very confusing statement because the current market, as it stands, there really isn't a sandbox MMO out there, other than EVE, but that is more of a spreadsheet machine with a visual option stapled on, but that's another story entirely. Since I know many would probably want me talk about something else, I am going to talk about why I don't like theme park MMOs anyways.

In my last blog I talked about how I felt games today were getting way too easy, to a point I feel that subconsciously people feel insulted by the actual challenge and reward at the end. I feel this is why people are becoming disgusted faster and faster with the games they spent anywhere between $50 to $60 dollars on give or take the version and whether you bought it digitally or not and all manner of other trivialities that developers and publishers are slapping on to eke out a little extra cash on people. And yet people say they breeze through these games the moment they buy them and pretty much finish them in a couple of hours, challenges includes. That's very much a serious let down because to me if I get a game and just breeze through it that quickly then the reward at the end just feels hollow. It's an empty victory.

This is how I feel about MMOGs now, games meant to be played as a team game, but developers have been increasingly making them more accessible to the masses as a whole. The result is a game that has no lasting appeal or value because you can breeze through to the end already. This is a terrible design choice when it comes to theme park MMOs which rely heavily on their replayability and such.

Now, artificially, MMOGs (most anyways) already have an inherent lengthener to make the game play last longer. This is inherent in most of them, basically the leveling and progression system. Some MMOGs go so far as to add an extra layer on top of that with actual gear progression as well. However, as MMOGs have been going and the dumbing down of the process continues, parts of these equations have either been made drastically "streamlined" (ie time to reach the next tier is ludicrously simple) and the other part is either given on a platter or made so worthless as to not matter at all. This, again, is devastatingly ridiculous design choices for a theme park based MMOG.

But I am on a tangent and this doesn't really answer the "why" I don't like theme park MMOGs, so I will do my best to try and stay focused.

First and foremost I think my number 1 annoyance with theme park based MMOGs, that I have, they like to toss out a word a lot lately and it gets used so much and a big excuse for why they make such terrible decisions in the design process of the MMOG. This word is story. Now don't confuse it with I think injecting stories into an MMOG is a bad idea. The complete opposite really. However, many MMOGs use story as an excuse to actually hinder the overall game play experience with either bone dead stupid easy game play, ridiculous design decisions, and overall no reason to actually provide a long lasting game other than the intro, a somewhat beefy middle (the grinding part of your typical MMOG) and an ending that lasts for several months while developers either rush to try and offer something new or, better yet, make promises and soothing remarks in an attempt to make their player base feel something is actually going on behind the scenes. And honestly, the really bad ones about it are the ones that make it sound like the monumental world, but when it's delivered it's just an impressive mess and disastrously delivered to be more or less insulting to the bulk of the players intelligence.

Story is treated like a crutch in theme park MMOGs a lot of the time. And the bad part of it is, they either constrain and choke the life out of the story for game mechanic purposes, or use the story as an excuse to not even bother offering something decent and entertaining to the players as a whole. This is just bad design philosophy on the whole. A story should be complimenting the game play experience, it should be riding hand in hand actually, but for whatever reason, no one wants to bother. And it hurts the game. This becomes especially true in games that pretend to start with story then just start adopting nothing but childish jokes and internet memes in place, and it is even more insulting if the game provides endgame content, it totally ignores the story completely.

The next part that annoys me is a big one; Theme Park MMOGs, no matter the false sense of openess or the vast take they have on the world in particular are just rail shooters. Invisible rails, but rail shooters none-the-less. You are pre-programmed in an Theme Park MMOG to follow a set course. There is little choice to deviate from this set path. In fact, this path is pre-programmed for you to reach the ending. The bad part, however, is when a game offers nothing at the end for you to do and becomes a monumental fart in the face. There are walls everywhere that prevent you from going certain places, whether they are overt or covert. Most probably never realize it, but they are. It's called the zone level. Yep, critter level is a covert wall to keep you from entering into an area you shouldn't be in. And some MMOGs have actually been putting physical barriers down now. At first they started with an explanation why, now they just say, because you can't. No reason.

Another thing on that part is the community, as big or great as people think they can be, is hollow. It's even more so these days because the MMOG communities are slowly becoming police states controlled by the company that produces them. And I do mean this the community in a theme park based MMOG is rather hollow inside. They sort of go through the motions, as it were, when it comes to talking about their entertainment value, but you just get that feeling that as much passion as they might type they have or it seems like they have in the vocabulary they are typing, you just can't help and shake that feeling that the sincerity isn't really genuine. The only sense of passion seems to be derived from the actual investment in the product, not necessarily the love for the product. This creates a rather bizarre paradox, as it were, where people are just there because of what they put in, but not actually there because they love or enjoy the game. In fact, you can probably spot people who often make posts that they think the forums of a specific game are more fun or they just log in to update things once in a while or something. That's rather passionless.

This leads into the game just doesn't offer a real world. The game is basically the world that time forgot. Even if it has a simulated day and night, everything is scripted and programmed to happen exactly. That quest you did three years ago will still be there. There's no sense of progression, at all, no sense of evolution. The game begins and hangs there. Just imagine watching your favorite TV series, as it were, and all you see is the first season. And that's all you ever see of it. This world only exists in that state. Oh expansions might add things every now and then, but for the most part, outside of total overhauls (that aren't that much of overhauls) the main world is still in season 1. And it's jarring as hell for the experience when you go from one point in say an expansion talking about events as if three years went by, and then you get back to the main world and everyone's talking about that event as if it was still going on now. There is no sense of growth, no sense of progression, nothing at all. It's just there.

It's a single player game, all in all. It might have a few moments that desire you to team up, but some of the latest ones have made that completely optional even. The challenges, if they can be called that, are barely passable to make you even think past a few idiot one shot kill attacks, and many of the ones presented now don't even offer that so making it easy for teams to just power through the damn things. And this problem is exacerbated because many of the theme park MMOGs now are actually telling players from the get go they are the only one that matters in the game world. This is a stupid thing to tell the players honestly, and it removes any sense that teams and allies are even important.

Theme parks get boring. No matter what's done. They don't change, they don't offer any freedom, and they don't ever provide any tools for a real community. Many also hamstring themselves behind a story excuse, and this is just shoddy. A sandbox MMOG can work with story and instead of keeping everything around constantly, let's it grow, change and even evolve.  Theme parks are afraid to do that, for some silly reason. They are afraid if they don't offer the exact same quests a few years down the line that you did on day one of launch, people will magically disappear.

Many also develop tunnel vision, something they try to inflict on their players to, trying to guide and force players down the road towards their endgame. All in all, it's just a silly notion that should stay in the single player park. MMOGs should be sandbox games that offer freedom to the players as a whole, with stories that actually compliment the game play, not hinder it like it's doing now. MMOGs are about vast communities that can be formed, but what is being formed in today's MMOG communities are just empty, hollow people not even really sure they actually mean what they say, and not even wholly believing what they say themselves.

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