The MMO Genre

I started writing this as a response to Kyle Horner’s Massively column, but then I realized it was getting too long for anyone to care about it on that site. So, if you’re here, you’ll actually read it.

The question Kyle proposes is whether a good story can supplant grind in an MMO (the example being SWTOR). Here’s my problem: I think the “MMO genre” has defined itself in a way that has backed itself into a corner. There are now these expected features that must make it into any new MMO or else everyone declares that it is a failure.

What if we take a step back for a moment and consider the option of redefining the genre. I don’t mean it in the manner of “We’re going to revolutionize the MMO!” I mean that we’re no longer going to make these generalizations and assumptions about what an MMO is. Let’s just assume that an MMO means “A game which game be played online with a large number of other people in the same area at the same time.” If we drop all other features, the question remains: Can story be stronger than the grind in an MMO?

The Grind

Don't you just love it?

Without a doubt the answer is yes. Think about your most memorable gaming moments. Were they that time you killed 1000 gazelles in The Barrens in WoW? Or was it when you discovered the truth behind what you were doing in Rapture and what was up with Andrew Ryan? Or when you finally took down the Joker in Arkham Asylum (well, okay, that boss fight was a bit anti-climactic, but still)? How about learning who/what was behind the evil in Mass Effect (The first one. No spoilers on the second, please)?

Story sticks with us far longer than any grind ever could. The arguments are “Well, I’ll play through the story once and then be done.” So what? Why is it such a crime to finish a game these days, and then come back when there’s new stuff to see? Look at Guild Wars. Especially due to their unique subscription model, you can come in, play the story, then come back when a new expansion comes out. Why is this a negative thing?

Now, I’m not talking about this from Bioware’s point of view, clearly. Obviously they will want to put hooks in to keep you playing month after month so that you can keep giving them your money. But why is this such a terrible thing for a player? If you enjoy the story, then who gives a damn about how long you continue to play the game? Gaming is created for YOUR enjoyment. If you like it, you play. If you don’t, you put it down. (Or you continue to pay just to talk on the forums. It happens a lot, trust me.) Define the game on your terms, and play what you think is fun. I’m fairly certain Bioware’s on the right track to create an MMO that attracts those outside the MMO genre, because they’re not falling into that trap of what an MMO “needs to be”. Let them decide for themselves what will make the game good. Have they ever steered you wrong?

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