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Why We Love Doing Dumb Things in MMOs

Kill ten rats, craft a linen hat and sharpen spearheads (0/20). Wow, cool stuff, let’s login to the game right away! …right?

If you look closely, a lot of things to do in MMOs are super dull. Nobody in their right mind will claim that sharpening spearheads or doing dailies are the most thrilling activities a game has to offer. Sometimes it feels like I’m working rather than gaming. Why then do we do these things, and heck, why might we even enjoy doing them?

The Demand for Dumb Things

Even though excitement sells games, I would argue that there is a certain demand for doing dumb things in MMOs. Being deeply involved with something exciting is fun, but taxing. This is something I can relate to from personal experience.

Doing challenging content is one of the reasons I’m drawn to the MMO genre. I raid two days a week, so I would not call myself a typical casual gamer.

However, most weekdays I don’t get to login until 9 o’clock in the evening. After a long day at work, I don’t have much energy left. My head hurts when I hear other peoples’ voices and I lack the brain power required to focus on what’s happening around my characters and what skills I need to use. On such evenings, I like to login to the Elder Scrolls Online and do the crafting dailies on all my characters. Dumb, menial solo tasks are the perfect thing to relax.

Crafting dailies in the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)

Others might not even enjoy challenging content when they are rested. Who am I to argue?

My point is: there is a market for dull MMO content. This doesn’t completely answer the question, though. Because why would I do dumb things in MMO games when I could be binge watching my favorite TV series? This brings us to a second incentive to do mundane tasks: the reward.

Positive, Immediate and Certain Rewards

The best dumb things to do have a predictable, reliable reward. In management and behavioral science this is referred to as positive, immediate, certain (PIC). Game developers that want to encourage behavior (in this case, have customers play the game), will have the most success when the behavior is met with positive (you get a nice thing), immediate (you get the thing as soon as you’ve done the task) and certain (every time you complete the task, you get the thing) consequences. Sounds familiar? Indeed, I basically just described the pillar stone mechanic of every MMO: the quest.

But this is not all: a positive relationship exists between behavior and the frequency of PIC consequences. Basically, the more regular the reward, the more likely we are to execute the desired behavior. This makes dailies such an effective tool for getting gamers to login and play. Considering PIC strategies are a big thing in management science as well, perhaps we should not be surprised that the lines between gaming and work begin to blur.

Achievements as a Way to Cope

In-game rewards are not the only driving force behind gaming as if it’s work: the reality is more complex. Let’s look at a gamer type that spends particularly much time doing things that resemble work: the achievement hunter.

The main goal of the achievement hunter is to complete everything there is to do. In-game rewards matter less. Sure, the achievements that offer exclusive rewards are a nice bonus, but what matters is to do them all.

MMOs generally come with a helpful list of all achievements that are tracked as the player progresses. The entire content of a game is basically summarized in one big to do list. And this is interesting, because to do lists are also a huge management tool in – you’ve guessed it – business environments. So why do achievement hunters like to do lists so much, even if it’s reminiscent of working?

The achievement tracker in Guild Wars 2 (GW2)

In an interview with the Guardian, psychologist Dr David Cohen mentions three reasons we love to work on lists:

  • They dampen anxiety about the chaos of life
  • They provide with a plan to stick to
  • They are proof of what we have achieved

The first stands out to me. Are to do lists a way of coping with the overwhelming amount of content that MMOs these days offer? Game system upon game system, mechanic upon mechanic are piled up as MMOs keep adding things to present their players with something new. New players have so many things to take in that a first reaction might be to panic and log off. I know I have felt that way on more than one occasion. Working towards completing achievements brings structure, offers boundaries and reduces stress. On top of this, lists are a proven way to increase productivity – both on the job and while gaming.

I would argue that the desire to hunt achievements may be fed by games, but the basic drive comes from within. In fact, our brains come up with such creative things to track that in-game achievement trackers never keep up. This is why you see players writing things down in notes that lie on their desks, or keep track of things in spreadsheets on their computer.

Playing for Fame

Thus far, I have focused on the “soothing effects” of doing achievements in games. Better known, and well-researched, motivations for achieving in games are competition and prestige.

According to Wikipedia, “One of the appeals of online gaming to the Achiever is that he or she has the opportunity to (…) hold elite status to others. (…) They may spend long periods of time engaging in a repetitive action in order to get one more reward.”

Let’s look at players that spend extreme amounts of time grinding boring things. With the risk of sounding derogatory, I will refer to this achiever sub type as the “no-lifer”. The no-lifer is someone who spends so much time gaming that it is inconceivable that the gaming experience itself is still exciting and fun. The goal is not to ridicule this type of player, but rather to understand what drives them.

A while back, I saw a video by the well-known YouTuber Trainer Tips that finally made me understand the draw of the “no-lifer” playstyle. “50 Raids in one day with the world’s #1 Pokémon Go player” offers a fascinating insight into the prestige earned through an extremely grindy playstyle. We see a day in the life of BrandonTan91, the Pokémon GO player with the highest amount of experience (XP) in the world. Brandon spends every day in his car, driving from pokémon raid to pokémon raid. He runs complicated calculations to determine the most optimal routes of earning XP. So far, this does not sound very appealing.

But here is the trick: Brandon does not play alone. He has accumulated an entire crew of Pokémon GO players that drive around with him, helping him beat the raids. In interviews, these followers consider it an honor to play with him. It is clear that Brandon is a hero and inspiration to them. Before they met him, they didn’t even spend half as much time playing the game. When asked, all these players recite their accumulated XP count by heart: clearly, this is a social status indicator in their game community.

It is easy to ridicule BrandonTan91’s playstyle as “no-lifer”, but it’s just as easy to see the appeal of spending your days playing your favorite game, together with other players that are just as enthusiastic about that game and treat you with the greatest respect. Even though I may never personally enjoy grinding in Pokémon GO, it is clear to me that these players are genuinely having fun.

For those of you that think Brandon lives in his mother’s basement: if we may believe the YouTube comments, he has found a way to monetize his hobby. For a fee, he catches pokémon for other players. We’ve come full circle: from gaming as if it’s work to gaming that has become work.


We’ve seen that playing as if it’s work is stimulated from within the game: by offering daily or weekly tasks with positive, immediate, certain (PIC) rewards, and by having achievements to fulfill. Moreover, though, it comes from a natural desire within. Keeping track of accomplishments reduces stress and provides with a plan, goal, structure and boundaries. In-game achievement trackers offer a reminder and proof of what is achieved. Finally, prestige is an important drive to live a “no-lifer” lifestyle. The more time is spent gaming, the higher the potential for increased social status within specific gamer communities.

Does working make a game come to life?

Right when I thought I had it all figured out, another thought crossed my mind. What if menial tasks are what makes me feel engaged in the gaming world? When I start losing interest in an MMO, boring, repetitive actions are usually the first victim. I will only login to play dungeons or raid with my friends and stop caring about gear and crafting altogether. When someone asks me whether I still play a game, I almost feel guilty when I reply with “yes”. Even though I technically login and thus play, my heart is not in it. The dumb things I do in MMOs make me feel part of the living, breathing online world – without them, I feel like a pretender.

Christmas Without “Christmas” in MMORPGs

christmas in mmorpg lotro

Read the following list carefully. What catches your eye?

Selection of popular MMOs featuring an event around Christmas
ArcheAgeWinter Maiden Festival
AionSolorius Festival
EverQuest (EQ) & EverQuest 2 (EQ2)Frostfell
The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)New Life
Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV)Starlight Celebration
Guild Wars 2 (GW2)Wintersday
Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO)Yuletide Festival
NeverwinterWinter Festival of Simril
RiftFae Yule
Star Trek Online (STO)Q’s Winter Wonderland
Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR)Life Day event
WildstarProtostar Gala Winterfest Extravaganza
World of Warcraft (WoW)Feast of Winter Veil

Did you notice something odd? Well, I did.

The amount of times the word “Christmas” is used is a whopping 0.

Granted, this is an incomplete overview of MMOs. But even when you dig through Massively OP’s extensive guide of last year, “Christmas” does not seem to be a popular choice of words. Out of a grand total of 51 MMOs (the definition is stretched a bit by including MOBA’s and mobile games), only APB Reloaded and Echo of Soul speak of a “Christmas event” – the first is a Grand Theft Auto-style shooter game and the second I frankly had never heard of before.

Apparently, there’s a huge demand for Christmas events – every big title has one, after all – but MMOs avoid the word “Christmas” like the plague. We’ve arrived at the main scope of this article:

How do game developers implement Christmas in MMOs? Why are Christmas inspired in-game events never referred to as “Christmas”? Which traditional elements are incorporated and which are left out?

Christmas elements in MMOs

The obvious element missing from in-game events is “Christ”. Indeed, when you look at the content of MMO “Christmas” events, all elements of Christianity have been removed. There are no angels, no Christmas carols, no stars, no crosses, no nativity scenes. While you might regularly encounter these symbols in the real, offline world (even if you are not religious yourself), the online game world is completely devoid of them.

My guess is that not using any religious elements is a conscious decision to keep events inclusive for everyone. Nobody wants to take the risk of upsetting someone by adding controversial elements.

Elk mount in the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) (Source: ESO promotional image)

Elk mount in the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) (Source: ESO promotional image)

But how do we then set the holiday spirit in MMOs?

A quick look through the MMO scape provides the answer: by implementing a selection of non-religious Christmas elements into the game.

Top 5 Christmas elements in MMOs

1. Throwing snowballs

2. Festive warm winter clothing

3. Presents (sometimes combined with Santa like NPCs)

4. Candy canes, gingerbread and toys

5. Elk mounts

(Note that this top 5 is based on a broad guess after studying the use of Christmas in roughly ten MMOs. I did not track down all elements for all MMOs because that would be a huge undertaking. These elements, however, clearly occurred the most overall.)

The result is a unique blend of elements within each MMORPG. Which elements that are, depends a lot on the MMO’s setting and tone. You can make out three general categories.

1) Sci-fi MMOs

MMOs in a sci-fi setting have the hardest job translating Christmas to something that fits within their lore. Futuristic space simply doesn’t vibrate “homely” and “winter” without some help. Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR) celebrates Life Day, a wookiee event that was introduced to the fandom with the Star Wars Holiday Special. Revolving around family and the renewal of life, Life Day has a lot in common with Christmas. During the event, sparkling holotrees on the Fleet set the right mood. In a way, they represent a futuristic version of the wookiee Tree of Life.

Life Day decorations in Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR)

I chuckled when I found out Star Trek Online (STO)’s creative solution to the problem: Q’s Winter Wonderland. Q, the well known omnipotent and unpredictable character that first appeared in The Next Generation, is truly the only person that would get away with something so silly in the otherwise serious Star Trek lore.

2) Cartoony, light-hearted MMOs

Lighthearted MMOs that allow for more out of character content, tend to go all out with American Christmas related elements: Christmas trees, presents, Santa hats, reindeer antlers… even glowing noses that you can stuck on your character (EverQuest). Whether you love or hate it, these Christmas events often distinguish themselves by an abundance of pop culture references. World of Warcraft (WoW) players, for instance, can get a Red Rider Air Rifle: a variation of the famous gun featured in the 1983 comedy A Christmas Story. Pop culture references are typical of WoW, and their Christmas event is no exception.

These MMOs also often feature a Santa like figure with a twist. EverQuest 2’s Santa Glug (a goblin in a Santa outfit), EverQuest’s Santug Claugg (an ogre dressed in red) and SWTOR’s Master of ceremonies (a bearded old guy dressed in red) are examples of this. WoW players can get a “Santa’s Helper” miniature gnome.

More subtle are satirical views of the commercial side of Christmas, such as present in Wildstar in EverQuest 2. In the latter, a quest called Saving Frostfell invites you to save the spirit of holiday by destroying a factory. These meta references are, however, rare.

Winter Veil in World of Warcraft (Source: promotional material)

Winter Veil in World of Warcraft (Source: promotional material)

3) High Fantasy MMOs

Fantasy MMOs that heavily rely on realism and immersion generally avoid the more modern aspects of Christmas. An electrically lighted Santa flying through the air on his sleigh would be terribly out of place in, say, the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO), after all. More subtle references like cosmetic warm winter clothing and elk mounts prevail.

High Fantasy MMOs often try to give the event a pagan, pre-Christian touch. Many Christmas symbols, such as the Christmas tree, have their origin in pagan festivals that celebrate the renewal of life (Yule). This is apparent in the naming choice: Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) has a Yuletide Festival, Rift celebrates Fae Yule and ESO New Life.

Another tactic is the implementation of more intangible concepts such as the Christmas spirit. LOTRO has a Dickens inspired theme going on in its Winterhome town. Players are invited to side with either the poor or the mayor who exploits them. Siding with the mayor yields better rewards, but can you live with being ruthless? Helping the poor or assisting orphans are recurring motives in several MMOs.


Looking at all these Christmas inspired events, the shared characteristic is that they try to invoke a nostalgic or cheerful atmosphere that provides a break from normal in-game activities. Game developers carefully select elements that fit within the in-game world lore-wise. Without exception, they play it safe: no references to religion are made, apart from pagan name elements that are used to give a exotic favour. Since many Western MMOs are being developed in the US, inspiration is mostly drawn from the American Christmas tradition (incidentally, as someone living in the Netherlands, references are often lost to me). The overall intent is to make us enjoy and there’s no denying that that fits perfectly within the Christmas spirit.

Gender Perception in MMOs

“I myself merely play female characters sometimes, and many times when I’m on those characters, people assume that I am a woman in real life,” he wrote. I blinked. It was a casual comment in an article that was about something else entirely, but it sparked a thought. You see, Larry Everett’s experience is very different from my own.

“That’s awesome!” I found myself thinking. “Seriously, you are playing a female character and you’re actually addressed as a woman?! People should realize how special this is.” I also thought (because I’m an imperfect human being, like everyone else): “Ha! Now you know what it feels like!”

All my characters are female. However, when typing to strangers in MMOs, 9 out of 10 times they (incorrectly) assume I am male. Now I’m not having sleepless nights over this (which is a good thing, or I’d have developed insomnia), but it does get old pretty fast. I asked other female gamers I know and they reported the same phenomenon.

Player avatars hanging out in the central hub in Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR)

It is striking that Everett’s experience and mine are so different  – especially considering we play the same MMO, Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR). It could be that this is partly due to our perception: we are more likely to remember instances in which other players guessed it wrong than in which they guessed it right. But perhaps there’s more to this.

Game scientists have conducted research on the perception of gender in virtual environments. Although there is no data on how often we address others with a certain gender, there is evidence that certain factors affect how we perceive others.

What we do affects who we appear to be

It is possible that gender perception varies depending on our choice of activities in-game. A study from 2010 shows that game genre influences our perception of other players’ gender (Eden et al. 2010). We are more likely to perceive players as male when they’re playing games that are competitive and aggressive (such as shooters) – traditionally masculine associated traits. On the other hand, players are more likely assumed to be female when playing games that are social in nature. It is interesting to note that no relationship between skill level and perceived gender was found.

Although this research focused on gamers playing different game genres, you could extrapolate that the same goes for in-game activities. Perhaps players are more likely to expect male players when taking part in competitive and more aggressive environments such as PvP MMOs and raiding endgames, while they are more likely to expect female players when taking part in social activities, such as role-play. If this is true, it would explain why I’m often assumed to be male – I spend the majority of my time in-game playing endgame.

What we look like affects who we appear to be

Another study found that the degree of masculinity or femininity of an avatar significantly influences perceptions of avatars (Nowak & Rauh 2005). While this study deals with web avatars rather than avatars within multiplayer games, I don’t think it’s unlikely that the same goes for the latter. Judging by his article, Larry Everett spends a lot of time role-playing on his characters (some of which are female) on the fleet, the central player hub in SWTOR. This could explain why he does get addressed as female from time to time. After all, when role-playing, people will be more attentive to character appearances than when you are rushing through hordes of mobs with a pug. In instances where little to no attention to character looks is given, we might be inclined to go with the male default instead.

A boarding party during a mission in Star Trek: Online

The nature of gameplay may affect assumed player gender. Screenshot from Star Trek Online (STO)

What we expect affects who we appear to be

Historically, gaming has been the realm of men. Indeed, gaming as a pastime is still associated with boys, violence and masculinity (Bryce & Rutter 2002). You could argue that the tendency to address all players as male is a relic of past times, wherein the vast majority of gamers were male. However, speaking from personal experience, most players seem aware that the MMO populace is more varied nowadays. (A heads up: recent research by Quantic Foundry (2017) found that 16-36% of MMO players are female – varying on the MMO’s setting.) When ten years ago I logged into an MMO and strangers found out I was a woman playing endgame, they were flabbergasted. Now it’s more like “Oh, okay.”

So if most MMO players are aware that both genders play, why do we tend to address strangers with “he”? My guess is that it has to do with the persisting perception of the male gender as the default in modern western culture. Let me explain with an example outside of the realm of gaming.

A couple of years ago, I took part in a university course. At one point, a classmate of mine took the stage and gave a fifteen minute presentation about a paper we had read. During, she constantly referred to the author as “he”. This was awkward, because I knew the author was, in fact, female. She had an foreign first name that I did not recognize, so I had googled her the evening before to check. When the student was done, our teacher asked how she would feel if she had published an article in a well known magazine and a reviewer wouldn’t even have looked up who she was.

The incident showed me how disrespectful it is to regard everyone as male, because it radiates disinterest. I realized it could just as well have been me making that mistake if I would not have taken the extra time to research the evening before. For me, this moment was an eye opener and I decided to never assume a gender when addressing someone I don’t know.

Female avatar in Guild Wars 2

Character appearances may influence the assumed gender of players. Screenshot from Guild Wars 2 (GW2).

Referring to strangers in MMOs

What about MMOs, though, where you can’t simply google a player’s gender? The only way to find out (apart from voice chat) would be asking. And asking can be intrusive because not everyone likes sharing their gender for various reasons (Fortim & De Moura Grando 2013).

Ever since the awkward class room experience, I’ve been more aware of prejudices regarding gender perception. Sometimes I notice I assume someone to have a certain gender because of the way they talk or behave in game. But then I remember my decision. When I write a blog post in reaction to somebody else’s and their blog doesn’t state their gender, I refer to them as “they”. And the same goes for MMOs, really. Chances are that when I use “they” when talking about someone else, somebody will correct me and then I know how to address them. And if they don’t and want to keep their gender private, that’s fine, too.

Some dislike the use of “they”. For them (har har), going by the character’s gender is a great alternative. It will mean that they’ll get it wrong from time to time, but hey, it might prompt gamers think about gender perception in MMOs for a bit.

Do other players generally assume you’re male or female in MMOs? How do you address strangers online yourself?



Bryce, J. and J. Rutter, 2002: Killing Like a Girl: Gendered Gaming and Girl Gamers’ Visibility, in F. Mäyrä (ed.): Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference, 243-255.

Eden, A., E. Malony and N. D. Bowman, 2010: Gender Attribution in Online Video Games, in: Journal of Media Psychology 22, 114-1124.

Fortim, I. and C. de Moura Grando, 2013: Attention whore! Perception of female players who identify themselves as women in the communities of MMOs. Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) conference publication.

Williams, D., M. Consalvo, S. Caplan and N. Yee, 2009: Looking for Gender: Gender Roles and Behaviors Among Online Gamers, in: Journal of Communication 59, 700–725.

Yee, N., 2017: Beyond 50/50: Breaking Down The Percentage of Female Gamers by Genre, on Quantic Foundry website ( on 3 November 2017).

LOTRO vs. SWTOR: Who Handles the IP Better?

Many games are based on pre-existing imaginary worlds. Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) and Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR) are two such MMO games that have become popular, not in the least due to their IP. But which of the two handles the IP better?

IP and Licensing

Intellectual property (IP) is an intangible ownership that is based on creations of the mind. While the word technically focuses on the possession of creations, fans often use it to refer to the collection of ideas themselves. This is how it will be used in this article.

For a fair comparison, let’s look at what intellectual property each MMO has access to. I’m going to assume you are broadly familiar with the fictional worlds of Middle-earth and Star Wars.

SWTOR screenshot of Yavin IV

Yavin IV 3000 years before the rebel base (SWTOR)

LOTRO is based on Tolkien’s Middle-earth, or ‘Tolkien’s legendarium’. However, the MMO only has a license for The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and The Hobbit. This means the game is not allowed to refer to events or characters from other works by Tolkien, such as The Silmarillion.

SWTOR is based on the Star Wars universe. The license covers the entire IP, but as the game takes place about 3000 years before the events in the movies, a large part of game design is left to the imagination of its developers. We know from interviews and livestreams that SWTOR’s developers have regular contact with Disney’s Star Wars team to discuss whether new story plans fit.

How do you measure the ‘essence’ of an IP?

Needless to say, the translation from book or movie to MMO is never going to be direct; they’re different mediums, created by different people at different times. Nobody is going to do a perfect job, and judging how good of a job has been done is subjective by definition. To come up with a convincing argument, I will measure three attributes: worldbuilding, aesthetics and story.

Worldbuilding is the process of constructing a fictional universe. One could argue that Tolkien was the ‘ultimate worldbuilder’. He described the imaginary world of Middle-earth in incredible detail, including history spanning thousands of years, genealogical trees of historic figures and entire languages (complete with alphabets and scripts) for the various races inhabiting his world. Some of Tolkien’s books are fictional historical works that are completely dedicated to worldbuilding and do not contain a plot. Because worldbuilding was such an important part of Tolkien’s writing, a successful use of the IP in an MMO would require a detailed and immersive virtual world.

Worldbuilding in Star Wars is done in a visual, cinematic manner. Think of the much celebrated first scene of Episode IV: a seemingly never-ending Star Destroyer dwarfs the helpless Corvette ahead. The Destroyer has a slick interior design; the many people working on it are faceless, void of identity, in their uniforms. No word has been said, but everything about the Empire radiates power and dominance. With the blink of an eye, the visuals explains the power structure in a galaxy far, far away.

LOTRO screenshot of Rohirric sky

The sky of Rohan: birds circle in the air (LOTRO)

Aesthetics is not so much about how the fictional world is constructed, but rather about whether its representation holds true. Think of auditive, textual and, above all, visual information. When judging aesthetics, we should not only look for obvious iconic elements (e.g. a Star Wars MMO should have lightsabers; the Shire needs hobbit holes), but also for less tangible aspects, such as immersion.

Finally, story is an important aspect. Both IPs feature an epic story with heroes that play a vital role in reshaping the world. But because MMOs are inhabited by many player controlled characters, not everyone can be the main hero. How are these stories handled? Do players have the feeling they are part of the narrative?

Use of IP in LOTRO

I wrote earlier that a successful use of the IP in LOTRO would require a detailed and immersive virtual world. I can already give away that the game has succeeded in this regard. Every detail that is in the books can be found in-game. Regions that are only briefly mentioned in LOTR, such as Dunland, have been believably filled in with the help of anthropological and archaeological knowledge.

LOTRO Screenshot hobbit hole

A hobbit hole in the Shire (LOTRO)

In one aspect, LOTRO’s developers have deliberately opted to deviate from Tolkien’s worldbuilding. The Lord of the Rings namely was written almost 70 years ago and is a product of its time: it contains some elements of racism and the narrative is dominated by males. From the Rohan expansions onwards, LOTRO has made a clear effort to make the voice of women and children heard, giving them a larger role than in the original IP. Children play out in the streets of villages you pass; several quests introduce you to how the war is experienced by them. Meanwhile, women are left in the charge of towns while their men are fighting in the war. Without deviating from the medieval inspired setting of Middle-earth, LOTRO passes the Bechdel test effortlessly.

As for aesthetics, all iconic elements that you would expect are present. Bag End, the Prancing Pony, Weathertop… even the Black Gate can be visited. Landmarks are an important aspect that makes players connect with the IP and carry over LOTRO’s feeling of realism. LOTRO’s landscapes are celebrated in the MMO scape, and with good reason: they are incredibly detailed (day-night cycles and a weather system) and are still competitive with new titles even though the MMO is a decade old. The in-game music varies by region and adds to the immersion.

LOTRO’s ‘epic story’ follows the fellowship to Mordor. The player character is no known hero, but helps persons of note from behind the scenes. This is a clever way of handling the unwritten rule that players are heroes, while all seats are already taken. However, it could be argued that the player is too much of a Mary Sue, being pals with all the important figures while saving countless towns and people in the time-span of one year – not very realistic.

Screenshot of the Eternal Throne of Zakuul in SWTOR

The Eternal Throne of Zakuul (SWTOR)

Use of IP in SWTOR

We have seen how the Star Wars movies use the visual to support intuitive worldbuilding. This method is also heavily utilized in SWTOR and is something that sets the MMO apart from others. ‘Visual worldbuilding’ is everywhere: from the black and red, slick design of the Imperial Empire to the Eternal Empire depicted above. The row of golden outfitted Zakuulan knights on the way to the Eternal Throne, situated on top of the Spire, signal wealth and power much like the aforementioned intro to A New Hope.

Of course, visual worldbuilding is not done exclusively in SWTOR, but the emphasis on the visual and cinematic throughout the game is undeniable. For instance, the overwhelming majority of quests have a cutscene. Cutscenes in SWTOR don’t merely consist of stationary NPCs, but are also action based and show your own character in their custom outfit. To strengthen the cinematic experience, quests in SWTOR have voice acting. Both NPCs and player characters are voice acted and a stunning amount of 16 different (base class and gender determined) voices are available to represent the player.

Developing cutscenes and recording voice actors must have taken a good chunk out of SWTOR’s budget, meaning that less funds were available for other aspects of the game. Landscape design seems to have suffered a bit. This is not to say planets in SWTOR look bad. Indeed, the landscapes are quite decent, but they lack the amount of detail and immersion of LOTRO: no day-night cycle nor weather are present. As for other aesthetics: iconic Star Wars archetypes are represented in the base classes, such as smuggler, jedi knight, bounty hunter and sith warrior. Lightsabers and weapons both look great and SWTOR easily beats LOTRO when it comes to animations. A clear effort has been made to meet the visually appealing combat of the movies. The in-game music gives the player the same feeling of epicness as in the IP and is of more consistent quality than in LOTRO.

Screenshot from SWTOR's desert

The iconic two suns of Tatooine (SWTOR)

Storytelling is another strong suit of SWTOR. Between its well-written, compelling stories, player choices (sometimes granting dark or light side points) and sheer amount of story content, every other MMO I’ve tried out since has disappointed. SWTOR’s base game comes with 8 distinct class stories that continue up to level 50. The game also features companions that have conversations and small stories attached to them. The latest expansions have focused on story exclusively and allowed players to make choices with more consequences.


So which MMO handles the IP best? I feel compelled to go with the boring answer: there is no clear winner. Both MMOs are inspired by the worldbuilding of their respective IPs and have made a unique translation of their IP to a virtual world. LOTRO has focused on superb landscapes and immersion while SWTOR stands out for its storytelling and cinematic spectacle. If you prefer one over the other, I suspect it is because you enjoy certain aspects (aesthetics, story etc) more than others. Or perhaps you have a preference of IP, or simply care about other (non IP related) gameplay matters more. It is not because one MMO has done a worse job with the IP than the other.

Ragequitting an MMO: Does it Work?

Perhaps you’ve done it yourself: ragequitting an MMO. After all, falling in love with an online game is something that happens to many of us. As you spend many hours in the MMO of your choice and the years progress, things will inevitably change, and not always in a direction you like. Where did the magic go? You may have written several threads with your concerns on the official forum. You may have included suggestions that would fix the game for you, but it all falls on deaf ears.

The changes you dread so much are still happening and suddenly you realise that logging in makes you feel frustrated rather than happy. This may be the time to “hit them where it hurts”, unsub and logout of the game for the last time. You write a final angry note on the forum and never look back. But did your actions indeed have any effect on the direction of your MMO? This is the question I want to tackle in this article.

A ‘success story’: Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR)

The direct inspiration for this topic is a recent case in Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR). Ragequitting players seem to have played a vital role in the 180 degree change of course in its reward system this spring. Although SWTOR’s last two expansions have been somewhat of a unique case, focusing on cinematic storytelling exclusively, the game as a whole is an MMO with a traditional setup: a core game with leveling content and expansions that raise the level cap and add new endgame group content.

Historically, SWTOR has been surprisingly gear and alt friendly compared to some of the other titles out there. In the past, I’ve recommended the MMO to friends that were looking for a new raiding experience, because it was quick to get to level cap and easy to gear up with the help of knowledgeable guild members. This all was about to change with the introduction of a game changing feature: SWTOR’s Galactic Command system.

In the autumn of 2016, SWTOR rolled out this system as part of their expansion Knights of the Eternal Throne (KOTET). Players were wary and critical from the start. Galactic Command introduced three tiers of gear, divided over 300 ranks, available to level capped (70) players with an active subscription only. Participating in activities would grant command experience (CXP) that would allow players to increase in rank. Each rank, a command crate was earned that had a low chance to drop a piece of random gear. Traditional sources of gear, such as raid bosses, did no longer drop any.

Lightsaber fight in SWTOR

Bioware’s argument for Galactic Command was that it would streamline the gearing process and would allow players that do not participate in group content to gain gear. However, the SWTOR community recognised the system as an enormous gear treadmill that was more frustrating than fun because of the random nature of its rewards. The outcry was enormous, and several things happened at once.

First off, the new reward system seemed to radically steer player behaviour in the game. Rather than participate in traditional content such as flashpoints (small group content) and operations (raids), players resorted to slaughtering great numbers of gold star mobs because they awarded more CXP per minute. Players were constantly looking for the fastest way to gain CXP and the developers could only wait for a new way to game the system to pop up before plugging the leaks, much like a futile game of whack-a-mole.

Secondly, the introduction of a huge gear treadmill in an otherwise respected MMO did not go unnoticed in the MMO scape. Massively OP awarded SWTOR with the not too prestigious “worst business model of 2016” title. Galactic Command completely overshadowed the main content of the expansion: the cinematic conclusion of the story that had started with the previous expansion in 2015. And finally, there were the rage quitters: great masses of players, some loyal fans from the first hour, emptied their hearts on the forum and ended their subscriptions.

The trouble with numbers

I want to briefly pause my account to acknowledge the thing that makes judging these cases tricky. I write “masses of players”, but a problematic factor is that we generally don’t know how many exactly, as that’s information game designers are not willing to make public. Obviously, numbers do matter. If one player ragequits, it won’t have much effect at all. It is something that happens every day. But if many players leave the game at the same time, it sends a message.

In the case of SWTOR, I can only go by my gut feeling and what I hear from other players around me. My impression is that never before in the history of SWTOR have so many people unsubbed at once, except for in the months after its launch in 2012. Most people would know at least one player personally that quit because of galactic command. Also interesting is that people would quit all over the casual-hardcore spectrum, so it wasn’t just one specific type of player that threw in the towel. Galactic Command was universally disliked.

So what happened then? Over the course of half a year, SWTOR’s developers made small tweaks and changes to Galactic Command that made gear more accessible. For most people that quit, this wasn’t enough, as it didn’t change anything to the core system of getting gear at level cap: through RNG only. In February 2017, a particularly out of touch tweet enthusiastically announced 100 more command ranks to grind. The announcement invoked a second huge outrage among SWTOR players.

In the end of that same week, far reaching changes were announced to gearing that effectively rolled back time. Gear would drop from raid bosses again; the last boss would even drop two. Raid gear was buffed to drop a higher tier and would always be ‘gold’ (the rare version that could drop from command crates). On top of this, Galactic Command still rewarded players with crates that were buffed to drop more useful gear more frequently. Overall, gearing in SWTOR has never been as easy as of today.

I’ve put forward SWTOR here as an example of ‘ragequitting done right’: although grudgingly so, its developers eventually listened to its players. Many MMOs have experienced similarly defining moments in their life, moments in which its developers endeavoured to reinvent the wheel. The more I look for examples of successful ‘ragequitting campaigns’ by players, though, the more I find the opposite: MMOs that changed anyway, and suffered the consequences.

When developers don’t listen: Lord of the Rings Online

One such MMO is Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO). LOTRO celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and has experienced several defining moments throughout its lifespan: from its launch in 2007 and its re-release as a free-to-play game in 2010, to its far reaching class changes with the Helm’s Deep expansion in 2013. Both 2010 and 2013 turned out to be defining moments in the MMO’s player base.

The implementation of free-to-play LOTRO in 2010 made some old time players leave, but as it also brought a steady influx of new players to the game, so it is not surprising that this ragequit wave did not have much of an effect. In a way, the free-to-play system was also a reaction to ragequitters (although not quite the response leaving players had in mind): before its implementation, people had already begun unsubbing due to being disappointed with its previous expansion, Siege of Mirkwood.

Warsteed in LOTRO

Helm’s Deep was a different story, though. The 2013 expansion featured radical changes to long-established class mechanics. First off, skill trees were introduced, and designed in a way that heavily discouraged many classes’ formerly ubiquitous hybrid builds. Secondly, all nine classes were completely revamped, ‘dumbed down’, if you will. Tons of skills were removed in order to make the game more accessible to new players. As a result, many felt like completely different classes: a huge turnoff for old time players who had grown to love their class over the course of six years. Add the initial bugs and clunky combat and it will be no surprise many of these players ragequit.

In contrast to SWTOR’s Galactic Command uproar, however, this player reaction was completely ignored by the developers, who stood by their changes. Although no official subscriber numbers have been released, it does look like ragequitters have had a lasting effect on the health of the MMO: after 2013, no new expansions were released; instead, game development has focused on smaller landscape and quest updates and in 2015, the number of available game servers was reduced from 29 to 10. Although the MMO still holds a nostalgic spot in the hearts of many old time players, LOTRO is no longer regarded as the triple-A MMO it once was. Nowadays, it is mostly played by casual free-to-players and endgame revolves around a shallow grind for essence gear.

The ultimate sob story: Star Wars Galaxies

But if you think LOTRO’s story is sad, then I present to you: Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). Released in 2003, SWG initially launched with a lot of bugs, but nevertheless managed to attract a respectable (for its time) estimate of 300,000 subscribers. But then World of Warcraft (WoW) released in 2004 and dwarfed that number.

Behind the scenes, SWG’s developers worked on a completely revamped version of the game that would effectively simplify the MMO by reducing the amount of available classes from 34 to 9 and replace its turn based combat with fast paced action. These changes, referred to as New Game Enhancements, were meant to attract a different, larger player base; one more like WoW, one could say. But it completely disregarded its core population of gamers that enjoyed SWG’s original skill progression and complicated character builds. What didn’t help was that these far reaching changes were announced a mere two weeks before release, and were initially riddled with bugs.

The New Game Enhancements produced an unparalleled outcry among the player base. Many players experienced the updates as something that changed their characters’ identity and their surrounding virtual world to its core. The commotion over an online game even reached the ears of traditional offline media and, over time, became an example of how not to redesign MMOs.

A shot from Star Wars Galaxies

Letters by ragequitting SWG players addressed to George Lucas give a unique insight into how a change in game design emotionally affected players. “Ragequitting” might not even be the appropriate word: someone working in the health-care industry recognized the emotions displayed by SWG players as “death-in-the-family-type grieving”.

The New Game Enhancements did not bring the influx of players the game developers had hoped. In retrospect, this was often attributed to its loss of flavour: what made it so successful initially was its uniqueness in the MMO-scape. Instead, SWG silently sunk into oblivion, until officially closed in 2012 to make space for SWTOR.

It makes one wonder what would’ve happened to SWTOR if it would’ve clung to its Galactic Command system as originally implemented. Did, in a twisted turn of events, SWTOR only succeed because it learned from its predecessor’s mistakes?

Conclusion: ragequitting as a strategy to steer MMO game design

I obviously haven’t been able to revisit every case of players ragequitting all MMOs out there. However, from what we’ve seen, historical cases do not exactly give off positive vibes for ragequitting as a viable strategy to influence MMO game design. When game developers want to implement far reaching changes that affect the core experience of the MMO, they generally seem stand by their decisions. Whether they listen to the playerbase seems rather arbitrary from a gamer’s perspective.

Cases that had real impact always included players of all types (casual – endgame) being outraged over a change. If only one type of player dislikes a change, developers seem eager to dismiss this type of player and cater to an audience that does like, or is indifferent to, the new style instead. Naturally, ragequitting only has an effect when done in great numbers at a time. Finally, it also matters whether developers have learned from historical examples, such as SWG.

This does not mean that it’s a bad idea to ragequit a game, per se. When an MMO affects you negatively to a point beyond repair, it may be healthiest for you, as a person, to let go. If you are very attached to this hypothetical MMO, you may have to suffer through various stages of grief, but eventually you can find peace in that things are as they are. We have seen that forming social connections and memories in a virtual world can create a strong attachment that is not unlike the loss of a friend or family member when taken away. In this respect, it is not surprising that ragequitting players often leave an angry note behind when unsubbing: anger is one of the emotions in the stages of grief and it is considered a healthy thing to express it rather than bottle it up.

So does ragequitting an MMO work? It is effective for the person who does it, on an individual level, to deal with the emotions that come out when experiencing loss. Whether it will influence the course of the game’s design, however, remains to be seen.

Must See Places: Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR)

Are you new to SWTOR or are you considering giving the game a try? This article will guide you to the places of the galaxy you don’t want to miss. Join Ravanel Bro on a dazzling tour to five must-see planets in Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR).

Note: this article contains spoilers from the Star Wars movies Episode IV – VI. It does not contain any story plot spoilers for SWTOR and is safe to read for players who haven’t yet finished the entire game.

SWTOR screenshot with the landscape of Alderaan, with pine trees, wild animals and snowy mountain tops

1. Alderaan

Star Wars fans will recognize Alderaan as the home planet of princess Leia, which is briefly shown from space in A New Hope before blown to pieces by the Death Star. SWTOR allows players to explore this planet almost 4000 years before the disastrous event. Juicy detail: Alderaan is not the peaceful planet Leia describes. Warring noble houses fight for control of the world. You can experience the noble power plays firsthand when helping House Organa or House Thul during planetary and class stories.

Must-see spots are the Elysium, the ancient place of Alderaan’s peace council high up in the clouds, and Organa Palace, the future home of princess Leia. Players visited the latter en masse at the end of 2016 during a player organized wake in honour of Carrie Fischer’s passing. Of note is also Alderaan’s unique transportation system of tamed thrantas. These peaceful creatures will fly you over the mountain tops. You will find plenty of opportunity to enjoy Alderaan’s mesmerizing mountain landscapes from dizzying heights. Finally, you are able to admire the indigenous animal that inspired Leia to call Han “scruffy-looking nerf herder”. Many friendly nerfs will cross your path during your travels.

Travel advice: Alderaan is a relatively safe planet, provided you keep your distance from competitive Houses and hostile wild animals. It is designed for players of level 28-32.

SWTOR screenshot of the landscape of Taris, showing ruins of large buildings overgrown with trees and wild rakghouls

2. Taris

Taris is a must-visit for every self respecting Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) player. Three hundred years have come to pass since the events of KOTOR I and civilization is taking its first careful steps into recolonizing the planet. A vast wilderness infested with dangerous rakghouls surrounds small islands of courageous settlers. Must-sees are the crash site of the Endar Spire and the deserted pod races. Players can find out what happened to the people that went looking for the Promised Land (KOTOR I) during the quest Chasing History. But even if you didn’t play KOTOR Taris is worth visiting: the landscape features a beautiful mixture of lost civilization and lush wilderness.

Travel advice: Your safety cannot be guaranteed past the designated colonization camp perimeters. Tread with caution: rakghouls infest the wilderness beyond. Taris is designed for players of level 16-20 (Republic) and 32-36 (Empire).

SWTOR screenshot with the landscape of Voss, showing yellow grass, trees with red or yellow foliage, a rocky environment and a huge sun in an orange sky

3. Voss

Voss is often mentioned as SWTOR’s most beautiful planet due to its soft orange sky and autumn colored foliage. On top of that, it is unique to SWTOR: it is not mentioned in any Star Wars movie, game or book. The planet is inhabited by two races that are engaged in a conflict: the reclusive, force sensitive Voss and the tribal Gormak. The Voss’ houses are colorful and inspirational; much of its furniture can be acquired by the player for their stronghold. Recommended for visiting is the Shrine of Healing. This holy place holds a datacron that gives lasting power to players who have assisted the Voss with their troubles.

Travel advice: Voss is relatively safe to explore, provided you keep your distance to dangerous wildlife and hostile Gormak tribes. The Nightmare Lands in the northeast are said to turn explorers insane and are not to be visited without a guide. Furthermore, tourists should never touch the stone tablet in the Gormak Lands if they value their life. Voss is designed for players of level 44-47.

SWTOR screenshot with the landscape of Tatooine: a desert with rocks in the distance and one of the suns in the clear blue sky. Two banthas roam in the foreground.

4. Tatooine

Who isn’t in love with the two-sunned desert planet, featured in so many Star Wars movies? Sandcrawlers, jawas and sand people. Banthas, krayt dragon skeletons and a sarlacc pit that looks just like the one Boba Fett took a dive in… Tatooine has it all. Note that Republic and Imperial players land in a different area of Tatooine. Both towns (Anchorhead and Mos Ila) have their own feel, so it pays off to visit with characters of both factions. The Tatooine air balloon will take you on a stunning trip over the desert and might just reward players with something special. Wealthy players may buy a stronghold on Tatooine for 1,8 million credits, allowing for a permanent residence under the two suns.

Travel advice: Don’t venture too far into the desert or you might hit an exhaustion zone. Tatooine is designed for players of level 24-28.

SWTOR screenshot with the landscape of Zakuul: huge dark skyscrapers lighting up in the night

5. Zakuul

Only discovered recently, Zakuul is another planet unique to SWTOR. Located in Wild Space, this ancient and advanced civilization has managed to elude the gaze of the known galaxy for centuries. Architecture fans will find plenty to look at in the city, while lovers of nature might enjoy a hike in the Endless Swamp. The Palace of the Eternal Dragon comes highly recommended. Players can explore it during the Knights of the Eternal Throne (KOTET) story.

Travel advice: Zakuul is perfectly safe, unless you are an enemy of the Eternal throne; in which case you can expect to be regularly met by hostile skytroopers. Players need to own the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion in order to gain access to the planet. It is designed for players of level 60-65.

Want to see more? Click on the images below to enlarge.