Posted on March 4th, 2019 by | 11 Replies

There’s always been a lot of negativity in the MMO community, and it’s always bothered me. But lately, it seems to be getting worse, swallowing the community whole until there’s nothing left.

An NPC in the MMORPG Bless Online

I’m not saying there isn’t room to complain. Things aren’t perfect. While I think a lot of the concerns over monetization practices are overblown, I won’t contend that it’s not an issue. Meanwhile early access and crowdfunding have “developers” raking in money hand over fist for the vague promise of maybe one day delivering a functional game that actually resembles the original pitch, and if that’s not messed up, I don’t know what is.

And then there’s player toxicity, and the awfulness of development “crunch,” and so on.

I also grant that it’s a lot easier to find problems than to praise what is going well. Speaking as someone who’s paid to talk about MMOs, I’m intimately familiar with how much easier it is to get an interesting discussion out of criticism.

But we’ve moved beyond all that. The community has soared past constructive criticism and become mired in endless doom-saying.

These days not only are people constantly predicting some catastrophic crash in the industry, but more and more I see comments by people who are gleefully hoping for such a thing. They’re cheering for honest, hard-working people to lose their jobs just because the games being made aren’t to their taste, a level of pettiness that would have been utterly unthinkable before the Internet lowered the bar for all of humanity.

Not everyone has gone to that extreme of nastiness, but there doesn’t seem to be any escape from the negativity. Even commentators who used to be beacons of passion and enthusiasm seem to be increasingly pessimistic about the genre.

And you know, I really can’t understand why. Looking at the big picture, the MMO genre seems pretty healthy to me.

A lot of the current cynicism seems to come from the relative lack of new games coming out that are in the traditional mold of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft or EverQuest. Instead things seem to be trending more toward “MMO lite” style games like Anthem, The Division 2, and Fortnite. Fans of the old school feel left behind.

A party of player Javelins in the MMO shooter Anthem

Isn’t this what we wanted, though? Back when a new MMORPG was coming out seemingly every other month, all I remember seeing was people complaining (justifiably) about how sick they were of generic WoW clones. We were all starved for change and innovation.

Well, now we’re getting that. The genre is changing. It might not be changing exactly in the direction that you want it to, but it’s not objectively a bad thing. Indeed, change is a sign of growth, and health.

Whether they’re to your taste or not, games like Fortnite or Anthem are bringing people together in the online space, creating memories, and introducing new people to the world of online gaming. Those are all good things.

And I say that as someone who is at best lukewarm to shooters and wouldn’t touch a battle royale game with a ten foot pole.

Meanwhile fans of traditional MMORPGs aren’t exactly going underserved, either. There are plenty of traditional games like WoW, Final Fantasy XIV, and Elder Scrolls Online that are still thriving.

The space of online gaming is growing, evolving, and providing a greater diversity of experience to cater to all tastes. There may be problems, but there’s also tremendous cause for optimism, even as the community — or at least its vocal members — predict the death of the genre daily.

This negativity has real consequences. For example, word of mouth has become entirely worthless.

Every single game that comes out is now decried as a lazy cash grab, regardless of the reality, which makes it impossible to determine which games are actually cash grabs. I can’t trust player reviews anymore, and increasingly I’m finding professional reviews hard to trust, too. That’s a really bad place to be as a consumer because it’s very hard to tell which games are worth spending cash on (thank the gaming gods for good free to play games).

Then we also have to consider how much of a turn-off to new players this constant haze of negativity must be. If you want to attract new players to your genre, endlessly ranting about how everything is awful is probably not a good strategy.

MMOs as a genre are fine. It’s the community that’s dying.

11 thoughts on “MMOs Are Healthy, but the Community Isn’t

  1. ISey

    I mean, you could make an argument it’s reflective of society right now too, in general. If you were feeling negative today =)

  2. Shintar

    I’m just hoping that we’ll eventually see a reversal of this trend – the question is just how much worse things have to get before it happens. I’ll admit that I used to enjoy me a good rant about this or that game on YouTube… but it’s reached a point where I’m actually starting to feel turned off by certain content creators because literally all they do is stir the outrage pot for clicks. At some point the endless rants just become tiresome and meaningless.

    1. Tyler Bro Post author

      Yes, the signal to noise ratio has fallen into the toilet. The rage is so endless it’s impossible to determine at a glance what’s justified and what’s just more manufactured controversy.

  3. Naithin

    I’m clearly not looking hard enough, I thought things were looking fairly positive from a community outlook perspective at the moment.

    At least in the traditional MMO space.

    If you start including the likes of Anthem and other MMO-Lites, then yes — absolutely. All the pettiness and vileness you speak of with people all but chomping at the bit for their next juicy failboat (real or perceived) to happen, so that they personally can monetise it in a YT video is on clear display.

    It’s an argument I think I’ve lost already, but I’m still not entirely sold on the idea of Anthem, The Division and similar being classed as MMOs though. Even MMO-Lite. One of the defining features of an MMO (to me), is being in large numbers in a shared world at the same time. Sure even modern renditions of ‘traditional’ MMOs will use instancing etc, but I feel that when we’re talking down to a maximum of 4 players in a shared space (Launch Bay notwithstanding) that we’re really not talking MMO any more.

    We’re talking a co-op game with an ingame lobby, I think.

  4. Pallais

    “Indeed, change is a sign of growth, and health.” I’m going to disagree with that statement. 🙂 Change is just change. It can lead to better things and it can lead to dead or self-destructive ends. Star Wars Galaxies big change, NGE, didn’t grow it or make it healthier.

    What we’re seeing now is the rise of small group coop games with some RPG elements. If MMOs are playing a game with “10,000 of your closest friends”, then Anthem, et. al. don’t even come close to the Massively part. They are really their own genre that evolved out of shooters, with a dash of RPG customization and a large helping of Diablo-style loot drops. The only real bit you could say Destiny and the rest borrowed from MMOs such as WoW are the small group instanced bosses. In a lot of ways you could say that these games us the Guild Wars 1 model of hubs + instanced content. (For a long time, maybe still, ArenaNet specifically said GW1 was not an MMO.)

    1. Tyler Bro Post author

      Not all specific changes are good, but at a conceptual level change is important. A genre that’s never changing is a dead genre.

      As for what should and shouldn’t qualify as an MMO, we can argue about that until we’re blue in the face, but I’d say Anthem and its ilk should qualify. For all that MMORPGs liked to brag about their thousands of players on a server, at the end of the day most people spend the large majority of their time interacting with no more than three or four other people at a time, bar the occasional exception like Cyrodiil-style PvP wars (which not all MMOs have) and raids (which hardly anyone actually does). For me, the experience of playing Anthem is not meaningfully different from the experience of playing World of Warcraft, at least as far as the social aspect goes.

      1. Pallais

        In Wow, the percentage of people with a max level character that completed Ahead of the Curve for Uldir is 30%. That’s a raid difficulty (heroic) that didn’t give a title or a mount. If you shade down difficulties to Normal and LFR you would get even more folks raiding. Now for discussion purposes, if we take Ion Hazzikostas literally and that all of Wow’s individual activities are a minority relative to the entire player base, we can say LFR caps out at a maximum of 50%.

        That said, 30% – 50% of Wow’s player base, even today, is not something “hardly anyone actually does”. It is still an activity that a sizable chunk of people look for in an MMO. We’ve seen Guild Wars 2 add raids, we seen Swtor players complaints about not getting more raids in a timely fashion.

        So, you might not play MMOs in large group content, but potentially every other player or third player you meet in game does.

        This is why I view Anthem, Destiny, et al., to have created their own genre, and not be MMO-Lites. I view it like MOBAs. We now see them as distinct and not RTS-Lite games even though they descended and have some elements of RTSes.

        1. Tyler Bro Post author

          Doing some Googling, the only source I could find for that 30% number is one fan site whose explanation for where they get their numbers is confusing at best, so I’m going to take that with a pretty huge grain of salt. Even if true, that’s still just 30% of max level players (lots of people aren’t max level), so that’s still a relatively small amount of the playerbase. I don’t think a feature that less than half of players engage with can rightly be considered essential to the genre.

  5. Telwyn

    I’ve felt the rising tide of negativity for some time and do my best to resist adding to it. As already commented, at least in the Anglosphere, this is true beyond gaming. Online discussions are more heated and polarised I fear. I do hope that some kind of restoration of balance can occur, though I have no idea how. I see plenty of positivity on Twitter because I carefully curate my feed, whereas Facebook is awash with politics and division. General chat had always had trolls and annoying memes, but some games are worse than others. Is a move to niche MMO gaming likely to allow for more selective/self-policing communities again I wonder?

  6. Tael

    “a level of pettiness that would have been utterly unthinkable before the Internet lowered the bar for all of humanity.”

    Did it lower the bar, or just let people say what they really think and let us see that the bar was always lower than we imagined?

    The height of the bar was imagined. When people get to be anonymous, they say what they really think, so we’re just seeing the bar at the true level it actually was all along.

    It’s both being anonymous and finding others with the same views so you’re not alone and afraid to say what you really think. Many people have always thought this way. We just can see the true level of the bar now. It hasn’t actually changed.

  7. Angelic Hunter

    I remember when I was playing in 2004 Tibia and the community was great, the first time I joined the game there were some players waiting to help novice players, I thought it was amazing and I got addicted to Tibia. Today, it looks like the community has changed and most of them play MMORPG alone, very sad. No more that fun.


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