A long time ago, I had a friend named Bob. Like me, Bob was a gamer, and like me, Bob enjoyed RPGs like Ultima, The Bard’s Tale, and Eye of the Beholder. Bob was also a licensed SCUBA diver, while I was not. This, however, did not prevent us from going on several day-trips around the New England coastline. Bob taught me what he knew about diving, as did his father, who had been a SCUBA diver for longer than either Bob or I had been alive at the time.
As many of our destinations were an hour or more away, we would spend the car ride talking about video games or roleplaying games (he and I would often make up our own RPG systems, pre-Kickstarter), and more often than not, the intersection of the two. One conversation in particular keeps coming back to me: we had mapped out a CRPG that would allow a player to take on a singular role alongside other players in their own singular roles, playing in a world that could change as a result of player action. We envisioned a necromancer taking over an abandoned tower and then defending it against other players by raising an army of undead. Extra loot from a dungeon run could be sold to other players at a market fully staffed by other players. This conversation took over not just a single car ride, but several trips over a few weeks. We were pretty jazzed about this idea, not knowing that such a thing already existed in the pre-Internet era: the multi-user dungeon, or MUD.
I retell this story every year or so to reinforce that even before Ultima Online or World of Warcraft, I was an MMO player at heart. Technically my interest was more in the potential for a living, breathing open world than it was about playing with other people, but since the idea of connecting to the same worldwide game was still just an idea, I never envisioned that there would be a downside to congregating with other people who were in the same space for the same love of the game.
How time flies. Now, several decades later, my love of the MMO has waned to the point where even the most common tropes feel foreign. With the announcement that Crowfall was finally going to release in early July, I reinstalled it to see where it was at in the final days of beta. I was pleased to see that they had made much progress since I last played, and I suspect that it’ll be a decent success for ArtCraft, PvPers, and MMOs in general considering how few are releasing these days. But as I moved through the intro areas, sent hither and yon by NPCs who were too lazy, too understaffed, or too injured to do their own dirty-work, I wasn’t sure I was having fun. A lot of the mechanics in theme park MMOs have become standardized throughout the years, which I guess has been a boon and a curse: a boon because people can hit the ground running in a new MMO, but also a curse because the extent to which MMOs have become streamlined reveals that theme park MMOs are just elaborate auto-feeders for those who crave the high of pixelated loot.
Whenever anyone had asked why I play MMOs if I avoid playing with people, my answer has always been that MMO world are large and expansive, and even though I don’t play with people, I still play with people, and that makes the world feel more alive than any scripted single player game could ever do. What I was getting out of MMOs was not what others were getting out of them, and a lot of folks couldn’t handle that realization; nevertheless, I kept on and tried many, many MMOs over the years, enjoying different takes on established mechanics, various world-settings, and various crowds of people. MMOs are games that are always new at the start, which is something that I really enjoy about literally everything: the newness of the experience.
It’s been many years since a big name MMO has launched here in the West. We’ve had a mudslide of Eastern imports which find audiences (everything can find an audience) but I’m not interested in that style of game. I’ve moved away from several of the games that I usually returned to with regularity over the years, like Secret World Legends, The Elder Scrolls Online, and even World of Warcraft here and there. Every now and then I used to get a pang of nostalgia for the days of Ultima Online, and would jump back in for a few hours only to realize that we can never go home again, but even that drive-by desire has failed to materialize on it’s expected schedule. Of the few Western MMOs that are in development, I’ve only bought into a few: Crowfall being one, Camelot Unchained and The New World are two others. Two of the three are PvP centric, which is odd to realize but is further evidence that my interests and willingness to play with others are changing. I’m not overly excited for any of these games, and I don’t anticipate spending more than a month with any of them unless unforeseen circumstances take hold.
I have come to terms with my understanding that the age of the massive multiplayer genre is more or less over for me. I feel that I have seen it all and done it all (or at least the lion’s share of it all) enough times that persisting through another iteration would be redundant in all the worst ways. I don’t write this post as one of those “MMO cleanse” kiss-off exercises, but rather because I’m saddened by this realization. I’ve always maintained that there’s no good reason to ever stop doing what you love doing regardless of circumstance or age, so it’s disconcerting to feel that I no longer have interest in something that I once loved. It’s an uncomfortable feeling because it’s like losing touch with a life-long friend, or having memories of events in the past that you wish you could experience again for the first time.