There is No One True MMO
by Tyler Edwards
By now, we're all used to a familiar cycle in the world of MMOs. Developers announce a new game, sell it like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and eager players jump on the bandwagon and hype it up even further. By the time launch day rolls around, it's been presented as the greatest game in history and the end to all human misery. And inevitably, it disappoints. Everyone - developers and players alike - is forever waiting for the perfect MMO that will shatter sales records, earn its creators mountains of cash, and unite players everywhere in joy.
That perfect game is never coming.
It is simply not possible for an MMO to please everyone, yet it seems we still expect developers to create such a game. This unending and hopeless quest for the "one true MMO" is only creating misery throughout the world of MMOs - for fans and professionals alike.
Where it began:
It's hard to say where this idea that an MMO should be all things to all people got started. My personal theory is that it stems from the massive and unequaled success enjoyed by World of Warcraft.
Why WoW achieved so much more success than any other game before or since is a subject of debate for another time, but one thing does seem clear: It will never be repeated. Years have passed, and no other game has even come close to equaling WoW's popularity. No one but the most ardent Blizzard fan would claim this is purely down to no other games being as good as WoW.
Whatever strange alchemy put WoW at the top of the MMO food chain was almost certainly a fluke, and not something we will see again. But yet, not entirely unreasonably, people are still looking for the next WoW.
World of Warcraft set the bar for success too high. Everyone is waiting for the game that can unite the MMO community and become the cultural touchstone that WoW was. This leads to the expectation that a game should be able to please everyone - the PvPers and the story fans, the questers and the raiders, the role-players and the power-gamers.
It's an impossible ideal, and it only leads to disappointment.
Why it's bad for players:
If you've spent any amount of time among the MMO community, you'll know that it's full of a heroic amount of bitterness, cynicism, and anger.
Now, partly this is just down to the Internet's standard festival of negativity, but it's also caused by the endless of cycle of impossible expectations and inevitable disappointment that comes with the launch of each new title. When you're constantly expecting perfection and never getting it, you can't help but become bitter.
With the expectation of the perfect game also comes the expectation that people should only play one game. There are some sections of the MMO community that seem to feel games should be like spouses - you and your MMO should have a monogamous relationship. This is of course ridiculous, and it can be quite a destructive belief.
Focusing on only one game exclusively greatly increases the chance of burnout, especially if you play MMOs to enjoy more than one kind of content. No game is going to do all features well. If you enjoy both raiding and PvP but your MMO of choice only does a decent job of one of those things, you're going to wind up frustrated.
Often, you'll hear people lamenting that they loved one aspect of a certain game, but wished it could have been better in another crucial area. But there's no need to abandon an MMO simply because it doesn't do everything right. Focus on the areas you do enjoy, and find other games to satisfy other wants.
It also creates a certain sense of hostility among the community. There's a perception among certain people that those who do play more than one game are somehow inferior, that they're flighty kids with ADD who lack the maturity to commit to a single game. Some even blame them for the degradation of the genre, saying that games are failing everywhere because of their inability to commit.
Of course, people don't take kindly to having their playstyle denigrated in this way, and they defend themselves. Cue an unending cycle of nerd rage.
MMOs aren't people, and playinsg one isn't a marriage. People should feel free to play as many as they want - there's no harm in doing so. If you are one of the lucky people who is perfectly content playing a single game, that's great, but we should not expect a single title to be able to satisfy all of our gaming desires.
You wouldn't expect one TV show to be all you'd ever want to watch. You don't expect a single book to have the thrills of a Stephen King novel, the emotion of a Harlequin romance, and the educational value of a textbook. There's no reason to expect one MMO to be the only game you'll ever want or need.
Why it's bad for developers:
At the same time, the constant drive to create the next World of Warcraft, the one game to rule them all, also leads to folly for developers.
The expectation that a game should be able to satisfy every possible desire leads developers to spread themselves too thin. There's a grave risk that the effort to please everyone can result in a game that pleases no one.
Most MMO players would at this point agree that the genre is dogged by a lack of creativity. Recent years have finally seen some fresh thinking from games like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World, but we're still awash in a sea of games that all feel more or less like the same experience with a fresh coat of paint. The term WoW clone is often used, and while a desire to imitate WoW is bound to be a contributing factor, as is an unwillingness to take risks, one has to wonder if it's not also due to trying to appeal to every possible playstyle.
When you try to cater to everyone, how much effort can you really put into each individual feature? We've got an army of MMOs that are jacks of all trades and masters of none.
It's just not practical to provide amazing raid content, perfectly balanced PvP, unique class design, and brilliant questing all in one game. There just aren't enough money and resources for such a balance to be struck. MMO developers spend unholy amounts of money trying to achieve perfection in every area, and still they best they can hope for is to excel in or two ways and be otherwise passable.
It seems it would be better to identify clear goals for a game and focus on getting those things right. I'm sure it's hard for a developer to consciously decide not to cater to certain sections of players and thus forego their patronage, but it seems like it would be better to foster a strong niche audience that will remain loyal over the long haul.
I'm not a business analyst. Maybe it's still financially better to try for mass appeal than for the smaller but fiercely loyal fanbase. But I'm still enough of an idealist to believe many developers care about creating the best possible game experience, and that is better served by trying to excel at one or two things than by trying to be merely adequate at everything.
Let go of the dream:
At first, giving up on the dream of a perfect MMO might seem disappointing. You're never going to experience that brilliant, transcendent game that will make all others obsolete. But in truth, accepting this idea can be quite liberating.
When you don't set the bar impossibly high, you're less likely to be disappointed. Instead of pining for what will never be, you can be grateful for what there is. There may never be a "one true MMO," but there are many great games. There may never be a game that can excel at every possible aspect of gameplay, but most MMOs excel at something.
If you're one of the lucky few who can be perfectly content just playing one game, be grateful. But if you're not, there's no reason to despair. With most games no longer requiring subscriptions, it's easy to split your attention between several. Play The Secret World when you want a good story. Play TERA when you want great combat. Play The Old Republic when you want a Star Wars fix. Wander as you please, and appreciate the strengths of each game.