Amnesia Lane: MMO money, MMO problems

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I don’t have a very big history with MMOs. Most of the time, I rejected (and rightly so!) the business model of “buy the game, then keep paying to play it.”

I mean, how could ANY game be THAT good? Think about it.

Picture your favorite not-MMO video game. Got it? Good.

Now, imagine that the game was injected with lots of filler, the progression of your character was slowed to a crawl, most of the content was gated behind the need for a bunch of other players to help you out in real time (who then complain that you aren’t playing or gearing “right”).

Would your favorite game be worth paying $10-$15 a month with all those changes? Would they even be worth paying that much as-is? You don’t have to be a whale or a multiboxer to really run up the bill playing just one video game.

It is for these reasons and more I was never up to speed on goings on with MMOs.

Back in the days of shareware, a friend played a lesser-known MMORPG called Kingdom of Drakkar, in which only the most dedicated could ever dream of catching the exponential XP requirements and players were often punished with semi-permanent stat damage. The rules were as hardcore as the server was laggy (thus leading to many “stacked commands,” many deaths and low constitution statistics).


In time, Drakkar offered something of an evaluation version; a person could play for free, but would be restricted in where in the world they could go, which dungeons they could crawl, and otherwise missing out on other bonuses. Playing this at my friend’s insistence was my first exposure to an MMO.

It was monatamous. I spent all the time I played the game crawling the same dungeon over and over, not because free players couldn’t go elsewhere, but because I’d have to crawl this dungeon for a year to build up enough XP to survive anywhere else. Even climbing down to a lower floor of the dungeon necessitated several level-ups, which were certainly slow in coming. The treadmill moved so slowly, it was almost impossible to observe any movement toward the goal.

For the curious, Kingdom of Drakkar still exists.

I wouldn’t have first-hand exposure to MMOs for some time after that. I once, for a few minutes, saw somebody play Ultima Online. I saw pictures of Everquest in a magazine. The Ed Tech monitoring the computer lab at my high school was always playing Asheron’s Call.

No, my next experience would come several years later, when another friend (this one from college) had me try out an empty character slot on his City of Villains account. While the game itself was very playable, playing it wasn’t half as interesting as the character creator. It was very much like when my roommate bought a Wii, and we didn’t do a damn thing with it for two days other than create Miis.

Time continued to pass. The first friend tried to goad me into World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI and Champions Online as each rose and fell, and was entirely unsuccessful.

But in the end, I started regularly playing the “free-to-play” Star Trek Online for mostly a single reason: I really like looking at the ships of the Star Trek universe. So thank goodness that the ship combat is the standout part of that MMO’s gameplay.

Yesterday's Enterprise

However, this was not without some familiar problems. First, I played through the story. Then, I always checked out whatever new thing recently was added. Then I made sure to complete each and every special event on the calendar. And then started the grind.

STO doesn’t have a difficult level curve; a weekend and a four-pack of Red Bull can get a character to the level cap. But because of this design, there are innumerable tacked-on systems for level cap characters to advance them further. There are (now) six separate reputation chains that unlock new gear, passives and abilities. There’s the specialization system that is only fully unlocked for people who earn their 60th level 140 times (and counting!). And even the ships themselves only reach their full potential when you’ve done a LOT of fighting with them. And that’s STILL not all.

It was getting bad for a while. I would increasingly play only Star Trek Online and whatever game Gamefly happened to leave in my mailbox. My illustrious backlog and even games I was working on very hard, like Final Fantasy XIII and Persona 3:FES, were left by the wayside. For the longest time, I just plain didn’t complete anything.

It took a while to come to my senses about it, but I eventually did. While I can’t believe I forgot that I was WTF about being OCD in MMOs, this was a stern wake-up call that I was very susceptible to branding. The question, though, was what to do about it?

I disabled zone chat, and started playing STO they way I actually wanted to play it: Following the story, finding new ships and making them go pew-pew. All the rest is just noise.

With some balance, I could focus on actually playing other games again (games that actually came to an end, even). There is, after all, only so much time to play.


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