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Why Millions are paying to be miserable playing MMO video games and more oddities.
Why Millions of people are paying to play MMO video games that make them miserable, and other strange behaviors I’ve encountered since inception of the genre.

The Magic

Video games are made to be fun, and those of us who had gamed through the 80’s and 90’s knew that, with few exceptions, we were having a blast. There were many genres of games and every one had its own memorable hits, but one type of game in particular had my heart. The RPG or Role Playing Game. Series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior previously in the US) were so exceptional that they live on today, over twenty-five years old. Of course those weren’t the only two worth mentioning, there are so many more, and I won’t bore you with long lists.

The experience with such superb games was always the same; they were an escape to a magical wonderful world that we never wanted to leave, but unfortunately we had to, because the games ended. Another major problem at the time was that, for the most part, we had to play them alone as most were single player games. We yearned to share in the experience with our friends and families, and it wasn’t until around the turn of the century something incredible happened which would change all of that. The MMORPG was born. Now our beloved games never had to end, and we could share them with not only friends and family, but with complete strangers from around the word. But like some crazy monkey’s paw wish, we would soon regret it.

What is a MMORPG?

MMO stands for Massively Multiplayer Online game and is often associated with RPG’s. Most take place in medieval fantasy worlds, though there are plenty other sub-genres, inviting players to sci-fi, steampunk, and current day worlds just to name a few. An interesting aspect of the MMO genre is that these games evolve over time, thus they never truly end. Every one to three months brand new content is added to the game world, refreshing the experience with new ways to enjoy the game. These add-ons are typically free and usually include new cosmetics, new dungeons/lands to explore, and new professions.

The first thing a player does after starting a new game is create an avatar. This in-game representation of the player may be customized in numerous ways. Depending on the game, a completely unique character could be achieved, one that is not completely like any other in the game.

After the character is made, the player is then thrust into the virtual world, often accompanied by a cinematic or info dump. Upon entering the world the player is usually free to explore at his or her own risk. Instead, many players will just talk to the nearest NPC or Non Player Character. These NPC’s are littered throughout the world, offering advice, quests, general information, or just background color. The most important of these is the quests, which a player accepts from the NPC.

Quests are typically the fastest way to level a character and when a player levels up, their avatar becomes innately stronger. The NPC might as a player to kill x number of enemies, collect x number of items, or just speak to another NPC. To level a character from level 1 to the max level can take well over a hundred completed quests. Most people don’t bother reading the quests either because it simply slows them down, or just general lack of interest in the story. So the player just spam clicks the NPC until the acknowledgement of accepting the quest pops on the screen, then they go out to fulfill the request, return to the NPC, earn the reward, rinse and repeat. Not much thought is required here, but it isn’t needed, the player’s destined to become a zombie.

There are hundreds of MMO’s on the market today, all have a slightly different take, though the true core of the genre remains the same.

The “Grind.”

Grinding in a MMO may mean different things to different people, but its true definition would be “time sink.” It is composed of playing the same content over and over, tens to hundreds of times depending on the game and how driven the player is. At the end of each time sink awaits a small reward for the player, something that usually increases their character’s power and may come with bragging rights within the community. Where one grind ends, another begins in an endless quest to increase the potency of one's avatar. The reason grinding is essential to the genre is simply because its a way to keep players playing, therefore ensuring the necessary cash flow required to keep the games up and running.

Starting fresh in a MMO is nearly always a joy. The grind is non-existent, players are jovial exploring, earning rewards, and advancing at a delightful pace. Then something sneaky happens; over time the pace of which all of this happens slows to a crawl. The longer a person plays a MMO, the longer it take for them to progress.

Leveling for instance, which is a number that represents a player's base strength, rises as you play. This process at first usually takes five to fifteen minutes, but later in the game can take over four hours. By that time the player has vested a considerable time into the game and is hesitant about quitting despite the fact it is becoming less interesting. Besides that, they may have friends that are further ahead of them, encouraging the player to soldier on so they may all play together at “end game.” Though this outcome doesn’t happen nearly as much as you would think due to people quitting the game, and those who are never able to catch up due to time constraints or lack of interest. For those who decide to continue, the first signs of “zombie transformation” begin to show; they become easily irritated, chat less, and may fall asleep at their computer.

Subscription Models

Monthly fee: A small fee for all access to the game paid out by credit or game card every month. In the beginning nearly all MMO’s had this business model, though times have changed, many players were lured away by the shady promise of Free to Play.

Free to Play:
No monthly subscriptions. These titles have in-game cash shops where a player may spend real money to get virtual items to enhance their experience. A cash shop may contain vanity items, experience buffs, even high end-gear; if the latter would be offered, that game would be branded PTW or Pay To Win, and is generally abhorred by the online gaming community. Why? Many don’t like seeing other players shoot to the top with minimal effort. Also it is seen as unfair that those who have a large disposable income in real life get the best of what this fantasy life offers, though the same could be said of those who have an excessive amount of free time to put into the game.

These games are typically more grindy than the ones that require a monthly fee. The temptation to use the cash shop to quicken the grind is powerful. Often players will end up paying more real money for a free game than a subscription based game. Make sense? Well it does for those video game execs and shareholders laughing all the way to the bank.

Hybrid model:
Free to play games which offer players to opt in monthly subscription. These subscribing customers are treated like MVPs, receiving bonuses and discounted deals monthly. This model can work very well as a way that a player may choose if he or she wants to pay a monthly fee or play it as a free game. The problem lies with the fact that most games offering this model have made the free content in the game so frustratingly lacking in content, it just isn’t really playable without paying that monthly fee.

Even though content is moderately repetitive, MMO’s are still some of the best bang for your buck when compared with any other form of entertainment out there. If a game has a monthly fee, it’s usually around $15 a month. Even just two tickets to see a movie cost more than that and would only add up to a couple of hours of entertainment. Many active MMO players spend over a hundred hours every month playing their games. That equates to around fifteen cents an hour!

The Players

Players usually fall under two categories: The Casual, and the Hardcore. A good vs. evil comparison could be made here, but that would be unfair to both groups as some of the best people in the communities fall under either categories. These two groups are known to enter into heated arguments with one another, especially on official game forums, calling one another “the bane of the community.”

A "casual" may be someone with limited play time, only interested in the social aspect of the game, not driven to grind to the end-game content, or all of the above. These players beg the devs to make content easier, more accessible, and generally less “grindy.”

The "hardcore" want the game to be “challenging.” (which as I mentioned earlier, just means more of a time sink and memorizing simple rotations/battle mechanics) Their goal is to reach and conquer current end-game content. To achieve this, a mind-numbing amount of repetitive content is required. As you might imagine, a person’s brain would go on autopilot or something like highway hypnosis when driving for long periods. The “zombification” process advances.

The following player subcategories can fall under both casual and hardcore audiences.

Griefers/Trolls: Players whose main goal is to inhibit and harass other players. Most of the time their actions warrant reporting and subsequent disciplinary actions, though some continue to get away with their annoying behavior. Many MMO’s are built around to prevent griefing, but there are always exploits to be found. One of the worst cases are the games where a high level player can kill a lower level player with ease. The large gap in levels makes player killing a cinch with no skill needed, and will even wait at the slain player’s re-spawn point so they can continue killing them until the offending player gets bored or the other player logs off. An in-game reward isn’t necessary for griefers, as the griefing itself is reward enough.

Elitists: These tend to fall under the hardcore category. They are obsessed with becoming the best at the game as they are capable. They typically have little to no patience for anyone who don’t share their mindset and will kick other players from their groups if they feel they aren’t good enough and/or just let them know how inferior they are to them.

Ragers: This doesn’t only include people with short tempers. The long, repetitive, boring grind can make just about anyone go over the edge when something unwanted happens, either game mechanic, or player mistakes caused delay in completing content. Ragers usually resort to name calling, belittlement, general vulgarity, and suddenly dropping out of group, a term called: Rage Quitting. There’s no excuse for this type of behavior and with exception of dropping group, all other mention actions are reportable and can result in temporary or permanent ban. Like bullying in real life, most of time these issues remain unreported.

Role-players: A fun type of player to encounter,(if they aren’t over the top, obnoxious) these individuals are not just controlling their avatar, they are the avatar. The player creates a character back-story and will speak and act as their character would befitting the game lore.

PvPers: The most competitive and slightly less likely to become a zombie due to the ever changing intelligence and strategies of their human opponents. There can be long grinds here too for gear and/or rep, and anywhere there’s a long grind, there’s zombies. Ragers run rampant in these game modes, often projecting their own failures on to others.

Golden Guys and Gals: Complete strangers, offering other players items, money, or help completing content and ask nothing in return. The rarest of the rare.

Endurance Challenge

MMORPG’s are by default easy. You learn the basic mechanics of how your profession works, memorize a few simple strategies, equip your avatar with good gear, keep a cool head and you will overcome any obstacle with ease. If content is challenging, you need only “level up” and/or acquire better equipment. The real challenge lies in the grind itself. Most players desire the current best gear and to experience the latest and greatest content, but to do that you must achieve at least reach maximum level for your chosen profession and have a few of the best pieces of gear in the game, which requires some major grinding. This process, although summed up quickly, can take years. With ample free time, (and we’re talking at least 8 hours a day of playtime) a player may be able to zoom to the top of the player base within a few weeks, but with that new content coming, the process will continue on endlessly.

RMT (and those who pay to not play the game they pay to play.)

In every MMORPG, regardless of the subscription model, there lurks Gold Sellers or RMT(Real Money Traders) These individuals sell services that they have acquired playing the game, usually obtained through cheating. They sell items, characters at max level, and of course, in-game currency. Their actions can impact the game negatively in many ways; preventing other players from progressing, further congest high traffic areas, and even have dire consequences on the in-game economy.

Everyone seems to hate them, and yet somehow they exist, meaning they have more than enough customers to stay in business. So yes, there are those who pay a subscription and then pay someone else to obtain things that can achieved from playing the game.

RMT’s advertise by creating a character, often on a stolen account, then place that character in a high populated area and spam chat logs with their services and fees. This will quickly get them reported and subsequently banned from game. This does little to deter them since they paid nothing for the account, and they may have gained a few customers in that short time. Another way they advertise is sending “Tells” or personal messages that no one can see but the recipient. Doing so is safer since the diligent RMT watchdogs wouldn’t see it, and so is less likely that they will get reported.

RMT can be curved, but they will never be completely beaten as long as there are MMO’s, because the MMO is in essence a grind, and there will always be people that “want it now” and have the real world money to make it happen.

The Evolution of MMORPG’s

The very first MMO’s were exceedingly simple. They were games that no one would ever play if it wasn’t online. Typically you’d make a character which at the time was extremely limited, then given a snippet of game world lore, and then set out to explore the world, which was usually vast barren landscapes, created to give the illusion of a huge world.

Players would start in a city and “Shout” for other players who want to play together. These sessions were made up mostly of finding some computer controlled enemies near the player’s level and just kill them repeatedly, often for hours at a time until the enemies weren’t giving enough reward or a player had to leave.

Over the years, many additions have been added to not only more types of content but increasing ways to make a game styled to player choices.

Player VS Player (PvP) allowed players to fight something other than a computer controlled opponent, offering what can still be considered the most challenging content for MMO’s today.

Playstyle customization evolved greatly. You used to pick a profession then play it the same way as everyone else did. Eventually the developers integrated skill trees and the such, allowing players a good bit of customization of how they play their class.

Instances, which are many small areas where only a limited number of players can go, allowed for content that couldn’t be beaten simply by adding more players.

Players were also allowed to craft their own items in game, such as potions, armor, weapons, spells, furniture and more.

Dressing rooms and costumes allow players to make their beloved characters dress any way they want and still keep the bonus stats from their equipped armor and weapons.

Land, house, and mount ownership. Mounts to travel by land, sea, or air. Housing exists in many MMO’s so that a player may create their own living space and have friends over.

There is so much more that I won’t list, but you can be certain that all of this “fun” sounding content requires what every MMO thrives on; grinding.

The Dumbing-Down

Somewhere around 2010 or so something strange happened; MMO’s began to devolve. More and more games saturated the market, most just clones of one another. Naturally they all strive for more money, which comes from more players, and when you want more players, you make content accessible for as many people as you can. This in turn changed so content would be even easier than before so anyone could jump in, play and succeed with enough time invested. Even class customization which once came so far, became simpler, thereby severely limiting playstyle as the games went on.

Even the biggest names in the industry are guilty of this, and may have even set this new standard in the first place. Not much thought is required anymore. The transition to a zombie is nearly complete.

Full Zombification

So here we are. So many players grinding basically the same grind for over fifteen years, and for many, as you can imagine, it isn’t really enjoyable anymore. Hugely populated worlds where players aren’t mingling. Players prefer entering auto-formed groups with strangers because they don’t want to make new friends or wait on their own. These cross server, auto-formed groups are now mostly consisted of players who won’t even bother communicating with teammates since it’s unlikely they will ever see them again. Besides talking will only slow the painful grind further. Some players don’t even see the others in their group as real people. Some have confessed that they prefer to think of them as computer controlled to justify their antisocial behavior and treating others poorly when something goes wrong.

These people see the game as more of a mind numbing job they have to do everyday. If they stop, they will be left behind by their friends and lose relevance within the game. So they grudgingly continue on with the idea that one day it will be fun again. Maybe when they get enough gear to do the next grind, or maybe when the great next game comes out, but you can be sure of this; they will continue to pay a game company to keep them miserable.

The Cure

Despite everything said here, MMO’s can still be a fun experience for just about anyone. Play with friends, talk to people, remember it’s just a game and have fun. As with anything enjoyable in life, moderation is key.

© Copyright 2015 Gregory A. Williams (hermitcrab at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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