Why Solo MMORPGs

Another one rescued from my Drafts folder, from February 2016…

I’m in the camp of people who primarily play MMORPGs solo, so I guess I can speak a little on this topic.

I wouldn’t say that I “demand” solo content from MMORPGs, though.* And it’s not that I’m against group content. I just prefer games where I can log in and do interesting things without having to form or join a group all the time. Because if I had to do that, I probably wouldn’t log in very often unless I had the time to idle a lot.

I don’t understand why this is a controversial topic–why it has to be one or the other. I think it’s well within an MMORPG’s capabilities to handle both styles. (It’s got to be easier than catering to PvE and PvP crowds at the same time, at least.) I can’t think of a single MMORPG I’ve played since my first one (UO) where I couldn’t do soloing or grouping depending on my mood.

The reasons that I prefer to play solo essentially boil down to two things, which I imagine are the two most common reasons anyone would give: Introvertedness and limited time.

Introvertedness

I don’t like to lean on introversion as an excuse, but the reality is that, even on a good day, it’s a lot of work for me to cultivate and maintain social relationships. Particularly right now, when I have a fairly intense amount of socializing I have to deal with at work, the idea of extending that into online games is pretty abhorrent.

You never know what kind of person you’re going to meet in an MMORPG, of course, but nine times out of ten, from the perspective of an introvert, other people are going to be an energy drain. They don’t have to be a jerk to do that, either. Sometimes the friendliest people in the world are just as draining. I hate to admit it but sometimes I find friendly people more draining to deal with because I feel like if I don’t mimic their friendliness they will receive a social cue from me that their behavior is inappropriate, which is both wrong and makes me feel tremendously guilty. So to avoid that I have to work extra hard to interact with them in a way that meets my needs but also doesn’t hurt their feelings. It’s far easier to just avoid people altogether. :)

Maybe we need some way to indicate our mood in the games we play. In real life, we can tell from expressions and body language and social cues whether it’s “okay” to approach someone to talk. But in a game, that doesn’t exist.

Time

The other big reason is time. When I log into a game, I want to start playing immediately. I don’t want to log in and wait an indeterminate amount of time while a group forms. Even with dungeon finder tools, I find it very aggravating to log in, queue for something, and then sit there staring at the screen waiting for the queue to pop. That’s one of the things I love about FFXIV–you can actually accomplish something meaningful (leveling an alternate class or crafting) while waiting for a queue. You can’t do that in most MMORPGs–you just have to stand there doing nothing.

Then there is how long the activity takes once you start it. If a game task starts to take too long, I start to feel trapped and claustrophobic and “stuck” at my computer playing what will increasingly feel like a stupid game. The upper limit of my focused concentration on one task is usually around 30 minutes, especially on a work day. (To me, a “task” is anything with a start and an end, like a dungeon, or a match, or a quest, or something like that.) After that I want to walk away for a while, or do some other computer task, or do some other game activities, or play a different game, or basically anything.

Long dungeon runs with PUGs are the absolute worst. I still vividly remember a two-hour dungeon run in Neverwinter and a two-hour dungeon run in WildStar. Both were successful by sheer force of willpower in overcoming failure after failure after failure. I should have felt great about those accomplishments but mostly I felt like I had gotten out of a two-hour tax seminar.

But solo activities in MMORPGs are usually short, finite tasks. Go to a spot, kill ten rats, hand in a quest. Boom, you’re done. Even if the task does take too long, you can always walk away and leave your character AFK for a while.

The minute you step into a group activity, you’ve lost control over your time. You have to stay there until the group finishes, and group tasks in MMORPGs are almost always time-consuming. God knows why, but they usually design group content so that it does take a long time.

Incidentally, I sometimes have more difficulty playing “sandbox”-style games solo because of the time factor, particularly if they have a harsh death penalty. It’s endlessly aggravating for me to be forced to make a “corpse run” because you have to get your stuff back before it disappears or someone else takes it. (Currently I’m experiencing this tremendous annoyance in ARK.)

* Back when I wrote this draft, there was an article or a blog post or forum post or something that talked about players demanding solo content, but I don’t know where it is now.

Three Albums

I saw Liore’s post on #3AlbumsThatChangedMyLife, and I started to think back on my own impressionable youth and the albums that affected me.

I was raised in a somewhat musical family, but I didn’t become “interested” in music until let’s say my mid-to-late teenage years. Prior to that most pop songs went in one ear and out the other and I never owned any albums. (Okay I did buy a single of M-M-M-My Sharona, a song that was entirely inappropriate for my then-age.) In high school I started to learn to play guitar (again) and really started to buy, collect, and “study” music. Since then I’ve dabbled in writing songs and home recording and all manner of audio things, which now manifests as an occasional YouTube upload. But I think my musical senses really peaked in my late teens and twenties, which is reflected in this list.

For this exercise, I’ve picked albums that didn’t necessarily change my life per se, but albums that sparked my imagination and changed what I thought was possible with music. Albums that were more than merely a collection of catchy tunes, but windows into other worlds, visions of endless time and space, filled with possibilities. (Yucky music metaphors ahead.) I’ve excluded movie soundtracks and classical music.

By the way I think all of the YouTube links below are helping the referenced artists, but if they aren’t somebody yell at me and I’ll remove them. I hate ripping off musicians. If I couldn’t tell I left out the link.

3. Queensryche – Promised Land

The first Queensryche song I ever heard was Silent Lucidity on the radio. I liked it because of the clear Pink Floyd influence. Then I heard Jet City Woman, which is an entirely different kind of song. Then I heard a third song from the same album (I think it was Another Rainy Night). With three songs that I liked from the same album, all three similar but different, I figured there was a good chance I’d like the whole album, so I bought Empire, and not surprisingly, I liked it.

I then bought their previous album, Operation: Mindcrime. It’s very different–a concept album–but I loved it, too. (I didn’t like their earlier stuff as much, though.)

Both of those albums might have been on this list, but soon afterward, Queensryche released Promised Land.

I eagerly bought it. It was different from both Mindcrime and Empire. The band’s sound had evolved yet again, a talent that I really appreciate in musical acts. It’s a glorious mixture of goth, metal, and rock with top-notch production values. Dense reverbs throughout made it feel like you were inside a huge cave of awesome. All of the songs felt deeply meaningful and relevant to my life at the time, too. “Life’s been like dragging feet through sand, and never finding the Promised Land.” Good stuff. Very uplifting. :)

2. Pink Floyd – The Wall

I mean, obviously, right? I first heard songs from The Wall when some friends suggested I needed to expand my musical repertoire and made me a mix tape (a cassette!). I remember it had Van Halen on it, and some other stuff I’ve forgotten, but it definitely had Comfortably Numb and possibly Hey You from The Wall.

Being a student of electric guitar at the time, Comfortably Numb obviously became an instant hit with me. And when I listened to the entirety of The Wall from start to finish, it was like listening to something from outer space. (It’s hard to come up with metaphors for music, ya know?) I would just sit there mesmerized. How could humans possibly make music like that?

I was amazed at the pristine production value of that album. The absolute precision of every track in those songs, and how it all sounded so amazing and perfect. There were orchestras and classical guitars and pianos and male choirs and sound effects and even actors. It was the first “rock opera” I ever heard. (“Rock” is kind of a loose definition for The Wall, but back then it was definitely rock.) And it was a compelling story, too. At least to me in my youth.

(I didn’t care for the movie, though … it spoiled my image of the music.)

(I later learned that a lot of The Wall was the work of Roger Waters, and his later albums The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and especially Amused to Death, both masterpieces, would have made this list, except I heard The Wall first.)

1. Queen – A Night At The Opera

A Night At The Opera was the first album I can remember blowing my mind completely. I only knew of its existence from my older brothers. At some point in my teens, around the time I became interested in music and was bumbling around learning chords on an acoustic guitar, I came across the album on cassette and instantly decided that this was the goal that I should be striving for in all my efforts to learn about music. It seemed like the ultimate expression of thoughts and ideas in the audible spectrum.

Several things struck me all at once. Practically every song on the album is a different style. Radically different. It’s always impressed me. Obviously Freddie Mercury’s singing is amazing, but since I was learning guitar I was drawn more to Brain May’s amazing guitar work. Sometimes it was hard and metallic, sometimes it was quiet and lyrical, sometimes it was acoustic, sometimes it was electric. It was complex and layered and seemed to display every possible sound you could make with a guitar.

Most people know A Night At The Opera as the album with Bohemian Rhapsody on it, but my favorite song is The Prophet’s Song. It’s amazing. When I listen to that song, I see an entire Cecil B. DeMille movie play out in my head. It’s like an entire epic fantasy book series all in one song.

Honorable Mentions

Extreme – III Sides To Every Story. Extreme is similar to Queen and clearly influenced by them, and this album was their finest work in my opinion. But it’s a bit redundant with Queen already on the above list.

The Strange Days Soundtrack. I discounted movie soundtracks from the above list, but this soundtrack is a collection of songs. It opened my eyes to the power of rawer, punkier, more “alternative” music.

Enigma – Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi.  Don’t ask me to pronounce that. :) The genre used to be called “new age” music, but I don’t know if people still call it that. I love many albums in this genre–anything by Tangerine Dream, for example, or Mike Oldfield’s Songs of Distant Earth–but this Enigma album took new age music to a whole new level for me. It’s such a lush “soundscape,” with cool drum beats and even some singing.

Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare. This is a master class of electric guitar work. In a way, it’s like a rock opera of instrumental songs. It makes my jaw drop whenever I listen to it.

This turned out to be a fairly hard post to write, because I’ve always considered the music that people like to be deeply personal. When somebody criticizes the music you like, it often feels like they’re criticizing you personally.

WildStar’s Doom

At the risk of sounding pessamistic, WildStar’s probably going to close soon. I’m not sure whether to jump in and play as much as I can before it closes, or just let it go quietly into the night and remember fondly that one month I played.

Okay, let’s be real, it’s going to be the latter, because I’m playing Black Desert now and Dark Souls III hits Steam on April 11, and that will be that. I suppose it’s possible WildStar could survive another year in maintenance mode, but knowing NCSoft I kind of doubt it.

The sad thing is that I generally liked WildStar. The only real problem I had with it was that it gave me all my skills right up front, then asked me to grind all the way up to level 50 using those same ones. That’s the main reason I don’t play WoW very much, honestly. I really need my character to change somewhat over the course of the leveling process to stay interested.

Granted, other MMORPGs are like that (hello, GW2) but for some reason it felt particularly onerous in WildStar.

Perhaps it was this: I remember also that the questing mobs in WildStar were fairly challenging, and any casual mistakes in dodging or interrupts typically resulted in a pretty quick death. So it was slow, painstaking, and repetitive work. Not the most fun combination.

But boy was it hardcore! I kid, because of course the biggest flaw in WildStar was that whole “it’s all about the hardcore raiding” marketing attitude, which resulted in what, 2 guilds completing that 40-man raid? Or was it even that many? :) Seriously, I’d love to see them release some statistics on exactly how many people entered that raid versus how many people finished that raid, and compare that to the total player population. After the game’s gone, what would it matter? If nothing else, perhaps WildStar could serve as a cautionary tale for future MMORPG developers.

Still, I hate to see the game close down. I’d rather see them rework it, or maybe even re-launch it under a new publisher. Fat chance of that happening, though.

Goodbye EverQuest Next

I don’t have much to add to the EverQuest Next wake that hasn’t already been said, except for this possibly controversial thought:

I’m kind of glad they cancelled it.

Wait, wait, let me explain. We’ve known all along that Landmark was the prototype for EverQuest Next. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was dreading the day that they released Landmark with Norrath assets and called it EQN, because Landmark is not a very good game. There’s no doubt in my mind that EQ1 and EQ2 fans would have hated it.

Imagine how bad it would have been for the MMORPG industry if they had pushed out the next, long-awaited, highly-anticipated EverQuest game and it had been the same dismal failure that Landmark is.

Black Desert Cash Shop

On the subject of the Black Desert cash shop, I agree that it’s a little steep. Or perhaps I should say that you don’t get enough in-game value for the money you spend. I’ll get to the specifics later.

First I want to highlight something I think is good about the BDO cash shop: They don’t shove it in your face in every window that comes up. There’s no popup window when you login that shows you all the sales and exhorts you to “Go buy stuff now!” If I didn’t know there was a cash shop, I might have totally overlooked that Pearl Store button in settings. That alone is worth the $30 admission.

I’m glad that I didn’t get the higher priced editions (I don’t think I could have even if I’d wanted to, because I was lazy and never pre-ordered). The only thing I saw in them that I might have wanted was the horse (at least, of the things that I understood at the time), and it turns out that it’s not that hard to get a horse in the game, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything there. Now that I know pets collect loot for you, I kind of wish I’d gotten one, but it’s hard to miss a convenience I’ve never experienced. (I end up leaving half of my loot on the ground. You never get anything good anyway.)

I’ve so far been able to avoid spending any money in the cash shop, but I think it’s only because of my somewhat negative experience with buying from the Neverwinter cash shop soon after that launch. I bought too much stuff there which turned out to be fairly useless in the long term, so I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude in BDO.

Naturally, as with all modern games, inventory and storage space is a big problem so far in BDO. It will undoubtedly be my first purchase. But I’m waiting to see if it’s going to be a persistent problem or another case where I need to shift my thinking away from “the way MMORPGs have always been” to some other BDO style of thinking. Every major town has its own storage area, and they are independent of each other. So if you fill up your storage in one town, you can just go to a different town which has empty storage. So I’m trying a strategy of putting X type of items in town A, and Y type of items in town B, so I’ll know to go to town A to do X activity, and go to town B to do Y activity. (You can ship items from one storage to another using the Transport system at a price.)

Something else that helps is that I’ve adopted the attitude (which was inspired by Matt’s first MassivelyOP column on Black Desert) that if I don’t think I’m going to use an item in the next hour or need it for a specific quest, I’m going to sell it or drop it. Especially if it’s a gathering resource. I’ve modified my typical behavior of “gather every single thing I see” as well. For one thing, you can’t do that because you’ll deplete your Energy fairly quick. (The BDO energy system is more forgiving than ArcheAge, but it’s aggravating at times.) For another thing, you can only have one gathering tool equipped at a time. For yet another thing, in the new BDO world order, you might be able to get your workers to do that gathering work for you.

Still, I’m pretty sure I’m going to want to buy some inventory space. I cannot even count how many times I’ve seen the “you must have 2 free spaces in your inventory” message so far or how many quests have failed to complete for lack of space.

When I was looking around the cash shop, I sat down and tried to figure out an answer to this question: What is a normal amount of money to spend on a buy-to-play MMORPG? It’s an entirely subjective question of course. To me, $30 is a bargain price for entering an MMORPG, while $50 or $60 is the more standard price. (I don’t believe that, even in this day and age, “free” should be the standard price to play a game–“free” is only the standard price for having advertisements shoved in your face, or for giving away your personal data.) So right off the bat I feel like I could easily justify spending $20 or $30 in the cash shop.

To answer my own question I looked for historical data, back at the only other game with a similar business model: Guild Wars 2. I went back through my emails and counted up every dollar I’ve spent on the GW2 gem store, after the initial $50 game purchase (or was it $60? I don’t remember).

It turns out I spent $60 on gems within roughly the first month after GW2 launched. I can’t be sure but I feel like every bit of that went directly into inventory and bank space. I spent $35 more on gems about six months later, but I’m going to say that the $60 I spent immediately after launch was what I needed to spend to avoid being annoyed by limited inventory.

So how much storage will $60 get me in Black Desert’s cash shop? $60 = 6,600 pearls (with bonus pearls going on now), which, at 800 pearls per 8 expansion slots, will buy 64 extra inventory slots, if I’m reading things right. That feels like it would be plenty, but it would only be for one character, and I imagine I would run into weight limitations that would require more cash shop purchases to resolve. So at first look it seems okay, but digging deeper I’m not sure that’s a very good value for the money. Not as good as Guild Wars 2, at least, where I setup multiple characters and banks.

Still, I don’t think the cash shop is exploitive in the way that so many mobile free-to-play games are. It’s similar to what ArenaNet has offered in Guild Wars 2 for years. It’s just more expensive. But they aren’t likely to drop their prices just to be nice. They’re going to charge as much as they can get away with, as all businesses should be expected to do. They’re only going to drop the prices if players don’t buy, and based solely on the number of non-default outfits I’m seeing in the game, I don’t think that will be any time soon. The prices will probably come down eventually, though. Early adopters always have to pay the most.

(Yes, I finished a post about the cash shop before I finished a post about the game itself.)

Punishing PvP Activity In PvP Games

I was reading the Albion Online State of the Game and came across this part:

Red zones will be full loot PvP zones that do not contain any claimable territories. Red zones will be subject to a crime and reputation system that makes sure that killing peaceful players – in particular, if they are zerged down – has more consequences for the attackers.

No part of that makes me more interested in Albion Online.

This chain of logic seems to happen often in MMO games:

  1. Make hardcore PvP game because it’ll (I guess?) attract a lot of players.
  2. Notice players complaining about getting killed unfairly in hardcore PvP game.
  3. Add systems to constrain people from killing each other in hardcore PvP game.
  4. Wonder why everyone leaves the game.

What is the point of putting full-loot, open-world PvP in a game if you’re going to punish players for killing and looting people?

I was listening to the GWJ Conference Call talking about The Division and there seems to be a similar system in there. It’s super dangerous in the Dark Zone because anyone can kill you but oh, by the way, if they do they’ll get a bounty on their head and everyone in the game will get bonus points for hunting them down and taking their stuff*. Say what? Who’s going to sign up for that?

I can only assume this is yet another misguided attempt to get PvP players and PvE players to buy the same game.

* I don’t know if that’s exactly right, but it was something along those lines.

Don’t Feel Bad About Getting Bored

I recently saw a farewell post on My Life in Azeroth. I’m sorry to see anyone stop blogging, and I hope they resume someday, but the tone of the post got me thinking.

It seems like a lot of WoW players sound apologetic or guilty when they discuss leaving that game, like they are somehow letting Blizzard or the community down. I’ve seen it in blog posts, and I’ve seen it on Twitter. Like they are admitting some deep, dark secret that they didn’t want to tell anyone. Like they are revealing some deep personal flaw in themselves.

I don’t mean to single out WoW here, but it seems like that’s where I see it the most.

I realize I’m probably reading more into this than what is actually there, but on the off chance anyone actually does feel that way, allow me to dispense some unrequested advice from someone who’s been there many times: It’s completely fine and normal and I daresay even expected that you as a player will grow tired of even the greatest, most fantastic MMORPG in the history of the world. (This applies to any game, really, not just WoW or MMORPGs.) There’s just no way that any developer can create content faster than a player can consume it. I actually find it more strange to hear about people who keep playing a single MMORPG day after day for years on end without any break.

The MMORPG genre is basically defined by repetitive gameplay, especially at the endgame (PvE at least). Sometimes repetition is soothing, and sometimes it’s annoying and soul-crushing. If it becomes more of the latter, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break from an MMORPG. If you come back to it later, then great, but if not, that’s okay too.

So to summarize: Don’t feel bad about it!

The Great Blaugust Flame-Out

I flamed out of Blaugust, so I guess I can now break my own self-imposed Blaugust rule, which was not to write about Blaugust.

There was this one day that I hadn’t scheduled a post, and it was a long, terrible day at work, and when I got home I had to decide whether to try to find enough energy to write a post real quick or play a game instead, and of course that was a no-brainer so I didn’t get a post out that day. I suppose I could have written a make-up post but then there was another day where I had to make the same decision and then another and another and now it’s a different month and oh well.

(Okay, it wasn't nearly as bad as the Hindenburg disaster.)
Okay, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Hindenburg disaster.

I got what I needed out of the event so I’m pretty happy about it anyway. I determined that writing is still hard, and posting daily is still hard, and, while I’m still capable of doing it, at this time in my life, the cost of posting every day outweighs the benefit. It’s not a relaxing diversion after a long draining day at work. I’d rather just play games and maybe post two or three times a week if I’m lucky. :)

Congratulations to everyone who stuck with it through to the end! And to those who didn’t, that’s okay too. Thanks for the event Belghast!