gamesVSlife: Why MMORPGs aren’t like they used to be
posted on 08.12.12 at 02:42 PM EDT by (@admeady)
An old Paladin's words on the way things were.

My first day in Final Fantasy XI’s Vana’diel was a bit like my first day in high school – an awkward and uneasy time orchestrated by whispers of uncertainty, double-checking and apocalyptic confusion. What was I to do? Where was I to go?  It was a time ridden with anxiety and self-doubt, and it was a time when I didn’t know what the Firaga I was doing.

And yet out of the sweaty palms of uncertainty and self-doubt, friendships were born. It was that need to work together – to be awkward and uneasy together – that would create lasting alliances. I’d wipe your sweaty palms if you’d wipe mine.

And so we’d trundle along, uneasy and unsure – but at least we were as confused as Firaga together.

No real friends, no real equipment, and no real knowledge – I was a newcomer to a world ostensibly designed for people of experience. It wasn’t littered with tutorials and tooltips: it didn’t tell me where to go; it didn’t tell me what to do; and it didn’t tell me who to talk to. It was bloody brilliant.

Communication was a matter of survival. I had to ask for help: I had to ask where the best place to grind was; I had to be escorted to the next area; I had to ask how to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. People were my tutorials, they were my guides through this vast and unknown world.

By comparison with today, Square’s first MMO outing was brutal. The game’s world wasn’t cluttered by giant exclamation marks and automated transport. It was this awkward design, this difficulty, that forced me to interact with the world and the numerous avatars running around in it. Final Fantasy XI was hardly the bastion of accessibility.

It was us against the system, against the server. Inadvertently, Square had posed a challenge: to see how far we could progress in its unexplained world. It could be difficult at times – laborious, even. When we inevitably conquered that challenge, though, it was a feeling like no other. No amount of oversized weaponry could match it.

Now, we work with the system. It tells us what to do, where to go. The system dictates almost everything. In Final Fantasy XI, I didn’t have a collection of text boxes guiding my every action. I’d wander off into a new area, naive and unprepared. I’d die. I’d lose experience points and a little bit of dignity. And yet I gained something: I learned that area wasn’t for me. Not yet. It was experimental, organic and, dare I say it, akin to something real.

But today’s MMORPGs are different. Other people seem secondary on a moment-to-moment basis. Going “solo” is a much-touted feature. In an interconnected world, though, “solo” is a dirty a word – it suggests an isolated, single-player experience. Call me old fashioned, but if I couldn’t play with other people, I didn’t play at all.

That relationship between players was a symbiosis dedicated to creating a shared experience. You didn’t make your own fun, others made fun for you. Massively multiplayer games used to be profoundly people-centric. Indeed, they used to be the most anti-social way to be social. If you removed people, little would be left but a bunch of numbers in a lifeless, server-based oblivion.

MMORPGs have lost something – that spark. They’ve lost that sense of curiosity, that sense of exploration, and that sense of the unexpected. I don’t need you, and you don’t need me. Thousands of players can inhabit a single world whilst disregarding everybody else’s virtual existence. Dependency is dead.

And so MMORPGs aren’t like they used to be. Take me back to high school – a time with equal parts anxiety and curiosity, a time when not knowing what to do could be exciting. I miss that challenge. I’m tired of dialogue boxes explaining everything, of maps showing me exactly where to go. I’m tired of tooltips reminding me of how much of a tool I really am.

And if high school had tooltips and tutorials, it would’ve been a very different experience, indeed.

gamesVSlife is a weekly column dedicated to video games, life, and how games relate to life. Feel free to leave your comments and stories below.

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  • xMCXx

    To be honest, I really dislike MMORPGs.
    They are boring as hell and you’re not even THE hero.
    You’re just one of many people playing this game at the same time. I hate that.
    If I play an RPG I want to be the hero, I want an epic story, that is very well presented and no goddamn fetchquests.
    I remember playing Silkroad Online till level 21. And many quests were just: “Get 500 tiger paws” and every 10th tiger dropped one. It’s a goddamn chore.

    • Sovereign Gale

      THIS. I used to love MMOs, but fetch quests were (and still ARE) one of their biggest issues. They just struck me as a lazy, thoughtless way to stretch your playtime, and I never felt accomplished when I completed one. I was just relieved to know that I could move on. xD Seriously, though, who NEEDS five hundred tiger paws?

    • Kobracon

      After years of watching the WoW boom and aaaaaaaaall the people raving about it. I gave it a try. I got to around the lvl for my first mount and then started doing quests. The second I realised that I’ve been doing nothing but RIDING to me objective for 10 bloody minutes, I quit the game. Walking is not fun, Blizz. Fighting is. And no, Blizz the flying transport service doesn’t help coz I still have to SIT there while I fly through the entire journey. Sure it was atmospheric and breath taking the FIRST time. But when you made us do it EVERY TIME! I needed a skip button…

  • アキラ

    I agree with everything here. 
    And it doesn’t help that i’m not a talkative person. D:

  • The more “solo,” the better, for me. There are specific games I want to play via local co-op with my girlfriend, and I might play an online FPS here and there with a close friend. The most “multiplayer” I want in my RPGs is swapping the controller with my girlfriend while we play through a Kingdom Hearts, Persona, or Final Fantasy game.

    If the new FFXIV appeals to me enough, I might get it for a month to try to crash through the main story. I don’t care about forming a virtual social architecture within the game.

  • Gaara D. Dragon

    No offence Adam but MMORPGs suck !

    To my experience they attract a different kind of player and a different crowd for the most part to the classic rpg gamers. They have nothing to keep you going, no point or no reason, no story while the only goal is to make a stronger character. That is basically like trying to make a more popular profile on facebook.

    The only reason I will try FF X|V is because it looks great.

  • Sovereign Gale

    Hahaha, oh man. This reminds me of my days playing Final Fantasy XI. I was young, and I wasn’t even in high school by then. I was naive, expecting my experience to be like a walk in the park. But then I got thrashed time and time again. By the time I got to the dunes, (which was known for greatly enforcing the idea that XI was NOT a casual MMO) I almost considered quitting, but I didn’t. I don’t regret that decision, because I eventually met some great people, and they really helped me get used to the game. I was still getting thrashed, but I wasn’t being thrashed ALONE, and it felt great. Progress never felt better in most games I’ve played (MMO or not) than it did in XI, and some of my most memorable gaming experiences can be traced back this ONE Final Fantasy title. I miss it

    Hold on, guys…
    Feels incoming… ;__;

    • Adam Meadows

       The soundtrack was amazing in FF11. Remember the dunes? Level10-20, or thereabouts. So much fun. Such an atmosphere in that game.

      • Sovereign Gale

        Oh man, I totally agree. Definitely one of my favorite things about XI was the music. I particularly enjoyed Selbina’s theme, and I was there often since it was the closest town to the dunes and my parties often went there to recover. But that’s just one of many more tracks I enjoyed so much that I’d often just stand around and listen to it in-game. When I heard that a lot of the music for XIII-2 was being composed by Naoshi Mizuta (same person responsible for XI’s soundtrack), I got so pumped.

  • Kougeru

    I agree with a lot of this. My biggest issue with MMOs now days is that people are all about themselves. It’s all an argument against each other for the loot drops, arguments about guild roles, arguments about which dungeon to raid, ect ect ect. I’ve seen, and have had many relationships destroyed simply because of MMO drama. It reallly IS anti-social now, for the most part. Phantasy Star Online 2 has an older feel for me that is refreshing right now.  Real MMOs make me wish Sword Art Online was a real one: If an item drops it doesnt tell who got it unless they want to share it. You can also hide your level to avoid further drama caused by “Getting ahead” of your guildies/friends who level too slow for you lol. I really wish MMOs were more akin to how they use to be…

  • LordKaiser

    Sounds a bit like WKC2 even if it was not a MMORPG to complete some quest teamwork was needed and it relied on experienced players teaching others. But the game was abandoned in the west by D3 publisher and Sony and just 2 weeks ago Americans received the Artifaxt Plans (GR27 Weapons for the knights) DLC the Europeans had on the PS store. But we want Avatar story, GR50 and newer quests. Right now the top 10 guids hold to much power in the game cuz they’re the only ones that can purchase Gems Lv.9 and the quests that drops them are not here.These quests require teamwork and how to properly use a class is learned by experience. The game tell you nothing.

    This is 1 of the quests we don’t have

  • Loved the article, Adam. You probably know I’m a big MMORPG person.

    I also played Final Fantasy 11 for about 4 or 5 years I’d say, off and on. I’m very pick with my MMORPGs, only because I demand they offer me something different, something special.

    I think I got this from my early MMORPG experiences – Phantasy Star Online & Final Fantasy XI. (Of course.)

    I like to point to the journey, and how so many focus on the destination. So many want instant gratification. What is the goal of the game? How do I accomplish it the quickest? Complete the game before anyone else? Get to the end? All of these are ways to get to the destination.

    When did we stop forgetting about the journey? Shouldn’t the experiences on your way to the destination help shape the type of player you become? I know they did for me in Final Fantasy 11, that’s for damn sure.

    I remember trying to player Warrior with sword and shield, I remember dying and down leveling from level 15 to 14 over and over again, I remember seeking parties for hours, I remember building parties only for them to result in complete failure. You know what? Those experiences helped me in the long run, making those mistakes and learning helped me grow as a player.

    Those experience helped me form good parties, and not only have great success with those groups, but also make friends, some of them turned out to be life long friends. They helped me prepare myself for greater challenges, and taught me about team work in ways that I never imagined a video game could.

    I think that is what MMORPGS are all about, and should be about. I hate how people these days want to skip all of that, skip the journey. I hate how developers keep trying to shorten the journey, make it easy and simple. Taking away the challenge, the early to mid level content, taking all of that away is like skipping to the end of a book after the first chapter. What about all the great stuff that happened before the end?

    That is what I loved about Final Fantasy 11… Going on that journey created magical moments, memorable experiences, experiences… that I’ve not been able to replicate since.

    • Adam Meadows

       I totally agree with this. It’s always a race to see who can reach the end game fastest. PSO was very much about the journey. The cap was so high – might’ve been Level 200? – that it didn’t make sense to chase it so fiercely. Ya know?

      Both games provided some of my best memories. Truly amazing.


  • Locksus

    Excellent article, Adam! I was a hugee MMORPG lover for about 4 years. Now, the only MMORPG I’ve ever played is WoW and Runescape. Though I loved the former much more as it provided with some memorable experiences. At first I was so lost in the world but grew to understand how to world and the game worked as I played more and more.

    I started playing it a little bit before The Burning Crusade launched but loved Vanilla WoW immensely. Though, TBC remains my favourite expansion even though I haven’t played Cataclysm but it’s considered the weakest expansion of them all.

    I met many new friends while exploring the vast world of the game. I can’t quite explain why WoW was so special to me but it remains one of my favourite games to date and I would gladly go back to the glory days of The Burning Crusade or Vanilla.

    Everyone who’s big into MMORPGS should at least, in my opinion, try the game. Maybe you’ll get hooked. I’ve now completely abandoned the genre because, while providing me with awesome experiences, moments and people to meet, took so much of my time that my grades in school took a huge dip when I played it actively a few years back. It was that addicting.

  • mojava

    Really good article. It catches my feelings towards FFXI perfectly. Chances are I’ll never be able to experience such an immersive game ever again. I’ve actually tried with a few other MMO’s post-FF11 but nothing has come even close in terms of enjoyment. At least not until this summer! TERA Online actually has a lot of the same family-feel to it with a lot of teaming up. Other than that it’s top notch gorgeous — just like FF11 — AND has the by far most enjoyable  battlesystem that any MMO has sported so far. Looks like GW2 won’t be able to take that position either. :)

  • Some great comments in here. I really feel like I could just go on and on all day discussing MMORPGs. Especially when Final Fantasy XI is being discussed.

    Just a bit of heads up for people thinking about FF14. It’s currently an MMORPG and the new version will still be an MMORPG. If you don’t like these types of games, I suggest you reconsider trying XIV. One of the things I loved about XIV is the community, and how it encouraged you to team up and work together. Well, it did early on… some of the changes in 2012 have really bummed me out, specifically the easy xp patch stuff, and how it really made the journey part of the game boring.

    Still kinda hoping they decide to backtrack a bit, and go a different route with the new FF14. Only time will tell…

  • LordKaiser

    The role on spear class is more important in JP WKC2

    This is called Avatar Story a quest that is locked on disc and D3 Publisher (Namco Bandai), Sony and level-5 don’t enter negotiations to bring.the quests we need and the cap lifted to GR50. This video it’s the true ending of the game and the #10 quest of Avatar Story. It contains spoilers.