Rant: MMO Gamers, Mind Your Own Business

Be warned: I’m dusting off my “epic nerd rant” tag for this post. I’m angry, and I will not be mincing words.

Pandaria Beta: Nerd Rage, Sha, and Lock LoveOne of the worst things about the MMO community — aside from the rampant misogyny, racism, and homophobia that defines the gaming world — is that there is a large and vocal section of players who seem to feel their preferred style of play is the only correct one, and that anyone who has different preferences is not only wrong, but actually bad for the game.

If you don’t PvP, you’re a spineless carebear. If you do PvP, you’re a ganking troll. If you don’t raid, you’re a scrub. If you do raid, you’re an elitist.

That’s bad enough on its own, but the real problem is that these people will often attack anything that doesn’t fit into their narrow view of how an MMO should be played, lobbying to see such features removed from games entirely and denigrating anyone who enjoys them.

Favourite punching bags for this group include automated group finders, flying mounts, and accessible gear — the so-called “welfare epics,” which is a bit like GamerGate in that it’s a term mainly useful for instantly identifying who is a troglodyte.

Even The Secret World has this problem in spades, which is one of the reasons I don’t think its community is the paradise people make it out to be. Many of the most prominent members of the community are people who will badger the opposition, twist the truth, and outright lie to sell people on the “evils” of the optional quality of life perk that is a group finder.

Theodore Wicker at the end of Hell Eternal in The Secret WorldIt is an attack on choice, on diversity of gameplay, which is one of the strengths of the MMO genre. It’s selfish, and it’s petty, and it needs to go away, but it is such a large and powerful part of the MMO community that it seems all but unstoppable.

I do not understand the motivations of those who want everyone to march in lockstep with them. They gain nothing from attempting to tear down any playstyle other than their own.

Some of it probably boils down to the “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T AGREE WITH ME?!!?!” attitude that pervades the Internet as a whole. We built the greatest means of sharing differing opinions in human history and promptly became horrified and enraged by all the differing opinions we found.

And I don’t want to take the moral high ground here too much, because I’m guilty of disdaining opinions that are not my own, too. We all are to some extent, and I would definitely not consider myself to be someone who’s especially open-minded. However, there is one key area in which I can claim a certain degree of superiority over the “How dare you game differently from me?” crowd, which I’ll get to later.

The main argument that is usually used to justify these attempts to destroy those elements of gameplay they don’t enjoy is that they are forced to participate in them.

But that is of course nonsense.

My monk flying over the Krasarang WildsNo one is ever forced to do anything in a game. If you don’t enjoy something, don’t do it. It’s your own fault if you force yourself to do something in a game you find unappealing.

I do think there is a place for complaints about developers making certain elements of gameplay so crucial that they can’t be avoided. I’ve spent plenty of time complaining about the “raid or die” or “rep or die” philosophies World of Warcraft has designed expansions around.

However, there’s a world of difference between tying a game’s entire storyline and progression mechanics into one narrow band of gameplay and optional gameplay features that are perhaps convenient but not strictly necessary for progression.

No one is forced to form groups with an automated tool. In every game I’ve played, you get the same rewards with a premade group. If you prefer to explore the virtual world on a land mount as opposed to a flying one, it’s no one’s fault but your own if you choose the greater convenience of flight. If your guild makes you do content you find tedious in order to get gear, your guild sucks, and you should find one that isn’t composed of pricks.

“But I’ll fall behind the competition if I don’t use every tool at my disposal!”

No, you won’t.

My ranger and her sellsword companion in NeverwinterOutside of PvP, MMOs are not a competitive genre, no matter how much some people like to fool themselves into thinking they are. You don’t have to worry about falling behind; you’re not in competition with anyone. The one minor exception would be those guilds who go for world/server first achievements, but those are an infinitesimal minority, and not worth designing games around at the expense of everyone else.

Besides, being the best takes work, so if you really are one of the tiny few pushing the bleeding edge of content and needing every tool at your disposal, well, it comes with the territory. Suck it up, buttercup. This is what you wanted.

Even when things truly are obligatory, it’s still your own fault if you’re engaging in gameplay you don’t enjoy. I railed against Mists of Pandaria’s daily grind not because I hated forcing myself through the dailies, but because I didn’t do the dailies and therefore had my hands tied when it comes to character progression.

And here I come to the most crucial point, and the key difference between me and the “my way or the highway” crowd: If you truly feel something in a game is mandatory for progression, the correct solution is to ask for alternatives, not to try to remove the offending content.

I hated the daily grind in MoP, but never once did I say we should get rid of daily quests — though Blizzard went and did that anyway because they love to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I just wanted them decoupled from valor point gear so I didn’t have to grind solo content to spend my group currency — honestly, who thought that made sense?

The new face I chose for my rogue after World of Warcraft's character model updatesI’m not very fond of raiding, but I don’t agree with the viewpoint that says raids should go away altogether. I do feel that the traditional raiding paradigm as established by WoW has a negative impact on the genre for reasons excellently outlined by the always insightful Eliot Lefebvre over at Massively recently, but I don’t think it’s necessary to do away with raids altogether.

But for those who find offense in playstyles other than their own don’t ask for alternatives, or for things to be made more optional. Perhaps this is because at some level they understand that the things they hate are already as optional as can be, or maybe they really are petty enough that they just want to break the toys of those who won’t play their way.

The worst part of all this is that developers actually seem to listen to these people. WoW finally caved to years of troll posts and removed flight. They took tier sets out of the raid finder so that real raiders would not feel obligated to run it, a case of the needs of the few being determined to outweigh the needs of the many in defiance of all Vulcan logic. TSW still lacks a group finder despite it being standard for themepark MMOs everywhere.

I suspect this has less to do with developers legitimately believing the spurious arguments put forth by such individuals and more to do with them using the arguments as justification for actions they wanted to take anyway. It’s easier for WoW to present themselves as listening to fan feedback than it is for them to come right out and say, “We’re placing more restrictions on players so everything will take longer and we get more subscription revenue.”

I’m not sure if that makes me a cynic or an optimist.

My Hell Raised group in The Secret WorldSo while I know this will fall on deaf ears, I put forth this plea to the MMO community: Live and let live. My flying doesn’t hurt you. My getting gear from sources other than raids doesn’t hurt you. My forming dungeon PUGs without spending two hours spamming chat doesn’t hurt you. I don’t try to take away your toys, so don’t try to take away mine. I shouldn’t be made to suffer for your lack of self control.

In short, mind your own business.

WoW: Cloak Crazy

As of last night, I completed my third and final run through Wrathion’s quest chain in World of Warcraft, earning my rogue her legendary cloak. She follows in the footsteps of my warlock and my monk, who had previously earned theirs.

My World of Warcraft characters show off their legendary cloaksWhen I first completed it on my warlock, I figured I’d never have the patience to attempt such a massive grind again. However, with nothing better to do in this seemingly endless pre-expansion lull, I ended up giving it a go again on my other level 90s. A variety of nerfs had made it much less of a grind than it once was, though still quite an effort.

I still have fairly mixed feelings on the legendary quest, but in the end, I think my positive memories will outshine the negative ones.

A legendary journey:

Yes, it is an ungodly grind, even in its heavily nerfed state. If I never see the Isle of Thunder or its associated raid again, it will be too soon (EXECUTUS). And I still don’t really think a legendary item is something that should just be handed out to anyone and everyone. It may not be a popular opinion, but I think Burning Crusade had the best philosophy to handling legendaries.

However, while I do tend the mock the idea of “accomplishment” in video games, I must admit there is a certain satisfaction to completing such a long journey.

More importantly, it was one of the better pieces of storytelling Warcraft has seen in recent memory. Wrathion is a very interesting and complex character, and it’s great to see a strong anti-hero in WoW again. Let us hope he doesn’t go the way of Illidan and Kael’thas.

My rogue's story is told at the completion of the legendary quest chain in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaAlthough he can be deadly serious at times, Wrathion also brings a lot of humour with him, and the writers manage to incorporate it in a way that doesn’t seem clownish or detract from the player’s ability to take him seriously. That’s a difficult tightrope to walk, and one WoW rarely succeeds at.

And some of his banter with Anduin is just sheer gold.

The few aspects of the chain that didn’t involve a massive grind offered some very fun gameplay, as well.

As I was working through the quests on my monk and rogue, I came to the conclusion that a major portion of my motivation was simply the desire to replay the solo challenges at the Thunder Forge and the Celestial temples.

A lot of people — including myself — like to complain that WoW is far too easy, and there’s a lot of legitimacy to that complaint, but it’s actually a little more nuanced than that. The vast majority of WoW’s content is insultingly easy, but there is difficult content, as well — but it’s insanely, brutally difficult.

What WoW is severely lacking is moderately challenging content. There is no happy medium; only ludicrous extremes.

The solo challenges on the legendary quest fell into that sweet spot of being difficult, but not overly frustrating. I’d usually only die once or twice on each before completing it. And because it’s solo, there’s no sting of letting anyone down if you fail, or feeling of being carried if you succeed.

My monk participates in Niuzao's challenge as part of the legendary questline in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaI really wish we could have more content like that.

Controversy. There’s always controversy:

Of course, just as I was finishing up my final legendary quest, Blizzard came out with the announcement they’ll be removing the entire storyline from the game when Warlords of Draenor is released.

The odds of my ever attempting the quest again were very low, so this doesn’t effect me much, but I still think it’s bad for the game.

Blizzard has made a lot of questionable decisions lately. This isn’t necessarily the worst, but it’s definitely the most confusing.

Nobody benefits from this. It fractures the lore, eliminates an impressive chunk of content, and results in people having less to do during the next year-long content drought.

Content should never, ever be removed unless there’s absolutely no way to avoid it. It’s a known fact that no MMO developer on the planet can produce content faster than players can consume it. A large stable of legacy content is one of the ways to mitigate player boredom during content lulls. Why would Blizzard shoot themselves in the foot by eliminating some?

My monk's image floats above the Seat of Knowledge after earning her legendary cloak in World of Warcraft: Mists of PandariaI’ve heard Blizzard talk about how it’s a problem that all of the game’s story is so scattered and disjointed. Why would they make that problem even worse by gutting Mists of Pandaria’s main storyline and eliminating a massive amount of development for two crucial lore figures?

The only explanation we’ve gotten so far is that it’s meant as a reward for those who played during MoP, but that doesn’t make any sense. The reward was getting the cloak when it was still relevant. Removing the storyline going forward doesn’t reward anyone, but it does punish a lot of people.

I honestly find it a little insulting that Blizzard thinks I’m a sufficiently petty person that I would view kicking the teeth of everyone who came after me as a reward.

It also seems to indicate that Blizzard cares more about stroking the egos of a vanishingly small minority who find some kind of prestige in a cloak you get from LFR than about its own epic lore and story. That doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence for the future of this franchise.

The news that Warlords of Draenor’s legendary quest will also be temporary content has dampened my already minimal enthusiasm for the new expansion. On top of removing flying, on top of the lack of new features, on top of the wacky lore, I also have the to spend the whole expansion worrying I won’t be able to grind fast enough to finish the chain in time?

Bleh. It’s hard to convince myself it’s even worth playing at that point.

My warlock showing off her legendary cloak in World of WarcraftIt’s rather a trainwreck from a PR perspective, too. They announced the chain’s removal far too late, such that anyone who sees the announcement and thinks, “Damn, I better get on finishing that” will have no reasonable chance of completing the chain unless they were already very close.

And it comes across as incredibly tone-deaf considering how sensitive people are about all that’s being removed in Warlords of Draenor. One of my favourite comments on the matter to date has been, “They ran out of things to remove from the new expansion, so they started removing things from live.”

This is why I struggle to maintain my former level of love for World of Warcraft. It’s not that Blizzard isn’t putting out great content. They are. But there’s inevitably some kind of poison pill, some utterly baffling and pointlessly punitive decision that puts a damper on the festivities. I can never just relax and enjoy the game.

Edit: Because I’m a masochist, I posted this rant on the official forums. If you agree with me, or if you disagree, post and help keep the discussion going.

Always look on the bright side of life…

Well, at least I can be glad I got all the cloaks I wanted while I still could. I’ll enjoy my memories of the storyline, even as I mourn its loss.