MMOs, nerdrage and trolling.
Yeah, this is one of my relatively infrequent gaming-related posts. Feel free to skip it!
One of my favourite aspects about MMO gaming is the sociological aspect of it all. You really get thrown into a microcosm; you meet all kinds of people, from friendly to aggressive, sociable to achievement-focused, casuals to epeen strokers. As a word-nerd I also love MMOs because both in-game and on boards there’s a constant stream of new lexical input and memes.
One of my least favourite things about MMO gaming is that…well, that it’s a microcosm. The most obnoxious people shout the loudest and even those with no logical or rational point will insist on arguing for aeons on end about whatever they think they have a right to be mad about. There’s plenty of this to be found on the forums for any well-established MMO, but where it all comes to a head is usually right at the launch period.
For the past couple of years I’ve been keeping an eye on the progress of a game called Aion which has been up and running in Korean and China for about 18 months and is launching in Europe, North America and Australia in the next couple of days. I was watching it because it looked very very purty (indeed, I shall be referring to it as “the game of pretty” or TGOP so be mentally ready to translate in your own noggin), and because your character earns wings and can fly around in certain zones. Yum, I thought. The game is also a bit different in that it is player versus player versus environment (PvPvE) which is a mite more dynamic than a lot of other games around. Essentially, a lot of games are Player vs Environment (ie – you fight pixellated thingies controlled by a computer AI) with consensual player versus player in certain areas (player versus player means just that – you can be attacked and killed by players of the opposite faction). By consensual I mean, either you flag yourself for PvP combat (the MMO version of saying “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”) or you go to zones (areas) that are designed purely for PvP. Aion has perhaps the healthiest mix of PvP/PvE content I’ve come across so far. Also, and this is really really important: it’s fun as all get-out to play.
So yeah, fun new game! Woo!
Except for all the nerdrage.
Nerdrage example 1: Why should I have to pay for the game?
He starts out calm enough, but gets increasingly ragey/whiny as people try to explain the concept of capitalism. I actually, and in real life, facepalmed (this is a first). People who don’t play MMOs often ask why you have to pay a monthly fee to do so, but I have never yet seen someone complain about the initial investment (the only sure-fire money game companies make on MMOs is box/digital key sales, subscription fees are not guaranteed, and are needed to pay support and technical staff and keep servers running, the box sales are what pays for the 6 years + of development costs….)
Nerdrage example 2: Take this game and shove it!!!
Eeeep! Poor chap got an error message while playing in open beta (this is a slightly-restricted pre-launch TESTING period of the game, where developers allow a certain number of people to access servers early (and for free) in order to weed out bugs etc.) and /ragequit. There are a lot like him about.
If you pre-ordered Aion, you can (at this very moment and up until tomorrow morning Seattle time) reserve up to two characters on the server(s) of your choice. There are two player-controllable races in the game, the Asmodians and the Elyos. As of right now, the forums I linked to have (in one section alone) 23 pages of posts (that’s just post headers btw) with people bitching that they cannot roll the race they want on the server they want, or that they didn’t get the name they wanted, or that things happened half an hour later than advertised…you name it. I lost count of the numbers of people threatening to cancel their pre-orders because of any/all of the above. This in spite of the fact that some of the NC West Aion team have twitter accounts that were updated every couple of minutes to let people know what was going on and they all tweeted (using Liv’s tweet here ’cause I loved the “gogogo!” part) the second the servers were available.
This also in spite of the fact that the developers made it clear they would be balancing the servers from the start, so that there wouldn’t be too many Elyos or too many Asmodians on any one server. I can’t overstate how critical that point is. Anyone who played WAR will tell you that it’s no fun playing a game with player versus player content if there’s twice (or three times) as many players of one faction compared to the other. If you’re the bigger faction, you just steam-roll everything (it’s known as “zerging” in MMOs) which is hella boring, if you’re the smaller faction, you’re constantly being steam-rolled, time in-game is hell and the game is no fun, so you’ll either switch sides, or just quit playing. So to achieve a decent (and fair) balance, you have to do so from the second people are able to create their characters, otherwise, when retail launches and people who haven’t pre-ordered pick up the game and start playing, they’ll find that they’re stuck having to be part of whichever faction was least popular with those who pre-ordered, and that just wouldn’t be fair.
Fairness doesn’t seem to occur to the loudmouths though. There’s a long and banal string of posts created purely so people can vent/bitch/whine about how they’re being “isolated” from their guild-mates and being “forced” to roll a race they don’t want to play. What they’re willfully ignoring is the fact that race balance is dynamic, if they can’t roll Asmodean on a particular server, all they need to do is wait til some other people create Elyos characters, and then try again. Dynamic system is dynamic. But then again, whiners are also whiners.
What’s most interesting about all the rage and the whining, is that every single MMO launch I can remember was full of the same stuff. Go through a launch or two and you learn the following facts:
1. Things will never happen when they are supposed to happen. If a game launches at 8am, you probably won’t be able to access it til 10am, so there’s no point sitting at your keyboard getting angrier with every minute that passes. If the servers aren’t open, NOBODY is getting to play. If this is making you angry, you probably need to get out more.
2. Any patch deployed to fix something will break something else. MMOs are huge in terms of lines of code. Fixing something small often has unforeseen repercussions elsewhere. Seasoned MMO players are aware of this, and often don’t even try to play on patch days, wait a day and whatever got broken will probably have been fixed. Again, no point in getting angry.
3. No matter how many pre-sales there are for a game, it’s nigh on impossible to predict actual server loads when a game goes live (I might have Elyos characters on one server, and Asmodians on another, how are NC Soft supposed to know which side I’ll actually play most, or which I’ll play at launch?). You don’t want a bunch of servers that are crammed to the rafters and all laggy as a result, and you don’t want *any* that feel like a desert (no-one plays an MMO to run around a big empty world with no other players in sight, do they?). People will whine about server queues and lag, but too many servers is actually a bigger problem (cf WAR). I don’t mind queues at launches in fact I take ‘em for granted, but some people *really* do, guess what, it makes them angry…
4. WoW is the ten ton elephant in the corner at every new MMO launch. I’m so tired of reading about Aion compared to WoW, or how WoW has this and Aion doesn’t (and vice-versa), but it’s only to be expected. If 11 million people currently play WoW and for a lot of them it’s their only MMO experience, then it’s an easy point of reference. There’s no point in getting angry because Aion is not WoW (believe me, there are plenty of people doing this) since it is not claiming to be. It’s a different game. Different does not mean worse or better, it just means different. That last bit is important. There’s no point in bashing WoW (or WoW players) or attacking anyone who is critical of your new favourite game (this applies across the board), fanboi-ism is rampant, and unpretty. No matter how obvious all of this is, people will get furious defending one game over another….and really? They’re just games. Some people get over-invested.
5. A bunch of geniuses will power-level through all the low level content (not stopping to enjoy themselves along the way, or to eat or sleep for that matter), hit max level and then complain they have no-one to enjoy end-game with, that the game is therefore useless and they will also quit. These people are not very bright. See here for a most excellent parody of this mindset.
So yeah, you can pretty much take all the above as read for any MMO launch, and rather than get irritated by it, the best thing old fogeys like me can do is break out the popcorn, pull up a chair and watch the drama unfold while muttering about “kids these days”. Ah well, at least it gives me something to do until head-start begins on Sunday evening.