The [Re:]humanization of the MMO


A month ago I posted some comments on the psych-state of affairs within the online gaming experience expecting it to be just another rant in the books. To my surprise, two interesting (and positive) things happened.  First, I got a re-tweet on the article from a total stranger.  Not just any total stranger, but one of the younger demographic that my very rant crucified as a generation of TL:DR gamers.

Second, I received a great email from my good friend Dacian who not only read my post, but had some very insightful points from his unique perspective as a gamer who happens to work for a online gaming company. 

Rather than trying to paraphrase - I decided to post his email (mostly) in tact with the obvious personally identifying details removed so that you might enjoy the journey as much as I did.

~ iRonin

P.S. - I apologize to anyone who ever tried to comment here and had the same issues Dacian had - I never realized the default security setting was so crappy, and have since opened it up so that anyone can comment.


God dammit, this is way too close to the blogging line than I ever wanted to get. I apologize if the thoughts are all over the board, since this was a type and go to meeting, type more and go to meeting, kinda effort. For the love of God set up that remote podcast or something…

I recently stumbled across your The Dehumanization of the MMO post and felt the urge to toss out my two cents, thoughts and experience. Why am I doing this in email and not in the comment section you ask? Well it’s actually relevant to the larger topic and hand and the line of questions you ask such as:  

Do these people try out a new sport or a hobby, and if they aren't immediately good at it, do they just give up? Do they practice enough to get into their first competition, and then as long as they keep winning they'll keep playing? And what if they suck at those hobbies, or their job, do they even know it?  No one seems willing to provide real feedback - or maybe they just don't hear it? Does their boss give them negative feedback and they just blank out, taking none of it to heart and just quit, or nod and move on passively? Are they even equipped to deal with the consequences of failures where you can't just walk away and try some other time or not at all? Is it just me?

Now I shall reconstruct for you the timeline of events and thought process that has lead me here.

Log in for work today… stumble on http://decipi-revera.blogspot.com/... Notice recent post… Notice topic on video gaming… read entire post word for word…. Re-read entire post again….think on post…

I pause here to point out that my time investment for reading that whole post twice has well pushed me into over the 30 minute mark of time I have invested. This is important to note leading into part two.

Click comment link to respond…  Post a comment section comes up… I can’t click in the box to start writing… Hrm… Check top of the page… Oh there is a sign in button…. Oh it’s a google account… attempt to remember google credentials… hrm…. This is getting annoying… why can’t I just comment…. Remember that dthrax wasn’t available try other names…. Finally remember right now…. Now can’t remember password…. Remember password… Sign in…. Ok sweet now to comment…. Click link back to George’s page… hrm still can’t comment…. WTF still not signed in…. Sign back in…. maybe I have to subscribe…. Subscribe to blog…. OK HERE WE GO FINALLY!............... #&$*(@ STILL CANNOT COMMENT OK FU YOU KNOW WHAT OFF TO EMAIL I GO…

Now all this leads up to a realization of “Wait… did I just prove his post right? Am I unwilling to commit to figure out what the problem is and get my just reward? Am just seeking the path of least resistance as a means to an end? I spent 30 minutes reading this and am not willing to invest more than 10 to be able to comment to help ease my friends wondering if people are out there. To participate in lively discussion that I miss so much. To let him know that his post is so awesome and that I recently found the world’s best bacon cure at  http://himtnjerky.com/ and I as a BBQ fanatic endorse this product and for the low price of 6.99 it is super best deal and he buy now! What the hell is going on here?!? How did it get to this point!!!”

Recounting my Journey

My real MMO experience was when as a Microsoft Fan Boy I picked up a copy of Asheron’s Call, installed it and log in. I had zero idea what the hell was going on as back then MMOs seemed to be more punishing and a lack of tutorial and guide to weed out people with short attention spans or inability to logically deconstruct failures and find ways to improve yourself. After figuring base mechanics I set out in the world and found myself in a zone that I did not belong where mobs preceded to play “wack a mole” every time I respawned near my corpse. Luckily for me a more senor player wandered by and took pity on the poor noob, easily killed the mobs, and informed me how to get back to the starting area so. Before leaving he geared me out with higher level gear that seemed to me at the time as if Odin himself had handed me a set of Destroyer amour and Mj√∂llnir.

Point 1: Early MMOs seemed to require you to pay a much higher ticket to entry price. There were no tutorials, no hand holding, if you were dumb the game punished you for it and delighted in doing so. The counter to this is the community stepped up wanting to bring more into their fold and this fostered an early sense of belonging and assistance and help. I can remember nothing about that game, but I still remember that guy rescuing me and gearing me out in a genuine attempt to help bring another player into their community. Current MMOs now having gotten better at tutorials and entry level zones and areas seek to guide the player more through their experience and don’t really foster that sense of belonging until it slaps you in the face in the first time you are “forced” to group to complete your objective. I say forced because giving the high amount of focus on solo content and improvement on things like mob spawning, zone design, etc there really is no reason to group with a stranger when doing your normal quests or grind. And given that most solo content is designed to be well… solo able… you don’t really experience a failure unless you yourself do something stupid, pull to many mobs (harder to do, due to those improvements in mob placement, aggro mechanics etc). So the first time you group and fail its shocking because you’ve been doing all this stuff yourself and haven’t died… so it can’t possibly be your fault…. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to do all this stuff right?!?.

From Asheron’s call I didn’t really play an MMO again until Star Wars Galaxies. Thinking back on it now… Again lack of tutorial, but there we had Fatal Exception, who had figured out all the tricks in beta and was there to hold hands, help gear out and ease the transition of noobs into the world and into the world of an MMO. This was in turn passed on to other people brought into the fold who signed in. Looking back on Galaxies though I think it might actually be a good precursor for what would later happen with WoW, due to the popularity of the Star Wars license suddenly lots of people who had never really played an MMO were picking up the game and trying that game type out. Galaxies further supported this by having the social classes and crafting classes that did not require the understanding, skill, and awareness that more traditional combat roles required. Eventually though the casual player either through their own desires of wanting to try something new or perhaps having to overhear war stories of how awesome it was taking a Rancor down, or destroying the rebel base and owning the revival rebel guild, decided that they too want to start down the combat path. Now I honestly have no idea what Galaxies overall market penetration and share  was or what its subscription numbers were, but it felt big. The power gamers who had long since figured out the OP builds (Rifleman/TKM/Brawler, Pistoler/Fencer/Smuggler, Combat Medic/Anything) welcomed their new casual friends into their fold as they have always done and shared with them their builds and how to own (with one button pushes). It’s here were downfall started I think, and it wasn’t just Galaxies either. Think about City of Heroes, the Matrix Online, etc.

Point 2: The start of the introduction of casuals and MMOs with poor balance and shitty mechanics created the perception that they too were awesome at this combat stuff. I can remember how awesomely proud you were running up a Martial Artist in the Matrix only to go into shock and awe watching the broken mechanics of a Hacker or struggling as a pure bounty hunter against people far, far, far less skilled that just happen to stack the right boxes in skill trees and to them they felt they were awesome. This again started down the slippery slope of “I deserve to be awesome cause I showed up” which is very similar to the “everyone deserves a trophy” mentality that was being pushed outside of the gaming world. I think even those who had been gaming for a while fell into the seductive warm embrace of how easy it was to win with some of the builds.

Out of these new MMOs relationships were formed, the internet was taking off more and more rapidly, social sites were coming up, forums were more and more common. Vent and team speak were taking off so it became much easier to stay in touch. EQ2 and WoW fired up their serves and joined the fray. Whats interesting to not here is both games had very good starting level tutorials and zones. Which we has power players loved cause it made our ramp up time even faster, but also allowed for the casual player to start figuring things out themselves and not having to form those bonds you mention for guilds and groups. Having played both with EQ2 seeming to take more to it’s EQ 1 roots and WoW taking inspiration from EQ, but by seemingly limiting choices on classes, spells and mechanics at higher levels it’s easy to look back and see atleast in my opinion why people moved from EQ2 over to WoW. WoW was less punishing on death. WoW seemed to balance more towards the solo content. And since all your friends new to the MMO scene were having fun over there why wouldn’t you want to play! It’s here where the irony of the Dehumanization of the MMO really starts to come to light. We dehumanized it by inviting more and more people in and setting expectations that they can be successful with little to no effort.

Path of least resistance and Email and choices

Vanilla WoW still held to a lot of the old rules of the grandfather MMOs, but over time the new crowd of subscribers who had not played began to complain. Often times on things that bothered the longer term players. Getting Warlord is a pain in the ass cause Alterc Valley takes too long! No one wants to PVP on my server! I can’t find a group at the time I play! All of these at the time seemed like valid things to us and we happily threw our voice in with the lot. Other shouts began to trickle up from the casuals who were not top end masters of their class or lucky enough to find a raiding guild willing to help carry them through. “We want to see top end content! We are also paying XX.XX a month!” What game designer wouldn’t want to expose more people to their work? What graphics artist wouldn’t want people to gaze upon the assets he spent hours or days rendering? What encounter designer wouldn’t want as many people as possible to talk about how awesome the mechanics he pieced together were? Gradually the bar was lowered whether it was  from 40 man to 25 to 10 for raids. Or introducing buffs or nerfing fights after top end guilds had already made it through so more people could go in and see the parts of the game. All of which again done with the pure intentions of sure let’s help get more of the community in to see how awesome this stuff is. What the designers failed to consider along with the rest of us is that as things got easier and easier and players got more and more choices, people will always move toward the path of least resistance. Just as you point out in your Game Theory PVP balance post.

Even I am subject to this by writing this in email. It’s not that I’m not capable of troubleshooting to figure out why I can’t post on the comment section. But why bother? Do I not get the same result by sending this in email? I have found the path of least resistance and am following it.  I literally had a half dozen choices and ways I could reply to you… and now so does the modern MMO player.

"The game design industry has made it so easy to do things that the time investment isn’t really there anymore. Your logic on waiting for 60 minutes to get in a group has one major fault. It fails to take into account that these players can go do dozens of other things while they wait. They can run dailies, grind rep, work on primary or secondary professions, advance achievements, all things they likely want to do anyway and can now do so from anywhere in the world. Why wouldn't they min max their chances for success. There is no real cost. Sure they don’t get in and may have to wait 60 minute to get back in, but it’s not a real 60 minutes to them. They have a list of things to do in game. We have given them too many choices of things to work on. It’s no loss. It’s not that they suck or even know they suck. Again your Game Theory post sums it up. Why would I invest the effort when there is an easier way with no real loss to me?"

I have dozens of other points to throw out about what BC and Wrath did to the MMO scene and on other games what an increased number of Save Points have done to gamers as a whole or things like Call of Duty Modern World at Special Black Ops Warfare’s multiplayer XP grind have done to a whole… but when I way the choice… it’s much easier to get you to set up a podcast than just keep typing J.

Oh and don’t forget. Super buy offer now on Bacon Cure!


  1. I've played a hunter in WoW since launch day, and I feel like I don't ever want to play a DPS class again. And that's because I feel useless and marginalized in most groups. When there is 1 Tank for every 3 Healers for every 15 DPS, it doesn't matter how good you are as a DPS class, you're always going to be second class, for lack of a better term. You'll be the background noise in the raid.

    When I play a game I want what I do to matter. And I haven't felt like that as a DPS class in WoW for a while. Trying really hard to top meters became it's own game. I had more fun competing with Heng and Baelnorn and Sheva to have the best DPS than I did fighting the actual bosses.

    But having the best DPS never really mattered if the tanks weren't having a good day, or if the healer we had online had sub-par gear.

    The WoW party composure is just weird design, and this is just to me as a guy who plays a lot of video games, not in any capacity as someone who knows the ins and outs of design. You have one guy, the tank, who is going to be the primary factor in 95% of encounters, then there's the healer, who's basic responsibility is to keep the tank alive, and then three other guys who can do whatever and are basically interchangeable. If the three DPS are just average, or even below average, a group can still go on with a good tank and a good healer. So, it becomes irrelevant if you're really good as DPS or not.

    I think my ideal MMO would be where each character has their own agency. Like, you don't particularly RELY on anyone else, it just makes encounters more fun, easier, if everyone's on the same page. Like in real life. In basketball, one guy can potentially beat five other people all on his own, but it would be very difficult.

    I feel like a lot of the rules and design decisions in current MMO's have tried to just make everyone the same, like, regardless of your computer, your skill, your hand-eye, you can be just as good as anybody else if you're hitting the right buttons or putting enough time to get the right gear. And I don't have a problem with that. I just feel like maybe it's not for me anymore.

  2. I share your sentiments - I think (and only in the more mature sense) that solid DPS is something that is only really appreciated by those who also do it well. Kind if like an "easy to do hard to master" sort of thing where the role is misrepresented as dime-a-dozen..

    There's also the interesting issue where if the top 3 dps are doing extremely well, then it marginalizes the participation of the other dps to the point where people don't really care if they're doing only half or a quarter as well, which leads to the "pull your own weight" resentment that Healers sometimes gripe about on their charts.

    As for being your own agency - I think the core of what you're describing is the challenge of dependence vs. interdependence. Nirvana is interdependence, people realizing that life is easier when everyone is committed to working with each other, but that concept conflicts with the nature of the individual in Western culture (mostly, not so much an issue in Korean or Chinese mmo communities).

    Here everyone wants to be "the man" who doesn't have to rely on anyone else, so designers have to drag us kicking and screaming into a forced-dependence model where you can't do some content without the direct cooperation of several people by spreading out roles and responsibilities.

    Otherwise - what's the point, you know? MMOs would end up being more like the Fable or Red Dead multi-player models where it's primarily a massive single player game and storyline but your friends can sort of float in and out to make things trivial.

    RIFT I believe took an interesting step in the right direction with their multi class system, but while it empowers people to fill vital roles rather than being held hostage to tank and healer shortages, it does push us even further down the road with what you mentioned in your closing thought - making everyone the same.

    It's... almost like we need a Neverwinter Nights sort of addition to MMOs where people can apply to be trusted custom content creators for their communities and then maybe treat the online space like a casting call for people who want to participate in these story arcs. I think the biggest challenge, the biggest reason for homogenization is literally scalability. How do make anything where *everyone* has the same opportunity to feel epic and centralized to the situation?