Tuesday, September 3, 2013

On the State of MMOs

So I have been playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the reimagined MMO from Square Enix. Er, that is to say, I have been trying to play Final Fantasy XIV. Since launch, the game has been plagued by server issues. Actually, since before launch. Even those who pre-ordered the game and should have received early access to the game had trouble logging onto the game servers. Worst of all, this entire experience is normalized. Based on conversations with friends who frequent MMOs, like a bee buzzing from one flower to the next, the early chaos of an MMO is entirely consistent across the landscape.

In the case of FFXIV, Square Enix critically underestimated the demand on their server, particular from their European and North American audiences. They failed to implement reliable methods to boot idle players from games, many of whom hunkered down to avoid the very problem plaguing so many players. They also never bothered implementing a queue system, which means players barred from servers have had to manually try to enter the world, again and again, until a space was made available. Naturally this left many MMO players, including myself, exasperated.

That being said, persistent players can find, I'm sure, compelling experiences in FFXIV. But for new players, could these be anything but a horrendous experience? For awhile, at the peak of my World of Warcraft days, I believed MMOs marked the culmination of social play. They create whole worlds in which to adventure. Friends, committed to a long term experience, could build legends. Now, with Square Enix as my latest foray into the genre, MMOs seem aged and desperately out-of-date.

In a recent PopMatters article, G. Christopher Williams laments the state of MMOs today, particular their emphasis on solo play. He right asks, "Has player convenience and a lack of need killed any hope for long term commitments to persistent universes because they have killed commitments to our fellow players that occupy those universes alongside us?" I think the answer is a resounding yes, and it's not just the increasing ease of solitary play. In a world where social gaming on my phone is as easy as ever, MMOs seem to erect barriers and remove pathways towards finding friendship in the digital space.

The evidence is both in and out of game. Befuddling landscape design, particularly the design of hub locations, like cities and towns, can make meeting up with friends a chore. Troublesome UI can make navigating your friends list, guilds list, raid lists, and all your other lists, a pain. And yes, day one server issues, when some of your friends can hit max level before you can even log in, can soil the social experience.

Of course not all games are guilty of this each and every sin, but I have yet to see a modern MMO that makes social play as easy as the numerous free-to-play casual games on my phone (unless of course the MMO is also a free-to-play casual game). For me, MMOs are fundamentally about finding and maintaining friendships. As access to social experiences grow stronger in other genres, I too question the long-term health of MMOs.


  1. Just to note something that makes Squeenix's blunder even worse--it originally had a queue system, when first released for early access. Before it'd been even a day and a half, though, they removed it in favor of the 'let's DDOS our servers with people trying to get in' strategy.

    I still have no clue why a company in its right mind would do this.

  2. Ugh, what a mess. For a brief time I saw that they reactivated the queue system, but then it quickly went away. It's also a generally idiotic thing to do to keep users in the dark.