Let me start this by saying that I have spent WAY too much time playing online games. In high school, I poured hours upon hours into games like Diablo 2 and Phantasy Star Online. Shortly after that, the first-person shooter took off, with Rainbow Six 3 and Halo 2 keeping me up at night. Then good ol’ World of Warcraft. Finally, games like Halo 4, Diablo 3, and Borderlands 2 have all occupied my time recently. So why haven’t I had the urge to get back into something you would consider heavy?
The landscape of online gaming has gone through a serious transformation. With games like PSO and Diablo 2, they were first of their kinds. They both cost nothing to play each month, and were highly social games. Being able to meet your friends online every night was a revolutionary experience, as both games combined an ease of gameplay and access with just enough content to keep you coming back. At the same time, games like Counter-Strike and Everquest were drawing people in. I never got into either game at the time, choosing the Dreamcast console and Diablo.
Xbox was released in 2001, and with it an Xbox Live system that provided the most convenient console online gaming experience yet. Most of the friends I had on the Dreamcast migrated over to the Xbox, as we enjoyed games of Rainbow Six and a re-released Phantasy Star Online. Both of those truly defined what a social experience could be on a console. With PSO, a friends list and voice chat set new standards for a console RPG. With Rainbow Six 3, clan matches brought a new level of competition into perspective. In just two years, however…World of Warcraft would hit.
World of Warcraft, you temptress. You beautiful, evil, amazing, punishing jezebel. Oh Wow…I put so much time into you at level 60. I had full tier 2 on my mage, spending hour after hour in Molten Core and Blackwing Lair. I loved every moment of raiding: the satisfaction of beating some of the hardest bosses in the game. Each day I did my dailies, made some money, and then jumped into a raid. But then something weird happened. Forty people would gather at the entrance of a dungeon, trading potions, buffing, and making food. Every pack of enemies required coordination and effort. Every boss in the dungeon could wipe you with one mistake. Success never felt so good. Little did I now that that every piece of gear and potion laid on a road. And at the end of that road was a giant reset button…
The expansion hit, and level 70 was the new cap. All the gear I had, well…it meant nothing. I didn’t blame Blizzard. You have to expand. At some point, you have to force some form of hard reset. Otherwise, the game is too intimidating for new players to join, while others who move slower fall too far behind. Plus, of course, you make lots of money in bulk when you release an expansion. It was the first time, however, that the reality of online gaming hit me. With a single-player game, you’re working towards that hard goal. When you reach the finish of the game, whether it’s after 10 hours or 50 hours, you have a goal. With an online game, whether it’s an MMO or an FPS, it is always the carrot on the stick that keeps you addicted. Sure, it is fun to play with friends. However, joining someone for a game isn’t the addicting factor. The shiny loot and the number next to your name is the crack.
As a result of an online game’s “soft” goals, I always felt as if I needed to hit the game as hard as I could, maximizing my results. The fear of falling behind, or never getting started, felt like one in the same. With Wow, I saw all the level 60 content that was available, after dumping hundreds of hours into the game. However, at level 70 and 80, where I heavily scaled back my playtime, I came up well short of seeing all the content. Sure, the expansions of Wow coincided with me being back in college and working much more, so I don’t regret pulling back. There are moments now, however, when I think that playing the expansion wasn’t the best use of my time. Is it like starting a single-player game, but stopping halfway? Should I play an MMO if I can only give it 10 hours a week?
Here I sit, at a crossroads. Games like Destiny lay in front of me, demanding my money and my time. Shortly after Blizzard mentioned World of Warcraft 2, a dozen job postings went up on their website for a “secret project.” (For the record, if Wow 2 ever came out, and is anywhere near good, I am playing it.) So I know I will eventually hop back into some massively multiplayer game, but will I ever care about seeing end-game content again? In a world where definitive numbers dictate your life (college credits, salary,) it’s hard to think that Destiny’s level cap will eventually be 100. Or that Wow2’s first expansion will hit and my Panda monk-rogue-mage hybrid will have to start all over again. But then I look back at level 60 Wow with such fondness. So I can’t make up my mind.
That final sentence sums up this article perfectly: I can’t make up my mind. I love playing games with my friends, and the MMO environment has always been very enticing to me. I want a new MMO to sink my teeth into. I miss the days when I was in college or working part-time, able to dedicate a few nights a week to the work that is often required for a massively multiplayer game. It seems like Destiny demands just the right amount of time, which appears to be 1-2 nights a week of coordinated gameplay. If Bungie continues to offer new content with this type of time requirement, I can see this as an enticing option. But for now, I will continue to play my single-player games with a little Halo or GTA Online sprinkled in. There is, however, nothing more satisfying in gaming than watching that raid boss fall, after hours of work with the same cast of players each week. Unfortunately, the older one gets, the less realistic these gaming moments become.