With it being the start of a new year, I'm seeing posts all over in which people talk about what MMO content they are excited about in the upcoming year. Almost all of them seem to talk about new releases, with comparatively little thought being given to existing games. Why is it always about the newest shiny? Has everyone who blogs about MMOs become a tourist type?
That's not exactly the subject I want to talk about today though. To be honest, I've been practising a bit of MMO tourism myself this past year. I tried out Neverwinter for about a month and got into Star Trek Online. In the past month I've even been playing a bit of WoW, despite of swearing to myself when I quit that I wasn't going to give Blizzard any money ever again. I suppose it doesn't quite count since someone else gifted me the game time.
It doesn't matter how attached you are to an MMO, there are always going to be lulls. I have to admit that I'm experiencing one with SWTOR right now, mainly for two reasons: One is that my guild has gone kind of quiet, with many people disappearing to play other games, so the social draw to play currently isn't as strong as it has been previously. The other reason is that Galactic Starfighter hasn't really been my cup of tea, so there haven't really been any new content additions to cater to my interests in over three months. I was rather disappointed when I was linked to a forum post which had Eric Musco commenting on what's coming in 2.6, just to see him reply that hey, Galactic Starfighter launches for all players! I think it's pretty cheeky to use staggered access as an excuse to count the same feature as major new patch content twice. Where's the new PvE or regular PvP content? Well, at least the promised class changes for Commandos sound like they'll be good for me...
Anyway, when your interest in your usual MMO is waning (even if temporarily), it's tempting to try something else for a change of pace. And if I can say one thing for the deluge of free to play games available these days, it's that it has certainly lowered the barrier to entry for at least getting to try something different. I mean, I really wasn't keen on trying STO before I had my arm twisted into giving it a go, but seeing how it was free I didn't really have much of an excuse to not even try it, did I? And in the end I did get some enjoyment out of it.
Tonight however I logged into SWTOR once again, after having given it only cursory attention outside of ops nights for a few weeks, and it was a stark reminder that even if I've been trying other things, it still remains my home MMO. There are just so many things that feel different when I'm playing other games. Here are some of the major factors that I've noticed making a difference between my home MMO and one that I'm just checking out as a tourist or casual visitor:
1. In my home MMO, I actually care about playing well.
We've all been in a pug with someone who played amazingly badly and shook our heads at how anyone could be so ignorant of the game's mechanics and conventions. Interestingly, it was STO that made me view this situation in a whole new light. When I hit max level in that game, I realised that I was appallingly bad at it. I didn't even need a damage meter to see that. Yet at the same time, the skill system seemed way too confusing to me, and I realised that if I wanted to get any better I'd have to put some serious effort into figuring out how things worked, finding bridge officers to train the right abilities and so on and so forth. And I realised that I didn't care enough about the game to actually want to put that much work in... so I opted to stay bad and simply stayed out of anything but the easiest group content (so as not to put a burden on others). I think I'll be less judgemental of bad players from now on, because if they are just visiting, I get why they do what they do.
2. In my home MMO I care about engaging with the community.
Again it was STO that highlighted this for me more than anything else, because while I got roped into joining a fleet (guild) and people there seemed nice enough, I didn't have a particular desire to get to know them. In fact, I wanted to be a bit of a loner, because I figured that I don't have time to be really invested in multiple MMOs at the same time, so I didn't want to get too involved. If you don't want to engage with other players, that's a sure sign that you're not making yourself at home.
3. My home MMO is what I've accepted as my personal standard.
When I try another game and it does feature X better than my usual game, I'll go "that's neat (but I could do without it I guess)". However, if it does feature Y worse than my usual game, it'll make me seriously mad. This one has been very apparent for me in WoW. "Geeze, how hard is it to make quest items that you have to loot from the ground shareable among party members? SWTOR has had that feature since launch! If we have to split the party one more time just to do another 'pick thingamabobs off the ground' quest I'm going to go mental!" I've got very used to the more group-friendly game design in SWTOR and find anything less unacceptable now. Yet comparatively the things that WoW does better, don't matter nearly as much to me anymore.
4. My home MMO is fun on my own too.
As an interesting counterpoint to point two, while my home MMO is the place where I like to be social, it's also fun as a game in its own right. Most of my tourism projects have been inspired by other people inviting me to play with them - which is all fine and dandy as long as we're actually having fun together, but if those same other people suddenly aren't available to play and I find myself with zero motivation to fire up the game without them, that's a sure sign that it's not something sticky. When my time with WoW was originally approaching its end, I was also struggling to find anything I wanted to do on my own there - I just wasn't feeling at home anymore.
I guess the lesson to take away for me is that it's fine to try out different things... but there is no place like home. (Cue heel click.)