"Instant Gratification" Is It Ruining Our Online Experience?
MMORPG - Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, it's a term that most of us know well. Being an avid online gamer for just over a decade (since I was old enough to have a credit card to call my own) I can say there has been a definite shift in the way these games are played.
The Good Ol' Days
My first online experience, you could say wasn't even a "real" MMO: it was Phantasy Star Online for the Gamecube. It was more a straight dungeon runner game you could either play split screen with up to 4 players or online with a group of 4. The interesting part I found was that you could use one character both online and offline. Regardless, this game had no real player-based economy and the "measta" currency was basically useless since most players had the maximum carriable limit. Playing the dungeons was all about what level you were so you could play the harder levels and get even more super rare drops for unique and more powerful weapons and armor. You endlessly farmed the whooping 12 different areas with other people, and it was continuously fun.
From there I graduated into the big leagues and played Final Fantasy XI. I created my character and was immediately lost on what to do. However, I asked around and it didn't take long to find some people to show me to the town exit so I could start whomping on monsters. Then I hit level 10 and I learned what the definition of MMO, It was time to find a party and band together to kill some pretty mean lizards, the monsters in my current area were no longer yielding experience points of any kind. In order to continue on to the next area you needed some friends, otherwise you'd get 5-hit and rolled over like a coin on railway tracks.
From then on, at least in the beginning of my 7-year FFXI playing streak the entire game was about finding a good party, trying to get to the next level, unlocking other jobs, and repeating this process. Then there were the storyline missions, dungeons, etc, to go through. And considering how hard it was to get a fully balanced party together just to progress through levels, at time the game seemed simply overwhelmingly difficult.
However, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, countless nights were "wasted" since you couldn't find a healer, or a tank, or a support, etc - you just couldn't get that final ingredient together to form a well-rounded and balanced team, but it was ok, I don't think most of those nights were truly wasted, after all. I met people, we talked about random things, wether it be current events, or gear, or play styles. Either way, we were actively engaged in a real conversation while scrambling to find that one last player to join us.
Sometimes it all came together, sometimes it didn't and you either disbanded to try again, sat around talking all night, or gave up and logged off. Even if it did all fall into place, there was plenty of time between fights when you needed to rest to recover your hp and mp, the conversations were always lively, well, most of the time.
The Introduction of "Instant Gratification"
As much as I want to avoid pointing my fingers at a singular game... it was around the release of World of Warcraft that my world of FFXI started to change. Experience boosters started to come out, then after time and more MMO releases, experience quest books. Then, ultimately, an expansion pack came out basically designed to skip the leveling process by introducing an alternate world called "Abyessia" where you got together with 17 other players and slaughtered the same monsters over and over forever increasing XP, plus adding bonus XP for every set amount via quests, bonus XP from chest drops, HP and MP refills left for little to no downtime and you could, even with the increased level cap, hit max level in a day or two.
Then in an effort to make the game more "enjoyable," level restrictions were taken off and the mighty boss engagements became mere childs' play. For example, there was one boss, named "Promathia": he was overly huge in size and difficulty and it took a full alliance (3 groups of 6 people) + 2 reserve groups rotating in and out of combat in order to take him down. It was a grueling fight that lasted for hours. By the time I finished playing FFXI, I had duo'd him with a friend, and it wasn't even hard. Shortly after, I felt the game just wasn't the same, the strong sense of community seemed lost as people just gathered in a few areas to slaughter easy-kill monsters endlessly, and it was rare for a conversation to pop up, other than "we need someone lower level to sync levels with."
From there I hopped around a bit and I'm currently playing Guild Wars 2, however I've tried a plethora of other games, of all magnitudes: Phantasy Star Universe, FFXIV, WoW, Elsword, Rusty Hearts, AION, TERA, and the list goes on, and I have yet to find that same level of community. All these games seem to revolve around running around soloing monsters, gathering loot, and - except for some dungeons, world boss events, and the like - the online world lately seems to be more about playing an online game by yourself.
Yes, I'm in a good guild in Guild Wars 2, and we do have some pretty lively conversations on occasion, but for the most part there isn't a whole lot of just running into random people and talking. Everyone is too busy running around trying to level or grab loot. Even the zergs for temples and champ farming is pretty dead conversation, except for of course the outrages at people that interrupt the chain, were all too busy trying to get to the gratification of "accomplishing" something, wether it be getting some rare loot and making some money or gaining some levels... what happened to just playing the game?
So... am I right or wrong? Let me know what you think.