As I try to pull us out of the tailspin depression of the previous paragraph, let me say that the finite nature of MMO lifespans shouldn't deter us from getting involved in them; on the contrary, it should make what they do and what they are that much more precious to us -- precious like a little show dog that we pet obsessively or an all-powerful ring forged in the fires of Mount Doom and given to completely clueless gardeners for safekeeping.
In fact, I think this is the perfect time -- summertime -- to give older MMOs a try, and I'm willing to argue that while wearing my best white suspenders and southern drawl. If it please the gentlemen and ladies of the court, here are 10 reasons why we should go back to the MMOs of yore.
We're all familiar with the tired-yet-true phrase of "paying to play a beta." It's usually bandied about following the launch of an MMO that wasn't quite baked all the way (and there are way more of those than I'd like to see). Players simply resent paying for an unfinished product, one that is crippled by bugs, crashes, and content gaps.
For the most part, you don't get this with older MMOs because time is on their side. They benefit from years of internal and player testing, not to mention patches, hotfixes and updates. All things being equal -- and go ahead and drop "but what about this?" examples in the comments -- mature MMOs are simply more polished.
Early adopters know that paying more is the price of being on the cutting edge. You know what's the best part about being a late adapter? Deals. Oodles of deals and discounts and trials and whatnot. Games and time cards are often discounted at brick-and-mortar and online retailers alike, after enough time. And with so many mature MMOs going free-to-play, players now have a huge selection from which to pick without hurting their pocketbooks.
Discussion question: Do you have a pocketbook? Do you know anyone under 65 who does?
While my editor calls me one of the more optimistic writers here at Massively, I too have my dark side. Oh, I seethe with vicious black hatred against one of the most annoying facets of an MMO's lifecycle: post-launch drama. With all of the great excitement comes heightened emotions, and very few prominent MMOs escape a tidal wave of doomsayers, trolls, malcontents, and hormonally frazzled posters who live and die based on what the game is doing to them that exact moment.
While older titles aren't immune to drama, there's certainly a lot less of it once a game escapes the initial months following its release. It makes for a more calming experience to wade into the game without screaming lunatics shouting about how unjust the universe is now that an exploit has been fixed or their bedtime is still 7:30 p.m.
One of the most important action items on my To Do list in any MMO is to get plugged into the community, which usually means "find a great guild." That's kind of hard to do in new MMOs because guilds are just being born and chances are they're not going to make it to their second month of life. Even multi-game guilds have a nasty habit of planting new chapters in recently released titles and then melting away soon thereafter, leaving three lonely people wondering whether it was them or what.
But in older MMOs, you know that community's been around the block, and the folks who are still there are the ones who love the game and have settled into it. Guilds are much more stable, people are more welcoming to newbies (because they love to see their game grow), and the migrating drama crowd has moved on to feast on some other game's soul.
I don't advocate alt-tabbing out to use an internet guide for every quest in every MMO, but sometimes you genuinely get stuck or need assistance in your journey. This is much tougher with newer games because sites and wikis are still scrambling to assemble databases and keep track of the thousands of items, quests, NPCs, secrets, boss strategies, and so on in the game. There's a higher chance that you'll be left swinging in the breeze without a clue how to fix a problem or move past a difficult point in a mission.
Right now I'm playing Guild Wars pretty hard, despite being a relative newcomer over five years late to the party. I'm not complaining, though, because fans have graciously assembled entire encyclopedias' worth of information to help me with every strategy, every build, every secret if I should need it. I call that progress.
We all like to get the best value for our money, and it's hard to resist choosing a bigger meal over a smaller one if given the option. If I'm to pay $15 a month for either a game that's been newly released with only its core content or a game that's tucked several expansions and meaty content updates tucked under its belt, I have to make a call between a bigger meal or a fresher one. Sometimes, however, bigger is just better.
We asked you about this a few days ago: How many chances does a game get to hook you? For some it's "None -- it's got to be perfect on the first try, and while I'm making absurd wishes, I'd like my own pet minotaur and three dates with Megan Fox and/or Morgan Freeman." For others (including me), it's "perhaps a couple of times."
I can vouch from my own personal experience that some of my favorite games didn't take the first time around. Sometimes you're just not in a good point in your life to appreciate the game, sometimes you haven't found the right people to play it with, sometimes you don't play it enough to find the "hook" that snags you, and sometimes the game needs more time to mature. Whatever the reason, re-examining an older title could grab you even if you wrote off that game years ago. It happens, and when it does I'm always slapping my forehead saying, "I wish I'd done this a lot sooner!"
OK, before you invoke the force ghost of Star Wars Galaxies on me, realize that these are generalizations that I feel to be true on the whole. If an MMO has made it through release and its maiden year (or two) without being canceled, downsized, or immediately thrown to the free-to-play wolves, it's a much safer bet than some of the newer titles on the market. Once games get into that profitable groove for studios, they are kept afloat by the steady stream of dollars they rake in every month. And, for me, stability is a terribly attractive attribute in an MMO.
No matter how much you may want that shiny new MMO to get here and how hard you wish to your Fairy Godmother that time will suddenly lurch forward to that magical date, it's not going to happen. You're going to have to wait whether you're patient or not, and it's a frustrating state to be in when the only MMOs that could even potentially interest you have yet to arrive.
While it's enjoyable to anticipate releases, the wait is made so much easier if you calm down by taking part in one of the many, many, many, many games out there. You may think you've tried them all, but chances are you haven't, and that's no excuse to ignore them today. Fans of many of these mature MMOs would gladly tell you in a heartbeat why they're playing the best-kept secret in town, but unfortunately so many gamers are deaf to anything but upcoming previews that they miss out.
Back in 2007, I picked up Lord of the Rings Online at launch, kind of liked it for a couple of months, then lost interest. It just wasn't the time for me and that game -- no, that came years later in 2010 when I fell head-over-heels for it and haven't looked back since.
I remember that when I restarted LotRO last year, I was worried that it was "too late" somehow -- that all of the players were at the level cap, that I had missed the ride, and that I was liking something way after its coolness expiration date. I discovered that all of those fears were pretty silly. Plenty of new and experienced players liked leveling enough so that there were always folks around me; I got plugged into the game quickly, and it was just as much fun -- if not more so -- than a lot of the hot newness out there.
So if you ever start thinking that you would play Game X if you had gotten on board at the start, but you obviously can't now because it's "too late," just realize that's a bizarre little lie that has no place in online gaming. It's never too late until the doors are closed, and even then, there's that time machine you've been working on with your mad scientist friend down the street.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.