The very first Soapbox was penned by our Editor-in-Chief Shawn Schuster, who posited that MMOs have an hour to grab his attention -- or he was gone like the wind, baby. I understand where he was coming from and mostly agree with his sentiments, especially as someone who deals in many MMOs over the course of a year.
Devs should work their butts off to give us a gripping and intuitive experience from the get-go, but lately I'm wondering if even the best beginning is enough for the community. At the risk of over-generalizing, I see signs that there's a chunk of MMO players that will never, ever be satisfied. These are the players who fully judge a game before it even releases, who perhaps relent to give 15 minutes of their precious attention before logging out and trashing the title all over the place, or who never let any past "failure" or perceived slight go so as to give the game another try.
To them I want to say: Give MMOs a chance. A real chance. Do this, and you might just be surprised at how these games can delight you.
In my movie reviewing career, I developed something I called the Rule of Two. Basically, it stated that you have to watch a film twice in order to formulate a final opinion of it. The reason I came up with this is because I knew, from both observation and personal experience, that a first impression can be tainted by external circumstances unrelated to the movie itself. I wasn't saying that you had to watch all movies twice, just that if you didn't, you needed to leave the door open to the possibility that your first impression was flawed by other factors (such as company, your mood, where you saw it, etc.).
Movies and MMOs aren't quite the same across the board, but I still think that the Rule of Two applies for both, at least for me. Yes, first impressions are vital, and more often than not, if a game displeases me right out of the gate, I'm much less likely to log back in later. There are just so many other titles out there, after all. Yet I have found that over the years, many games I did dismiss too quickly turned out to be really excellent when I gave them a second chance or a longer play session.
Fallen Earth? Horrible first session for me. It was only when I forced myself to log back in that it clicked and I fell in love with the world. EverQuest II? I must've tried this four or five times over the years before really diving in during its free-to-play transition and finding a lot to like about it. Anarchy Online? I was there on launch day, people. And when I came back for Shadowlands, it was like I discovered a whole different game.
Sometimes the Rule of Two works. It breaks us of faulty memories, rash impulse decisions, and general stubbornness.
I'm always mindful of just how frustrating it must be for a developer to spend gobs of time, effort, and passion to make a game for years unseen, only to have the mob turn on it the second it hits beta or comes out. Some games genuinely aren't good and this is a tragedy, but I know others simply never get a chance to make any headway before the community passes judgment and sentences it to immediate execution by CAPITAL WORDS.
If I got paid at Massively every time a commenter instantly passes judgment on a game based on one detail -- usually unseen on a live server thus far, I might add -- I could've retired a year ago. "This MMO sounds interesting, but it's browser-based? Forget it." "Free-to-play? It must suck!" "LOL looks like another WoW clone! No way!" "Developer what's-his-name is attached? Fail." "I'm not falling for another game from this studio." "It uses hotbar buttons? What, are we in the Dark Ages?"
Really, people? Really?
Now, not everyone is like this. It's always difficult to tell the percentage of vocal nincompoops to thoughtful silent types, but some days it feels like the stupidity and impatience is winning. These MMOs take years and enormous chunks of money to make, far more than they did a decade ago, and yet we're on this speeding train of criticism that doesn't know how to slow down to wait for a full impression of a live game before pronouncing it DOA.
The axiom goes that it's always easier to destroy than create, and that's evident in the relationship of MMO fans to developers. I'm not saying that games are so precious as to be immune to honest criticism (far from it!) but that there's this surge of uncalled-for negativity that exists simply because complaining and trashing the efforts of others is easy.
If someone actually tries to judge an MMO on its own merit, giving it the due time and attention it deserves, I'll respect him or her no matter what the conclusion. If it's a kneejerk proclamation based on an irrational opinion, I probably won't listen to that person again. And if it's such a proclamation and the game hasn't actually come out yet, I'll do the same and mentally think of the person as a coward.
With all that said, I actually don't really care what's being said on forums, comments, or elsewhere so much as I care about good games getting the attention and kudos that they deserve. I think it's a genuine shame that, for instance, The Secret World is getting lashed by some not because of what the game is but because of its association with Funcom or what its sales/stock may be. It's a much more difficult game to adjust to, and because of that, I can see impatient players leaving before that breakthrough moment arrives when understanding and enjoyment sets in.
This is my plea today: Give games a chance. Give them a real chance. Recognize your own biases and preconceptions and quirks (we all have them, even I) and do your best to approach games without all the baggage that the larger community seems hellbent on saddling you with. If you haven't fully descended into an inescapable cycle of cynicism and self-fulfilling prophecies of doom and gloom, then think of what made you become attracted to this genre in the first place. Give a game a second chance, for pete's sake. Try something outside of your comfort zone and routine. Don't let others grossly influence you into liking something you ultimately dislike or vice-versa. Learn to appreciate a game for what it is.
Finally, recognize that one of the things that makes MMOs special is that they grow and change over time. Sometimes this is for the better; sometimes it's for the worse. But applying a judgment on a game today that you last played five years ago leads you to overlook the obvious nature of what that game is. You wouldn't want to be judged by people based on who you used to be, after all; you've grown and changed.
Give MMOs a chance. There's so much good out there, and I guarantee you that you've missed at least one released MMO that would be right up your alley if you only gave it a real first or second try.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!