MMOs are big business, even in this age of wallet-destroying gacha mobile games and real cash loot boxes in full price retail releases (Can you hear me groaning all the way over there? I do hope so.). For over twenty years now they’ve remained money-making behemoths that swallow lives whole, make or break relationships, and have people who should know better rolling in to work bleary-eyed after another late night raid. Many of these titans, current and past, are at least vaguely familiar to all: World of Warcraft. Ultima Online. Final Fantasy XI/XIV. EverQuest. EVE Online. Ragnarok Online. If you haven’t played them you’ve almost certainly heard of them, and even wholly disinterested individuals who’ve never held a controller in their lives will have stumbled upon a mainstream news report on one or more of them at some point.
But even with these games raking in literally billions of dollars over their lifetimes (World of Warcraft, to name just the obvious one) or having more subscribers than most countries have people (RuneScape has over 200 million accounts?!) there still has to be some wriggle room left for the little people, surely?
Thankfully, that assumption holds true: Remember Maple Story? Dead, right? Dead and ancient and dead and done and dead. Except it apparently generated $279 million USD in 2017. And that game’s not second, third, or even fourth place in the collective gamer MMO consciousness. I’d like to “lose” as hard as Maple Story’s “losing” – who wouldn’t? Or how about Phantasy Star Online 2, a game which was born out of the ashes of a long line of OK-ish titles (the original PSO is rightfully legendary, but who honestly hankers for more Universe/Zero/Nova?) and remains stubbornly Japan-only has not only survived but positively thrived; spawning three expansions, officially licensed eyewear, an anime, a companion mobage, inflatable Rappies, and more soundtracks, concerts, and related gubbins than anyone could hope to keep up with.
I mention those two in particular because I think they highlight a very good point: Being the number one MMO – in terms of raw takings or mind share – and being a profitable, sustainable, and enjoyable MMO are very different goals; and as such there are actually an awful lot of original-IP online experiences out there trying to carve out their own happy little niche. Some are bound to be better than others (or more cynically centered around their cash shop than others), but nobody’s really in the MMO business with the aim of making nothing more than a fast buck; even if only because many of these games – big and small – prove there’s the potential in a good one to generate profit for years and years to come.
However many of these titles tend to fall through the cracks for most of us: Not due to poor quality or a lack of interest, but because MMOs are so darned time consuming even at the best of times and for those who have already sunk countless hours into another or have a monthly subscription elsewhere it’s harder than perhaps any other genre to let go and have a dabble in something else, no matter how appealing the trailers make it look or how many flaming wings the endgame armour sets promise to have.
Which is an incredibly meandering way of bringing you to the real topic at hand: I’m always interested in learning more about games that’d otherwise go unplayed and it seems the best way to find some beginner-level information on these under-appreciated MMOs is to try them out for myself and get typing!
The ultimate aim of this little exercise is to pass on a week’s honest experience and hopefully have some fun as I go. Why only a week, when I clearly won’t even come close to scratching the surface of any MMO even if I spend the full seven days in my undies chugging energy drinks in front of my laptop, you possibly wonder? It’s partly down to how much energy I’m prepared to commit to a pot-luck experience in my own free time, but mostly because this is not about reviewing a game, or picking apart endgame raid mechanics, or discussing skill tree balance, or why that one guy keeps standing in the fi-GET OUT OF THE AOE OMG YOU M-*cough*; this is intended to be about sharing a genuine personal experience, hopefully showing off some beautiful locations along the way (MMOs do tend to have some of the most incredible vistas, and I’m all for magical digital landscapes), and just offering a rough-edged little window into a world most of us have never visited.
So starting Monday I’ll be playing Wildstar! It looks like just about the perfect game to open this topic with seeing as it’s visually stunning, definitely outside my usual MMO wheelhouse, and to top it all off it’s shutting down on the 28th of November so it’s quite literally now or never. I’ll be tweeting plenty of screenshots and little thoughts as I go (AKA: “The Usual” as screenshot-spam seems to be known as on my Twitter), followed up with a more thorough blog post back here about my adventures a few days after that. Sound good? Let’s hope so!
One last thing: If this proves to be not utterly exhausting for me and generally interesting for everyone reading then I’d like to cover more than just this one game – there are a lot of weird and wonderful old and new MMOs out there, and I’d love to play more! Now I don’t wish to hold anyone’s kindness to ransom but how much further this goes really is up to you: To be blunt, I need to be able to see that this is worth the effort I’ll be putting in. Not in terms of site traffic or Twitter RTs (not that it isn’t nice to see lots of people passing these things on), but genuine interest – a few kind words from someone who took the time to even just skim-read the article really do make the world of difference, and lets me know that I’m not just typing into the void. Thank you for reading.