Disillusioned with MMORPGs


Square Enix's FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI) is the first massively multiplayer online role playing game I actually sat down to "play" as opposed to merely "dabble in". After spending 120+ hours of playing since the release of the PS2 version, I'm seriously weighing whether to cancel my account, for a number of factors described herein. The biggest issue seems to be the "massively multiplayer role playing" part.

Square Enix's FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI) is the first massively multiplayer online role playing game I actually sat down to "play" as opposed to merely "dabble in". After spending 120+ hours of playing since the release of the PS2 version, I'm seriously weighing whether to cancel my account, for a number of factors described herein.

The biggest issue seems to be the "massively multiplayer role playing" part. For FFXI (and apparently others), this means you're "encouraged" to become a valued member of a party anytime you want to accomplish something "important". When I say "encouraged", I mean "required": there are just some things you can't do by yourself, monsters you can't kill, quests you can't beat without an alliance of 15 or more players, etc. This rubs me the wrong way. See, I don't really like my video game RPGs with human interaction: forcing me to "play well with others" is a monumental act. For the sake of the game, I can cope. What I can't cope with is the waiting: by the time I've found a good party to accomplish something, I've wasted two or three hours of my session. Take tonight, for example: I spent three hours running around looking for a decent group, got rather disgruntled at turning up empty-handed, bitched about my feelings to a bunch of people in a linkshell (think IRC channel), and then left to write this rant. Am I having fun yet?

According to the linkshell, this is all normal. "Once you find a great party, whammo, the game is awesome!". And when you're sick in bed for a week and don't login? Said party has improved without you, leaving you underpowered and undesirable for their future exploits.

Now, don't get me wrong: I love seeing little numbers increase ever so slowly. This, the act of "leveling", is common in all RPGs: there comes a time when the goal is merely to become "stronger", not to save the princess, not to unleash the horde, not to defeat the dragon. I can handle leveling. But in a world where partying is an essential gameplay element, leveling can be stymied: once you get past a certain point, the monsters are just too strong for you to reliably gain enough experience per day to justify "fun". It's certainly possible, but for someone who likes to do "everything" (ie. me), there are other roadblocks to the enjoyment I remember from offline variants.

Since partying is an essential gameplay tactic, there are deliberate attempts to force you into those situations. Each major city in FFXI has an "Eco-Warrior" quest: an extermination of dastardly pests, if you will. In most offline RPGs, if you have enough numbers (ie. if you become strong enough), you can beat any challenge with time and effort. In FFXI, however, eco quests impose a level limit to your character: regardless of where you're at skillwise, once you start, you'll be "magically" lowered to a pitiful level 20 character that can't hope to succeed alone. You need help consisting of 15 or more other players before you can complete the quest. For a completest like me, this is absolutely confounding: no longer am I in control of the game, but instead, the reliance on others is in control of me. I'm sorry, but when I play a video game, I want to play a video game: I don't want to wait around for other people before I can have fun.

The linkshell also told me that fetch quests are common in most MMORPGs too: the mindless act of being told "I need three rarab tails and one poofball before my baby will stop crying!" and retrieving the items to get inconsequential rewards. The more quests you finish, the better your fame; the more well-known you are, the more complicated fetch quests you receive ("we're so busy, we haven't eaten! please go fetch these ingredients!", "i'm homesick! i'm gonna return home. please get me gifts for all of my family!", ad infinitum). And you know, I really don't mind fetch quests: but paying $13 a month for the privilege, being forced to depend on other, often idiotic, people for help, and doing this for months and years on end, isn't as rewarding as simply buying a new offline RPG per month and doing things slightly different than last month's variant.

Another emphasis on group play revolves around your FFXI "subjob": the ability to handle two jobs at once ("red mage / white mage") as opposed to just one ("warrior"). From the very beginning, I had decided that I wanted to be a "red mage", and my subjob would be a "bard" (or vice versa; hadn't worked that out). Ahhh, but my meagre aspirations were dashed: bard's are "advanced subjobs", which means I wasn't allowed to unlock them until level 30, as opposed to the normal level 18 for any of the standard subjobs. After consulting with the linkshell, it was admonished that I choose a temporary subjob until I got to level 30, else only a rare few would want to party with such an unskilled character. Due to the quirks of the subjob system, this meant I had to spend a week or so leveling up a job I didn't even want, just so I could impress people I didn't want to play with. Huh?

Some of you who know FFXI and similar MMORPGs will shout: "you know, you don't have to play with other people; just learn a trade like furniture making, or goldsmithing, or alchemy, and earn a living that way! people will respect your contributions to commerce!" To which I reply: roleplaying games are, traditionally, about story and how you fit in... that's what I want to play, not some bastardized version of SimWoodworking. Becoming a master fisherman and selling my one millionth sardine isn't what I consider fun. Even if it was, selling widgets for the sake of selling widgets is not something I'd consider paying $13 a month for.

So far, my "playing" of FFXI, as opposed to my "dabbling" in others, has suggested two conclusions: in the past seven years of "popular" MMORPG development, the depth of the same old same old has increased (more quests, more jobs, more crafts), but there hasn't really been anything "new" (CITY OF HEROES has piqued my interest though). Secondly, "low end models" of online play, like browser based gaming, where party forming / forcing is hindered by HTTP's stateless gameplay, are still more palatable (as I mentioned back in 2000), solely because something else has to fill the gap where real-time human interaction normally would.

Are other people rabid about browser based gaming?
Would anyone care to see a series of articles on it?

Well, even the great Morbus is fouled by the demonic MMORPG. It is a sad day indeed. Looks like it's back to Diablo II.

Not every MMORPG requires you to group as much as some do. I've played and dabbled in many of them and FFXI certainly - like EQ for example - leans in that direction much more than many others. Though you could certainly hunt solo, your only other option is not just crafting furniture. :)


Some of the problems you describe are systemic ie the game quality suffers inevitably as the game system caters for more and more players. The only way you could counter this is by more advanced AI or more human moderators (very expensive). If you want a good quality game then you currently need a good human DM.

However some of the problems seem to be more tractable. I suggest some inprovements:

(1) quests should require fewer players, so you only have to collect a small group to get going.

(2) the differences in levels should be less severe, so that even a lower level character is of some use.

(3) make alliances with lower level characters more attractive by letting them take a smaller share of experience. Conversely, higher level characters would take more experience, making them less attractive.

(4) Levels could be held secretly, so that players could not select you on the basis of your power. Instead you could substitute fame, which is a more uncertain basis.

(5) have a lot more individual encounters, constantly updated, which lick in if you have been on the system for say, 30mins without joining a quest.

(6) Have a quests screen with all quests local to you listed, with the players currently online an willing to start the quest. Then as soon as the quota was filled, the quest would start. If someone went offline during the quest, then they would be temporarily incapacitated and unable to act or gain experience until they logged on again.

I'm sure that the game can be improved. But currently it can not match live group play.

Morbus, have you seen THIS?


It goes in your direction I think...

manfred: there's a lot of good stuff there! Thanks for the pointer.

"I'm sure that the game can be improved. But currently it can not match live group play."

Well of course not, but its a different experience and not meant to give the same experience as live group play.

It was somewhat amusing when the Dungeons and Dragons Online MMORPG was announced and some players were wondering how DMing was going to be handled.

The devs answer was, of course, it won't be! Different type of gaming...

Ragnarok Online may be a bit better for you, though it shares those characteristics to some extent. There are many boss monsters that you WILL need a party to defeat, but there's no obligation to do so, and you can just solo-kill common monsters forever.

The program itself is 100% free, and the monthly payments are around $12, once the free 15-day trial comes to an end.

You're strongly encouraged to party simply because the classes are extremely complimentary and you'll get a lot more done. Personally, I solo most of the time, and occasionally meet up with members of my guild.

There are a lot of fetch quests, but they're mostly to make strange-looking (and sometimes useful) headgear for yourself, and they're independent of one another so you can go straight to working on whichever you want.

You can also start up to 3 characters (soon to be 5) per server without any kind of "pass," and use a special storage NPC (in every town, but with common storage) to transfer items between characters on a server.

It also has a very simplistic but surprisingly communicative emoticon system that can often be used in place of actual speech.

It's at iro.ragnarokonline.com if you're interested in giving it a shot. It's heavily-geared to reward long-term (higher level) characters, so if you want some help getting started with the trial, feel free to mail me and I'll do what I can to help you out.

i totaly aggree with you on ur speach. Playing for a number of hours like that is boring. Play a game were gaing xp is faster and u actually get to do something real. Competition to get lil bits of money and a smudge of xp is jsut way to stressfull.
Also needing to group with people who are totaly annoying shouldnt be dont. A highly recomended game is Lineage 2. This game has xping that goes by faster then most games. Decent amount of money drops. And u can possibly get to ur max lvl solo if u want. The quests for this game is pretty fun and short doesnt take several months like those in EQ and Final Fantasy. Competition is still a matter in this game but goes by fast ull definatly like it.

Has anyone considered the possibility that maybe, just MAYBE the companies WANT you to spend countless hours upon hours doing meaningless things? i mean, hey, they get paid 13 bucks a month for it. I never quite understood the point of MMORPGS that you have to pay for and what people saw in them, i mean, come on.... is it so much better than an offline game, which comes with a one time fee and doesn't bleed you dry month after month? The few MMORPGS that i have played, such as EQ and IRO were purely for economic benefit, yes, its possible to play a game and recieve a positive real monetary profit without cheating ^_^,(and believe it or not, it amounts to a 20 dollar an hour job or so for playing a game) but i can never get myself to believe that my purpose in any of those games was to become a part of the "story" or so that people would "respect" me.

I have played pretty much every type of RPG out now to one degree or another, from the standard tabletop RPG, to LARPs, to console RPGs, to MUDs, to MUCKs, to MMORPGs.

Of theses the MMORPGs have thus far been the least rewarding RP wise. Mostly because the quests tend to bog down into fetch-quests or kill-quests. I can live with the idea of the levelling-crawl. Though it does wear after a while if the rewards arent much. Or if the whole march up the level tree starts to get absurdly difficult, (which seems to be an all too common malady.)

Console RPGs so far have had some of the richest stories and plots and hands down beat any MMORPG out there, and quite a few MUDs too. Games like the oft mentioned Final Fantasy series, or the equally convoluted Breath of Fire and simmilar RPGs while usually pushing you into a specific character role, and thus removing some personalization, do tend to draw you into the unfolding story and can be very fascinating and engrossing when set up propperly.

MUDs are the middleground between the console and the MMO. A well set up MUD tends to have a huge game world with tons of things you can do and take part in. They allso allow you to play a character of your own creation rather than a "pre-generated" one. Better yet, most MUDs are set up such that you can play solo from start to finish and forming parties is optional rather than the near mandatory of some MMO games. Player to Player RP is usually where things are less. Though again, some MUDs are more or less into RP than others.

Related to the MUD are the myriad MUCKs, MUSHs, and other RP reliant worlds where there are no NPCs or monsters to interact with. Only other players and sometimes the moderators. Some actually have initiated in-game code to handle things like skills and combat. While others do not. From over a decade of experience I can say that those MUCKs that are combat heavy and do not have a built in rules system, tend to fall apart rather badly sooner or later. But for straight up interaction they can be great. The theme and set up will vastly effect the RP value.

Personally my experiences with MMORPGs has been with the following games. Ragnarok, Phantasy Star, and Anarchy. Each one has been playable solo, though with differing degrees of difficulty or ease. And each has had some interesting game-play features. Though to-date Anarchy wins in the quest department. Though Phantasy Star has some interesting ones too.

So far, when I want to team with a group it has been about the standard of either good luck and little wait, or poor luck and a long wait. Sometimes interspersed with invites from people I've adventured with before and who know me. At least with Anarchy the teaming system is limited a small group and the team must all be within a certain level range usually determined by the highest or lowest level team member. Problems will allways occur no matter what. But at least you usually dont need a small army to go out and adventure. (Some of the pseudo-quest monsters that wander remote areas though do require small armies to beat. But at least are not intigral to anything to my knowledge.) I've watched a friend play alot of World of Warcraft and this game too seems to be very solo friendly.

Obviously class, equipment, and just plain old blind luck can make one persons experience on a MMO heaven, and anothers turn onto hell. I agree with the view that a little time off can leave you behind a regular adventuring party of friends. Sometimes you can make up the lost time, sometimes you cant.

Kind of like regular RPG sessions really. Except here its the skill of the game coder and sometimes moderators thats a factor rather than the GM. (And the other players of course.)

Just my thought on an interesting subject.