In some ways MMORPGs are the enemy of spontaneity. I often feel like playing one game or another on a whim after a day of work. Planning my gaming like a military campaign isn’t my idea of a hobby. Unfortunately the genre, with its frequent patches, enormous downloads and regular periods of downtime isn’t that friendly to spontaneous gaming. Sure if you have a sufficient breadth of interest in multiple games your generally ok for something, but there’s no guarantee a certain game will be available when you want to play it unless you watch for patches and maintenance windows and the like. I’m not even touching in this post the issues around scheduled play and endgame, that’s another topic entirely.
Even inviting friends to play a new MMO can be affected by this as Final Fantasy 14 showed me this week. I knew of course that the download, installation and patching would be more than an evening worth of watching progress bars creep across a screen. I knew also that I would need to help with the positively hostile sign-up process (the worst ever sign up system I’ve come across alongside that of FFXI). So we planned in advance and installed it during the daytime (UK) to get the game installed and patched ready for the evening. Then, surprise! There are new character creation restrictions on busy servers during the evening (there are many forum threads like this about the problem it seems). So that put a delay on playing until the following evening, he was thankfully able to create his character the next morning so we did finally get on but the anticipation of playing a new game together – it being a birthday gift as well was really tarnished by the ‘pre-gameplay’ experience.
This example is nothing new or one restricted to a single game. I remember countless times where my spontaneous decision to try a new game has been thwarted by these issues. I bought DDO many years ago but the patching server was so slow I had to wait till the next evening to try it. More recently I’ve repeated the same mistake with Tera, it was so frustrating to see the patcher progress so slowly. The patching issue isn’t just a problem with trying a new game of course, it’s also a major pain to try to spontaneously return to an old favourite as you’re likely to have several gigabytes of data to download and install or worse, find that the patcher software has changed so radically that you have to re-download the whole game (hard stare at Allods!).
Server queues are another woe to the spontaneous gamer. If you happen to want to play at peak times you can be in for a rough experience if you’re playing a popular or new title. With Final Fantasy 14 I often have to wait a minute or two to login as I’m on a popular server (Balmung) but so far at least it hasn’t been so bad. I never tried Archage but the story of multi-hour queues to login are familiar to anyone who has followed MMORPG launches over the years. Technology can in part reduce these issues – streaming patchers are a godsend for reducing time sat out of game. Guild Wars 2’s idea of overflow/guest servers at launch meant you could get into a version of the world to play even if it wasn’t your home server’s version.