A few bloggers have been discussing changes in online gaming tastes in the broadest generalised sense (e.g. Bhagpuss, Endgame Viable). If developers follow such trends in terms of the games they create, then apparently we’ve become more casual or less focused on ‘being good’ at games. Gone are the early console era games that actively punished players for daring to try to complete them, restarting at the start every time with no saved game for instance being common once upon a time. Even within the MMORPG genre games are less punishing nowadays, death penalties are generally minor compared to the corpse runs and high repair costs of old.
While some bloggers may feel their own tastes have followed this trend, or even gone against it, I personally feel like my tastes haven’t changed much. It may well be that the genre has shifted more towards my own ideals of online gaming at least when it comes to not punishing sub-optimal gaming performance – gaming is (and always was) a relaxing hobby for me, not a competitive sport. For instance, I’m glad that travel doesn’t dominate entire sessions and that there is no fear of losing my character’s corpse and all his equipment if he dies. Undoing progress by making mistakes isn’t something I particularly ever looked for in gaming – the lack of save games in earlier platform titles stopped me from ever engaging with that genre very deeply.
There are other trends in MMO-land that I am less happy about however, counter to the premise that gaming is better fitting my desires. The loss of RPG ‘crunch’ over time, i.e. the simplification or even flat-out removal of all the stats and progression complexity for characters isn’t something I’m overjoyed at. Examples abound here: WoW’s anemic character customisation options, SWTOR’s removal of talent trees over a limited choice of talents and the move away from the class/job system in FFXIV. All trend towards classes being more rigidly defined and leveling to be more of a linear path rather than an expression of your desired gameplay style. Of course there are exceptions, if I want character customisation in a more old-school vein I can play Everquest 2 or Dungeons & Dragons Online and be easily overwhelmed with the stat systems and class choices. But for someone who values the RPG in the genre, things have become less satisfying overall and not more.
Returning to my tastes, I guess I’m less patient than I was. Grinding endlessly for poor drop-rate quest items is as likely to see me give up as push through these days. Doing some low-level questing in World of Warcraft (even in this post-Cataclysm world) still confronts you with a few crazy-low drop chance quests (the spider bits in early Darkshire). But, that’s not as drastic a change in playstyle as some others are talking about. I still loathe PVP as much as always, I’m not a big fan of competitive PVE objectives – racing across fields to click an item first or tap a mob first doesn’t excite me, it frustrates me.
My concern for the future isn’t that my tastes no longer suit MMO gaming, rather it’s that the generalised trends may cause my own options to dwindle further in future. If most new releases only come out on mobile or console then I’ll have to give up my ‘PC gamer’ default rule and explore new frontiers – technology change is the basis of my career so I’m willing to be flexible there. But if, as it seems at the moment, almost all new releases are PVP focused or lacking significant story-telling, then that’s a more fundamental problem for me. Change can be good, and challenging your own preconceptions is important, but there are some paths I am less inclined to follow industry trends down.