I remember the first time I logged into Everquest. Even though the only thing onscreen was a flat field with a few cardboard-cutout trees rising out of it, the experience was so much more meaningful. I remember taking an excited, shuddering breath as I processed it all in my mind.Right now, there are dozens - no, hundreds - no, thousands of other players in this virtual world with me. It's a world. It's a living, breathing world.
I did a lot of people-watching. It thrilled me to see other players going about their business. It was such a departure from the video games I had played beforehand. Even though early MMOs were almost ruthlessly difficult to advance in without making a massive time commitment, things were fair. Everything was obtainable ingame once you paid for the game itself and kept up its subscription fee. For a square $10 a month, the entire world was at your fingertips. Some things were extremely difficult to get, so difficult I'd never have a chance at it, but I didn't mind. It made sense to me. Not everyone could wield Excalibur or ride Shadowfax.
As time went on, MMORPGs became friendlier beasts. This was a divisive development. Personally, I quite liked it. My fondest MMO memories are from the middle of the decade, when World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, City of Heroes, and Guild Wars were all fresh and new. The frustrations I had often felt while playing games like Everquest and Final Fantasy XI were no longer weighing me down. I could log in and strike out on my own, without having to sit around in a town hoping a group would form so I could do something as basic as go out and level up. Things were still fair in those days. For a time it looked like MMORPGs might actually get cheaper instead of more expensive, due to the success of Guild Wars. I know a lot of people were hoping monthly fees might become a thing of the past.
It wasn't to be, however. We now find ourselves in the thick of the age of cash shops and RMT. An age where having complete and total access to your MMORPG of choice is more expensive than ever. An age where the game's rarest treasure were not hidden away in the world's most dangerous dungeons and wielded by the most dedicated (or obsessed) players, but instead purchasable with real-world currency and wielded by those with the most disposable income.I can't do it anymore
. The immersion and the joy of the genre has been sucked
out of me.
What's worse, even non-MMOs are doing it with their constant streams of DLC. The days where you could buy a game (and/or subscribe to it) for a flat price are over. Pieces of content, ranging in size from entire new regions and play modes to cosmetic additions like pets and alternate costumes are constantly being released. The worst thing of all is that it's working. People are eating it up. There is a large crowd out there that doesn't care when developers excise content from their own game to sell it seperately, often at very high prices.
There was once a time where alternate costumes and stages were part of the flat-rate package you purchased, and you unlocked them by showing skill or spending time playing the game. Today they are sold in DLC packs that are often 1/5th the price of the core game. Going back to MMOs, I'm finding that developers are charging ludicrous prices for things that used to be part of the flat-rate package.
All of this would be easier to swallow if it seemed like all this DLC and microtransaction stuff was content that simply wouldn't fit into the core product. This doesn't look to be the case to me, though. MMOs are releasing less content less often these days
, and yet they continue to increase the rate at which they pump out DLC and microtransaction items. These things aren't leftovers from the design process - developers are actively and intentionally spending less effort on the core game and more effort on the cash shops and downloadable content. The degree to which they favor one or the other depends on the developer, but the vast majority appear to be whole-heartedly chasing after the DLC and RMT models, because they make more money.
There was once a time where the entrance fee was all you needed to experience the entirety of a game. Now, most MMOs are like a theme park that charges you to ride some of the attractions on top of having you pay the entry fee. Some people have yet to realize just how lucrative cash shops can be. A single player who spends $60 a month in the cash shop is worth four players who only pay the $15 monthly fee. These players exist. I've been running into them every day - the players with the Double XP Buff, the Double Reputation Buff, the No Cooldown Health Potions, the full collection of faction mounts which you can either buy with real-life money or spend two weeks grinding a faction's reputation to obtain each.
There was once a time where every item, pet, mount, consumable, and buff was available for that same flat price. There were often interesting and challenging ways to obtain that item. They were often woven into the lore of the game in fascinating ways. Today, they're in the cash shop, an immersion-breaking window you can bring up and spend real money in. Excalibur is on sale right now for 1950 Store Points. Shadowfax, Gandalf's one-of-a-kind mount, is 1730 Store Points. Alternatively, you can grind Maiar reputation two hours a day for three weeks to get it.
To those who don't have a problem with this - that's grand and I'm genuinely happy for you. I wish I didn't care so much. I wish it didn't matter so much to me that the coolest and rarest items are no longer earned by playing the game they are in but by wiring money to the developer. Unfortunately, I do. They did it right for so many years that I've grown weary of their new approach.There was once a time where games felt like living, breathing worlds rife with opportunity. There was an in-game path to everything - every weapon, item, and companion. Now games are starting to feel more and more like half-filled display cases, with plenty of slots and spaces just waiting to filled - if you've got the money to spare.