One of the tenets of the MMORPG industry these days is that players will come and go. After a certain point in the life cycle of an MMO the installed base, those who have played the game at one time but who are not currently playing, is the most fertile ground for marketing. Somebody who has enjoyed your game once may come back to try it again.
And a lot of us do come and go from various MMOs. There are many posts on this blog about my poking my nose back into this game or that for a summer vacation or autumnal nostalgia tour.
Unfortunately, this sort of revolving door view of MMOs does tend to be at odds with another constant of MMOs: Change.
Change, big and small, is part and parcel of the genre it seems. Think of how many blog posts and comments have included something akin to, “I liked this game back when…”
Changes can be small, confined to a single class or a single ability, or huge, changing how every class works or even how we look as classes in a game. Blizzard likes to revamp classes, stats, and combat with every expansion, something we can look forward to yet again with the 6.0 patch before Warlords of Draenor. And Turbine did a giant turn on Lord of the Rings Online classes shortly after my last time playing the game, remaking classes in the image of the talent tree god.
Change is meant to be good. These revamps are meant to improve the game, to make it more playable, to balance out the classes, and to make sure there isn’t just a single “I win” skill for a given class.
And if you are playing a game actively and such change occurs, you pick up and work your way through the change with everybody else. There is a lot of sharing when it comes to adapting.
But if you were away when the change hit, if you were taking a break, on hiatus, or just getting the hell away from a game that was starting to feel more like work than fun for a bit, coming back can be a very different experience.
It can be like a foreign country.
Sure, things look about the same as home at first glance. But as you look closer, differences start to become apparent. They call french fries something else on the menu and when they serve them up they have a side of mayonnaise or are bathed in gravy. The money is all different, so you can’t tell what is expensive and what is a bargain without a bit of math. And the customs are all different, so people are rolling their eyes or giving you angry glances as you wander about trying to figure out what is going on.
Now, in a foreign country, you have to grow up there in order to really fit in. MMOs are not so complex. If you have friends or a regular guild or group, they can help you assimilate to the new state of affairs. And, when all else fails, you can go back, roll up a new character and, in essence, “grow up” again in the game.
I have used the new character method quite a bit, especially with LOTRO, which seems to change quite a bit between my visits. But even that has its flaws. In LOTRO, for example, I have now played through the 1 to 40 content with so many characters that, even though I enjoy it, I do want to see something else. And in EverQuest there is so much content and so much has changed over the years (and there are so many out of date guides and such on the web), that somewhere between the tutorial zone and some level… somewhere between 20 and 50… I inevitably fall off the rails. I have not played the game seriously in so long that the game is almost completely foreign to me, to the point that even “growing up” through it again isn’t possible.
It seems like I have simply been away too long to ever really return to EverQuest. It isn’t what it once was, I do not understand what it has become, and I have no base of friends or other support group to help out. And I feel that way when I wander into EverQuest II these days as well. The old guilds are all deserted and the skills on my hot bar are like a foreign language.
This is why the various insta-level schemes haven’t really thrilled me. If I am lost where I left off in the midst of the game, boosting me further along, and thus removing even the bits of context I remember, isn’t going to help me much.
It all makes me wonder if there is a quantifiable gap in time after which returning to an MMO becomes difficult, a point after which the inevitable divergence between what you remember and the state of the game starts to turn the game into a foreign place.
Or maybe it is just me. I swap classes in a game and it takes me a while to come up to speed.