Why MMOs Need Exclusive Content

One of the biggest trends to sweep MMO gaming is accessibility. It’s all about making sure everyone can do everything now. Yet, I think there’s a difference between the two. Accessible does not mean that everyone can do everything. Rather, it means that everyone has the reasonable opportunity to try. There’s a difference there, but it’s hard to tell from the direction the industry is taking us.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now but my return to WoW really brought it back to the front of my mind. One of the biggest aspects of the genre that got me hooked and kept me coming back for more was the mystery of it all. When you first step foot into an MMO for the first time, there’s a lot to take in; the gaming gods have gifted you with a world filled with adventure and the unknown. Not knowing what’s around the next corner gives way to the anticipation of what’s to come.

That not knowing, not understanding, has an appeal that’s slowly lost on the way to the level cap. As you see more and more of the game, the mysticism starts to fade and you begin recognizing the scripts mobs will play through, aggro radiuses that vary by mob type, how very routine the seemingly random was previously. In short, the magic disappears and you’re left with a game. That’s not a bad thing– I’d even call it necessary.

The problem, as I’ve come to recognize it, is that we now know too much about what’s to come. There’s no question about whether or not you’ll be able to experience everything because Blizzard’s already told you you can. You probably even have friends that have told you about it. There are few, if any, hurdles to getting involved, outside of planning your time and finding a guild. There is no heirarchy of guilds anymore, only raiding or non-raiding. If you’re in a raiding guild, it’s really only a matter of time before you see all the game has to offer.

On one hand, opening up the doors like this is a very good thing. I’m not against accessibility. One of the greatest shames to Vanilla WoW is that so few people got to see the best content (myself included). Add to that insane rep. grinds, attunement quests, and the general problem of organizing 40 people, and you have a recipe for a headache.

Yet, one of the things I recall most fondly from those days is that there was always the possibility of something more. I think of MMOs as a series of doors. Along the leveling path, you open up many of them, always receiving a string of new “ahh” moments. Like all man-made things, however, they hallways is finite and eventually it comes to an end. Except, the exclusivity of raiding meant that it didn’t end. There was always that next door because, more likely than not, you would never be able to see all of the content the game had to offer; it held back, kept a little bit of mystery, and gave an elusive, yet extremely rewarding, goal.

A 40-man during downtime

Even if it wasn’t reasonable to achieve, it was still nice to know that you could always move up. And if you do, there’s all the more reward for achieving it.

Now, I’m not saying we should go back to the days of 1% of players being able to experience what is arguably the most spectacular part of the MMO experience. No, rather, I support varying the raid experience. By most reports, that’s what’s happening in ICC now and I applaud Blizzard for it. Raiding should offer a steep incline in difficultly the further you get into it. By the end of any given expansion pack, there should be at least a couple really and truly exclusive instances that only the most dedicated of players get to experience– at least for a while.

I also think that players should be rewarded for “playing” harder than others. I know that it results in the unemployed and pre-college folks getting much more powerful, but, frankly, I think they deserve it. If someone puts more time and effort into something, it only makes sense that they should get some clear benefit from it. I didn’t play for 40 hours last week, so why should I get the same thing as the player that did? I’m not saying that the rewards should be game breaking or balance altering. Simply, that all players should not be created equally. If you work hard in the real world, you get rewarded for it. The same should apply to virtual worlds.

In conclusion, it’s not our job to judge players because they get to spend more time on in a game than we do. I think it’s the job of the game, however, to provide for all variations of player. Something is also indelibly lost when accesibility turns an open-ended question into a closed-circuit.

Does that make me a conservative gamer? I’m not sure, since I also believe in creating plentiful options for players with less time. I think, really, it’s about options. The less we polarize and more provide, the better we’ll be. Happy Monday, folks!

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