As long as there has been a Bulletin Board System (BBS), there has been a form of MMOs in one incarnation or another. The closest comparison of the time would be the Multi-User Dungeon (MUD). MUDs are a text-based game, and they can be anything from fantasy to sci-fi. The premise was the same as any modern MMO: explore, interact, fight, and advance a story surrounding your personal character. At first glance, this may seem like a limited way to play a game, but I urge you to look at it like this: It’s like reading a book. The world’s beauty is only limited by your imagination, and the only things you have to keep track of are the locations and non-player characters (NPC).
This is how MMOs started. Without MUDs, there would be no Everquest, World of Warcraft, or Star Wars: The Old Republic. We’ve moved on from text to graphics because it’s simpler and easier to use on a wider scale than text ever could. A few prime examples outside of games would be the evolution of the Operating System (OS) with DOS to Windows on the Microsoft front, and Apple with their popular Apple IIe and Macintosh.
The reason I brought all of this is up is because, for as long as I can remember, I recall playing games with others, and I’ve always had a problems with playing games with multiple users because the story tends to suffer. This has been an inherent problem with the majority of MUDs and MMOs I have played; some titles that can tell a good story stick out, but for MMOs, there hasn’t really been one I can say I enjoyed on both a social and story level. Many games excel in social interactions and fail at story, but none of the ones I’ve played have ever excelled in storytelling.
I’ll use one of the most popular games in recent years an example: World of Warcraft. The problem I have with WoW is that the game doesn’t provide an engaging story. The game is primarily gopher quests, i.e. go for this go for that. The written story is sad, sorry to say; despite its popularity, the story is as dry as a desert. I’ve tried several times over the years to give a WoW a chance to impress me in this area, but it’s always fallen short. I’m not expecting Stephen King-levels of writing here, but I do expect that I should be able to connect and identify with the character I’m playing as. The social interaction was great; it helped break up the monotony of the grinding. However, if I just wanted to be social with games in a support role, I would go out to Dave and Busters with friends.
Other MMOs have been even worse in the story and social departments, like Final Fantasy XI and Lineage 2. This is not to say that no MMOs have ever gotten close to capturing my desire to have both a good story and social interaction. For instance, Rift came closer in the story aspect than I had ever experienced. Don’t get me wrong; it was still dry as hell, but it was like an oasis in the middle of an arid desert. The biggest problem was that not many people I knew played it, so the social aspect was lacking so much, I couldn’t continue to play it. I tried to join a guild and get active there, but too many times people were so high level that they didn’t care to help those who weren’t on the same level as they were or close to it.
There’s another reason why I haven’t been a big fan of MMOs: that monthly fee. The original feeling I had towards it was, “Why should I keep paying to play a game I’ve already paid for when I could get a better story experience with a single-player game I can play for free in other multiplayer games?” This has evolved into my new mindset: If I’m going to have to pay for a game monthly after paying $50 or more for it, then it had better have everything I want or I won’t consider it.
These are the main reasons why I never stick with an MMO after I initially get it, even the free-to-play ones. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for me, though. You may have heard of it: Star Wars: The Old Republic. The reason this has caught my attention is because of Bioware. They have developed many role-playing games that I’ve enjoyed thoroughly over the past thirteen years, which is actually a long time in the game industry when you think about it. The reason I’ve enjoyed them so much is because of the stories told in these games, no doubt about it.
The only question I have for myself is this: Can Bioware really pull off a story-driven MMO? If they can, it will be the start of a new era in MMOs. The reason I believe this is because it will raise the bar on something other than just gameplay; players will expect this level of story or better if they move to another subscription-based MMO. I’m currently playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, and my initial impressions are cautiously optimistic. From what I’ve seen, it’s excelled in the story area, but how long can it last? If the level of quality is this good all the way to max level and for every class in the game, then this will be the first MMO to truly deserve a $15-a-month subscription. I currently have thirty days to find all of this out, so let’s hope this current investment is fruitful.