Were MMORPGs really better in the past? Yes, believes MeinMMO demon Cortyn, because back then everyone was equal in the game – and not anymore.
Again and again one hears the discussion that MMORPGs were better in the past. The games from back then were more fun, had more to offer, were somehow more social, not so “casualized” and the developers were still passionate about what they did.
Today, of course, it’s very different. It’s no fun, there’s nothing to do, everyone behaves like the ax in the woods, everything is super easy and the developers are all greedy profit monsters who only care about their gods called “shareholders”.
You know this gibberish. I don’t pay much attention to that because it doesn’t match my perception and often simply a lot of bitterness is the trigger.
But there is still one aspect for me that was very important for games like World of Warcraft at the time and has been lost today. Something essential that new games basically don’t have anymore. And that has to do with micro-transactions and lots of real money.
I know, I know. Now that could very easily drift into “everything was better before” where I angrily run after the kids with the pre-order season pass premium deluxe mount with my cane. But I don’t want that at all.
I just took a little time and thought about why I’m playing today and why I did it then.
My main example here is World of Warcraft because it’s been with me for almost 2 decades, but what I’ve noticed applies to most other games as well.
13 € made everyone in WoW the same back then
When I joined my first raid group on the realm “Die Ewige Wacht”, it was also the first time that I was in TeamSpeak with so many different, strange people. A colorful group of more than 40 people, from all social classes, from all possible walks of life and from all age groups.
And yet we were all the same.
This equality cost something – exactly 13 euros a month for a subscription.
- 13 euros made our reliable night elf tank out of a stressed family man.
- 13 euros turned diligent computer science students into our somewhat too energetic fire magicians.
- 13 euros turned the extrovert recipient of unemployment benefit into a friendly druid healer, who has assigned all abilities with RP macros.
- 13 euros turned the head of the department into the somewhat sloppy dwarf priest who never sets the fear protection correctly.
- 13 euros turned the slightly stoned millionaire’s son into a (still slightly stoned) gnome villain who always had to pull by mistake.
For 13 euros a month we were a team. For 13 euros, anyone could leave their real life behind and flee into the game world to be exactly the same as everyone else for a few hours a night.
No matter how successful we were at work – we were the same in the game
I am fully aware that of course there was no real equality in the game – after all, different people had different amounts of time to invest in the game. But each was exactly what he or she earned in the game. It was a separate, secluded cosmos.
And that was a wonderful place. We were players from all walks of life. It didn’t matter what we were in “real life” and how successful we were there, what job we had or what clothes we could afford. Because in the game only what there was to do in the game counted. It was detached from the real world.
Of course, in a real world where the gap between rich and poor is widening, that’s cold consolation and doesn’t solve any real problems – I’m perfectly aware of that. But just the existence of a retreat, a place of (perceived) equality, where everyone had the same opportunities… that was worth so much.
When I look at the news today, I get dissatisfied. Pandemic, war, inflation, increasing racism, social injustice, climate change. It’s overwhelming and they’re all important issues to deal with sooner or later. But that doesn’t work all the time, it only takes you away.
I’m longing more than ever for a game that made us all “equal” in the starting requirements. A game that offers escape from reality, keeps you entertained for thousands of hours and doesn’t ask you to pay anywhere else, so that you can show the whole world with a sparkling star pony that you have more money in your bank account “in real life”.
I hate the idea: Instead of farming gold in the game, I can just go to work and buy gold
I still believe, and I’m completely sincere, that World of Warcraft is not Pay2Win in its current state. Even though you can exchange real money for gold and gold for equipment or boosting runs, it still takes a lot of skill to be a good WoW player.
Maybe you’re the King of LFR with purchased equipment, but in Mythic+15 or heroic raids only gaming experience and diligent learning of the mechanics will help you. Especially since the real “win” in World of Warcraft is also having a friendly group that you can have fun with and not the thickest bar on the damage meter (even if that can sometimes do you good)!
However, I curse that there is this possibility in World of Warcraft to buy gold for real money.
Even if I have so much gold in the tens of millions that I’ve probably saved for the next expansions, I hate it.
I hate that there’s this thought in my head: “Instead of farming gold in the game, you can just write an article for MyMMO and use that to buy the gold.” It’s much faster.”
I don’t buy gold for real money because I don’t have to and don’t want to. But for people without gold, that thought is tempting. And that brings me back to the original problem:
Real money has an impact on the game.
That connection, even when I’m not using it, breaks part of the immersion for me. There is an inevitable connection that your real life bank balance will impact who you are in the game.
Games should be self-contained – nothing should intrude from the outside
When I play a game, I want it to be a cosmos in itself. I want only in-game actions to affect the game. I don’t want Bernd the bank advisor to be involved “anymore” because he’s dumping money on the table. I don’t want diablo dieter cross-promoted by owning a whole different game to get a pet that doesn’t exist any other way. And I don’t want PvP Peter to have a special title because he’s watching a tournament on YouTube.
I don’t want any content in the game that reminds me at every turn that there is a world outside of the game where I could do things that would then give me advantages or special features in the game.
Imagine that with board games.
There are no longer only the red, yellow, green and black figures in “Demon don’t annoy you”, but for the rich player there are also the premium sparkling glitter deluxe figures, which cheer for every 6 that is rolled and blink when step onto the target square.
In Monopoly (car is the best character, just a side note), there is no longer the Schlossallee, which brings financial ruin, but one player has the Rainbow Disco Schlossallee, which has the same effect in terms of gameplay, but with a holographic card laser projection on the ceiling, which always shows in the sky how much the poor wretch who plays with his yellowed cardboard cards from Badstrasse and the water works has to pay.
None of this makes the game inherently unfair, and yet it would add to the sense of inequality.
So when I think back to myself why MMORPGs “used to be better,” it’s clearly because they gave me a total escape from reality for a few hours while still offering social interaction if you wanted it.
Even today I can flee into such worlds for hours, but the magic has become much weaker because the game worlds on every corner tell me: look, the magician over there paid 60 € more, and the priest back there has 40 € in the cash shop left.
I want that world back where subscription fees alone made us all the same and provided a perfect escape from reality. And the fact that it will never happen again is probably the reason why the topic makes me sad.