Choosing Your Perfect Virtual World

Massive Multiplayer Online Games require more time and effort to really get to know than their single-player counterparts. With more and more titles going free-to-play, it has become easier to try them out. But getting to the core of an MMOG takes a substantial investment on the behalf of players. So, deciding on what game you want to devote your money and attention to is an important choice we all have to make. And one that can cost an obtuse amount of time.

There are several titles on my list of MMOGs that I await with a mixture of excitement and cautious anticipation. In the end, I’ll still have to decide what game will become my main addiction, the one that will hopefully keep me entertained and hooked for a while. How do we select the right title and on what criteria do we base our decision on? The choice is, of course, a personal one, but here is a list of factors that make it or break it for me when deciding on an MMOG. Mind you, the topics are in no particular order.

The setting
Beginning your adventure in a fresh new world is a thrilling experience. This is why one of the first factors that can draw me in is the game world itself. Some settings have almost a universal appeal – *cough* fantasy *cough* – others are less popular but still attract a large-enough audience. This, however, doesn’t mean we should simply judge them at face value. Even within the realms of fantasy there are numerous differences in the presentation and mythos surrounding the world. These differences determine whether a game is successful in providing a stimulating context and meaning to our actions. In this way, the lore serves as an important medium through which you connect with the game world and believe in it. So, if the setting doesn’t hook me from the start, chances are, I won’t be even interested in giving the game a go.

In-game systems

In the last five or so years, combat has increasingly become more prominent as a game system that most people look at first for an upcoming title. While it is certainly an important deciding factor (as a general rule, I tend to gravitate towards titles that have some sort of PvP involved), we should not forget about other game mechanics that largely affect our MMOG experience. This includes the level of freedom provided within the game (is it too linear or not enough direction?), the role-playing system (is it something fresh, innovative; what is customization like?) and other less conclusive examples (the level of grind, mini-games, crafting and others). These game systems largely determine what type of gameplay and activities players will get to see and try out throughout their experience, so only the feeble-minded can doubt their importance.

Art style and visuals
“It is only at the first encounter that a face makes its full impression on us,” said one pessimistic German philosopher. The same can be applied to MMOGs and games in general. In the modern age of realistic looks and sexy graphics, the initial appeal of a game is heavily influenced by its visuals. There are people who will play a good game regardless of what it looks like, but even old-school players occasionally admit to having a hard time going back to their favorite MMOGs of the past due to outdated graphics.

As a rule of thumb, I can tolerate unimpressive visuals, provided that the game has the more important elements done right. Art style, on the other hand, should not be confused with graphics, as it depicts the artistic direction the game is going for, rather than the quality of its visual presentation. If there is one major turn-off for me, that would be the generic ‘Asian MMO’ look that most free-to-play titles seem to go for (Ed. To be fair, most F2P titles are from that market still). Perhaps, this uniformity has some appeal to the home market that these games are initially aimed at, but I have to force myself to try out a new game if the art style doesn’t seem to offer anything new from its predecessors. It only takes one glance at titles like TERA to see that you can be different from the generic staple, yet still keep the appeal and beauty of the original style.

Last, but not least, is the community that has formed or is forming around a game. I’m always optimistic about this facet of an MMOG as, generally speaking, any game will have its share of cool people and some bad apples. The mixture of different personalities and characters is what makes MMOGs so appealing for the majority of people that play them.

On the other hand, I can see a situation where a game with a reputation of an elitist, unfriendly community (DotA-type games, anyone?) can scare new players away. Some players avoid this by only mixing with people they know, or migrating from game-to-game with an established group of friends. While this does solve the problem to a degree, you might miss out on making new friends or even random encounters with interesting people.

You also have to keep in mind that communities are never static and there is always a flow of people present. A rumored ‘bad’ community can change over time and evolve into something that can draw in potential players. The best thing about it? Your actions can have a tangible impact on this aspect of a game and really shape it into a factor that is worth considering.

What are the defining factors of an MMOG for you?


  1. For me and in this order:
    Story – Is the game using an established license or is it an independent one? If it’s using an established setting is it one I know (Warcraft, Star Trek, Star Wars) and does it do it justice? If it’s a new IP, how appealing is their set up of the world to me? (Like APB’s cops and robbers take on the MMO genre)
    Graphics and Art Style – Is it appealing to watch and play? Do I get bored by the character design or does it intrigue me, how about the color palette or the scenery? Does it look good in character creation, but in actual real time become atrocious?
    Gameplay – Once the initial hooks are in from being interested in the world and the way it looks, how does it actually play out? Are the controls intuitive and responsive? Is there a system of menus to navigate? What are the hot keys and action bars like? Is it like other MMOs I have played? Is it like other console games? Is leveling a grind and a chore, or woven into questing and entertaining activities?
    Other Players (Community) – Are there people willing to help out newer players? Are there spam-bots? If the game has PvP elements, how do they interact (or interfere) with the leveling experience? Are there forums and chat rooms available for additional help and guidance? What is the out-of-game presence of the player base like?

  2. Yep, pretty similar to what I go through when forming my intial impression of a game. I also wonder how much does the type of a game (meaning ‘core’ elements like ffa pvp, raiding, etc.) affect the way we judge it.

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