Once upon a time I was a monogamous gamer. I only played one MMORPG at a time. But over the years I learned that EVE Online was not a jealous mistress and that I could always come back if I strayed for a week or two. So over the years I've dabbled in several other MMORPGs ranging from FreeRealms to my latest acquisition over the weekend, Defiance. With games like Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar scheduled for release later this year, I pondered why I choose the games I do. I came up with a list of ten factors that guide my decisions into the games I like.
1. Lore. For many people, the classification of a game as high fantasy or science fiction is all that matters when choosing a game. I've generally burned myself out on fantasy games, but I downloaded the Neverwinter beta because the game is set in the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms world. The story also led to my buying Star Wars: The Old Republic as I was hooked on the Star Wars universe back in high school. I don't need a well-known IP to attract me to a game, but the virtual world does need some sort of interesting back story so the events in the game make sense.
2. Business model. When I first started playing MMORPGs we only had the monthly subscription, and we liked it. Today, we have subscriptions, buy-to-play (Guild Wars 2), free-to-play and the hybrid model that combines both subscriptions and free-to-play. With three EVE Online accounts, I pretty much stick to the buy-to-play or free-to-play games for my secondary choices. I know some people hate the subscription model, but considering how much they spend in their game's cash shop, paying a monthly subscription fee would save them money.
3. Difficulty. As a teenager I was always attracted to the games with 30,000 different unit types with 800 pages of rules written in Aramaic. You know, the ones that said "beer and pretzels, ages 5 and up" on the cover. So I guess winding up playing EVE was a natural progression. But in my secondary games I don't really require that much complexity. That said, going back to RIFT and its complex soul system when the game goes free-to-play next month is attractive.
4. Sandbox/Themepark. I didn't understand what a difference this split made until I started playing EVE. I really like the freedom of action that a sandbox gives. Some are trying to redefine the term as meaning that players can create content, like dungeons, inside a game. If I have to do that much work, I'm out. But having no boundaries outside of what other players impose? Sign me up.
That said, I do enjoy a well-done themepark game. As I mentioned above, I've downloaded the Neverwinter open beta client and the game has such well-defined rails I should have no problem picking up where I left off if I don't play for a week or two.
5. Solo vs. Social Play. For my first four years of playing MMORPGs I was continuously in guilds/corporations. I didn't turn to my own corporation in EVE until I left EVE University about six months into my stay in New Eden. Having experienced both sides of the divide, I think a game needs some solo content in order to fill the void when others aren't on-line.
That said, a game does need some social content to bind players together. I can get away with my solo/dual-boxing style of play because the community has created ways outside of the game to interact. Think for a minute. I was discussing market conditions with a pirate last week and over the weekend. Does that sound like I just stay by myself?
I should add that some games take the solo experience a bit too far. For example, I reached max level in Guild Wars 2 and if you ask me how to use the in-game text chat system I'd have to admit to complete ignorance. Star Wars: The Old Republic was even worse, which helps explain why I never got past level 37 on a character.
6. PvE/PvP. Once upon a time I swore I would never play in a PvP game after some bad experiences on a World of Warcraft PvP server. Times change and even though I don't seek out combat, I play EVE. But so far EVE is the exception that proves the rule as I still seek out PvE games. If loss doesn't mean anything, then why bother to PvP?
7. Shards. The concept of servers/realms/dimensions really influences how a game is played. Is a game a single-shard world where everyone plays together? A reputation is really hard to run away from in that setting. Is the game played on separate shards, where a player can run away from a bad reputation only by leaving everything behind (or paying the game company a large fee)? Or does the game allow for cross-server interaction that allows players to act like complete d-bags because they will probably never encounter the other members of a group again? I don't really base my decisions on this factor, but I'm interested to see how players behave.
8. Skill vs Level Progression. I can live with either choice, but I've found that skill progression games like EVE and The Secret World are interesting. Especially if the instructions on how to navigate the system are written in Aramaic. But if I just want something to clomp around in while someone is trying to station camp me, a level progression system works just fine.
9. Combat system. I'm not a first person shooter type of gamer, which leaves Planetside 2 out for me. I picked up Defiance just to get outside of my comfort zone as well as for the whole television series/MMO angle. Not a really good choice for me. But I don't have much problems with the action combat systems with tells on the ground as well as the old tab-targeting systems found in WoW and EQ2.
10. Economy/Crafting. I put these together as really good crafting systems usually lead to good economies. I like making useful items for myself, with ammunition seemingly the common thread I have between games. If I'm making items just to level the crafting skill, that's a bad sign. That desire also means F2P games often leave an empty space in my game play as I have to complete with the game's cash shop. And some of the hybrid games put in restrictions that mean I can't wear some of the things I make. Now that's frustrating.