MMO games can be more than a gaming experience

Imran Majid

It’s late afternoon on the second floor of the University Union, where students stay comfortably spread around the chairs and tables that lie directly above EcoGrounds. There is a hum, bustle and chatter in this sanctuary as people take a break from being inside a classroom and instead post status updates, watch videos and chat with friends.

Sitting at an open table with a laptop screen enveloped in cartoonish animations, Julian Abeleda, a sophomore business administration major, does something different. White headphone buds blast adrenaline-pumping music that fuel every furious mouse click as he struggles to infiltrate the enemy’s base.

“League of Legends is the best,” Abeleda said. “It’s fun, it’s addicting, (and) a lot of people play it. It’s hot right now.”

“League” is a massively multiplayer online computer game which divides players into teams to compete in destroying the opposing forces’ base. As of October 2012, the MMO has become the world’s most-played video game, with an average of 12 million active players logging every day, according to CNET News. Aside from certain premium content and aesthetics, “League” is completely free to play.

Many gamers today play single-player titles on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and will either connect to an online service or plug in another controller if they want to play with friends. But other gamers, such as Abeleda and myself, play MMOs on our personal computers to connect with thousands of players in a setting that demands strategy, control and precision.

As a former “World of Warcraft” player, my favorite part of the game was its dungeons and raids, in which characters formed groups and worked together to defeat threatening and difficult bosses, enemies that are harder to kill than regular creatures. Each person had an assigned role, such as healing allies or dealing damage. At certain points throughout the encounter, bosses performed a special ability that required players to spread apart or move together as a group, defeat a smaller foe or move out of a dangerous area.

Taken together, these challenges presented an intensely exhilarating and heart-pounding experience that required creative strategy, real-time communication and dedicated teamwork – aspects that are close to nonexistent in Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. While it sounds simple, raid bosses – in which either 10 or 25 players may group up together – had elaborate mechanics that required coordination and understanding. MMOs are the ultimate team games. Failing in your role will not only lead to death, but will also likely doom the rest of your group to the same fate.

Born out of this basic premise of MMOs is its social aspect, in which players form guilds, alliances and teams. They chat, communicate over voice programs and have fun together. These are, of course, only generalizations. Some dungeons and raids in WoW did not require communication at all, and griefing did occur. But for those who want to immerse themselves in the MMO experience, reaching out to players and working together is the best way to have fun.

“That’s the only point of playing MMOs: if you know someone,” Abeleda said. “I play with my family and that’s how we communicate with each other. It’s good to make friends. It’s like a social group.”

I started to play WoW only after my brother started playing, and I quit WoW shortly after my brother sold his account. In MMOs, you play together or not at all.

Launched in 2004, WoW is still the king of MMOs today, despite having a $15 monthly subscription fee, outdated graphics, and a steep price tag of $80 in order to unlock all of the expansions and content. These factors have resulted in a gradual decline in subscribers, from a peak of 12 million at the end of 2010 to 9.6 million at the end of 2012, according to a press release from Activision Blizzard. It is clear that games such as “League,” which is free to play, and other titles are looking to reshape the MMO market and strip WoW of its title.

“Star Wars: The Old Republic” was highly touted as the game that would dethrone WoW. With a development cost of $200 million, “The Old Republic” is the most expensive video game ever made, according to IGN. The game launched with a monthly subscription similar to WoW but failed to maintain a large number of subscribers and announced its free to play ambitions in July 2012 – less than a year after the game was released.

The future of these types of games will likely be decided by the upcoming “Elder Scrolls Online” MMO, which is set to be released sometime this year. Much is unknown about the game, including whether it will have a subscription model. Its success will depend on whether it can recreate the social aspect that exists in WoW and other similar titles, as well as respond to the market forces that are shaping the MMO market. For Abeleda, it’s keeping costs to a minimum.

“Poor college student can’t afford all this stuff,” Abeleda said. “I want a game (for) free.”


Imran can be reached at: [email protected]