Last night was largely spent roaming around the ruins of Washington and unlocking things. Seeing as I apparently did things out of the natural flow of the game… I have just now unlocked clans and will have to sort out which one I should join as it appears like there isn’t really a coalescence of my friends in one place other than the clan that Scopique and Traellan are in. Normally speaking I would be joining whatever extension of the AggroChat/Greysky Armada/House Stalwart community that would be erected in a brand new game. The challenge here however is that I know there won’t be one. That group of individuals bounced faster off the first one than I did, and as such I know there is no glorious renewal of interest in the game and with it a flourishing of guild activity. Division 2 is a game that I largely go into knowing that I won’t have the social structures I am used to with the familiar comfortable integrations with other players that I tend to take for granted. I will be blazing a new trail and carving out a new home for myself… and the challenge there is of course which group of friends do I choose.
I already have an invite waiting on me from TBC or The Bloody Clans… a group that dates back to EGA Battletech but I spent most of my time with during Everquest and City of Heroes and have not really spent much time with since. I know TQMB has a presence or Tequila Mockingbird, which was my original Destiny clan and one that I still associate with when I actually play the game on a serious level. There are lots of other pools of friends that vary in level of seriousness about the game, all of which gives me a maze of choices to navigate. This reminds me of a statement that my friend Neph said the other day and while I don’t remember the exact phrasing it was something to the effect of the following. “I can’t wait until everyone is playing the same game again.” While I agree with that desire… especially in a scenario like Division where those of us who are playing the same game are not even under the same banner.
The problem is my statement back to her was that it is likely never going to happen again. I think the era of everyone playing one game is past us… at least for the age bracket most of us are in and for the type of demographic gaming wise that we represent. The era of the big budget AAA MMORPG is long gone, and there just isn’t something exciting enough on the horizon to unite the tribes of gamers together underneath one mutually agreeable digital habitat. If I am being honest with myself the last game that did this was World of Warcraft… and I am not talking modern WoW but instead the series run from Vanilla through the end of Wrath of the Lich King. In my experience that was the heyday of the “It” game that everyone was at the very least dabbling in. It was the era where you could walk up to pretty much any gamer of any stripe and they would be able to tell you what server and faction they were playing. My friend tells a story about an awkward interaction at a birthday party when he goes through a sequence of emotions… first of excitement to find out another one of the dads plays Warcraft… and then disappointment when he finds out they are playing on the opposite faction.
The “It” game for this generation is Fortnite… and before that it was League of Legends… and before that it was Minecraft… all of which more or less left the demographic that most of us are members behind. Even during the heyday of MMORPGs we struggled to ever get everyone to commit to playing a new game. I remember the first big foray was into Warhammer Online, and even then we only managed to muster about fifteen players to try it out of a roster of almost a hundred. The inertia of World of Warcraft was too strong to break most players out of its field of influence. We tried similar jaunts for Champions Online and the one that finally took me away from the game completely for awhile was Rift. The last big successful departure was Star Wars the Old Republic, and even then that only lasted for a few months. With the release of Elder Scrolls Online I drew heavily on social media attempting to pull everyone into the same guild… only to watch it fizzle out after another three months.
Essentially I feel like there will probably never be another game that unites the banners, and that is in part because we as gamers have fragmented and quite honestly are no longer willing to deal with the things we once were. I remember with the launch of World of Warcraft being stuck looting a Kobold in Elwynn Forest for a good 15-20 minutes and simply hard crashing the client and going on with my life. Which is in part why I found it so funny to hear people call the launch of Anthem disastrous, because compared to that it was smooth sailing. We just aren’t willing to deal with the inconveniences that we once were in order to play with gamers online, because that is no longer a novel and unique experience. Everquest was in part popular because it gave us the ability to have lots of our friends together in the same world, whereas before we were limited to somewhere between 4 and 16 players connected to a dedicated server that someone had to run in order to play games together. Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online before that gave us massive persistent worlds for us to explore… and at some point along the line we stopped caring so much about that novelty.
Now almost every game you play has some sort of massively online functionality that pushes other players into your game time. In Assassin’s Creed when another player dies in game it spawns a quest for you to go avenge their death by killing whatever NPCs took them out. This is a functionally single player experience, but it still has hooks into the larger game world to make you feel like you are experiencing things together with your friends… with friends being the loosest definition of that term in this case. The novelty of being online with other people just isn’t the draw that it once was, and as a result we instead are focused on the story or the gameplay or other elements that instead mean we are effectively looking for different things in our gaming experiences.
I’m a grinder… and while I enjoy the story… I am ultimately in a game for the loot and a sense of progression. So I can play games with the scantest of story so long as the moment to moment game-play feels good. Tam on the other hand cannot get behind a game that does not have a story or a game world that he cares about. This ultimately was the line in the sand that kept us both from enjoying Destiny 1/2 because he could not get behind that world or the digging required to find out any of the story. Ash on the other hand is deeply into systems and tends to love games with lots of customization and ability to tweak builds… so something like a Warframe with its systems within systems within systems really resonates with him. Every so often there will be a single game that caters to all of these core desires… but it happens very rarely. While I just outlines motivations for three members of our group… you can imagine what that matrix begins to look like when you expand that to ten people or a hundred people.
Ultimately we want a higher level of fidelity in our games now. We were willing to give something up for the novelty of hanging out online with our friends, but seeing as we are almost constantly connected through Slack, Discord, Twitter, Facebook and countless other little ways… that connectivity no longer is as valuable as it once was. Shit I remember a time when my friend and I used to dial into each others computers and talk over a terminal app just because it was interesting and novel, and now I can message tens of thousands of people in my larger orbit within seconds… and we just consider that the bare minimum for internet connectivity these days. No one builds massive worlds these days where lots and lots of players are connected at the same time… instead everything seems to have shifted away to smaller match based systems with cities serving as lobbies. I personally like the Destiny/Division/Anthem/Monster Hunter style of game play that lets me drop in and out without feeling bad about letting my friends down.
I know this summer we will once again coalesce upon Final Fantasy XIV for the release of the Shadow Bringers expansion. However I know that by the three month mark it too will have dwindled down to only the most die-hard and dedicated of player still playing it. I’ve largely made my peace with the fact that there will likely never again be another World of Warcraft, at least not in that genre. That same magnetism however keeps happening in other genres, so maybe someday down the time fifteen years from now… there will be a re-invigoration of the MMORPG genre. However I think more than anything… we mourn a moment in time where the stars aligned more than we actually mourn a specific game during its period of greatness. Games at the end of the day come down to the people you play them with… and as such I am still stymied by picking who to play Division with.