I hate the term “game is dead.”
If you play any MMORPG or have ever played any MMORPG for any period of time, you are almost guaranteed to have heard the phrase at one point or another. I’ve heard it every single game I’ve ever played, apart from Final Fantasy XIV ironically (though I’m sure it’s still been said by some.) I hate the term, because games don’t fundamentally die without outright shutting down. In fact, even when games go really sour at the core, they often somehow seem to survive as long as the company sticks rigidly to whatever game plan it seems to have… sometimes seemingly for the worst.
My first MMORPG ever was a game called Perfect World International. Back when I started playing this game, it seemed great – it was free to play, which is why I could play it at all – and you could fly and there were also mounts and it had a level cap of 100 so there was plenty of play time and it wasn’t overly “pay to win”. Of course, it had “pay to win” aspects – where purchasing items with real money from the game’s cash shop would help you progress at a faster rate than a totally free player – but the benefits were slim pickings.
When the game reached its first birthday, they made an anniversary celebration. And tied into this, they released “Anniversary Packs”. These heralded the end of the game as I knew it, not that I knew this at the time. You see, Anniversary Packs were the game’s first instance of cash-shop-bought ‘gambling packs’. Packs that had the chance to drop any number of things, from ground mounts to flying mounts… to gear… to weapons… to gear upgrades… Ah yes. This was where the publishers of PWI realised that they could make a killing from their players, by selling them the best gear in the game through RNG pachinko boxes. And by the gods, did it work, because every single update that ever followed had a new gambling pack in it.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I bought into anniversary packs when they first released. I saved up my in-game gold so that I could buy the really pretty wings and the really cute mount and I even saved up my money to buy some of the gear, because it was trade enabled. But when the expansion went live, Rising Tide, the game changed dramatically in too many ways. The new class, Assassins, were able to effectively break the game. You see, with all of the end-game gear that used to be a very heavy grind to get, became purchasable… players realised that Assassins could reach what was called 5aps – five attacks per second. Assassins particularly benefited from this because they had a special buff called Bloodpaint, which returned a portion of their damage dealt to them as HP. Together with special anniversary pack food, which regenerated a substantial amount of HP per second, an Assassin in the full end-game pack-bought gear could solo anything.
Including World Bosses, things infamous for requiring weeks of prep by a large guild and previously requiring a minimum of twenty to thirty players to take down, and even then with heavy casualties. They could just be solo killed by an Assassin as long as they had enough money to buy their gear. And that, for me, was the death of Perfect World International – because my Archer that I’d worked so hard to get to level 98 on suddenly became not only useless by comparison, but unwanted by the rest of the community. Archers were suddenly only good for the Guild VS Guild territory wars… of which I didn’t play.
For a good half a year before I quit, however, the game’s forums heard resounding chorus of “game is dead” due to the changing of the game itself. What might surprise you then, based on how I’ve sold the game to you in this post, is the fact that the game still continues to be played actively to this day. I could even go further and talk to you about the conspiracy theories about the Community Manager and well-known GM EatWithSpoons, who was very well-loved by the community and known for his honesty in dealing with issues and who I have on inside knowledge was in fact fired because of his honest opinions on things. I could go on and tell you about the farce caused by the replacement CM Frankie, of which I don’t just have inside knowledge of but in fact first hand experience with what amounted to atrocious skills in social management and who caused an outright small riot on forums due to the way they handled the community alongside bitter comments made by another GM over territory wars among other things. I could really, really paint a bad picture of this game.
But it wouldn’t matter, because the game still lives to this day, and is still actively played, and I assume it still makes a lot of money over stupid gambling packs that people buy into. I can love or hate the game to oblivion and it makes no difference: the game is not dead.
So what conspires, then, to kill a game? Or perhaps, a more relevant question to ask… what leads to players – and veteran players at that more than anything – making the claim that the game they’ve played for so many months or years, is dying?