Sunday night, I logged into EverQuest for my static dungeon crawling group. They’re a bunch of folks I met entirely through the magic of the Interwebz and online gaming. The group includes Veluux, my minion (er... colleague? Is that more politically correct? Meh! I prefer minion) at EQHammer. It’s headed up by Andoran, an ardent EverQuest Next fan who writes amazing tribute music (seriously, listen to his stuff, you’ll get chills). He brings along his daughter and son-in-law - a couple literally created by EQ, because that’s where they originally met. We’re joined by YouTuber and Twitch streamer Zoran the Bear, who tends to provide the entertainment in between rounds of taunting me about my character’s “shirt,” or lack thereof. (It’s armor, damnit, no matter how skimpy. And all three polygons of my toon’s breasts are sufficiently covered, thankyouverymuch.)
As sometimes happens in the summer, this week schedules shifted and the stars didn’t quite align for group night. Zoran and I ended up sitting around on Team Speak for a while chatting and waiting for the others. (It turned out one was ill and others had family commitments... shit happens.) We got to talking about the trials and tribulations of trying to make money in an industry where we’re creating content (whether YouTube videos or written content or both) for MMOs that simply don’t hold the attention of fans for very long.
We’re All Game Hoppers
This is something the gaming industry deals with, whether you’re in it to create games, or to create content about games - gamers are notoriously fickle. The Next Big Thing becomes yesterday’s news in a matter of months. That wasn’t the case when MMOs were fewer and farther in between - raise your hand if you measured the time you played your first MMO in years, not months - but these days we gamers all have ADD.
“I’m all about Super Fantastic AAA MMO, which just launched last week, and-- Oooo! Shiny!”
And it doesn’t even take the launch of a new MMO to make us turn our heads. Recently for me it was something as simple as the Steam Summer Sale and an impulse purchase of Game Dev Tycoon. (Stupidly addictive, that. See for yourself.) Throw the new shiny in front of me, and suddenly I can’t be arsed to play the game I’m fully invested in and have been for some time. (Landmark, in case you’re interested.) I mean, even while I was writing this article I was distracted by one thing on YouTube, a couple other things on Twitter (I have to turn off the notification vibration on my phone, because I’ve discovered that I’m incapable of ignoring The Buzz, or even anything that sounds suspiciously like The Buzz), and some news about The Sims 4. Wait... I just happened to see this. I could use this. I wonder if there are better options for...
You see what I mean - we’re a distractible bunch. (Have you been distracted while reading this article as often as I have been while writing it? Gods, I hope not. My ego simply couldn’t handle it. Please do not tell me in the comments how many times something dragged your attention away from my astute and well-penned observations.) These days, we can’t even use the bathroom without a smartphone in hand, so how can we be expected to keep our attention focused on one game for any length of time?
The Community Draw
I can only think of one thing that keeps me hooked on a game and that’s its community. It’s a pretty simple equation - if there are people I like to hang out with playing a game, I’ll play the game in order to hang out with them. But there’s one caveat - the game has to not suck. (Of course, why would my friends play a sucky game? They’re smarter than that.)
Like Ariel, the Little Mermaid with the freakishly big forehead, said, “I wanna be where the people are.”
Yeah, I brought mermaids and Disney into the discussion. Sue me. I’m a girl.
The interesting thing I’ve learned is that I can even play a game where the community isn’t actually all in the game at once as long as that community exists outside of it. And that’s a new dynamic for me. Case in point: Landmark.
On any given night when I log into Landmark I might encounter anywhere from 3-6 people among the dozens on my friends list who are actually online. I may or may not talk to any of them. (Many are uber builders and I don’t want to distract them. A couple are devs, and I assume they get pestered enough.) Occasionally, when I’m on the right server, there’s an active general chat channel (when I remember to join it - you have to rejoin every time you log in or change servers in the current iteration of closed beta), and I’ll have fun chatting. But mostly, when I’m in Landmark, I’m... on my own.
Hahaha! Theater reference! I’m a GIRL! Wheee!
But as I was saying, I’m capable of playing Landmark alone. The game has 9 servers with 50 islands on each one (that’s 450 individual zones that can only be reached by teleport, kiddies), so it’s fairly rare that I should run into another player without actively seeking him out, anyhow. But the community is there outside the game, and that’s what counts. There are active Twitch streamers and YouTubers, as well as folks who run fansites, and a whole bunch of others who are very active on the official forums and Twitter, where they interact with the devs. And somehow...it works.
But it’s still a small community. And it’s a gated community, too - if you don’t pay at least $20 for a founder’s pack you can’t get in. (The only exception would be the rare buddy keys that were given to founders at the $100 Trailblazer level and some time-limited 7-day beta access keys, which are not currently widely available.) Which means that, for the time being, I’ll have to go where the players gather and actively seek out community. For a game as cool and potentially exciting as Landmark is (more on that in a future column), that’s fine by me.
Game Hoppers Anonymous
Are you a game hopper? I’d wager that it’s a rare individual who actually sticks by a game for any length of time these days. There are myriad reasons - I couldn’t cover even a fragment of them without expanding this article to an unreadable length - but I think that lack of community in many games plays a major role. Why do you leave the games you were once excited about? Why do you think their communities jump ship? Why is the turn-over rate so high? Drop a comment below. I like comments. You might even say they build community.