Could I have found the last refuge for dorks and losers everywhere? (to steal a trademark from Tan the Man)
I’m not talking about the Star Trek conventions, the three-month long camps outside of theaters to watch Darth Vader put on his famous mask, or even the midnight release of the newest TI calculator.
Ok, so that was a little too much. Actually, everything in that paragraph was an exaggeration. Not everyone who watches Star Trek or Star Wars is a nerd, and I don’t know anyone who gets excited about a new calculator, but I have discovered a new world where people have taken refuge from the outside world.
The popular term for it is a MMORPG, or a Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. If you haven’t heard of it, you must have been living underneath a rock for quite awhile, because they have spawned an unbelievable following starting with the game Everquest. These games are played over the internet where you take the lead of a character who explores a virtual world. You determine your character’s name, appearance, allegiance, his or her profession and their ultimate destiny. It’s almost like you’re raising a child, including the terrible teen years when you realize how much of a hassle it is to take care of this kid but you can’t quite let him go yet.
If we backtrack a little bit, we’ll come to find that these MMORPGs have not just come into existence recently. It’s not like we needed the internet to pretend that we were someone else in a far off land. In fact, MMORPGs find their roots in tabletop roleplaying games such as Dungeons and Dragons, much like traditional roleplaying games. But what roleplaying games lacked before the advent of MMORPGs was human contact.
Most of these games rely on the idea of advancing your character, getting the so-called “uber” loot (that’s netspeak for really cool equipment, like a Holy Sword of Ultimate Awesomeness) or that next spell that will allow you to kill any monster the game developers could throw at you. There’s always that proverbial carrot dangling in front of you, tempting you to play for just one more hour with the chance that you might land that one rare item that will drop from killing that level 20 black dragon of doom.
So what’s stopping this virtual world from taking over everyone’s lives? It’s quite simple – a monthly fee. At least in my mind, this monthly fee keeps a lot of people from signing on because from my perspective if I’m paying for something every month I’d better use it. This game is not like cable television or your cell phone service – things you’re likely to use everyday. On top of the monthly service fee for logging onto the game, you’re going to need an internet connection of course.
Internet service cost + MMORPG service cost = not worth my hard earned money.
For some players, at least, this is the case.
This was proven wrong by Everquest, which at its peak had over 600,000 active subscribers in 2004. But match that to games with even more international success such as Lineage, which had a max subscriber number of 3.2 million in 2003 due to its enormous success in the Asian market such as Japan, China and of course, Korea. Now MMORPGs have gained even more success, especially with games such as World of Warcraft and City of Heroes. World of Warcraft currently boasts over 2 million active subscribers worldwide, which will continue to increase due to its recent release in China, as well.
Of course, success breeds clones. With the success of Everquest followed a gluttony of clone MMORPGs which didn’t come close to emulating Evercrack’s success, but with all of these games charging service fees players can only pick one or two games they really want to play while the others are left to fend for themselves.
But perhaps a new game model has arrived that can change that. Guild Wars, created by the ex-Blizzard producers who also helped create the Diablo series, does not require a monthly fee. This should not be surprising since it’s coming from the same people that allowed Diablo and Diablo 2 to be played multiplayer free of charge, but this completely goes against the MMORPG model that has been established. What’s more is that instead of sure-fire revenue coming in from monthly subscription fees, Guild Wars relies on making money the old fashioned way – from selling boxes. They plan on releasing two expansion sets a year, hoping to keep players interested and their wallets interested, to help offset the cost of keeping servers up.
So I’ve taken the plunge. I bought Guild Wars last week for $39.99 at Target, which is the most I’ve paid for a video game in years. I’m ready to step into this virtual wonderland and see what all the hub-bub is all about. I’m ready to be bombarded with countless players, endless quests, and maybe I’ll even get a marriage proposal out of this.
Or not. After all, you can’t find true love when there’s no subscription fee involved, can you?