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Living the Virtual Dream: Vol 1

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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.

Just kidding.

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?

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  • Brian King

    I have not ever played Everquest, Lineage or any of the other MMORPGs. I too, would not shell out money each month to play a game. No game, in my eyes, is good enough to pay for it over and over each month. I did buy a copy of Guild Wars however, due to the fact that it does not charge a monthly fee. I am quite pleased. I actually played all of the way through once, (as a warrior, and yes there is a ‘virtual’ end to the game although you can continue to play, but it seems pointless). I wanted to try out another class of charater because of some of my difficult experiences as a warrior class character. First of all, that is something I haven’t ever done either, play a game through a second time. Heck , I don’t even watch movies twice. My memory isn’t that bad yet. I am 2/3rd’s of the way through with a Monk class character and am just as thrilled as the first time I went through the game. They had added quests and changed things enough so that it was almost a new experience all over again. Playing as a different character class nearly is a different game, which simply amazes me. So far, I love the game and have been playing it since it came out. That is also the longest any game has held my attention, (perhaps with the exception of Civilization, Battlefield 1942/Desert Combat).

    I do however think that many Everquest type players would be disappointed with the game. Although the towns are persistent, the rest of the world is instantiated for you and/or your 4 to 8 party team. You cannot ‘build’ anything in the towns. It is simply a place to chat or buy or sell your score from your quests. The whole point is leveling your character and exploring. That is immensely enjoyable as the graphics are splendid and widely varied from place to place, but don’t expect to encounter other players outside the town, it simply won’t happen.

    It’s more of what Diablo fans wished had happened for the sequel, Diablo II. Rather than the same type of old interface and skill ladders, these guys nailed it, in my opinion. It is rich in story and graphics and heavy on the vast range of items and character abilities. Even if you choose to play, let’s say, a Monk as your character, you have at least 4 different methods of configuring your character for your eventual battles with the bad guys. As your character levels, you are awarded ‘skill’ points that can be applied to those four categories as you see fit. Don’t like what you have done? Then you can change it, simple. Of course there are imposed limits to these features, but those are also elegantly handled.

    You simply can’t go wrong with this game. If you enjoy strategy, exploring, playing with other people and endless variations of all of that you will love Guild Wars.

  • Craig Allen

    I also have never played Everquest, or any other MMORPG. I read some good press about GW which peeked my interestand but then the phrase “..free online play..” clinched it. Could it really be true? Has greed actually taken a back seat? Is it possible I don’t have to pay for the same game over and over, month after month? Well, I’m pleased to say it is true. Beautiful graphics, interesting storyline and I’m hooked. NCsotf hit there mark without hitting your wallet. With the promise of continued expansion packs the avid or even casual gamer would be a fool not to try it. Take a break from Counter Strike Source and give it a try.

  • Tina

    Well, I’ve been playing for a little over a month now…well, actually it’s almost 2 months now that I think about it. I LOVE this game. First off, I wasn’t really sure, I mean, after all, it does seem very similar to Diablo in many ways. But the differences are what is important. The fact that I can recycle attribute points and then use them to remake my character differently for any given quest or mission is phenomenal. Especially in latter parts of the game where you can actually change your secondary class. Then there’s the fact that noone in this game can dropsteal unless you die on a mission and aren’t resurrected. Drops come down with a character’s name attached to them and noone else can pick them up. No more of those posers and noobs who just tag along to steal and not fight. Yes, I am excited about the game model where I don’t have to pay per month, and it’s the main reason I did buy the game. But more exciting is the replayability as mentioned by others here. My warrior isn’t even done with the game yet, and I’ve already created a monk and an elementalist who’re both moving along nicely too.

    My biggest excitement tho? The fact that you can buy the expansions or not. You won’t be cut off from new content if you don’t because there will be free upgrades with new areas from time to time as well as the up to 4 paid expansions per year. In fact, for those who are wondering, or still thinking about buying the game, the first free upgrade comes out 9/7 and it’s called sorrow’s furnace. The whole idea of this upgrade is more playable areas for ascended/infused/even game completed characters.

    Have fun with it! I know I am.

  • Jourdelune

    Everything depends on point of view. I prefer to pay 15$/month for my hobby then paying 1000$ for a ski season. Cinema ticket price please? 10 bucks for 90 minutes.

    15$/month for server+bandwith fee, live team adding content worth it for me.

    I prefer having to take decision, having to think some solutions, interacting with others to attain goal then be passive in front a TV with full of capitalism propaganda.

    Of course, you don`t like video game. You can`t even pay 40$ for one. So, if you don`t like it, if you don`t play games, you are loosing your time to write about it.

    Feel free to express yourself, but do it greatly.

    Jourdelune