How to Grow an MMO Gamer

It’s spring, and flowers are starting to bloom, but I’ve been cultivating something different for a while now (and I promise it’s perfectly legal). For the past couple of years I’ve been teaching my wife the joy of MMOs. We’ve bounced around between games like Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars the Old Republic, and Rift, but the one she’s really settled into is Guild Wars 2 (which is alright with me, since that’s my current favorite anyway). I thought I’d share some of my experiences for anyone who’s trying to introduce their friends, family, kids, or significant others to their favorite hobby.

Find a game that’s easy to get in to
As much as I hate the “new player experience” when alting, Guild Wars 2’s method of slowly introducing players to new concepts has been really great for my wife. It also doesn’t have a ton of skills to remember like more WoW-like MMOs, which is nice if we take a few days or weeks off of the game or a particular character; you only have 10 skills to brush up on instead of who knows how many, and you don’t have to worry about placement in the hotbar for optimal rotation. I’m not saying everyone has to start out in Guild Wars 2, but start them off with something that’s not going to have a huge learning curve right at the beginning. For instance, I’ve steered my wife clear of Star Trek Online despite our shared love of all things Star Trek because I know she would be quickly frustrated by both the unwieldy space combat (steering, especially at low levels, is often extremely painful) and the buggy ground combat. Similarly, Rift’s soul tree system is still overwhelming to me, so I certainly can’t effectively teach it to someone else. If your MMO protégé is new to the RPG genre in general, maybe start them off with an RPG that you can play together at your own pace and without other people (for instance, we played some Torchlight II early on).

Don’t get into complex systems too early
One pet peeve of mine is that MMOs, and often RPGs in general, feel the need to come up with cryptic names for stats, and, worse yet, have stats do different things depending on your class. What does intelligence do on this class again? What’s the difference between tactical damage and light damage? How exactly does this ugly, dirty, torn up robe increase my charisma? At the beginning, just tell them the higher the numbers the better and play the game. One of the mistakes I made early on was trying to explain systems like damage types, crit damage, and crit chance to my wife before she had even left the starting zone. In my mind, I was helping her make an informed decision about what gear to pick. In reality, I was overwhelming her with information that she had no context for, making the game seem too much about nebulous mathematical formulas when they really didn’t matter yet. Thinking back, did you understand how to maximize damage output when you were level 15 in your first RPG? Of course not, and it didn’t matter because you were learning the basics. Efficiency comes with experience.

Let them (make them) play on their own
This is true of veteran gamers too: if you always have someone who knows what they’re doing following you around like a lost puppy, you’re never going to learn how to play the game. To learn you have to fail, and to fail you have to play without a safety net. Not only that, but your intuitive feeling of how well you’re doing is obscured when you play with another person. Perhaps wost of all, it robs you of the little joys of discovering new things for yourself. My wife was ecstatic for days when she received her first personal invitation to join a guild. If I had just dumped her into my guild, she wouldn’t have gotten the same experience, and would have been really intimidated by navigating the foreign social structures and probably would have never really ended up participating if I didn’t drag her along.
I have one friend in particular that likes to “help” newbie friends by logging into their characters and leveling for them. This is possibly the worst thing you can do for a new player. He expects them to jump back in and magically understand how to use the handful of new abilities that popped up while they were gone, and just pick up and play in a new zone they’ve never been to at a difficulty level much higher than what they’ve previously experienced. Needless to say, it doesn’t usually go well, and most of the friends he has tried to get to play have quit shortly thereafter. Besides, things like that are prohibited by just about every game’s TOS I’ve ever skimmed read.

Let them be altaholics
A lot of my friends/guildmates get frustrated with me for not being able to pick a class and stick with it. Half the time my main motivation for getting to the level cap is so I can feel justified in moving on to work on a new character. This frustration is somewhat legitimate when directed toward someone who’s been playing the same game for two and a half years, but new players should feel free to decide that their first class–which, remember, they blindly picked when they knew little to nothing about how the game worked–is not for them. I know you really want your gaming padawan to get a character up to a high level so you can start doing the “good stuff” together, like dungeons or PvP or whatever you’re in to, but they’re not going to want to play if they feel trapped in a character that they’re not enjoying. They’ll probably naturally settle into one or two favorite characters eventually, just give them time to find the right one.

Most of all, be patient
Remember that you’ve probably been playing games like this for years, and your budding gamer doesn’t have the extensive knowledge and experience base that you do. Remember that they don’t have to be good at everything instantly, and remind them of that as often as possible.

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4 thoughts on “How to Grow an MMO Gamer

  1. Very interesting post, whether you’re introducing someone to MMOs or just discovering a new one for yourself.

    Another thing I found when playing as a newbie alongside vets is that you can miss out on fully enjoying the stories and the surprises. When they’ve seen all the stories many times they of course tend to spacebar straight through, and even if they’re happy to wait for you to take it all in, you can still feel a bit anxious not to keep your friends thumb twiddling too long.

    Re STO… I wondered if I was missing something cos handling ships was so ponderous! I don’t know whether to be pleased that it’s not just me or not. On the one hand, always a relief to know you’re not unusually clueless. On the other, if I was missing something about how its done that could probably be remedied and make my gameplay more enjoyable!

    • That’s a good point! I usually resort to watching dungeon story on YouTube, which is much less interesting than actually watching it as it’s designed to be seen. I’ve always thought that if I’m ever in charge of a guild or a PvE officer, I would run designated “Dungeon Newbie” nights, where no one has to feel bad about watching the cutscenes and the leader explains every boss fight without having to have someone sheepishly admit that they don’t know it.

      Are you an engineer in STO? I’ve leveled two engineers to VA (one Fed and one Romu-Fed) and they’re the worst in terms of handling. That’s why I generally use nothing but beams; they have the widest arcs so you’re always going to be able to hit something. Tactical ships are a lot easier to maneuver, but they’re super squishy. Romulan ships (sadly there’s only one choice per tier until you get to some of the higher levels, and even those aren’t that different from each other) are actually a nice compromise, but regardless you’re always going to be frustrated that you need to turn a little faster and Evasive Maneuvers and such are still in cooldown. You can always add bridge officer powers that buff your engine power, but that takes away from your DPS and such.
      When space combat is fun, it’s really fun. When it’s bad, it’s really awful.

      • It was so long ago that I played and I did it for a such a short time that I don’t really remember much about my characters. I had two, and neither got to a very high level. I stopped playing as much because I decided I couldn’t fit another MMO into my rotation as anything else. I do remember space combat being rather slow though.

  2. Pingback: I’m Thankful For MMOs | Occasional Hero

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