Life is full of obligations. It’s not always fun, but we have to put up with it because that’s life. So it’s weird that, as MMO players, we so often set up so many obligations for ourselves in our free time.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks playing SWTOR for the Dark vs. Light event. I keep trying to write about it, but “I did solo dungeons repeatedly until I couldn’t stand it, then I did some story quests” didn’t seem like it would make for a very interesting read. About a week before the event was over, I finally made it to the Eternal level, which was my goal. That’s the highest I was ever interested in getting, because I basically just wanted the extra companion (it looks like it’ll be the Chiss Jedi, which is the one I was really hoping for, since Chiss are one of my favorite Star Wars species). I’m excited for this, but the last few days, as much as I’ve been enjoying Knights of the Fallen Empire’s much improved cinematic storytelling, I’ve been really wanting to get back to some other games (both MMOs like WildStar, Marvel Heroes, LotRO, Elder Scrolls Online, and non-MMOs like the Master of Orion remake and the new Pokémon), but I keep having to tell myself that I can play these games when Dark vs. Light is over, because I’m running out of time. In other words, if Dark vs. Light wasn’t a thing, there’s no way I’d be playing SWTOR right now. Marketing wins again.
And it’s not just time-limited events that create obligations in games. We also set up a lot of guild-centric activities and obligations as well. Raid nights, guild meetings, guild bank contribution–most guilds don’t make these things mandatory (and if they do, they’re probably elitist jerks I don’t want to be in a guild with anyway), but, whether they are or not, there’s an unspoken feeling that you really should, because otherwise you’re really just leeching off of the guild without contributing anything.
Subscription fees create a kind of obligation to play on a regular basis as well. It doesn’t make sense to pay $15 for a game and then play it less than a game you’re not paying monthly for. Companies know this, of course, which is how we got into the weird spot we’re in right now where almost every MMO out there is free to play with an optional subscription to entice you to stay (some are less optional than others, as in SWTOR’s case).
Feelings of obligation can be stressful, which is ironic given that we play games to get away from real life and its obligations. It’s what keep many of my friends out of the genre. But, just like many obligations in real life, things that require obligation are also rewarding. I now have a set of +50% XP boosting armor, a new companion and a crapton of (mostly ugly) cosmetics because of Dark vs. Light. Raiding, while it takes a lot of coordination and commitment from a lot of people at once, as well as the frustration that comes from relying on other people, provides an experience that you simply can’t get anywhere else, not to mention a chance at some shiny new gear. I guess it’s a cost/benefit thing, and, for me, the benefits of MMO obligations outweigh the costs.