MMO Obligations

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.

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I Don’t Hate SWTOR’s Dark vs. Light Event

Dark vs Light

Why is the light side represented by a Chiss? They can’t even be Jedi/Sith without a legacy unlock.

There’s been quite the kerfuffle (kerfuffle is a great word, by the way) in the Star Wars The Old Republic community about the Dark vs. Light event. Announced last week, it basically gives rewards to players who roll new characters and do certain achievements, rewards, including XP boosting armor and some much sought-after lockbox rewards. Also, perhaps more interesting, based on the total number of players’ light/dark decisions, BioWare will be giving out either a Jedi or Sith companion to players who reach the Eternal tier. Many players claim that it is simply a ploy to get users to subscribe and buy character slots, playing on their fear of missing out on limited time rewards if they don’t. To that I say, of course it is. They have to make money, and if they’re going to give me a companion and a chance at getting Revan outfit pieces without spending millions of credits on the GTN, then I’m willing to subscribe for a month to get the latest chapters of the Knights of the Fallen Empire story.

That said, I can totally understand why these players are upset. I’m a very casual SWTOR player these days; I play only sporadically, and when I do it’s for the story, not for anything that will hold me long term. If this were, for instance, Guild Wars 2, where I already have characters of every class, who are all decently leveled if not capped, I’m sure I would join in the protest. It’s really unfortunate that there’s no reward for veteran players who have already done all of the objectives on the list, but I’m not sure what the alternative was. You can’t just give out all of the rewards on day one to anyone who plays SWTOR exclusively and has a million alts at the level cap. The point of the event is to give players something new to work toward. Plus, if you give a consolation prize (say, the companion and no lockboxes or cosmetics) to everyone who already has both Republic and Imperial characters at 65, there’s inevitably that one guy who will have his characters one level short who will make a big fuss because he wasn’t notified soon enough that he needed to get all of his ducks in a row to get the rewards. You can’t please everyone with this kind of thing, so, sadly, sometimes it’s best not to try. It’s unfortunate that veteran players are getting mostly ignored on this one, but I honestly don’t see a better way.

This isn’t Guild Wars 2, though, it’s SWTOR, the game that rewards altaholism with unique stories for each class and loads of player choice. If any game was going to run an event that encourages rolling new characters, SWTOR is the one to do it. This event is tailor made to get people like me, former players who have lapsed, back into the game to start fresh and hopefully try out the content that they’ve generated since we left. And, you know what? It worked. I’ve been toying with the idea of coming back, and this was the incentive I needed. And, by the looks of it, I’m not the only one. Last night I saw 150-300 people in each of the starting zones.

So, while the event is a little tone deaf toward veteran players, I personally think the Dark vs. Light event isn’t completely awful. Its only purpose is to give new and former players a reason to come back, and I think it has succeeded at that. It’s got me excited about the game again, and I can’t wait to get my armor set and free lockboxes!