From Permanent Citizen to Wandering Vagabond
When I first began playing MMO's, I was a "dedicated" player. I played a single game, I invested all my time into it, and I didn't even really play a lot of alts. Not counting my introduction via Guild Wars, World of Warcraft was my first MMO and I played it exclusively for the better part of five years. Heck I didn't even have a second max level character until right before the end of the Burning Crusade expansion. I was a "one game, one character" sort of gamer for a long time. And then three things happened. These circumstances changed how I looked at MMO's and how I spent my time in them.
The first is that the circle of friends I had gathered in WoW completely came apart. As in all such circumstances, there was plenty of blame to go around, and I am more than willing to accept my share. But that's all water under the bridge at this point. Suffice to say that the "network" of friends and acquaintances that I had accumulated over my time in the game disappeared. With that gone, my commitment to a single game was severely shaken. MMO's are (or I suppose were) a social experience for me... logging in and talking with friends, doing things together, etc. With that motivation removed, I saw little reason to continue to concentrate so heavily on a single game, in this case WoW. The total mess that was the Cataclysm expansion sealed the deal for me and I walked away from the game entirely for a while.
The other thing that changed was that I became a father. Now this is not to suggest that parenthood and gaming are incompatible. They certainly aren't, or at least they don't have to be. But it significantly changed the "pattern" of behavior that I followed while playing. No longer could I sit at my computer for extended periods of time and commit myself to activities like organized raids, which was my preferred activity in WoW. Those huge blocks of time that I could invest in raids, farming, and other activities were gone. I had to think differently in terms of what I could do and how I could spend my time in a game. And for me, this turned out to work much better when I could divide my attention between multiple games rather than being committed to just one. I know that sounds counter intuitive on the surface. How is dividing your attention more efficient? All I can say is that it works out well for me, and is another part of the reason for me turning Vagabond.
And finally, MMO's themselves changed. I am not going to turn this into an article on the merits of subscriptions versus free-play models, but the change in the MMO market has made dabbling in many games at once a more feasible option. There was a time (not even that long ago) when free-play was either an admission that your game had failed, or it was a mindless grindfest. Most free-play titles were poorly designed or imposed such extensive restrictions on free players that the "free" aspect was a tongue-in-cheek joke at the player's expense. Fast forward to 2013 and this has all changed. Free-play is no longer the realm of failures and grindfests. It is the new "standard" that nearly every major title has adopted in one form or another. The result is that a player can truly play for free, and has a much wider selection of high quality games with no barrier of entry. It is actually possible to play and enjoy several free-play titles at once without any significant monetary commitment. This was not the case even a year or so ago.
The result of all this is that I am no longer the "champion" for a single game and I am no longer committed to the subscription model of payment for MMO's. A quick browse through my archive will show you I used to be a staunch supporter of subscriptions and happily paid them for a game I liked. That is no longer true. I appreciate the choice that free-play gives me and I appreciate the ability to buy things "a la carte" for a game when I need them, rather than being tied to a fixed fee via subscription. That is not to say that I think subscriptions are bad, or that I wouldn't pay one in the future to support a game I truly love. Each system has merits and I think that every free-play game should offer its players some form of subscription option. But as I said, I don't want to digress and turn this into a "P2P vs. F2P" debate. We will have plenty of other opportunities for that discussion.
Where my Wanderings Take Me
Star Wars: The Old Republic
RIFT (after June 12th)
Guild Wars 2
The Secret World
These are the games I will be commenting on most as I will have the most direct experience with them. And just to give you an idea of where I stand with them, here's a quick "two coppers" worth of thoughts on each:
SW:TOR- The leveling and class stories are still a lot of fun. The endgame is still a complete mess. The free-play option IS pretty oppressive if you are a truly free player, meaning you didn't have an account prior to conversion and haven't spend any money in the shop. But if you are Preferred status, and take advantage of the GTN (auction house) to buy unlocks with in-game currency, you can avoid the worst of the restrictions and enjoy the game fairly well with very little (if any) financial commitment.
RIFT- This is a game I am excited to come back to as I always felt it was a very well produced and supported game. I just couldn't justify paying for it. That said, I've been using the RIFT Lite deal to putz around and reorient myself to the game prior to the free-play launch. If you are a fan of the WoW style of MMO, this is the game for you. I really enjoy their class system, and when there are enough players around, zone events are a ton of fun and one of this game's strongest points.
Guild Wars 2- I bought this game wanting to like it, but something about it just never clicked for me. I never bought into ArenaNet's hype about this game "reinventing" MMO's, so I wasn't disappointed in that sense. There's just something about it that... isn't fun to me. I can't exactly put my finger on it. But I'll play for a while, and then get bored and just log out. Even when I have the time to play it more, I just don't.
The Secret World- Similar to GW2, I just don't enjoy this game as much as I want to. But unlike GW2, in this case I know exactly why. The combat bores me to tears. The costuming and character customization is great. The storytelling is great. The atmosphere of the game is great. But actually playing it is not fun at all. TSW's combat is boring and repetitive in ways that leave me begging for WoW's fixed spell rotations. Almost every fight boils down to "Builder five times, finisher, finisher... dodge random monster attack... repeat." Throw in a couple of extended cooldowns, and you have almost every combat in the game covered.
TERA- I'll admit I don't play this one very much at all. I just boot it up when I want a total change of pace and want to gape at really amazing (for an MMO) graphics. As someone who plays "hotbar/cooldown" style MMO's almost exclusively, jumping to TERA's combat system is always a bit jarring when I play it. It is a combination of hotbars with reticule targeting and a lot of active movement, more so than other hybrids like GW2 or TSW. I can't say anything about late game/end game mechanics as I'm no where close to it. But if you want an "eye candy" MMO, this is the game for you.
Into the Future
So those are the games I will be discussing the most, plus a couple of others I may decide to dabble in here or there. I'm undecided about giving Neverwinter a try. It looks interesting, but I will admit to a severe bias against anything associated with Perfect World Entertainment. Everyone has that one publisher or developer they just can't stand, and for me, PWE is it. And I'm no fan of Cryptic either after the cosmic dump they took on Star Trek. But the one game that is definitely on my radar for the future is WildStar. If they can pull off even half of what they are promising, I would be a fan for life. That said, I am really hoping for a beta invite at some point so I can see for myself before having to make a purchasing decision... if there is a purchasing decision. With "free-play" dominating the market, it is an open question whether a new release like WildStar will even try a subscription-only model straight out of the gate. Being under the NCSoft umbrella and GW2 being pretty successful with its "buy-to-play" model, my guess is that WildStar will adopt something similar.
Well if you survived reading all that, we are going to get along fabulously together. Time to saddle up and digitally mosey on down the road to our next stop. :)