MMOs As An Australian Gamer – Where Are All The MMORPGs?

Written by Nicholas Petrou 

During primary school, I was a very casual gamer, and I kept most of it to myself — I was perhaps even ashamed of it to be quite honest. I mostly just played a bit of  DOOM and Age of Empires in my spare time, maybe a bit of PlayStation here and there. I had no inkling of the existence of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs).

Then I heard some classmates whispering under the tin pergola outside of our classroom:

"I finished Dragon Slayer last night, got the rune platebody too!" said the chubby blonde kid with the rose cheeks. 

"I'm stuck with mithril..." replied the frail one with the glasses and the Star Wars pencil case.

Rune platebody? Mithril? Oh... if I had known how I would spamming these phrases on my parent's keyboard; if I had known the obsessions which were to follow.

*Adventurous loading music begins to play, goblets of flames flicker*

To which top MMO game were the nerds referring? Jagex Games' classic massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), Runescape. It's one of the best MMORPG games and the one that literally taught me the meaning of the term "lol" — no mother, it does not stand for lots of love.

MMORPG: Online Games To Know

 
... and five years later.

Prior to the experience of playing this timeless MMORPG, I had no concept of online gaming whatsoever. It was a steep learning curve, one that took me years to understand fully — the concept that many of the men and women of Gielinor (the world of Runescape) were other players, just like me. Well, not just like me. I wasn't a scam artist, I wasn't a hacker, and I didn't bait unsuspecting players into the depths of the wilderness to murder them... well not at the start at least. My fellow players also taught me you can insult someone without the use of profanity: A "noob", you say?  — In fact, you are probably right. 

After Runescape, I spent a good portion of my pre-teen life playing TQ Digital Entertainment's Conquer Online. Conquer was my first experience with the "pay-to-win" element of online gaming that of which myself and many other mature gamers actively avoid. It was a fantastic game, easily one of the top MMORPG I had played, with a unique style and a range of fun classes to play. Player-vs-player (PVP) was exhilarating having my whole guild hunted down because I killed the server king's wife... not so much.

Runescape and Conquer Online certainly taught me the in-game and financial dangers of online MMOs, but they also taught me of their beauty and potential — that of which is infinite. What do I mean by this? Well to understand that we must first understand what an MMO entails.

 

MMOS Definition: What Does It Actually Mean? 

 

Endless possibilities. When I play any role-playing game, be it online or offline, I cannot help but think of the future. I imagine just how immersive these MMOs could become. Not just how "life-like" they are (because that could get boring), but how alien and strange they could be. Through the video game industry, we can bring to life our wildest dreams and most twisted realities in fun MMO games.

 

An MMO, and more fittingly a MMORPG, could virtually become a reality, another life. For some it already has, and that's with the constraints of today's technology. What happens when these games are so immersive that you no longer recognize our "reality" as the one in which you primarily exist? Worlds beyond your wildest dreams, worlds that you can manipulate to your liking — where you can be a god! I suppose this is why I am such an avid gamer — because I look to the future and because I want to race between the stars. Which "reality" would you chose?

Okay, enough with the heavy, we are a while off all that yet.

The Best MMOs Share These Common Features

 

An MMO, for the most part, is a game in which you control a character (or avatar) among a world of other players and commonly non-playable characters (NPCs) as well. MMOs span across many genres, of which fantasy and science fiction appear to be the most popular. Some - but not all MMO games - are capable of supporting large numbers of players, in the range of hundreds to thousands, simultaneously in the same world. The genre does differ, but for the most part, MMOs feature expansive and persistent open worlds, where the player (when they fit in-game requirements) can explore it in its entirety.

MMOs are sensitive to player population levels. Too many players and the game can become too hectic and lag. Too few players and the game will not function as intended — perhaps there won't be enough players to maintain the player-driven economy, enter raids/dungeons with, or compete in PVP against.

Another common feature of MMOs, and MMORPGs, in particular, is "grinding". Essentially, grinding is soaking hours of your life into leveling your character. Character skills vary hugely among games but are often generalized into combat based levels and utility based levels. Using Runescape again as an example, a combat skill is "strength" (which determines how hard you hit with melee weapons) and a utility level is "fletching" (which is arrow crafting). Level grinding, I believe, is what separates MMORPGs from other online games. It is what causes these games to consume peoples lives — but at the same time, is an integral part of the games progression system and balance. 

Too many players? Please - Conquer Online

Jake and Path of Exile

 

The MMO genre can be confused at times. A great example of this is Grinding Gear Games' Path of Exile (POE), a multiplayer online action role playing game (MOARPG) commonly mistaken for an MMORPG. It is easy to see why some gamers may be confused about this one; POE has many similar elements to an MMORPG, such as player trading, social areas and several classes each with access highly complicated and customisable skill-tree. But the reality is, this game does not host massive amounts of players outside of social areas, and therefore it is not an MMO in strict terms.

My good friend Jake has been playing POE for several years now  in fact, in total, he has spent over 2000 hours on the game. Jake's highest level character was a "Shadow Trickster" by the name of BBcyclone. He played this character in a game-mode called" hardcore", where, if you die, it is permanent! Jake reiterated how "thrilling it was popping all of his spells upon a critical hit and absolutely blowing up the screen". He said it was safe to say that he would not be gaming much at all if it wasn't for POE. In the same breath, however, Jake explained how dying from lag/screen-freeze in "hardcore" mode, and seeing the "resurrect in town" option was "honestly the worst feeling he had ever experienced in gaming".  It just goes to show that even with local servers, online games are not without lag.

Cropped
We got a badass over here - BBcyclone, Path of Exile

A Unique Genre of MMO?

 

I mentioned in my previous post, very briefly, Daybreak Game Company's Planetside 2. Now, this game is a first-person shooter (FPS), however, it is also considered a MMO as it is technically a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter (MMOFPS). I want to give this game a shout-out because I personally think it is incredible, and because of the sheer size of its battles. In Planetside 2, you fight for one of three factions in huge, massively multiplayer battles for territory. (Let it be known that if you pick The New Conglomerate or Vanu Scum we can never be friends. Glory to the Terran Republic!) As far as I am aware, there are no other FPS games which come close to the grandeur of Planetside 2

Beautiful day for it - Planetside 2

MMOs In Australia — The Dilemma

So where are all the MMOs? Or more relevantly, where are all the MMORPGs?

Everywhere! But, the servers are not...

For a game developer to establish a server it costs money, so it must be economically viable for them to do so. If a region of the world does not have a large player-base, it may not be viable for a developer to establish a local server for its players — and as discussed previously, MMORPGs are highly dependent upon player population levels. Game developers must also take into account the fact that overseas servers are in different time zones, which may cause issues with server maintenance.

Of course, likely sometime after initial release, when game developers believe it to be economically viable, they may establish a local server — as was the case with Blizzard's World of Warcraft. But for most MMORPGs, as Australian gamers, we have no choice but to connect to overseas servers such as those in the US or the EU. Doing this gives us high latency and the resulting lag.

This whole dilemma is a kind of paradox, because more Australian players would play if their latency was decent, causing the server to be economically viable —  but the latency isn't decent, so it would be incredibly difficult to assess how many players would play if it was, and whether or not the server would be economically viable. It is really up to developers to go out on a limb, and take a risk — which evidently, very little of them do.

Experiences Of Some Australian Gamers Playing MMORPGs

 

In the days of Runescape and Conquer Online I was too naive to understand the disadvantages of distant servers and high latency — I now cannot look past it. How do some other average gamers feel about this?

Mike and The Elder Scrolls Online

 
I have always loved the games in Bethesda's Elder Scrolls franchise; so when The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) was announced, I was ecstatic. I followed the hype before and during the game's release, watched all the cinematics and played a whole heap of Oblivion and Skyrim to get me pumped. But then I realized ESO would not have Australian servers! I never purchased the game.
 
Almost 3 years after the release of ESO, a good friend of mine, Mike, purchased the game. He played a "Dragonknight" by the name of skankhunt  — a tough-guy proficient with two-handed weapons and Ardent Flame spells.
 
Mike raved about the games questing, said it felt a lot like questing in the single player Elder Scrolls games  — and on top of that there were dungeons and raids to complete. He also made it quite clear that the grinding element, so prevalent in most MMORPGs, was definitely there. In regards to lag, Mike appeared to have no issue with it for questing and player-vs-environment (PVE) experiences  — but with PVP it was incredibly laggy, almost unplayable with the disadvantage.
 

Denim and Blade and Soul

 

My friend Denim (yes, like the material) went out on a limb recently, and tried out NCsoft's Blade and Soul, knowing full well that there was no Australian server established for the game. Denim played Blade and Soul with a ping of around 190ms and explained to me how he was losing 4 basic attacks every 10 seconds — meaning that players with a better ping were up to 1.4 times faster than he was. This disadvantage forced him to give up the game, and venture back to greener pastures.

"I am actually losing time from my life..."

Ly and the World of Warcraft

 

I spoke to my gamer buddy Ly, who had spent a good portion of his teenage years in the world... the World of Warcraft. He played this MMORPG prior to and following the establishment of an Australian server. Like myself, Ly had never experienced online gaming with a low and stable latency. He quested through the world of Azeroth as a lonesome mage, gaining experience slaying beast, demon, and human —  all of which were NPC's. For this aspect of the game, and for questing, a high latency was no limitation to the white-bearded gnome.

Frosttly, The Explorer (as he was known to the ladies), rode his Black War Bear against the fearsome NPC's of the Horde — laying waste to them in droves... and then he tried it on against another player. This is where the horrible latency Australian World of Warcraft players bore really became a hindrance. Frosttly would cast his stunning Frost Nova, only to find that he had been dead for the last 1.5 seconds. The delay was intolerable —  competitive PVP, almost unplayable. The poor frost mage was in a time continuum of his own. 

Frostly-Smaller
"Frosttly" conjuring up some dank memes...

Ly — due to a lack of income — retired from the Alliance for a time... But then something brought him back near the end of 2014. A huge announcement from Blizzard: game servers would soon be established in Australia! 

The Time Of The MOBA 

Instant action, instant fun - I get that - League of Legends

... and a plethora of other online genres.

My First MOBA Experience

 

I have felt this transition personally. In the good old days, it was all MMORPGs and split-screen couch gaming with pizza for me. Then my good friend, Mal, asked me if I had heard of LoL. Pfft, of course, I had — it means lots of love. But he was not referring to that acronym, no — it was a new game, something completely different to what either of us had previously experienced: Riot Games' League of Legends (LoL).

No matter how many pairs of boots I bought I could never see them on my character — what was this sorcery?! The concept of multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) styled items was entirely alien to me. In an MMORPG, if you have the necessary requirements to equip an item, you can usually see your character's aesthetics change when equipping it. I remember how frustrated it was trying to get Katarina (a champion from LoL) to wield a Hextech Gunblade (item from LoL). She just stood there, bobbing, holding the same two blades she fricken spawned with!

In a match of LoL, you gain levels and purchase items within that match — none of which are carried over to subsequent matches. This style of per-match progression is what I think has attracted many people to the MOBA genre. It's fast paced, relatively balanced, and you cannot be better than someone simply by spending more hours/money on the game. Of course, you will get better with practice, but it doesn't have that grind, so characteristic of an MMORPG.

When I first started playing LoL there were was no Australian (or at least Oceanic) server. The lag was noticeable, but again, it did not concern me hugely as I had not experienced it better. Then the Oceanic servers were released in 2014 — and what a wake-up call that was! Since that point, my online experience has been limited to non-MMO games aside from the occasional nostalgic dab back into Runescape, which is always going to be on my MMOs list of favorites

Not Just MOBAs

 

Of course, LoL is not the only MOBA on the market. In fact, there are plenty — some of the most popular being Valve's DOTA 2Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm and Epic Games' Paragon

And of course MOBA's are not the only fast-paced, match-based online games out there. There are games such as Ubisoft's For Honor, which has a similar feel to some MMORPGs with its medieval themes; a whole range of first-person shooters such as Blizzard's Overwatch and Valve's Counterstrike: Global Offensive; and a bunch of slower-paced, but still match-based online collectible card games such as Blizzard's Hearthstone and Counterplay Game's Duelyst

I believe I have a sound understanding as to why these styles of games are more prevalent nowadays. They are all action, low grind — and therefore, they appeal to not only hardcore gamers but casual gamers (whom may only have time for the occasional match) as well. And of course, the aforementioned games all have conveniently located servers! It just makes sense.

Unfortunately, playing a different genre of video game might have to be your temporary solution to a lack of Australian MMO servers. At least you have plenty to choose from!

There is very little honor in this game - For Honor

Upcoming MMOs

 

I am sooo keen for a good MMORPG. It has simply been too long. I miss so many of the features that make MMORPGs what they are. Features like complicated level progression systems and grinding; player-to-player trading; in-depth character customization; banter with other players; making friends  — as fleeting as they may be. I even miss the possibility that I might lose everything by taking a risk in PVP. You just don't get these things with other genres of game.

Even with the discussed limitations to Australian gamers, there are still plenty of MMOs that I will be keeping on my radar. Hopefully, some of these eventually provide the luxury of a convenient server to us Australian gamers:

Love me some good video game art, hopefully, I can love the actual game too - Crowfall

As our technology continues to make the world a smaller place, it will undoubtedly influence online gaming connectivity. We can expect there to be a time when MMORPG players from all corners of our planet (the world is flat, trust me) can game together in lag-free bliss. I for one, look forward to the plethora of fantastical worlds video game developers will have created for us to explore in that time. For now, there's always Runescape...