There’s an emotional scene in the 2007 TV drama about the C.I.A. called The Company where one of the top KGB generals played by Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen, breaks down and cries after he hears about the fall of the Soviet Union. Shocked and bewildered, head in his hands, he realizes that everything he worked for in his life — a communist Utopia — has been for naught because the U.S.S.R. has just collapsed.
The truth is painful.
More people are beginning to realize this about the stillborn state of the MMORPG genre and all the hopes and dreams they had for the future.
Once Upon a Time on Veeshan
The Fires of Heaven forums have existed in various iterations since the days it was formed to be the discussion forums for the original Fires of Heaven EverQuest guild on the Veeshan server. They became famous due to the salty rants from their guild leader Alex Afrasiabi AKA Furor Planedefiler.
The Birth of Player Activism
Furor told it like it was. He spoke truth to power to Sony Online Entertainment and frequently lambasted the ham-fisted John Smedley for his ineptitude in managing the EverQuest franchise. At the time, Furor was the Donald Trump of the nascent MMO industry. He was larger than life, outspoken, brash, and unforgiving of the obvious incompetence of EverQuest developers.
Over the years, the FOH forums have become an online sanctuary where MMO players would congregate and hash out their thoughts, hopes, and dreams for a better MMO free from the censorial community managers on their respective official forums. You could pretty much say whatever you wanted on those forums. Furor had long since departed the forums, but the posters kept the fire burning with the kindling of edgelord bravado.
Shilling for Curt Schilling Never Paid Off
MMO developers would occasionally post in the FOH shark tank to gain street cred. One of the big problems is that the FOH members became starstruck fanboys of these devs. If you were a janitor for Blizzard chances are you enjoy a cult following at the FOH forum.
The FOH community desperate for validation, elevated MMO baseball player turned MMO developer Curt Schilling into a god and then promptly kicked him to the curb when his MMO failed. I’ve had a spat there myself with an ex-EQ developer and I never returned because it was impossible to get a fair shake from the slavish sycophants. Such is the nature of forums and internet culture.
The Fires of Heaven forums are set up in a rather bizarre way. Since each MMO gets only one thread, it’s one big jumbled free for all where it’s impossible to discuss individual topics. Instead, you have to wade through a stream-of-consciousness cesspool of edgy misanthropes and internet comedians.
Proudly Batting .000 for 20 Years
A few months ago, a poster named Jasker started a thread on the FOH forums called Fires of Heaven and our continued disappointment that rightly questioned the relevance of the forums and 20 years of arm-chair bloviating about MMORPGs. Here’s the post:
Most of our narrative on this forum, the forum that originated from Everquest, never really saw a new AAA MMORPG. Everything has just been rehashed WoW or EQ or Diablo or etc. Vanguard, Pantheon, Curts Game, EQ3, Titan, the list goes on. All ghosts. All dead.
We ruminated over thousands of pages on games that never delivered for any of us. We were all so excited and spoke to devs on many occasions over things that ended in tragedy.
That’s all. Just remembering how our life went.
We’ll be dead here soon, most of us, a good 20 or so years, and more than half of our lives we were on a fucking message board talking about games that ultimately never delivered or even came out.
Anyway, off to the WoW classic thread where I get to go back to Vanilla for the 8th time. Sorry to be salty.
It’s just one thing to have not such a great real life, and another thing entirely when the video games all turn out to be one massive troll. Pretty sad for us as I know many of you from gaming and we were collectively on this forum for a really long time deliberating on stuff that never happened.
I agree with the author. This is perhaps the most honest, sobering bit of gut-punching self-reflection that I’ve read there. I would go so far as including my own website and every other MMO site out there as well. I think the impact that the players and we pundits have had over the years is negligible to zero. We think we are making a difference but in the grand scheme of things we are not.
It’s not because we didn’t have good ideas and sound analysis. It’s because MMO game studios are not really structured to take feedback from players. Nor were they set up to collaborate with players. They operate on a primitive old-school ethos: if you don’t like it, don’t buy it mentality.
You have to understand that the MMO industry did not really exist before EverQuest. Everything was made up as they went along. The first MMO developers were like Keystone Cops. They really had no idea what they were doing and what the genre would turn into.
The concept of ongoing customer service did not exist until Jeff Butler realized this and made it happen at SOE with regard to EverQuest. That altruism didn’t last long, a few years later, SOE’s boy wonder Alan Crosby came up with a cost-saving scheme to farm out all their GMs and customer service people to India and hired temp agencies to deal with players.
While MMO studios claim to care about player feedback but they never follow through. It’s all boilerplate performative posturing.
The Symbiotic but Unequal Relationship Between Developers and Players
Part of the problem is that MMOs are not a one-off product that is consumed and sold; they earn revenue via subscriptions and monetization. Since the MMO player is a perpetual customer, it’s only natural that they want to ensure their future happiness continues and that means that devs must keep creating content they like. There is an underlying symbiotic relationship at work here, whether both parties know it or not.
The problem is that this symbiotic relationship is not equal. There’s a species of whales in the ocean that have tiny fish that constantly swim around them and eat parasites. The whales go where they please and the tiny fish must follow. The developers are the whales and the players are the fish. Leaders and followers. But there are far more followers than leaders. Far more restaurant patrons than cooks.
Eventually, the player who pays to spend daily time in a virtual world starts becoming emotionally invested in that world. That continued investment breeds a sense of justified entitlement. When the player feels he is not getting the proper reciprocity for his emotional and financial investment, he rightfully seeks redress from the developers.
Either developers are unaware of their responsibilities to the players or they are indifferent. Ultimately, an adversarial relationship between devs and players is formed. Developers are supposed to serve the players; the players are not supposed to serve the devs. Today, this relationship is inverted. The failure of studios to realize who is the real boss (players) and enforce it upon the dev team is the reason for most of the dysfunction.
MMO Crack Dealers
Another thing worth mentioning is that MMO developers take advantage of the loyalty of players who would have quit long ago but for the attachment to all their characters i.e. the cost-sunk fallacy. I recall one employee review on Glassdoor remarked that the older Daybreak devs routinely make fun of EQ players because they are so loyal and gullible.
Many EQ players will not quit because they have put too much time into their characters. The developers are like drug dealers because they know their customers are addicts and they realize that no matter what steaming pile of crap they send players, they will still keep paying and playing. Look no further to the sycophancy of the participants at official EverQuest forums for a good example of this madness.
We’re in Their World Now
In medieval times, kings, barons, lords, and nobles would have monthly sessions where anyone in the realm could approach them in court and petition them. These petitions could cover a wide range of issues, including legal disputes, land rights, favors, pardons, grievances, and more. Petitions were a means for individuals to seek redress or assistance from their superiors.
If we stop and think about it, people who inhabit virtual worlds for hours a day, are subject to the lords of those worlds. The lords, gods, or admins, or whatever you want to call them, control every aspect of your virtual life from the color of the sky to the color of your armor.
We can pray to these gods in-game, and we can petition these gods on the forums with unassailable reasoning to address our grievances but these gods remain unmoved and unaccountable. We can only hope that the gods are benevolent, but they are just as likely to be tyrants.
If some mean-spirited creative director doesn’t like paladins, he’s going to make sure they never get properly balanced and that your gear will suck. You and thousands who play your class are shit out of luck. All you can do is vote with your feet and leave.
It’s not just an anecdotal experience. I’ve seen threads on various forums get into the thousands of replies and still the devs are unmoved and do absolutely nothing. Fundamental game design logic and the will of the players are routinely ignored because the devs know best and they are busy.
MMO studios are Kakfaesque concrete tombs teeming with egotistic and arrogant designers who languish in protective bubbles. These creatively challenged hacks stay well under the radar and are squirreled away in remote parts of the studio as they work diligently to create their next masterpiece of mediocrity.
Imagine someone so petty that would rather ignore a great idea because it came from someone else and instead implement a bad idea because it came from them. I see this every day on various forums.
If You Think You Are An Imposter, You Probably Are
Imposter syndrome has been a popular topic of discussion in the past few years. It’s trendy to talk about it and claim that you think you’re an imposter but you just need to believe in yourself because you are not one.
Newsflash: most people who think they are imposters are probably imposters. That’s your God-given conscience telling you something. Your parents probably showered you with copious amounts of self-esteem and here we are.
Many MMO developers are imposters who fell into the industry by hook or crook. Deep down they know this and it eats away at them. Many are hired because they were friends with John Smedley, rode dirt bikes with Brad McQuaid, or knew someone at the executive level.
Video Game Studios Hate You and They Think It’s Funny
A new EverQuest game designer named Qwalla recently revealed in a podcast that she was hired even though she had no experience playing EQ. That tells you everything you need to know about how unserious Darkpaw is and how much contempt they have for players.
If you still believe that video game studios don’t hate players, consider that this inexperienced token female designer now has more influence over EverQuest than 20 years of collective wisdom of thousands of gamers ruminating on the Fires of Heaven forums. She can wink at Absor and he will comply with her every wish.
In a way, it’s poetic justice as the “badass” FOH forum regulars were missing in action during the Gamergate culture war and have been loathe to speak out against the wave of wokeness that has invaded video games. FOH has been traditionally a home for the lunatic fringe. For years, they’ve been promoting transgenderism. People who play video games 40 hours a week are not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed.
Let’s be real, this young woman was really hired because Darkpaw needed to check off a diversity box for their ESG score. Darkpaw’s insatiable need to virtual signal their wokeness far outweighed the right of the players to have competent devs working the MMO they’ve spent their lives playing. Besides, the pervy geriatric low testosterone team of slobs at Darkpaw will not complain when a young woman that they can “mentor” is prancing around the studio looking for advice for a job she knows nothing about.
It’s the ultimate slap in the face that competent male designers were bypassed in favor of a young woman hired off the street with no experience. It’s not just at Darkpaw, this is happening across the industry as studios are trying to “close the gender gap” i.e. firing talented male developers and replacing them with talentless twats who will most likely sue the studios for sexual harassment once she realizes she has to work.
The Pettiness of MMO Developers
MMO developers are jealous of their undeserved power and authority. They are spiteful, selfish, cruel, and insecure scoundrels. Most importantly, they lack humility, empathy, and beneficence. They would rather an MMO go down in flames with their bad ideas than survive and thrive with someone else’s good ideas.
The vast majority of MMO developers are sniveling cowards who are afraid to engage with their players. They are so timid and weak that they rarely even attend cloistered dev-only events at GDC where they are among their own kind. If they did, their imbecility would soon become apparent.
These pusillanimous weasels never leave the safety of their gilded official forums and venture into the realm of public discourse because if they did, they might be held accountable and exposed as frauds. Instead, these invertebrates put on their pride shirts, drive to work, punch in, hide in their cubicles, produce more rubbish like garish pride pets, punch out, and drive home and cry in their boyfriend’s arms about what a bad day they had.
The Final Bosses
Bad developers deserve every bit of scorn they get and more, but the real blame for the failure of the MMO industry should be pointed directly at the people in charge: John Smedley, Kelly Flock, Bobby Kotick, Mike Morhaime, Chris Metzen, and others who bled the genre dry and put precious little back into it.
When is the last time Bobby Kotick or Mike Morhaime stood up and gave a substantive speech about fantasy virtual worlds that weren’t full of stale platitudes and boilerplate diversity mumbo jumbo?
These are the masters of the universe that hired the bad devs and the buck stops with them.
I have arrived at the point in my life where I find writing about MMORPGs pointless and unrewarding. For me, writing about the cultural upheaval that is taking place in Western civilization is far more interesting and worthy of my time. But this post on the Fires of Heaven really resonated with me. Besides, I can’t seem to resist the opportunity to disembowel the creatively constipated goblins destroying our industry. For all the MMO players that had their posts ignored over the years, and received bans for their trouble, this article is for you.
Yes, we should continue to lob tennis balls into the courts of MMO developers, what they choose to do is on them, and not us. The corrupt video game press and the candy-ass streamers will never hold them accountable so it is left to the remaining few bloggers and independent forums to speak truth to power. Imagine what they would try to get away with if there were no independent forums, no blogs, no websites, and no video content creators holding them to account.