In my mind, 30-day trials for massive multiplayer games are perfect. It gives me a lot of the time I need to get into a game, plum its depths, and then formulate a reason to never play it again. Why? Because MMOs can easily sponge up every moment I have available. If I fall in love with one, we have to be together forever. The best solution is to keep these games at a distance, and refuse the will to commit to them. Afraid to commit to an MMO? You’re not the only one.
EverQuest – Played in 2000 – The first one I ever played, realized at PC gaming’s great transition to 3D accelerators (the marketing term for video cards in 1999), running around massive polygonal environments with tons of other folk for the first time ever. How the relationship ended: After about six months when we lost our broadband connection after the dot-com bust and the game’s icy treatment of new players (hardcore players would collect binders full of printed off materials that resembled a D&D campaign) didn’t help.
City of Heroes – Played in 2005 – Before committing to World of Warcraft, I tried this one out. It was a short courtship. How the relationship ended: The game’s incredibly shallow gameplay meant there was no reason to play for long stretches of time. Death still incurred experience penalties, setting you back that much further every time you bit the big one. Heroes was uninstalled quickly.
World of Warcraft – Played in 2005 – This is the game I sunk the most time into, back in some of its earliest days. Its incredible art direction, quest trails, and outright execution kept me bound for months. My best character, a Human Priest, only got to Level 50 before I gave it up, playing in a 10 hour stretch once to finally get my mount at level 40 (long before they were just handing them out like party favors). How the relationship ended: I stopped playing completely ahead of the Xbox 360 launch in November 2005, but my attempts to return in 2006 were difficult. No one was doing the same instances my priest was doing, all my interface mods were still rendered useless every time a new patch came out, and all my friends had moved on to raids and that, places I never got into. I tried again in 2009 when my family got into it, but I knew that if I started playing again, I would pretty much never stop. I put it down.
EVE Online – Played in 2005 and 2006 – Another game I wanted to try before committing to World of Warcraft, it wasn’t the game’s learning curve that scared me off, it was the lack of passion in the game. I’ve longed for a decent space-based MMO forever and EVE certainly had the chops. There’s plenty to do, plenty to see, and the world is (mostly) controlled by the players themselves, which is the ultimate setup for a Galactic Emperor for myself. How the relationship ended: The first time came when the trial ended and I decided that WoW would be a better (and definitely more fun) use of my time. After I tried to get back into WoW and failed, I managed to get play EVE for about three months. The problems racked up quickly: losing literal weeks’ worth of virtual income because some jerk-ass decided to take his level 1 or 2 laser against your beautiful, weapon-free mining barge was a disaster. Then, being able to afford high-level equipment and ships and then having to wait two (again, literal) months to learn the skills to use them? No. Nuh-uh. Ditched.
Star Trek Online – Played in 2009 – I really wanted to love this game. With the release of JJ Abrams’ film out that year and a hopeful redemption of the franchise, this game took everything wrong about Cryptic’s MMO structure (they did bring us City of Heroes) and the worst part of Star Trek’s history and mashes them together. How the relationship ended: I had access to the game in late beta and was underwhelmed from the very beginning. The shallow gameplay lead to parts that should’ve been so much better, like ship creation. You have your own star ship in Starfleet and even that’s just a disappointing bore. Cryptic bragged about how quickly they made it and it’s obvious in every part of its manufacture: STO feels like an MMO straight out of the Massively Multiplayer Creation Kit with a Star Trek skin.
Star Wars: The Old Republic – Played in 2011 – This one’s a bit premature, but I know the end is coming. It’s a polished MMO that follows WoW’s lead when it comes to gameplay and narrative, but the game is bringing so much less to the genre now than World of Warcraft did in 2004. Sure, it’s cool to be in Star Wars, sure it’s cool to be a Jedi, but it’s just not enough to keep playing in and out for months. Who knows, maybe I’ll still be playing it in a year. I’m just resting on an article or two about it…