It often happens that the games we enjoy the most are the same ones that we complain about the most. This seems to be particularly true when it comes to massively multiplayer online roleplaying games such as EverQuest, Star Wars Galaxies, and World of Warcraft. We've all heard people claim that they no longer really enjoy the game, but continue to play only because they already have so much time invested, and they are, allegedly, "addicted."
Having thousands of players in a world that is constantly evolving has created a number of problems that single-player games don't have. Given how popular MMORPGs are becoming, it's worth taking a closer look at these issues.
Paying the Price
Running a persistent online world is a fairly expensive proposition, and this cost is typically passed on to the consumer in the form of a monthly fee. Added to the price of the game CD and expansion packs, it's not hard to spend a couple hundred dollars a year playing a premium online game. This may seem like a bargain to some, but considering that one can purchase four or five computer games that have no subscription fee for a similar price, MMORPGs are still a tough sell.
Lag and Computer Crashes
These are things that have always plagued online gamers, but in a MMORPG they can be considerably more frustrating. Persistent world servers always seem to go down just before you complete a huge quest that you had been working toward for hours on end. If you're fighting your way through an instance, this can result in the loss of an entire game session. Similarly, if your own system crashes, your Net connection goes dead, or you get a bad dose of lag, gameplay can deteriorate rapidly. While simply switching servers can solve a lot of problems when playing an online action game like Counter-Strike, this is usually not an option with MMORPGs. Even if a MMORPG offers numerous servers to play on, moving a character from one server to another is never a simple matter, assuming it's allowed at all.
Or lack thereof, could be the most widespread complaint that people have with MMORPGs. No game is without problems, and when people are paying to play, they want mechanisms in place to resolve disputes and deal with issues promptly. The more popular the game is, however, the more difficult this task becomes. Although developers who can afford it inevitably respond by hiring more support staff, it's rarely enough to satisfy the entire game community. It may be that gamers are very demanding in this regard, but it is also likely that developers need to pursue more efficient ways of providing customer support.
The Time Requirement
Most MMORPGs do not lend themselves well to a casual hour or two of gameplay. In a lot of games it can take that long just to find a group and get to where the action is. By their very nature, MMORPGs essentially go on forever and you can never really win. The abilities your game character has are almost always determined by how much time you have spent playing. Someone who can only put a few hours per week into the game will not progress at anywhere near the rate of someone playing a few hours per day. Worse yet, certain quests and missions seem to serve little purpose other than to slow down player progress.
Given that many consider it a good thing if a game demands a lot of time, it's always difficult to judge a game based on the amount of time it requires, but MMORPGs are unique in that when players lose interest, the money stops flowing. It's no accident that some of these titles are so time consuming - after all, they do want to keep people in the game, and hardcore players, as they race through every corner of the world, are continually demanding more content.