MMO & Story: So, Story Does Matter!

MMO & Story: So, Story Does Matter!

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15 comments on MMO & Story: So, Story Does Matter!

Not too long ago, I ran across a post that I wrote six years ago – MMOs & Story: Accepting Mediocrity – and re-read it.

At the time of writing, I was frustrated with the poor story logic and plot-points of GW2 writing. The jist of my post was: If gamers don’t stand up and demand better writing from their games, all we’ll ever get is mediocrity in terms of MMO story.

It was a post I thought would get an agreeable response. I was surprised, and still am, at how much push-back it actually got, though!

A few people agreed that better story would be nice. However, some folks told me they didn’t play an MMO expecting a good story, so it didn’t matter if they didn’t get one. Other folks told me story was a moot point because they’d rather make up their own story rather than have the game force a narrative on their character (a very oldskool sandbox idealism that I understand and respect).

Story = something single player games should do well. Not required in an MMO.

I was taken aback in re-reading this. Especially since… well… I feel like the MMO world lately has started to prove that a good story really is important to the foundations of the gaming worlds we inhabit.

Case and point: FFXIV Shadowbringers. FFXIV has earned accolades for having a powerful and moving story, and the game is growing in popularity now that word is really getting out that hey… a story-driven MMO can be done right and is a fantastic experience!

Not only is Shadowbringers held up as an amazingly written MMO expansion, but as one of the best-written Final Fantasy games in the franchise.

During PAX West two years ago, the main scenario writer for Shadowbringers, Natsuko Ishikawa, was given a standing ovation by the crowd for her work on the expansion. She’ll be writing the main scenario for FFXIV upcoming expansion, Endwalker, just for the record. (Woot!)

See the Twitch Clip for this moment here.

In the meantime, Syn and I have long-since quit GW2 years ago. We did try come back for a while during Path of Fire. While I enjoyed the mounts (which was what drew me back), the frustrating, drawn-out and player-battering gameplay during big fight instances was a huge turn off.

Add to that the story spitting on the grave of GW1 lore elements, a story so illogical neither of us could get behind it, and the cash shop becoming the end-all-be-all… we parted ways with Anet. This was a developer who I adored all through GW1 development. It was a sad thing for me, but I accepted Anet is not the same developer as I once supported.

Poor story was a big part of the reason for our departure. I’ve heard bits and pieces of where the story went after PoF and I’m honestly glad I didn’t hang in there. None of it honored the original lore of Tyria and I’m almost cringing in worry to see what they’re going to do to my beloved Cantha. (Please leave Kunnavang alone!)

It seems like the GW2 community also agrees that though the story isn’t absolutely rock-bottom terrible, it’s not great either. It apparently has good moments, but it sounds overall like a game striving to put story up front that’s only delivering mediocrity in the end.

In the meantime, it sounds like World of Warcraft players are starting to stand up against poor storytelling in Azeroth. I know very little about WoW story other than players who care about story haven’t been pleased with it for a good long while. Now, when FFXIV is starting to look like a real contender, the players are asking for something better from WoW.

While I’m not happy that these games have poor story that is – in the words of this WoW player – “making the game less fun to play,” I’m happy to see people demanding a better story experience from MMO games.

I’m writing this as an individual who has made technical writing their profession. I’m a writer. Good story isn’t easy – I get it. However, I also know what expectations my own work requires for something I’ve written to be of releasable quality.

Six years ago, in that post I wrote, I gave the GW2 team a real hard side-eye wondering – where’s their writing QA? Where’s the editors? Where’s the people who are supposed to check the writing and story flow and give feedback on this kind of thing?

Who calls the shots on the dev team when it comes to story?

I know for certain that there’s a dedicated writer team for FFXIV. And even then, Yoshi-P himself walks through the story and the completed product to provide QA feedback and institute changes when things aren’t up to his standards. When the story is that important to the game producer – that has made all the difference.

Does that mean I think FFXIV story can do no wrong? Oh, heck no.

I’ve got a list of story-things I don’t agree with in post-Shadowbringers patches. But I also can overlook small irritations in FFXIV because the overall story experience is great, and I know the things I don’t care for are often due to my personal preferences. Heck, some people like the things I don’t like – would you look at that!

Anyhow, the takeaway is… I think we’re starting to see how good story provides a better overall gaming experience for MMO players. As the MMO genre continues to evolve, players are starting to demand that MMOs that claim to contain story actually focus on making good story

No more of this just tossing out a half-baked experience. Because when story is done right in an MMO, you can definitely see the difference.

If there’s one thing I’m proud of with FFXIV it’s that they didn’t settle on story mediocrity. FFXIV went above and beyond, embracing the concept of being a story-driven game – even in the face of folks who claim story is not important in an MMO. That has not only paid off for S/E, but it’s creating new expectations for MMO players as a whole while putting pressure for other games to step up their writing, as well.

I couldn’t be happier about this shift. I wish for a great story experience for all MMO worlds!

15 responses to “MMO & Story: So, Story Does Matter!”

  1. I completely agree with everything you said.

    I was also one of those people who believed that a good story and MMOs were just impossible to do well. Then I started to play Guild Wars 2 and my mind started to change… The way they did it back during release still felt a bit clunky and not ideal but it showed to me that it could be done.

    Then when I eventually returned to Final Fantasy XIV, there was a lot about their storytelling I liked. True, the story writing for the base game wasn’t that great but it was there and at least it explained who I was fighting against and why. Then I started to get in Heavensward and the storytelling just kept getting better and better until we got to Shadowbringers and it hit me in the feels like few games have done. šŸ™‚

    Here is hoping they continue this strong with the upcoming expansions and other MMOs take some notes from them in terms of storytelling. šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just because it’s possible to “do story” in an mmorpg doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I’m strong on the need for lore (aka “history and culture”), because without those you don’t have a virtual world, just some virtual scenery. Adding story to the mix, though, turns mmorpgs into yet another vehicle for profassionally-written narrative and leaves players as either straightforwards readers/viewers or some kind of peculiar hybrid between that and bit-part actors.

    In my opinion, the cult of narrative storytelling has passed almost into the realms of religion in recent years. We had that phase where the buzzword was “gamification” and everything in our lives was going to be improved by being turned into a game. Now we’re seeing something similar with story, where every aspect of life has to be framed and understood as a “narative”.

    I certainly wouldn’t argue with the idea that if there’s going to be a story it ought to be a well-written, well-told story but I think mmorpgs are at their best when they’re neither sandboxes where players tell their own stories nor storyboxes where writers tell theirs. Mmorpgs shine most brightly when they learn how to be what the acronym says they are – large-scale games in which players take on roles. Places where we play at being other people, with other people, in other words. If stories come out of that, so be it, but it’s not required.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I respect your thoughts on this. However, I’ll have to agree to disagree on this point. I crave story in my games – including stories that I purposely make for my own characters – and I doubt that will every change for me.

      A game with a decent story is going to keep me engaged much longer than one that does not, MMOs included. And a game that advertises itself with a story at the center (“Living Story” as example) is going to turn me off really fast if the story is poorly written or doesn’t make sense.

      That’s just my preference. But that being said, not every game has to have a story to keep me invested. Some of the survival sandbox games prove this.

      Valheim is an example of a very low-story (almost no story) game that’s kept me playing. Why? Because it doesn’t profess to be a storytelling game and it doesn’t try to be.

      The gameplay and the world design/discovery is compelling enough to hold its own without a story. There’s enough bits and pieces of lore in the background to give me the feeling of an understated story without needing to have narrative. Basically, it’s a game that knows what its strong points are and caters to that.

      Even a story-oriented person like myself can be drawn to that kind of game. But a lot of games sadly just try to shoehorn a story in where it doesn’t work rather than know that their strength doesn’t lie in the story. I think that’s where stories in games get a bad name and it’s sad because I know that games have a lot of potential to make people think and feel. Including MMOs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The story point in MMOs is one I too have vacillated on a fair bit. As a WoW player, I try to follow it, understand it, and let myself enjoy it – but it’s not why I play WoW and so when it’s bad, I do enjoy the game less but only very slightly so. It can be easy in that game to detach from the story and look at it as a foreign object, and that makes it easier for me to laugh at how bad it is sometimes. It’s puzzling because Blizzard has a developer that is in-charge of the story of the game and multiple staff positions for narrative designers, historians, and the like who all work to keep things in order.

    FFXIV is the game that changed my mind on MMO storytelling, and it does so by being mostly Final Fantasy in nature – a strong single-player narrative that collides with other players at points. That’s not a dig, either – I actually think that leaning into the FF-style more with the story is a strength the game has gained as the team’s confidence has grown, and Natsuko Ishikawa does a fantastic job of getting the main beats right for that setting (which is why I am also excited she’s writing Endwalker, haha). I play FFXIV for more relaxed gameplay and the story, while I play WoW for very different reasons despite the fact that they both share a genre.

    I think the biggest thing I like about FFXIV’s narrative that feels different compared to WoW is that the story focuses on the player and makes every effort to include the player and center them in the narrative. WoW has beautiful pre-rendered cutscenes that tell epic moments of the story, but that design means players can never be in them, so the absolute biggest lore moments exclude your player and that feels really bad in comparison. I haven’t gotten far enough in GW2 to say much about its story, and I know other games like SWTOR focus in more on the player as the central protagonist, but I think in the biggest two titles in the genre ATM, the contrast on story and player focus is pretty sharp.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Again, not a WoW player, but that’s exactly what I heard about WoW’s story from other folks, too. That WoW tends to focus on its own characters and franchise whereas FFXIV goes out of its way to feature the Warrior of Light as a central part of everything that it can.

      But I also do get the impression that most WoW folks don’t exactly play for the story. This is a strange notion to me I guess because most of my long-term MMOs have always been gameplay that is furthered by story directly – LoTRO, GW1, Secret World, and now FFXIV. I’ve dabbled in lots of other MMOs, but it’s usually ones with a central story that keep me going.

      I’m also not a raider at all, so… yeah. šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. But then the problem is I have to play an MMO to get the story. XD

    To be a little less facetious, I’ve found that I’m generally not a fan of MMORPG’s, so when I read up on FFXIV’s story I kinda want to play until I remember all the reasons I stopped.

    Which I think I’ve told you before so I’ll quit harping on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nah, I totally get it. FFXIV is a strange fit for me because I usually won’t play a game that has forced grouping in it. Sometimes it still rubs me the wrong way that I have to do a dungeon or I’m gated by a raid and can’t see certain story unless I do fights I don’t particularly want to do.

      It’s something to say that this game was so good that it really forced me out of my comfort zone. The story has been a carrot on a stick for me. XD

      There’s still some things I refuse to run, though, and some story I’ve skipped out on because I just don’t want to unlock fights and force myself through them.


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