While some games remain largely untouched post-release, other games constantly change and evolve with the passing of time. A certain genre of games, to be more precise: MMORPGs. Most contemporary MMORPGs are pressured to add new content at a regular pace, as to entice the uninterested to try, the bored to stay, and the disillusioned to return. Such major updates - the largest of which are separately labeled and marketed as "expansions" - are akin to the DLCs of package games, except that you don't have to pay extra.
Two of the latest and largest Korean MMORPGs, ArcheAge (2013) and Black Desert (2015), have gone through many updates and expansions since their release; the size of their active playerbase have fluctuated in kind. How do MMORPGs change over time, and how do they make players return to the worlds they previously had left?
Inven staff writers Myung Kyu "SaWual" Lee and Dong Yeon "Rakii" Lee sat down to discuss how the two games evolved through time and what enticed them to return.
I had high hopes for Black Desert when I first logged in. I had played many different types of games, but BDO promised to be fresh and different. The general concept of the game was not entirely new, of course, but BDO’s mix between an open-world console RPG and stereotypical Korean F2P MMORPG made the game feel like a neat new take on the genre.
My excitement did not last long, however. It was mainly because I had no idea exactly what I should be progressing towards. Players deciding for themselves what to do is a great idea on paper, but the utter lack of requirements sometimes left me feeling lost, not free. I tried many of the smaller features out, but never really achieved anything, so then tried clearing quests, but found most to be boring and repetitive. Most importantly, the game had no desert map. I’m not kidding - Black Desert Online had no desert. What a rip! I ended up quitting.
What brought me back was Pearl Abyss' constant updates; there were just too many teases. Little by little, I was starting to entertain the idea of returning to check out all the fresh contents. The addition of upper tier weapons and an entirely new world to explore (finally with a desert!) left me in limbo for a while. The final straw was when my friend asked me to hop on his galley and sail across the sea together. Before I knew it, I was logged on again.
The world of Black Desert is quite different from those of many other Korean MMORPGs. BD's maps are massive - I often have to ride a horse for five minutes just to get to a nearby village. Unlike many other MMORPGs in which combat is the sole centerpiece, BD lets me enjoy the game for days without even drawing my sword. The quality of the graphics and the sheer size of the regions' traversable areas ensure that even aimless exploration can make for a satisfying playing experience. By the time I get bored, Pearl Abyss usually is ready with a new update!
Black Desert also prohibits free P2P trade, which surprised many when first announced - all items may be exchanged for currency at will, but their price ranges are strictly controlled. While this system comes with pros and cons, it works in favor of all but the most hardcore of players. Suppose you play an MMORPG that does not have price control, and that your character is at max level with the best items in the game. If you take a break prior to a big update, your state-of-the-art equipment might be worthless upon your return. BD's system ensures that your old items retain value.
It has been a while since I returned to BD. I now have two maxed out characters, tons of gold in my stash, and am ready to finally hop on my galley and hunt some sea monsters. Pearl Abyss and Kakao Games' service has not been without several bumps, but things are settling down nicely now. I hope they can maintain their development pace.
When I started ArcheAge for the very first time during its January 2013 OBT launch, I had to immediately crawl deep into the mountains. As land was scarce, players who did not have their own land had to start off as small-scale farmers. I began with small-size crops that would grow fast, which would reduce the chances of a malicious stranger ruining my harvest. After a few rounds of success, I gained enough confidence to spend all of my money planting trees. Lumber was the most valuable resource back in those days. I wanted to become a virtual millionaire!
Results were tragic. Thieves stumbled upon my precious forest and broadcast its location on server chat. I was ransacked, left only with footprints of many unforgivable criminals. I gave up farming to become a pillager myself. I scoured mountains and stole other people's crops and trees. Eventually I was caught, put on trial, and sentenced to an entire day in jail. I quit.
Much has changed in ArcheAge during its three years of service. For one, it is now much easier for new players to acquire land and housing, thanks to in-game society becoming somewhat stable; in the old days, players would regularly raid and kill each other a la GTA. I returned to the game with the Orchidna update because I missed its abundance of non-combat content. I got myself a new house in the woods and began the second phase of my ArcheAge life.
Archeage boasts an abundance of non-combat content. It sets the game apart from other Korean MMORPGs. Agriculture, trade, real estate, theft, justice systems... for many, this part of the game is why they keep returning to it, and for some, it's the only reason why they play! The most hardcore of the "non-combat" content lovers play on their own isolated server, where in-game social stability levels are as low as the OBT days. There, they still fistfight over stolen crops.
Since the game's release, raids, guild wars, region expansions, and balancing all have been constantly refined. ArcheAge really does offer players more than enough to enjoy. What XLGames should really work on is management. It's been over a year since players have been up in arms about the developers' categorical refusal to listen to user feedback. The game's reputation, at least in terms of customer service, is nearing irreversible levels. XLGames should become more responsive to the community and start to earn back the players' trust. Countless people still believe in the game's potential; it would be an enormous shame if such a promising game were to capsize due to a reconcilable problem.