I also dislike all the psychological problems this type of game feed to and how it is all very often hidden in shiny colorful icons. I hate even more those mechanics that make people wait like idiots for hours to the next click, so then you can wait even more. As I talked here some time ago, it is all different when we speak about free to play RPG online games (or MMORPGs, if you prefer).
Going straight to the point, compared to the experiences of RPG that are available, what these games usually are offering is considerably more limited. The mechanic itself, the game itself, ends up being something to simple and if if it was all the game had to achieve success, it would probably fail. What makes people play and what makes these games special I believe are other things.
First is the price. These games are free. Yes, there is 1 million websites with emulator that are also free. Yes, it is also truth that to even paid games (including launch titles) always have some place in the internet where you can get it for ferre. However, finding these emulator's websites and to do these "special setups" is not something that anyone can do, without losing itself in some pages with content that could be described as bizarre, terrible, full of viruses and... not nice (...not nice?).
I'm one of those idiots who believes that people deeper inside are good and they want to do what is good. I really believe that the bad things people do are a result of ignorance, mistakes of interpretation of the things. If that Point of view un, from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was real, that one where the person who gets shot fells what the person that gave the shot fells, all the conflicts in the world would end (check the video).
I'm saying this because I believe that the people who decide to use piracy, who download emulators and all that, deep inside of their pretty big heads, would prefer to go through others paths. I strongly believe that these people would be happier if they could do everything inside the proper terms, in fact I would say it would aso be like to those people that when reading these could say "But, why would I pay for something I can get for free, you dumb internet 'not nice' guy?". Well, believe me, if you have the money to pay things right and follow with your life without major consequences, you definitely would be happier. Even more if you understand who complicated it is to develop a game and how much is lost when all that work can't make money back, not because it is not a good game, but because people decided to steal it. "Yeah, I loved your game so much that because of me you are living under the bridge! I'm your biggest fan, my favorite homeless!"
This way, I believe there are two things inside people that make then try these free to play online RPGs: 1 - Lazyness, since finding the websites with emulators and ways to do all those "special setups", without fucking your computer in the process is not easy and 2 - The unconscious desire to avoid doing what is wrong, to avoid being a fraud, to be part of something in a authentic manner.
So the game is downloaded, it is free, it is localized to your language, it is fast, why not? So, before you even learn the game mechanics, it is time to chose your character, you gotta create your character, you gonna create what will be you inside the game. It is a different experience, it is not just the mechanic, is the person, it is you, the character you made. Now, let's actually play it, let's understand this game, look how it is pretty, with things are shinning, exploding, and jumping, and you just leveled up, and you won some itens and you don't have more time to play today, but this is a social era, with all the social networks all there, you gonna talk about this new game you played, you gonna say it is free, that you made your character, and thing jump and explode and fly, and you evolve, level up and you can play online with other people! (27 likes!) Friends will read your comments, other people will hear about it and that is when the true value of these games happens.
The social aspect.
You are not a player, you are a group, you all together are a group.
And you know, when you are in a group, experiences involving thins exploding, shining, growing, that let you customize it, full of adventures, are always better (it also works to movies, have you ever watched a movie on the theater with a group, liked it all, and then when you watched it again alone at home the movie was terrible? Oh yeah). The interaction with other people, unknown or not, make people discover themselves, make them be who they want to be, learning to care or not care about what other people will think.
Your looks? Your height? You weight? Forget all these, in this world, you are the "you" of the game, you are the "you that you created" in the game, with cat's ear, red hair and axe bigger than you!
Your personality, your difficulty to talk to people, it all stay away. Here you a hero, we are heroes, we are a group of heroes, we are many, we are better.
It is not for no reason that games like these get in people's lives as a second life. All this social aspect is enhanced with the events the developers put inside the game, celebrating real world events and fantasy world events. This weekend we have extra experience, next one we have a greater chance to obtain that gear, or customization itens will be on sale, and so many others that some of these games have more than one event every week. The worlds are constantly updated, the game is renewed, it never stops, new itens, new customizations, new missions, new opportunities do evolve with your friends, new objectives that you can fulfill and feel good about it (unlike so many objectives in life that are simply there and that sometimes are just the opposite).
I don't think this is bad. Very much the contrary. Games can transform people. These games in fact transform not only the psychological aspect, when the person learn to be capable to achieve goals, of evolve and conquer things also in her life, these games also cause a social transformation. Boys learn how to talk to girls, girls lean how to talk to boys, boys find out they are gays, girls find out they are lesbians, friendships are born inside the game to last a life time, boyfriends and girlfriends, marriages, fights, parties, happiness, sadness, dance, food, drink, swords, sorcery and lots of xp.
And these games last for years. And along the years people grown, get old and change. They change inside, they change outside, they change their routines, their lives, their free times and priorities. The is no longer visited as before. Even the friends don't have all that presence in the day by day. There is a nostalgic feeling, the memory of long nights, lots of laughs and adventures in a world where we are all better and that stood in the past.
And the game goes on. New players jump in, old players play less.
And time goes, and old players play even less and new players may then give a chance to another game, one more modern, with some new ideas and twists, a new element, a better graphical interface, a name that could make some laugh out loud (I see what you did!), or whatever. Since it is all a social thing, every new player brings more players, more friends, more indications in social networks and the public of the old game get smaller and smaller, until that someday, all of sudden, going with logic and against the emotions of all of those who lived so many things because of that game, it dies.
The developer of the game decides to close it. It's over. The business model and the money (the most important thing in the universe... yeah.... yeah... yes...) speak louder. It is necessary to place final full stops, its necessary to end a book to start a new story. The end happens.
The world is filled with many different people, with different tastes, everyone with its special way to be. Since the world is a giant village, games are launched and localized all over the world and now always they hit the same level of success in all countries, it creates sometimes very complicated situations where a game dies all regions of the world, except one.
Then what? What to do? What goes through the head of the developers? Leave only these onde? For how long? How long the community will be able to sustain a game? How long it is worth to hold development teams and money with this story instead of starting a new one, with new mechanics, with new things?
Even in cases where there is not this scenario of just a region where the game still lives, it is curious to see what a end of a game like this can causa on people. All that lived experiences are remembered in a mind rush as you know that that game, that for so many years of your life, for many nights of live, in a time you not even knew who you were, is going to end. This same game that gave friends, that gave more than you can understand, this same game you were no longer playing all that much, that you had no time to be there, but that at the same time you liked to know it was there, as a monument of something good in the world, a lighthouse, a memory materialized in a name, in a community, in a icon on your desktop for years without being uninstalled, in a world, that game, your game, is over.
In some level it is a similiar psychological experience of losing a father, a mother, someone that was there with you along the years, that made you learn things, that was a safe place to be, a place to go, a safe haven to go once in a while, to tie down your boat and forget all the rest.
As that guy form that story I wrote sometime ago would say: It's fucked up.
Personally, I like much more of games from game consoles and over the experiences are different. Over there, games don't die. They do not depend of some server localized in some place on the other side of the world to keep providing the same experiences. They teach, they challenge, the put you in situations that can show you things about yourself. They demand heart, courage and skill. All these things these game we were discussing also do, but console games are something else, they are a personal local experience.
It is funny how it is normal to think that these online games have no end, not like console games where you can "finish the game".
Well, "finish a game", is not the end of the game, it is still there, you can play again, you can play more, you just have to turn on everything and it is done. On the other side, the online games that can last for years, with all that events, all that stories, when they are over, it is the end. The server do not respond, the world is no longer there. What was, now is not.
Even if we have online game in consoles, even if we have multiplayer, a community and so on, the play together of the free to play game is different because of the people that are there. It is interesting to notice how different games, form different communities. The world people chose to be their "second world", can say a lot about them.
Games can create those types of memories that can last beyond the things that created then, those memories that can go through time, those who stay in those who were there. There is a special value to these games since all the things with a definitive end, since all that is capable of dying and that involves the passage of time and the relationship with others, are what create the strongest memories, being it the multiplayer with your friends in couch when you were a kid, or with your father, of with your brother, or with all that internet friends of yours. It is a cliche, but it is true, some games can die, but what they gave us are kept alive with us.
And to conclude, for absolutely no reason, a gif of a hamster eating a tiny hot dog.