I don’t usually like “subposting” — posting blog-length responses to other blog posts — but the alternative is to add a comment to the actual thread of a post on Massively Overpowered that asks “Is Early Access MMOs Creating Gated Communities?”
I think the answer is universally “yes”, but it’s really not a new phenomenon. Before early access there was a temporal divide, and before temporal divide there were striations by character level. By themselves, neither of these situations is necessarily bad, although the level divide is such a pain in the ass.
One of the commentators on the post kind of got his or her invective misplaced by blaming game operators, and I think the title of the post is a bit misleading even though I understand the choice of limitation to “early access” since it’s the new hotness in PC gaming. As in many things, the striation of attitude is entirely the fault of the players and what they’re looking to get out of the game.
There’s a lot of different players who play different games for different reasons, and in this case what we’re looking at are the players for whom primacy among their peers is very important. These players want to be first in all things: first to take down a boss, first to complete a raid, first to have all the achievements, to have been there and been the first to have done that. These are also the people who speed through content so they can write up guides and get their names in front of people who come after them.
I’m not entirely sure what drives people like this, but on the surface it seems like some folks have a need to be seen as important and accomplished, or as a “sage” in a community of their peers. Sometimes they lord their “front of the line” status over others in order to establish a hierarchy in the community, but sometimes they have skills and desires to help other people, especially where they themselves might have stumbled.
Whether it’s early access, transition from pay to play to free to play, or picking up the game at launch compared to picking it up further down the line, there’s always going to be those players who want everyone to know that they were there “back when”, and that newer players just won’t understand things the way that veterans understand them…which is usually framed in context of “the way it was is the way it should be”. You’ll find this a lot when people talk about (of course) World of Warcraft which has so many striations based on longevity and expansions that the community has ample opportunity to self-sort — and force-sort — themselves and each other into before, during, and after various milestones.
A lot of people skip early access because they don’t want to get burnt out on a half finished product before it releases, but there are those who seem to actively seek out opportunities to play the martyr, sacrificing comfort in the present for the opportunity to tell newcomers how easy they have it at a later date. It’s almost like that in their mind, suffering for the game makes them more worthy of recognition and the attention of their grievances, so they’ll take that early access bullet if it means they get to step the front of any and all lines from that point on.
There’s really no way to stop this because some people’s need to be recognized for being ahead of the pack is not (always) a game mechanic. Even if it were possible to negate the mechanical achievements of early adopters, the fact that these people would have their “war stories” of what they accomplished could never be taken away, and being the only way a veteran player could hold it over everyone else, might actually transform a simple recounting into a tall tale. There are game mechanics which feed this need, but when they’re institutionalized these situations are actually promoted as being a good thing because they foster competition among players for whom having that achievement is important. I guess in that regard the game designs are telling players that it’s OK to show yourself as being “better” than other players, but it doesn’t care to make a distinction where it’s appropriate, and where they’re just bring a dick.
One thing that I’m kind of interested in is the different between those who play during early access and…those who play later on in early access, as opposed to those who play during EA and those who play after launch. In the first case there’s no real demarcation between any phases of the game; it’s just one ongoing, every-changing experience that occasionally resets for everyone as the developers work their way through their lessons-learned. In the second case there’s a very definite demarcation between the rocky road and the supposed smooth sailing post release. It’s probably inconsequential on paper, but from a psychological perspective it may have a big impact on how a player might think of himself, depending on when he signed on to the game.