Goodbye old friend ...

I was sad to learn this week that the old VNBoards over at IGN were closing. While some of the still active sections are being folded into the main IGN forums, a little bit of MMO history will be passing with their closing. For one thing I doubt I would have this job if it hadn't been for taking part in the community that was forged there.

For those who weren't around a decade ago, the VNBoards were one of the first, and probably the largest, forums which were frequented by MMO fans. This was due in no small part to them serving as 'semi-official' forums for a few of the early games who didn't have their own forum systems at that time, like Asheron's Call and Dark Ages of Camelot.

In many ways those were formative years of MMO communities. There was a real sense of new frontiers and a pioneering feeling among those who were exploring these new virtual worlds. They were a microcosm of everything that would be good or bad about online gaming in the decade to come. 

It is amazing how many MMO veterans I meet that also shared those memories for the VNBoards. They  laugh knowingly when I scowl and mention that I had to help out moderating the Darktide server forum, or smile when they talked about their favorite forum.

For me it was the wonderful community on the AO General Forum. I made a lot of good friends there, and it was a respectful (well mostly, but hey, the internet was still the internet!), knowledgeable, often opinionated, but usually civil community that were all there for a love of the game. They motivated me to be a part of that community, and then later as a moderator, site manager and associate editor, a path which ultimately led me here to Funcom.

The most interesting thing for me though was to take some time out on Monday and sit and read through some of the archived threads form my time there before they disappeared forever. You recall all kinds of debates that history often forgets, like the fact that there was serious debate as to whether Everquest 2 or World of Warcraft  would be more successful, and that Blizzard's debut MMO was seen with much skepticism from the veteran community, who even then feared it would be 'too easy', in much the same way that WoW veterans these days look back at 'Vanilla WoW' and decry how easy the game has become. It's akin to an MMO 'circle of life' as it were. 

It also raises a smile when you see many of the same debates, literally identical, even a decade on. The same 'casual vs hardcore' rewards debates raged about the virtues of raids and dedication against the needs of casual gamers. You could find the obligatory 'X Game is going to release and kill Y game' by the dozen. You could even see the genesis of the 'sandbox vs themepark' style debates that preoccupy the current generation of MMO veterans.

They say that many things in history are cyclical, time may well prove that MMO communities are no different. The proverbial 'noobs' of yesterday are the veterans of today, and shall likewise evolve their own opinions about what is 'right' for the future of MMOs.

In some ways it is a little sad that we haven't come further in the last decade, but I generally refuse to dwell on the negatives. Instead, it's more interesting to me to reflect on how much wider spread the love for this genre has become, because with that interest comes much more motivation for innovation and fun. I firmly believe the best worlds are yet to be created .. but that also misses the point slightly. I am a veteran of the genre, and while I may personally never recapture that true pioneer feeling you only get from your first games (I'll just let it inspire me to create new ones!), the fantastic position the genre is in now, means that there are more and more people experiencing that same feeling for the first time, each and every day.

They won't do it in the same way, media changes with time, but they will have the same motivations. Whether it is via Twitter, Facebook, or the latest snazzy social media invention, doesn't really matter, at a fundamental level it is still about connecting with our fellow virtual world explorers and adventurers. That is what makes this genre special.  

So goodbye VNBoards, times changes, and forums come and go, but the communities and the spirit that the genre promotes seems to persevere, for better or for worse, regardless of the format.