Every gamer remembers the first game they were addicted to. It was a time when you would wake up in the morning just to squeeze in as much playtime as possible and didn’t care about the outside world because you were too busy accomplishing endless online quests. For me, this game was Maplestory.
Maplestory is a 2D side-scrolling MMORPG where players can become heroes who must save the fantasy world they inhabit by fighting against cute but deadly mobs. I first encountered Maplestory the year it was released and have been playing it continuously for 14 years. Having spent most of my childhood training countless numbers of characters, I have witnessed the game at each stage of its evolution. Nexon, the developer, often tried to fix things that weren’t broken in the first place or managed to fix the problem but left a big scar behind. So instead of having a perfectly healed game, they ended up having bruised parts of a game that were bound to get worse over time.
Although the game got an influx of new content throughout years, the world of Maplestory began to feel like a wasteland. The game took away the difficulty of leveling up and the collaborative aspect and, before I knew it, I was barely talking to anyone except NPCs. The game started to feel lonely and hollow, making it hard to believe it was an online experience anymore.
Vanilla Maplestory (2002-2010)
In 2002, when I first started playing Maplestory, it was simple yet challenging. Do you want to have a stronger character to explore the world? Just spend hundreds of hours training and doing quests! You needed to kill hundreds of monsters to level up and that number even went up to thousands after your 3rd job advancement. When you got tired of repetitive training, there were party quests like Kerning City quests where you would join a party with 3 other people, solve puzzles and hunt together to gain a huge amount of EXP. Even though it was quite stressful at that time, this repetitive side of Maplestory made it addictive and more satisfying to level up. Also, it made the game much more interactive and cooperative.
Maplestory after Big Bang Update (2010)
In 2010, Maplestory experienced its biggest update through the ‘Big Bang’ patch. It was initially intended to make the game more approachable and easier for bigger audiences. Along with the change in user interface, skill sets and release of new classes, the most drastic change was lowering the experience curve. Only 1/5 of experience was required to get to level 30 and you only had to work half as much to get to level 200, which was the maximum.
At first, this change sounded like a great news for players who always wanted to level up faster. Without a doubt, it made the game way less time-consuming. Before the patch, it would literally take months to reach level 30 (level for 2nd job advancement). And people who reached the maximum level, 200, were so rare that they were much respected by the community. With the extreme decrease in experience requirements, it only took about 3-4 hours to become level 100 and a few weeks to reach 200. Thus, training became almost a minor part of the game, which is quite insane considering it is still an RPG. Many old players left the game after this patch because they felt it was ridiculous how new players were accomplishing something that took them years to do, within just a few weeks.
The Future of Maplestory
Although the developers were successful in making the training part of Maplestory less tedious, they failed to make the game easier as a whole. In fact, Nexon has been releasing many Cash items, which require real money to buy. These items include scrolls which are essential to make the weapons stronger. Now, training is not enough to become strong but players need to buy items with real life money to upgrade their weapons. This meant that players of level 30 with a weapon that was upgraded with a ton of real money could be stronger than an ordinary player of level 100. This has caused a huge gap between the users who were paying and who weren’t paying. Maplestory is no longer a game where you need a lot of time and patience to become good, but a game overrun by people who can spend thousands of dollars on virtual weapons and gear inside their screen.
So what can Nexon do to stop the game from losing its popularity? This game needs a change in direction. Back in the old days, people loved Maplestory because it served as a conduit to meet and talk with a group of friendly and interesting people all around the world. Although it took hours to level up, many kept going because of its socializing aspect. Nexon should focus on bringing new party quests and events where players can collaborate and communicate with each other. In other words, the party system should become essential and the center of the game. Once players are put into a place where they must work together and aid each other, Maplestory will feel like a community where they can really belong to.