There’s a special kind of camaraderie that only comes about on the rare, coveted launch day of a new MMO. Inevitably, it’ll be two in the morning and I’ll have stopped actively playing the game I’ve waited months for in favor of standing around with my 50 closest strangers in our identical clothes, /dance-ing and /wave-ing at one another.
Someone will be typing the lyrics to Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit All Star in all caps in the global chat and I’ll find it charming rather than grating. A steady stream of players who’ve just logged in ask the location of a particular NPC and I’m a bottomless well of enthusiasm for answering the same request 12 times with a smile—so proud am I of having learned the answer just an hour ago.
I’ve attended my share of MMO launch days (and expansion launch days) over the years, and they always come with a specific adrenaline rush. Everyone is stuck together in the same starter zones, scurrying back and forth between NPCs while learning the basics of combat or crafting or building, and killing the same five boars as everyone else. I’ve inevitably been party to the clamor of a frantic anthill, which produces sights never again to be seen once players begin to distribute themselves.
When fantasy colonial MMO New World launched in 2021 it was excessive campfires clogging the area where players were told to try building one for the first time. And, of course, the naked prone crawling spectacles.
While my screenshots are lost to time, I’ll never forget jumping into long-awaited Guild Wars 2 in 2012 with my first Norn character and exploring the mountainous Wayfarer’s Foothills, delighted by the newfound ability to jump. With no veteran players in existence, every bit of earned information was so much sweeter, and eagerly shared in text chat. Surrounded by dozens of other Norn players in our dedicated starting zone, we solved riddles posed by raven statues and found first footing with the area’s jumping puzzles.
Although it’s no MMO, Elden Ring’s first days nearly felt the same as I watched the shades of other players take their first steps out of the Stranded Graveyard beside me. The presence of player messages on the ground, often the same jokes told by hundreds of people, were like being surrounded by a global chat. A month later, the “hidden path ahead” lies may feel dry, but the first day in a new world made those well-trod words a special inside joke to those who lived through being inundated by them.
New MMOs don’t come often. Not even twice a year, these days. I treasure when they do, because there’s a joy singleplayer games can’t replicate in being surrounded by strangers all walking wide-eyed through the same first moments beside me.