If you’ve ever wondered what kind of person has the fortitude and passion for games to play the world’s worst MMORPGs, well, we found him.
There’s something special about great MMOs like Final Fantasy 14: they’re the kinds of games that can swallow you up in sprawling stories, months-long quests for the ultimate gear, and communities that inspire lifelong friendships. There’s also something special about terrible MMORPGs. Because when they’re bad, they’re really bad: the MMO genre can be a cornucopia of dull game design, hilarious glitches, and microtransaction bullshit. They’re also notoriously time-intensive to play, and as a result many commercially unsuccessful MMOs remain tragically unexamined. Thankfully there’s someone documenting this rich and varied history, and his name is Josh Strife Hayes.
Hayes’ YouTube channel is devoted to MMOs, with a special show on the most abysmal specimens of the genre: The Worst MMOs Ever. From leveling up breathing in Mortal Online to navigating the psychotic free-floating inventory in the Life is Feudal MMO, Hayes somehow has limitless reserves of patience and energy to power through the “most awful” games he can find. He even has a joke episode on Tinder, arguably the objectively worst MMO that many of us can relate to, humorously comparing it to a free-to-play game that sends you on “quests” (dates). “It’s a free-to-play game which means it’s heavily biased in favor of those who pay to win, and it’s probably one of the only MMOs or RPGs ever where the charisma stat matters more than every other stat combined,” he jokes.
Hayes’ journey into streaming began in university when he started playing Neverwinter. In 2017 he made a few video guides and started to grow his YouTube channel until it snowballed into a full-time job that paid the bills. He’s been especially successful in streaming thanks to an innate sense of theatricality and entertainment—he trained as a professional stage actor and worked as an actor and acting teacher until COVID hit last year.
“I realized that I had enough experience from enough MMOs to kind of cross-compare systems that I was seeing again and again,” he says. “Or I could relate what one game was doing to what another game was doing. And the more experience you have with games, the easier it becomes to do that.” For his “Worst MMOs” series, Hayes tries to play each game for 8-10 hours to give it a fair shot. “But as far as MMOs in general, they’ve taken up tens of thousands of hours of my life,” he says.
So with all of this painstakingly learned wisdom, what makes an MMO “the worst?” All the videos in the series are strong contenders, but there are a special few that stand out. Dreamscape Dimensions is a particularly horrifying example—it’s a MUDD-turned-3D game that used a whopping 15GB of RAM on Hayes’ first playthrough, prompting him to speculate on whether the game had hidden crypto-mining features. It also only had four total keybinds, you could unequip your own hand/fist as a weapon, and it’s the only MMO he’s played where he couldn’t even make it past four hours. “I am done,” he says as an NPC very, very slowly hacks him to death for walking ever-so-slightly off the main path. “This game has had three-and-a-half hours longer than it deserves, to be honest. This was dire.”
One of the worst MMOs he played, Bloodlines of Prima, turned out to be the creation of one single person; the developer actually got in touch with Hayes and revealed that it was a sort of personal challenge to see if he could even make a game. For Hayes, what constitutes “the worst game” is also about intent.
“It’s not just about the player experience of the game… I have to look at the outside elements,” he says. “One guy making a game that’s at least playable is impressive. But when I look at companies that make huge massive cash grab pay-to-win games. I would personally consider those worse because they know they could do better. They just choose not to. They know they’ve got more skills. They just choose not to use them.”
For Hayes, integrity is a hugely important factor in judging a game. He brings up developer Sergey Titov, who created arguably the worst game ever made, Big Rigs Over the Road Racing, microtransaction-filled zombie game The War Z, and a wild west-themed game called New Frontier. “But while I was scrolling through Steam to find other games, I then found another game called The Magnificent 5, which was an exact copy of [New Frontier],” he says. “So he’s just put the same game out twice, under two different names, and they’re both monetized. So to me, that would show a lack of integrity… the fact that you’re just shotgun peppering games everywhere instead of focusing on one.”
Despite taking crappy MMOs to task on his channel, Hayes still harbors a love of bad games and sometimes prefaces his critiques with a short speech on the importance of respecting developers for actually producing a game.
“I find a unique enjoyment in something being awful. If something’s really bad, you can enjoy it even if you’re enjoying it ironically,” says Hayes. “So to me the worst MMOs are the ones that are forgettable, the ones that are boring, the ones that are neither so fun that you want to keep playing them or so bad that you want to keep going and find out how bad it can get.”
In a sense, what Hayes is doing, besides being entertaining as hell, has an important archival function. He likens digging up old, weird, even poorly-made games to finding hidden treasure when you’re out thrift shopping. “I love finding books that you would never ever find in a mainstream bookshop, like an old fantasy pulp novel like Conan the Barbarian but a knockoff version, and I would look at it and I would think, no one is ever going to remember this story,” he says. “Strange board games, strange TV shows that you saw as a kid, strange films that you caught on TV that you can’t remember. Most art, most media, isn’t archived.”
The idea of what constitutes a bad game has changed as we’ve become accustomed to more polished game design.
“One of the things I have discovered is a lot of people who played older PC games in the ’80s, ’90s, early 2000s, running into a bug isn’t necessarily a problem, because we will just say, right, let’s open the ini files,” says Hayes. Younger or newer gamers are also more likely to give up when they hit a bug during gameplay, which doesn’t bode well for older, jankier games that aren’t optimized for newer computers.
“Most people want something to work when they download it, which is completely understandable. So a lot of these old games, they’re not only not being catalogued, because people can’t find them… they’re not easy to get running or to play.”
Now as game development has become a much more accessible endeavor, people are producing more games than ever, and yet most of them struggle to get noticed, much less remembered. “So I wanted to try and find the weirdest projects I could and play them and film them and archive them and catalog them just so in the future, we can look back and say, ‘Hey, remember this, look how weird this is,'” he says. “Because it’s got a strange, occult esoteric nature to it, where people look at something they would never have seen otherwise. And they’re fascinated by the unknown, or at least I was.”
The best of the worst
- Otherland is a game that Hayes found “super strange,” but he felt compelled to finish the 2016 MMO based on the sci-fi novels by Tad Williams. After he made a 10-part video playthrough, he spoke to the developers and design team, inadvertently helped to revive the game’s fanbase, and “interest increased so much because of the playthrough, they hired a new community support dude.”
- Besides the incredible music, Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade was a “massive disappointment” for Hayes, who’s a massive fan of all things Warhammer. “I feel that they really dropped the ball on how good that game could be… and as of yet, we haven’t had that many games that have really done it justice.”
- Tale of Toast: Unfortunately this free chibi-style game doesn’t have any actual toast, but it does have an in-game microtransaction for 3,250 “crumbs,” which costs $250. Come for the adorable hand-drawn map and heartwarming sound effects, stay for the crushing despair as Hayes realizes he’s playing the cutest MMO from hell. Oh, there’s a built-in blockchain cryptocurrency generator, too.