Tobold has a post up today talking about direct and indirect social interactions in MMO games. It’s a good read with interesting points, but is a somewhat odd topic to be discussing in a genre with Massive and Multiplayer in its name. Or at least, one would think it would be.
Simple test: How much of your current MMO would still be possible if you were the only player on the server? What would remain unchanged, what would be different, and what would be impossible?
Now, create a list of your personal top 5 MMO moments.
For me at least, my top 5 are impossible without other players, and actually have little to do with game mechanics and far more with who was there. In addition to that, what I look for in an MMO is directly related to other players (PvP, working economy/crafting, group PvE, player-driven stories), and while I still partake and enjoy the more solo aspects (solo PvE, harvesting or other character development activities), I only enjoy them in the context of the virtual world and the competition/environment it brings. My time in DarkFall is reduced currently not because the game itself changed, but because soon we will be moving to a new server and what happens between now and then ‘does not matter’. It mattered when I knew my actions today would influence future events both for myself and others. It’s just pixels, but when those pixels ‘count’, it’s a lot more motivating and fun to continue, which for me is the huge separation between the MMO genre and non-persistent games.
To get back on point, it’s both disappointing and understandable that the mass market section of the MMO genre is moving towards the ‘single player online game’, where logging in is just a formality (and excuse to charge $15 a month or open an RMT shop), and the majority of a players actions are done within his/her own little bubble.
It’s disappointing because the ‘it’ moments in an MMO are not based around cleverly scripted instances or great quest content, but rather in sharing whatever accomplishment you and others have worked for and finally reaching that goal together. Traditionally the ‘game’ part of an MMO has been mediocre at best (hence the term ‘grind’ and not ‘gameplay’), with the obvious selling point being that this mediocrity is performed in a living breathing world, and in that setting it goes from mediocre to (if you are a fan of MMOs) as good a gaming experience as you will find. Remove the world aspect, and is it any wonder that the mediocrity begins to show? And while not always the case, why is it that the more time spent trying to improve the ‘game’ aspect of an MMO, the more the ‘world’ aspect is pushed aside or minimized? Is it as simple as saying they are mutually exclusive?
The ‘understandable’ comes in when you look at the mass market and what is required to appeal to it. It has to be ‘accessible’, which means catering to as many people as possible. Or in other words, no focusing on one particular group at the expense of others, and simply trying to gravitate as close as possible to the happy middle. Raiding in WoW was not ‘accessible’ because only those with time to understand and work towards a higher level in the game could experience the content. Of course, in order to make raiding ‘accessible’, Blizzard had to lower the bar, and in turn remove the aspect that the previous group actually enjoyed, the challenge. As other games chase the mass market, one area identified as being a potential ‘problem’ was the reliance on others in a virtual world. As a dev you can’t control other players, and make everyone play nice to get the most out of that dungeon you designed or to player that battleground how you had hoped it would be played. Working with others is a challenge (hence it’s value in the work force), and it’s a challenge ‘the masses’ would rather see removed. In order for the MMO genre to cater to ‘the masses’, MMO devs must deal with the challenge of other players; the current solution seems to be to remove them.
At what point does it become impossible to identify a casual MMO and a single player game with an RMT shop attached to it?