MMO: It’s not a game

First, it must be really fun to be this good at DarkFall. Quality stuff as always Umberto. Oh and don’t mind the creepy girl right at the beginning, this is an actual DF PvP vid of high quality.

Personal jealousy aside, today’s topic is in response to my last post proclaiming SW:TOR as DOA. What I was getting at is TOR sounds like it will be a terrible MMO, not that it will be a terrible game. Those are two very, very different things. I would no be at all surprised if TOR is a very enjoyable game, with good graphics, sound, gameplay, all of that. It’s just going to suck terribly as an MMO.

Consider this: if you got 40 hours of entertainment out of a game before you were ‘done’, would you be satisfied? If I’m talking about a single player game like Dragon Age, hell yes. If I’m talking about an MMO, I’m likely just getting out of the ‘noobie’ phase and getting myself settled.

Perhaps a better way of putting it is like this: how many single player games have you played for 100+ hours, let alone 500+? Now how many MMOs have you played 500+, or even 1000+? How many times have you loaded up a single player game just to farm one mob/area for a few hours? How many WEEKS have you spent in the same instance/zone/spawn camp in an MMO?

My point being, MMOs are very different from all other games in how people play them. In a single player game, I can start as a street beggar and save the world in 40 hours. In an MMO, I might finally be able to fight something other than a boar after 40 hours (and most likely, I’ve upgraded to an angry, evil, hairy, or giant boar). One is not more ‘right’ than the other, but it’s a totally different set of expectations.

People are drawn to an MMO for the permanence, the character growth, and the sense of ‘making progress’ as related to the world and others (even if ultimately that progress has as much lasting impact as a single player game: zero). None of this exists in a single player game, at least not on the scale it does in an MMO. That’s why killing boars for an hour in a single player game seems god-awful, while in an MMO its par for the course. It’s why a single player game needs to have a combat system that is accessible and entertaining for 40 hours, while an MMO combat system has to be interesting for 1000, even at the expense of it taking 40 or so hours to really ‘get’ it.

And no, you can’t have both. You can’t be saving the world every 40 hours AND get 1000+ hours of gameplay out of a title. It’s simply impossible to create that much content, and even if it WAS possible, it would not be all that much fun. I mean saving the world is epic once or twice, but after the tenth time? Here comes YASTWQ (Yet another save the world quest), and unless it has a ‘best in slot’ reward, I’m not doing it. And remember how easy to pick up and play that combat system was in the last single player game you played? How much fun are you having with it after the 500th hour? That sweet combo or neat trick is not nearly as sweet or neat after you have pulled it off for the 1000th time, and that’s EXACTLY what happens in an MMO.

Now it’s entirely possible SW:TOR is aiming for a different set of players than those who enjoy MMOs, and perhaps the whole point is to get you in for 40 hours and have you step away, only to come back once more (RMT fueled) content has been added. Maybe.

Problem is, since BioWare tagged the game as an MMO, it’s going to be covered by just about every single MMO blog, and those blogs are written by MMO players. We don’t take kindly to running out of content after 40 hours, no matter how much fun we had in that short initial timespan (well most of us, some will no doubt gush for a week or so about how SW:TOR is the new jesus, but a month later we will still be reading the follow-up ragequit post). This won’t stop SW:TOR from selling 1million+ copies, but hype alone can do that (WAR, AoC). What’s very likely to happen however is that after a month or so, the overall feeling towards SW:TOR is going to be rather negative, and not to give all of us too much credit, but I do believe blogs and forums DO influence potential customers enough to ultimately matter, and I think this, along with disappointing the MMO crowd, is what SW:TOR is going to be remembered for most.

25 Responses to MMO: It’s not a game

  1. sid67 says:

    My feeling is that a story-driven RPG in a shared world could work but only if you are constantly adding new stories.

    At a minimum, I think you would need to release at least one major new campaign per month.

    Basically, I see it as a bunch of small group content that overlaps with other small groups in populated areas.

    Not really an MMO I would want to play, but I think there is definitely a market for it as long as you can keep producing stories.

    So if I’m Bioware, my major focus from a development standpoint is to build a world/engine in which it is really really easy to develop new story campaigns.

    So what they would need is sometime of internal “storyline” toolkit that creative community managers and content developers could use to build new adventures without a lot of hardcoded development.

    This is actually pretty common in the Console world. It might make for some “cookie-cutter” adventures, but again — I think there is a market for it (particularly among Star Wars fans). I mean, just look at how many people repeat the same Daily Quests in WoW over and over and over.

    • sid67 says:

      Wrote about this in a bit more detail on my blog..

      SW: TOR – How I would approach it if I were Bioware

    • shadowwar says:

      I don’t know how much you’ve read into the development of SW:TOR, but if you do, you’ll find out the game engine was developed by a company called “Simutronics”. Those old-school gamers may recognize that name from MUDs of antiquitiy called Gemstone 3, and DragonRealms.

      Anyway, the point I’m maing is that this game engine (HEROengine) was designed almost expressely to be adaptable and strongly geared toward doing exactly what you’re proposing.

      I’m not saying that the game will be awesome, or DOA, just pointing out that the tool is supposedly in place for what you’re suggesting.

  2. Ob says:

    I have a strong feeling it will make heavy use of instancing with the option to group up in hubs, ala Guild Wars. One would think that, were it going to be a huge open world to explore, Bioware would have revealed that by now. I’m just excited that the game is/will be essentially KOTOR 3. The first game was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. Really good story. While I agree that touting TOR as an mmo isn’t quite right, in the same sense that GW isn’t quite an mmo, I’m excited nonetheless.

  3. Maladorn says:

    Quick question: Is Guild Wars an MMO?

    I ask because it seems like you’re saying that if you can’t run through the countryside with 60 other players, then it isn’t an MMO. I understand that you like the sandbox, and that in the sandbox more people means more potential fun. But that’s not everything in the MMO genre. They’ve said that they want to make KotOR 3-10. It doesn’t matter if I’m pulling off the exact same combo for the 500th time, as long as the story (always the hallmark of both BioWare in general, and KotOR specifically) is compelling. I don’t play MMOs, or video games in general for that matter, just to beat things up. I play because I want to know what happens. I like to see, hear, and participate in a great story. As long as the mechanics aren’t actively ruining the experience (see WAR for an example of that), I’m more concerned about what’s going on than I am about which mobs I want to farm. Getting to do it with friends is icing on a very delicious cake (said cake is totally real and not a lie).

    And, as a point of minor snark, it IS Star Wars here. They have enough “worlds” that they gratuitously blow up a couple every once in a while.

    • sid67 says:

      To me, the defining characteristic of an MMO is whether or not 1000s of players can all centrally interact with each other in a shared world?

      The answer to that in GW is Yes. Most of the time you never interact with people at that scale, but you could. After all, you can trade or group with any of the 1000s of people who play it.

      That said, GW does feel like less of an MMO than game which doesn’t have a sharded world. The sense of community and immersion is simply less than even a mostly empty world like Agon in Darkfall.

      So in the same respect, I full expect SW:TOR to feel less like an MMO than WoW, WAR, EVE, EQ, or Darkfall.

      The world is rarely Black and White. It’s mostly Gray.

    • SynCaine says:

      ArenaNet themselves have stated they don’t view GW as an MMO, and there is a reason GW has no monthly sub. It’s a hugely successful game, and (from my still somewhat limited time with it) its good fun, but it’s by no means an MMO even when compared to something like 2010 WoW, let alone EVE/DF.

      • Randomessa says:

        Except that Guild Wars 2 also won’t have a monthly sub, and it isn’t because it will be instanced outside of towns and outposts (because it won’t, and in fact ArenaNet have outright stated that neither instancing nor use of multiple servers has nothing to do with their choice or ability to be subscription-free).

        At any rate, I challenge your description of what must comprise an MMO and what MMO players want/need, because (call me the odd one out but) I play MMOs because I don’t like single-player games. Essentially, what I want is to play a single-player-quality game with others. I don’t need to be the hero, or show off my armor, or my mount, or dance in my underwear for free gifts.

        Since WoW is the multi-million sub comparison point it certainly seems as though these are the reasons people play MMOs. However, I also challenge that an MMO must have a sub in order to represent some arbitrary (but high) level of quality, obviously a position I hold because I am a Guild Wars fan. What will be interesting is when SW:TOR and GW2 come out (if they live up to their lofty promises), because we will get the real numbers behind who actually *would* play a game that has an ending, in an MMO setting, and pay a sub for it. I agree with you that SW:TOR might be on the hurting end of that metric.

  4. Bhagpuss says:

    Very good piece, leaving aside that in my ideal MMO I would start as a street beggar and after 500 hours of play I’d STILL be a street beggar, albeit a really, really good one.

    I have to say that story in MMOs, and even in offline, single-player RPGs mostly bores the arse off me. The stories just aren’t good enough. The voice acting isn’t good enough. It doesn’t stack up against even the low-end of genre fiction in either novels or movies. There are exceptions, but they are rare.

    What that means to me is that if the game is going to push a LOT of story at me it’s not long before I my eye starts straying to the big pile of novels waiting to be read and dvds waiting to be watched. The idea of an MMO based primarily on story is a real non-starter for me.

    That’s not to say there should be NO story. I like lore a lot. I like background and context and detail. But the point of playing an MMO is it’s MY CHARACTER’s story that matters and I’M writing that, thanks very much. And I do a better job of it than anyone else.

    • Dril says:

      Two points:

      1) So, if everyone started as a beggar and even after 500 hours was still a beggar, who would give you spare change?

      2) I agree with you somewhat about lore in MMOs; even DA:O I didn’t particularly find interesting or remarkable, and the voice acting, whilst good, seemed really off at times. For me, however, I much prefer to read the background of what I’m playing, rather than be told it, or experience it as a character. Odd as it may seem, I feel much better being a nameless soldier than a world-class saviour (although that could be because heroes are dime a dozen.

      • Bhagpuss says:

        Absolutely. If one of my characters turns out to be a hero, that’s a thrill. If ALL of them do, then what’s a hero?

        • sid67 says:

          I’ll likely write about this more on my blog at some point but I just don’t like the bashing on the “Everyone is a Hero” sentiment.

          Not because it’s untrue, but because no one likes or wants to feel unimportant.

          I know you are Mr. Contrary, but most people want to feel like what they are doing is important.

          In their little universe, they are the most important thing. Even in a team setting, people want to make sure what THEY do contributes to the team goal.

          If you have some altruistic notion that people SHOULDN’T want to be the most important thing in their world, then you clearly have no understanding of how the real world works.

          At the end of the day, a game which makes you feel unimportant is just a game that people aren’t going to want to play for long.

          And in an MMO, you NEED people to keep playing because an MMO without people is not an MMO at all.

        • SynCaine says:

          I strongly disagree with the “everyone wants to be a hero” thing, at least how it applies to MMOs. I think it’s far more exciting to have the very real possibility to be a hero (EVE) than to be called one but look like everyone else (WoW).

          It’s also much easier to have a truly heroic moment in a game like DF/EVE than it is in WoW, simply because EVERYTHING you do in WoW is ‘heroic’ and one step away from saving the universe. After the 10th time you save the world, you just don’t get the same rush from doing it, and you sure as hell won’t feel heroic ‘just’ saving a castle or village.

          It’s not that you sign up to feel unimportant, it’s that you sign up to play your part, and the extend of your part is very much based on how much effort you put in. That’s the true benefit of a virtual world: you CAN grow up to be the president of the USA, with only your own effort as the determining factor. In WoW, you CAN’T grow up to be the president, because not only will Blizzard prevent you to keep it ‘fair’ and ‘accessible’ for everyone, but they also automatically make you and everyone around you the vice president by default.

        • Mala says:

          Its not about making you feel unimportant, its about having actual important things to do in the game. This is different in an MMO because you simply can’t suspend disbelief that it was YOU that saved the day when 1000 people just did and 1000 more are coming from beind you. In a single player game you can buy into it and be the hero, sure. In an MMO, for an action to be important, it should be…important. The reason no one reads quests, or cares about lore anymore in WoW is because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter in the most literal sense of that phrase, the player has 0 bearing on what happens. Sure, you can get excited for 3 minutes over killing the Lich King and seeing a cool cut scene, but when you get back there the next week everyone just hands out loot and hearths the hell out of there.

          Being unimportant presupposes that some people ARE important. Those people who want to play a beggar probably don’t see themselves playing “beggars online”, but seem themselves are living in the seedy underbelly of a world in which there ARE “important” people that they might be able to prey on. Its not saying everyone should be unimportant, its saying that I should be able to choose a variety of roles in the game world, and not everyone one of them should be killing the evil super villian every week.

          Imagine a game like EVE, and imagine someone really comes through for their corp and saves the day. They actually WERE a hero that time. Now imagine losing your shit and celebrating over completing a quest line in WoW, yeah, not going to happen.

        • sid67 says:

          This is a deep topic and the reason it’s deep is because the “best” result is in the middle ground.

          At one spectrum, you have “Everyone is a Jedi”. At the other spectrum, you have some “Jedi” and a bunch of peasants.

          And in an MMO, the people who don’t like being peasants are going to revolt and quit your MMO. Why? Because they don’t like feeling unimportant.

          So the answer, in my mind, is one of perspective. How do an INDIVIDUAL feel important?

          How do you make the experience feel Epic and Awesome?

          Every successful MMO has been able to address this problem. In many ways, it’s the defining characteristic of what makes a good MMO.

          People don’t feel unimportant in WoW. People don’t feel unimportant in EVE (even the peasants).

          People DO feel unimportant in WAR? Why? Because what you DO doesn’t matter. Even the gear you get doesn’t really distinguish you from anyone else.

          In any event, my point is just that I don’t buy into the whole “let’s shame people for wanting to feel important” thing that happens when people talk about everyone being a hero.

          Because — who DOESN’T want to feel important?

        • Mala says:

          I see what you are saying, but I think I disagree with the “who doesn’t want to feel important” I really don’t care about feeling or being important, I just like doing whatever I am doing to the best of my ability.

          I don’t need it to be Epic or Awesome, I just need it to be satisfying. For me that could be mining in EVE and reading a book. A nice relaxing evening where I get to make some progress in a computer game and catch up on reading is a nice change from WoW raiding, I’ll tell you that.

          Somewhat paradoxically, I do want what I am doing to matter, even if its not important. When I’m mining in EVE, refining it, and selling it, that has a measurable, however small impact, on the game in a much more tangible way that raiding or questing does in WoW.

          So while killing the Lich King might sounds like a big earth shattering (literally? Cataclysm lol) achievement, in reality you’ve done absolutely nothing. You walk out of that raid and the game world is JUST how it was when you entered. Thats the part that gets me. Somewhere along the line the MMO term “persistent” world has come to mean “Static” world, and i’m not really much for static worlds.

  5. [...] Posted on May 27, 2010 by Drannos Interesting post by Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual about the difference between single and massive RPGs, and why Star Wars: The Old Republic will be a bad MMO (he makes a distinction between [...]

  6. [...] Posted on May 27, 2010 by Drannos Interesting post by Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual about the difference between single-player and massive RPGs, and why Star Wars: The Old Republic will be a bad MMO (he makes a distinction between [...]

  7. Carson says:

    I’m not quite ready to write off SW:TOR yet, simply because it’s still a long way off from release, and they surely have a lot more facets to the game that are yet to be announced.

    I certainly agree that the heavily story-based stuff they’ve been hyping so far doesn’t sound like it will make for a long-lasting MMORPG experience. But I figure they must have _something_ planned to keep people hooked. The budget is just way too big for them to be satisfied with a churn and burn “million box sales, 90% cancellation” model, like WAR or AoC or Aion.

  8. Max says:

    If I don’t get fun first 10 hours in MMO I would not play it. Nope – that stage passed long time ago. I not gonna grind for month to be competitive. I would rather pick up brand new FPS or RTS and playing for fun after 2-10 hours (fps have very short learning curve, rts more)

    MMOs are GAMES, I am not going to invest too much time into them . Its entertainment, 500+ hours invested into game is unhealthy addiction

  9. Il Cane says:

    My main DAoC character has 125 days of /played on it

  10. dorfeater says:

    TOR looks more like a co-op RPG than a MMO. I pretty much have to agree with everything you’ve said.

  11. [...] over at Hardcore Casual brings up some very good points about the game and it’s relation to an MMO. How many times [...]

  12. Mark says:

    Is TOR going to be a “typical” mmo? Obviously not, but do I care at all? Not a chance in hell. I am sick of the typical mmo and if all this game becomes is a way to play every class and get full voice acting no repeat quests along the way for each then I am ok with the subscription fee.

    We don’t know what the group content will be but it is in the game so we know it will have some depth. Give me what I have grown to love in Bioware games but with even more reason to play through it again and I really am ok with that.

    Regardless of how you personally define an MMORPG this game will fit the overall definition of an MMO but it is probably going to do things a bit different. Given a choice between this or another wow clone and I am happy with where it’s going.

  13. [...] isn’t totally a bad thing. I’ve talked about this in a previous post, and Syncaine at Hardcore Casual has written up a 2 part post about his feelings on SWTOR. I can’t really agree [...]

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