The first rule of MMO club: You must continue to attend MMO club

Some good comments from my last two posts, so thanks to everyone who contributed. Amazing what writing a less-than-clear post or two does. (File that under blogger pro-tips kids).

Rather than try to re-explain what I was trying to get at, I’ll just cut right to the chase and state the (maybe not so) obvious: an MMO only works if it works long-term.

Let that sink in for a bit.

It’s why, when BioWare announced the 4th pillar for SW:TOR, it was easy for me to instantly declare the game a failure. The quality of the content, whatever it ended up being, was a non-factor long-term, because long-term resource heavy dev content does not work. You just can’t produce it fast enough, and in MMO land the 10th month is just as important as the second.

It’s also why GW2 is not a sub-based MMO, and we will see if long-term it ends up being/feeling like an MMO at all. No one would argue that GW2 launched with a solid amount of 1-80 content, and that the quality of that content was reasonably high. But until the recent introduction of the resist gear grind and dungeons/raiding, GW2 had zero long-term sustainability (and no, gear treadmills are not the ONLY source of sustainability, but they are the easiest).

Games can change of course, but GW2’s state at launch made it very clear why Anet did not attempt to charge a monthly fee. It would have spectacularly failed. Going forward it will be interesting to see if they can introduce enough progression to sell enough gems in the item shop, especially with how heavy that goes against their manifesto/Vision/sales pitch.

Staying on the GW2 theme for a second, I also find it silly when people bring up being able to ‘jump back in’ to GW2 as some major plus for the game. Here is what you are saying when you say that: “I know GW2 won’t hold my attention long-term, so once I run out of content, I’ll move on, but probably return for a look once more is added”. Combine this with the pace of content delivery in most MMOs (Rift is somewhat unique here, and surprise they are a successful sub-based MMO), and what are you really saying about your expectations? Are you really approaching GW2 as an MMO, or as a sRPG series like Final Fantasy (not the MMO); something updated every few months/years that sees their players return for another run?

And if the above is a non-issue to you, consider what THAT really says. You don’t care for community or continuity, and are only interested in consuming dev-driven content when available, no strings attached, and then moving along. It’s not a wrong approach to gaming, but it is ‘wrong’ for an MMO; both for the player and for the company hoping to make the business model work.

How to produce sustainable content is another, rather long topic, but first I think it’s important to ask if your game of choice even has it, and how much of the focus was spent on designing it versus designing the one-and-done stuff. The second question to ask is if you care. Are you even looking for something sustainable? I’d argue that anyone who answers “no” is not an MMO player, at least as I see the genre.

35 Responses to The first rule of MMO club: You must continue to attend MMO club

  1. bhagpuss says:

    “at least as I see the genre”

    That’s the nub, isn’t it? There are a lot of people playing MMOs (the “massive” part kind of gives that away) so not surprisingly there are a lot of conflicting ideas about what an MMO is, should be or can be.

    We’ve been round and round this so many times but it really is a semantics issue. MMO is too vague a term to be helpful. Even MMORPG is too broad. What you usually seem to be describing is a very specific kind of subscription-funded, socially organized, progression-driven game set in a well-realised virtual world, which requires players with a substantial amount of time to commit regularly and frequently over an open-ended period running into years.

    I like games like that too and games like that certainly are MMOs, but are MMOs only games like that? If so, what should we call the others? And in the end, does it really matter?

    A few years back I thought you had a very good case that WoW’s overwhelming dominance was warping the entire field like a cannonball on a trampoline and we all suffered or profited according to trends that evidenced themselves in WoW. Now I would say that threat is largely over. The genre is fracturing and fragmenting again and that’s good. Maybe there will finally be room for many kinds of MMO and we can get back to paying attention to the ones we like and ignoring the rest.

    • SynCaine says:

      “And in the end, does it really matter? ”

      If the business model you are aiming for asks for it? Yes.

      Again, look at GW2. I think Anet assumed that even though there was no sub fee, most players would stick around doing “something” and drop a few bucks continually in the cash shop. But you don’t buy gems for a game you are “taking a break” from, do you?

      Selling something once is one thing. Repeat business is another. You won’t see repeat business if all you offer is a one-time experience, no matter how awesome that one experience is.

    • Rammstein says:

      “If so, what should we call the others? And in the end, does it really matter? ”

      This is unclear, are you asking whether it matters what we call the others, or whether it matters that we continue on with a huge semantic tangle? If the former, no. If the latter, yes. Syn has a good start on answering why the latter is yes, which I would argue could be expanded on at some length. As you say, bhagpuss, we’ve been around and around that issue so many times already. And anet is far from the first company to use the wrong model. Examples everywhere one looks of of this confusion wasting time and money.

      • bhagpuss says:

        Sorry, it was indeed unclear. I did mean “Does it matter what we call the others?”.

        • bhagpuss says:

          God, that was unclear too! I mean does it matter whether we use the term MMO indiscriminately to describe an ever-expanding variety of tangentially related games or should we invent a whole raft of sub-genres to try to nail each of them down?

          If we compare MMOs to popular music, for example, the potential to sub-divide by arcane differences that are scarcely discernible or definable has barely been scratched. Do we want to go down that route?

          Syn’s reply addresses the problem very well from the perspective of the producer but does it matter form the perspective of the consumer? If the threat of WoW warping gravity for all the other MMOs recedes, isn’t it okay for us to go back to picking the ones we like from a list and ignoring the rest?

        • Rammstein says:

          “Syn’s reply addresses the problem very well from the perspective of the producer but does it matter form the perspective of the consumer?”

          I would prefer the explosion of names, giving more specificity. When it comes to consumers’ perception of games, you have to consider, are the producers interested in giving consumers accurate information with their names, or are the producers seeing this as just another area in which they say whatever they have to to get the consumer to try the game. I’d say currently it’s leaning towards the latter. You don’t have that problem with names of genres of music.

    • Shadow says:

      Honestly, that’s why I try to use the term “virtual world” when talking about what I’m looking for. It does a far superior job of conjuring the the idea and feel of what I mean.

  2. Halycon says:

    I think there needs to be both. You can’t build a long term business model game on one and done content, but you also need the initial hook just to get players there in the first place.

    And yes, Eve is the exception that proves the rule.. it has no one and done content. But I’d argue Eve isn’t an MMO as you’re talking about. Eve is a self perpetuating idea stuck in the mind of everyone that watched the original StarWars and Blade Runner as a kid. And, it was lucky enough to come at the right time when expectations of MMOs were still low enough and development costs hadn’t hit orbit yet, that it could stay alive and subsist on almost no players while it found it’s feet.

    • Rammstein says:

      Do you have an example of a great long term MMO which failed due to lack of an ‘initial hook’? If not, your theory isn’t really worth considering, too heavy on assumptions and too low on real conclusions. The only game you actually discuss is something you call an exception to your theory.

      • Halycon says:

        You have got to be the biggest rule lawyer.

        But, yes.

        Lineage 2 is the big name one that failed horribly in the US.

        Before that was Shadowbane.

        Both big budget games built on the idea of end game content who’s frontloaded content was absolutely horrible to non existent. Players didn’t stay long enough to get to what the games really had to offer.

        • Rammstein says:

          Um, I played Shadowbane, and I’ve heard about lineage2, and if those are your ideas of a great long term MMO that just lacked an initial hook…we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

        • SynCaine says:

          SB in particular is a bad example. They had to recycle servers specifically because the end-game… ended. On almost every server the scenario was the same; one guild controlled all the cities and killed all other trees, and there was really no game mechanics to prevent this or allow for a natural power shift.

          L2 is a different story. Just too asia for this market IMO. L1 and L2 are still hugely popular back home.

        • Anonymous says:

          FFXI I think could be a pretty good example MMO that lacked initial hook, It never really failed but it didn’t bring in as many as it could have,

    • Shadow says:

      It’s much easier to explain something as mass delusion opposed to trying to actually examine the choices and design decisions made that lead to success.

  3. Azuriel says:

    I agree with basically all of this. If the defining characteristics of an MMO (and its biggest strength) include social ties/community, it should be designed to foster said social ties/community, and I don’t see that working any other way than encouraging frequent log-ins. How many other genres can you get a sense of long-term investment out of?

    Of course, I’d say that playing MMOs as single-player games still works pretty well for the individual doing it; kind of like using a cellphone primarily as an alarm clock that can also send/receive texts. Money is left on the table when these players are not catered to, but if the designers care about the true MMO potential, they need to think long-term.

    • Netherlands says:

      “I don’t see that working any other way than encouraging frequent log-ins”

      One could read that as a defense of Dailies etc. , wich rears the spectre of ‘MMORPG as a second job’.

      • SynCaine says:

        Daily quests are (generally? always?) solo content. That would actually be fine if the big stuff was group-based, and doing a daily was just filler you did for the 10-15min it took for the rest of your guild to log in, but at least in WoW, that’s not how many/most approach it.

        In other words, dailies are not evil, but they can be part of an evil given the context.

        • Netherlands says:

          Well…not to nitpick but one could say that the time-lock on Dailies is evil, in the sense that it doesn’t sit well with a casual playstyle.

          If someone say works irregular shifts or otherwise has a (to use an overly negative term but it strikes true) ‘binge playstyle’ (a few hours here and there available during the week, a lot more during the weekend), the Daily system is unnecessary limiting.

          It also tends to be pretty immersion breaking: if a NPC has a foozle infestation problem, and the foozles are all around, it makes little sense for that NPC to basically say: ‘I’m still up in my armpits in foozles, but come back tomorrow, then you may kill some more of them’.

        • spinks says:

          Dailies are fine, for exactly this reason. You need people logging in regularly to form a community/ solid guild, and that means players getting into the habit of logging into their MMO of choice and hanging out for awhile (where ‘awhile’ is long enough for some of their other guildies to be around).

          If people log in to find no one around, they will not stay. So dailies serve a purpose. They kind of devalue the economy because of being a source of income, but that’s not a huge issue in a themepark game.

          Just people need to stop convincing themselves that they MUST DO EVERY DAILY QUEST EVERY DAY OMG !!!1111!!!! because it’s just something to do.

  4. Anti-Stupidity League says:

    As long as it is a themepark game, I’m there only for the dev-developed content and nothing more. Once I’ve seen every ride once or twice, why would I want to stay in the same themepark, if the park right next has different rides? I’ll come back if I enjoyed the stay and you come up with some new rides.

    • SynCaine says:

      Basically.

      But what if it takes you 3-4 months to finish a single ride (raiding)? What if the ride slightly varies based on your and others input (PvP done right). The model CAN work, but recent trends (accessibility) make it almost impossible.

      • Anti-Stupidity League says:

        Themeparks and PVP don’t mix that well. People are there to have fun as they like and they don’t want other people stopping them from doing what they wanted to do in the first place.

        The only way to stick PVP into a themepark game is to build huge walls around the “PVP ride” so people who don’t want to attend the ride don’t even have to go and see it.

        But if you’re playing an instanced PVP game, why not go and play Call of Duty or League of Legends directly, which are build around the whole PVP concept and much more likely better doing that because of it?

        No, you can’t do PVP in themeparks right. Not a single themepark has been able to do so yet, and IMO, none will be able to.

        • SynCaine says:

          I case could be made for DAoC, and what made DAoC ultimately work was the length of RR progression, and the 3-sided war that mattered from both a psychological end (stupid hibbies!) and for in-game rewards (access to DF, relic power).

        • Netherlands says:

          If a themepark isn’t hell-bent on promoting a singular playstyle, it can imo do PvP correctly.

          To take an example from WoW, when they introduced the XP-Lock feature the principle idea was sound (and on various battlegroups and brackets fun XP-Locked communities sprang up), but the execution could have been much better.

          Besides closing ‘loopholes’ like allowing ever-more Enchantable Heirlooms in the battlegrounds supposedly meant for newcomers and other regular levelling characters, instead of embracing the system and the additonal content (or rather, additional ways to play existing content) it offered by e.g providing more BG Reputation and/or Vanity rewards for playing in a more competitive environment, Blizzard hid away the option to Lock XP (literally), made the playstyle of testing pre-cap characters to the max less and less viable (Accountwide features & Gear; removal of ‘Red’ Quests and Skirmish Arena etc.), and gave little (EU) to no support to players trying their best to built and sustain their communities – while practically encouraging bottomfeeding in the regular BG’s and (in what is probably the most incomprehensible of moves) on Trialists checking out the game

          (WoW might be decried as ‘carebear’ but Trialists serve pretty much only as patsies in PvE and canonfodder in PvP; interestingly, the only form of PvP they could have a ‘fair shot’ – Pet Battles – has been made impossible to enter).

          In short, due to lack of vision and care, the XP-Lock system hasn’t lived up much to its potential, while it could have easily done so.

  5. Dà Chéng says:

    The second rule of the MMO club is that it’s an MMORPG club. Without the RP part of it, you’re just playing Tetris.

    • Netherlands says:

      Agree, its the RP part that defines the genre. Frankly things went topsy-turvey when people stopped using the term ‘virtual world’ to describe the genre as far as I’m concerned.

  6. Ponder says:

    I agree with Mr HCS, however with comments
    . MMOs have never really been good implementations of D&D, MUDS have done a much better job
    . so if MMOs are now divorced from their roots (D&D) then it is true their defintion must be somewhat nebulous
    . I feel that the real meaning of MMOs is that they are like D&D and earlier traditions of SF&F, but set in a corporatist world of personal advancement with a cooperative ethos
    . essentially, I’m saying that MMOs are training kiddies for adult’s corporate life

  7. Ettesiun says:

    Of course, I disagree with you – as a part of the “others” playing a little bit of MMO.

    MMORPGs are about playing RPG games in a nearly living world with a lot of other people.

    What I do not catch in your explanation is this sentence “It’s not a wrong approach to gaming, but it is ‘wrong’ for an MMO; both for the player and for the company”. I understand that if the company has not taken that into account, it could be a problem, but why it is a problem for the player ?
    Why it is wrong for the player to want to play a game with a lot of people on the same time without long-term commitment ?

    • SynCaine says:

      Players: You are an unreliable guild member, or a total non-member of the overall community.

      Plus too often, those types will want access to all content, and often the way that is accomplished is to remove the social-based restrictions around that content (dungeon finder for example). Short term fix for long term damage.

      The solo player who understands they are limiting themselves and don’t demand more is fine, but pretty rare.

  8. pixelrevision says:

    I’ll be very interested to see if GW2′s resist/stat inflation actually brings any sort of longevity to the game. It seems like they are banking on the weakest point of their game. The thing that makes the game stand out in terms of community potential is the availability of everyone as a potential person to do group content with.

    I really wish one of these companies would stick to their guns when trying to remove stat inflation as the sole reason to keep playing. I think most people would agree that the best experience GW2 has to offer is the leveling content. But with the “end game” gear that they put in on release they made all of that content essentially irrelevant, putting themselves right back in the corner that they were trying to address with their “everything is endgame” slogan.

    • kalex716 says:

      I’m sure they’ve struggled with the dichotomy as well.

      However, they’ve failed to agree as a team on a better way to give the game longer legs other than what we’ve seen for the past 10 years.

      We have to assume something has compelled them to try though…. Because if what they started out with was enough, then why the sudden change of plans?

  9. Anonymous says:

    WTF i cant log on to DF UW servers??? anyone else having issues logging in??? AV YOU FAIL AGAIN WTF ITS 24 HRS AFTER LAUNCH TARDS!!!

    oh wait…

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