First, can we please stop qualifying Facebook games? “Not bad, for a Facebook game”. We don’t do it with TV (oh that show was terrible, but it was on a 3rd rate network so it was decent), we don’t do it with movies (oh that movie was awful, but it had a low budget so 3 hours/$15 well spent!), and we don’t do it with books (hey it was softcover, so even though all 300 pages sucked, it was worth it). If you are gaming, be it on Facebook or otherwise, you are gaming. Facebook is not in some magic void where ‘decent’ is the top grade and anything above “punches you in the nuts and charges you $10 for another” is considered ‘good enough’.
That rant aside, but somewhat related, I want to talk about the Twitter approach to gaming that has not-so-slowly and not-so-subtle been going on, and how it directly impacts the MMO genre. In case you have been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve noticed it. ‘Bite sized’ dungeons, solo-instances, shorter XP curves, epics-for-all, etc. The signs are all over the place; some companies are catering to people with 15 minutes to play, and with only five of those where they can fully focus.
And look, if aiming towards that market gets you millions, more power to you. If your goal is JUST to make as much money as fast as possible, everything else be damned, set out to clone whatever is the current FOTM, pump it out asap, pray the stars line up and you become a new ‘fad’, and cash in. 99/100 times you create something totally forgettable that never gets noticed, but hey, at 1/100, you still have a chance. “The guy who invented the pet rock made a million dollars”, right?
The problem with 140 character players is that they don’t really fit into a virtual world, at least not what we traditionally consider them as. EQ1 had what, a 2000 hour leveling curve? 7xGM in UO was not exactly an overnight process (even with massive exploiting), and grinding to the cap in DAoC was tough, let alone getting high in renown ranks. Hell even WoW in 2004 had a much, much longer 1-60 curve than what most games have today (hi Rift).
And it’s not just about time. At some point getting everything stopped being a goal and become a given. Log in and collect! Not only does everyone hit the level cap, but everyone sees all the content, effort level be damned. And again, for the Twitter-types, that’s great. They can update their status and post pictures while downing the final ‘epic’ boss of the final ‘epic’ instance (solo).
But what about those of us with more than a 5 minute attention span? What about those who found the older level of challenge just right? We spend money too, and tend to spend it for longer periods of time when given the chance. Are there countless millions of us like there are Farmville players? No. But we are out there, in the hundreds of thousands at least.
Three recent examples: In Global Agenda last night we ran our first two Ultra Max missions. The first one STOMPED us, and the second we did a little better but still got rolled by the boss. It motivated me to play the game more than anything else to this point.
Second: I’m 500+ days into my current Mount and Blade game, which is a serious length of time, and it’s not my first go-around. The mod I’m playing, Prophecy of Pendor, is tuned to be much harder than the original (Native) game. Odds are stacked against you, battles demand more tactics, and to outright win you have to do some serious long-term planning and execute that planning. Best game/mod I’ve played in YEARS.
Final, I’m still playing and loving Final Fantasy Tactics on the iPhone, and I’m still getting my ass handed to me in most battles. Re-playing a battle with a different strategy and seeing the successful results is about as good as strategy gaming gets IMO.
Returning to the MMO genre, a certain level of buy-in is required to really establish what makes an MMO tick; community and familiarity. Without those, you are playing a single-player game with horribly named ‘NPCs’ that seem to do nothing but spam chat channels and dance on the mailbox. And as these core values erode, we can see devs reacting not by trying to improve them, but by providing tools to further remove yourself from them.
Sick of random PUG groups? Screw finding a solid guild. Run a solo instance!
Can’t progress fast enough because you are playing 5 different games at the same time? Screw dedication and really digging in. Buy an XP pot!
A tough battle in your path? Don’t refine your strategy or look to improve. Just wait for the nerf!
Point being; you can only push a game towards casual so much before it stops being an MMO, for the simple fact that an MMO (traditionally) has not been a casual genre. You can’t get solid communities, buy-in, familiarity, and all the rest catering from Twitter-players. You get Farmville.