How MMOs Have Failed Us

This is a post that I submitted for the opening of a friend’s new site, Tough Love Critic. I’ve posted it here in its entirety, but I encourage you to go check out the new website, as there are many other articles to read on launch day!

A QUICK TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

Perhaps it won’t be memory for you personally; me either, depending on how far back you go. We all know that Dungeons & Dragons is the old guard of today’s single player RPGs and MMOs; the original measuring stick by which RPGs were created in other mediums. What are some of the major factors that make a pen and paper gaming session fun?

Story.

Progression.

Mechanics.

Those are the top three factors — a “core three” if you will. Pen and paper titles are fun to play because the story is enthralling and allows the player to pretend they are someone else for a time. There is a sense of progression, and though it can be quick or can be dragged out as long as the game master sees fit, your character is always growing in strength and ability. Progression does have a cap, but at that point most players will simply start a new campaign and roll new characters. Mechanics of a pen and paper game tend to be limited to dice rolls and stat sheets, but they provide just enough interaction to make the game more enjoyable.

Let’s see how other mediums stack up.

Single player roleplaying video games are heavily reliant on story to make you feel for your character. Progression is limited in that once you have completed the main quest or defeated the last boss, the game is effectively over. You can choose to play again or move onto a new title. Mechanics are more interactive than in a pen and paper game simply because the dice rolls and stat sheets are handled by the computer and you have direct control of your character.

MMOs are a similar yet different beast. They too share roots in tabletop RPGs, and have a graphical interface just like single player video games. MMOs have a storyline but are not very reliant on them. They have a sense of progression just like the other two systems, but have an “end game” where you effectively walk a treadmill until something new is added to the game. Mechanics are similar to other video game RPGs because you control movement and combat while the computer handles all of the numbers.

Looks pretty even, right? It’s not.

THE CORE THREE HYPOTHESIS

The perfect RPG experience combines Story, Progression and Mechanics. The best RPGs of all time have in common a balance of all three categories, creating the optimum experience. If for any reason the balance among these criteria is thrown out of sync, the end result is a game that is not enjoyable.

With this hypothesis in mind, how have MMOs have failed us?

THE FAILURE OF MMOS

My first MMO was Everquest, and looking back at it, it’s the closest MMOs have come to a balance of the Core Three. It provided a world with some light storyline and allowed you to explore and do whatever you wanted. Instead of a dungeon master throwing all manner of traps and creatures at you, there was a pre-established set of rules that guided everything within the game’s world. Progression was slow but steady and there were consequences for your actions. You couldn’t consume all of the content in a short period of time. It was the dream of many RPG fans — being able to always log into the same on-going game without having to start over. Having a living, breathing world with a huge population of players going through the same trials and tribulations added to this appeal.

Over the years, Everquest changed, and you can’t really get that sort of experience anymore unless you subscribe to one of the progression servers. Other games that emerged into the budding genre started a worrying trend that steered us away from the core of what makes an RPG experience great. Games started to skimp on storyline, made progression meaningless with gear treadmills and token or reputation grinds, often times creating convoluted mechanics that were bulky and annoying to boot.

Balance doesn’t mean there’s an equal amount of each. Original Everquest was light on story, but had good progression and mechanics in its day..Star Wars: The Old Republic has story as the focal point of the game, but the progression is similar to other MMOs and in my opinion the mechanics suffer. Lord of the Rings Online’s combat is also touch and go, although it does have decent lore to back it up. Both of these MMOs don’t strike the balance, and suffer for it. These are few of many examples.

People seemingly treat MMOs like jobs, so they don’t want to partake in the same activities in their “off time” with single player RPGs. I’d argue though, that in most cases the single player RPG will give you a better experience. Not only is the storyline usually more enthralling, but the progression is balanced perfectly for the scope of the game and the mechanics are fitting. There isn’t a race to the end to keep up with your friends. There is no end-game where you’re mindlessly bashing your head against the grindwall waiting for new content to be patched in. It just ends.

Therein lies the problem with MMOs as we know them today: they don’t end. We went from self-contained gaming sessions that comprise a campaign in a pen and paper setting, to full fledged stories with endings to loot-grind treadmills that overstay their welcome. The truth is self-evident. The balance isn’t there because there’s no fixed amount of content to balance around. Consequently, big studios aren’t developing new titles as players consistently reject what MMOs have become.

THE FUTURE ISN’T ALL THAT GRIM

Niche MMOs seem to be the next evolutionary leap for the genre. Recent crowdfunded titles seem to have rabid fan bases eager to support something new. The most well known titles of the group are all going in new directions, some of which include procedural generation and a progression system that doesn’t depend on having any notion of “end game.” Rather than trying to balance around “ending,” these upcoming MMOs look to rely on players to make their own stories around the mechanics and light progression.

Today’s MMOs have failed us because they never end. You can’t balance story, progression, and mechanics around that.

Seeing Both Sides

There’s been talk around the blogosphere for quite some time, about the supposed death of MMOs (I have been the Harbinger at times), how gamers have grown and therefore have less time and want more accessibility, but also for innovation to take the genre into new directions. I can see the various sides of the debate, and all arguments have merit. But where do we end up? How do we collectively agree, or agree to disagree on what the “next big thing” is? Eri takes a look at how the survival genre could be a stepping stone towards what a new MMO kid on the block could be. She also made a recent post on how the MMOs of the future might be influenced by open world sandbox games. A little while before this, there was a great discussion over on Gaming Conversations where Braxwolf asks, “What do Gamers really want?” Finally, Murf made an excellent comment on Roger’s post about the future of MMOs, in which he said:

To me, MMO just means Massively, Multiplayer, and Online. Massively only loosely equates to a sense of on-going community, while multiplayer and online are largely redundant now that every game is multiplayer and online. The MMO identity hasn’t been lost because the name has been muddled, but more because the identity of these games has become far less unique. Every game is online now, and most have communities attached that effectively render these games “always-online”. Plus, even console games get regular patches, so the content stream isn’t even a unique factor anymore.

The only thing left for MMOs is their persistence in the sense of having a living, breathing world to occupy, but we’ve gotten plenty of offline sandboxes that approach similar levels of “live in” feel with Skyrim, The Witcher 3, and Dragon Age: Inquisition.

These days, a MMO is just a co-op RPG with a higher server cost. The days of making ‘virtual worlds to live in’ are pretty much gone.

I can see all of these points of view, and it’s mainly because I don’t devote my life to any one MMO. I have learned through various cycles of game play that I have gone through, that F2P and B2P models can and have found success. I know that being able to jump into a game like LoL or a Rogue-Like for a few minutes or an hour and still make some progress is fun for me, and nicer than having to devote four straight hours to raiding. Again, I’m part of that generation of gamers who have grown into 30-somethings who have other things they have to take care of. So they (we) want that accessibility of being able to jump in and jump out, but also still be a part of a world that is larger than themselves on occasion. That means the current market of MMOs will need some innovation to capture the hearts of a generation of gamers who have grown into new people throughout the years.

I look to Crowfall to bring parts of everything together. The game feels like it could be a sandbox. It has that notion of being able to jump in and jump out for an hour here and there and still be able to accomplish goals. It feels casual and hardcore and has options to increase or decrease the difficulty dependent on rulesets. For similar reasons, H1Z1 feels like a winner in the sandbox survival genre, minus the feelings of loss that Eri describes. Of course, that is found in Ark as well, with some RPG systems in place that could easily lead to that MMO feel, but has the issue of your stuff being destroyed while you’re away.

Today I was over at a friend’s house and I was playing Grand Theft Auto V on his PS4. I’ve made my point in the past that each new GTA game feels pretty much the same and have expressed frustration with the fact that other games like Saint’s Row et al, have kind of ruined the experience to a degree, much like the countless WoW clones over the years have watered down the MMO pool. However, I was actually having a lot of fun playing GTA V today, and I really think it’s due to the amount of options given in the game at this point. There are the story missions, and the ability to run around causing havoc, that’s nothing new. But the ability to also find new costumes, houses, entertain yourself with mini games, or jump online to play with friends all gives you the tools to make the experience very MMO-like. It feels like GTA is starting to meld into that type of world, and between this title and other survival games, we’re seeing a push for the sandbox that might not have the traditional MMO trappings but still feels like a turn for the better. Rather than every single title trying to copy other’s success, we’re seeing every developer make a push into newer territory. Each seemingly building upon tenants of the past, yet adapting to current crowd’s tastes. It seems like people want to play something immersive, but with options and the ability to drop it on a whim if something else comes up, or to at least make progress in short sessions.

However, it comes down to that simple fact that gamers don’t really know what they want until you put the product in front of them. Some will like it, some won’t, but either way you’ll have the options to try a multitude of things. Games like League of Legends and Destiny aren’t MMOs per se, but they are viable options to dump similar amounts of time into over the long haul, but can be played in shorter outings. I think this is the way of the future, even if MMOs don’t completely adapt they will have options for people who have game ADD.


This time I make the run with Eyes. Doing better on average but still dying too soon.

#opinion #mmos #gaming

Couch Podtatoes Episode 7: Sandbox Roundtable

CP4

This week we’re doing something completely different than what we’ve done in the past. Those of you who have been listening since the beginning will note that we usually have two types of episodes: Those with just me and J3w3l, and those where we have a guest. Once a month the guest is Doone and on those episodes we tend to discuss a topic that he brings to the table. I’m by no means the first person to think of having a group discussion on a podcast, but that’s what this episode is all about. As a result, to keep the show to a reasonable length, I decided to drop Idiots on the Internet and the community spotlight. These features are by no means going anywhere, but it was conducive to keeping to the subject at hand. The discussion topic this time around was on Sandbox games, be it single-player, multi-player or MMOs. I wanted to do a Q&A with everyone, but you know me, I couldn’t resist throwing my opinion in there at times. I’d like to thank Roger of Contains Moderate Peril and Missy of Missy’s Mojo for joining us in the discussion. Ironically Missy and I broke our podcast cherries together on Roger’s podcast a couple of months ago, so it was nice to have a reunion of sorts.

The discussion starts right after a short intro, and there are no interruptions in the Q&A. Enjoy, and feel free to comment about the content!

 

Download this Episode Subscribe via RSS Download on iTunes Listen on Stitcher

Show Notes

Couch Podtatoes Epsiode 7: Sandbox Roundtable (runtime: 1:05:47)

The Sandbox Roundtable (starts at 0:00)

Host Contact Information:

Izlain
Blog: Me vs. Myself and I
Twitter:@mevsmyselfandi

J3w3l
Blog: Healing The Masses
Twitter: @ausj3w3l

Guest Contact Information:

Roger
Blog: Contains Moderate Peril
Twitter: @moderateperil

Missy
Blog: Missy’s Mojo
Twitter: @missysmojo

Music Credits:
“Level Up” by Cookie Monsta (from the Riot! EP)
“Enchanted Rose” by Bury Your Dead (from the album Beauty and the Breakdown)

Couch Podtatoes is a podcast about gaming, though we might stray into other forms of media. Sometimes we use strong language, but we try to keep that to a minimum. All opinions expressed by us or our guests are our own and are in no way to be interpreted as official commentary from any companies we discuss. Be sure to follow us on iTunes, and/or Stitcher Radio.

Questions, comments and feedback are welcomed and encouraged!

#couchpodtatoes #podcast #gamesdiscussion #gaming #blaugust

Soapbox Derby

I think it’s time to put some things to bed.

First, let’s cover the back story. Syp over at Bio Break, recently wrote a post about ArcheAge. I should also make clear that I have yet to play ArcheAge and I haven’t been following it all that closely. I know there was a paid Alpha, and I know I didn’t spend money on that. I was recently invited to the closed beta that’s starting next week, but that’s not clouding anything I’m going to say here. Regardless of my knowledge of the game or lack thereof, I was presented with some opinions about the game and it’s community in his post.

I should also mention that I didn’t read his post first. I actually read J3w3l’s response which lead me to his, but that’s not super relevant because I read both blogs almost daily. I basically read both posts at the same time, and here’s the gist of them:

Syp believes that because ArcheAge is an MMO, it should cater to all audiences. ArcheAge was apparently (correct me if I’m wrong) built to be a open-world PvP-only game. This means that even the most basic systems were composed with PvP conflict in mind. Something like that is rarely done, and Syp himself is part of the reason why. He isn’t a PvP player. People who aren’t PvP players would prefer PvE servers that at the very most have instanced PvP, but preferably none at all. That’s fine, to each their own I say. But the dilution of the MMO industry has occurred because of people who don’t allow games like this to be untouched, meaning the developers get to make the game they envision. Next thing you know, a game like ArcheAge is another run-of-the-mill themepark, just because someone who doesn’t like PvP games demanded that a PvE version be made.

J3w3l was a bit more hostile in her reply, though knowing her and her personality, she’s mostly joking. But the passion is there, and that’s what’s important. Passion makes good games. Good games don’t always cater to everyone. If you want to knock it down to its most basic level, there are many other MMOs on the market that already cater to everyone, and have a little bit of both. Go play one. But when a game that’s breaking out of the mold comes along you cry that it needs to be more of the same. That’s a shame, and as a result we’d never see anything new again. I’m glad some developers are still willing to take risks.

So that’s the basic argument, with a splash of my opinion sprinkled throughout. On J3w3l’s post, I commented:

The PvPers manifesto right here.

I read Syp’s post, and I too felt as combative as the players on the forums that he referenced. The entire industry (outside of instanced pvp or the call of duty series or MOBAs as a whole) is built on PvE. PvAI more like. And I’ve been a major supporter of PvP because it does create ever-changing dynamic content. Sure there are RP servers that do some pretty amazing things in other MMOs, but it’s still not dynamic, and it usually equates to do some frivolous stuff and standing around a bunch. The ability to have the dynamics that games like EVE had (and I’m glad Wilhelm brought that up) where PvE players can still participate in farming/mining/economy — whatever — is where PvE players could still get some fun out of PvP games, and maybe even learn to enjoy them. Supposedly the majority of EVE players stay out of the PvP areas.

One way or the other, I am all for diversity amongst games, and not just with race/class/sex issues, but also for the types of mechanics they use. There are very few successful PvP-only MMOs, and if ArcheAge is able to bring a new one to the fold without catering to the entitled folks, I’m all for it. I actually just got a closed beta invite yesterday, so I’ll be checking it out myself next week.

Kudos for the article. Well done.

That went unnoticed for a couple of days. Sure enough, it wouldn’t be for long. My buddy Doone, ever the antagonizer, had this to say:

I see people throw this term around a lot. Dynamic suggests unexpected things can happen in game, and to that end whenever there are players around doing ANYTHING, the game is dynamic. The constant threat of losing assets you spent a lot of time to get doesn’t add dynamism. It just adds risk. So what is this dynamic gameplay you all are referring to which can only be present when players are killing each other?

The funny part about all this is that Doone doesn’t have a problem with PvP, he just likes to argue. So I responded again, and I think I made my point clear:

The dynamic you are missing is that killing isn’t necessarily what is meant by PvP. It’s the dynamic element of HUMAN INTELLIGENCE which eclipses that of AI, and can create conflict from nothing, can create situations that wouldn’t occur when it’s a program run by a script. Tell me that running the same stupid pattern in a dungeon or raid over and over again doesn’t get old fast. Tell me that it would be more fun if you knew the enemy was able to actually ADAPT to what you’re doing, rather than wondering why he can’t hit you with the fire, but some other dumb player will stand in it?

I think that people who swear off PvP are afraid of a challenge. Each camp has its trolls, sure, but I think pro-PvP gamers are mostly looking for something dynamic and engaging. We are tired of the rails.

Now, I know that this isn’t speaking for the entirety of PvP players. I’m sure there are plenty of assholes out there who love to grief, and who might take things a bit too far. But there’s a breed of PvP player who feels just like the paragraph above, and I think they would agree that it puts the argument to rest. It won’t ever stop, but I feel like I got the best word in.

EDIT (7/28):
The discussion has continued, beyond comments here and on the posts linked above. Syp has posted a follow up to his original post. You can read that here. I’m sure we’ve all been entitled players at one point or another, so I’ll agree with him that we’re all hypocrites. But at the same time, I still stand firm that if a game was designed to be an open-world PvP sandbox, it shouldn’t have a separate PvE server. I also think that the way PvP servers are added in as an afterthought to PvE-centric games is stupid. I’m not against PvE games whatsoever. I simply want the market to continue and try new things, so we aren’t stuck with more of the same over and over. I think it’s a pretty logical position.

#opinion #gamediscussion #pvevspvp #archeage

The Forest 0.04

The Forest has been updated again, but this time there’s mostly bug fixes and aesthetic updates. Here’s the patch notes:

Version 0.04

Features and changes:

New A.I. behaviour, mutants will sometimes go home to sleep during day along with other new routines.
Distorted mutants can now be killed with regular weapons.
Distorted mutants more aggressive and deadly in combat and have expanded actions.
Better ambient lighting. Trees and large objects diffusely occlude skylight. (experimental)
Pause menu now actually pauses game.
Enemies use rocks more often to jump attack at player.
New female enemy type added.
Better distribution of enemies throughout the world.
Constructed bench now works and players can sit to regain energy or watch sunset.
Increased axe damage against enemies.
More variation to female cannibal models, added procedural breasts size system.
Improved Rabbit/Lizard distribution and optimized CPU usage.
Improved sky and sun look.
Improved dead cave lighting and cave 2 lighting.
Better cave textures and rock look.
Dead cave prop fixes, fixed some incorrect rock placements.
Improved load times and added loading percentage amount.
Re-balanced hunger drain.
Better cave ground with flowing water and more detailed textures.
Enemies will now push small items out of the way instead of getting stuck on them.
Dead sharks now ragdoll.
Bugs:

Fixed rain sound never going away even after rain stops.
Fixed bug where some partially built structures couldn’t be completed after loading a saved game.
Fixed animals sometimes disappearing in regular and vegan mode.
Fixed issue where you could still shoot flare gun or use other weapons when pause menu was open.
Yacht random position won’t change now or get lost when saved game is loaded
Fixed all effigies turning into arm effigy on load
Fixed E to add icon showing up if holding a rock or stick even if items not needed in building
Fixed cave drips continuing to play even when not in cave
Fixed fish swimming outside of pond near cliff section
Fixed fullness always starting at half when loading a saved game
Fixed moonlight sometimes missing completely
Fixed stick marker vanishing on loading saved game
Fixed missing collision roof of cabin
Fixed player flying in air after chopping dead bodies
Rain effigy effect should now work and will wear off after time
Cannibals spawning in villages no longer ‘pop’ when waking up
Fixed creepy female model attacks sometimes not hitting player
Fixed bug where bird landing on hand would sometimes stop axe from working
Fixed enemy head and leg pickups sometimes appearing as arm pickups

Some of these changes sound like they’ll be good for the game, but honestly I haven’t touched it, and there’s nothing really significant here that makes me want to play it just yet. I love the game, but I’m still playing it sparingly so that I don’t get sick of it before the really good stuff gets implemented (where is the co-op mode?).

One thing that I couldn’t help but laugh at was the inclusion of “More variation to female cannibal models, added procedural breasts size system.” I can hear the backlash now. Variety is good and all, but I could really care less about variation of the boob size of the fucking cannibal that is trying to eat me. I guess there’s someone out there who will appreciate being able to say “nice tits” right before they get eaten.

An article from PCGamer popped up that touched upon the game ever so briefly, and I have to say that I disagree with the author of the post. In it, he states that the problem with survival games is that developers always add in an enemy, and that the real scare-factor of the genre should be nature itself. Having played The Forest in “veganmode,” I can attest that the game is rather dull without that added enemy element, and though the author does admit that, he’s still pushing for a boring walking-simulator. The Forest is one of the first games I’ve played in a very long time that truly scared me, and that had nothing to do with starving to death. I think devs are making the right decision, adding in zombies/monsters/cannibals. Walking simulators do nothing for this gamer, at least.

#theforest #patchnotes #earlyaccess