Instancing mission in online role-playing games isn’t a super new thing by any measure. Phantasy Star Online was doing it back in the early 00s, and within five years Guild Wars masterfully wove instanced missions in with large interactive cities straight out of Western MMOs and a competitive PVP scene. Guild Wars also provided something interesting in its press releases: in an era where every goddamn game wanted to be branded as an MMO, and to steal a slice of World of Warcraft’s pie, the first Guild Wars’s team basically always stuck to their guns in refusing to call it an MMO. Instead, their game was a “CORPG” - Co-operative Online RPG. The term didn’t really stick, especially because nobody else was doing this at the time.
A decade later we’re seeing an entirely different landscape. With the exceptions of a few titles that have persisted within their own niches, such as WoW, Final Fantasy XIV, and EVE, plus the notably ironic Guild Wars 2 (in which ArenaNet actually did make a semi-conventional MMO), most gamers in the West seem to have moved on from the conventional MMORPG structure. Instead, the instance-driven MMO has come to dominate. Destiny, The Division, and Bioware’s upcoming Anthem are all AAA titles in this vein, plus there are several instanced titles of smaller breadth (albeit with dedicated playerbases) such as Warframe, No Man’s Sky, or Elite: Dangerous.
Have we reached a world where the original strain of Everquest-like MMO is a dead genre walking, brought down by ballooning server infrastructure costs? Are games like Anthem a natural evolution of that original MMO genre, or much like the early mammals, are they descendant of Guild Wars and Phantasy Star Online coming to thrive in a world where their metaphorical dinosaur competitors are going extinct? How much evolution is there to go in the realm of traditional MMOs before they’re totally gone? Will co-op games meet the same fate as they struggle to compete for playerbases? These are the questions I pose to you, Waypoint.
Wow, those are big questions. My gut reactions are a) this is what a 2017 MMO looks like, and b) smaller group sizes limit game deaths.
To break down the first point, I think games in 2017 look to cater to smaller, more consistent play sessions. We see it with Nintendo going all portable with the switch, with the proliferation of digital trading card games, and mobile market becoming saturated: people have pockets of time to play games, and they would love to fill those. The entire MMO structure is actually very close to ideal for this, in that you are always presented with another task. The issue comes in the fact that you want to accomplish that task as soon as you can. A play session of WoW or Guild Wars takes a long time (in my limited experience), and as you progress in levels you want to be playing with a larger and larger group, up to the guild level.
Nowadays, players just don’t want 10 hour sessions. It’s not convenient, for some its not even realistically feasible, and as people have more gaming options than ever, the need for an eternal game has diminished. Instead players want something they can reliably return to.
This feeds into my second point, which is that co op parties limit game deaths. My understanding of this is that, given long term experiences, people need a social component to stay motivated. The vehicle for this in the past was flooding players with a breadth of possible social connections, allowing for shallow and temporary, but large scale communication. Co-op games, however, import social bonds you’ve made in other places. You can carry your party of 4 to dozens of games within the same year. That consistency means that a co-op game now becomes a menu item, not an entire eating establishment. Destiny today, Overwatch tomorrow, and Anthem next Tuesday. Players can click in and out of these micro communities quickly and easily. The malleable structure of co-op means long term engagement at a lower level from a broader community of players.
The last thing I want to touch on is a counterpoint to my “this is what an MMO in 2017 is” by pointing to the big player count games taking the world by storm. PUBG takes our little co-op groups and pushes them all together in a competitive environment. That takes a huge player base to do consistently and interestingly, and leans into that broad, shallow approach of MMOs of yore.
The MMOFPSRPGDISCODANCEPARTY (Warframe, Destiny, The Division, Anthem, etc) is certainly AN evolution to the MMO. I don’t think it’s at all an invalid or unwelcome evolution, but I don’t think it’s purely evolving from MMOs. I think this is more a natural evolution of multiplayer in older FPS franchises (Halo, CoD, Battlefield, Mass Effect, etc) that’s taken some DNA from MMOs, particularly quests and various RPG elements for character and equipment progression. Instead of iterating every year they can hold onto players with “games as a service” for at least a few years, which I’m not necessarily opposed to.
That said, I do think we’re past the era of classic MMOs ever being juggernauts. WoW has Alzheimer’s already (looking at you Sargeras, Archimonde, and Illidan 2.0). The only thing that’s going to kill WoW at this point is old age. FF14-2, while good, didn’t quite take the world by storm and claim the kind of dick-hardening subscriber numbers for Squeenix to be waving in Blizzard’s face. Wildstar just kind of squirted out and Everquest Next/Landmark couldn’t even keep it up (if we’re sticking to dick metaphors). The Secret World was fun in groups but never really scraped market share. At this point WoW and FF14-2 have just set the bar too high for a new MMO to compete without it either being too expensive or ultimately crippled by publisher and investor demands for literally all of the money. But, I would have said all of that before FF14-2 and yet 14-2 exists and is successful(?) so there’s always a chance?
I do hold a small amount of fear that all the eager devs and publishers will be shoveling out too many MMOFPSRPGDISCODANCEPARTY games (Destiny 2, Anthem, etc) at once and instead of having one or two super popular games that stick around we’ll just have 14-30 games that are clones of a slightly different flavor that never gain enough ground to build a home on.
I think Dance Party saturation is a problem, but each one has been more accessible than the last. The bad side is, no one hits critical mass, and this cool genre of game dies. The good side, though, is that a few really innovative ones end up competing with each other and pushing into unique specializations (you should play Destiny for X, Warframe for Y, or Anthem for Z, etc.)
I’m really hoping that Destiny 2 or Anthem ends up hitting critical mass. I feel like Destiny was poised to do so (after some significant updates) but without PC support it just wasn’t in line for the throne when it needed to be. It’s not that there’s not a player base on consoles but it’s not the Zerg-like swarm that exists on PC, on or off Steam. Ideally Destiny 2 and Anthem or another Dance Party game will take off and we’ll have 2 that keep each other on their toes in hot competition for as long as possible before they roll over and screw each other till they’re old and dusty like CoD and Battlefield. Nothing against either game, but they need to get it over with and bone down so we can have a Ball of Cattleduty or something.
Cattleduty makes me think cowboys. Can we be cowboys? That sounds great
ignore that McCree exists I SUCK at McCree and I will never be over it
This has me thinking, given how Rockstar really likes games with very sprawling multiplayer
wouldn’t a Red Dead Online with the ability to group up and play cops n robbers, sorta like All Points Bulletin tried to do, be kinda baller?
Server infrastructure costs are actually way down. I don’t think that’s what the problem is at all.
MMOs could do a bunch of things. Things like:
- I can play with all of my friends and there are other people around
- I have an effect on a persistent “real gameworld” (whatever that is)
- There are a bunch of complex, huge systems with things going on that are bigger than me
- I feel part of some larger community/organization
- I can have a super long term goal and chip away at it forever
and probably some other stuff I’m not thinking of off the top of my head.
WoW and games like it only really address “I can play with all of my friends and there are other people around”. In the early days of 3D MMOs this was pretty much enough to have a (sorry) wow factor and rope people in. I think it was fascinating but really the only reason to stick with it was that your friends were playing and maybe some new content popped up every so often. You are basically playing a single player game, together.
Now that everyone has played Minecraft, people see what actually having an impact on a real shared gameworld is like and it feels awesome. Now that Minecraft is a common cultural reference, how can you sell a wide audience on something like TESO where you still do the same dumb “I have no real impact on the world” crap that we’ve had since the beginning of MMO time? It is absolutely going out of style but not because of server problems, it’s because people’s expectations and interests have changed.
Instancing helps a lot with this problem, and I think that’s why it’s resurgent. If you put 3-6 players in a small unique space where you can control and manage their shared experience, you can recreate the illusion of a shared world because you can do things like “blow up the bridge” or “have the big boss show up” and you don’t have xx_Skate4Rules_xx showing up 2 seconds after you trigger the cutscene to stand around and wait for it to reset. It feels like something is happening. Even if it’s still not perfect it’s enough, I think, to recreate that suspension of disbelief.
Eventually, though, we’ll all start seeing through that trick too, and we’ll need another one. But that’s okay because we can all start playing Star Citizen by then, in 2025, when it finally comes out, maybe.
(Anthem looks awesome.)
yeah I do think the “tangible effects” marketing spiel was dead in the water pretty quickly once the market wised up
in order to make that kind of thing work you basically need to have a player-created market a la EVE, which drives the nullsec shenanigans that game sees. but let’s be honest, EVE is niche as fuck and few games have really captured that gold (and even EVE has a hard time sustaining it, sometimes)
I love the idea of an MMO, but even WoW (which I played a lot and loved a lot) never delivered on the potential I think the genre has. EVE comes pretty dang close, but I unfortunately find the actual core gameplay incredibly boring. >_> I’ve wanted to play Destiny for ages (and soon will be able to), but that’s only because I miss dungeons and raiding in WoW, and I think Destiny will fill that desire.
But what I really really want from an MMO is worldwide consequences for player actions. I want events that change the landscapes, and thus change the players. I want economies that grow and shrink with the players. Basically I want a dynamic player-driven experience, which is the opposite of what most MMO experiences deliver and delivered: a static playground.
In other words, I just want Crowfall to come out and be good.
One of the other points I would suggest is that I don’t think Destiny is actually all that different from an MMO like FFXIV at a core structural level, they just have very different combat systems and content/monetization plans.
People complain about Destiny 2 feeling like “Destiny 1.5” but I feel like it actually has a lot more in common with an MMO expansion than a sequel. Looking at the types of combat rebalancing and quality of life fixes coming with the new content in Destiny 2, it feels a lot like the cleanup Square Enix is doing with the release of Stormblood this week in FFXIV. They’ve just chosen to use a “new game” as a jumping off point rather than trying to pin it to the original destiny platform, which has a lot of benefits.
Releasing Destiny 2 as a standalone product allows them a much larger opportunity to onboard new players without offering unsatisfying solutions like level-skips and story-skips (which WOW has offered for a long time and FFXIV is about to offer with this expansion) and also prevents the power creep of the vertical progression in traditional MMOs. In fact, it probably lets them get away with more gun variety and weird special abilities (which is characterized as “horizontal progression” and is basically completely absent from FFXIV) because they don’t have to worry about how the balance will play out two expansions later. This loses some of the satisfaction of sticking with the same character over years and years, but I think that’s a reasonable tradeoff.
Also to add to others comments about instancing, while I like the open world aspects of MMOs, they also rely on instancing for small groups of players to do most of the interesting content, so the way games like Destiny have expanded this is not surprising.
The variety and ease of acquiring new games, anecdotally, has really cut down on how much time I spend on a single game. I think there’s a potential explanation as to why the WoW playstyle is becoming more niche in the grand gaming landscape. Don’t get me wrong, I have played Destiny or other games for a few hours at a time. However, regular 10 hour gaming sessions are neither feasible nor particularly enjoyable to me anymore.
As multiplayer gaming has gotten more accessible, I think it’s only natural to see these MMO-esque mechanics or stylings bleeding over into other genres. Using CoD as an example, the series adopted the first meaningful progression mechanics in MW as a means to unlock weapons. Since then, we’ve seen the series introduce ways to not only unlock weapons and modifications, but also persistent cosmetic items to customize the player’s in-game appearance. I think it’s very telling that one of the most popular gaming franchises has adopted some of the MMORPG mechanics of allowing the player to create a character, even if it’s only cosmetic.
Back to MMO gameplay mechanics, I see the Destiny and Divisions of the world as a way of bringing MMO’s to audiences that wouldn’t or couldn’t truly play them. I’ve played very little WoW, and haven’t used a PC as a gaming device in nearly a decade. Tweaking the MMO formula and bringing it to a console has allowed me to sink an ungodly amount of time into Destiny over the course of two years.
True MMORPG’s aren’t dead, but I think we’ll see them become increasingly more niche as more of these MMO-styled games hit the market. A good number of them are going to fail, because the formula for a long lasting MMO is extraordinarily difficult to pull off.