Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
MMOs vs. other games

In the open Sunday thread there was a discussion whether once you played MMORPGs you wouldn't be able to enjoy single player role-playing games any more. I think that question is posed too narrowly. During the same weekend my wife remarked that she wasn't enjoying the Heroes of Might and Magic V game she recently started in an attempt to take a break from WoW as much as she used to enjoy the previous games of that series, and that in fact after getting used to World of Warcraft, all other games pale in comparison. So the question is not how MMORPGs affect SPRPGs, but how MMOs in general affect all other video games.

Market data bear witness to that. After reporting shrinking PC games sales for years, some market analysts in recent years reversed position and said that the decline was limited to retail sales of boxed games. Once you looked at the wider picture, and included downloads as well as subscriptions for MMOs, it turns out that people are spending more time and money on PC games than ever. Reports of the death of the PC games market turned out to be exaggerated.

Even on an individual scale the difference between MMOs and single-player games is easy to notice. As I recently reported, I played World of Warcraft for over 4,500 hours, or just over 20 hours per week, and that isn't an unusual number, but rather close to the average. Single player games don't have that many hours of entertainment in them, it is rare to find one which would occupy you even for 100 hours. Thus if you look simultaneously at a game which offers thousands of hours of entertainment, and another game which offers less than a hundred, the conclusion that single player games don't cut it isn't surprising.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel: After spending those thousands of hours in the same game, sooner or later you're going to burn out. That is inevitable, novelty is always a big part of entertainment, and at some point any MMO doesn't hold any secrets any more. Even if there are content patches and expansions, at some point you discover certain patterns. The third expansion of World of Warcraft isn't even announced yet, but many veteran WoW players can already give you a pretty accurate prediction of what the content of that expansion will be. Even switching to a relatively similar game isn't helping much against the burnout. At some point you simply can't stand 3D fantasy MMORPGs with hotkey-bar based combat any more, and you're looking at something else.

That something else can be a very different MMO, like the one I'm playing now, or it can be a single-player game. Even a single-player RPG. After all, there are a lot of SPRPGs which offer things that typical MMORPGs don't offer. Single player RPGs tend to be much better at storytelling for example, and are better in creating the illusion that you are a hero that changes the world permanently. If you look closely, you're still just *a* hero killing *a copy* of the dragon, but at least that fact is better hidden in a single-player RPG than in a MMORPG, where you can see the other heroes lining up to kill another copy of the dragon in front of its lair. Some single-player RPGS also offer a much different combat system than MMORPGs, or let you control a whole group instead of just one character.

So playing something else than the same old MMORPG for a while is certainly worthwile. Even if that other game only entertains you for a weekend, or a few weeks, it gets you out of the treadmill of familiarity. I'm not willing to give up on single-player games just yet.
I think the problem is that your achievments in a single player RPG seem meaningless, because the game is going to end in a few days and nobody will even have noticed your level 500 hero.

That was my problem when switching from MMOs to some SP-RPGs. It is possible to overcome this, though.

The value for money, however, is phenomenal in (flat rate) MMOs for anybody but the very most casual players. That's why I argue for a long time by know that I'd like to have a MMO that costs 500€ at first and charges 50€ the month. .. IF and only *IF* this is reflected in the quality of the game. The value/hour would still be very good compared to cinemas, buying beer in bars or most other free-time activities.
My experience is this: While I am actively engaged in an mmo I find it hard to enjoy deep single player games (like RPGs) but I can play less complex games like shooters for a bit of variety. Once I take a break from MMOing I need wait wait a few weeks to "come down" but after that I can happily rediscover all the delights of single player games.

For example I have been MMO free for more than a month at present and I am currently really enjoying Bioware's Jade Empire. It has a STORY and its brilliant!

I don't know if my experience is typical but I do wonder if those folks who say they can never enjoy single player again would change their minds if they just took a few weeks break from mmoing.
Quitting WoW and moving back to single player games made me conclude I'll never play *multiplayer* character progression games again.
I'm currently playing Fable 2. If that game can keep me entertained for about 3 months it'll be worth the price and then it did cut it for me when compared to WoW.
I experienced the same problem.

Interestingly, I also played Heroes of Might and Magic V. I recommend King's Bounty to your wife, it is even better.

I was playing the game like an old man trying to grasp the concept of point'n'click with a mouse, somewhat alien to Windows as a graphical user interface.

I also had problems to appreciate the game at first. It took quite some time to get back into it!

We are just no longer used to them. But actually there are many more much more different flavors of single player games out there, not many RPGs that I love so much unfortunately. The "adventure" genre with games like Monkey Island and Indy 4 also died ages ago.

I think even if one belongs to the "online solo player" crowd, you just miss the social element of MMOs. Which unfortunately nowadays gets lost a lot in the achievement craze.
I stopped playing WoW and am digging through my single player games again. And of course I can still enjoy these games.

One of the really enjoyable things is that they offer better stories. I'm playing through Sam & Max season two. Should be enough to keep me busy for a few weeks. And that game offers a few good laughs. A few weeks is not the years I spent with WoW but when it's done I've still got a whole bunch of other games to play. It offers a lot more variety. In the time I've played WoW I could have literally finished hundreds of other games. Of course buying hundreds of other games would also be a lot more expensive. Kind of makes me think of MMORPGS as cheap...

I also pulled out Team Fortress 2 again. It's a lot of fun to play in multiplayer. And one of the great things is I can just log in whenever I want and play for an hour. No need to organize and multiplayer games are always changing so they don't get old so fast.

And when I'm done with these games I still have Anno 1701, men of war, jade empire to play. I also want to give left 4 dead another try. maybe try out the Strongbad games. Lots of games on my list, lots of variety. And that's the strong point of single player games: a lot of variety, not doing the same things every week.
@ Longasc: The "adventure" genre with games like Monkey Island and Indy 4 also died ages ago.Not really. Adventure games are very popular in Germany and truckloads of adventures are made. Most of which aren't very good. I can advise you to try out the Telltale games like Sam & Max. There is even a free episode you can try out to see if it's something for you.
truckloads of adventures are made. Most of which aren't very good

Sturgeon's Law, 90% of everything is crap. But that still leaves you with the 10% that are good. I hear quite positive things about the Book of Unwritten Tales, if you are into humorous adventure games. Or if you prefer indie games, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout is said to be strange but brilliant.
I'm in a similar boat right now, I still log on to raid Ulduar twice a week, but otherwise I'm not really playing WoW at the moment. Tried freerealms for about a day, saw really quickly that I didn't like it and moved on.

Currently I'm playing 4 traditional PC games. Why 4, because I find that sitting down at one for 4 or 5 hours like I could do in an mmo just does't work. Its not that I'm not enjoying the single player games, its just I can't seem to play them for hours on end.

I covered most of my bases with my choices, My time is currently spent playing Baldur's Gate 1 [RPG] Left 4 Dead [Online Shooter] Empire Total War [Strategy] and InFAMOUS [Action]

Now I'm running BG1 in the BG2 engine using Baldur's gate Trilogy, L4D is actually a multilayer game and InFAMOUS is on my ps3 but you get my point. MMO's typically offer a wide variety of things to do, so when one gets boring or frustrating you just move onto something else. Single player games don't generally offer this, so if I get stuck on a fight in BG1 or lose a battle in empire total war, I just take a break and switch things up with a different game.
Personally, when I quit WoW, I did try to enjoy other MMOs. While it is true that playing such a progression-and achievement-driven game changed my gaming habits for probably forever, it also showed me that while some persistent progress is good, I do like games where skill is more important than time invested.

I tried out plenty of other MMOs, among them Tabula Rasa, Age of Conan, City of Heroes/Villains, Free Realms, - and all of them do share the "spend time with me and you'll automagically be better afterwards" approach.

Now, meanwhile, I do barely play any single player games anymore. Gaming in general is, for me, a social thing - meeting people, friends and strangers, playing together or against each other.

But I do hugely prefer games that emphasize skill over time invested. My current list of games I regularly play includes Team Fortress 2, BattleForge, Dawn of War II, and Left 4 Dead, with quite a few more casual fillers inbetween (Plants vs. Zombies, Defense Grid: The Awakening, Cogs, Braid, to name but a few).

WoW to me seems to be the culmination of this paradigm: You don't have to be skilled, you just have to spend time and you'll start winning. FPS and RTS couldn't be more different: You don't have to spend time, you just have to be skilled and you'll start winning. So if you catch up faster, you'll win sooner. If you don't catch up, you'll lose all the time.

This allows for skill transport from one shooter to the next, for example - aiming with the mouse is the same in TF2 as in UT3 or QL or as it was in the original Quake. RTS always have some kind of rock-paper-scissors, flanks and situational awareness are always equally important.

So while playing a lot of WoW for years definitely changed my bias and made me mostly enjoy multiplayer titles for the social aspect meanwhile, it also made me shun away from those games where you can only progress by investing dozens of hours into repetitive tasks.

My time is too precious to do things I don't enjoy, just so I can then do things I enjoy - particularly when there are so many alternatives where I can do things I enjoy all the time, without having to do things I don't enjoy to get there.
"WoW to me seems to be the culmination of this paradigm: You don't have to be skilled, you just have to spend time and you'll start winning."Huh?
So that is what WoW has become? The Lich King must have changed it more than I thought.
Not become, but always was, in the part leading up to the level cap. You can, and always could, level up to the cap with an absolute minimum of skills (and I *do* know people who didn't even manage that minimum, so I don't say "no skill at all").

The raiding game was always different, and still is. The only thing the Lich King expansion changed is that the basic version of entry level raid dungeons is now easier. Easier, not easy, and still significantly more challenging than leveling up.
HoMM5 is arguably the worst entry in the series (4 was also poor), so that might be one of the problems. King's Bounty is indeed a better choice IMO.

As others have said though, when you are on an MMO kick, it's hard to focus on a single player RPG, and vice versa when you have some MMO burnout.
My lack of enthusiasm for single player RPGs is not entiertly WOW's fault. I blame the sheer amount of media and easy access to many many many games.

Back when I was playing ff3,ff7,secret of mana,chrono trigger, etc... I had no alternatives. Those RPGs were the best of the best, therefore they were all I wanted to play. That was a good thing because these games required a decent amount of time imvestement.

In today's world I could play WoW, or buy another MMO, or play one of many free to play MMOs, or play single player RPG. All of these require a lot of time investment. I can't find myself willing to give that much of my time to a single player MMO. I especially don't want to spend a lot of time playing a single player RPG that sucks...and I havn't found a good newer one yet. I'm waiting on the new ff.

I do enjoy playing old school RPGs still. I have chrono trigger emulated on my psp and I'm having a great time.
I can play both.
When I played The Witcher, I did NOT want to play an MMO.
But, then when I play an MMO, I am not too interested in SP games.

I like to switch off. For example, about 2-3 months ago I played Resident Evil 5..and I am now trying to hit 80 in AoC..

When Prototype comes out, I will play that for a while.

Variety is the spice of life!
I know when the last Final Fantasy came out (FFXII I think) I played it about halfway through and just walked away. It felt like all of the work of an MMO without the e-peen possibilities.

Possibly single player RPGs need to stick to what they are better at than MMOs and have a better story and an ever changing world with your character at the center of conflict. Ones that try to copy the MMO formula of low drop rates, collection style quests/achievements, or prolonged grinding will always fall flat compared to their online cousins. ~Centuri
I was reading this and an old saying that my Grandmother says all the time came to mind.

"Too much of anything is a bad thing"

Now I changed it a little and there are similar sayings, but the heart of it remains the same. If you play a game often, it will grow old.

I think you can attribute much of the complaining of the WoW community to that fact. A lot of players have been playing since Vanilla WoW and no matter what content is added it does not satisfy them because they constantly play it.

For me I mix in other things away from WoW. As weird as it sounds I love the old SimCity games. The graphics suck but it is fun because it is a change of pace,
After playing MMOGs for a while, and then trying to play a game that doesn't have a persistent element, I had an extra bit of internal decision-making in my head. Specifically, the time-cost of what I was getting. The thought here was:

"I can play Counter-Strike: Source for a few hours with friends, or I can go log on WoW and do my daily quests"

The difference being that, while the daily quests probably weren't going to be as much fun as shooting at/with my friends, it would provide me more gold and reputation later on that would allow me to have more fun (maybe?) by getting reputation gear or enchants or something. It was working toward some sort of delayed reward, and that held itself to be somewhat more interesting than immediate gratification with no future benefit (just fun now).

It took me a little bit to realize subjectively that the future benefit wasn't really much of a benefit anyway. Once you take the stance that (nearly) all time spent on games is equally wasteful, it doesn't affect the attitude quite so much.

Just my 2 cents.

I play loads of SP games but.. I can't do it on the PC! My pc is for WOW, LOTRO and WAR (though the latter two only very very casually). For some reason, my years of WoW have caused me to look at no other genres on the PC which is a surprise as I've been gaming for the best part of 30 years now.

That said, when I need / want a break, I do enjoy the big - tv surround sound of the ps3 and 360. Currently playing Infamous, Burnout Paradise and still enjoying some others. But then, on consoles I don't really interact online with others.
I wouldn't throw away the fun of achieving something that fast.

People do not grind in WoW because they like to work now for future fun. If that were the case one major problem of most 'bosses' would be nonexistent.
Humans generally *DON'T* like to work for future fun at all. If they do it they usually need a lot of self-control.

Grinding in an MMO is something different. It is the fun of building something. This is fun in itself, even if the isolated activity seems boring. The love of constructing/building things ins very human and should not be confused with concentrated work for a future goal.

It is like building a simple house. The isolated activity seems quite boring, but keeping the final product in front of your inner eyes keeps you 'working' and feeling like doing something fun.

Unfortunately enabling employers to work with such an attitude is one of the hardest motivation/managment tricks there is. Whenever people in a company come together to work like that you can usually exspect a great product in the end.
And then there is this PvP component. In a MMO can play a class or have gear that gives you an advantage in combat. Where as in a FPS balance is typically done better.

You can quit in frustration in an MMO because of these inequalities. You might quit an FPS because of lack of skill.
We can certainly move past the obvious "if you play one thing a lot you'll get bored of it!" analysis. The real questions isn't when you'll burn-out on a game, but why.

MMOs have several very important factors stacked on their side.

MMOs receive constant attention from developers who repeatedly add new content. This "extends" the game in a way that downloadable content or mods for SP games do. The difference here, though, is that you are paying for a game that you know will evolve, so it benefits you to be present through the evolution to reap the benefits of imbalance.

MMOs also have the social element, and that cannot be understated. If a single-player game was just a recast MMO, we'd hate it. MMOs rely on external sources of reward and play-time pressure. You don't want to fall behind your friends. You want to spend time with them in game and complete content; They rely on you to help them and you rely on them, so you all keep playing.

In a single-player game, the player must find reward in the gameplay itself. This requires that the game actually be well-designed and polished, because if the game is crap now, there's no one goading you to keep playing.

The social motivation is much more resilient than the individual's motivation. A crap game can survive much longer when your friends are playing it than it can when you alone are the decider of if you are going to play or not.

Also, the way that you approach games changes when you are practically punching in to a part-time job when you play your MMO of choice. You expect all games to be as diverse, as easy, and have as much of a "guarantee" of success if enugh time is put in. If you suck at a single-player game, you have to accept the fact and get better at the game through playing more--the content meters the rewards based on some kind of skill. In an MMO, you just need to be around and fail enough and you'll eventually get through to the endgame, even if you won't have any friends or a guild when you get there.

The take-away:
1. MMOs do not actually have to be good, well-designed games to hold your attention for 100 hours. Single-player games must be. This immediately decimates the chance of enjoying any given single-player game vs. enjoying an MMO.

2. Social rewards trump individual rewards.
"Not become, but always was, in the part leading up to the level cap. You can, and always could, level up to the cap with an absolute minimum of skills (and I *do* know people who didn't even manage that minimum, so I don't say "no skill at all").

The raiding game was always different, and still is. The only thing the Lich King expansion changed is that the basic version of entry level raid dungeons is now easier. Easier, not easy, and still significantly more challenging than leveling up."
I kinda agree with you. The raiding game definitely is more challenging than the levelling game. You do need group coordination, and individual players do have to know what rotation is the one that will yield them the best results.

A big part of it however is the whole gear check thing, even with the perfect rotation you have to play for hours and hours until you have the gear that even allows you to attempt the "harder" raids - the ones requiring more damage output and reduction and healing.

Admittedly I never raided much in TBC (not more than Kara), raided some in vanilla (not beyond BWL though, but I was guild MT for months and kept having to explain everything to everybody) and didn't level a character past 70.2 - I had already stopped playing when WotLK came out, and it didn't pull me back in.

I am however more of a PvP than a PvE person, and WoW PvP is (even more so than raiding) very, very gear-dependant - and since time spent in the honor system (to a lesser extent in arenas) more or less directly translates to gear acquired, also time-dependant. A very good player in greens will lose to a mediocre player in epics (unless he can chain-CC him, but not all classes can even do that).

When I said that you don't have to be skilled, I meant it. You will have to spend a bit more time, true. But you will eventually be able to beat every enemy with just moderate skill on your part, in both PvE and PvP.

Of course, people who completely suck and have no skill at all will fail even at that, and some of them even at the levelling game, I give you that :)

Conversely, players who could kill everybody with equal gear (and know that from earlier level caps) would have to go through hours and hours of levelling and then hours and hours of gear acquiring first, before they'd be on equal ground with others again. And if they have a job and a life, that'll take them so long that others will be far ahead in gear again by then. Yes, I'm speaking about myself here.
In short, I don't have the time to be on equal ground with others in WoW, so I just play games where I am on equal ground and have a fair chance of winning instead :)

I like losing, I just don't like losing when the one I lost to wasn't better, but had just played longer.
(Case in point, I saw movies of PvP max rank folks who were keyboard turning and skill clicking.)
I actually do think PC games are on the decline. Once you remove WoW from the sales, they don't look so good. Download sales are growing, but PC gaming doesn't seem to be keeping pace with console gaming.

Further, and this is the part I care about, the big-budget games from the big studios all seemed to be aimed at console first, other than a few exceptions. The serious development money is going into consoles, not PCs.

I'd even guess that if the BioWare Star Wars game doesn't hold onto a million subscribers, we might not even see any more attempts to compete with WoW. It looks like SOE has already given up on that idea and is attempting to find other MMO niches (Free Realms, for example, and I doubt Free Realms was a $30M budget game).

What MMO (or WoW burnout) does to me is make me want to do something besides play games in general. Read more. Get out more. Pick up my tennis racket again or hit some balls at the driving range and play a bit more often. It makes me tired of gaming in general.
I've come to the conclusion that I can't really play offline RPG's anymore. With both Oblivion and the last Zelda game, running around the world felt lonely, socially introverted, and (comparatively) pointless. The story and persistence advantages of offline games aren't nearly enough to offset the lack of a social component. Perhaps if there were a game with completely new mechanics... but it's been years since I saw much that surprised me.

I also have not successfully played more than a level or two of the single-player part of an FPS game in years, unless the game has a co-op mode. There isn't as much of a social component there, it's just that the AI isn't nearly as interesting as other players, especially playing FPS #100.

In general I find myself playing fewer and fewer video games over time as I almost never find new mechanics any more except in games built entirely around a single new mechanic. But perhaps that is just me, I generally quit everything from books to hobbies as soon as I'm not getting anything new out of them.
@the ardist:
"1. MMOs do not actually have to be good, well-designed games to hold your attention for 100 hours. Single-player games must be. This immediately decimates the chance of enjoying any given single-player game vs. enjoying an MMO.

2. Social rewards trump individual rewards."

For some people.

I agree with the premises on #1, but not the conclusion. I look for quality and value in games, so I look to single player games before MMOs.

For #2, I'm completely opposite. The social rewards mean very little to me. I could play and enjoy a standalone single player offline single fee WoW very easily. It would be a bit shallower experience than something like Oblivion, but far more than many other PC games.
The last S-RPG I really played in earnest was Morrowind. That was my "main game" and with all the mods and such that could be added in there always seemed to be more that could be done. While playing that I also played several different turn-based strategy games -- Disciples 2, HoMM 3, Masters of Magic... stuff like that.

Then I got talked into playing SWG shortly after it came out. It was kinda "meh" to me at 1st, but since Iwas paying for it monthly I played it as much if not more than all the other games I'd been playing before -- I was going to get my money's worth out of it, darnitall! And eventually I got skill points up, got good at combat, learned the social aspects, was in a *wonderful* PA (still in contact with many people IRL from that PA since we became such good friends.. even met a few of them IRL as well), and just loved the game.

But I still only played it to the exclusion of all others, not only becuz I loved it but becuz of the recurring monthly cost.

When others began quitting, I played less also, tried reinstalling some of the other games, but the enjoyment wasn't as much.

EQ2 came out. Played it with the people from my SWG PA that moved over. Loved it, still love it, still play it more than anything else. I've had forays into Guild Wars, LotRO, Vanguard, WoW, etc, but never reinstalled the single-player games again since, nor do I plan to. I liked them in their time, but now I prefer only to play with others.
I did take a break from WOW to play Okami and Tales of Vesperia, and now that my characters aren't doing much, might try other games. (I dabbled with Plants vs Zombies and Eve, but neither had a long term hold on me.)

The problem with MMOs is that the quests are highly open. For WOW alliance and horde can do them, and it feels like there's little personal involvement or stake. Contrast this to the earliest quests, when you're helping out your community, whether it be killing troublesome trolls or fetching a grog. Then the quests started to converge and became so similar there was hardly any distinction between them. Horde and Alliance cld do them; it didn't matter.

Single player games and MMOs allow more personal involvement, particularly Japanese RPGs where the quests and missions are build around who your character or team is. There's definitely more emotional involvement.
Single player RPGs tend to be much better at storytelling for example, and are better in creating the illusion that you are a hero that changes the world permanently.

That's what I like about SRPGs, still... IF they are well-made, they are a lot more involving and whilst playing I don't miss the social element much. Heck, I pretty much play some MMO's as if they were SRPGs with a chat slapped on anyway. LOTRO is the one where the people were as important as the game, as was WOW back when it was vanilla and I actually played it.

But AoC and WAR for instance, I pretty much play as a SRPG so far. I doubt I'll change too. Just get to the cap in both and that'll be it. I'm in it for the questing and whatever storyline is there, really. I must be the only person in the world who enjoyed Tortage :)
Honestly, having played MMOs, I loath them. I much prefer single player games. Why?

1. I can buy more games for the price of having a single account on a good MMO.

2. No one wants to play with strangers, many of which are immature, griefing jerks.

3. No one actually attempts to engage in role play in RPGs. What's the point of even playing them then?
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