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.