Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Pseudo-MMO games

I think I spotted a new breed of games, which I call pseudo-MMO games. Right now they only exist in beta, but I do believe that this could be a growing development. They are made by big game companies, have a sizeable budget and high quality, and play very much like a single-player game. But they are online, Free2Play, and have multiplayer features like the ability to chat or trade with other players online. Biggest example is Age of Empires Online, from Microsoft. Ubisoft has The Settlers Online, currently only in the German version. Firaxis is working on Civilization World, on the Facebook platform.

Traditional single-player games have their problems: They often are hit-or-miss, with a few blockbusters making big money, and many games not being profitable. They often make most of their revenue right at release, while later they don't sell very well, with the business further being eroded by used-game sales and piracy. No wonder the makers of single-player games are jealous of the MMO games, which can be profitable for longer stretches of time. Online account theft is harder than piracy, doesn't generate the same sort of sympathy for the thief as piracy does, and you can even get the customer to pay for measures to protect their accounts, like an authenticator.

A first attempt to get the benefits of MMO games for single-player games was the introduction of downloadable content (DLC). While this will certainly continue, it isn't a 100% success. Often DLC gets chided for being a rip-off, like the famous Oblivion horse armor. And people still manage to pirate the game and DLC in spite of the online account.

So why not make massively multiplayer online games right away? Of course many people do. But making true MMO games isn't quite as easy. And some genres, like strategy games, have serious design issues with being massively multiplayer: In typical browser MMO strategy games players often end up being ganged up upon, and attacked during periods where they are offline. There is a market for that sort of game, but don't expect people to spend too much money on building up an empire that is going to be destroyed by jealous neighbors. So browser MMO strategy games are usually low-budget affairs, with minimal customer support, run by small companies specialized in that sort of game.

But now big game companies have learned some tricks from modern MMORPGs: Using tricks like instancing and phasing, you can create a single-player experience in a massively multi-player game. And that has led to the development of the pseudo-MMO games. While being online strategy games, large parts of these games are PvE. The central part of the empire the players are building is completely protected from attacks by other players, PvP only happens in battleground-like instances. Thus players are willing to invest money into building up and decorating their empire. So these games can run on a Free2Play business model, attracting lots of players for being "free", and then enticing them to spend money.

While there are certainly influences and features in these pseudo-MMO games which will remind you of Facebook games, these are actually high quality strategy games with real gameplay made by established big game studios. And they are true online games, impossible to just pirate by copying or hacking some DLC access code. While their multiplayer components aren't strong, they do have chat and the possibility to trade resources among players, as well as the ability to show off your empire to your online friends. They combine many of the best features of browser strategy games with the best features of single-player games, while avoiding most of the pitfalls of their parents.

While this is still early days, I do think that these kind of games have a bright future. With a few exceptions like Starcraft 2, the strategy game genre isn't doing all that well at the moment, and could profit very much from a move towards online, like RPGs did. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the classic strategy game series will revive online in the coming years.
I've been playing Battle of the Immortals lately and had fun with it
I haven't played the online version of the games you mentioned but Company of Heroes Online sounds similar. THe Wikipedia article even calls it an "mmo real time strategy game"

You can actually play the original single player game for free online but the real pull is multi-player games. The game includes a level up mechanism and a cash shop.
the only port i can think of recently is heroes of might and magic (kingdoms).

While the idea is interesting, i'm not sure the port is succeful. I found the mechanics (using a timeline instead of turn based actions) worked well with macro actions, but the fights have somewhat lost their tactic component.

Anyway, back to the topic, i would certainly consider such games as having a potential.
I agree. Even games that once considered themselves MMORPGs (in a traditional sense) nowdays get patched to be online single player games with some facebook elements.

It is a certain success.

Now let's hope that in the wake of this new wave of games, the consumers who not only want social elements in online single player games, but virtual worlds, finally get some market attention, too.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
@J.D.: You should know my comment moderation policy better than to post a one-liner saying basically tl;dr and making a snide remark completely unrelated to the actual post. Comment deleted.
The first pseudo MMO took place at Wasteland as I remember providing a extremely large playground ans almost no restrictions.

I remember that fallout (or daggerfall) took this to its exremes as you were able to attack everyone and everything not restricted by anything.

As you´ve seen in the massive success of Gothic and the following free-action RPGs this has been not yed adapted to the strategy sector. In the simulation sector this is almost common taste.
From the title, I thought you were going to talk about the Neverwinter Online "we swear we're not an MMORPG" thing. That seems like more of a true hybrid of genres.

What you're talking about strikes me as simply the obvious next step in multiplayer functionality for most games. And why not? It solves all the DRM and piracy issues. You have these developers who are dead certain their games would sell 3 times as well if not for piracy, I'm sure they think the virtually piracy-proof online versions will rake in the cash.
these kind of look similar (but w/ better graphics) to evony, age of camelot, lordofultima, etc.

I play wow, but often i'm soling and just chat with guildies while i do my thing. basically i'm single player w/ social interactions.
There's been a long-term trend towards this sort of thing (just comapre WoW on launch day to WoW now).

In the long run, I wonder if the center can hold or if we'll have the online market bifurcated into instance and lobby games on the one hand and sandboxes in the other, without the traditional DIKUs to hold down the middle.
I have no idea if this is any good or not but it is Free (possibly for a limited time only) and the website says

Naked War is a video game by The Pickford Brothers. It's a fun, turn-based, strategic battle game for two players.

Thanks to Savygamer for pointing it out.
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