Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 18, 2011
MODs and MORs

The basic principle of a MMORPG is that the player has access to a virtual world which offers very different activities for him. He can quest, he can farm monsters, he can socialize, he can PvP under different rulesets (battlegrounds, arenas, open world), he can engage in cooperative PvE in different group sizes and difficulties (dungeons, heroics, raids), he can gather resources, he can craft items, or he could just travel the virtual world as a tourist. Offering so many different things can be attractive, but it also has disadvantages: It is expensive to produce, and invariably some activities end up being much more popular than others; sometimes the various activities even hinder each other, for example the spell the developers would like to put in for PvE would unbalance PvP, or the ability to craft really good items would keep people from searching for loot in dungeons.

After many companies failed miserably at offering a popular MMORPG which has something for everybody, the game flavor of the day isn't the MMORPG any more, but the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), the lobby-based game of PvP in instanced battle arenas. There are various games like these based on the DotA real-time strategy / role-playing mix. There are many different shooter games; including World of Tanks and the other announced "World of" games, which is somewhat ironic because their main difference to a MMORPG is the absence of a world. As much as Trion claims that their MMORPG Rift is successful, their next game is a MOBA: End of Nations, a real-time strategy, lobby-based game. Even the ancient Age of Empires brand this week opened up Age of Empires Online, which also is a MOBA. And Mythic re-designed their failed MMORPG WAR as a MOBA too. Pretty much all of these are based on the Free2Play business model. And unlike the MMORPG business which has 10 failures for every successful game, most of the MOBAs appear to be making money. Lobby-based games concentrating on just one activity are obviously cheaper to make than MMORPGs, without being any less popular.

Many fans of the world aspects of MMORPGs already complain that tools like the Dungeon Finder enable players to run dungeons as if they were in a lobby-based game. Only that this creates an extremely expensive and badly balanced lobby-based game. The MOBAs are frequently PvP games, but for example Age of Empires Online also has an extensive PvE campaign. There is no reason why we couldn't have MODs (multiplayer online dungeons) or even MORs (multiplayer online raids). Judging by how the people who play dungeons and raids always complain about having to play the leveling game, or doing quests, or doing other activities to get consumables for raiding, it is quite likely that a lobby-based game with dungeons and/or raids would be extremely successful. Not to mention much cheaper to produce, and much better balanced. And on the other side of the equation we could have MMORPGs with better virtual worlds, more meaningful questing and leveling, without that annoying raid endgame tacked on the end. Make two games for the price of one, each one better than the compromise you get by bundling them together.
Would you consider Doom co-op to be the first MOD game?
Let's not inflate the MOBA category more than necessary. If Age of Empires Online is a MOBA, what is Starcraft II? Or Team Fortress 2 or any other FPS with a lobby system?

I agree that this seems to be the flavor of day, but at least there seems to be a bit of sanity. Even with Riot claiming 15 million users for League of Legends, noone seems to be pretending that their game will rake in hundreds of millions per month; unlike the MMORPG space. It feels like the post-Everquest world instead of the post-WoW world.

But claiming that "most MOBAs appear to be making money" where there are less than a handful seems a bit silly.

I do have to wonder if a MOR would be successful though, given that the element of showing off your gear would be diminished, if not completely missing. (For a successful MOD, we only have to look at Dungeons and Dragons Online.)
Is there an appreciable difference between MODs and, you know, standard co-op games that have been around forever? Games like Diablo 2/3, Magicka, Left for Dead, and so on?
I wouldn't say Diablo 3 has been around forever, in fact it isn't even released yet. And Magicka is only one year old.

Anyway, the *really* older co-op games either had no character advancement, or stored the characters on the client computer, where they were frequently modified. Cheating was one of the major problems of the previous generation of multi-player games.

Most of the newer games are Free2Play, and store the character advancement server side, where it is less prone to cheating.

Basically the older games were designed for LANs, while the new games are designed for computers with permanent internet connections.
I would say Global Agenda is pretty much this - lobby into instanced Dungeons/Raids/Battlegrounds.

Quests/Open world end at level 18 (and technically you don't have to do them at all), and remaining 32 levels are all instances, with grind for perfect gear and cosmetic dyes.

It's not wildly successful, but it's profitable enough to keep going.
I'd say, just for sake of a definition, that a MOD is a game where you have:

1. Some time of lobby for matchmaking, whether a static screen or a town.

2. Travel directly from the lobby/town to a dungeon.

3. Return to lobby/town once dungeon is completed.

D&D Online was the example I used, but Dragon Nest and Vindictus are others. If you played WoW where you never left Stormwind and only used the Dungeon Finder, you'd be playing a MOD. I would consider Diablo and Magicka to be a multiplayer RPG since you can move from one dungeon/area to another without heading back to town.

But Tobold coined the term, so he would have to be the one to decide :)
Nexon's Vindictus is MOD/MOR (group lobby-based online PvE)
I find it sad, personally, that the MOBA's are popular at the moment, as I really don't enjoy that type of gameplay at all. I don't like games where to win you have to make the other player lose. I'm kind of a carebear.

I don't really enjoy the raiding endgame that much either, tbh. It's just what's left after you've built up your character.

Stuff I like:
- constantly being able to act to improve my character, or my character's situation.
- exploring, not just for the sake of exploration, but to uncover awesome stuff.
- collecting one of everything
- hanging out with my friends

My ideal game would be something like Oblivion but it would take 20,000 hours to complete instead of 50, and be full of other players who could only enhance the fun I have, not prevent me from having as much fun. Too demanding? :P
There was also a very strong trend in games before WoW to go to a MOD-like random dungeon mission system. That was the main gameplay in AO and later COX. To compete EQ, then the industry leader, added Lost Dungeons of Norrath and DAOC added their random dungeon thing. I think the only reason it faded out as a trend was the blockbuster WoW didn't have it.

I'd argue that the randomness of the earlier mission systems and the zerg-like gameplay was actually a lot more fun than the endless repetition of the same bosses with the same "tricks" in WoW instances. If I hear "You spoiled my grand entrance, rat" one more time I'll vomit.

I really love MMOs. Real MMOs like UO or Eve. But in terms of DIKU gameplay, which I also love, I'd be very cheerful to jettison the solo quest grinding in favor of jumping into MODs.
I think saying that 'make 2 games instead of 1' is oversimplification.

I think, 'mono' game can not serve as a 'hobby' nearly as well as multi-faceted game (hobby in this case means activity that tends to eat all your free time). I'm currently playing WoW as a 'MOR' and let me tell you -- it is not nearly the same as e.g. times during TBC when there was relatively interesting stuff to do outside raiding (think MGT and other heroic instances that were significantly harder than anything in current WoW).

'Mono' games are good for jump in jump out gameplay. They are not nearly so good for commitment, social ties, hobby-gameplay -- everything that used to be associated with MMORPGs (think Syncaine rants).

Now lots of people could care less about 'hobby', 'commitment' and stuff -- but not everyone. And maybe shooting for 'hobby', 'commitment', and 'social interaction' isn't such a losing proposition either -- if you actually shoot for that rather than try to out-WoW WoW. How many games are more profitable than Eve Online, for example?
I have nothing on topic, just a suggestion (if you have the time) to check out a lobby based dungeon game: Spiral Knights.

You can download it through steam. It offers character development through upgradable items, f2p allows you to easily get two-star gear while five-star is needed to go to the farthest and hardest dungeon.

Dungeons can be run solo or with up to three other people, difficulty adjusts automatically. You can socialize via friendlist/guild, the lobby is actually instanced but you can change to another easily if you want to see the character of your friends.
I don't fully agree...a lot of people that like raiding and dungeons are also like very much the leveling process and the lore of the game..

Before you step into a raid to kill a bad guy(Arthas for example) you want to know the story about this bad guy and why you must kill makes him feel more epic..and you know the lore through questing and chatting in cities and doing open world events...

What would be Illidan, Kil Jaeden, Arthas, Kael' thas, Archimond if they were just a boss in a MOBA game?They would be absolutely nothing and that games soon would be a failure...For pvp it works well as I see even if I don't care for pvp, but for pve it would be catastrophic to ignore a huge open world, a leveling system and character advancement system
It seems like the history of (pen and paper) RPGs losing popularity in favor of card games like Magic, which consisted basically of quick, disconnected battles. On the other side, the first RPGs emerged from wargames (again, just battles), so I think Tobold is right about the good chances that we will see better virtual worlds in the future.
As others, I'd like to see your reasoning for putting AoE in the MOBA category: the resource spawning, and unit systems make it an RPG-RTS (for better and worse), but less so a MOBA.

Also, I don't know how a virtual world without dungeons or pvp would be satisfying. Grinding is only satisfying when there's a 'payoff,' such as leading a party to victory or crushing an enemy.
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