Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 17, 2012
My last MMORPG

In the year 2000 I was playing Everquest. The first thing I did when logging on every day was to check with my guild who was online and where they were playing. Most of the time I found a guild group to level with. If not, I grouped with other people. I rarely played alone.

In the year 2005 I was playing World of Warcraft. I was for some time in a hardcore raiding guild, and after completing Molten Core we tackled Blackwing Lair, where we spent several evenings per week together for months until we reached the final boss. When not raiding, I was often doing dungeons in groups with my other characters. Sometimes I played alone.

In the year 2010 I was playing World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, and at the end of the year Cataclysm. I rarely raided any more. I still did dungeon groups, but more often with random strangers than with people I knew. I was playing alone a lot of the time.

In a way World of Warcraft was my last MMORPG played in a "massively multiplayer online roleplaying" way. The games I played since then where massively singleplayer. In Star Wars: The Old Republic is spent nearly all the time playing alone, and only did a few flashpoints, and no raids at all. If I want to play with other people, I play World of Tanks, or pen & paper Dungeons & Dragons.

Now you could say that this is just me turning into a lone wolf. But I would claim that it is also the games pushing people towards being lone wolves. We went from game where playing solo was nearly impossible to games where playing together is discouraged. If you group while leveling in a modern MMORPG, your leveling speed goes down instead of up. Group activities like running dungeons have been turned into something which is completely optional, and now often less efficient than soloing. Endgame groups have turned from "bring the whole guild" events to exclusionary activities for a select few which have to carefully watch to keep out the average player. Warhammer Online invented the fake group, where you joined an uncoordinated pseudo-group just by being at the same place as other players, and now we'll have the same model in Guild Wars 2.

I wonder in how far the decline of the MMORPG genre (when have you last heard of a MMORPG gaining subscribers after launch?) is related to the lack of social interaction between players in the MMORPGs of today, especially at lower levels. If it walks like a singleplayer game, quacks like a singleplayer game, looks like a singleplayer game, then maybe we shouldn't be surprised that it has the longevity of a singleplayer game.

Did you join a guild in SWTOR? If not, what was your reasoning process and do you think that has changed since early WoW? (Like: do you think you burned out on the hardcore guild?)

My experience was that I have been in a couple of casual friendly guilds in SWTOR and have raided with both of them, so the options to group are still there.

Blah, forgot to add. SWTOR is an outlier really, because while it is very solo friendly, it's also a very fun game to play in a duo.
If SWTOR is an mmo then so is Battlenet or Steam. Online gaming these days is basically solo-gameplay with an option to chat to your friends and switching to play the same game as them if you so desire.

Only games that force grouping and punish solo-play break the solo+chat channel formula. Most of those games are only social in a "You stay quiet and do exactly what I tell you" way.
It's not a "decline" so much as a broadening. In the various periods you list, the choice of MMMOs available was either small or very small. Now it's very large.

I very much doubt fewer people overall are playing MMOs nowadays but certainly fewer people play any given MMO. I'd call this an improvement and I certainly feel MMOs have much more to offer me personally as entertainment than they did ten years ago.
Tobold, you nailed it... Same experience here.
You always grouped in Everquest because you had to group with others or the game was extremely difficult in solo. Early Wow was the same. No LFG tools and random groups couldn't even clear Scholomance/UBRS/Stratholme let alone raids.

Once the game stopped "force" you to group with people, and don't mean strangers, but people you knew that were good players at least, you stopped group with people. I have the same experience like you.

The problem is that if an MMO now "force" people to group because of the difficulty or accessibility, will be destroyed in a matter of days. Swtor pretty much lost most people because didn't had a LFG tool!!A very easy game that only asked from players to just talk each other to perform groups to play the dungeons/raids and the people couldn't stand it!

Do you believe that a game like Everquest or early wow with just updated graphics or a new world can live up?I know there are thousands of people that play on private Vanilla servers and I for sure would play that MMO, but we will not be more than 100-200k.

The sad truth is that if the game don't "force" you to group you don't group and this is not only player's fault but mostly the game design. People that say you can still group is the people that say you can still explore the world with your ground mount and don't use fly mount or teleports yet they fail to see the difference. When I was traveling back and was waiting for the ship to theramore for example, I wasn't alone. there were people there..we did duels, we talked its other and finally we met. Same apply for grouping..In a streamlined game full of random stressed players using tools for fast epics you cannot play the traditional way
I am the outlier but I think the games have just evolved and improved.

The idea that I would benefit for more interaction with anonymous, unaccountable people trained by a decade of bad behavior would never occur to me. at all. ever.

Is it bad game designers pushing players from the Olympus of 70-person EQ to the Stygian depths of solo SWTOR? Or is it game designers responding to the players wishes? Cause or Response?

Your best and worse times in an MMO are with others. But they rarely make your time simplier. So it may be the time factor; if I am rearranging RL to be on 6-9 tu-fr with other people also rearranging, it is great. But if I randomly pop in for 15 minutes, waiting for the "just a sec" "brbs" and "let me finish" is much more of a problem. And if I might be interrupted by phone/child/spouse, I can pop in for solo play but not group.

But the biggest problem with playing with anonymous others is the others, at least in mass market situations. I always say the solution is to either fundamentally change human nature or to change the game design - and the latter is easier.
"when have you last heard of a MMORPG gaining subscribers after launch"

I think you will see an upward bump in WoW subscribers with MoP. Just ancetdotally, I have seen a lot of Blog/Twitter chatter about old players came back.

How long they will stay once the 'newness' wears off, I couldn't hazard a guess.
"when have you last heard of a MMORPG gaining subscribers after launch?"

We won't. Since the AAA titles are shipping free to play from now on, this will no longer be a metric.

But just to hazard a guess, I'm betting Titan retains subscription model (simply $15/month for both WoW and Titan combined). Then it will simply add it's current WoW sub numbers + however many are unique to Titan, and we'll see new record highs.

Stab in the dark.
Echoing what Spinksville said did you join a guild? If not why? You have to make an effort to socialise otherwise you may as well not play MMO's anymore. (Well you did say you have stopped playing them previously).

Even if you are not a hardcore player or no longer have time for raids there are still plenty of casual guilds out there to choose from.

I am pretty happy with GW2 because it is casual friendly. I no longer have time for hardcore raiding or playstyle and my current guild is semi-casual which fits me perfectly. There are viable options if you spend some effort looking for them.
Why are you so confident that Titan is still in development? Also, AAA titles going to free to play only help blizzard and wow than harm it. If someone can pay only 1 subscription and still can play other AAA titles then why not do it? But if he has to chose which to play, then maybe wow lose subs.

@Hagu so do you think that GW2 is in the right direction? I mean you cannot ninja loot cause everyone has his own loot. Also you don't need to group with others since you still get full xp from team play, so there is no brb, wait a sec, insults, e.t.c. Also, if you get interrupted by phone or anything else, no problem, you are not in a group you don't need to explain to anyone and after that you just jump to the next Dynamic event..

this is the future of MMOs?this is how they evolve?to make communication between players completely useless? Doesn't this just make other players like NPCs with improved AI?
Did you join a guild in SWTOR?

Yes, my WoW guild. People leveled at vastly different speeds, and we never got a full group of similar levels for a flashpoint together. I stopped playing before I reached level 50.
The mmorpg demographic has split as the genre has aged. Older players used mmorpg's as a social network, younger ones do not. Because of the economic crisis older players have less time but younger ones are mostly unemployed/staying in school. Games have tried to respond by making it easier for younger players to play multiple games, while making it easier for those with less time to accomplish something. The net result in trying to please two demographics is a devaluation not only of in game accomplishments but of the social ties once necessary to accomplish them.

Devs need to ask themselves at the start: "Who exactly is my game for?" and if the answer is "Everyone from 9-90" the game will no longer be successful. For me currently, the ideal experience would allow me to tackle challenging group content with players on the same shard within 30-45 minutes. Mmorpg's need to dramatically upgrade their social interface...a lesson that TSW and TOR both dazzlingly ignored.
MMOs as a popular gaming genre is a fad. WoW is the MMO equivalent of the movie Titanic, and all the other game companies have been trying to replicate it, but you just can't. It's not even about the quality of the games. It's just that it can't be duplicated.

The MMORPG is a niche genre that temporarily went big. It is heading back to niche status. It would hardly be the first time a video game genre did that.

That is good news for people who genuinely enjoy the genre, because while it means the graphics quality will go down, it also means that game developers will make games that appeal to them again instead of trying to replicate WoW.

I view the crowd that looks back fondly on MMO's that required independent grouping much like people who grew up in large families or in small towns. They have strong memories of great times, but most now live in mid sized communities and have 1 or 2 kids. Being an adult in a small town, or maintaining a large family is a huge amount of work and responsibility.

IMO those games provided an amazing experience for a very small number of people. The effort to maintain an active and happy guild is herculean, and you can count yourself as extremely lucky to have been (or be) a part of one.

I came to the party a bit late, but the amount of waiting and hoping to get an invite was ridiculous. The tendency of those in charge to "lord over" those not in charge was unpleasant. Even the friendly guild I stayed with for years was dependent on flaky and immature players.

And when I became a leader myself, logging in felt like a chore. I got insta-whispers when I just wanted to do a few dailies and drink a beer.

Not fun for me.

Now I'm in a "specialty" guild of all hunters where we do infrequent events, and weekly easy mode achievement and mount collecting vents. There's much less competition and the feel is much more light hearted.
I liked the trend initially, because it opened up more games to me. I refused to play games with forced grouping, so I was missing out on lots of fun experiences.

I quite enjoy playing mostly solo and doing my own thing, while playing in a world where I see lots of others also playing solo and doing their own thing. The presence of others, even if I'm not directly interacting with them, makes the world seem more alive, more fun to be in.

I don't see it as a negative. I like my game+chatroom. :)
My favorite part of MMOs tends to be the economy - I prefer a lot more thinking and a lot less twitching.

So I am doing stuff that would be pointless in a single-person game. I am affecting others and they are affecting me. I submit that most non-gamers would say I am playing with others, even though I may never be logged in at the same time.

Two scenarios:

EVE industrialist interacting with the market and each other throughout the day, responding to the ever changing conditions.

In MoP, valor cap is still 1000 and heroic dungeons pay 30 so a serious play may run a relative small number of dungeons over and over - perhaps approaching several hundred times over the next three months. "playing together", same content, same roles, few surprises.

Which of the above is "playing together?"
@Giannis - I would never categorize NPC AI as inferior. :-)

Do you accept that given a choice to solo or group up, many/most, but-not-all players will tend to solo, all other things being equal?

So what is the defense of "so we should design our game to incent/push/force our customers to play the way we think they should not the way they want to?" I would much prefer to invest in companies that produce the products the customers want, not the products a few executives prefer.

I.e., I tend to find the "better game" to be more problematic.

I think one can answer yes to

"did taking 2000 hours to get max level in EQ make for a better, more cohesive community? does it make for a better game?"

and answer no to

"is 2000 hrs to level cap viable for a mass market MMO in 2013? Should a game company make this improvement"

"Yes, my WoW guild."

I have found through experience that this is generally not as good an idea as joining a guild that was created with the new game specifically in mind -- because of exactly the reason you state.

GW2 will be different because of being able to join multiple guilds and I'd expect to see large server guilds devoted to WvW form, for example.
MMORPGs are on their slide into obscurity. Myst entralled the masses in the 90s, WoW did it a decade later.

While they did their magic, they practically burned the whole genre. I haven't heard of any adventure-puzzle games making it big and maybe MMOs are moving in the same direction. Maybe.
I agree with you Tobold. This is something that I have been saying for a long time. MMORPG's are dead and alive in name only.
Hagu wrote: So what is the defense of "so we should design our game to incent/push/force our customers to play the way we think they should not the way they want to?"

I just believe that many people don't know what is best for them. They look the tree and they are missing the forest. For example your job is 3 miles away from your home. You want to go there with your car every day, everyone would chose to go there with the car. You spent money in gas and also you are a gain kilos every month because you don't move. But if someone force you to go every day by foot or with a bicycle, at first you might hate them but at the end this is very much benefit for you. You have more money and you are very healthy and good physique and then you meet a girl and she likes you, know the butterfly effect :P

Well maybe the example isn't the best one, but people always tend to chose the easy way without understand that this hurt them in the long way. If everquest and early wow was like today, I wouldn't met all these people at the ship, I wouldn't travel with these people from Ironforge to scarlet monastery by foot.

But guess what, I am still playing together with people I have met 8 and 10 years ago in-game and we play together every new MMO is out. So yes, having to take the ship to theramore was time sink but met people there..having to travel to scarlet monastery as alliance was painful and sometimes ended up to get ganged outside Undercity and never even reach Scarlet monastery. But these are the times that I remember most and these times I made my online friends..

Now I can even tell you the name or even the race of the characters from my last LFG dungeon. Like I said they are like NPCs now.
"I quite enjoy playing mostly solo and doing my own thing, while playing in a world where I see lots of others also playing solo and doing their own thing. The presence of others, even if I'm not directly interacting with them, makes the world seem more alive, more fun to be in."

Could have been written by me..Exactly the way i play mmos.

I think the allure of grouped content has dropped significantly in MMOs. It has gotten a reputation of "elite" , "grind", "hardcore" and "time consuming" .

If you look at games like Battlefield/CoD which are at its core "Group" content, i don't see that mysteriously becoming more "solo" . It's about "fun" and still maintaining a bit of indivualism in the group.

So what i'm saying is, MMO devs has literally "ring fenced" group contents into a specific player type category. For the casual player, who is not interested in min/maxing or don't have alot of time, group content is NOT FUN!

Even if you simply look at the "rewards" for group content as opposed to single player content. 99% of the time group content rewards are for the purpose of "min/maxing" where single player content is "character progression" (story/levels/areas).

Simple as that. It's a PITA to make a group, not because of the lack of tools, but because you need dedicated,experienced players in the group! Imagine if you could just grab any person and go slay a dragon, why would you need a "LFG" tool? Heck why would you need to go watch a video on how to slay the dragon? Why not have fun figuring it out? (because the REWARD is no longer about slaying the dragon but the elitest loot that may drop)

There's a definite barrier to entry with group content these days. It is no longer something you go do "and see how far you get" , in a exploration kind of way, you now need to know everything before you go. Your gear must be level X, you must have role Y, and you must have skills Z and know the strategies.

Sure we can blame the players for this, but i think developers have designed it like this. Blizzard did this over time, and newer MMOs simply skipped the evolution and now pump out whatever WoW have right now.... hardcore group content.

I raided in WoW for ages, but nowadays being more casual, you know what i think when i hear "group content" ?

I think "difficult, grindy content" . Why can't group content be "just fun" ? Like a solo quest?

Is it only me that rolls my eyes when i read about "nightmare modes" on group content as "additional content" ?

@Silvertemplar: It is not only you. The epeen is strong with the NM dungeon hunt. Hop into Agartha with the LFG channel on and all you will see are advertisements about damage/heal rating and DPS. "Must be experienced, farming runs, no noobs," etc.

I see that sort of shit and it makes me want to put all those people on a boat, push it out way into the middle of the ocean, then set it on fire.
@Giannis - You make valid points. But my point is what is best for the players is pretty irrelevant; in a world with options, what the paying customers want is what matters.

In your example, if some township said everyone had to walk instead of drive to work through the forest, people would over time be finding new jobs or townships rather than walking. And gamers are extremely mobile and fickle.

Currently, with surprisingly many decent MMO alternatives, most without subscriptions, when players are confronted with something they dislike sufficiently they will just move on. Even if it is in their best interest. I am not saying this is a good thing. I am not saying this improves the games or the species. I just say it is a constraint on current, for-profit gaming. The trend towards F2P swings the pendulum toward popular. You don't have to be a genius in marketing and market research, which the developers of Cataclysm clearly were not, to see popularity in a cash shop.

@ Phantasmagoria & @Michael: some discussions I have read here and elsewhere refer to this as "alone together" - A lot of people read books in Starbucks/coffee shops/cafes even though the other people don't add a lot to their reading experience per se.
Of course you are right. I think I have been saying this for ... years ? :)
The reason is the content is undertuned, or tuned for random strangers who are barely geared for the content.

For the more difficult content you need to have skilled people. You can get these by building up a friend list (like you had to before LFD/LFG).

There are tools available like guild, projects like The PuG (defunct), and communities like Openraid (very much alive) which can aid you in finding the right people.
"The epeen is strong with the NM dungeon hunt. Hop into Agartha with the LFG channel on and all you will see are advertisements about damage/heal rating and DPS. "Must be experienced, farming runs, no noobs," etc."

Yes agreed. The elitism is running rampant in TSW now. I've been kicked out of groups for underperforming. Well the elitists can have TSW to themselves and the rest of us will move on to more casual friendly games like GW2.
MMORPGs are not dying as a genre. When SWTOR sold 2 million copies in 1 month just this past December I don't see how anyone can think that. Before WoW, that was unheard of, no MMO since has managed it either (don't know WoW's first month sales, but I'm assuming at least their expansions sold well). The reason why subs decline instead of increase over time seems to be quite simply that the genre is no longer niche. Back in the days of UO, and EQ MMORPGs were for nerds, and known as huge grindy timesinks. WoW made it cool to play an MMO, and opened up the genre. But now it's like any normal game, most people buy & play it at release, and lose interest. Rather than popularity slowly building over time we see a big rush at launch that can't be sustained. And as we all know, most launches are quite premature.

As for the person who mentioned Titanic, it was dethroned by Avatar, at least domestically.
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