Tobold's Blog
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Few corpses on Facebook

I've been looking at the latest generation of Facebook games, from Zynga and others. There has been some evolution with games like Farmville 2 and Cityville 2 not just being prettier than their predecessors, but also having improvements to gameplay. What remains is the problem that these games are basically unplayable unless you create a specific Facebook account just for them and fill it with fake friends, so not much movement there.

But one thing that struck me when looking at various games on Facebook was how little violence there was in these games. Many of them have millions of players in spite of not having any combat, any monsters or other players to kill, and no corpses in sight anywhere.

Now obviously Facebook gamers are mostly a different population from MMORPG gamers. But the difference between MMORPGs being mostly about violence and Facebook games being mostly non-violent is striking. Now some people will say that the lack of success of non-violent MMORPGs like A Tale in the Desert "proves" that players don't like a lack of corpses in their MMORPG. But then ATitD isn't exactly a triple-A game, and has a lot of other niche-game weirdness to it which can explain its lack of success.

A lot of people already spend a lot of time in games like World of Warcraft doing non-violent activities, like fishing or growing vegetables. I could very well imagine either a non-violent MMORPG which is totally about building things, or a hybrid in which building things and combat are better balanced than in the current games. Why not "Farmville the MMO" with 80 million players?

FaceBook games have multiple "advantages" over classic videogames (MMO's and non-MMO's):

+ very easy to understand
+ no install, extremely fast to launch
+ well known environment (Facebook)
+ word-of-mouth easy spreading
+ usually turn based, slow peace
+ usually zero competition with others
+ grinding is much less noticeable

Any non-gamer can easily pick a random Facebook game and get hooked after few seconds. On the other hand, any given "major" MMO has a harder/longer learning curve and more steps before you actually start understanding the game (entirely).

Most of my Facebook friends/connections have played at least one or two games... but I am the only one who plays "videogames", that's what they think, becahuse Facebook games are some kind of temporary fun, to their eyes.
If your MMO doesn't have combat you wouldn't have to grind for stats. A +3 to gardening is not the same as a +3% critical damage. Non-damage stats like magic find or stamina or magical resistance are always answered with an uproar from the player base. The player hate to waste item budget on anything but raw damage.

But if you wouldn't have to grind for stats that would lead to an MMO with a horizontal endgame. To an MMO that wouldn't have a gear treadmill as end game content. An MMO that wouldn't force you to grind for stats and not have gated content.

Why is there not a single AAA MMO with horizontal endgame?

Combat in an MMO is required to keep everyone on the treadmill.
The fact that people have been on the Farmville treadmill for years disproves your theory. There are other motivations possible than just having +X to damage, e.g. building a nicer house with more decorations.
Facebook games like Farmville use the sunken cost fallacy, which is not a treadmill. Even thought both force you to grind it's not the same motivation.

With a treadmill you are forced to grind at the games speed or you'll fall behind and start to get weaker (relative to the environment or other player). And in the end you won't have access to gated content or you will no longer be able to play with your friends. Not reaching the item level in WoW required for the next LFD/LFR tier would be a good example.

A grind for a vanity item, on the other side, you can complete at your own speed. You can basically grind for fun and not "for the permission to continue playing after the next patch". I can't imagine how getting a nicer house with more decorations could be a treadmill as it's hard to imagine how content could be gated to require a house of at least some specific "niceness".

That's why all current MMOs focus on combat stats and other things are only secondary things you can achieve. Because that way they can force you to play as much as they want you to play.

WoW has battle pets and challenge modes but the real endgame is a combat stats treadmill. Even professions are reduced to the combat stat bonus they reward.

Rift added nice "housing" with its add-on but the real endgame is a combat stats treadmill.

Guild Wars 2 promised to focus on armor skins instead of combat stats as endgame activity. They abandoned it after only 2.5 month and completely turned the game around. The real endgame is now a combat stats treadmill with a insanely gated endgame dungeon.

They all haven't found a way to replace the treadmill with a fun grind. And they all use combat as the reason to keep you on the treadmill.

Combat and treadmill are the two things that keep the current MMOs running. You can't just look at only one of those two things, they are to intertwined in every AAA MMO we have at the moment.
Combat and treadmill are the two things that keep the current MMOs running. You can't just look at only one of those two things, they are to intertwined in every AAA MMO we have at the moment.

Which might be exactly why the current MMOs have peaked are and are in an overall general decline of the market. To get out of that, they'll need something else than just repeating the same old overused formula.
WoW has battle pets and challenge modes but the real endgame is a combat stats treadmill. Even professions are reduced to the combat stat bonus they reward.

Considering the small % of players actually doing raid progression, I don't really think this is true. For a lot of people collecting pets and completing achievements *IS* the endgame.
I hope you are right. Watching how the new SimCity's online mode fares may provide an important indication. Of course, with fires, Godzilla attacks and space aliens, SimCity does/will feature violence...

Personally, I have always enjoyed non-violent games (and I do count SimCity and, absurdly, even Civilization in this category) but I have never felt any attraction whatsoever in the "mmoification" of them, so I'm very torn on this!
Blizzard has another record quarter, while Zynga's stock is down 80%.

In other words, the death of violence and MMOs is exaggerated. It will not be replaced by super-casual gaming based on massaging dopamine glands.

Also, the success of LoL and WoT proves that sustainable online multiplayers rely on competition and violence, decoration and skins come a distant ... second.
As a crafter, I really disagree with Kring. Just because a lot of game companies don't focus much on non-violence does not mean there can not be progression. Some players in EVE spend 40 real days, over a month of subscriptions, just to get a few % increase in some production. The SWG stories talk about knowing "the guy" to talk to for Mandalorean armor or light sabre.
claims to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars competing with his better locations. (there was a recent blogosphere discussion on not wanting AH, presumably so people could compete over selling location and/or barking endurance.)

shows that even without combat, people can compete on things like land.
Cafeteria or integrated?

I really agree that for an MMO to reach 20 million players (insert some non-racist caveat about mainland China with it's huge population) - let's say twice WoW's revenue - will take more than the current "teenage boys kill things and each other to get more gear to repeat in next patch" MMO grind.

A question is how they are integrated. For most companies with limited resources, you are probably better off focusing on something - PvP or raiding or ATAD. Saying you want to do everything well is a huge and expensive undertaking, unlikely to play off in a market as mature as AAA MMOs.

But to get to the Double-Wrath sized MMO, you probably need to have everything. So how do you integrate everything?

You can have a cafeteria: millions of people can do pet battles, millions can solo level and hundreds of thousands can raid and do ShadowPan dailies. There is no real interaction. You log into the game and then decide which game (subsystem) you want to play. It's up to the observer whether you value 2900 Arena or Heroic T14 clear or epic L25 pet team more. Or you could tie them together: you earn common gold/commendations/points/ratings from any of the subsystems; more integrated yet much QQ about how what I like to do is reward unfairly less than what you like to do. Or you could do the crafting and battle synergy (e.g. EVE) where more of the game is player-produced rather than deus ex machina from the RNG. But that handles crafting but not achievement points or pets or aesthetics.

My really out there prediction for MegaMMO 2020 remains a browser based game, probably done in an open-source Google engine, with product placement.
I'd be cautious of taking Farmville or similar exploitationware, not merely because of some elitist idea of what makes a game, but for the same reason that one need to apply a grain of salt to EVE Online subscription numbers. Zynga might say one-tenth of the population has played their games, but the true number is probably more than they have had certain number of accounts while making massive incentives toward account creation: I'd be amazed if there were not four duplicate accounts for every real one. Exploitationware's made money by doing so, but that's not likely to last long, both due to physical pressures (such a restrictions on game card sales) and by changes in the market itself (high-value customers tend to be very invested, but once they're gone they're gone for good, and free-r or lower-price competition will attract their attention).

I do, however, agree with your underlying point. There's a huge potential market for an interesting and worthwhile real game that serves these sectors, and as the Harvest Moon series shows with a major release annually, there's a major market for non-combat games. (And indeed, adding combat doesn't necessarily help: the Rune Factory series was not especially successful compared
to the main brand.)

The big question is how to monetize this without turning into exploitationware. Harvest Moon runs a box-buy model, but it's in a market where box purchases were necessary until very recently, and only just begun running into free competition. Desktop games on this field don't have that benefit.

Non-damage stats like magic find or stamina or magical resistance are always answered with an uproar from the player base. The player hate to waste item budget on anything but raw damage.
Guild Wars 2 has a Magic Find stat, and it's not been a target of much ire (although it could be better described). This is likely because it minimally effects events where other stats are relevant, altering monster drops rather than the chest loot for instance or open-world bosses, and thus most hardcore players can carry two sets of equipment.

And even that is largely an artifact of other design decisions; there's no reason that the Magic Find stat need be attached to the same clothing slot -- or even a clothing slot -- as would normally take damage stats.
I still believe that ATitD was reasonably successful considering the number of people involved in developing it and that it was running on Linux and Macs at a time where people equated Macs with rainwear.

Also I spent there a lot of time just for some very small +% in farming.
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