Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 11, 2016
A decade late

I was reading an article about time-sucking video games in which the author complains that the games he is playing have become bigger and bigger, requiring near endless amounts of time, and going on for years. I checked my calendar, and it still said 2016, so at first I was a bit puzzled of why the author realized this a decade later than the rest of us. But then I realized that he probably had never played MMORPGs, and the MMORPGification of other game genres like shooters was really a new experience for him.

The MMORPG is dead, long live the MMORPG! There is actually nothing in the definition that says that a MMORPG needs to have a series of abilities with cooldowns on hotkeys unleashed upon auto-targeted enemies. MMORPGs just used to be like that because of ping and server response times. These days any sort of combat system is possible for a massively multiplayer online game, from shooter to martial arts. That leaves us with a lots of games in which lots of players are running around simultaneously, and some of them are advertised as being MMORPGs, while others are being advertised as being shooter games, or whatever else.

What remains true for the companies is that a multiplayer online game account is harder to pirate than a single-player game that comes on a disc, and that a player who is hooked by your game for a long period can be made to pay more money over a long time instead of buying the game just once. So the economic advantages are still there. But so is the economic risk: Making a game like Destiny or The Division costs millions of dollars, so a flop can be costly. And because these games require so much time-investment from the players, players can't play all that many of those games in a year. I never spent less money on games than during the first years of World of Warcraft, where WoW just basically ate up all of my time. That is great for the few games that end up being mega-winners, but it leaves a lot of others in the dust.

The author of the article in The Verge claims that time-consuming games are bad for the players as well. I'm sure that some aspects can be, but there are also aspects where the players have an advantage. For example even an "expensive" subscription-based MMORPG costs you less to play for a year than buying a new console game every month. And playing the same game for a long time means you don't constantly have to learn new control schemes and game mechanics. On the other hand you could play a different mobile game on your tablet every day for free or pocket change and not run out of games for years. It is very hard to say what ends up being more fun, lots of inexpensive games or a single multi-million dollar game you play for a long time. How about you?

"There is actually nothing in the definition that says that a MMORPG needs to have a series of abilities with cooldowns on hotkeys unleashed upon auto-targeted enemies."

This is very true but I don't really care much if other styles of games adopt the tropes of MMOs. Good luck to them. It would be very helpful if we could unmuddy the waters by de-linking those games from the specific sub-genre of MMORPG you describe. It is, quite specifically, those mechanics that I enjoy and it would be nice if we had a simple description that covered them rather than always having to use a full sentence to describe what we mean or, even worse, always correlating them by a reference to WoW.

Perhaps then I might stop downloading and messing around with games that describe themselves as "MMORPGs" but that feel like something else entirely.

There is something in the definition about role-playing, but it seems like most of the games described as MMORPGs don't care too much about that...

Anyway, if you actually do have an MMORPG, with a social aspect, it seems an arguably good thing if it can go on forever (though there's room for short ones that finish too). If the social aspect is lacking, on the other hand, I see his point.

But part of it is probably just the author getting older. Long ago, the majority always wanted ordinary CRPGs to have at least 200 hours of content, and some still do. It is the more experienced players who would prefer a shorter, more intense experience.
WoW still gets most of my gaming time but I do play other games besides WoW. All of them playable in little chunks of time, I really can't play two games that require that much commitment.

Steam is really great for finding cheap side games. Currently playing Rocket League. Matches take only 5 minutes and while I definately suck it's gargantuan fun.
Gamers ask for a revenue model that allows them to value their time more then their money and they get it. These same gamers then complain about these revenue generation implementations that allow them to bypass certain "purposefully designed" game mechanics because their wallets now empty quicker then their previously coveted time time allotments. Go figure.

Gamers ask for games that last more than "X" number of hours and they get them. These same gamers then complain when the time=value metric is used by developers when DLC and other(free or not) additions are implemented. These same gamers also complain when they have games in their Steam or GoG libraries that they bought on a whim, only to realize later that they will never have the time to play most of them. Go figure.

If you pay attention to the article Tobold linked, you will see a gamer who is lamenting things that are a natural result of developer implemented, forced matchmaking systems, along with the removal of "true" community enhancing features.

Also, I'm a firm believer that the gaming populace is largely responsible for the host of false "metrics" that we continue to see represented in the majority of gaming blogs, review sites and mainstream gaming journalism. This is what you get when the magic circle is broken. Games are no longer being developed with the "personal experience" of the gamer in mind. It's all about how developers can best monitize the game. To this day I still have a small, local subset of friends with whom I keep in touch with when it comes to gaming reviews/input, and deciding what I am willing to spend money on. Thank goodness the publishers/bean counters will never figure out a way to sever these kinds of relationships.
@Chris your point in the first paragraph is backwards. It's more like this, pretty consistently: devs make an 8 hour game. They monetize the game play by stretching it in to a 24 hour experience, then sell XP packs that speed it up to a 16 hour (basic bonus) or 8 hour (deluxe) experience.....probably in 1-2 hour increments. Gamers then spend money to buy back to the original core experience, without realize the cheese has been moved.

In paragraph 2 I think an effort to see who's complaining about games being too short, contrasted with a list of who's complaining they are now too long, will reveal these actually are two distinctly different groups of gamers. It also works out that the metric of length skews when either side finds a game they like (to the point of replay/repetition). Meanwhile monetizing DLC has been around long before it was a thing to complain about....we just used to call them expansion packs and they weren't deliberately baked in from the start.
I define fun as 'a thing you would do because it is, in and of itself, enjoyable.' I define work as 'a thing you do for a reward'.

I'll throw out the button test. You have a button that you can press to complete any task you want in the game.

In an MMO you'd be pressing that all the time to skip reputation grinds, grinding money, grinding this, grinding that, doing dailies, whatever. In a good console game, you wouldn't want to skip it. The difference? One is fun and one isn't.

So it's really easy to say which one is more fun, and which one is work.

One thing you don't talk about is the change in game communities. What currently popular games would you say have positive communities? WoW was far more positive at launch, now you are mostly hoping everyone else will shut up and do their job, no better than a bot. And of course, newer communities like League of Legends or GTA Online are pretty horrifying.

I honestly can't think of a single online multiplayer game released in the last 5 years that doesn't have a bad community.
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