Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 04, 2018
Multiplayer today

In the movie Full Metal Jacket one character says that he wants to go to interesting places, meet interesting people, and kill them. When I look at the list of Steam's best selling games in 2017, it appears that this is what most people want: Multiplayer gaming today appears to be nearly exclusively about going to interesting virtual places, meeting interesting people online, and then killing them. In games that have some form of collaboration (to kill other players), collaboration is often the weakest point of the game, leading to much toxicity and hate. Hate towards your team mates, not the opponents, mind you. I'm a bit depressed about what our gaming behavior says about us as the human race.

Where are the massively multiplayer online city building games? Multiplayer online survival games in which people cooperate instead of torturing each other? Why did MMORPGs basically die out as a genre on Steam? How did humanity evolve and create civilization in real life, but fail to do so in virtual worlds? I really think that game designers missed something big here: In real life the incentives obviously favor collaboration over bashing each others head in; how great could a video game be if it could manage to reproduce those incentives and create virtual worlds in which people want to cooperate?

“It is well for us to recollect that even in our own law-abiding, not to say virtuous cases, the only barrier between us and anarchy is the last nine meals we’ve had”.

As a species we still haven't found a way to solve conflict without violence. Even in the littlest things (like sitting on the couch with your wife and deciding what TV programme to watch) one of the parties is in some way stronger than the other.

Entertainment reflects that.
To my mind MMOs and Steam don't really go together. MMOs require their own launcher and their own user accounts in most cases, so playing one through Steam sets up a situation where you have to log into Steam just to kick off the MMO launcher to then log into the MMO. That seems like an unnecessary complication.

There are also disincentives. If you play EVE Online and link your account to Steam you then have to do any further purchases through Steam. If there is a special deal that is not on Steam, you cannot use it.

I am sure that there are people who are so totally sold on Steam that they want to do everything through them, but I am not one of those people.
World of Warcraft is still doing great. I am playing it. Thanks to gold tokens.
Case in point:
Look at how many people will avoid PVP while levelling. Bashing each other's head in is not a fun pastime for many.

Some of my favorite games on Steam:

There are many games out there that don't require beating other human beings. They are popular, that's why many people are peacefully-minded.
Minecraft certainly stands out as a game that is mostly about cooperation and building, and is insanely popular. SimCity type games are still popular, and I think hardware still limits multiplayer the way you're talking about. I think you would need to use 15-20 year old graphics quality to allow typical computers to render thousands of cities. Even then I'm not sure how well it would work, those games just have to track so much stuff regardless of the pixels on your screen.

Overall, I do agree with your general point. But real life has a set reward structure. You employer pays you because you provide value, not because doing so is fun. Games can reward anything, so they can pick the most fun thing and reward that. Games can also mitigate moral issues (no one is actually hurt when you "kill" other players) as well as the costs (no one has to rebuild all that stuff you're destroying). The end result wings up being sociopathic in nature, so it isn't much surprise that the most popular games involve sociopathic activities.
Surely the reasons for this are primarily technical not societal or philosophical, aren't they? I play a few MMOs that I could access through Steam but I don't because it's a convoluted, fiddly, annoying way to log in to them. It's much easier to use the proprietary launcher instead. Equally, when it comes to gameplay, pitting player against player requires far less infrastructure than providing large-scale co-operative projects or the tools to complete them.
I think multiplayer games where the objective is killing the other person hits an itch that isn't met by many other things, and that is challenge and competition. I'm not a fan of shooters myself, but the challenge of taking down an enemy in a shooter is much more fun than memorizing some pattern to beat a raid boss. MMORPGs are only as fun as the AI, and that AI gets boring after you see some sort of pattern.

I think there are other multiplayer games recently that have been successful, thinking of games like hearthstone. Hearthstone and others compare people's strategy and planning more than reflexes. Games like minecraft succeed because of creativity and sharing in that creativity.

I think sports and sports like games create the same type of feel without the killing and many are quite successful (I am loving rocket league on my switch).

Still i look forward to the day that there are less shooters.
Lazines. Chucking a room full of people into a room together and telling them to kill each other is much easier than designing a world of challenges for those people to interact with and overcome together, or other intrinsic rewards for them to band together to achieve.

Steam is a multiplayer graveyard of poorly-rated titles that died in the ass because 'no-one plays it anymore', mostly because the developers didn't give them a reason to. Skill-based systems that destroy the uninitiated, which basically excludes most players on fucking launch because the beta-testers for the last three years have been honed into lethal precision. Latency issues segment the world, further dividing a declining population, and perception that a game is dying kills it even faster as people don't want to play something that's dying.

And it's always a god damn tragedy when you can see how much outstanding work has gone into refining the art and mechanics so that there are responsive, intuitive controls, visualy-appealing characters and actions, and glorious backdrops for the action. All wasted because there was nothing to do but watch a dwindingly group of enthusiasts get slowly tired of killing each other.

Fuck I hate arena games. They're parasites that feed on the talent of artists and programmers.
You just made my Monday post!
Well, there are cooperative MMOs, they just aren't hugely popular compared to competitive ones. But how is that different from sports?

The only difference is that there are no major consequences for getting 'killed' in an MMO. So the competition moves towards that endpoint, whereas in soccer there are major disincentives to going full Aztec.

By the way, Tamriel Unlimited made silver on Steam's list, and is a fairly standard MMORPG in the WoW vein which seems friendly enough.
@Tobold this is not really a statement about what people want to do....I spend lots of effort actually engaging with real life to make a better life for myself and my loved ones, enjoy going places and meeting people, and avoid violence like the plague. But at the end of the day I have an hour or two where it's fun to explore the primeval impulses that come from our evolutionary days surviving against hungry neighbors and sabertooth tigers on the Savannah, or getting a moment to feel less powerless against the RL things that cannot be changed (even if they should). Gaming is and remains escapism of the highest order, and focuses on those things which we would in most cases be terrified of having to deal with IRL but which we can experience vicariously without risk in the virtual world.

YMMV obviously and it's safe to say there are plenty of people with issues who spend all their time in online worlds, but that's what the WHO is classifying gaming addiction for.

I'll be honest: I'd never play any game that involves constructive or empathetic world-building, because to me that sort of virtual behavior is time sucked away from real world behavior doing the same. "Oooh I can build a city collaboratively in this game with people....oh crap lots of people, this will take forever. I think I'll go work on the lawn and build that shed instead." That's my take. Again, YMMV.
The single most important factor about this topic is balancing the needs and desires of the players from a social aspect. If the reward is substantial enough, then players will put forth the effort in working together to earn it. Look at what WoW managed to do in the early days before LFG/LFR mechanics and reduced ILevel rewards. If players grew to know one another in a highly socialized setting, they could benefit from getting the most prestigious rewards by working together and defeating said raid boss. Throw in the LFD/LFR concept, and the lower ILevel rewards, and you have a purely non-social developed interaction among players who have no vested interest in working towards anything beyond getting the "shiny".

Developers, IMHO, have given up on building "social worlds" because of the complexities involved with such systems where social bonding is concerned. Instead, it's more advantageous to build strict systems that pre-define the interactions that players are allowed to have in a game. So if there are no methods to cultivate and foster social interactions inside a game, the only thing left are the mechanics.
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