Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Massively Multiplayer as a Downside
My observation of massively multiplayer online RPGs over many years has allowed me to learn certain fundamental similarities of massively multiplayer games in general. The attraction of these games is the interaction with other real people; basically other people end up being "content" for your gameplay experience. The consequence of that is games in which the developers have very little control over the quality and quantity of this "content".
The number of players of a massively multiplayer game follows predictable patterns. There is an early rush, followed by a decline. Some games manage to bring out a steady stream of updates and expansions, keeping up player numbers for years. But there are very few games in which there aren't some problems at first caused by too many players rushing in (servers overloaded, login queues), and later there are other problems with there being not enough players around.
There is also some sort of curve describing the "quality" of any given player over time. Players start out as curious n00bs, and then over time get better at the game, plus they accumulate whatever power progression the game offers over time. But then at some point they get bored of the game, which results in them not caring about consequences anymore, which can result in some quite bad behavior.
While players generally *want* games in which they have some impact on the open world, both the fact that players leave the game, and the fact that they might behave badly when bored, forces developers to limit the impact of players. Ironically developers need to limit positive impact of players on the experience of other players, in order to limit negative impact. We can't have player run cities full of life, because they turn into ghost towns over time. We can't have unlimited PvP, because that turns into ganking.
As much as AI and NPC have their limitations, the quantity and quality of them can be constant. In the end, a bazaar full of NPC merchants ends up being more fun over time than a player-run version. PvE gives a more reliable combat experience than PvP. For the player as a customer, a massively multiplayer game is a risk, and a limitation: It is unwise to join such a game much later in its life cycle, because being a n00b in a game full of grizzled veterans frequently isn't all that great. Personally, seeing that a game relies on other players as content these days is a turnoff for me. I prefer single-player games, because they tend to improve over time with patches and additions, while multi-player games frequently get worse over time.