28 April, 2016
Another reader-suggested topic today:
Imperien Cypher suggested:
With the notable exception of Eve-Online, every new MMO I’ve played since the late 90s has felt like a glorified tutorial meant to teach players the ropes before the competition actually begins… Which, sadly, never seems to happen.
On that basis: Are gamers today too “soft” to handle an MMO with the kind of PvP which was the norm in the M59/UOL era? By that I primarily mean tangible death consequences in the form of “exp death” and/or “full looting” appropriate to a given game’s mechanics.
TLDR Version: Is the MMO genre doomed to remain a “Sacred Haven” until the end of time?
I think there’s two answers to this question, although they are related.
The PvP answer
Speaking specifically to PvP games, I think that it’s time we admit that hard-core PvP games like Meridian 59 are a niche interest. A very fun niche interest, don’t get me wrong. But, the combination of free-for-all PvP, full looting, and death penalties just feels like too much for most people. And, it’s quite apparent that other games cater to the people who like this better than MMOs do. MOBAs and competitive FPSes seem to do competitive player vs. player or team vs. team fights a lot better these days.
The big reason for this is the persistent part of the game. If you lose in a MOBA, you take your reduced winnings and you queue for the next match. If you lose in a hard-core PvP MMO, your character probably got weaker. This leads to a feedback loop where your weaker character is now less capable of facing the enemies that just defeated you. If you take away the weakening of the character, then player characters only get more powerful and the solution to a fight becomes “zerg the enemy until you win.”
You can mitigate this somewhat by letting people set aside resources for a rainy day. Both M59 and EVE do this. In M59 you could pay to store equipment in a vault, and if you died you could go get your backup set of equipment to continue the fight; however, your character still took some (probably small) penalties to your stats, and eventually you would run out of stored equipment to use to fight against enemies. In EVE, you have insurance on your ships and you can have jump clones in different locations with different types of ships. But, again, eventually you might run out of viable options to fight (although you might still have significant capability that’s simply too far away.)
And, to open up old wounds, we have the history of Ultima Online the the split between Trammel and Felucca. Once the “carebear” side of the game was made available, it stabilized the populations that had been declining.
I think it’s safe to say that the old hard-core free-for-all PvP that some classic games had is not likely to return in force. Not to say it’s impossible, but a game would have to have a very specific niche in mind that it wanted to cater to. So, hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think games are going to be have less hard-core options in the future. EVE Online may be the last big game we see supporting such a philosophy.
The general answer
But, I wouldn’t give up hope entirely. I think one thing we need to move away from in MMOs is the idea that “one size has to fit all”. We don’t need to please every person with every game. In fact, I think going after niches is the best way for us to keep MMOs relevant.
After reading my post from yesterday, a friend of mine who plays Final Fantasy XIV with me said that he wasn’t necessarily all that excited about more focus being put on social interaction. He likes to play games at his own pace and doesn’t feel particularly enthusiastic about talking to strangers in the game. Although, in this MMO past, he did make good friends who he maintained contact with; and obviously he’s friendly to me in the game.
But, my response was: that’s fine! Current games cater to the solo mentality just fine. You can play a lot of FFXIV solo with the occasional need to jump into a dungeon, but that can be handled by using the duty finder to find other people to run the dungeon with you. And, obviously this type of design has been very successful for the game. But, I think we have to admit that FFXIV’s success comes from copying WoW to a large extent. For a game that doesn’t have a brand name as successful as Final Fantasy to compete with WoW, a different strategy needs to be taken.
So, this is why I think a focus on more social aspects, because I think this would be another way to keep people interested in a game. Of course, you still need to have a good game. However, I’m fully aware that this design decision will alienate some people who don’t want to interact with other people in game.
The glorious future
I’ve been saying for a while now that niches are the way forward for MMOs, and I believe that more than ever now. Trying to cater to too large of an audience has not worked well for MMOs. But, delivering a game that better caters to a group of enthusiastic fans is going to be more successful than trying to create a broad but potentially incomplete experience that leaves people cold. That’s why I see hope in the truly independent groups doing interesting stuff, because that’s how MMOs will have any chance to continue and thrive.