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Ark de Solo

In the comments for my last post, SynCaine questioned my decision to play Ark solo:

I’m not sure I’d understand the point of solo ARK. Say you push past the initial curve and get to the point where you have a base that dinos can’t mess with, you are near max level (so all blueprints you would want you have), and you have some low-mid range dinos tamed. What then?

In solo, again after the initial challenge, there is zero risk of another player causing problems, or of working together with a tribe on something bigger. So it’s just a slow grind that doesn’t have an end (you can’t ‘win’ in ARK), and gets slower and less rewarding as you go (taming a t-rex takes longer than a raptor, but what does the t-rex really give you over the raptor?).

The “what then?” is the same answer as any survival game: play until you get bored.

Ark_NormalDay

Meet Pinky. He’s basically a jet ski that flies occasionally.

I’ve been playing Ark pretty much the exclusion of anything else since the beginning of September. This past weekend’s project was shepherding an Ankylo up a mountain and setting up a metal refinement base at the top. Big improvement over riding a train of dinos to a now-depleted smaller hill along the coast. It was not until just yesterday that I got my first node of Obsidian, which was up a completely different mountain, near a full day’s flight (on my slow bird) away.

My next project is to try and snag Dung Beetles from somewhere – possibly a cave – so I can have easier access to oil, as I want to avoid underwater shenanigans if possible. Then I was looking at taming one of those snails, which requires the vegetable cake, which requires Sap, which requires a high-cost collection piece most easily inserted on top of an extremely high-cost tree structure, then you can’t forget Giant Bee Honey… and so on and so forth.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t even left the SE corner of the map. I’ve seen the Redwood Forests, but haven’t actually been inside yet. Much less anything North or West of that. Steam says I’ve been playing for 60 hours.

Ark_Hours

Actually kind of impressive.

Sure, exploring and exploiting shit is only going to get faster from here. I’m way more confident in my ability to handle (or avoid) hostile dinos than before. But the game is still interesting to me, still dangerous, and I still have things I’d like to do. Maybe try out some of the caves, maybe see how far along the tech tree I can get before things get too annoying. I don’t know how much more novelty the game necessarily has – could be another 60 hours playing solo, maybe only 20. At my current rate, I’m leaning more towards the former.

If I do get bored, I can try a fresh character in a different starting zone, for a different experience. Or perhaps on a different map entirely, e.g. the Center, or Ragnarok. There is already one paid DLC map on top of that, with another on the way. There is even apparently a procedural generated map option, or custom maps.

What I don’t need is other people to make my gameplay meaningful. I’ve gotten 200 hours out of 7 Days to Die so far, and who knows how much time in Minecraft. All solo. If I want the experience of social obligation and responsibility again, there are plenty of MMOs to fill that non-existent void. Personally, I’m still enjoying the ability to close games without having to apologize for leaving, or doing exactly what I want to be doing in that moment without asking for permission.

Is Ark more fun with friends? Possibly. It is also completely, 100% fine by yourself too. There is enough sand in the box to make for a good time either way. At least alone, you avoid getting sand into your shorts and hair from other people mucking about. These days, I’m good, thanks.

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Yearly Attempt: Elder Scrolls Online

Almost exactly one year ago, I tried out Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). My conclusions this time around did not change: it’s not the game for me.

In several ways, the game actually felt worse this time around. While I have not kept abreast of all the changes to the general structure, I was aware of the “One Tamriel” had opened up a lot of the game. Apparently you were no longer limited faction-wise, and now all mobs scaled with your level. Which is nice on an explorer level – you can just strike out in a random direction and not have to worry about getting one-shot by mobs – but really hearkens back to my distaste of Oblivion more than anything else, e.g. being punished for actually gaining levels.

WoW’s Legion expansion features scaling mobs, of course. I can’t say I particularly like them in there either, but at least with WoW you still have several avenues of character progression. Hell, WoW really hasn’t been about leveling this expansion anyway, given how most of your power comes from gaining Artifact Power and similar parallels.

Playing ESO again, I just could not help but realize that it’s a bad single-player game. My inventory quickly filled with vegetable debris and other crafting components, but I could not really utilize any of them. Where were the recipes to craft things? In a more traditional MMO, I would pop on down to the AH to see if any were available, but there is no AH in ESO. Which, let me tell you, really kills any motivation to collect much of anything in terms of resources out in the world. Why mine Iron ore unless you specifically need ore for a specific purpose?

Once you go down that rabbit hole of not caring about in-game objects with intrinsic value, the entire gameplay loop edifice starts to collapse. If you aren’t looting everything, you begin to realize how much time you are wasting searching every container out in the world. If you stop searching containers, you stop being excited about seeing containers and other interactable objects in the environment. If you stop being excited about environmental objects, you start to care less about the environment generally. Without the environment, you are left with just the mobs, who are both trivial and drop little loot of consequence (because, hey, most items are meaningless).

Now, you can “subscribe” to ESO and suddenly open up a Crafting Bank tab ala GW2 where all this random crap magically gets ported to. But, to me, that’s just another indication of how ESO is a bad single-player game. I expect that sort of paid-for addon stuff in an MMO. And if we’re judging ESO as an MMO, well, it plays out even worse.

I dunno. Presumably there are a bunch of people out there that like ESO just the way it is. After trying the game a second time in as many years, I am reaffirming that I am not one of them.

Why I’m Not Playing Black Desert Online… Yet

Well, for one thing, I never buy anything for MSRP.

The coverage for Black Desert has been extremely interesting. As noted over on Dragonchasers, a lot of the blog posts read really similarly: being overwhelmed by the map, the quest structures, the crafting, etc. Bhagpuss struck out on his own, of course, with a series of very compelling exploration posts. But perhaps the most intriguing point to be made came from Syl’s observation that:

If we are thinking more longterm however, there is one thing on the forefront of my mind since the beta: BDO is very playing alone together. There is not just very little opportunity to cooperate with other players, the game actively discourages player-to-player interaction on several levels

Nearly 100% of the coverage I have been reading has been solo-exclusive. Which… makes sense, considering this is a sandbox slash sandpark. But even though I feel a strong twinge to jump into Black Desert to fiddle with the AH – Bhagpuss mentioned a particular weakness in the player-made furniture market that got my AH senses tingling – the seeming lack of “endgame” focus somehow dampens my enthusiasm. What do you do on the regular at the end? Amass more wealth? Gank high-level players? Or, god forbid, “whatever you want?”

I have not actively participated in an MMO endgame in probably five years… but the possibility that I am able to is important to me. For some reason. Damned if I could tell you why.

Still, the game is on my radar and will be procured eventually. At something less than full price.

Mandatory Dungeons

During the discussion about FFXIV’s mandatory dungeons, MaximGtB said the following:

[…] Besides, having these dungeons are in no way a road block, at least when looking at it from an MMORPG point of view. If you can’t spend a few hours to clear a dungeon, maybe failing a few times before you finally succeed, then the game is not for you. What are you going to do at 60, then? Log in, do one or two levequests, then log out?

What I mean to say is that spending massive amounts of time, trying stuff for hours on end until you succeed, and/or suffering pants-on-head morons ruining your game are the bread and butter of the game. If you can’t stand it at level 15, you won’t stand it at the endgame either.

Here is my “much too big for a third-tier nested comment” response:

The mandatory dungeon aspect is problematic for several reasons. The first of which is economic: all that telling a player “this game is not for you” accomplishes is losing out on at least another month’s subscription (assuming they bought blind in the first place). Even if the game is not for you, what sense does it make to force the issue right away?

Second, sometimes what a game is changes for people. Maybe that player solos their way to endgame and leaves at that point anyway. Or maybe they intended to solo, but encountered a stranger that befriended them, and sucked them into the vortex of social gaming for 6+ years. Which is precisely what happened to me in WoW. Had I not been primed already though, I would have quit FFXIV at the “spend 20 minutes waiting for a boring dungeon with total noobs” wall. WoW opted for the carrot, not the stick, and thus captures both types of players while converting a special few.

And, bizarrely, FFXIV already has the carrot in terms of first-time completion bonus.

The third reason is because the vast majority of FFXIV (and most MMO) content is solo. Long-term players run the same dungeons for months grinding 0.2% upgrades, yes, but how much solo scripted encounters, quests, writing, world exploring, etc, is there on the way to level cap? All of that is content the solo player could be enjoying, if not for patronizing “ice-breaking” of these designers.

Fourth, it was just damn inconvenient at the time. The day before I actually cleared the dungeons, I wanted to log on and accomplish things, but I was also expecting an important phone call. When I logged on, I realized that I couldn’t really do anything. Grind FATES and get even further ahead of the leveling curve? Re-run the starting areas a half dozen more times leveling up alternate classes? I wanted to progress things, but couldn’t. So I logged out and played actual games that actually let me play them.

Finally, these mandatory dungeons were boring as hell. What kind of first-impression were they going for? They have to be easy for new players, but that’s no excuse for them to have close to zero backstory for a Main Story Quest. Back-loading all the good bits these days is just dumb. Most MMOs are guilty of this for some reason, but most MMOs came out before we as gamers knew any better (or got to experience the higher bar).

Clearly though, FFXIV is successful enough in spite of the way dungeons are handled. I feel like it would likely be more successful had they taken a different approach, but good luck to them.

Population vs Community

Population is the antithesis to community.

In other words, the bigger a community grows, the more it ceases to be a community at all.

com·mu·ni·ty [kuh-myoo-ni-tee]
noun, plural com·mu·ni·ties.

3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists

A lot of words have been said regarding the degradation of the “MMO community” or a community specific to an MMO, typically in the context of developer mistakes decisions. While my argument technically supports those who claim that, for example, WoW devs killed the WoW community by pooling the population together via LFD and the like, the actual mechanism of community destruction was simply the existence of more warm bodies.

The more people you get together in one place…

  1. The lower the chances you have of seeing any individual again.
  2. The easier it is for good players to get lost in the crowd.
  3. The easier it is for extremely bad behavior to get noticed.
  4. The more incentive someone has to behave even worse (for attention, or other gain).

You may have heard about Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory. I suggest the “Anonymity” component is redundant with Crowd. In sufficient numbers, even one’s real name becomes irrelevant, assuming it isn’t duplicated to begin with, i.e. John Smith. Think back to the cliques that formed in high school. Chances are that the negative behavior of the members of the clique did not persist on the individual level when they were split up (beyond, perhaps, a catalyst). For myself, I distinctly remember the dichotomy between how much the football team could be assholes during lunch, but how well behaved (and friendly!) they were in Art class, including the ringleader (so to speak). Even if we assume that such a clique required X amount of sadism in order to remain a member, the fact that it was apparently modulated on the basis of number of witnesses is telling.

I bring all this up as a means of arguing against Milday’s mourning of the loss of “community activism,” for lack of a better term. To her, things were better when people behaved out of fear of Scarlet Letters and social ostracization, rather than behaving well simply for lack of griefing tools. It is impossible to steal a resource node or ninja a dungeon drop in Guild Wars 2, for example, and that is apparently a bad thing. Better that someone could behave badly and such behavior be punished, than a world with no wrong to be done.¹

And, hey, perhaps Milady is even right. Maybe that is better.

The problem is that social ostracization only works on a community level. Could a ninja get blacklisted in the “glory days” of vanilla and TBC? On smaller servers, sure. Or maybe even on larger servers in the “community” of people running dungeons at 3am. But then again… were they really blacklisted? Paid name changes were rolled out in October 2007; server transfers existed since mid-2006. Alts existed since Day 1. And, let us be serious here, social ostracization only works anyway when both A) the entire community acts as one unit, and B) the target even cares. Your “xxIllidanxx is a ninja” spam might have inconvenienced xxIllidanxx for the 30 minutes you posted in Trade Chat², but what about the rest of the time? Chances are that he still got a group eventually, either because someone was really that desperate or they simply did not know. Or perhaps enough of his ninja friends logged on today.

The flood of LFD strangers circa end of Wrath makes social ostracization in WoW dungeons moot, of course. But I would say it was moot to begin with, given the size of WoW as a whole and the underlying level of persistent churn. There will always be more people. Even if you stopped xxIllidanxx in his ninja-looting guild-hopping TBC tracks, such that he reformed or quit the game entirely… xxArthasxx is right behind him. And xxDethwingxx. And xxlegolasxx. And so forth and so on ad infinitum. Not necessarily because there are infinite jerks/morons in the world (there is), but because the underlying incentive to behave badly still exists.

In the land of law-abiding citizens, the one criminal is king, to bastardize a phrase.

Should we simply throw up our hands and endure bad behavior? Of course not. But with games of sufficient size, the only solution that works is a systemic one. Guild hopping a problem? GW2 lets you join multiple guilds. Ninja looting and/or Need Whoring getting you down? Individual loot has rolled out in Diablo 3, GW2, and is coming to a LFR near you. Even Copper Ore nodes cannot be stolen in GW2, only shared.

The only downside to systemic solutions is what Milady refers to as the Automatization of the Social. In other words, if you provide in-game incentives to positive social actions – such as getting XP for helping resurrect dead players – one can no longer tell whether the action was performed for altruistic reasons, or selfish ones. I might suggest there is no difference between the two (altruism typically feels good), but I also recognize the potential pitfalls – I hardly ever thanked a stranger for rezzing me in GW2, whereas it would have been a bigger deal in WoW.

The key though, is simply recognizing all the new opportunities be sociable. Ever do Diablo 3 co-op and then stop and ask if your wizard partner needed the rare staff you picked up? Would Need vs Greed been better there? I say that voluntarily giving up a “secret” item is more social than simply not hitting Need. I have mentioned GW2’s resource node sharing several times now. In WoW, maybe there was social interaction is letting the other Miner grab the ore when you both show up. Or maybe you ganked them/stole it while they were in combat. In GW2, since you both can take the same node, you have an incentive to work together to kill the spider guarding it. That’s more social than what came before, IMO, because even if you gave the stranger the node in WoW, it allowed you to get to the next node faster, or the knowledge to move to a less-farmed area to maximize your own gains.

In Conclusion…

Any non-static community will “degrade” over time as the benefits of bad behavior naturally escalates with each additional member. The only real solution is changing the fundamental interaction between members, such that the more odious bad behavior becomes more than disincentivized, but impossible. With each additional participant in a Prisoner’s Dilemma, the more likely the worst possible outcome comes to pass. Ergo, it is best to never present the Prisoner’s Dilemma at all, if you can help it.

Out of all of the social engineering experiments we have seen in the MMO space, the results of individual looting/resource nodes is the one I am looking forward to seeing the most. It is a fundamental shift away from zero-sum – I win the item, you don’t – to win-win. At least in theory. Maybe it will turn us all into asocial solipsists playing our single-player MMOs.

In which case… well, I still consider that a win-win compared to the current paradigm.

¹ Which should make one question one’s assumptions about the desirability of Heaven, eh?
² Ironically, xxIllidanxx would have a good case against you for in-game harassment.

Spin Doctors: The Secret World Edition

Do you know what I like more than an MMO being treated as a single-player game in nearly 100% of its (blogged) reporting? An MMO with an official State of the Game developer post seven (7) days after launch.

I know that developers of The Secret World are not the first to write the following, but I was especially amused this time around (emphasis added):

We’re going to be releasing fresh and tasty new content FREE to our subscribers on a regular, monthly basis. The first update is due on Tuesday, July 31st, and we will be releasing more details about that particular update later this week — including a couple of fun surprises. (You’re going to love it.)

[…]

* Mission packs on a monthly basis! The first few packs will contain new investigations for every adventure zone in the game — but we also have more action and sabotage missions planned for the near future. These missions will feature fully voiced cut-scenes and new media pop-ups, and will match the quality of the missions currently in the game. Oh, and like everything else in our monthly updates, these packs are FREE for our subscribers!

Allow me to summarize my feelings with the following:

MMO Logic.

I have, of course, been cheerleading the concept of single-player MMOs for quite some time now. But I almost wonder if The Secret World has gone too far, and otherwise fallen into the Uncanny Valley abyss between the two (*ahem*) worlds.

Instead of being interested in an MMO that is going the incredibly novel route of monthly updates, my very first thought was “$15 DLC packs each month.” In the abstract, all subscription MMOs function in this manner, right? And companies like Blizzard certainly are not doing anyone any favors by letting 6+ months lapse between content updates.

But… it’s not just me, is it?

I am not playing the game, but I would rather FunCom put out twice the content every two months even if they end up sitting on the completed work. It feels too fast. And weird, like an MMO with a $13.84/month subscription. Or a doctor who keeps insisting on showing me his medical license. It bespeaks a curious lack of faith in the product itself.

P.S. I smirk every time I see the following patch note in any MMO:

* And speaking of dungeons, we’re also working on a dungeon finder tool, allowing players to more easily put together a team to handle the instanced content

Does that make me a bad person?

Revisiting Single-Player MMOs

Keen has a post up entitled “MMORPGs are not Single-player Games,” which laments the direction MMOs are heading as evidenced by The Elder Scrolls Online having a 100% solo “main story.” I am not particularly interested in talking about TESO, but rather this paragraph (emphasis mine):

If it’s so important to your game that the player be the hero in the story, why are you making a MMO?  MMO’s suck at being single-player games.  Did you skip SWTOR?  What makes MMO’s any good at all are the multiplayer elements.  Take those away and what are you left with? A game worse than the one you could have made if you actually made a single-player  RPG.

Well… do MMOs suck at being single-player games?

It may be easy to answer in the affirmative, and in some respects I would agree. Undoubtedly there are concessions made in an MMO that are irrelevant in a single-player RPG. Daily quests, for example, exist as “content” to get people to log on at regular intervals and maintain social ties. The related notion of paced content (i.e. weekly resets) is also an MMO staple that makes no particular single-player sense. Even normal quests are likely more generic (and numerous) than they would have to be.

But in a very real sense I consider the average MMORPG these days as a much better single-player game than the average RPG. There are two main reasons why.

1) The gameplay is often more satisfying, for longer.

The example I used in Keen’s comment section was The Witcher. Here is a 3rd-person action-RPG game with hotbars and talents and exploration and quests and so on. Basically, a mini-MMO, if you will. As I detailed in my review, The Witcher’s combat system is terrible. Way worse than even Warhammer Online’s janky PvE gameplay. While I considered the storyline/setting to be somewhat of a redeeming factor, it could very well be that something like The Secret World or World of Darkness (assuming that is still a thing) or some other MMO eclipses it even within its own specific niche.

I would never agree with someone who would suggest that stories in RPGs are irrelevant, but let us be honest here: most of your RPG hours are spent in combat. RPGs don’t necessarily need gameplay deep enough to last 1000 hours because the story runs out in 40-100 hours, of course. But there is nothing worse than getting stranded 2/3rds of the way through an otherwise good story with gameplay that has ran out of steam. MMO combat systems, even the ones that feel “off,” convey a depth far beyond the average RPG. They have to.

Keen responded with “length isn’t related to quality,” which is true enough in a general sense. After a while though, one must admit that voluntarily playing the same game for 1000+ hours is perhaps indicative that fun is being had. I would not trade Xenogears’ 80 hours for WoW’s 7800 hours, or for the rest of my Top 10 RPGs for that matter. But for the Top #11-#120?

Absolutely.

2) Show & Tell enhances the single-player experience.

I truly believe that Show & Tell is the future of single-player gaming. If you are not familiar with the concept as I use it, this quote (from a year ago) sums it up:

In this light, I do not particularly think the trend of companion AI or whatever is necessarily bad. Having played Minecraft for a while now, I have reached that plateau where you want nothing more than to show off the cool biodome tower you built or the Pit of Doom you dug or the cross-Atlantic powered railroad to someone, anyone else capable of appreciating the amount of effort/vision it took to do so. Of course, the thought of trying to do what I have done on a multiplayer server where anyone could wreck my house and steal my materials at any time is mortifying. I want a Show & Tell, not a group assignment. I want a single-player MMO.

And also:

Repetition is required for communities – people are more asocial in LFD precisely because you aren’t going to see anyone again (unless you have a ranking system, of course). We can, however, condense the process via Show & Tell. What this means in a general sense is instead of blooming into a flower in front of others over time, you do hours and hours of blooming beforehand and invite others into your garden. […]

But that’s just it: players generally have a preternatural desire to express themselves any way they can. Player housing would not be about having somewhere to chill out waiting for a LFD queue, or even arranging your trophies and armor sets in aesthetically pleasing ways. It would be about designing and decorating a virtual space for others to look at. You already know the meaning behind that piece of gear that’s been sitting in your bank for the last four years. Other people don’t know, and deep down I believe it is a common human desire for said object or achievement to be recognized and acknowledged as something meaningful.

Show & Tell can be (and has been) implemented in bad ways. I am not a huge fan of arbitrary Achievements, for example, and I think focusing on the latest gear rewards is a bit crass. Transmog and costume options, on the other hand, are much better. Being able to invite you in to see my living room skull pit in Skyrim?

166 Human skulls. All legitimately obtained, I might add.

Would have been epic. The mere possibility of being able to eventually post the above screenshot, and having someone able to appreciate it on some level somewhere, generated dozens of hours of additional gameplay. In a single-player game. MMOs generate gameplay in this fashion all the time, of course, and I am here to confirm that it works for single-player games too. And, by extension, MMOs that are played as single-player games.

______

So getting back to the question at the top, I say: MMOs can (and often do) make excellent single-player games.

Keen openly wondered why this “mystery demographic” is getting catered to by MMO developers at the expense of “MMO identity.” I would say: where is the mystery? The vast majority of MMO players today are single-player MMO, erm, players. Less than 20% of WoW players raid; what are the other 80% doing? How many EVE players never make it out of high-sec space or never engage in consensual PvP? When you look at graphs like this:

This technically qualifies as a Rorschach test in six states and the District of Columbia.

…what do you see? Did 5+ million social MMO players crawl out of the woodwork in a single year? I don’t think so. Rather, Blizzard tapped into the latent single-player market by letting said players solo at their own pace all the way to the level cap. That was Blizzard’s biggest innovation.

Are social players more valuable to the long-term success of MMOs? Absolutely. Can studios focus exclusively on such players, ala Darkfall etc? Of course. But in so doing they leave literally millions of dollars on the table. And so the reason we see a “dilution” in the MMO identity is precisely because developers are seeking out the most profitable piece of that Venn Diagram – the intersection of single-player and MMO – by trial and error writ large.

The age of single-player MMOs has arrived. And for the majority of gamers, this is good news.

Dailies and “Bad Design”

There is a fascinating conversation going on in the General Forums right now with Daxxarri concerning daily quests and how they are “bad design.” This exchange in particular piqued my interest:

This is just a bad design. A game should not ask for daily commitment to enjoy what it has to offer.

[…] I get concerned when I see players throwing out words like ‘bad design’. Perhaps an individual dislikes a design choice, and that’s fine. We do our best, but World of Warcraft can’t be all things to all people, all the time. That said, making a value judgment about whether the design is ‘bad’ or not is not only un-constructive, but in the vast majority of the cases I’ve seen, such an assessment reveals that the design was not well understood to begin with.

Followed up later with:

That being said, why are you harping on the OP’s use of the term “bad design”?

Because language is important, and also, because it’s often used in the phrase, “That’s just bad design.” to justify why a mechanic or feature is undesirable to the poster in question. It presupposes the correctness of an opinion which may not, in fact, be correct. It also tells me nothing useful, except “I don’t like it”, but it makes, “I don’t like it.” sound more erudite, knowledgeable and sophisticated. It still boils down to, “I don’t like it.”, which isn’t particularly useful without a context.

Point taken, Daxxarri. I have deployed the “bad design” argument here and in comments elsewhere, using it as short-hand for “this feature isn’t catering to me.” It is an open question of whether I should be catered to, and at whose expense. Personally though, I vote for being catered to 100% of the time, everywhere.

This does raise the question of “What can be considered good design?” It would seem to me that we need to know the intention of a design before it could be judged good or bad. Without designers coming out and explaining intentions though, is there any real way to know? Are subscriptions and profit margins the only metrics that matter?

And the further complication for subscription-based MMOs, for me, is that I cannot trust the designers to not include time-sinking as one of the principle intentions of everything they do. Do patches really come out 8 months apart because it takes that long to polish… or because that extra month means millions more dollars at little extra cost? Did Blizzard really feel Molten Front was best paced at 35 straight days of dailies? Why not, say, 25 days?

All that aside, I do want to highlight the original statement again for your consideration:

A game should not ask for daily commitment to enjoy what it has to offer.

To be clear, the poster is talking about World of Warcraft, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. And you know what? I think I agree with him.

The Single-Player MMO

Syncaine made a very interesting footnote in a recent post:

*It’s a multi-layered joke. One: Immersion is a long-running inside joke. Two: While I jokingly say that I’m looking forward to playing an MMO solo, the sad truth is many today hope for just that in their Massively Multiplayer games, and SW will make Cata look like a sandbox. Three: Barrens chat will look tame compared to SW general chat in the first month or two. Not only are SW nerds the worst nerds of all, but you just know every Huntard is going to take their unique brand of ‘gaming’ to SW and making the most (worst) of it.

I do think it is an open question about whether gamers actually want an MMO versus a single-player game with (optional) MMO components. Unlike Syncaine however, I do not think people playing MMOs as single-player games is “sad” at all – it is more indicative of the lengths gamers are having to go to find meaningful entertainment. In other words, I think it is a lack of quality games that have driven this segment into MMOs in the first place.

This is not to say there hasn’t been quality single-player games, but rather there are not enough being put out. Outside of the game-crippling bugs and sloppy design in several areas, Fallout: New Vegas was absolutely amazing and I spent 70 hours in there, loving every minute. I spent a similar amount of time in Dragon Age: Origins. Portal 1 & 2 both fantastic, both over in ~10 hours. So… that is 160 hours out of the 20 I play each week, or amusement enough for about two months. What about the other ten months?

I quit smoking when I bought WoW, joking I would trade one addiction for another. I have not smoked in 4 years.

My 4-year WoW anniversary was last weekend, having started 8/17/07. Adding up all the days /played across my toons, I ended up around ~322 days, or 7,728 hours. Depressingly that averages out into 5 hours a day, every day, for four years. I played more when I was unemployed for a year, of course, but it is still shockingly bad. Then again, that also equals $0.087/hour as far as entertainment goes. Or imagine buying a $0.99 app and getting 11.38 hours of gameplay out of it. I find it unlikely that I would have done something (more) productive with my time had WoW not existed, so with that in mind perhaps I should be instead celebrating all the money I saved by switching to Geico playing the everliving hell out of WoW.

I have heard and agree with many people who suggest that WoW will be their first, last, and only MMO. Although I am a storied veteran of games that require other people to play with, e.g. pen & paper D&D, split-screen Goldeneye, Magic: the Gathering, etc, the common denominator was a group of people you enjoy hanging around with. In the absence of friends, WoW is a pretty shitty single-player experience once you reach the endgame. And while this problem can be “solved” by making new friends, actually shifting through all the bullshit is a lot of work* for the payout of challenging gameplay that comes in the form of hoping people that are not you do not screw up, e.g. raiding.

In this light, I do not particularly think the trend of companion AI or whatever is necessarily bad. Having played Minecraft for a while now, I have reached that plateau where you want nothing more than to show off the cool biodome tower you built or the Pit of Doom you dug or the cross-Atlantic powered railroad to someone, anyone else capable of appreciating the amount of effort/vision it took to do so. Of course, the thought of trying to do what I have done on a multiplayer server where anyone could wreck my house and steal my materials at any time is mortifying. I want a Show & Tell, not a group assignment. I want a single-player MMO.

And until then, WoW (with liberal playing of Steam games) will have to suffice.

*As outlined in this three year-old Cracked article, which is still pretty dead-on.