The convergence of single player and multiplayer games

There’s a rumour going around that the next wave of Call of Duty games will include  options to buy into online subscription extras. So you’ll buy the game, and also be able to sub up for whatever services they decide to provide online. Maybe they’ll throw in some additional DLC on top.

Dragon Age is a single player game, with a 2 year DLC plan (38% through now, and how about them deep roads, by the way? Now that’s how to do horror.) They also have a social site where you can compare quests and achievements with friends, and a bulletin board too. Plus a tie in with their flash game to earn more loot for the standalone game.

And does anyone not think that Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 will also have subscription options?

Increasingly we’ve seen MMOs also poking around with models which involve box sales plus monthly subscriptions for extra content/patches/server maintenance, and options to buy extras via a cash shop as well.

There’s a convergence coming, and as MMO players, it’s all about how the gaming side took over the virtual world. And about whether we really want to be playing with massive amounts of people anyway. How much difference is there really between logging on for the weekly COD session with friends or the weekly fixed group in a MMO?

These days we understand a subscription as meaning a stream of ongoing content, and complain if the content doesn’t come fast enough. All those things that old MMO dinos lament about the good old days nowlook laughable because so many of the old MMOs were simply bad games. Poor gameplay, poor balance, timesinks, complexity … none of these things made for great gameplay. But the gameplay wasn’t the compelling factor that people miss. Those days of MMOs as virtual worlds are almost gone now, and I wonder if  that is the big reason that new MMOs struggle to get players to sub for more than a month or two.

It isn’t just their merits as games, it’s that perhaps the majority of gamers are looking for doses of solid gameplay, rather than a new virtual home.

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21 thoughts on “The convergence of single player and multiplayer games

  1. Point of clarification Spinks:

    Your post didn’t clarify your stand on the convergence. Are you for it, against it? I would like to respond but I would like to understand where you stand on the subject.

    • The reason I didn’t say is that for me it depends entirely on whether each specific piece feels like value for money or not. I’m not keen on being fleeced or being sold crippleware that is useless without a subscription, BUT if it means getting more and better content then I’ll be first in line to hand over my cash. If I really love a game, why would I not want more of it?

      I’m loving Dragon Age, for example, so I’d love to hand over more money for content of this quality. I also am quite social and I love being able to chat to other players about games which I play, so I’m not opposed to more social networking type of functionality.

      • A politician’s response I see :)

        I agree I suppose. Consider Champions Online for instance, I paid $60 for the game itself, and now I am into my second month of paid subscription, for a combined $95 so far. I honestly feel it has given me maybe 10% of content and overall satisfaction that Dragon Age: Origins has, at nearly half the price.

        So I am for subscriptions, additional DLC’s and continued content for titles, but only if it’s worth it.

        The problem of course it that you still have to spend the initial wad of cash to determine if the game is worth your time. That may take some time, and in case of MMO’s that familiarity cycle is longer.

  2. Yup, new virtual home sounds good. :)

    The DLC trend and subs for offline games is scary. I just want to point out that most of the Fallout 3 DLCs were definitely not enhancing the Fallout 3 World that much, but asking for quite a lot of money for not so much content. A really scary development for gamers.

    • Thats the question allright isnt it?

      However I think the market will decide. Fallout is a good example as had a huge depth of goodwill to draw on and the fanboys would pay for virtually anything. However I dont think we’ll see much more coming for Fallout III as they’ve used this up with cruddy Q&A and just plain bad design.

      The stuff for DA:O looks much better and although not exactly bug free, what is these days? (as PS3 owners of Moderd Warfare are finding out its hardly limited to PC’s)So I’m guessing that the market for additional content will be much higher. Especially as the somewhat clunky level skill based system we’ve inherited from Pen and Paper supports this model so well.

      Could some future multiplayer type version of NWN/DA:O take the player base from MMO’s? A qaulified yes. WoW suffers terribly from its old server/class/race/faction limitations stopping people from playing together and from having to maintain a huge infrastructure. The problem with DLC and small group play supported by chatrooms/forums is quality control. As when paper and pen gave us D&D open license (which I hates btw)…the concepts fine but if the qaulity drops your dead in the water.

  3. I’m… torn about this.
    On the one hand, I don’t mind the fact that DDO has adventure packs that you have to buy. On the other hand, when I buy a game, I want a full game. If there is an expansion later on, it better be a significant expansion for me to buy it.
    I accept it with DDO because my first steps were free of charge. Now that I like it, I buy more.
    I’d say that currently, given the price I pay for most games, I don’t like and does not want DLC…

    • Hmm. Again it depends. I tend to agree that the DLC we saw for Fallout3 strikes me as a bit naff and really not worth the $/£/€. However the concept that you’re buying a rules set/game engine that will continue to have content published for years to come is well established both in Pen and Paper RPG’s and by MMO’s like WoW.

      So do we go with the WoW model of free extra DLC (Ulduar, ToGC, Icecrown) over a year or so and then a big charge for the new expansion or a ‘micro-transactions’ for additional content :- ie charging for each new instance. I prefer the former simply ‘cos I dont wanna get into ‘oh I cant come to this instance with Fred and Mary as they have the Doodaa Pack III ultimate turbonium edition while I only have Doodaa II basic edition’ WoW has ‘only’ three expansions to worry about.

  4. As for convergence, I suspect that my usual route of waiting for the “super-discounted platinum edition” will continue. There’s often a lag between when I buy a game and when I get around to playing it, so buying a game new then buying the expansions new don’t make much sense for me. (I still have Drakensang sitting on my computer unplayed after buying it during Direct2Drive’s 5th birthday sale.) I suspect that eventually game companies will offer older games with DLC included to get the cheapskates like me to cough up the dough, so I’ll wait for that.

    I think a lot of the “convergence” is a way for game companies to get people to cough up more money and circumvent piracy. It’s harder to pirate WoW than the latest FPS, mostly because of who controls the servers. Sure, it can be reverse-engineered, but that’s a lot of work still. Being able to charge $10/month and shut out pirates will bring the cash.

    Obviously, one of the main things that drives online games is community, and I think most of the people looking to “charge for online access” are ignoring that bit, so it’s not going to work all that well initially. For FPSes, the dedicated server is where the community is at, so trying to charge a subscription may even backfire.

    As for old games being bad games, where’d that come from? The linked blog post basically gives reasons why EQ was a terrible game; no other games had people pulling to zone borders as far as I know. I think the problem is that developers haven’t been focusing as much on the community aspects; WoW has a community by virtue of being so big, other games that don’t grow big but try to clone every other aspect aren’t as successful, obviously.

    My thoughts.

    • He was talking about Final Fantasy XI, not EQ I think, but I see a lot of the same issues from DaoC. It didn’t stop me from loving it, but hindsight shows that the reason I loved it probably wasn’t the gameplay. And I think all the MMOs of that era have some commonality of design there.

      I do still think there’s a market for virtual worlds, if it can be tapped somehow. But I see games moving away from that. Maybe the virtual world side is going to come from the social games, or from social networks like twitter (I know I stopped logging into games just to chat because … I don’t need to any more.)

      • FFXI borrowed a lot from classic everquest, even down to classes and skills. I think he lists it because FFXI was one of the few modern games that tried to capture a classic, hardcore experience. It’s much easier now though, virtually everything he listed has been mitigated or fixed.

        I remember coming to it from everquest online adventures and being surprised at how much harder FFXI was. EQOA was not an easy game either.

      • I’d contend that these MMO things never really embraced the “virtual world” all that well in the first place. They are static theme park games, through and through.

        So yes, there’s an audience out there for virtual worlds, but I suspect it’s a minority in the market.

      • Yeah, I guess FFXI had some of that, too. I didn’t experience that in DAoC, because the xp bonus encouraged groups to move around more.

        Still, the “camp in an area with a group and pull monsters until your eyes bleed” type of gameplay was limited to a relatively few games. I still don’t quite see how it fits into your point.

        Personally, the games I felt most “at home” with were the ones where my friends were; that includes both friends from outside the game that joined me to play and friends made in the game. “Home is where the heart is,” as they say. Gameplay make get you interested, but after a while it’s all about the people even if the gameplay could be mind-blowing.

      • That’s ultimately what I’m getting at. What if … it isn’t the gameplay that makes a successful/ memorable MMO? We say it’s the people, but many of the gamers in different MMOs are the same sorts of people at the end of the day.

        And the relatively few games do include FFXI, EQ, DaoC (you say groups were encouraged to move around, but my predominent memories are of spending hours in tree groups or at the pygmy goblins?) So — pretty much every succesful game of that era.

  5. I think you hit the nail right on the head: the old guard misses virtual worlds, places they can call home, somewhere we can log in and spend hours with friends. Most MMOs now are merely RPGs with some multiplayer mixed in, and single player titles will start to capitialize on that.

  6. Spinks was right to correct my earlier post…its not free if you subscribe.

    Hmmm. I ‘think’ I prefer the subscription model, whilw accepting a occasional charge for major upgrades for multiplayer games.

    For solo play then DLC at a variable ‘micro transaction’ level is better as I can pick and choose content based on review and personal taste. ‘I think I’ll skip the Unicorn rescue campaign but I’ll get that planescape mod’ sounds about right. I’d love to see a solid rules set/game engine with a plethora of modules and addons available. With authoring tools for choice.. You know all that stuff NWN promised but never really delivered. But I dont see how that model can work for multiplayer well unless your very strict about content…which means you’ll have trouble providing enough.

  7. I don’t see convergence as a good idea, myself. I’d much rather have pure sequels than sub-based traditional games with constant DLC. I think the overall quality is much better, and it’s easier on the developers because they aren’t under time pressure to constantly update the game.

    Plus, traditional games have a tremendously short shelf-life and population. Most games simply wont maintain a strong enough following to make sub based DLC worth it for a player. Subs would really only be worth it for the big games, and even then I’d rather not go for it.

  8. …home.

    I don’t think graphical based MMOs at our current technology level can give me a virtual ‘home’ atm. As someone coming from MUDs anyway.

    As a graphical game in the MMO genre (which some people argue it isn’t – MMO that is), I love Guild Wars, and I think it’s beautiful.

    But GW is not, and will never be, a home. It’s funny, imo MUDs do living, breathing worlds better because text is an agnostic medium. ^_^ Just gotta find that new MUD that’s the right home for me!

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