In which it is claimed that every game is now an MMO

Ryan Seabury, the lead developer on LEGO Universe, has posted an open letter in Kotaku explaining why he’s getting out of the MMO game.

Scott Jennings posts a critique in which (as I do below) he shudders at the phrasing and eyerolls at the hype but generally agrees with the drift.

Nouning our verbs

Unfortunately, Ryan loses the internet by actually using the phrase “leveraging our synergies” in a non-ironic way (or something that’s close enough to it for government work.)

So we came together <…> with a new mission <…>  while leveraging all the expertise we’ve learned in a decade

First of all, stop lamenting. (The first four letters of lament are L A M E.)

Must be a nightmare working with this guy if he actually talks like that all the time.

Anyhow, the argument boils down to, “Why spend 5 years working on a large and complex product of uncertain appeal to a demanding audience when you could just crank a little social game out in a couple of months that will turn a profit?”

Lots of engineers go through this phase. Large commercial organisations tend to have you working on old and complex pieces of code. There will be sections that no one understands because the original developer was an unsung genius who left three years ago and didn’t comment their code. There will be bits that desperately need to be refactored but no one will authorise the time and effort required because they’re (sort of) working. It is in many ways more rewarding to join a new startup and get in on the design work from the ground level, and hopefully see people using a product you worked on in a matter of months.

So the games industry isn’t unique in this aspect. I thought it was interesting that I’m not sure if he’s writing as an engineer (why won’t people use my stuff sooner?!) or as a businessman (where’s my return on investment?!) but the general drive is similar.

Every game is now an MMO

Another comment he made is about the ubiquity of social networking in games:

I simply realized there actually hadn’t been an “MMO game” to get out of for at least two, three years. It’s no longer a meaningful label. Point at any significant entertainment experience trending today, you won’t be able to find one without some kind of social feature layers and persistent aspects. No one cares if something is “single player” or “multi player” or “massively multiplayer” anymore.

There is some truth in this. Not that every game is now an MMO, but that a lot of the social experiences that were once unique to MUDs (and their MMO descendents) really are more ubiquitous now.

Players who were drawn to MMOs because of the interaction with other people in real time (there’s a reason Everquest used to be referred to as a chat room with a game attached)  can now chat on twitter or facebook instead and play something else.

Lots of brands are trying to generate their own social networks, from gaming companies like Blizzard and Bioware to offline ventures such as Toyota and HBO. And that’s not even counting the millions of bulletin boards, blogs, mailing lists, and other ways for people to share information about what they are doing.

I’ve also written before about how I find myself more likely to play even single player games more socially, with all the benefits (yay sharing!) and minuses (boo, competitive pressure) that entails.

But I still think that MMOs have a unique appeal in their virtual worlds. It’s just that the next phase of MMOs seem to be moving further and further away from this in a quest for some kind of bizarro gaming singularity in which all games will be multi-player actioners with lobbies and competitive as well as co-operative modes. They’ll probably also feature bald space marines with BFGs and semi naked female NPCs.

It’s the future, baby. 1-click rapidly churned out social games or mega-shooters that may or may not take 5 years to produce.

Meanwhile, my project for the next week (when I have time) is to spend some more time with Terraria and try to figure out how to actually put a door in a house, and hopefully some more guild PvP shenanigans in Rift. Because that future? It’s not actually here yet …