Bits and pieces; and thoughts from 3 years ago about the future of MMOs

Happy Sunday (and Happy Jubilee if you are the queen – seems a bit harsh of people to make two octo/nonogenarians stand around for hours on a cold and windy river, but what do I know?) This isn’t really a links post so much as a quick news roundup, some whining about Diablo, and a moment of insight where I realise that some of the stuff I used to post was pretty smart.

New games to get excited about, current games to get excited about

CD Projekt, best known for their work on The Witcher CRPGs, have announced that their next game will feature a Cyberpunk setting. In fact, it’s THE Cyberpunk setting for RPG players because they’ll be using the setting from R S Talsorian’s Cyberpunk RPG. So all you glitterboys, slicers, and fixers get your netrunning shoes on. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is super-exciting for any fans of the genre, and Cyberpunk should be a great match for the dark noirish stories that CD Projekt have shown they enjoy tackling in previous outings. It’d be nice if they would also let us play female characters this time around, but let’s not run before we can walk.

Rift announced its first expansion: Storm Legion. It will feature tons of new stuff including huge new continent, 10 more levels, new souls, a woman on the front of their expansion website who isn’t wearing much — yup, it’s all there. New expansions are generally a good sign for MMOs and the Rift devs have been earning their reputation for ploughing plenty of new content into the game all year, so things are looking good for Rifties. They do have a free trial up to level 20 if you want to try the game out.

An excellent new Humble Indie Bundle has gone on sale, featuring Amnesia: the Dark Descent, Psychonauts, LIMBO, and Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery , with Bastion thrown in as a bonus if you pay more than the current average (standing at $7.84 at the moment). It’s a feature of the indie bundles that you decide what you want to pay so if you’re feeling cheap, you could get the four main games for almost no money at all. They are all indie games that have garnered good reviews, especially Psychonauts if you are a fan of platform/adventure games.

In their ongoing crusade to make the always-online experience of Diablo 3 best in breed, Blizzard have now introduced autojoining the General Chat Channel when you log in. This has not been met with universal acclaim. While I find it annoyingly spammy and prone to gold seller chat, occasionally General Chat surprises you. I’ve sometimes heard people offer to help anyone out with hard bosses, which either is quite decent of them or else is a new cunning way to steal accounts – you pay your money and take your choice.

Personally my barbarian has reached an impasse with Izual in Hell Mode. Getting him down would require a serious amount of kiting given my current DPS and … I just don’t enjoy kiting on a melee class that much. So I shall be tooling around on alts instead, no point playing past the point of unfun. One thing Blizzard did get right though is the secret level (don’t click this link unless you want spoilers), which requires a special blacksmithing recipe and ingredients, all of which are rare drops in specific locations and may be farmed. Farming for this stuff with Arb has actually been pretty fun, for Diablo variants of fun. This is exactly what I was talking about when I was wondering why Blizzard hadn’t developed the farming side of the game.

So how DID soloing affect MMOs?

Milady reflects about MMOs evolving into an ‘always alone together’ singleplayer theme park  type of experience, and is nostalgic for a time when singleplayer and multiplayer experiences seemed to sit more comfortably side by side in MMOs. She wonders where players who enjoyed the multiplayer side of things will go if new MMOs tilt so far towards soloers.

The problem is that, although I can think as alone-together MMOs as a valid choice, especially for that demographic that can’t participate in the social part of them, there is no such choice when all are designed this way.

This reminded me of some thoughts I posted a few years ago about what might happen to MMOs if the proportion of soloers continued to increase. It was contentious at the time and attracted more comments than anything I’d ever written. Now I look back and – it seems prescient.

What happens if MMOs develop along lines such that most people are soloing most of the time? There’s no downtime built in where you might have to talk to people you didn’t know? There may not be enough of the more hardcore to form all the guilds those people might want to join? The people who would have been running those guilds are all going casual/ solo/ in small groups of RL friends instead?

Would a game like that really have much of a community at all? Is there any support network left for anyone at all?

9 thoughts on “Bits and pieces; and thoughts from 3 years ago about the future of MMOs

  1. Pingback: Dragon’s Dogma and solo playing | GamingSF

  2. In Witcher, the game based on the Witcher series, the long established and perhaps most iconic character in Polands weirdly over developed (Because real books were tied to the basment radiator and beaten with sticks during the cold war on account of being political, leading to many otherwise sensible people to write genre fiction) fantasy seriess about a guy who is a Witcher and also has a penis. I think we can probably excuse the lack of a female main character.

  3. I would be willing to help you out with Izual as he is possibly the biggest bitch at that point of the game. I found Diablo to be much easier. Of course, I am also a Barbarian with all of the fun meleeness of you.

    • Thanks for the offer (he is a git, isn’t he?) but I think you’re probably on US servers and my characters are on EU. I do feel a twinge of ‘well maybe I’m just not hardcore enough to get to Inferno’ but on the other hand, I know this was the point for me where the game stopped being fun.

      I’ll probably roll a wizard next 🙂

  4. I read that old post of yours and, I tell you, it was spot-on. I understand perfectly well where you were coming from, as I have always been in that situation, being the hyper-social player that motivates all the rest to do stuff, which they later enjoy, but have to be “pressured” into doing.

    Sadly, you were also right in that soloers would take over the genre. I like that there is a choice; I like to get away from the social ties once in a while. What is not acceptable if that a by-definition multiplayer genre gets muddled up by all those solo/casual features that harm that social interaction that the soloers want to see but don’t care to foster. I’ve experienced the exact same situation you describe – organising an event and have people not come because it would alter their solo plans. On the other hand, I’ve also had amazing and random events in which everybody had a part to play. In any case, it always takes a toll on you. I always end up being an officer or having some major role in the guilds I’m in, because I care too much about providing for me and for the rest a good multiplayer experience.

    What we’re witnessing is the triumph of the casual. And, as we have seen, with it comes the devaluing of the community. LFD, LFR, those were tools that detracted the socials from an environment that was initially theirs, and also worsened the experience of those soloers who used to tag along, in those guilds that were social-managed, but which had their share of soloers. In my current guild we have a couple of people who only come for raids. It’s a valid way of playing, of course, but I’ve never been comfortable with it. I guess that for me MMOs are not “just a game”, they are my online community (now along with you bloggers :)).

    Thanks for the link to that post, it was really interesting, and prophetic!

  5. Designers like Raph Koster write occasionally of designing downtime into the game to promote socialisation, something always viewed as repulsive by the majority of players (10 minute waits at the shuttleport in SWG for instance). I think the social spaces issue is a good illustration of the problem of handing much of the design control over to the player base – some things just can’t be fully appreciated by those close to the action.

    We have a quandary now – any game using techniques to encourage socialisation is likely to be very harshly criticised by a sophisticated player base who see through dead time and resent it.

    • I think repulsive is quite strong language for a minor timesink (especially from someone who plays EVE 🙂 ). But maybe games are just not going to be the places to build these communities in future.

      It’s sad, I enjoyed virtual worlds and the escapism of making different characters. I suppose the majority prefer to socialise online without the RP element, and gamers mostly just want progession. But for a few years, we had an overlap and it was very cool.

      • I suspect there’s probably only a minority of players who actively find a bit of downtime and socialisation ‘repulsive’ – but it’s the vocal minority. Remember Tremayne’s Second Law of Forums: Anyone posting on a game forum (or a blog) is by definition not representative of players as a whole 🙂

        I find that when some downtime does happen for whatever reason (after a wipe in a PuG, or waiting for an event to kick off) then most players don’t talk – but if someone does start, then the rest usually join in. This can turn a wipe around from people going “FFS noobs” and quitting to pulling together and beating that boss.

        My own theory is that the “all solo together” thing has become a self-reinforcing paradigm. New players note that the more experienced others in the group aren’t talking and are all about the “go go go”, so they behave likewise because they want to conform. Once one person takes the step to break out of that mould, the rest are happy to follow. So maybe the the way to make our MMOs more social is for us to be more social? 🙂

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