Massively Overthinking: Is the popularity of small-scale co-op games hurting MMORPGs?

Gamasutra has an unusual piece from an Ubisoft developer this week arguing that co-op gameplay is the industry’s rising midcore trend, one that he believes will ultimately outstrip team competitive games. “It’s all about all the big data and stats that are finally available and can be mined,” author Andrii Goncharuk says, “and no surprise that it’s showing that players who played co-op mode have much more play hours, and players who played co-op with friends have even more play hours.”

He may be right, though first you’d have to believe co-op ever went anywhere to begin with (and console players would probably tell you nope!). But as I read the article, I couldn’t help but see MMOs in most of the arguments he’s making about what makes co-op games sticky, and yet MMOs are being edged out all the same. And while I don’t like to think of the MMO genre’s space in the industry as a zero-sum situation, the reality is that when people tire of MMORPG baggage but still want social play, co-op is exactly the sort of game they retreat to.

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I asked our writers to reflect on the rise of co-op PvE games outside the MMO label. Do we play them? Do we prefer them, and when? How can we learn from them? Is the popularity of smaller-scale co-op hurting MMORPGs?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’m a big fan of co-op PvE. MMO wise, I generally prefer PvP battles because they’re large and mostly anonymous with some big egos/politics behind them (when they’re good- BGs have limited appeal to me in the long run). However, for “raiding” and story-based games, I want co-op or small-scale grouping, and I say that as someone who was getting server firsts in 40 man World of Warcraft raids.

I game socially because it’s social, not because I’m looking for a challenge. There’ve been few fellow gamers in my life who enjoy learning a challenge, and most of them want something very specific. For example, my first serious girlfriend liked difficult PvE, but only when someone else made a plan for her to follow- new content that lacked a guide was a huge turn-off. We both liked co-op games, especially RPGs, but off the top of my head, the only one we played was the Smash Bros Subspace Emissary missions, which weren’t particularly deep.

What I like about smaller scale games, in general, is that they teach you something about the other person, and rather quickly. Board games do this too (i.e. my dad’s a haggler, so he’ll always try to convince you that he’s following the rules even though he’s breaking them), but video games are stricter. The rules are laid out and the players have to work within that system. Maybe you find out your generally helpful friend runs far ahead and gets themselves killed a lot, or that weird girl at the party tanks to make sure people stick together. When I was playing Monster Hunter in Japan, my fellow players and I struggled to communicate at times, but the fact that they’d go into a boring section of the game and help me farm a specific butterfly for armor they were recommending showed that they were willing to invest in me, and that felt really good (until a fellow language learner rushed me through menus and accidentally guided me into deleting my character). I’ve talked about big MMO moments in my life, and they’ve left big impressions on me, but a lot ot time was invested into those worlds to reach those payoffs, especially with my brother.

The smaller, more personable experiences in co-op PvE multiplayer (especially if it’s local), can hurt MMOs in my opinion. Especially as I’m trying to rebuild my American social life, I’m finding myself doing more local and smaller scale games since it’s easier to meet people. Unlike MMOs, I don’t have an endless supply of bodies, don’t need to reach end-game difficulty for people to feel a “need” to group, and often they’re simply more accessible. Have you ever tried bringing a non-gamer into an MMO? It’s rough! But I’ve heard many stories about older siblings getting younger ones into gaming through Secret of Mana. I’ve played Mario games with all my serious ex-girlfriends. Heck, I just had a Saturday of local multiplayer experiences, and based on how people reacted in games like OvercookedLovers in a Dangerous Spacetimeand Splatoon 2, I know who I’m going to gel with best even though we didn’t have any deep conversations. From those games, I know who can communicate, play as a team, and be patient. In an MMO, I feel like people who can do basics like that are “normal” and will be in my next pug unless they’re “terribads,” which isn’t what I should be thinking but that’s my reality, and I have a feeling it’s many other peoples’ as well.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Goncharuk’s article struck me because of fear, I suppose – the fear that MMORPGs are continuing to be dismantled and beaten at their own game — at their own minigames. Nearly every mode of MMORPGs — the battleground MOBA, the team FPS shooter, the construction sandbox, the survival competition, the social experience, even the auction war — exists and is done better in a subgenre dedicated to it. In posing the question, I was really asking for reassurance that dungeon crawling with our mates wasn’t also being funneled away.

But of course it is — and it always has been. MMORPGs have continued dropping the ball with PvE that is designed to slow us down and keep us grinding, with time investments and business models that still serve as barriers to entry and content that is (as somebody will surely argue) solo-friendly to the point of being antisocial, all ensuring that if you want a quick PvE game with friends, you’re better off in a genre tailored for it without all the concomitant bullshit of MMOs.

So yes: I play these games. I like these games. But I’ll also say that while they create sticky social bonds (or more specifically, make existing social bonds even more sticky), they’re missing a sense of permanence and longevity in the game itself apart from the meatbodies playing it, that virtual world feeling, the feeling of immersing into thousands of other people and maybe making a new friend — which is something I personally like to have. That’s one of the few special things MMOs still have over co-op games. So far.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Co-op has never really gone away, but when more and more games have shoehorned in some kind of competitive aspect, the co-op side of thing seems to have not grown with the same vigor. It’s less that “co-op games went away” and more that it was easier to appeal to a certain crowd by giving every game a shooty-shoot multiplayer segment that made every player feel a duty to answer the call to arms. Whether or not that made for better games is an open question (it didn’t), but it did mean that lots of games with multiplayer functions had multiplayer that was just another incarnation of Let’s Sit In A Box And Shoot Each Other.

The awkward apotheosis of that particular trend was the inclusion of competitive shooter multiplayer in Spec Ops: The Line, which anyone who has played the game would recognize as missing the point so severely that you’d wind up tumbling into space.

The reality is that proper co-op gameplay is always harder to design, and thus not a lot of games have it. One of my many reasons for loving the Saints Row titles is how they let you play with a friend almost seamlessly, resulting in far too many grand romps across the city acting as teammates and allies. And all of the traits attributed to co-op games are fair, but I think comparing them to MMOs is a little bit unfair. Because, to use Saints Row as an example, when I’m looking forward to playing that game co-op, I’m not looking to play with some random stranger over the Internet; I’m looking to play with my friends.

The difference is substantial. When I sit down to play New Super Mario Bros. with my brother, the point is to play a game with my brother. We laugh, we screw around, we goof around and make mistakes, but it is fundamentally a bonding experience between the two of us. When I sit down to play Final Fantasy XIV, I’m playing with everyone in a shared world. I might want to do something specifically with friends – I have friends (and my lovely wife) whom I plan things out with well in advance – but the world and the game is not reliant on us both being there. It’s bigger. It’s a shared persistent space, one that changes when I’m not around.

If you play MMOs just to get that co-op experience, then yes, they’re going to feel like two sides of the same coin. But I think assuming that’s why everyone plays MMOs is missing the point; it’s more that MMOs are a game which allows for constant co-op potential rather than co-op games scaled up endlessly. I like playing co-op games with my wife, definitely, but that’s a very different experience than when we log into an online game together.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): We’ve been playing co-op games since the 1970s (or before!) in arcades and on the early consoles like the Atari 2600. In contrast to the “take turns” or PvP approach to gameplay, co-op forged a bond between two or more gamers by giving them a common goal and placing them on the same team. By doing this, the switch from competition to cooperation occurred, and games became a lot more interesting.

You can definitely see limited co-op becoming increasingly popular among PC and console players who aren’t as enamored with PvP yet want something to play with friends. Destiny, Diablo III, and The Division each server as testimonies to different coop designs and the popularity of such game modes. With games coming up like BioWare’s Anthem, Bungie’s Destiny 2, and Phoenix Labs’ Dauntless, four- or five-player co-op is looking more like a strong trend these days. Yet we would be remiss to ignore the fact that it’s been in our industry for more than 10 years now. The original Guild Wars was a prime example of a modern co-op RPG, delivering small group play with the feel and social scene of a larger game. It existed just fine alongside of more “pure” MMORPGs and shared much of the same audience.

I welcome variety of game types and can see a lot of virtue in online co-op, especially if there is some measure of world and character persistence to edge those games more toward MMORPGs. In fact, many of these co-op games are starting to take on distinctive hues of the MMORPG, including guilds, large social hubs, gear progression, and the like. I think the more narrow focus of these games (more purely combat, streamlined RPG mechanics, linear instanced maps) appeals to players feeling a little overwhelmed by expansive MMO game worlds and feature-packed (and obtuse) designs. Can we have both? For sure. Is this a trend? I hadn’t really thought as much, although I cannot deny that these games are very, very popular right now and will attract other studios looking for something less risky, less ambitious, and perhaps more wide-reaching than the traditional MMORPG.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Hm, I don’t feel especially qualified to answer this as I rarely if ever have played the games this article highlights. However, I can say that as far as gaming goes, if there isn’t a co-op mode, I am not inclined to play. When I game I want to share the experience with friends and/or family; the social aspect is a huge part of it for me! No amount of gameplay feels awesome enough to toil away by myself for great lengths of time (well, except maybe Secret World Legends). No, I want to do said things with company. I just like sharing the experiences — it makes good things even better! My preference is still MMORPGs, and I cannot deny that a vibrant world filled with many folks to meet and play with was always my ideal. I’ve made some incredible life-long friends that enrich my life by chance in these games. And yet, thanks to the almost inescapable drama and vocal bad eggs in the really massive arena, I find myself retreating more and more to gaming experiences that are more restricted to smaller circles of friends. Look at my involvement in survival sandboxes: I’m loving so many aspects of these, but never on open public servers. Yet this isn’t considered co-op. Well, for me, when you pull together a group of friends to build a world then it feels co-op!

Is co-op a future that tosses MMOs to the side? I hate to think that for me, smaller-scale play really is edging it out. I just don’t have the time or inclination to deal with the drama llamas or toxic players. And co-op can let you hand-pick who is allowed to interact with you. And even though having a large pool of players could theoretically make it easier,I can’t ignore that it’s genrally easier to schedule gaming events with a smaller group of friends. There is the trade-off that I lose my chance to meet other amazing people like the ones I already have in my life. Unfortunately, sometimes that trade-off really feels worth it.

Bang bang, shoot shoot.

Patron Archebius: A few weeks ago, I rounded up everyone I could find on my friends list and started a full 4v4 game of Left 4 Dead 2. This included my wife, her brother, her friend who’s scarily into My Little Pony, my brother and sister, a guy from work, and a random dude my brother knows. Our disparate Steam libraries have precisely one convergence point – Left 4 Dead 2. We split up into separate Discord channels and proceeded to have a blast for the rest of the night.

So here we are, playing a game from 2009 for hours on end. It offers no advancement system, no loot, no upgrades, no unlockable skins, no player roles, no hats. The list of MMOs released in 2009 is a graveyard, but L4D2 still runs somewhere between 15-20,000 concurrent players a day. It’s not hard to see why – whether you’re playing Co-op or Versus, it’s a quick, fun, and rewarding thing to play with people.

And this is what gaming has always been about, for me – whether sharing a single keyboard with my siblings through Jazz Jackrabbit and Tyrian, or playing Halo with my wife, or running in the jungles of ARK with friends, being with people, sharing games and worlds with people, has always been vital. It sounds like MMOs should check those boxes, but they only rarely do.

So no, I don’t think the popularity of small-scale co-op is hurting MMORPGs, no more than small-team PvP or social networking sites or mobile games or the flood of competing multiplayer games hurts them – which is to say, they all take their own piece, but they take those pieces by offering a better experience than MMOs do.

And that brings us to the big question – what can we learn from them?

Ultimately, MMOs have to deal with the fact that their basic gameplay structure is outdated. When they were becoming popular and codified, they were one of the only ways to play something big and persistent together. They rolled together combative PvE in dungeons and raids, PvP for those who wanted it, and, in some cases, intricate social and economic systems for players to engage in. But this was all bound together with grinding or questing tedium, a system to give you a sense of advancement, of accomplishment, of becoming bigger and stronger.

And that tedium has become the bedrock of MMOs, the most recognizable feature. Whether we’re talking about ESO or SWTOR or WildStar or Black Desert, you are going to spend a significant amount of your early game whacking critters. I know of no one who looks back at their time in an MMO and says, “My favorite thing to do was slap wamp rats around until I got a slightly bigger blaster!” and yet, as we’ve stripped out so many other features from MMOs, that’s the core gameplay we’ve decided to keep. That’s what we build our games on.

And today, it’s just not good enough. The gear grind is on our phones for people who like that sort of thing. PvP has been overshadowed by tighter experiences like MOBAs and competitive shooters, games that give you everything you need right out of the gate. And now the MMO playerbase is fractured across so many MMOs that it’s tough, even knowing other people who enjoy the genre, to get a good group together where you’re all playing the same game, and you’re all at the same level, and you’re all having fun. Co-op games skip right past all those problems, right past the hundred or so hours you’ll spend doing quests for 7 silver and 32 copper and a pair of boots, and just let you have fun with friends.

The strength of MMOs is, or should be, in the number of players they bring together, in the size of the worlds they create, in building and creating and conquering together. But as they’ve aged, so many of them have clung to design elements that break people apart and gate content behind tedium. If they want to continue to grow and survive, that has to change.

Your turn!

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48 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: Is the popularity of small-scale co-op games hurting MMORPGs?"

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Josh

I think Justin made a good point about the original Guild Wars and I really wonder that if a game with that type of design (highly instanced co-op PvE style MMO) if it would really shine. Sometimes I think that the original Guild Wars hit on something uniquely awesome that didn’t get recognized too well because of when it was released.

boredinBC
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boredinBC

The small scale co-ops leverage some of the best parts of MMOs to make them feel bigger than they really are.

Small scale combat feels more tactical. Individual contributions are more important. Social hubs where players congregate grant a sense of scale while allowing story/world areas to remain more personal and impactful.

I hope the next big MMO will take advantage of some of these features.

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Mark

We need more couch co-op. Not gonna buy another console, TV, and copy of the game just to play with friends/wife.

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Thomas

For me, the ideal online game would be ca. 85% solo, ca. 10% co-op RPG (accomplishable with a friend or two), and perhaps 5% MMO (5-man dungeons, raids, mega-events, etc.).

If you consider fairly how most MMOs are actually played, in terms of playing time spent, I’d say these percentages reflect (or are not that far off the mark) the way many — if not most — players play, say, an MMO such as WoW.

I am not a big WoW fan at the moment, but I do think they have done a good job of appealing to the widest range of players. I’d say the same for GW2 and SWTOR and many of the other mainline MMOs.

I have yet to see a niche game that comes close to offering the variety of content I am looking for. GW1 was that last “niche” (it was a pretty big niche!) co-op game I have played that hit that mark, and how long has it been since anyone made a “niche” game that … downright perfect? :)

Estranged
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Estranged

No, these co-op games filled a need. You can only raid or die for so many years. Sitting in your MMO house is not interacting with people. Phasing. Etc.

I have more interaction with my MOBA friends versus MMO buddies.

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Chosenxeno .

The other part of this equation of what’s cutting into MMORPGs are games that are mostly Solo grinds but have a Co-Op component. ARPGs, P2W Browser Games and Dragon Nest Clones(Kritika, Soul Worker, Closers, Skyforge ect.) where Co-op is there but not necessary. These are the style of Games I’ve been playing since I quit Rift 3 years ago(Played WoW for 6 and Rift for 3). I think the future is pick up and play with a dash of Niche titles targeting specific sectors of the more traditional MMORPG audience who want something a bit more social(It’s actually already happening in the West between SOTA, Gorgon and Pantheon).

borghive
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borghive

Well I made more friends in the last year playing Overwatch than I have playing the last several years playing WoW. Most MMOs these days just don’t lend themselves well to social gamers.

Richard de Leon III
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Richard de Leon III

The beauty of smaller coop pve games is usually you can jump in and out as necessary, great for casuals or people will limited playtime. In mmos if you leave group content, assuming the game doesnt have an auto group finder, it screws up the remaining players since such content is usually balanced for specific amounts or isnt dynamic in its difficulty adjustment.

Xijit
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Xijit

Uhm … Just pointing out the elephant i, the room, but Ubisoft -is- the world leader on Co-Op video games* right now, so this announcement seems a bit weighted.

On one hand, that means they probably do have good data on Co-Op players, but on the other hand this is kind of them just patting themselves on the back.

*The Division being Co-Op and one of the biggest games last year, plus all the other Tom Clancy games are heavy on Co-Op team gameplay even when they are in PvP mode, plus the online segments of Ass-Creed are all pretty Co-Op-ish.

Xijit
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Xijit

P.S. I have decidedly become a small batch Co-Op online gamer … So fucking sick of all the bullshit drama with open online game worlds.

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Bhima Jenkins

The thing is, an MMO that could truly set the world on fire, that actually has both an immersive story like the Witcher 3, AND actual consequences to actions taken by players requires a HUGE risk on a dev team. Not just the money, but we don’t actually have the AI technology yet to make this a reality.

We still rely on pre-determined story-telling because we don’t have the technology for NPCs to be given motivations, but actually act in a way that is variable, and not on rails. And because of this, the facade of pre-determined storytelling in an MMO just falls completely flat. Its totally fine in something like Skyrim or Witcher, but it does not not immerse you in an MMO.

Add to the that the ridiculous risk of creating a AAA MMO, and you have the MMO market that we have. Its progressing some, mostly due to indy developers, but it feels like its in a 3.0 version incubator until new technology can be harnessed to really unleash the genre.

Until then, I just want someone to make Skyrim/Witcher a Co-Op game with up to 4-5 players.

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Witches

I would describe MMOs as holding their breath until things go their way, they may die or they may decide to wise up and breathe, but it’s all of their own doing no one is to blame.

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Arktouros

Nope.

Bad MMOs are hurting MMOs. When you take the time to fully develop your game, expand upon many play styles and systems, and offer people good incentives and easy methods to keep involved in the game you’ll be end up with a wildly successful game like we’ve seen with Black Desert Online. If you want people to be immersed in your game, you gotta give your game depth so they can dive into it. That’s why BDO remains on the top sales and top played charts on Steam for months after it’s debut there while other games Morrowind, FFXIMDCDVVIV Expansion #11344, Division and many others have all languished quickly after their releases. Those games are just content bursts that take years to develop and mere weeks to devour before players are back to the same ol’ scenario that caused them to quit in the first place. If you want a game to have lasting success and population you need to develop systems that encourage people to keep coming back and playing rather than just offer them up the next batch of content to devour.

People just use the small scale and co-op games to cope with a lack of new MMOs they’re interested in playing.

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Sally Bowls

BDO is doing well. But the main reason BDO is on top in Steam is that Warcraft is not there neither is TESO console. BDO, or at least Kakao’s part of it (NA, Europe) was down only slightly last quarter but is smaller than B&S or Lineage.

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Arktouros

Oh boy, so much to untangle here.

BDO is on top in Steam because it’s a super solid, deep and rich game in an era where there’s very few new MMOs and most MMOs that are still around and updated just do expansion content dumps that are consumed and then forgotten. We see this every cycle with games like Warcraft as new players play the expansion, love it for a few months, then drop the subscription.

More over, Warcraft would never be on Steam because it has it’s own launcher but that doesn’t mean Warcraft sees steady or consistent sales to keep it trending in popular selling games. In fact as discussed they see burst sales with expansion then a decrease in sales in between the content lulls. So it’s unlikely it would stay in the top sellers even if it was on there.

TESO console may not be on Steam, but TESO PC is on there and even during Morrowind’s release it still failed to reach the same level of concurrent players as BDO had on Steam and the same goes for other new expansion titles like FFXIVIDMCMDVVIIVI’s new expansion. While Steam only represents a portion of these titles’ player base those player base numbers are figures we don’t have so they can only be speculated at and not factually discussed (unlike Steam numbers).

NCSoft’s numbers encompass all regions into one. If you know how to wrap up BDO from KR, JP, RU, NA, EU and SA into one tidy package report and compare them vs Blade and Soul or Lineage by all means show us how!

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Ashfyn Ninegold

You just can’t compare MMO numbers on Steam. Period. Unless every title you compare 1) has only launched on Steam; and 2) has all platforms released only on Steam.

Otherwise your comparison is simply a convenience for your argument. You’re trying to prove that BDO is “wildly” more successful than ESO (presumably in order to bolster your argument that it is popular because of its design, which is debatable). BDO may be more successful than ESO, but these numbers don’t prove it. All they prove is that people who play MMOs through Steam play BDO more than they play ESO of FFXIV. Now, if you also had numbers showing that a preponderance of MMO players played through Steam, you’d have an argument. But I think we both know that’s not the case.

Since both these games launched originally off the Steam platform, Steam’s numbers don’t provide any insight except in regards to those gamers who prefer a consolidated platform over an individual launcher.

It does, prove, however, that BDO had a dirt-cheap sale and people bought it who otherwise wouldn’t have. Both ESO and FFXIV were full price expansions, so you can’t compare the “bump” of a $6.00 MMO giveaway versus a $40.00 expansion.

Yes, it’s nice when your team wins. But not when most of the players for the other teams are on different fields and you win by default.

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Arktouros

I can compare them. They have numbers, I put them against each other. It’s very simple really, anyone can do it. As there’s no other numbers that anyone is reliably given of people playing it’s the closest we’ll ever have to actually being able to compare populations. That’s the entire reason we can talk about Steam numbers, as there’s really no other numbers that matter (as I’ll explain to Sally below in a second).

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Sally Bowls

WoW, that is consistently in the top ten (last was #5) of the revenue from market research firms. Their “box sales” are less but that is not overly relevant since the “box sales” for B&S and EVE are zero; most MMOs are not b2p. WoW’s revenue is much larger than BDO or most anything below TESO.

But yes I think I do know how to wrap up BDO from KR, JP, RU, NA, EU and SA into one tidy package. In May, we read here at MOP that Pearl Abyss was going public this fall. So I would expect some revenue figures as part of that. Although the article did say ” that Black Desert is significantly more popular in the US and Europe than in its native Korea” so not sure adding in ROW would change that much.

……….
Got it, at least for last year!

Pearl Abyss posted operating profit of 45.5 billion won, up 280 percent on year, for full 2016. Its sales during the same period jumped 187 percent to 62.2 billion won.

So for all of ’16 Pearl Abyss’s revenue was a bit over half of what Lineage’s Q4 revenue. B&S ’16 was not quite triple PA’s ’16.

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Arktouros

The problem with comparing revenue in this day and age is that it’s no longer reflective of popularity or success. When the $15 subscription was the only monetization we had, other than box sales, it was useful or meaningful but in today’s age of micro transactions and otherwise (as NCSoft’s Mobile sales likely reflect) it’s a measure of financial success but not necessarily popularity or box sales.

Case in point for BDO there’s really only so much money you can spend in the NA/EU version and see returns for your investment. Where as in other titles they’re happy to let you spend as much money as you want for power (NCSoft certainly isn’t going to limit gem/gold sales and good God look what happened to WOW Token this year!).

So, again, if you have a way to actually compare player numbers to each other….love to see it!

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Schmidt.Capela

The OP lists the reasons why, for a long time already, I’ve been using co-op games (both videogames and board games) to play with friends. Most MMOs are quite crappy when it comes to cooperative gameplay, what with level and gear differences, daily or weekly limits, content locked by progression or that can only be played once, travel time, etc; in co-op games, on the other hand, we can just fire it and be in the middle of the action in just a couple minutes.

It’s kinda ironic that the genre better known for having a huge number of players together is one I don’t play with friends anymore.

As for whether MMOs are being harmed by co-op games: not directly. Co-op games can’t snatch the players that are playing MMOs for the unique qualities of MMOs, but they can, and do, snatch players that aren’t a good fit for the genre, that were only playing MMOs because they hadn’t found a game that fits their interests better. In drawing those players out of MMOs the pool of players willing to do some co-op action in MMOs can be depleted, just like “sheep-friendly” MMOs drew away most non-combatants from open PvP MMOs and made it impossible to recreate in modern MMOs something similar to the pre-Trammel UO society.

luxundae
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luxundae

If the MMO is actually a virtual world, then it’s there and bigger than you are. It can grow and change regardless of your actions (or despite them), and you just visit it on occasion.

That’s very different from a co-op game that only progresses when you’re playing it, where you are the center of the story and world just pauses and freezes when you’re not there.

That said, as MMOs move more and more towards instanced content and towards eliminating things that make them feel more like virtual worlds by allowing, e.g., ubiquitous quick travel…well, there’s less and less of a difference. Certainly, something like WoW that seemed like a virtual world back in vanilla now feels much more like a co-op RPG.

Of course, it can go the other way as well. Something like Minecraft is a small co-op game in practice, but feels much more like a vast virtual world than most MMOs I’ve played.

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Melissa McDonald

I think it’s the recent tendency of so-called MMOs to be 16-64 on a server and still having the nerve to call that “massive” that is the real problem.

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Tobasco da Gama

Archebius nails it with his response, I think. MMOs really need to find what they offer that none of these “unbundled” experiences can. So far, the only things they’ve come up with are “kill ten rats” and “raid to get better gear so you can raid some more”. And why would I play a gacha-style grinder that costs $15/mo when I can play one on my phone for free?

IMO, one of the smartest MMO designs in years was pre-HoT GW2, where most of your “end game” content was out in the world for people to stumble across. HoT itself tried to double-down by making that experience “more challenging” but ended up creating a situation where you needed raid-level coordination (in Tangled Depths and Dragon’s Stand, not so much in Verdant Brink or Auric Basin) to tackle open world content, where you wouldn’t actually have any of the tools you would in a traditional raid. And then they added actual raiding on top of that, which is a whole other thing.

So, yeah, MMOs need to focus less on doing what every other MMO in history has done and more on figuring out what experiences they can offer that other game types cannot.

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Castagere Shaikura

Man i so agree about GW2 when it launched it promised something unique and then they caved. I really had high hope for this game along with a bunch of Wow players that switched to it. But they caved to people wanting the game to be more like other mmo’s.

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Armsbend

Well they keep saying games are trending older. Most older people have less time. Therefore they are making games that take up less of your time.

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camelotcrusade

Bree’s comment about the persistent world spoke to me as something MMOs offer that I still miss–even after being absent in MMOs for almost a year now. But it was Eliot’s note that really hit my nail: “If you play MMOs just to get that co-op experience, then yes, they’re going to feel like two sides of the same coin.”

As a lifelong gamer married to another one, I’ve searched high and low for games where we can work together instead of competing with each other. MMOs with a strong duo and group game gave us a taste that we liked, especially since we could not only work together in the moment, but potentially build towards future rewards, too.

Unfortunately we haven’t played an MMO where the co-op experience was meaningful a majority of the time. While we were taking an MMO break we began to gravitate to co-op games and also to revert to tabletop… and so far, we’re at least as happy as we were. I guess if we were going to co-op in short bursts anyway it was a breath of fresh air to, as Bree put it, dispense with the “concomitant bullshit” that stuffed the layers between what we really wanted to do together.

All that said, I’m keeping my eye on the genre (mostly through this site!) and I hope the call of the MMO will lure us back once again. For us, it needs to offer a meaningful co-op experience to make us look twice. Yet another “kitchen sink” of features is nice, but they mean a lot less to us if they’re a distraction from, rather than adding to, the core gameplay we want.

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Paragon Lost

I’m not a fan of co-ops, though I think that for those who enjoy them they have their place in multi-player game play genre of gaming. That said, I do believe it is one more nail in the coffin that is mmorpg gaming as cop-op gaming becomes more popular. :/

Basically co-ops like single player games are a fun distraction, sadly that apparently is what more and more people want from their game play time. A fun distraction, not a meaty, in depth, vast, immersive long term gaming world and home. Devour content, move on.

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MesaSage

The Co-op trend, if there is one, will be short-lived. Look at the progression of social media if you want to see where we’re headed. Either Spatial, or someone else will create the framework that will become the one to rule them all.

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velimirius

You are not getting hurt if you got quality, but if you are lacking it than every decent multiplayer game will hurt it.

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Dystopiq

Predatory monetization, lack of risk taking, and high costs are hurting MMOs

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Paragon Lost

That’s just the frosting on the cake added to the mix. An important one no doubt.

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Sally Bowls

I think Justin and the Gamasutra author captured the coop-is-huge concept.

Part of this is self-fulfilling. We have one AAA hope-it-is-MMO, New World, in progress and wasting a few million on Kickstarter fantasies. Whereas the dev teams on Destiny 2 and Anthem are comparable (larger) than the combined non-WoW MMO dev teams. So if the market is mainly producing COOPs, then that will be what customers and devs will see as the new normal.

But I get the “MMOs are attacked on all sides.” I have long maintained in the “silly carebear” arguments that MMO PVP is not for the truly competitive, those are competing in fair games. Similarly, the just here for the social can use coop – or discord or grindr/tinder. And MMOs can never compete with Second Life because there is so much focus on combat (costumes, pets and mounts in Ca$h$hop are fine but not one point of stamina)

Alas for me, the things I like most – an evolving virtual world and a virtual economy – are unique to MMOs. FML :-(

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Armsbend

Amazon has been really quiet on the games front lately ;_;

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Sally Bowls

Sush! Quiet! Having hope is at least as important as being correct!

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Ket Viliano

Or are bad, poorly designed, ill considered, over priced, obnoxiously monetized, copy-cat, buggy *expletive deleted* MMORPG games hurting MMORPGs?

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deekay_plus

nothing has hurt the mmo genre than the developers behind it. and it very much is the developers and not the publishers necessarily as we see in various ks mmo’s without publishers weighing in.

to blame smaller scale coop games for hurting the mmo genre is to ignore that the genre’;s worst enemy is its own developers and most visible fanboys.

make mmo’s that are fun and interesting as smaller scale coop games and people will play them again. in the meantime ubisoft the game is still fresh to me and my friends and provides loads of content without the monetization driven bullshit grinds of the mmo genre

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Zen Dadaist

I, er, actually kind of like co-op squad games that offer the bigger MMO-y elements. Hence Warframe. If Plains of Eidolon wasn’t squad based but instead was fully open world instanced only by playfield capacity, and if they added a proper auction house/market system then it’d be just the sort of blend of MMO and co-op genres I’m looking for!

I’m not sure if that counts as helping MMOs fall though. I see it as helping co-op games grow into sorta-kinda-MMOs. I guess it means the more traditional EQ/WoW style losing playtime because, whilst I’d still be playing some more traditional sort of MMOs, getting MMO-y elements into the co-op games would divert more of my playtime into those games.

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nvidia

I’m not sure I would say small-scale games are “hurting” MMORPGs, but they are probably decreasing the player count. So I guess in a way, maybe they are losing some money as a result.

I have always played MMOs with my group of friends, and we never really tended to interact with other players outside of our group. Having small-scale co-op games like 7 Days to Die, Empyrion, and Ark simply gave us another avenue to enjoy games together, and not having thousands of other players in the same world has not really been of any consequence for us. I’m sure we’re not alone in just wanting to play games together, whether it’s an MMO or otherwise.

Additionally, I think these kind of small-scale games give players opportunities that MMOs wouldn’t (or at least traditionally haven’t) such as fully-destructible worlds, freeform base building, and the possibility of being your own admin and/or running your own server. Being able to customize the game rules and settings is another advantage these kind of games have over MMOs.

I see games like Crowfall and Ashes of Creation perpetually over the horizon, which do offer some sort of freeform experience, but ultimately they still have to consider that thousands of players will all want to be “The Hero” and not have their game world turn into a cratered (or phallus-laden) landscape by other players, and thus impose greater restrictions than your typical co-op survival sandbox. In summary, I’m not sure our group will ever return to MMOs unless a real game-changer (no pun) comes out that brings real sandbox features to the MMO market in a reasonable fashion.

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Iridescence

Bree nailed it. I’m attracted to MMOs by the virtual world aspect and that is also something none of those small scale games can do. Unfortunately most newer MMOs don’t try to do it either. Perhaps MMOs need to focus on what they are genuinely uniquely good at and stop trying to be poor man’s equivalent’s to co-op and single player games?

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Bhima Jenkins

Except that isn’t true. Have you played Skyrim or Witcher 3? Those worlds feel more alive and richer than any MMO. If someone would just take what was great about those games, and make it 4- or 5-person co-op, it would be awesome.

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Iridescence

@Bhima I love the Witcher series but disagree that that that world feels more alive than a good MMO. No matter how involved I get in the story of Geralt and company they are still just NPCs acting in scripted ways. Playing through the dev scripted story is fun but besides that there is not much of a world there. MMOs allow thinking humans to take the role that NPCs would take in a single player or co-op game. This makes them far more alive and realistic.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Yup. Last night a long-absent kinmate showed up in LOTRO out of the blue. We grouped up with others and spent our entire playtime picking him a new house and chitchatting while he decorated it. Then we visited the houses of other kinmates and ooed and awed. Did not kill a single mob. Only pulled my weapon to give the missed kinmate a sword salute in greeting.

Had a great time.

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Archebius

I agree! I may need to learn a thing or two about brevity from her…

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Carebear

Came here to post exactly this :p no need for it now. Well said.

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life_isnt_just_dank_memes

I’ve always thought of it as one of the natural progressions for the genre. One of the reasons ESO bums me out is that it means that they won’t release a new ES game and I felt like the next place that series would go would be a co-op setting.

MMO stories don’t have the same impact as single player stories for the most part in my opinion. I think smaller co-op games can retain more of the strength of story even though they have to shed a few inhabitants, but the nature of chat boxes in MMOs don’t make me lament that.

I’d love the ability to get a game like Skyrim or Morrowind but with friends only. I get the multi=player without the headaches of people that are there only to be idiots.

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be rational

Where did you hear that they wouldn’t be releasing a new ES? I thought that Bethesda confirmed there would be an ES 6 at some point just not anytime soon.

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life_isnt_just_dank_memes

That was my point. normally we get one like every 5 years. because of the MMO we aren’t going to get one for ages and that absolutely sucks. It’s a solid MMO but the single player ES games are watershed games for me. All of em.

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Sally Bowls

The way that I recall the contretemps is that a dev defending TESO said they are backing it strongly and there is nobody working on ES 6 atm – i.e., resources not being diverted. OTOH, the gestation period of big games is such that if work hasn’t started then that would mean no game for a while

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