Massively Overthinking: What keeps you from playing mobile MMOs?
Earlier this week, we wrote about Black Desert developer Pearl Abyss’ IPO and its grand plans for the future – among them, four additional MMOs. Sounds great, right? Except that the suspicion, at least in our comments, is that Pearl Abyss will just follow in the footsteps of Nexon, NCsoft, and Netmarble in that the games will mobile MMOs and not “real” MMORPGs at all. That may or may not be true; the games have fairly fast turnaround for a full-scale MMORPG, but then the company talked up the BDO engine for future games and expressed great ambition in the MMORPG market in the west and on console.
But the suspicion seems to turn off so many of us — the stigma is real. So for today’s Overthinking, I wanted to dig into that. Do you play mobile MMOs, especially any of the modern crop that are popular in East Asia and then ported here? What keeps you from playing mobile MMOs, and what would you want out of an MMO for a mobile device that would actually make you consider it a home MMORPG?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): No, I don’t play any mobile East Asian mobile MMOs. I may play some mobile titles these days, but MMO ones have the same issue as PC ones: they largely keep us at home, away from other people. I know I’ve said this before, but I play MMOs for social purposes. The current market, due to my physical location and work situation, doesn’t help with that, unless we include Pokemon Go (which is made by a western tech company).
Don’t get me wrong, I still love PC gaming. The issue is that playing, say, Dauntless on my PC doesn’t feel as social as playing Monster Hunter in a cafe with three other people, or even two others while we get a PUG from the online lobby. Then there’s the issue with mobile games: They’re inherently different from PC games. I can stretch out with a PC game; I have tons of options for controls, easy access to online guides, voice chat, great text input device, and I don’t need to wear pants. Mobile games don’t have those unless you’re, well, basically buying a less powerful but mobile gaming console that tends to suffer from an inferior (but again, mobile) internet connection.
The elegance of mobile gaming is in simplicity and the increased chance of socialization, but hands-off auto-leveling content, while convenient, is, well, boring. I’d rather navigate a choose-my-own-adventure scenario that’s randomly generated than send my heroes off on some timer mission or watch my character auto-battle through some boring dungeon while I pray to the loot gods. As in a lot of modern MMOs, designers forget that the genre has power from its RPG roots, more on the Dungeons and Dragons with a Dungeon Master side than the Final Fantasy linear story side. It’s not that I dislike the latter, but, damn, I don’t need phone melting graphics or minor multiplayer options to enjoy a mobile game.
Mobile games, especially mobile MMOs, need gameplay that takes advantage of the medium: real-life location-based options, local multiplayer, AR options, engaging touch-screen/gyroscopic control play that doesn’t kill you inside when it doesn’t respond. Otherwise, why not just make your game for the Nintendo 3DS/Vita and let people connect via mobile tethering? That’s probably why I’m more excited about multiplayer AR mobile titles than “proper” MMOs on my phone. While the former may create some social/safety problems, at least they’re taking advantage of tech and trying new ideas while (mostly) encouraging social play.
Brendan Drain (@nyphur): I have very little interest in mobile MMOs or mobile games in general. Partly that’s because of the business models used by mobile games, which all hinge on using the platform’s massive user base to generate scale. Mobile games have to be able to work on a wide range of device specs, have simple gameplay designed for very short play sessions, have something to keep you coming back regularly, and be cheap enough to not alienate new users while still turning a profit at scale. We always end up with simplified core gameplay loops designed to be addictive, extensive use of daily mechanics and waiting periods to get you to come back, and a deceptively low barrier to entry followed by a whack in the face with microtransactions once you’re invested in the game.
If you’re now about to comment that your favourite mobile game doesn’t use an abusive business model like that, tack the word “yet” onto that because the future of any mobile game could always include bleeding the few customers they have left dry. Companies specialising in mobile user acquisition are already saying that cost per user is rising rapidly, eventually it’ll cost more on average to attract a new player to a mobile game than that player will spend. The only mobile game I’ve invested significant time into was Pokemon Go, and even it seems to be heading right down a disappointing path.
So what would it take to get me interested in a mobile MMORPG? I think it would have to be a standard MMO (ideally buy to play or subscription-based) that just happens to also have a mobile client rather than a game built specifically for mobile, which is why I’m cautiously optimistic about RuneScape Mobile. I’d also love to have better companion apps for standard desktop MMOs, ones that let you access a portion of the game’s core gameplay from your phone. EVE Online’s official app lets you access your evemails and get in-game notifications on your phone, for example, but it would be amazing if you could set your skills from it, buy and sell on the market, fit your ships, or even do your daily planetary interaction tasks.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I play a lot of mobile games and love being able to game on mobile devices, especially when I’m a passenger in the car or I just need to get away from my desk for a while but still want to play with tech. But the MMOs I’ve played on mobile are few and far between. I played all of the “Legends” games as they started coming out years ago — Pocket Legends and Star Legends were actually fun. But Spacetime really bungled after that; Dark Legends’ business model was insulting garbage, and Arcane Legends bled the original games of their players. Eventually I lost interest as Spacetime stopped updating the older games and everyone started leaving.
I think that experience permanently colored my perception of mobile MMOs as being both unsuited for the platform and doomed to become money grabs. Every once in a while, I try to dive into another game that feels like those Legends experiences, like AQ3D, but nothing grabs me for long, even if the controls don’t annoy me, and they nearly always do.
As for the blast mobile MMOs coming out of Asia? You know, Asian history is literally my area of expertise, but I’ve seldom become infatuated with Eastern MMO imports save weird things like Zentia, and that extends to mobile too – it’s just not my art style or themepark or combat or grind preference at all. There’s just no draw for me whatsoever except in that there are tons of people there, and there’s no way I trust the business model not to try to screw me over.
That said, it’s on my list to try Villagers and Heroes on mobile at some point, but I’ll probably wait until after Starfall. As I said on the podcast, it’ll be like the third or fourth time I’ve rolled an account for that game – I feel like I’m a lot more forgiving of an MMO that exists on PC and then ports to mobile, as long as I can move between them. We’ll see!
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): The thing is, I don’t play any mobile MMOs, but that has less to do with some opposition on principle; it has more to do with the reality of how my game time works. Put simply, I don’t tend to have long stretches of free time away from a desktop or console, so usually I’m going to go with one of those for gaming instead of grabbing my phone or tablet. Combine that with a general preference for non-touch interfaces, and I don’t tend to play the games. From what I understand, the division of time, travel, and the like is very different in East Asia, and if I had long commutes on public transit, then I could definitely see myself making that into daily diversions on my train ride (or even longer).
That, I think, is the key that gets missed a lot here, a difference of gaming time and how you’re doing things. When I’m traveling, I am usually driving; if I’m not, I’m in a plane. It’s not so much a question of features as a question of what I’m getting done. When I was actively playing World of Warcraft, I found the Legion companion app very helpful and would actually like similar “maintenance” applications for other MMOs, simply because those are diversions from the main game rather than the game in and of itself.
But it’s hard to create a mobile MMO designed to actually be played as a mobile MMO that actually feels like a home game for exactly that reason. Mobile games need to be playable in quick bursts; I cannot imagine getting a half-hour Final Fantasy XIV dungeon in a mobile game simply because I might not have a full half-hour to devote to it. It’s nice for maintenance of larger games, but I think in the long run, the time demands of the two are just too different. And that’s all right. Having a multiplatform game where you have both mobile-friendly content of five-minute bursts alongside longer projects when you’re at a desktop? That would make me turn my head.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Right now I have my eyes on two mobile MMOs that are coming to iOS this fall: RuneScape and Villagers and Heroes. Both, you will note, are not Asian titles nor created specifically for the mobile platform, but are instead western games with a proven track record that are adapting to mobile. I sort of know what I’m going to get into and I can bet that it’s not going to be as bad as many super-grindy eastern games. I should probably give AdventureQuest 3D another shot, and I still lament that Guild Wars 2 never did anything with its mobile plans.
I have tried several Asian mobile MMOs, and none has gripped me. Controls are a big issue, as is extreme streamlining (auto-run everywhere, super grindy mechanics, overly complex inventory, many different premium currencies, etc.). There are a few that are being tied to proven IPs, at least, but not IPs that are of personal interest, so we are back at square one. One of the biggest problems with so many of these is that they were nothing but the reward loop and combat. There is literally no exploration, no virtual world, no interesting frills in the feature sets, no deep community, nothing that takes an MMORPG and fleshes it out into a vibrant culture.
My feelings aren’t going to stop the tsunami of Asian mobile MMOs from being developed. It’s an absolutely huge market overseas, and it stands to reason that if one or two can break big here, there is some serious money to be made. I just wish they were more than cardboard cutouts that looked pretty and offered no depth.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I do not yet play mobile. I anticipate I will at some point, and I keep thinking I will, but it hasn’t happened. Although technically, I do play AdventureQuest 3D on the PC, and it’s totally cross-platform , so I could play it on mobile — I just haven’t yet. I even have it installed! Paladins is also getting a mobile title, so I will be looking at that.
Honestly, I don’t really have an interest in playing on my phone. I spend so much of my life on my computer for work and play, I like to get away. If I got carried away with games on mobile, I’d never have a break! If I am out and about, I want to enjoy being out and about. Even doing errands or waiting on things, I prefer to enjoy the outdoors, people watch, or strike up conversations with total strangers. (You totally couldn’t picture me doing that huh? LOL!). Truth be told, I don’t even play any non-MMO games on my mobile devices. OK, I did play Fruit Ninja with my daughter during a long flight a couple of times! When I am home I can game, and then I have my nice big gaming rig to play on, or even my gaming laptop if I need to move to a recliner or bed for health reasons. Besides, I want to be in MMOs because they are (ideally) vast worlds I can immerse myself in and explore; I sure can’t see that being very possible on a tiny little screen.