The Daily Grind: Must MMOs keep moving or die?

    
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Bhagpuss over on the MMO blog Inventory Full put up a piece earlier this month about EverQuest II – specifically about MMO players’ obsession with population figures and expansion rollouts and whether we’re panicking unduly when games seem to get smaller and put more and more space between their content pushes.

“As committed devotees of the MMORPG format, is continual growth really what we seek?” he wonders in the quote that leaped off the page at me. “And are MMORPGs really the sharks of gaming? Do they have to keep moving or die?”

Essentially, he subverts the idea that games are either growing or dying and suggests that in their desperation to appear to be “moving,” aging MMOs are actually forced into the very kinds of power creep and feature creep that kill the fun even faster.

What do you think – are MMOs sharks? Must they keep moving or die? Or is there a better way?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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Robert Mann

There is a better way, one where the world is more important than the gear. One where the players actually are part of something greater, rather than the ‘one hero, number 10972.’ With a focus on gameplay that isn’t outlevel/powered constantly, nor instanced completely off, but rather has several different components in order to deal with the threats that exist.

That dream is what many of us call “Persistent World”. We say that, and we do not mean the backdrop that you see as you do other things. We mean something that changes, that has various activities going on consistently, and that offers players the chance to be part of that whether they go it alone or group up for bigger tasks.

That, however, has been something that nobody seems to want to offer. :(

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Fervor Bliss

The end of a MMO is better than it turning into something that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Serrenity
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Serrenity

I think about it this way — this isn’t really a “do they need to continually release new content,” its do they need to provide new short, medium, and long term goals to work up to. Those goals can be a variety of things that may or may not be directly related to new content, per se. For example, a thing I really enjoyed back in the wrath days was trying to do all the heroic achieves for the red proto-drake (spoiler- never got the damn thing), but most of those were doing things that weren’t straight up DPS checks. It made running the same content again and again fun because you were trying to do it in a specific way … and you only got one chance at it a day.

To me, that’s the kind of shit to keeps me coming back. It wasn’t super sexy, with rainbows and unicorns and sparkly ponies, but it was fun. It was something we did at level cap that wasn’t just a mad sprint through the dungeon.

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

Thanks for the shout-out.

I was thinking about power creep because I’ve been playing and very much enjoying EQ2’s latest expansion, while at the same time being very aware that the game has somehow locked itself into one of the more extreme examples of each expansion completely invalidating any progress that came before it. It is undeniably great fun to see your character become so much more powerful each year but it leaves a vast amount of content in the dust.

On the other hand, as many comments here point out, you can’t really expect people to keep do the same dungeons and raids forever. I do think there needs to be new content if the game is to hold the attention of anything more than a very niche audience indeed, but it would be nice if that new content somehow added to and enhanced the existing content instead of making it completely irrelevant.

Recent MMOs have made attempts in that direction but none of them are really old enough yet to tell if those are solutions that will work in the long term. Also there’s the example of FFXI in the background, an MMO that has been allowed to move into a form of gracefully managed retirement. Anyone playing that who can say how well it’s working?

Alex Js.
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Alex Js.

it would be nice if that new content somehow added to and enhanced the existing content instead of making it completely irrelevant

A social user-generated content can do that. By that, I mean things that will keep you logged in the game even if you don’t feel like grinding dugeons or doing PvP and even if last major expansion was released a year ago. For example, how about full VR support, with body motion tracker support? With that, you can create your own emotes, or dance moves. And speaking about dance moves, how about putting a better player-performed music system into games? Something like more instruments, or a personal jukebox inside your housing or your own bar/dance club which can play any music you want (whatever mp3 files you have). Just imagine the kind of interaction you can have with all of this ;-)

Sadly, like I said before, most developers are too lazy to do something like that…

Alex Js.
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Alex Js.

They don’t have to constantly move, at least too frequently, if they will provide enough abilities for players to generate their own content (through PvP or even social interactions outside of dungeons or PvP areas). Unfortunately most developers are too lazy and too greedy to do that properly.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

Did you miss that article about crunch time and 100 hour weeks for Red Dead Redemption 2? Not an uncommon thing in the games industry just to get out the things about which you are so dismissive.

It is very easy to suggest features. Implementation is another story. Not picking up a feature rarely has anything to do with laziness and much more to do with there not being enough hours in the day.

Alex Js.
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Alex Js.

LOL. Hire enough people, problem solved. Need more money to hire more people? Find investors, problem solved. Can also organize Kickstarter campaign, some companies got plenty of funding, just need to advertise correctly what you want to do with all that money.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

We can accept that somehow you are smarter than pretty much every game dev out there and that software development and funding are easy.

Or we can just assume you have no experience at all in this regard, don’t know what you’re talking about, and are just spouting off easy answers to questions you don’t really understand.

I am going to go with the latter.

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Robert Mann

Investors ARE the problem. The moment you get beholden to the financial backers, they want their returns. Try to do something new and innovative (aka, like this that hasn’t really been done) and they simply won’t fund you.

Not that the ideas you opened with are bad, but the reality is that the money they get is the source of many of the problems.

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rafael12104

Hmm.

MMOs evolve. Sometimes it is via bug squashing or adding and intended features. Other times it is in response to players concerns and or trends. And it is in large part understood that change is necessary to maintain relevance and keep the money rolling in.

But this frenetic energy is also a trap. Change isn’t always for the best. Horrible mutations occur based on the idea that games can’t stand still. I’m sure that you can come up with new and old examples of this phenomenon that boggle the mind.

So, do games need to move? Not always. Great care has to be taken on when to say when. Changing for change’s sake is a recipe for disaster.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

This comes up in the EverQuest forums quite often with respect to the progression servers. There is a persistent contingent there that wants a server locked in time, that stops at a given expansion deemed the ideal point of the game (which expansion is argued about, but somewhere between vanilla and LDoN), which then stays there, never to move forward again.

They got their dream with the latest retro server, which will stop at LDoN, so I guess we will see how that works out. I suspect, however, that after the server peaks the population will die off save for some of those people who have been asking for that sort of server.

When you create a business model that depends on keeping people subscribed (or, these days, buying things from your cash shop every month), you do have to keep them entertained with shiny new things or they will wander off. You can dig up that Smed quote about what a subscriber ought to expect.

And we have certainly seen with WoW that letting things ride for even half a year or so ends up with a drop in subscribers. Likewise, revenue for GW2 tapers off over time, only to be revived again when they drop an expansion.

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Leiloni

They need to keep moving in the sense that players will get bored doing the same content over and over and need more. So yes, that’s inevitable.

And to be honest, that’s the reason I got into MMO’s. Single player games are fun for a while but eventually you beat the game and it’s over. Repeating it is never as fun. MMORPG’s are fun because the game never ends (or at least, you get bored and move on long before it ever does). You get to enjoy a huge world with other players sure, that’s part of it too and great. But the fact that you can log in and enjoy gameplay on your character long term and not worry about things ending before you’re ready is great.

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Phubarrh

Oh, my ongoing LotRO experience. I’m enjoying it enough to want to complete every quest along the way, but the problem is that it becomes VERY evident when the next expansion content is coming…suddenly there’s a long string of narrative where you’re not actually advancing, but running back and forth at the end of the zone with extensive busywork teasing what’s ahead. I mean, if you’d been there live as it was happening, I imagine it was thrilling stuff. But if you’re late to the game and eager to get to the next round of story, what a pain it is.

Xijit
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Xijit

The current model: Yes.

If someone ever unfucks what is considered MMO “convention” and makes a title with better sustainable elements that rely on players reusing established content in viable ways, instead of this continuous fire hose of balance “fixes” to keep the inflicted end game PvP from stagnating, then no we would not need that for the games to remain worth playing.

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Leiloni

Balance fixes aren’t something PvPers demand. They’d much rather all classes be evenly balanced so they can pick a class and stick with it and have fun. Nobody likes feeling like they have to switch because their favorite class sucks. That makes you lose PvP players, not gain them.

Same goes for PvE fans I think. I don’t honestly know why devs constantly make changes. Sure if things are broken balance it, but I think they often cause their own problems. When a new content patch or level increase comes out, they add new combat or class mechanics, or just add new abilities, and that screws up balance. That’s what hurts them more often than not.

Xijit
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Kickstarter Donor
Xijit

Completely serious about this: they did a studdy years back and found that games with regular updates have a better retention rate.

… So they dick with the class balance just to give themselves something to constantly patch.

Dead serious on that.

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Leiloni

By regular updates they mean content patches which we already know helps player retention. But dicking with class balance is not a content patch. It doesn’t give players something new to play around with. It just means they have to relearn their class, or level a new one, before they can have fun again. It actively frustrates the players.

Xijit
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Kickstarter Donor
Xijit

Try telling that to the marketing people who think that flawed studies, done with biased samples, from a decade ago are still relevant.