Hello, Massively Overpowered readers! Not So Massively is back, with a new captain at the helm.
My name’s Tyler. If you’re active in the MMO blogosphere (or read Justin‘s Global Chat column), you might recognize me as the author of Superior Realities. I’ve been playing MMOs for about ten years and writing about them almost as long.
Of course, in this column, I’ll be focusing on games that don’t quite fall into the traditional MMORPG mold. OARPGs, looter shooters, and the like. I think this is an exciting time in online gaming, with such quasi-MMOs leading the charge into a new era of game design.
See, I’ve never been much of a purist for either MMOs or single-player games. Most people I know prefer to chose a side one way or the other. I know a lot of MMO fans who simply can’t go back to offline games without active communities, and I know a lot of single-player fans who seem to be allergic to MMOs and refuse to even try anything with an online component.
I’m not like that. I just play games that interest me. A lot of them are MMOs. A lot them aren’t. And increasingly, a lot of them don’t clearly fit into one category or the other. Not quite the virtual worlds of yesteryear, but bigger and more social than the offline games I played growing up.
Some people are threatened by this new paradigm. Single-player fans fear they’ll be unable enjoy offline, solo experiences as they used to, and MMO fans fear the death of the virtual world is nigh. But I think the gaming world is big and broad enough these days to survive some diversification.
I have a lot of love for traditional MMORPGs, as the nearly 1,000 hours I spent in The Secret World and the [unintelligible] hours I sunk into World of Warcraft can attest. I wouldn’t want old-school virtual worlds to vanish entirely. But at the same time, I found nothing so stifling as the era when it seemed as if the only online games being produced were endless WoW clones.
Games should not be designed on a formula. MMOs and online titles should not add features based on a checklist of what they’re “supposed” to have. If being a full-featured MMORPG makes sense for the concept (and budget) of a game, then go for it, but not every game needs to be all things to all people. Letting go of the rigid confines of traditional genres frees developers to innovate and create better experiences for us as players.
And at last, that’s what we’re seeing. The WoW clone is dead, and the realm of multiplayer games is expanding into new arenas in a way it hasn’t in many years. We’ve seen an entire new genre of game in battle royales arise virtually overnight, and I believe that’s just the beginning.
Expanding into a realm of games that are online but not quite the MMOs of yesteryear opens up a lot of exciting new possibilities.
For one thing, these smaller scale MMOs and MMO-alikes are friendlier to those of us who prefer solo and small group play, which has always been an uphill battle in traditional MMOs.
Myself, I suffer from social anxiety and autism spectrum disorder. In plain English, I get overwhelmed easily by groups of people. This applies even in the digital space. Some days I feel OK and enjoy socializing in-game, but some days I just can’t.
Older games that relied on mandatory grouping for progress haven’t always served me well (WoW, I’m looking at you and your raid or die endgame). Smaller-scale games like Anthem or The Division give me a lot more freedom to control when and how much I interact with other players, and for someone like me, that’s a very liberating experience.
Meanwhile, people who are more social can still group up and play with their friends easily. Much as I enjoy playing solo, I would never want to take the social element out of online gaming, and I oppose mandatory soloing as much as mandatory grouping. Not-so-massively games are great for providing the freedom to play socially or alone as the mood strikes you.
I believe that not-so-massively games also have the potential to reach greater heights of storytelling achievement than the traditional MMO. It’s hard — not impossible, but hard — to tell a truly rich story in a world where your epic story moment can be interrupted by Lawlstabqt the rogue riding by on an armored battle flamingo mount, or where any significant change to the world has to be weighed against the potential inconvenience to the greater playerbase. With their smaller server populations and more curated experiences, not-so-massively games can more easily work around those issues.
I do grant that there aren’t a lot of games out there right now fully capitalizing on this potential. Much as I love Anthem, it is relatively story-light for a Bioware game. But I think the potential is there, and I dream of a day when the scale and persistence of an MMORPG can be married harmoniously to the tight, intimate storytelling of the best single-player games.
More than anything else, experimentation means the possibilities are endless. The more developers tinker with combining elements of single-player and multiplayer games, the more potential there is for someone else to create something amazing.
That’s not to say that not-so-massively games are inherently superior to MMOs or single-player titles. But they’re nothing to be afraid of, either. MMORPGs and virtual worlds will continue to exist, and so will single-player games. The world of gaming is wide enough now for both – and for games straddling the middle ground.
And it’s those games in the middle where much of the innovation is happening these days, especially as it relates to online and social gaming, and that’s exciting. It’s that new frontier that I’ll be exploring in this column.
So join me, friends, and we’ll dive into this new era of gaming together.