Not So Massively: Welcoming a new era of online games and gaming

    
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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.

Here we are again, and still, and always.

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.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.

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Melissa McDonald

Sigh. gimme a WoW clone (which is really an EQ clone) any day over the glut of ‘survival sandboxes’ and ‘battle royal’ games.

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Oleg Chebeneev

TLDR: Hi, I’m Tyler. Im gonna write something here.

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Melissa McDonald

that was pretty rude :(

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Rolan Storm

*waves* Hey. Welcome!

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Alli

Welcome! I have a particular issue with not-so-massively games that I rarely see addressed. It would be awesome if you wrote about it here sometime!

You often need to have an existing group of gaming friends available to play a co-op game. A solo game is the ultimate form of alone time: just you, your console of choice, immersed in the digital world of your choosing. For traditional MMOs, if you don’t already have friends in the game, it’s not too hard to find a likeminded group of people already formed in a guild. But for the co-op game, if you don’t already have that group of friends (or due to parenting, jobs, or other real-world demands you can’t play when they do) you’re stuck grouping with random people which could be awesome–or you could be stuck with the worst people ever. Sometimes these games look fun, but I don’t know anyone else playing, so I don’t bother.

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Anstalt

I have this exact same issue!

In an MMO (or at least a traditional one) you have a server of 5k-10k players and so a community forms. You can then find your place within that community and it’s pretty easy to find like-minded players. You regularly bump into the same players and so you can form relationships.

These small scale online multiplayer games lack that whole community feel and so you either need that group of friends already playing (which never happens to me) or you just end up in mindless PUGs all the time. It ruins the experience for me because playing solo feels like you’re missing out on what little depth the game has, but playing in a group feels like banging your head against the wall.

For that reason, I tend to avoid all small scale multiplayer games, I just don’t have as much fun as I had in either MMOs or single player games.

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elenie

Welcome! Looking forward to your column as I too love to play and read about all kinds of games.

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Steven Williams

Welcome to the crazy train! Look forward to reading your articles.

I predict talking about not-so-massively games will be eerily similar to talking about MMOs during its boon around 2007 or so. (Almost) every MMO was a samey Korean Import or a WoW clone; (almost) every not-so-massively game these days is a live service looter shooter or a battle royale game, now that LoL clones and hero shooters are dying down a bit.

For the next half a decade or so you can practically copy an article about MMOs from 12 years ago, magic some words a bit, and make it an article in 2021 about how every looter shooter is still the same modern/scifi shooter game with a deus ex-meets-borderlands aesthetic. That’s what I expect, at least. Maybe the 17th overhyped release will be lambasted as the “Destiny 2/3/4 killer” because it has a limited wall-running mechanic.

I’m only half-serious about all this. ;3

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yoh_sl

You kinda start to lose me when you say “Much as I love Anthem”. A broken, half finished cynical cash grab, with clunky non nonsensical multiplayer. I mean I get what your trying to say, bad example.

Multiplayer is becoming increasingly more diverse in application, which does beg the question of what role MMO’s play when everybody else is eating their lunch? Like JRPG were once, now we live in a time where everybody else is doing what they once had almost sole domain over.
So where do they go from here?

Personally I would like to see MMO’s become even more social, because honestly a majority of them really are not. Their single player games that happen to include other people. This is why I play D&D instead. You actually have to talk to people.

carnalforce1337
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carnalforce1337

You kinda sound like someone that has only played the Anthem demo for a couple of hours (maybe even not at all), and watched all the “content creators” bashing the game pre-release.

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Armsbend

If you read a lot of comments here people clamor hardest for solo friendly, non-pvp instances. I think the developers are listening to the anti-social playerbase when they never should have.

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Bruno Brito

Personally I would like to see MMO’s become even more social, because honestly a majority of them really are not. Their single player games that happen to include other people. This is why I play D&D instead. You actually have to talk to people.

MMOs being social is good. Artificial forced interaction isn’t.

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yoh_sl

What would you call a Moba then? Or an multiplayer FPS shooter? Or a hungry games shooter?
All highly popular genre of games where multiplayer is not optional.

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zoward

Welcome to the neighborhood, Tyler! While I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the current crop of not-so-massively games, I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say about them.

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Fenrir Wolf

I admit, these are some of my favourite diversions.

One little distraction I’m eagerly looking forward to is when Fallout 4: New Vegas is released as by that time I feel Skyrim Together might’ve been ported to Fallout 4. This would mean getting to play Fallout: New Vegas with my partner, which would be a gas.

I’m not old, you’re old.

I don’t know. It’s not that I even dislike other people, necessarily… I mean, absolutely, that is part of it as neurotypicals can be overloading to my autistic mind and the vast majority of them are so lacking in any empathy that they seem insensate. That’s true. Undeniably. A lifetime’s worth of experiences has taught me that, beyond the shadow of a doubt. That isn’t the primary reason I dislike most MMORPGs, though.

I’m actually quite fond of the concept of them, but whereas the ideal is interaction without the anxieties of the real world, the reality is very much different as the mechanics and systems of MMORPGs invariably encourage people to be the very worst examples of humanity they possibly could be.

The individual gets lost in the seething, oozing, homogeneous, molasses-like gunk puddle of the MMORPG community, so very real concerns surrounding disabilities fall on deaf ears, often accompanied by the chant of “git gud.”

Except, as we know, there is no getting good at an MMORPG, not really. There are the corporate structure testing grounds of the madcap raid, which ensure that managerial figures are the ablest they can be to manipulate and herd their cattle effectively, but that really isn’t a skill I’d be invested in picking up.

Outside of that, it’s just time spent until you’ve managed to gather together a large enough pile of numbers that the game plays itself. So there’s no real “gitting gud” to be had, here.

Still, that players would respond this way to complaints founded upon actual disabilities is simply an endemic factor of how awful MMORPG communities tend to be. The operant conditioning chamber and toxic, forced competition models (DPS meters et al) come together with the MMORPG’s social hierarchy and pecking order to ensure that everyone puts themselves first.

So I’m enthralled by the idea of MMORPGs, but most don’t do it for me.

It’s interesting as Guild Wars 2 has been a clear example of both. Heart of Thorns being of the more typical kind where each zone was a massive event requiring lots of people and an unreasonable time investment, whereas Path of Fire has silly minigames and races more akin to Free Realms than any other MMORPG I’ve played. I mean, I find myself going back to play a large number of those events simply because they’re fun. Fun… in an MMORPG! Inconceivable, but true!

In the not so massively titles I find that there’s a greater degree of inclusivity and care for the disabled either via the game itself or via mods. And the mechanics of the game often inspire a better calibre and pedigree of humanity than what I’d find elsewhere.

One odd example of this is Paladins, which I’ve been poking lately thanks to the Full Moon Viktor skin (which naturally pulled me in). The training system will nab a human every now and then to accompany the bots, but the expectation isn’t one of grandiose competition. There’s not an overly toxic competitive edge to these proceedings, it’s very calm and relaxed. Everyone involved knows that the stakes are nil.

This has meant that even desipte my anxieties, I’ve actually been able to play alongside some other people every now and then. I was terrified at first, I figured it’d be like Team Fortress 2 all over again. My fears were quickly allayed by a kindly person who was there for much the same reason I was. The relief was palpable.

It’s interesting because, with the stakes so non-existent, I don’t have performance anxiety. As such, I often am the person who scores the highest in damage dealt, even when there are other players involved. Some mad group of ingenious buggers put together an arena shooter that I can actually play in multiplayer.

That’s astonishing. It’s like a multiplayer support group for people who have anxiety and mild PTSD. (Which I have, unfortunately, also been diagnosed with. I’m a mess. I know. And I’m just a ta point in my life where I’ve got a zero tolerance for manipulators and those who’re all too easily fooled by them.)

I really wish there were more multiplayer games designed with these conditions in mind as I know of at least some folks — a few of which aren’t bad at their respective genres — who’d really benefit from that in my particular social niches alone. There can’t be an insubstantial amount of us out there.

The problem I have with MMORPGs is that they encourage people to either be manipulative or to go along with and defend it. It’s the pecking order, you cozy up to the most powerful people despite how awful they are. You might tell yourself that they’re really very nice and all as a coping mechanism, but in most cases that won’t be true.

That’s why, generally, I prefer to play with my partner, solo, or with an extra friend or two at most. The people I can really trust. The privileges granted to manipulators in most games mean that they focus on their worst traits to earn those tainted accolades. By having these things that must be competed for, where you might have to herd people in order to achieve them? That can only ever result in a toxic experience.

Which is why, ultimately, there’s so much guild drama, usually with no small amount of scapegoating and back-stabbing. The pecking order at work.

I’ve said it before, I don’t have the stomach for it.

In ye olde times when there weren’t these prestigious rewards meant for the worst kinds of people, who would all compete to be the worst of the worst, it was much easier to play a multiplayer game. I’ve mentioned before that, in Ultima Online, I was shocked how openly decent the players were. So decent, in fact, that I could rely on them to retrieve my lost items from a dangerous dungeon for me.

They were good, honest, trustworthy, reliable, sturdy people. I liked them. It was a rare glitch, though.

In less massively titles, though, there is no excessively toxic competition for prestige. You can’t have a crowd of people to lord your godliness over, so there’s no point in those kinds of people playing those kinds of games. This results in an immediate net gain of decency. MMORPGs do invariably attract the worst and compel them to be their worst, as I’ve said. I’m belabouring that now, I admit. Sorry.

I do really like the idea of MMORPGs though. Some of them can be diverse, and can be inclusive. If you don’t pay attention to the god awful writing and overzealous, supremacist human players, then Guild Wars 2 is absolutely one of those. Even World of Warcraft is, to a degree. With perhaps the best being The Elder Scrolls Online.

Here’s another problem, though: When you have this prestige? It requires you to continually add new levels of it to the game. What will happen is that these examples of the worst people will theorycraft to find the shortest route to their next prestige hit, which means that whatever they find will have to be nerfed. Those nerfs hit concept builds the hardest.

As such, casuals and roleplayers like myself are hit the hardest. We have to deal with an overly toxic community alongside our concept builds being continually decimated purely for their benefit.

What I would ask, then, is if it truly must be this way? And if so, I too would rather not-so-massively games as at least there I can play them just with my partner (and maybe one or two more tagalongs). I can be 100 per cent assured of decent, kind behaviour.

I’d like to see is more games that realise that people with serious anxiety and PTSD exist. I mean, it’s nice that your game has a colourblind mode and all, but there are many more forms of accessibility you could be catering to.

Which, by their very nature, not so massively games alreayd do.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

Welcome, and I think the original Guild Wars to have always fit that MMO-lite model with the towns as social hubs and the exploration zones limited to a small group of players. The henchie and hero system allowed for the choice of solo or group play. The B2P model let people play as they wish without having to worry about that monthly rent.

It’s too bad that ANet went the more traditional route with GW2, and it made the game the weaker of the two because of it.