Vague Patch Notes: MMOs are not the same as your single-player games with servers

So, bye.

Recently, I’ve been trying to get into Bloodborne. This isn’t a result of my disliking the Souls franchise as a whole, just that it’s never quite overlapped with my particular interests. But I’m giving Bloodborne a solid go, even if at the moment I’m playing offline for no real reason other than that’s how I chose to play. The game does have online functions for those who want to duel people or play with friends, and that’s cool.

What would not be cool is if the shutdown of those online functions shut down the game. But that also wouldn’t be the same as an MMO shutdown.

It shouldn’t really be necessary to say this, but apparently it is, especially in light of a recent YouTube video that misunderstands an article I wrote back in 2017. It’s a bad reading that basically involves tilting at a strawman, but it’s also conflating MMOs with single-player games, two things that are peripherally related but don’t have a nice correlation. Railing against MMOs while complaining about a games-as-a-service design is actually weakening your argument.

Let’s start by covering the elements that are, in fact, the same. Any game with an online component can have the online component shut down. Also, both MMOs and “service games” (I’m calling that because it’s faster in the moment) are both video games. So that’s the same.

And… that’s about it. In every other regard, they’re different animals. To use three examples from the same publisher, I’m going to pick out OverwatchDiablo III, and World of Warcraft.


At a core level, Diablo III is designed to be a single-player game. It (sort of) has content updates and the like, and it has online functionality tied chiefly to the way that the game handles its multiplayer functionality. But the game is meant to be played as a single person. There is an entire game there that you can play, front to back, and you can play it all without any other people. The game’s economy and mechanics are designed for a single player.

Overwatch is a multiplayer game. There is no story mode of any sort, and the closest you get to single-player gameplay is going in yourself on a server filled with bots. Again, the same servers are used for the multiplayer matchmaking.

Last but not least, World of Warcraft is an MMORPG. It has a great deal of single-player content and things you can do alone, but the game is built on the idea that it keeps running when you aren’t playing. Anyone can log in at any time, and the game world is up there (except when it’s down for maintenance).

You may notice the difference already, but let’s make it explicit. In Diablo III, the servers are there to let you play with other people, just as with Overwatch. But in the case of WoW, the servers are literally the game world. You aren’t running the game on your computer; you’re running the portal to connect to that world, something that we have all long understood to be the case.

Consider the difference between buying a Blu-ray and having a Netflix subscription. You understand that your Netflix subscription is actually just giving you permission to connect to their servers and see the things the company has on offer. If all of the Netflix servers exploded tomorrow, you didn’t buy any of that. You had it until it was gone, and your subscription allows you access to the service. Owning the disc, on the other hand, lets you watch its contents whenever.

It’d be really awful if you loaded up your Blu-ray and got a message that said, “Sorry, but we have discontinued the viewing of this film.” That’s something entirely different from going to watch Gremlins 2 and finding out that it’s not on Netflix.

When I load up Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, the game needs to connect to Ubisoft’s servers. It’s doing that so that Ubisoft can sell me things (unsuccessfully, since I purchased the game at a discount that already gets all of the DLC). However, based on the way that the game industry works at the moment, there’s always the possibility that those servers will get borked and then I’ll no longer be allowed to play the game that I have, in fact, purchased to play. That’s not good.

But it’s entirely different from the fact that there is a WildStar game disc in my house. That disc still works just fine. It was bought to allow access to the game servers, and when the game connects to those servers, it’s trying to connect to the actual game world. The online element is crucial for the game to function.

Trying to conflate the two actually makes your argument about service games weaker because it allows an easier job of reframing the discussion to “you didn’t buy this single-player game; you bought access to it until such time as the company decided otherwise.” We know what we’re buying when we buy an MMO (the rare ones that are actually bought these days, anyhow). I can’t count how many places on the box of Final Fantasy XI mention that the game is online, and if the servers go down, that’s it.

It ensues.

This is also where things like emulation enter the mix. The point is preservation of these games, and if the current events surrounding the rogue servers for City of Heroes prove anything, it’s that there’s a lot of interest in these titles even when the worlds themselves are shut down. It’s about preserving these games that literally cannot be played without the servers because the servers are what provides the world.

It is not, however, about games where the servers are required because the game is forced to check them even though they are entirely optional or there only to sell you things.

Your favorite MMO is going to die, and as I said back in 2017, the result of that is that you need to make peace with that fact and develop healthy ways of coping with the inevitable grief. At some point FFXI is probably going to shut down, and I will be sad, and it will hurt.

But my favorite games that are not MMOs do not need to shut down. There is no reason that, say, Bloodborne would need to shut down… unless the developers decided to completely screw over people who own the game because they can. Even if the servers no longer work, the game is there and functional. I don’t need Warcraft III to stop working even if its multiplayer functionality is no longer there.

These are not games that rely upon the servers to work. They rely upon the servers to do online things. Excising those online things should still leave a functional game. And if you want to be angry at developers shutting down these single-player games when the wholly optional online functions shut down, be mad about that, not about games that have a wildly different dynamic in terms of online functionality.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.

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Dilly Dolly

Imagine an MMO you played for years and one day the server shutdown while it still let you play offline…

It’s empty.


ESO feels like a single player game with dungeon group content, all relevant story content is single player.

GW2 is basically a single player game as well as all relevant story content is solo content, granted open world content has swarms of people however none of it requires any real cooperation out side of a small core of vets that can do the mechanics in their sleep. Any instanced group content in GW2 is basically an after thought since the bulk of their Devs work on Open World and Story updates.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Always online. Games as a service. Constantly pushing microtransactions at you. Forcing use of commercial platforms designed primarily to sell not to host.

I remember some years back when Hulu first started getting traction. Yea! Television without the television. But that wasn’t what the article was about. It was about Hulu boasting that they delivered more commercials per hour to their viewing audience than regular TV did, even those with subscriptions.

Every aspect of modern life is commercialized. You’re always being sold something.

That’s the point of these always on line games. Whatever you call them, their real purpose is get you to buy something more.


With just as many commercials.

Fervor Bliss

Preservation? You are trying to justify employee theft because you are worried about a company’s backup system. Oh I am sorry not theft “rogue” Learn well kids.


Heck, perfect example of ‘no, an MMO is not the same as a single player game’ that also fits in with your hard push into the Soulsborne series? Demon’s Souls. The online servers for that had shut down in the past year or two… But you can still play it! Sure, the Old Monk will just be an NPC rather than a player, and sure you won’t see any “finger but hole” comments anymore or won’t have to worry about being invaded by a fully kited out Uber-Killer just because you decided to pick up a pre-enchanted weapon that took you from the tadpole tub to the shark tank because of odd scaling…

But you can still. Play. The game. There is an argument of sorts with Diablo 3 though, especially its implementation at launch necessitating you to be online for even single player to work… But, in the case of the console version at least that got dumped. The PC version still requires that online connectivity for even single player… so if something were to happen to Blizzards servers hosting it? Yeah… unless they patched it out, you may be in for a rough ride.

edit: And good luck with Bloodborne! If you got the DLC too, I’d recommend not waiting till NG+ to try it. I made the mistake of going at it on NG+++, and… ouch… Platinuming that game though, and 100% its DLC, did encourage me to go back and 100% the other Dark Souls titles. And aside from Dark Souls 3, I think Bloodborne might be the easiest to jump into too. Kind of like Sekiro, the way you might typically play the other Soulsborne stuff will just get you killed. But you’re free to be a bit more aggressive and heavy on attacks with it and that has helped a few Souls-shy friends of mine ease into it better.

IronSalamander8 .

This is one of the reasons a lot of us were so upset over CoX shutting down . I can right now, plug in my Atari or my Colecovision and play Haunted House or Jumpman or whatever, whenever I want (plus there are emulators but that’s not the point here).

If, when they shut a game that has some kind of online requirement down, they let us play a local, solo version of that game as part of that, I’d have been less concerned, but suddenly not able to play at all is jarring. I’m older so used to cartridges as my main game method at home back in the day and then floppy disks before HDDs, CD-ROMs, and the like (I never had a cassette drive on my C64 thankfully).

I am totally against the idea that we are essentially renting a game over owning it, even an MMO. I know where it comes from, but will always be against it, I don’t even mind buying an upgraded version of a game like the new Blood upgrade we’re getting soon, as long as I can play the darn thing!