Not So Massively: The dos and don’ts of stealing from MMOs

    
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Not So Massively: The dos and don’ts of stealing from MMOs

Recently I played through the new PC port of the open world RPG Horizon Zero Dawn. While playing it, I was struck by how much it felt like playing an MMORPG… but in all the wrong ways. Endless chores, forgettable side quests, and unfocused design. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t also have its strengths, but it was definitely worse for its MMOification.

It got me thinking about how elements of MMO design seem to be proliferating across all genres of gaming, and how that can be a double-edged sword. Today, I thought we could look at the dos and don’ts of stealing ideas from MMORPGs.

Do: Offer (optional) multiplayer

I’m a strong advocate for making MMOs more solo-friendly, but I’m also a strong advocate for making other genres more multiplayer friendly. I think everyone should always have the option. If you want to experience the game without ever needing to interact with another player, that should be an option. If you want to do the entire game with one or more friends from the moment you leave character creation, that should also be an option.

I know it won’t ever be practical for every game, but I dream of a day when the line between single-player and multiplayer games dissolves entirely, and it’s totally up to each person how to play.

So I’m generally in favor of more games offering multiplayer, even if it’s a separate mode like StarCraft II‘s co-op. It just needs to be an option rather than something you need to participate in to fully experience the game. Forcing multiplayer on people who don’t want it is never a good way to win fans.

It's all riding rats.

Don’t: Pad your game with endless boring chores

Some people might be excited when they hear a single-player game boast about its massive open world and hundreds of hours of gameplay, but these days such claims mostly just make me wince. In practice, this usually means that the game has been padded out by reams of shallow sidequests and boring minigames.

When reading that Horizon Forbidden West will feature a larger world and a greater emphasis on exploration than its predecessor, I let out a sigh of deep spiritual exhaustion. Zero Dawn was already about twice as big as it needed to be.

This kind of design makes more sense in an MMO. An MMO is a virtual world; the point is to be able to set down roots, not to “finish” it. When I play other genres, I’m looking for a tighter experience I can finish in a reasonable length of time. It’s like the difference between a movie and a TV show. A twenty hour season is totally reasonable for a television show, but who wants to sit down to watch a twenty hour movie?

Some single-player games can make the sprawling open world concept work, but the fact is this is a style of gameplay that an MMO is just always going to do better.

Where it gets fuzzy is pseudo-MMOs like The Division or Anthem that aren’t single-player games but aren’t full virtual worlds either. I won’t say that going big is necessarily a bad idea there, but it is important for developers to remember that more content doesn’t always equal a better experience. Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.

Frankly, even a lot of true MMOs could stand to learn that lesson.

Do: Continue updates in the long term

As someone who isn’t particularly social, for me the best thing about MMOs is their longevity. It’s wonderful to be able to keep coming back to one of your favorite games for months and years and have new stuff to do every time.

Not every game needs to continue updates indefinitely like an MMO, and assuming that they should could lead to disappointment, like for those people who unjustly consider StarCraft II a failure because it doesn’t have the same level of ongoing support as World of Warcraft. But certainly continuing a steady stream of updates and DLC for at least a year or two can be a wonderful way to extend the life of a great game.

I’m also excited by the idea of moving towards expansions and updates to existing games rather than traditional sequels that fracture communities and force people to start over from scratch. The upcoming Overwatch 2 is a great example of a way to breathe new life into an existing game. Perhaps there are technical issues with the idea, but as a consumer I don’t really see why The Division 2 couldn’t have just been a large expansion to the original game. Price it the same if you like, but there was no need to divide players and make us start over.

Long-term updates can also present a partial solution to the above issue of too much filler. Instead of providing hundreds of hours of gameplay by doing a single release padded by tedious filler content, provide hundreds of hours of gameplay by regularly introducing new updates that continue a game’s story or otherwise move it forward in a meaningful way.

Don’t: Jump on the endless balance roller coaster

As one of my esteemed colleagues recently pointed out, balance is overrated. In reality precise mechanical balance is necessary in games only when direct competition between players is the focus, and even then perfect balance is virtually impossible to achieve without watering a game down so heavily no one would ever want to play it.

Balance changes may still be necessary to deal with extreme outliers in terms of over or underpowered classes or abilities, but for most games it shouldn’t take too long to achieve a sufficient level of balance.

I don't really know either.

Unfortunately, the open-ended nature of MMO development often leads to an equally endless cycle of buffs and nerfs as developers chase an unattainable ideal of balance. It may keep things fresh for the most dedicated players, but for everyone else it’s exhausting, and a massive barrier to re-entry for lapsed casual players.

This isn’t something you should want to emulate. The value of endless balance adjustments in an MMO is questionable at best. For smaller games, it’s downright toxic, and people who aren’t used to an MMO’s cycle of balance are unlikely to tolerate such instability.

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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kjempff

In rpgs, Don’t make daily quests, grind and similar; in mmos it is ok.
In rpgs, Don’t make complex and grindy crafting systems, as it is a waste of time; opposite for mmos.
In rpgs, Don’t make mechanics to return to content you were tooweak for, when your character has become more powerful; in mmos, please do as it is one of its foundations.
In rpgs, Dont make dlc with side missions, or similar additional content. An expansion that continues the story is ok.
In rpgs, Do make story, narrative, cutscenes and experienced through story telling; In mmos, it does not belong.
In rpgs and mmos, no scaling .. ever. Difficulty setting is ok.
In rpgs Don’t make complex systems for replayability, I play a rpg for the story and rarely did I return after the first playthrough. For mmos obviously the complete opposite, it is all about replayability through systems and creating my own stories.

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Giggilybits

I agree with almost everything you said except for Story, Narrative and cutscenes not belonging in MMOs. If done right, it can be a nice reward for exploring the world that was created for history and backstory instead of just rushing through to the end.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

MMOs have a content problem. They need to have enough of it to keep players around and spending money. Story is some of the most labor intensive content to produce and has terrible replayability.

MMO fans are fundamentally different from Story game fans. Content with high replayability is the appeal. Story is side content and expensive one-shot content is not something a smart producer knows they can afford enough of to keep their customers occupied until the next installment.

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kjempff

Yes. And it also steals the player initiative and agency to form their characters own “life” – Which is what mmorpgs should be about (I am aware that “all” mmos pve content today is story driven, but it is still wrong).
Make worlds not stories.

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hachibushu

Scaling was one of the best things that ESO did, IMO. It solved the problem of level grind in order to experience new content.

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Schmidt.Capela

But certainly continuing a steady stream of updates and DLC for at least a year or two can be a wonderful way to extend the life of a great game.

Frankly, as often as not this makes me see the game at launch as incomplete, something to only bother purchasing after all the content-adding patches are done and I can get a nice “definitive edition” that comes bundled with all the paid DLC.

I stopped with Animal Crossing New Horizons far earlier than I did with Animal Crossing New Leaf exactly because of that; ACNH feels like a game that has been carved out in small parcels so as to force players to keep coming back if they want the full experience, whereas ACNL felt like a complete game from the get go.

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Jo Watt

Essentially. They played the game. Felt meh about it. So in order to write an article about it they compare several “boring” aspects to MMOs. Then proceeds to say these single player games should be changed or add things that make them not be what they were designed to be.

Haven’t played but have watched HZD and this game so far seems to be what all single player story games should work towards even most the side stuff as others have said was mostly story driven or gave some meaning to do it.

These games don’t need to waste time on multiplayer modes or survival modes. The main point is to be a well played story that ends. Sidequests are just optional to begin with and help you get an idea of what’s happening in the world around you.(rpg)

A much better example of having repeatative side quests with mostly no value would probably be AC:O but even then some of those do add to the story and background of whats happening to the normal npcs of the world.

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agemyth 😩

HZD fans try not to get distracted by reading someone on the internet had a different opinion about the game than you and instead focus on the point of the article. I’m sure we can all think of examples of the kinds of games Tyler is referring to that fit the mold for us.

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Giggilybits

Apparently I’m going to have to try Horizons Zero Dawn now.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

I like a lot of what is written in the article, but couldn’t disagree more on the take with HZD. This turned into one of my favorite games, and those side quests offered a lot of flavor to the world. I still remember the one where I had to rescue the girl out in the wild, trying to recover her mother’s spear. And another where I was trying to find a woman’s missing brother, only to turn around and send him back out to the wild to protect her from the voices in his head. To me, stuff like that is the bread and butter of an RPG game, upon which MMOs are built.

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Carebear

Totally disagree for HZD… its a classic RPG game. Since when RPG elements are considered “chores” and “MMOish”? The game is awesome and has much less distractions from main story than for example Witcher or AC: Odyssey. Its ok if you didnt liked it (you are among the very few in the world) but to blame it that have “MMO chores” is totally wrong.

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Fisty

Do, allow stealing of others items in PVP.

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Aldristavan

Let me tell you about boring chores: FFXIV, which in all other ways is a fun MMO that I’m thoroughly enjoying, has NO END of needless cutscenes — some of them unskippable. It takes the game to an absolute grinding halt.

But wait, there’s more! If you’re a new player and you’re working through the base game (A Realm Reborn) and you think you’re almost done and ready to move to the first expansion? Gotcha! You now must do 100 (oh, excuse me, they reduced it to 80) of the most insanely boring, dull, meaningless Quests of Utter Drudgery. With cutscenes. And you can’t move on until you do them. Unless, of course, you want to buy a potion on the cash shop to skip that content…

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Syran

You can’t “offer (optional) multiplayer” in a game without either drastically changing the single player or making a completely separate game/mode. I, for one, am strongly against adding multiplayer to games like Horizon.

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Rndomuser

Yes, Horizon’s single-player experience does not need it because the developers wanted to specifically focus on the story of a single character, however it would be nice to at least have some kind of optional multiplayer. For example, they could add an optional mode where you can team up with people to take down large machines similar to Monster Hunter World game. Or maybe even optional PvP mode, where you, for example, play as a member of different tribes (not as main character from single player) and have to compete with players of different tribes to finish some tasks in an area where members of different tribes can freely kill each other.