The Daily Grind: Are MMOs suffering from shrinkflation?

    
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I read a piece on The Guardian earlier this month about how shrinkflation is hitting some commodity-based industries. Basically, instead of raising the price of a product (and taking flak for it), companies will just reduce the amount of product they’re selling. (It’s an especially fun article since I’m not from the UK and the brands being discussed sound made-up to me – frazzles and chipsticks? Adorable.)

Anyhow, I thought it would be interesting to kick this idea back to the MMO industry. We’ve talked at length about the price of subscriptions and the triple and quadruple dipping going on in our genre as companies scavenge our wallets trying to satisfy shareholders. But we haven’t talked as much about it from the perspective of intentionally making games smaller with less-ambitious features – the equivalent of fewer frazzles and chipsticks.

Do you think the MMO genre is suffering from shrinkflation?

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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Adam Kelsall

I feel like rather than intentionally making games smaller, developers are releasing games earlier than they previously would (I.e. after 2 years of development instead of 4) in order to gauge the market response to their game… then they can decided how much to spend adding actual content to it…

Remianen
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Remianen

Good point. No Man’s Sky and Fallout76 seem perfect examples of this. Ship early and use the inevitable revenue post-launch to fix or complete the game. So instead of spending money for four years with no revenue (making recoup that much more difficult), you get some small streams coming in that tend to spike as you release “new” features (which really would’ve been in the game at launch if you hadn’t released early).

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Anstalt

I do think that the MMO genre is intentionally making games that are smaller and less ambitious.

The causes are obvious, the solutions difficult. Time will tell if we ever get there.

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SmiteDoctor

I just got my retention bonus from my job (finally some Covid Healthcare love) and I was thinking about buying a gaming head set that could double as audiophile headphones. Does anyone have any suggestions, my wife suggested Audeze Mobius since she just bought a pair of their headphones (hell though even the headset would rival the cost of the components in my PC at market value now so it feels kind of dirty even thinking about this)?

She kind of chewed my ass out because she thought I was going to get decent PC Speakers but I settled for Logitech Z533s

Soooo I guess I should listen to my wife for a change, how ever Headsets are not audiophile Head Phones either.

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Rndomuser

Sound quality (especially ability to perceive certain frequencies) as well as the comfort of headset are pretty subjective. The only right way to select good headset is to go to a store and try them out by yourself. Or at least buy several of them from a place which allows easy returns and return the ones you do not like.

Also, why even ask technical question here? Go to Reddit, there are specific subreddits for specific hardware where you can research things like whether specific hardware has known defects or any other issues.

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SmiteDoctor

The ones I’m looking at are probably not being sold at Best Buy though. I’m thinking Audeze Mobius or HyperX Cloud Orbit S

That and my region has been decimated by Amazon, we don’t even have a Best Buy anymore.

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Rndomuser

Well, you can still do the “order several models then return whichever you don’t like” thing through Amazon and other online stores.

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SmiteDoctor

I’ll just research it to death.

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SmiteDoctor

Reddit didn’t do jack shit for me other than getting a few posts removed.

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Arktouros

I think it really depends on the game.

Like Destiny 2 the expansions have certainly gotten smaller since the scope of something like Forsaken but the seasonal content has gotten much bigger and grander in story and scope to where as if you took all 4 seasons worth of content this last year with their season pass prices it’s easily an expansion worth of story and content on it’s own. The whole “Crow”/Osiris/Savathuun arc has been just *chef’s kiss* However really that varies even year to year let alone game to game. Like Shadowkeep the seasonal content was okay for some seasons, but then really bad for the others and you wonder wtf you paid for.

So I think it’s really hard to quantify. It isn’t like a bag of chips or something you can just measure nor is it consistent enough like it was produced in a factory and can have a reasonable expectation that each bag will be the same. This is before we even get into factors whether or not people value the content they’re getting. Like when GW2 was doing nothing but SPvP and Raid updates after HOT launch it was very easy to feel like you were getting absolutely nothing if you don’t participate in those activities but the fact of the matter is that content was delivered and updated to the game as a whole.

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Bruno Brito

Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but while i love MMOs, i feel like they’ve been always been anemic, sometimes by design.

Like, when you think about it, what do you really had to do in EQ and WoW? In FlyFF, Priston, Lineage, etc etc? You had extremely focused tasks that were disguised in the world building, which is something MMOs did better before, i don’t know how. The world was vast and the pleasurable feeling of immersion numbed the grindy reality of what these games were.

Now, considering that companies learned the power of predatory monetization, launching MMOs without what i would consider core features for a perpetual game loop, and then making the playerbase think this is actually normal is something they invest deeply into. I remember when WoW made it’s transmog feature into a controversial debate, even tho every single MMO launching back them had a fashion feature into it. It was absolutely pathetic to see the playerbase thinking this is a worthy discussion. It’s not.

A huge component of immersion was time. Everything took time. Since it took time, you felt like you were living there, because…well, living takes time. Again, it’s clear that older MMOs were also anemic in design, but since they made you power through what was endless hours of small power upgrades and relatively good grinding design, you actually felt accomplished.

This is the reason why Classic feels different from Vanilla. Because knowledge makes people optimize. Optimization is the opposite of immersion. It’s not wrong or bad, it’s just not fitting to a more relaxed and less directed gaming session. Because people rush to endgame thinking that endgame is the real game, and then realize that a game launched 16 years ago doesn’t hold up to modern standards, you have this weird limbo of experiences.

I feel like this is solvable, but it’ll take time. For one, gamers will have to be completely detoxified to the themepark conditioning of becoming content locusts. Developers will have to focus more on developing systems that allow players to develop fun. Which means that systems like the foundry, housing, playerbased economies, optional but deep and rewarding crafting, good exploration, and a overall focus on sandboxy features will have to take priority over content that becomes obsolete over time.

And honestly, i expect none of this coming from the AAA side of the industry, and players will be still conditioned by it, so… Yeah. Rock and a Hard Place and all that jazz.

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Ken from Chicago

The newness of MMOs back in the day was a feature. Back in the 90s and time of the Millennium, video games taking 40, 60 or even 80 hours do were commonplace. Then gamers went on to multiplayer mode.

With time, players realized I’m killing 10 rats, I’m killing 20 rats, then 30 rats was not “fun” gameplay, especially by the time you got to 100 rats. That was filler or grindy. MMOs had to change.

One of the changes quest arcs. Instead of only a series of one-off quests, they formed a chain and a narrative arc. Many gamers loved that. Though some passed on reading long quest text to just do the quest.

Then ArenaNet summarized the feelings of many MMO gamers in their MMO Manifesto for why they were flipping script for GUILD WARS 2, making a Dynamic World that responds to your actions to create logical and responsive missions. They were also going to end Kill Steals. Endgame would be the same as the leveling experience. And the big one, drop the MMO Trinity of tank, healer and DPS.

The problem was they failed to have tutorials that properly taught players how to player in this new way so they kept returning to the old way of playing and getting wiped out repeatedly. Instead of adding proper tutorials they kinda backtracked on some of their innovations to make the game more like traditional MMOs.

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Bruno Brito

The more i think about the manifesto, the more i realize it was a pipe-dream anyway. Not having repetition in MMOs? That’s insanity. MMOs ARE repetition. What matters is having a pleasurable loop.

Yes, the newness helped a lot, also the fact we didn’t work back then, we had the time. But also that games still took so long made even the smallest upgrade a good feeling.

I think that the way that the industry evolved, being still constrained by concepts like Levels and powernumbers is what makes gamers rush a lot. I think the distinction between endgame and leveling should not exist anymore, if everyone will just rush leveling. Just make the entire game a world and let them choose what to do from there. I don’t know how to solve that issue tho.

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Schmidt.Capela

This is the main reason I tend to only purchase games with DLC months, if not years, after release; I wait for a pack with all the DLC to go on sale for a price I consider reasonable . And if that never happens, well, there are many other games providing full experiences at reasonable prices.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

The whole industry is. I used a similar example as this when SimCity (5, online, or whatever its called) launched. What you got at launch was just a shell of what was included when the other entries in the franchise launched. All for the same boxed price.

Heck, now we have to pay the devs to test their game with things like Early Access. How about that Day 1 DLC, or that horse armor. We have been getting less and less of a product for nigh on two decades now.

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Schmidt.Capela

(5, online, or whatever its called)

When people need to differentiate it from other games in the franchise, or from the franchise itself, they usually call it SimCity 2013.

And yep, apart from the improved graphics and some improved tools it was worse than previous games in the franchise, both in scope (its only map size is somewhere between SC4’s small and medium maps) and design (who the heck thought preventing players from loading old saves, in a franchise where players love to trigger disasters just to see cities burn, was a good idea?). When you compare it with SC4 (or even the older SC3 or SC2000) it feels more like a toy than a game. It’s no wonder Cities Skylines sold over 3x more than SimCity 2013

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Dug From The Earth

It seems logical, until you see whats really going on.

Originally, mmorpgs had a box price, and a subscription. The subscriptions have largely been done away with for many new mmorpgs, which could easily be looked at as, “They arent making as much money anymore, and wont have the resources to deliver on the size and scope of content”

Im sure these companies love it when the media and customers see it this way, because they can just say, “We reduced the cost, if you think its not good enough, its linked to you all not wanting to pay as much money for it”

The reality is more likely this:

1. Many of these games went F2P (no box price). They did this to remove any barrier to entry, allowing a much larger demographic and portion of customers to “engage” with the product.

2. No subscription fee (see #1)

3. Microtransactions for nearly everything. Taking advantage of whales and customers lack of willpower, these have proven to be insanely profitable in nearly all corners of the video game market.

4. Due to microtransactions not requiring long term engagement with the product like a subscription does, the games being made do not need to be “Large” or have tons of content that lasts a long time.

Ultimately, games are being designed today to be available to anyone without an upfront cost, so they can quickly spend an absurd amount of money from shiny things in the cash shop. If they leave a month later because the game is lacking content, it doesnt matter. The game will have made more money due to these instant purchases, and whales, than it would have with a subscription and years of service.

Toss in the money they save from not having to develop as big or as grand of a game, and its just a purely more profitable venture.

Good for the companies making the game

Bad for the gamers playing

And yet, gamers still complain about games with a high box price, or subscription, when many end up paying a LOT more money for “Free” games through buying microtransactions.

Games suck now because they dont need to make a good game that convinces you to buy it, they just need it to be a virtual storefont shiny enough to make you think you need to buy that 40 dollar mount with glowing wings on the 2nd day you are playing it.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

And let’s not forget that many, if not most, of these games still offer that “premium account” option (i.e. the subscription!)

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Bruno Brito

The more i think about it, the more i have the feeling that if you make a F2P game where everyone spends 40 bucks just once for a shiny, you’ll still make more money than if your sub game would be running for like 3 years.

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angrakhan

Well I think case in point for that is Path of Exile. Their one-time ‘must have’ fee is for the currency and crafting material tabs in your inventory. They specifically engineered the game to have a pile of currency types and crafting material types with a low stack count expressly for the purpose of filling up your inventory and forcing you into the cash shop for these items if you want to play the game with any degree of seriousness. Last I checked they’re still making money hand over fist.

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Bruno Brito

Which is one of the examples of why i don’t feel pity for companies trying to use F2P as a “feel bad for us” move anymore. Good games will fill pockets as F2P even easier than with subs.

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BalsBigBrother

There is a lot I would like to say regarding the premise of this article but much of that would be about the self inflicted mess the UK finds itself in so I will refrain from doing so.

As for shrinkflation in MMOs didn’t that used to be called minimum viable product? Do the least possible to get the product out of the door so the companies can get straight to their end game raids on our wallets.

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Dug From The Earth

More like do the least possible to provide a platform to sell microtransactions.

In many cases they aim to sell big to people who are only 1 week into the game, regardless of if they are at endgame or not.

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Ken from Chicago

Everyone outside of MMOs have been trying to get folk hooked on subscriptions. Phones, cars (leases), houses (rentals), software, music, etc.

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Dug From The Earth

Thats because outside of games (and casinos), phones, cars, houses, etc arent able to making TONS of money off of selling you gambling boxes.

You dont get a car for free, and then have to pay $25,000 for it to be cherry red.

You dont buy a “music lootbox” and open it to find which 3 songs you randomly got.

Hence, subscriptions are the best way for non-game things to earn continual revenue on something.

Can you imagine if netflix was free, but only had 20 movies, unless you paid 30 bucks for a random couple of movies?

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SmiteDoctor

I haven’t bought a big budget MMO since ESO, well New World but I’m not sure just how big the real estate is yet.

From what I can tell with the major MMOs they manage to front load the release with a big World Map and decent chunk of Story, (except New World which seems to be more about life skills, and gathering, and WvWvW style PVP).

The Shrinkflation comes into play with Expansions/DLCs, they just do not make them like they used to with Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Moria, and Storm Legion. Expansions now are anemic in comparison how ever we are now conditioned to think that this is normal.

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Ken from Chicago

I remember when even single player video games would last 20, 40, 60 hours or more. Now GAMERS are complaining when a game lasts 20 hours and clamor for something they can finish in 10 hours or less. 😱😱😱

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SmiteDoctor

Wait what? Seriously keep Gen Z away from our MMOs.

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Ken from Chicago

Gen Z MMO dev: Good news, all your missions are 2 to 5 minutes long that you can immediately post on Twitter, Insta or TikTok! 🤣🤣🤣

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Erika Do

Maybe in other MMOs, but I only moved from WoW to FFXIV and the expansions for FFXIV are quite similar in amount of content as what I was used to in Burning Crusade/Lich King and such. Far better quality, though.