Massively Overthinking: Always-online vs. offline modes in multiplayer games


The Nightingale team’s admission that players are clamoring for an offline version of the game – and that Inflexion is now planning to do it much sooner than anticipated – has left me a bit bewildered about where I stand on the topic.

Nightingale actually began as an MMO in its original design and had long since been whittled down to a co-op title before its reveal. But it was indeed a co-op title: always online and intended to be social, with game mechanics that responded to multiplayer participation, with other modes pushed off to the distant future. But apparently, a sizable proportion of the people who actually showed up to play (read: pay for a very early access) want to play alone and offline, without dealing with server snafus or fellow humans.

And on some level, I understand that wish. I love MMOs, but I most definitely do not want to play with other people constantly, and I actually feel a lot better knowing that offline exists in case the game vanishes one day or never makes it out of early access, which – let’s be real – happens more often than not in this subgenre. Having a solo mode you can play forever is better for game preservation.

But it better for games? Let’s talk about it in this week’s Massively Overthinking. What do we think about always-online GAAS titles versus offline modes? How does the scale tip for you? How about Nightingale specifically? And what does all of this say about MMOs?

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’ve always said there’s no good way to define the MMORPG genre that doesn’t exclude something that is obviously an MMORPG – I called it categorization porn and hubris to try, even – but maybe this is the real one. If the game can flip a switch and make it a literally offline experience, it’s no longer an MMO and probably never was that close to begin with. It’s not inherently bad, just… MMOs require some level of proper persistence and server integrity. Offline modes by definition can’t do that.

And I guess that’s what I’m really sad about here. The addition off an offline mode simply nudges the game much further down the MMO spectrum – away from the MMORPG end and toward the survival sandbox end. And it bums me out, even if it helps secure Nightingale’s longevity.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): I’m OK with offline modes. The original Phantasy Star Online for Gamecube is still playable because there’s an offline mode. Being able to actually obtain the game for a Dreamcast or a Gamecube is a different story, but at least the game isn’t just a paperweight. I know ArenaNet has said it’s not expensive to run Guild Wars 1, but I still worry about the lights ever turning off for that game one day. It would be cool if that game could be accessed without a working server. Overall, I think offline modes are becoming more essential. It might not work for all games, but from a game preservation standpoint, that’s a pretty big deal

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m surprisingly upset by this shift by Inflexion. During my press preview last month, I had gotten the idea that the studio would act on feedback in pretty short order, but this wholesale shift away from what looks and seems like a great co-op title because people on Steam appear to be big angry seems kind of kneejerk to me.

Honestly this all feels like a symptom of the wider push back against live service/GAAS titles, which I completely understand considering the levels of abuse, fleecing, and malfeasance that’s prevalent across the monetization model, but when your game is specifically built around online interaction with others, even at a later stage, cutting that off entirely is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Yeah, I feel that tug-o-war on the topic. More options for gameplay and accessibility are always good, and I’m all about laying the foundation for long-term game preservation. But when online games shift focus like this, it does make me feel that it’s stating that the online features don’t enrich gameplay. Inflexion moving like this so early really makes me wonder if it’s giving up on developing more online features and content.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I always encourage more options and more diversity of gameplay. I’ve probably said it in dozens of my columns: give players the tools to play their way. And in this case, I like the idea of creating an offline mode. I think it should stay on the developers to-do list. However, I would agree with Justin that the trajectory of the game’s overall development up to this point makes me nervous. It is a good feature, but it sure is early in the game’s lifecycle to already be focusing on it. If I were invested in the game as something I played like an MMO, I’d be worried.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I’ve always felt the furor against online-only games was a bit overblown (and especially strange when it comes from MMO players), but I’m also always in favour of more options. I prefer to have offline mode as an option, but it’s not something I let get under my skin if it’s not there.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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