Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Not a Rant, But a Rumination: Solo Play in MMOs

I'm opening with a quote that may sum up my TL;DR as well. From Argus or Bust:
"Saving the world is fun and all, but I’m a little burnt out on it."
I follow Syp's Bio Break religiously, so you may have noticed that many of my posts are inspired by his. In a recent post, Syp discussed character development, inspired by Azuriel's post on In an Age regarding the quality of Single Player RPGs vs. MMOs. Keen's post, "MMORPG’s are not Single-player Games," had me all set on Thursday  to rant about how stupid and short-sighted he is. Then I read his post, and while I still disagree with his premise, I agree with elements of his discussion. Well, specifically this:
MMO’s are not about one single individual player changing the world.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  MMO’s are about a world that exists, and the player chooses to participate in that world.  The world is what changes and the players are expected to react to it — not the other way around!
I have long argued that WoW and the other games that have come after have gone too far in trying to make me the Hero/Savior of the world. My first steps into MMOs, through the Dark Portal of Vanilla WoW's login screen, were those of an anonymous adventurer. It's one thing to slay a dragon, it's another thing entirely to slay not one, but two, of the very Aspects of the World, "Dragon-ified." I was perfectly happy learning recipes for Beer Basted Boar Ribs and helping the locals with their problems—that required some violence.
Keen's original post, while making some reasonable statements, was backed up in the comments by a bunch of gamers—including Keen, himself—who sounded like this (imagine me speaking in my squeaky old man voice):
"When I was your age, soloing in an MMO was pure folly! There were dangerous monsters out there in the Wilds, and you had to take friends along. Why, I remember our healer—we called him Doc, even though he was a cleric. And then there Glassy the mage. Hah! could he pack a punch. But he died if you blew on him funny. And there weren't no chicks playing, because they all thought we were weird. Eh, where was I? Oh yeah, our group had to fight monsters barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways! And we loved it, 'cause that's all there was."
One of the commenters hailed Acheron's Call as encouraging group play because "solo a mob would yield 100% XP, in a 2 man group it would yield 150% xp and in a 3 man would yield 200% XP AND SO FORTH." Excuse me? When I do that math I still only get 75% XP when grouping with even one other player. And the math gets worse from there. They were punishing group play even then. One could argue that XP as a measure of progression is the root problem here. But that is outside the scope of this post.

SWTOR, at least, gives me full individual XP whether I am grouped or not. And they're accused of discouraging grouping. There are even open areas of every planet, from Dromund Kaas and Coruscant on, that you do not go into without a group. And they're discouraging groups.

Azuriel accurately pointed out that, even with a monthly subscription, MMOs provide far more game-playing time per dollar than any single-player ever has, with the possible exception of Tetris. Even playing as a single player, It's worth it to me to stay in the MMO genre. While I certainly think MMOs should have plenty of group content, I disagree that solo content is ruining the MMO genre. I also happen to think that end-game should involve more than just group content and repetitive dailies. I play MMOs because they are persistent worlds, flawed though they may be. A true SPRPG could never satisfy that.
To use an analogy, Rolls-Royce makes arguably the best automobiles on the planet. Their 2010 revenue was approximately $477,700,000 (£321.5 million) rounded. Ford Motor Company makes cars that are affordable. Their 2010 revenue was $120,900,000,000. Ford's net profit alone was $6.6 billion, more than 13 times RR's entire revenue. You can make Rolls-Royce games all you want. Only a few people will play them. The big game companies have figured out that Ford games are just fine for most of their audience. (And yes, even with its price tag, SWTOR is a Ford game.)

Vatec, commenting on Syp's Post on leading groups in SWTOR, had this to say:
"Yep, that’s the problem with group-centric games in general. There are reasons that A. soloing in MMOs is very popular and B. automatic LFG queues have been added to several games. Sadly, it’s also not just PUGs: some of my worst group experiences have been with guildmates (mostly in Dark Age of Camp-a-lot).
For example, a typical evening in DAoC might consist of half an hour discussing plans in guild chat, half an hour riding a horse to the chosen zone, half an hour waiting for the last guy to show up, another half hour discussion about exactly where in the zone we should head (often interspersed with the “odd man out” complaining that A. there were no good drops (for him) at the planned spot or b. XP would be “too slow” at the planned spot), half an hour fighting our way to the spot, half an hour actually playing the game, and then the healer would announce that he/she/it was “getting sleepy,” which left the alternatives of A. locating a replacement healer and somehow getting said healer to the camping spot or B. calling it an evening.
And those were the “good” evenings, when the group didn’t experience any wipes, the group didn’t get ganked by an enemy archer (having your healer ambushed mid-pull was a truly … memorable … experience), the evening wasn’t interrupted by a raid on our faction’s relic keep, and no loot drama occurred.
No, I really don’t miss group-centric games very much at all. The modern LFG/LFD system may be rather impersonal, but at least it’s quick and convenient…"
Say it ain't so! Grouping in the alleged golden age of MMORPGs wasn't all sunshine and rainbows? Or mayhem and loot?

Give the people what they want. The mystery demographic Keen can't figure out is not blogging, or paying much attention to blogs. It's not really a mystery who they are either. They're the silent majority, voting with their wallets, not whining on blogs. They're the millions of people playing WoW and every other MMO since about 2004. The old guard can complain all they want, but they are no longer the audience, nor do they have the developers' ear anymore.
Hvalsey, Greenland --- Ruins of Viking Church --- Image by © Wolfgang Kaehler/CORBIS

For someone playing a game that then goes away because it is not profitable, I am sure it is a sad day. I watched the heartbreaking closing minutes of SWG on YouTube. It made me tear up, and I never played. All the games that I have played and enjoyed are still going reasonably strong, making a profit, most of them without my current subscription. Are they all failures because they aren't boasting WoW-like numbers (except of course, WOW itself)? The only quantifiable measure of a game's success is whether it returned a profit on investment. I read a book a couple years ago called Collapse by Jared Diamond. Bringing up a common question posed to him about why did the Norse Greenland society fail, Diamond pointed out that the Greenlanders lasted longer than has the American society started by the English colonies and continued today by the United States. They may have collapsed in the end, but that does not mean they were not a success.


  1. Gameplay per dollar best with subscriptions? Pfft, My $5 Torchlight, $10 Final Fantasy tactics and $5 X-Com collection beg to differ. Collectively, just those games (and they aren't outliers in my library) gave me a good 500 gameplay hours for $20. That's good value that no sub can even come close to matching.

    1. Yes, Yugos get you around town, as well. :P I think you're the outlier here, Tesh.

    2. Also, were those games that price out the gate, or is that a bargain bin discount?

  2. Well, yes, *I* am an outlier, but that's the sort of value I look for in gaming. :) And I'd not say "Yugo" as much as "Horse and buggy".

    That is FFT's current list price, Torchlight is $20 and I think the X-Com collection is $15 normally. That's still $45 for 500+ hours that I could play pretty much any time I wanted, no DRM dickery, no internet connection required, no damn time limit.

    Let's round it off, and say that's about 10 hours for a dollar. Pretty good value, it seems.

    To get the rough equivalent of a sub, let's just say at the $12/month rate and say that's on sale, that's 120 hours PER MONTH to play. (Ignoring the box price, while we're at it.) While it's true that some people get that much gaming in, there's absolutely no way that I'm getting 4 hours a day to play ONE game (actually, less Sundays and Tuesdays, so more like 6 hours a day). That's a part time job that's a net LOSS to my bankroll (and family credit), not a game.

    From where I sit, with real world obligations, a full time job, wife and kids that I actually like, *that* is the outlier mindset. :P Of course, I have read that 20 hours per week is "average" among MMO gamers... so yeah, I'm on the skinny side of the bell curve.

    Further, woe betide me if the stupid servers go down or my paid time runs out. I can play my other games almost for perpetuity, and their value only goes UP, but once that time limit hits or the servers go down (for good, maybe even) in an MMO, that game is dead.

    The calculus *does* work out for some, certainly. Yet, it's highly dependent on personal schedule and whether or not you intend to keep playing a game or you're rushing through it like you're cramming for an exam or something. It's a stupid thing to stop and smell the roses when you're on the clock, and subs inevitably color the way a game gets played and designed.

    I look for value in games, absolutely. For me, that's staying far away from subs and looking for games that offer a lot, can be played whenever I feel like it, for as long as I have the game on hand.


    Yeah, blah, blah, blah. :)

    I do love your mention of the Greenlanders, by the way. The same might be said of Ancient Egypt or perhaps Rome. Just because something isn't a hit *now*, it doesn't mean it wasn't great in its day.

    1. I'm not totally familiar with Torchlight (Just did the the T2 beta, but how much replayability is there really? (No idea about the othersyou mentioned.) I played the crap out of Age of Empires, Rise of Nations, and SimCity 2000, but those are repeatable RTS games. Azuriel's point in his his post was that most RPGs, SP or MMO have a story that sort of runs out. The MMO has additional interaction possible because of the presence of other players in the world. At 50 cents a day—and I do play fairly regularly, though not every day—That's a great entertainment bargain even at only 30 hours per month. I could also play Zuma's Revenge, which is totally free; but then we're not talking about a computer RPG anymore.

  3. SWTOR has other ways to punish your group efforts. Like the fact that I'm about 10 levels behind where I would be with an equivalent amount of time invested - had I not spent every moment of my agent's playing time in a group.

    1. I don't what it is, but I am consistently a higher level than my story in SWTOR, and that includes being grouped with Sctrz for the entirety of my main, an Imperial Operative, as well as a couple other character pairs we share.

    2. Group play has its own hazards outside the control of the game, like logistics. Travel delays if your group is not constantly together, or you're waiting for someone to do "housekeeping." There was a Massively "survey" out yesterday beating the dead horse of instant travel vs. . . . walking everywhere, I guess. It was kind of fun to read the responses.

  4. What you get from soloing in an MMO depends almost entirely on what you want from it, not on what the game mechanics provide. Probably my favorite MMO for soloing is Everquest. It was my first MMO and I had no idea you were even supposed to group. I started in late 1999 and it was pushing the summer of 2000 before i grouped regularly. Even then it was only on weekends.

    In the end I played a huge amount of EQ in groups but overall I've probably soloed ten times the hours I've grouped. I've played EQ for a LOT of hours, of course.

    Received wisdom will tell you that EQ is a forced-group MMO that was attritional to solo in for many, many years. It's nonsense. I loved and love soloing there and there was a vibrant soloing community back when EQ was the market leader.

    I have yet to find an MMO that isn't fun to solo and I've played a lot of MMOs. It's largely a meaningless division anyway. Just as all drivers are also pedestrians, all group players are also soloists. One of the great joys of MMOs is the way they can accommodate all kinds of playstyles alongside each other.

    The only development that I strongly dislike, which mitigates against player freedom in this respect, is the irritating trend for "personal stories" that take place in instances. That's akin to embedding a different game altogether within the MMO and it's a bad fit.

    Imposed, written story is very much not my thing but it's fine when it takes place in the open world where it can be incorporated into everyone else's real story, the one they are telling about themselves. Character progression that requires me to spend large chunks of time isolated in instances following storylines written by someone else is as offputting to me as forced grouping, which I also deplore.

    1. I certainly see your point. Though I enjoy the class stories in SWTOR, they do limit my ability to devolop my characters. What games besides SWTOR have extensive instancing of "personal stories"?

  5. The "main story" portion of LOTRO's "Epic Book" quests are instanced, and now most (all?) of them have been solo-ified. The rest of the game is standard MMO "kill ten rats" tropes, as are the filler sections of the Epic Books. But at least you have the *option* of bringing others in with you. But the story isn't *about* you, per se, it's more happening *to* you. Doesn't matter what class, race, or anything you are, it's just "here is our [the dev writers] story for you."

    STO has its Featured Episodes that are similar to LOTRO in that they are dev-written stories that happen to you, no matter who you are. They usually include profession-specific optional objectives, but that's the extent of any differences.

    GW2 has "personal stories" that are race-based rather than class-based like SWTOR. A good chunk of those are solo too.

    Then SWTOR has its class stories, which if I remember were solo but you could bring others into the rest of the content and include them in multiplayer quest dialogue.

    There's obviously room for these games, it's almost a merging of single-player RPG-type stories with the ability to play co-op during parts of the game too.

    I think what a lot of us /cough "old timey veterans" (or at least, this one) are aggravated about is that no one's really making [M]MOs anymore that lets us create and play our own story alongside you all who have your own stories rather than nothing but dev-created (and I'll include UGC tools such as the Foundry here too) content.

    If I play a Bounty Hunter in SWTOR my "story" will be the same as yours, because we didn't write it, the devs did and it's very specific content with a specific beginning, middle and end.

    But had you played the original SWG I will guarantee you that our stories would be much more vibrant and 100% different from each others.

    1. With STO being essentially a series of instances, I didn't think of the Featured Episodes as being unique other than new (at the time) and more involved content.

      It's also my understanding that GW1 is mostly instanced with the hubs being the only open areas.

      The LOTRO Epic Book stuff doesn't sound as personal as say, SWTOR, if it's the same for everyone.

      I can understand your frustration with not being able to "create" your own story. Have you tried Wurm?