Roundtable:
MMO Games & Social Busywork

  By Shamus   Feb 14, 2007   42 comments

This article looks like an excellent launching point for talking about what I think is one of the major drawbacks of Massively Multiplayer games. I am by no means a veteran of MMO games, but I’ve played a few. Every few years I pick one up and put a few weeks into it. I started with The Realm way back in 1996, and in 2002 I played Dark Age of Camelot. One thing I’ve noticed about the games I’ve played is that they all more or less require players to work together. (Note, I understand World of Warcraft eases this requirement, so that solo play is less painful. I haven’t tried WoW yet, so I can’t say.) This requirement makes sense at first. What’s the point in having a multiplayer game if everyone goes off in their own corner and does their own thing? But this cuts the other way, because it makes the player dependent on others to take part in their gaming experience. It’s usually exceedingly difficult to play these games alone. I’m not a big fan of this dynamic, and I think there are better ways to encourage people to play together without punishing them for not doing so.

But before I get started: I’m not sold on the idea that people need to fight together – or against each other – to make the game “multiplayer”. A lot of the multiplayer appeal comes simply from having others around so that you can trade, share tips, chat, or show off your avatar.

The typical MMO expects – and is designed around – certain behaviors. Players are encouraged to form groups of (about) four people of varying classes or skills. You’ll need the “caster” (someone who can deal tremendous damage but who is themselves pretty fragile) a “healer” (someone who can restore hitpoints during a fight) and a couple of “tanks” (people who are very durable, who can protect the others). The more a player strays from this expected ideal, the harder the game gets for them.

But all we’ve accomplished here is to take the basic single-player gameplay (kill monsters, earn XP and loot) and add a certain level of unrewarding busywork that must be done beforehand. The problem here is the inherent hassle of getting a group together with the right mix. They all have to be near the same level, of the right character types, interested in the same sort of fighting, and available for the same period of time. They need to find each other, agree on a leader, and pick a place to play. This is tricky for a bunch of strangers to pull off in a world where everyone is constantly coming and going. Suddenly you have a great recipe for wasting everyone’s time. (I’ll also throw in that not all of us are attention-starved extroverts. After a few hours of MMO gaming I’ve really had my fill of meeting new people. Some thrive on that, but some of us would rather make a small group of friends and otherwise keep to ourselves.)

The rewards in the game (experience and loot) increase with the strength of the monsters, but are divided by the number of players in the group according to some (usually) inscrutable system. This creates an incentive for groups to find a monster which is nearly their equal. Players have an incentive for joining a group, but they also have some pretty strong disincentives for letting more people join once the party hits the desired size. Once the group is finally formed and has reached their hunting spot, the group can’t expand (or their rewards will diminish sharply) or shrink (because they will be defeated) and so the desired party state is very volatile. Odds are that before too long a member of the group is going to need to log off and deal with real life. Since the game discourages having “extra” party members, the loss of just one person is often enough to put them all out of business. If someone leaves, the others will be obliged to stop fighting in order to recruit or relocate.

So you have a system where a tremendous amount of time is simply wasted trying to get a group of into the same place at the same time. In short, the social and cooperative aspects of the game are the chief source of friction to actually playing. Instead of multiplayer adding to gameplay, it becomes an impediment to gameplay. I don’t think this is the way things should be.

Part of the problem here is the pass / fail nature of “lethal” combat. If the gameplay involved some sort of non-combat goal, then the system would be more flexible. If the game involved something like building a ship, a lone player could do whatever the game requires to reach that goal. If some other people showed up to help then the rate of progress would naturally increase, and if they left it would slow down again. Most importantly, a player would never be obliged to stop having fun because someone else logged off. People have it in their heads that RPG gaming is about the risk of combat, and I don’t think it is. I think the real goal is simply accomplishing things. Preferably, but not necessarily, together.

This dynamic can be applied to almost any sort of positive activity. Digging tunnels, building objects, and harvesting resources are all things which can be done at any time, by any number of people. I think very few games have really explored this type of cooperative play, and I think there is a huge degree of untapped potential there. There is a lot more I can say about non-combat games, but I think that post needs to wait for another time.

At any rate, I think this type of flexible gameplay would be possible within a more traditional “monster fighting” game, although it would require major changes to the combat paradigm people have come to know. You would need to make player victory inevitable (or nearly so) which is going to raise some eyebrows. Humor me here, because I do think you can have a fun game even when the player’s life isn’t in constant danger.

Here is how I picture things:

So, let’s say we have a game were a level ten player will seek out a level ten monster. But the numbers work so that a group of six level ten fighters also fight level ten monsters – they just go through them faster. (I won’t belabor the mechanics here, but this is a perfectly reasonable setup.) This makes it so that groups can grow, shrink, split, or merge in the field, without interrupting gameplay. Like building a ship, completion of the task is a foregone conclusion (assuming they aren’t careless) and their satisfaction comes not from “winning”, but from the rewards they get and out of an enjoyment of the process itself. I know this will sound like heresy to some, but I don’t think danger is a required ingredient.

In our game, a player can beat a monster solo, as long as they don’t mind fighting for a long time. They can choose to seek out help to speed things up, but they aren’t obliged to stick around town looking for that help. They can charge out into the wilderness and look for friends as they go. Once they are part of a team, they know that having a teammate log off won’t force everyone else to flee to a safer area.

The gameworld is divided into regions with visible geographic boundaries. Some regions are good for players between levels one and four. Others are for players between two and six, and so on. As long as you don’t go into a region above your level, and as long as you rest when appropriate, you don’t have to really fear outright death. Defeating monsters then becomes a task like building or tunneling: You work on it until the job is done, with the understanding that the work goes faster with help.

This type of thing would be much more attractive to casual gamers, and would negate a huge number of headaches one normally finds in multiplayer games. Teaming up would be something for the more serious players, or for people who log in for hours at a time. People who can only play for one hour won’t be forced to waste most of it trying to hook up with a group.

Making combat “safer” improves the game in a lot of other ways. In traditional games, players tend to cluster in safe spots. They can’t explore at will, because they might blunder into a high-level monster that will wipe them out. In our game they will know they can move about freely, because the worst that can happen is a long fight. (That is, provided they don’t cross the river or ravine or whatever separates this region from the more dangerous ones.) They will be more likely to really explore the game world and even hunt on the move, instead of camping a spot where monsters spawn. The wilderness will be more enticing. Instead of having monsters appear in fixed locations, monsters will appear only in the gaps between groups of players. If a player wants to fight monsters, they have to seek them, instead of waiting for the next batch to beam in. Sure, the game is no longer “dangerous”, but the changing scenery will do a lot more to keep things interesting than the “danger” ever did.

This will also avoid the problem where suicidal fools would lead a party to their deaths out of impatience and greed. If the rest of the party is about to do something stupid, the cautious player can go back to soloing instead of following or finding themselves stranded alone in dangerous territory. (That is the #1 reason I no longer play these games. I’m a low-risk person by nature, and I got tired of getting killed by overzealous idiot companions.)

You could argue that this is diminishing the “multiplayer” aspect of the game, although I would counter that while people do indeed talk to one another while forming a party, there are more interesting ways for people to interact than repeatedly broadcasting, “NEED LVL5 WIZ 4 RUN 2 SHADOWLNDS PLS”. I don’t think that this sort of thing is all that “multiplayer”. I’m not even sure that you can count it as “social”. It’s only slightly more interactive than spam.

Right now MMO games are more or less like their single-player counterparts, except that you must form a team before you can have fun. A system like the one I outlined above would mitigate these drawbacks and would give players what they really want: To take the fun of the single-player experience and share it with others.


2020242 comments. (Insert played-out "meaning of life, the universe and everything" joke here.)


  1. Ryan says:

    I’ll right, I’m signing up for this game. When do you start development?

  2. Andre says:

    Shamus, you just described a large portion of World of Warcraft. You know, with the exception of elite instances and PvP.

  3. World of Warcraft is actually decent at this, until you get to the highest end raids. Some of the later stuff is a LOT of time (note: I don’t play WoW anymore because it sucked up too much of my time), but 90+% of the game is available if you’re willing to put in the time.

  4. Kevin says:

    Have you checked out Guild Wars? Let me point out a few things that you will probably like about it (based off this article)….

    – You only have to group for a very few quests, and those quests (at low levels) get you something that will let you revive another character.
    – There are NPC “henchmen” of different classes that can join you on an adventure. You pick the mix. Lower level has 4 slots, higher levels have 6 or more.
    – You can group with other people in towns.
    – Towns are the only place you will run into other real people. All the adventure zones are unique to you and those you are grouped with (henchmen or other players).
    – Looting cycles between real players. You can’t take something tagged for someone else (until after a set period of time).
    – The henchmen are actually pretty damn good at their crafts.

    A few non-in-game things that are nice:
    – No monthly charge. You buy the game, play when you want…set it aside and come back as you want.
    – If you want the upgrade, you buy that and install it (online or on media) and you are ready to go.
    – Patches happen as you play. Downloads go on pretty much continuously until you have them all. If you don’t play for a while, there is an initial “catch up” that may take longer…but hey, you haven’t played in a while. ;)

    The one thing I don’t like about it, it’s very scripted. Not as much so as NeverWinter, but it’s still pretty structured. You don’t *have* to do everything in their order, but you can’t go “off road” on your own so well.

    If you haven’t had a chance, check it out. It’s the only one I play anymore…when I have the urge.

    Peace.

    –Kev.

  5. Andre says:

    Guild Wars was fun for a while, but the game play was too monotonous and competitive: there were certain strategies you needed to adopt to get anywhere in the game, and if you weren’t up on those strategies, then not only would you get yelled at by your teammates, but you’d also get stomped by the competition. The whole thing became alphabet soup after a while, and if you didn’t know what the letters meant, you were some sort of untermensch. “WAMO LFG RAME + NEMO + 2 4 ACM2 /w B PST!!!”

  6. Roger says:

    Hmmm. What I find interesting is that you’re complaining that MMORPGs go too far in forcing people to group up and not let them solo, while Corvus is complaining that MMORPGs let him solo and didn’t force him to group up enough.

    I’m not entirely convinced these sorts of issues have more to do with any particular MMORPG system than with the tendencies of any individual player.

  7. Breklor says:

    I want to second Crusader Corim’s defence of World of Warcraft. I, like you, like to play solo a lot, and I’ve found – especially if you pick a suitable character class – that you can spend nearly all your time soloing in WoW and still progress at a reasonable pace. Some of the really sweet loot is only available if you posse up and hit the dungeons, but you can reach level 60 without doing a single multiplayer instance.

    Some of the character classes are not as effective for single player play. Like in D&D, a solo Wizard won’t generally get very far (although I have some friends who play Mages and scoff at my discomfort with soloing the class). WoW Priests are thinner-skinned than D&D Clerics and suffer similarly. But Rogues can use their stealth to explore vast quantities of the map, getting into and (usually) out of all kinds of trouble; and Hunters and their pets play a delightful hammer-and-anvil combination.

    So I would say WoW has at least taken some steps toward remedying the problems you’re discussing.

  8. Jeff says:

    Hmm… well, in response to Roger, it seems that the complaints (which I agree with) are more about what types are in existence currently. That implies there’s a market for a new MMORPG that fulfills Shamus’ criteria.

    I find that I agree about having a bunch of friends and a few close ones – back in the old days when I played MUDs, even if I joined a Guild, while the other members would be friendly, there’d be a handful that I’d regularly chat and group with.

    Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that we grew up with D&D? A few close friends and adventure? Of course, in D&D the DM adjusts difficulty for the number of players… but that’s too much for me to consider at the moment.

  9. dagnabit says:

    The problem with WoW is that from 1-60 (or I guess 1-70 now) the game is just fantastic for people who like to solo. Nearly everything can be done by yourself, or with a friend or two. Unfortunately almost everyone believes the game doesn’t truly *begin* until you reach the max level. At which point you need 39 friends to help you progress at all.
    I too am a huge fan of Massively Single Player games. I play MMOs because I enjoy talking to people, I enjoy buying and selling with people, I enjoy trading strategies with people, I enjoy helping someone else out or getting helped out with particularly tough things. But enforced grouping is pretty much a standard “feature” of all MMOs these days. And nothing irks me more than being forced to find a half-dozen Leroy Jenkins clones to help me make any progress.
    It’s one of the reasons that the only MMO I am currently subscribed to is City of Heroes/Villains, which is the most soloable game out there.

  10. Rask says:

    I was just playing the original Gauntlet today on the XBox 360 in multiplayer mode, and a lot of these complaints carry over. If you want to get to level 20, you need a good team with you, and everyone has to know what to do (as opposed to plowing straight into the enemy).

    If you’re stuck with people who think it’s fun to stun you on the stun levels, then you’re outta luck. Unlike the original arcade game, you can’t just reach across and belt the person. :)

  11. theonlymegumegu says:

    Take a look at Puzzle Pirates http://www.puzzlepirates.com/ Definetely not your typical MMO. Though, in some ways so much so that it probably attracts completely different people than things like WoW, EQ, GW, etc.

  12. Shamus says:

    I played Puzzle Pirates for a couple of months. I had a few paragraphs in there about it but then replaced it with the bit about writing about non-combat games some other time. It’s a very interesting game, and unique enough that it probably needs a few paragraphs of analysis to do it justice. Three Rings has some smart eggs on their team.

  13. Shamus says:

    “I’m not entirely convinced these sorts of issues have more to do with any particular MMORPG system than with the tendencies of any individual player.”

    Roger: I can’t argue with you there. It’s like Introvert vs Extrovert MOG. A game like the one I described would gain me, but lose Corvus. Now, it would be interesting to see if there was a way to please us both…

  14. Jacob says:

    One thing that City of Heroes does very well is scaling missions. The level of the monsters is dependent on the guy who “owns” the mission, but the number of monsters you will encounter (and how many bosses, lieutenants etc) are dependent on how many are in your group. This does, indeed, have the effect that groups can add and drop people pretty painlessly. I wondered what accounted for the difference in CoH, but I’m thinking that’s it. Add the “sidekick” and “exemplar” mechanisms that allow lower (or higher) level friends join a group they wouldn’t otherwise be able to and you have some innovative and effective ways to facilitate group play without making it mandatory.

  15. Michael says:

    There is an MMRPG out there that seems genuinely dedicated to allowing people to solo and genuinely devoted to allowing collective action by players to mean something, its Eve. Has thousands of players, with no shards basically colonizing a giant galaxy. You start play in an area that has already been colonized (and is pretty huge), but most of space is empty of NPC governmentts, has no rules, and up for grabs to any player run alliance that wants it. Staying solo and in safe space is totally viable, but the designers are big on the notion of risk vs. reward, so venturuing out into unsafe space has a lot of potential. Even has a fantastic and completely unique classless skill system. Its a pretty remarkable creation, and, given that its a free download, definately worth checking out.

  16. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Although it is the exact opposite of what you mention i figured I’d at least mention Dungeon’s and Dragon’s Online. This game literally requires you to be in a group beyond the very first mission. The great part is that you only get experience through completing a quest and not just farming monsters. The thing I like about it though is its set up for finding parties. There is a menu that you can bring up that shows all groups looking for members and exactly what class they still are looking for along with anything else they’d like to add. The game is horrible with how much it requires a party, but the party finding feature it has is definitely something that needs added to more games.

  17. Farvana says:

    A few games I want to talk about here.

    First off, someone mentioned EVE Online. Now, I fully believe EVE is a fantastic game, IF you have four hours a day to give to it, and you fall in with a decent corporation. All of the niftier features of the game involve corporate interactions. You CAN solo, and get a damned good character by way of putting enough time into the game (thanks to the level system being geared towards time spent instead of use of a skill or number of kills)… but you won’t get nearly the money or recognition you would if you were in a corporation.

    City of Heroes/Villains was my first real MMO. I signed on two years ago, and I’m still playing. The group mechanics in that game are wonderful, unless you find that overzealous moron. You can generally have any mix of ATs, but it makes a HUGE difference in tactics. If you’ve got a ton of tankers (high hit points, medium damage) and scrappers (medium hit points, high damage), you’ll be smacking down everything as fast as possible. All blasters (in your analogy, wizards), and you all focus on the high HP/high damage enemies, then spread the damage around. The worst mix would probably be 8 defenders (healers); fights would take FOREVER, and you have to be extra careful not to draw too much attention. Unfortunately, CoH/V is about combat, and ONLY combat. When the next issue hits with the crafting system and better enhancement diversity, I think it will finally be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with these snotty fantasy MMOs.

    WoW… I don’t think encourages grouping enough. At least, not the small groups I’m fond of. A six person group is ideal, I’ve found; vital roles can be filled by more than one person, and people are generally open and sociable in a group that size. 40 man raids? How the hell do you distinguish others? Or yourself? Basically it turns into “Hey, priest, need a heal!” “Mages, hit that dragon with all you’ve got!” You aren’t a character, you’re a role. Not to say that isn’t fun, but it’s altogether less memorable that way. You don’t remember who you did it with beyond this nebulous group whose membership can change hourly. Add to that the bland fetch missions and you’ve got a rather uninteresting game. The PVP is stellar, at least.

    D&DO isn’t that spectacular in anything but dungeon design, which it would have to be.

    I’ve played a fair amount of MMOs, and yes, they’re fun for a while, but they aren’t anywhere close to where they should be. I’d rather sit down with a console, for the most part.

  18. Dreamflight says:

    If you’re looking for an MMO that doesn’t require grouping in order to advance, you might be interested in Runescape. There’s a few minigames and boss monsters for members where people team up, and a couple of quests (out of almost 120 total) that call on you to work with someone. But it’s technically not a “group”, as they each are getting their own XP for their own efforts, instead of having the XP split automatically.

  19. I’ve said before (albeit not here) that this all flows naturally from choosing to ape D&D levels in your MMORPG, which is grossly unable to sanely rise to MMORPG scales without a whole of lot dumb stuff that is just dumb. Grinding is the worst but far, but a lot of other stupidities flow naturally from this artificial system.

    Puzzle Pirates is interesting because it has no levels (AFAIK), and the differences naturally flow from that.

  20. LemmingLord says:

    Remind me again why you don’t have your own game studio? :D

  21. Farvana says:

    Another (not so) little interjection…

    Runescape is a joke. Always has been, always will be. I hate to be so negative about it, but it’s literally the game all the middle schoolers play instead of working in their computer classes. It’s free and it reflects that.

    Puzzle Pirates isn’t really an MMORPG. It’s MMO, for sure, and it’s the best translation of all those little puzzle games you see on the web (bejeweled and such), but I don’t think it’s really in the scope of the conversation here.

    Jeremy: see EVE Online for a different system. The levelling system that D&D established has pretty much defined RPGs, though, MMO and otherwise. I don’t really see that changing any time soon. If it happens, I don’t think the resulting games will be labelled RPG, no matter how much actual roleplaying goes on.

  22. Yunt says:

    I started with Star Wars Galaxies at launch with a wookiee with the intention of becoming a Master Creature Handler, Master Ranger and little other direction. I was able to achieve these goals in about 3 months. I played for about 1 year, 9 months after that time. I strayed only briefly into crafting when the infamous Holocrons were introduced but decided that I hated it so much that my character integrity and fun gameplay was far more important than the Force Sensitive rewards.

    The early game, before the combat rebalance, later “Combat Revamp” was skill-based rather than level based. There was a good deal of combat involved, if you were that sort of character, but there was also a lot of prospecting and crafting. There was significant economic competition amongst players to produce weapons, armor, mining equipment, harvesters, etc. to higher and higher specs. It was, in fact, the game you describe above.

    Then, between SOE and Lucasarts somewhere, it was decided that the non-combat game should be thrown away, combat should be rewritten to be more like the all-but-departed Planetside and that marginally combat oriented classes should be re-purposed as martial versions of their formerly nuanced selves. After that decision was made and even before it was fully implemented, the game turned to total crap.

    Casual gamers couldn’t really find satisfaction in being ganked for the 80th time by someone who was already a griefer before the changes and roleplay was reduced to emotes. There’s only so much immersion/verisimilitude involved in “/me dances seductively” and “/me gets kidnapped”.

    I spent most of my time online on Endor as a hunter/explorer. I was a typically acting as a tactical solo fighter, just my pets and myself, who could still pay the bills by taking on creature hunting missions and selling my stuff on the player run markets. Then my pets got nerfed because they were deemed immersion breaking and then my non-combat abilites got nerfed for apparently the opposite reason. I was a gun on legs, and I quit playing and paying.

    I have a Guild Wars account and I enjoy it every once in awhile. I play City Of Heroes quite a lot and it’s the most at-ease I’ve been with an online game since the early SWG which still didn’t really rival my experiences in The Realm almost 10 years earlier.

  23. David V.S. says:

    I’ll also recommend Guild Wars. For some reason I don’t understand it has a few role-playing guilds (the game is not especially conducive to this). Thus ther are groups of mature players who type in full sentences, and do not grumble with impatience if you want dialogue to include some hints of character personality.

    Back when I played, a guild-mate finished the game solo, using only the NPC henchmen, just to show it could be done. So I know for sure that teaming up with real people is optional, as you describe — it speeds up a process but is never necessary.

    The combat does get monotonous, but that only lowered the game to an “enjoyable but not too addictive” status. The settings are beautiful and varied, and until you finish the sense of progress remains continuous and intellectually stimulating as you experiment with and sometimes master new skill combinations.

    I cannot comment on the PvP side of the game (arena combats), never having done that seriously. I also played before the two expansions were released, so I do not know how they changed the game.

  24. TalrogSmash says:

    Dear Farvana,

    F2P runescape is a joke. At the same time it is the most ingenious advertisement scheme for any online game yet. I still dont understand why the concept hasn’t been stolen by every game since. The Member version of runescape is quite a full, varied, and interesting game. Oh, and EVERY game ever released has its fair share of middle schoolers with more of momie’s money than the sense god gave a turnip. Ignore them like you do in every other game you have ever played and you will find this one quite enjoyable as well.
    For the worst online gaming experience ever due to community filled with tards, see Tibia.

  25. […] makes his Round Table debut with an explanation as to why MOGs could stand to be more like a SPG (link). Welcome, […]

  26. Corvus says:

    Thanks for joining in the Round Table Shamus!

    I want to address Roger’s idea that I wouldn’t enjoy the type of game you’re describing here, because this sort of mechanic would appeal to me quite a bit. Why? It’s a more genuinely social style of play. If I choose to group it’s because I choose to be a part of a cooperative, not because I can’t handle the next challenge.

    I do not want to be forced to group when playing a MOG, I want to have quality opportunities to interact in a meaningful fashion. I want game rules that recognize and reward multiplayer social behavior. I want, in other words, a role playing game… not an action RPG in a shared space.

    My post is more about how a single player DESIGN is limiting the medium. EQ and WoW are essentially single player games which require you to group in order to beat the difficulty curve.

    A combat system like you describe allows for autonomy but provides rewards for grouping. This is far more in line with my own design maxim, “Reward desired behavior. Discourage undesired behavior.”

    Hopefully this make my position more clear!

  27. dagnabit says:

    I tried EVE for a bit, but my view is that the problem with EVE is that it is *too* close to reality. It’s just too huge and all-encompassing. Moreso than any other game I can think of, EVE is like having a completely separate second life that you lead. Unless you have enough free time on your hands to devote yourself fully and completely to it, you aren’t gonna get much out of it.

  28. BlckDv says:

    Long time lurker, first time poster. *grins*

    First; DM of the Rings brought me here; I’ve been playing TSR/WoTC games since I was a small child (My uncle sat me down with his Chainmail group). I’ve loved the site, and have been very happy with what I came to think of as the “bonus” content; all the great columns and essays between DM of the Ring episodes.

    Now, to chime in on World of Warcraft (WoW). I avoid Everquest like the plague, I watched some friends play.. and it seemed no fun, more work than play.

    A friend bought me a copy of Planetside; and I actually had some fun.. there are no monsters, just the various teams of players fighting for goals… which was neat, but not an idea that could hold me well enough for a monthly fee.

    After that, I bought City of Heroes. I loved the modern setting, but quickly got fed up with the game punishing me for choosing to solo when my superteam was not on instead of making a pick up group, and the lack of any content outside of “smash more badguys” wore on me.

    So, with reluctance, I got WoW… I was afraid of an EQ like game; but boy was I wrong. I tried a few classes out, found out where my friends played, and made up a Hunter. I was in heaven. when friends of similar level were on, we’d team up and quest… when they were not, I’d use the social channels to chat, while hammering down solo runs; I was able to hit level 60 in under 2 months of gameplay (fast, but nothing like the “hardcore”) with less than a third of my time being in groups.

    The game is set up into great zones that are each for a specific level range; and you usually hunt in the same zone solo or on a team; you just change the tempo. There are several zones for each level, so you don’t have to repeat the same missions every time you level. The big party Dungeons with the “big bosses” are in what are called Instances; where when a team goes in, they spin off into their own world.. so you always get to kill the boss you came for, and casual players don’t have large teams camping the hunting areas. The game also has special story lines for each race and class, so when you roll a new toon, you get to look forward to finding out new bits of story mixed in with plots you may already know.

    Then came the reality… I had to join large teams (20-40 man) to make any progress at 60. That was a major change, and made me rather sad… but Blizzard was not idle and saw that most of their players did not like this.

    They have made many changes over several patches; and now the solo loving guy can have loads of fun. Yes, the “Highest” content is still dungeons… but it is a mix of 5 man and 25 man dungeons; no more 40 man plan it a month out nightmares.

    The play is nicely balanced so that it is easy to find a pick up group when your guild is not around… and even better, there are many “side goals” you can work on solo at max level when you don’t feel like doing a dungeon. You can do quests for gold, you can kill the enemies of certain groups to raise your reputation and gain access to better gear and recipes (without having to do the dungeon runs) you can work on your crafting skills and make things for your friends or to sell… it is great.

    Perfect? Not even… but I’m working my third PC up to the new max level now; and am actively excited to play more after him.

  29. GreyDuck says:

    Farvana: Dammit. Now I want to try getting an 8-‘fender team together in CoH. I suspect it would be not only viable but a downright hoot to play, given the right mix. (Let’s see… only need one Emp’, a couple of Kin’s, Dark optional, at least one Rad, and if a bubbler wants to join in I won’t say no.) Sure, it won’t be quite as rude as Corruptor Days in CoV (if you’re on Protector, we run most Sunday afternoons and Tuesday nights!) but it could come close. (I love Corr’s. This may be on account of playing a lot of “Offender” builds in CoH before CoV came out, however.)

    My point, such as it is, being that there’s very little in CoH/V preventing you from running any given mix of ATs. It may be harder than running the “optimal” team mix (whatever that might be), but if you’re willing to adjust your playstyle to the mix at hand you can still accomplish goals and (more to the point) have fun trying something different.

  30. Dave says:

    I continue to be amazed at how many people have never played Neverwinter Nights (the first one) with a DM running it.. They all played it right as it came out and then shelved it. This game has had 6 YEARS of company support plus a TON of community support.. and now it is a very good tool to play D&D on-line.. without running everywhere.. without worrying about level differences in the party .. I’m not talking the PW (persistant worlds).. though PWs can be good.. I’m talking one person being the DM.. running the NPCs.. moving the monsters.. the computer calculating combat and showing what happens.. PCs able to use skills.. the DM able to implement the results.. climb.. swim.. fly..

    I just find it funny how people will try something once then never go back. NWN was buggy as all other new games are.. now it’s good.. and people are abandoning it for a new buggy game NWN2..

    Anyway.. go to NeverwinterConnections.com and check out their guide to roleplaying .. it gives the guidelines that many of us use there.. like no running.. no meta-gaming..

    search the DMFI.. DungeonMaster Friendly Initiative.. which makes DMing even easier.. honest… you’ll even have players quoting Python and complaining about copious backstory…

  31. Corwin says:

    GreyDuck: Try a team of 8 mind controllers sometime, it’s a blast. We built a supergroup on that model over on Virtue, and get together every once in a while for “Bug Night” (it’s an insect-themed SG). The combined confuses, holds, and sleeps is just insane, and multiple levitates always make for rag-doll physics fun.

  32. Miral says:

    You also might want to have a look at Myst Online. It’s an MORPG in the other sense (no levelling, but you can roleplay social behaviour) where just about everything can be solved single player, but you can also solve things multiplayer too if you want. And coming shortly will be something similar to what you described: missions where a few people can build things up slowly, or many can work together to build them up more quickly.

  33. ngthagg says:

    The hypothetical game you describe reminds a lot of Diablo II, actually. Consider:

    You fight the same monsters solo and multi. The game scales the difficulty slightly to keep the risk about the same, so the only difference is the speed at which you go through mobs. Players can join or leave as they choose.

    Areas have clear geographic divisions, with difficulty being constant within an area. Clearing an area is a matter of time, and the possibility of death doesn’t depend on how many party members you have. (To a certain extent. Smart skill mixing can make a group greater than the sum of its parts, obviously.)

    Dying is safer in Diablo II as well. As long as one person survives, the dead players can resurrect and come back through a Town Portal in seconds.

    Casual players can play Diablo II solo without difficulty, while more hardcore players can spend time with groups. I’ve done both at different times and enjoyed both styles of play.

    Wilderness exploring is a key part of Diablo II. With random maps and random spawn points, players have to go out looking for fights, rather than waiting for spawns. If you (or your party) are not ready to move on, reset the map and explore it all over again.

    The only problem, of course, is that Diablo II is not an MMORPG. However, it is not too far from a game like Guild Wars, and if it were released today it could quite easily be modified to fit the genre.

    The biggest reason I bring up Diablo II is that it addicted myself and my roommates like no other game. Even World of WarCrack came and left our house in about six months. What made the difference?

    Real single player fun–Playing WoW single player is like going to Disneyland while in a wheelchair. Sure, there’s stuff you can do, but the most interesting things aren’t available. This meant that with Diablo I could do anything I wanted even if no one else was playing, but with WoW I’m stuck collecting boar meat unless I decide to team up.

    Unpredictable rewards–Maybe I was just unlucky, but I never got any really interesting gear from playing solo. A majority of my equipment comes from stores, from crafting, from quests, from multiplaying generous friends, or from instances that I did with a group. The first four things offer very little excitement. Only the last gives any thrill, and that is mitigated by the rushed pace of playing in a group. (If you find something, you better equip it and put it to use, because your party is already on the next mob.) In Diablo, boasting about items found while soloing was one of the best parts of playing. Knowing there was always a chance to get a unique from the zombie just outside of town meant even the most casual play had merit.

    Fewer, bigger accomplishments–When I look at my lvl. 39 mage, what has he done? He’s basically run errands for dozens upon dozens of people. Hundreds of little tasks with little meaning. Why would I care that Farmer Brown now has a dozen herbs collected, or that Guardsman Joe will be bothered by fifteen fewer wolves from now on? Especially when the nature of the game encourages the view that nothing really changes anyway. The only significant thing I accomplished was eliminating the Defias threat. But since only the quest-giver really cared that I had killed the leader, my accomplishment there seemed pretty insignificant. In Diablo, the quests may be fewer, that they have some weight to them. When you fight the Lords of Terror, Chaos (?), and Destruction, people notice. The promise of MMORPG’s is supposed to be a living, breathing world, but instead you get a very static environment. In order to keep the experience the same for everyone, nothing ever changes.

    ngthagg

  34. Zack says:

    I’ve noticed that a lot of people have commented on the endgame content of WoW and the fact that the endgame raids require 40 people is a bad thing. I agree with you. I’m an avid WoW player and I’ve gotten a character to level 61 so far. Never once did I do one of the 40-man instances. Now, with the expansion (which raised the level cap to 70), the NEW endgame instances only require 25 people. This is a vast improvement to me. In spite of this fact, however, I’m not excited about the big endgame instances. The vast majority of the entertainment I get from this game is from finding new tactics to use against the AI monsters and also jumping people in world PvP.

    I’m not a big fan of the battlegrounds (special zones reserved for large armies of opposing factions to PvP each other) and I’m not a fan of any instance that requires more than 5 people. I’ve been playing the game for 8 months now and I love it. There’s so much stuff to do, so many things to see, and lots of Warcraft lore to uncover along the way. The zones are clearly divided and levels of the creatures are easily visible to the player which allows them to assess the threat they pose. Everything Shamas described applies to this game. I highly recommend it.

  35. Carl says:

    Robin Laws made a post recently that you might enjoy, both the main text of the post and the link at the bottom to “Seven Things I Learned While Playing World of Warcraft”.

  36. theonlymegumegu says:

    “Jeremy Bowers Says:

    Puzzle Pirates is interesting because it has no levels (AFAIK), and the differences naturally flow from that.”

    It doesn’t have a level system per se, but it has a ocean (read: server) ranking system, based on how good you are at the puzzles compared to everyone else in the ocean at any given time.

  37. […] jump off here, I read Shamus’ post here on, essentially, problems with MMOs and possible solutions. Shamus seems to describe a system […]

  38. Tola says:

    Casual players can play Diablo II solo without difficulty, while more hardcore players can spend time with groups. I’ve done both at different times and enjoyed both styles of play.

    …Not entirely. Such holds true for Normal, and some of Nightmare. Hell, though…

  39. sybill says:

    Well i guess I’ll put my reviews in here since i’ve been playing mmo’s for about 7 years or something stupid like that.

    step one- Runescape. Played F2p for about a year then members world for about 3.
    pros-Great game for skill building. It has got to be the most skill specific game out there. And the quests are fun too so long as you avoid “one small favor”.
    cons-Jagex does not care about their customers at all. If your account gets hacked or you get racially or sexually harassed you don’t have a leg to stand on. if someone is selling RS stuff in the real world they are there so fast it’s scary. (priorities mixed up in my opinion)

    Step 2-FFXI (Final Fantasy Online)
    one of the most beautiful games i had ever seen. the magic of it used to follow me into my dreams of wizards and times of beautiful trees and creatures. The people used to be so nice and caring and fun to group with.
    cons- Very forced co-operative play if you wanted experience. And the money was hard to make. Then Square Enix made it harder to get by taking billions out of the economy. With a fragile economy the players turned on each other and eventually forced 90% of the population out of the game. The game is now populated by Gil sellers (People that sell FFXI Gil for real world money) and the last few people that think it will come back by some grace of the god’s of vanendiel (maybe it will.. maybe it won’t but until it does…)
    Step 3-
    World of Warcraft
    Amazing solo play abilities and after a mess like FFXI that was exactly what i wanted (and not to play a healer). So i rolled a druid ..(ya i know a healer…but i spec’d balance for those that know what that means lol) and my boyfriend played a rogue. not completely solo but a wicked team of 2. We could go to areas people many levels higher than us would dare not tread. we quested, i picked flowers, he fell off cliffs.. Leveling was a blast. …. Then we hit 70….
    cons- at level 70 you are doing one of 2 things
    1. rep grinding. This can be fun but again can be boring depends on what faction you are after.
    2. Raid..raid..raid..
    this can be tedious and does require other people. sometimes 5 sometimes 25 but… if you get in a guild with people you LIKE BEING AROUND (i emphasize this because i seem to have found one of those guilds and it makes ALL the difference) it really can be fun. And you don’t have to raid if you don’t want to. You can roll a new character and do the fun leveling thing again. Play one of every race lol. see all the different starting zones and explore both factions it’s a hoot.

    well i hope my long winded summary has helped yourself and anyone else on choosing an MMORPG if they were thinking of one of these 3 here.

    good luck

    p.s
    humm ngthagg
    “but with WoW I’m stuck collecting boar meat unless I decide to team up.”
    I think your just really unlucky. I got all kinds of cool stuff leveling. *passes ngthagg her dice* maybe this will help :)

  40. Game Balance Issues says:

    I think the problem with the image of MMO’s that Shamus describes is that it only considers gameplay in a PvE situation. Its not so much that this diminishes the multiplayer aspect, but it should be kept in mind that the same game mechanics used to fight monsters are also applied to fighting versus other players. In other words, if it was possible to have a balanced team consisting entirely of fighter types, then in essence, all class types would have to be capable of dolling out exactly the same amount of damage, withstanding the same amount of damage, as well as having equivalent healing capacities. This sort of set up would completely eliminate any need for certain types of play, such as player support (a heal class, for instance) as well as making gameplay terribly bland by mitigating any real differences between classes. Of course, this wouldn’t be such a terrible thing in a classless system, but even still, a large portion of satisfaction in these games comes from knowing that you can do more damage, or heal more, or perform better in a certain situation, etc., than other classes of comparable levels.

  41. Pete says:

    “If the game involved something like building a ship, a lone player could do whatever the game requires to reach that goal. If some other people showed up to help then the rate of progress would naturally increase, and if they left it would slow down again. Most importantly, a player would never be obliged to stop having fun because someone else logged off.”

    One word: Farmville. See Facebook.

    I find the idea attractive; a single-player game that has some minor benefits stemming from multiplayer features. As you said before, you can play it on your own all you want, or you can “hire your neighbors” to help you harvest your crops, keep your farm groomed, etc.

    It seems like persistent-world scenarios are only geared toward “RPGs” like Evercrack or World of Warcrack. What if someone made a persistent-world game based in a Zombie apocalypse? For example, every shard is a different town or city somewhere in the world. The players have to keep the defenses in their city operational in order to keep the zombies out. Entirely Player-vs-Environment (PvE), the entire goal of the game is for the players to keep their city safe.

    The persistent-world effect comes into play here. All of the players on the shard are working toward a single common goal, meaning that you could save the entire city yourself, but having a whole bunch of players chipping in makes the goal easier to achieve. (Or harder… more players = defenses that degrade faster, zombies hit harder, etc.)

    In true MMO fashion, then, you could have shard-vs-shard competitions of some type. For example, one shard researches a liquid that attracts a giant horde of zombies. They build a trebuchet or slingshot which then shoots the liquid at another shard, causing their zombie population to rise. The increased population means that their defenses degrade more quickly for a time. In response, the second shard researches a substance similar to napalm and launches it at the first shard, destroying a certain number of defenses.

    Persistent-world scenarios offer both necessary single-player activities such as repairing defenses, researching tech, etc. as well as optional multiplayer benefits and competitions (shard-vs-shard battles, increased production/repair time, etc). Why ain’t no one done this yet?!

  42. Dreadjaws says:

    Indeed. What really bothers me about MMORPGs are the areas in which you’re forced to play in a group, because most of the time you will pick up at least one jerk who will care only for himself. Even when those areas are few and far between they can ruin the game for some people (like me).

    For instance, I’ve never been able to go through the endgame mission in Champions Online (Therakiel’s Temple). Not only is the mission excessively long (several hours for people who know it well), it’s pretty much impossible to make without a group no matter how strong your character is, because there are puzzles which require several members.

    But the thing is, it’s not the difficulty or the time required which turn me off. It’s that every single time I’ve attempted that mission at least a couple of members decided to start arguing and leaving several hours after starting, no matter how high my efforts to calm them down. Sure, if you reach long enough you can get an item which allows you to continue from a checkpoint, but when hunting for new team members they need to have the item too, which reduces the chances of finding members.

    Besides, after all that time looking for members to start the mission, playing until they fight themselves and then going back to look for new members you just don’t want to continue anymore.

    BTW, in case you ever read this, the game has improved a lot since you left it, Shamus. It still has those issues with teams I just mentioned, but overall the experience is great. Even the writing has severely improved in the new missions.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] makes his Round Table debut with an explanation as to why MOGs could stand to be more like a SPG (link). Welcome, […]

  2. By Are MMOs Sustainable? at Augury on February 20, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    […] jump off here, I read Shamus’ post here on, essentially, problems with MMOs and possible solutions. Shamus seems to describe a system […]

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