Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's the Biggest Turnoff to MMOs?

Hate to beat a dead horse here, but The Zombie Thing in WoW really highlighted what many people see as a major flaw in the MMO system in general. Rock Paper Shotgun has an article that's been getting coverage regarding the general ass-hattery found in most people, and the problem with there being more than one person to play with (everyone has to get along). And yet, I really don't think THAT's the big problem. Looking at Halo 3 sales figures (8.1m copies sold as of last January; many more since then, I imagine), I have to wonder how many are in it for the solo campaign, and how many just enjoy shooting other people in the face in multiplayer. Playing Madden online is probably pretty popular, but I'm sure a portion of the crowd buying it enjoys just running through a season offline, too.

It's not that people hate playing with each other, it's that either a) MMOs cost money over and over each month, or b) the rules are too vague. Many arguments have been made that dollar for dollar, MMOs are pretty cheap. WoW or Warhammer (or pretty much anything following the 'standard pricing model') break down to being about 50 cents a day. For the same cost as a single $60 copy of Dead Space (ooh! space zombies!) that lasts approximately 12 hours from start to finish, I could quest and raid and do whatever in an MMO for about 4 months. Four months is 2976 hours. Obviously, you can't be playing every waking second, but if you could, you could.

In a game like Madden, there are stringent rules in place. It's a game of football. You have four downs to get ten yards or the ball is turned over to the others, and this goes on for four 15-minute quarters. It's pretty straightforward, and there isn't much room to complain about 'playing it wrong'. In Halo, you shoot the other guy until he dies. Again, pretty straightforward. In an MMO, however, there aren't clearly defined goals, or perhaps there are so many that people are going to be overlapping in certain situations chasing separate goals. One person may be out to level trade skilling, while another is looking for world PvP. These two endeavors come into conflict when Larry jumps Dave, who's just picking flowers.

PvE servers have labeled that a foul, and yet, here comes Blizzard turning everyone into Zombies, and suddenly this week is anything goes. People get all upset and complain about it, because it "wasn't what they signed up for", which is actually just not true. When you subscribe to an MMO, you're pretty much agreeing to be playing a game that involves other people, and to me, that's part of the draw. No wait, that IS the draw. If WoW was a single player MMO where I could have henchmen NPCs, it would bore the hell out of me, and I wouldn't bother playing it for more than a day. The fact that every single thing I do will affect (and be affected by) other people is THE BIG DEAL. I remember seeing the purchasable DLC for Oblivion on the Xbox that changed the look of your horse, and thinking specifically 'who cares? no one else will ever see it'. MMOs have effectively destroyed the enjoyment of single player games for me. I don't care about acievements, or having the best PvP shoulderpads, but if I'm running around in a world all alone, it feels pointless.

So back to the point, which is 'why doesn't this same draw attract more people?' WoW has a lot of players, sure, but it still has this negative association with 'normal people who just play Halo'. If WAR could be marketed as not 'elves and orcs questing with occasional conflict', but as an alternate version of Deathmatch with Swords (which it technically is, or can be, at least), would that break the seal and open the floodgates? What needs to change to get more people on board, or is that anything we as players really even want?


Anonymous said...

This is apparently not a problem in Warhammer, since that game is labeled as a PvP game. I haven't seen anyone complain about this yet, even in the Core servers.

Anonymous said...

How much more popular would you like the game to be? I mean 10 million active accounts is pretty intense.

I'm also not 100% sure what your question is. Are you asking why don't other people see the appeal or why they don't play? Because I really think those two questions are very different.

I think the appeal is pretty universal. But there is the time and money and social stigma. Not to mention lots of people can bearly handle their own lives let alone take care of essentially another.

Tesh said...

A couple of things, Ix.

The "MMOs are cheap" thing only applies if you have a surplus of time to actually play the thing. Calculating their cost on a per-time basis isn't helpful, since players have different amounts of time to play. Not only that, but as time goes on, MMO costs go up (as a sum total), but you could play that Madden game for nearly infinite time over a greater span of months with no further cost to you.

If you're looking at "charge for access", WoW has a flat rate of close to 50 cents a day, whether or not you actually play it. By the same metric, Madden (or any other offline single charge game) has a varying cost, depending on how much you play. That cost can be as high as $60/hour if you play it and then drop it, or as low as 1 or two cents per day if you play it a lot. Plus, you could get the game used and save even more money.

Madden's ROI goes up as the cost per time played goes down over time, but WoW's ROI goes down if you don't have an abundance of time per month to play it and as time marches on.

Put another way, if you play WoW and Madden for the same amount of time over the course of a year, Madden will come out as cheaper for the average WoW player. Over two years? Madden is cheaper for even more players. WoW may be "cheaper" for a month or two over a new $60 game, but over time, WoW's "value" drops significantly below that of an equivalent offline game if you're going to talk about "price per hour". It all depends on how you frame the calculations and how much you play.

That said, MMOs are indeed about playing with other people. Thing is, WoW is largely a static experience, and has banked mightily on that. It's effectively a single player RPG with optional multiplayer. It wouldn't play appreciably differently if it were offline with an online Auction House and a Raiding instance grouping interface.

WAR does a bit more to realize the potential of an MMO. The WoW Zombie event was closer to a "living world" MMO potential. No argument there. The trouble is that WoW has established its gameplay as something different, yet markets itself as an MMO. If it had been a dynamic, event-driven PvP world from the outset, things would be different. (And there would be fewer people playing it.)

The complaints come precisely because WoW is trying to act more like an MMO, yes. Their customer base, however, apparently doesn't really want that, and Blizzard has only themselves and the game design to date to blame.

Hatch said...

I thought the image at the top of your post hit the nail on the head: the stigma associated with swords & sorcery D&D type stuff, added to the stigma around video games (that is quickly fading), combined with the stigma of the fat catassers lampooned in the South Park WoW episode, all come together to prevent "normal halo 3 guys" and "normal women" (I guess the stereotype would be playing The Sims?) from playing WoW. You have to get over that stigma before being willing to play.

For many people, they got over it long ago when they started collecting comic books or whatever. For others, they were already socially outcast enough that it didn't worry them, or in a few cases they were normal people who just loved these games and had the courage to defy the stereotype. Curt Schilling, who openly tries to get other MLB players to play WoW with him (I hear Coco Crisp is addicted!), comes to mind. Video games in general used to have this stigma, until they started to become mainstream, progressing from Mortal Kombat to GTA to Halo to Guitar Hero, picking up coolness points along the way.

And that's why the game that will break the MMO stigma won't neccessarily by the one with the best ruleset or most innovative features. Or even the one that's the most fun.

The one to break fully into the mainstream will be the first MMO that couples WoW's level of polish with GTA's setting.

I'd put money on it.

Tom Phoenix said...

Tesh, it is the other way around. Singleplayer RPG`s have less static worlds since everything is driven solely on your actions, whereas in MMO`s there are other people to consider. When you kill a person in a singleplayer RPG, they stay dead whereas in a MMO they respawn. Singleplayer RPG`s just seem static since you are only one person and you can affect only so much. So your notion that WoW is a singleplayer RPG that calls itself an MMO is incorrect. If any MMO deserves even partially such a title, it is AoC which literally has a singleplayer portion.

And hatch, one could argue that WoW IS the MMO that has already made the genre mainstream. Not only are substantially more people actually playing MMO games today, they have even made an appearance in mainstream culture.

Lastly, krimspins, it is 11 million now. :) With replies out of the way, here are my thoughts.

I think the "negative" feelings about WoW and MMO games in general stems from the belief that such games are only played by addicts and that "normal" people would find them about as fun as, to quote Yahtzee, "a second job you have to pay for." The mainstream media does not help solve the problem by propagading that notion and publicizing incidents where (former) MMO players did something horrible.

Nevertheless, I think the genre has already broken the mold and ceased to be a niche interest. The people that do not want to play MMO`s are either those that believe the addiction theory or those that do not like playing any one game for a extended period of time. As such, there really is no reason to try and attract more people into the genre.

Anonymous said...

I mostly do PvE raiding, and the "draw" is being a part of the guild team. 'Leet Halo players on the other hand would rather fight "against" other people than "with" them.

So if you ripped out all PvE raids and went with all CTF, all the time, you might get some 'leet Halo players, but You'd lose most of my guild.

Rich said...

Solid points made regarding the cost / longevity ratio. I actually totally didn't consider the fact that once you buy Deadspace, you're free to play it till the wheels fall off your computer. With Deadspace in particular, I don't see that being realistic, but with a game like Counterstrike, it's a very valid point.

I'm also not 100% sure what your question is. Are you asking why don't other people see the appeal or why they don't play? Because I really think those two questions are very different.

What I mean is that, while someone may think 'playing Halo is one thing, but at least I don't play fucking World of Warcraft'. While it's great to wave around the big 11 million, I get the impression that playing MMOs in China is like having toast in the morning. It's just something you do. I also didn't realize they only pay 5 cents an hour! In that case, you could have a quarter in your pocket, and be like "meh, I'll give it a go" and Blizzard's accounting department high fives each other in their cubicles.

I think one of the biggest cockblocks is having to go out, BUY the game, INSTALL it, CREATE an account, PATCH it, PATCH it again, then PATCH it one more time before you can even choose Orc or Gnome. But this isn't unique to any one MMO, it's the same with ALL of them, and that may be one of the biggest barriers, considering I still get emails from friends in the states asking how to hook up a plug and play device, 6 years after I stopped working in IT and left the country.

Tom Phoenix said...

While it's great to wave around the big 11 million, I get the impression that playing MMOs in China is like having toast in the morning.

Then I guess the Chinese eat toast on a regular basis. :) Even so, half of that number are players from North America and Europe.

I think one of the biggest cockblocks is having to go out, BUY the game, INSTALL it, CREATE an account, PATCH it, PATCH it again, then PATCH it one more time before you can even choose Orc or Gnome. But this isn't unique to any one MMO, it's the same with ALL of them, and that may be one of the biggest barriers, considering I still get emails from friends in the states asking how to hook up a plug and play device, 6 years after I stopped working in IT and left the country.

Alas, that is the logical result of any game with a persistant world. As changes are done and more content is added, the core game simply will not suffice. Luckily, the installation of expansions spares you from downloading a lot of the patches.

Thules said...

Dear Ixo,

Maybe I am just retarded and didn't read a post about you moving, but you should make a post on Not Addicted (if you haven't already) about your blog here. I can't remember what exactly brought me to your blog here, but you should make it more well known because I, being the smack that I am, took a while to notice it.


PS. How is the Black Orc going? I am also a Black Orc on the Chaos Waste server (RP FTW!) and run a guild called Rasta Pirates (random name, just wanted Pirates involved... actually waiting to see how long before the name is changed by GMs) but I am completely tank specced and find it hilariously fun (being invincible and all)

PSS. Yes I know that was a long PS. Ya have a good new blog goin! Cheers!

Rich said...

yeah, i left the link in the replies to the last thing I wrote on the front page. I think it'd be a bit rude to make a full front page post saying "FUCK THIS SITE, GO HERE FROM NOW ON! WOO!"

I dunno if trevor is going to succeed in reviving the site, although I think he's gonna try, so yeah.

The orc is going good, although slowing down a bit. I've been 27 forever, and just not logging in (for anything really). I've been poking around in LBP on the PS3 and recently destroyed my main rig in an attempt to upgrade to a bigger HD that I didn't need. A clean install of windows is a good thing from time to time, and I actually just got back in last night for an hour or so. Three day weekend coming up, so I'll maybe get around to 30 if i plug away at it.

Rich said...





David said...

Just a shout-out to a fellow gamer in Japan. Hey look, we both know how annoying it is to get PC games and MMO accounts paid for in Japan! Now we're friends!


Do you get that weirdo feeling when you pass another obvious foreigner on the street and you don't know what to do? Wave? Nod? Say something stupid about 'us both being here'? Well, this is me doing that, but on a blog.

Rich said...

lol, nine times out of ten, we completely ignore the other foreigner! if we can pretend that there is no one else in our little town that could possibly understand us, it makes clinging to the "my life is so crazy, nobody gets it!" train of thought that much easier ;)

David said...

Yeah, I find avoiding all eye contact is the safest way to remain in my 'bubble', but living in a bigger city, its good practice to avoid all eye contact with EVERYONE, that way you wont get stabbed by the crazy ones.

Cap'n John said...

I'm an Aussie living in California, and I was also one of the few white guys attending the Chinese service at my Church (my wife & her family are Chinese), so I attracted a lot of attention for being white and Australian.

One time my FIL brought over a visitor to meet me. I don't believe the FIL knew him, I think he was just visiting friends, but he happened to be an Australian (Chinese-Australian) so the FIL felt compelled to introduce him to me. Never mind that this guy lived in Sydney, NSW and I was a country boy from Victoria. "Hey! You're both Australians! You must be best friends!"

That reminds me of when we moved into a new, bigger office building, and our satellite office finally merged with the main office. We have quite a few Filipino in our office, and one of the older Filipino ladies joyfully introduced my coworker to another Filipino lady, much like my FIL introduced the random Aussie to me. Unlike my FIL, the older lady went one step further and literally, and I do mean literally, tried to make my coworker and the third lady hug each other. She actually put a hand on the back of each of them and tried to push them into each other. "You don't know each other, but you're both Filipino! Give each other a hug!"

At a block party I went to recently there was an Aussie wearing a very loud green & gold Australian Cricket Team polo shirt (at least I think he was an Aussie, I never actually heard him speak and I didn't go up and introduce myself). My FIL stopped by briefly to say hello to the host and I was waiting for the bright green & gold Aussie Polo to attract his attention, but he totally missed it. It was only later that I recalled the FIL is color blind, so I avoided the embarrassment of him introducing me to another random Australian.

Like Ixo says, it's easier to avoid fellow foreigners. It's inevitable that you have nothing in common so the conversation usually follows these lines: "Hi, fellow foreigner. Where are you from? Oh, cool. I've never been there but I hear it's nice. gotta run. Maybe I'll see you around? Bye!"