Finding Peace With Massively Single Player Games

In the wake of last week’s beta there has been a lot of interesting criticism being produced about Guild Wars 2. Milady wrote about her concerns that the event system in GW2 is cooporative, but not particularly social. Azuriel published a piece arguing that Guild Wars 2 in fact encompasses many of the elements that fans usually attribute to the death of the MMO genre, such as overly easy world travel and a lack of guild security. And finally, Kadomi over at Live Like a Nerd compares the actual Guild Wars 2 product with Arenanet’s design manifesto and finds it unsurprisingly overhyped.

I thought about each of these posts for a while, and it seems to me that they’re all absolutely correct. The exciting new paradigm of PvE that Arenanet said they were bringing us is not only not that new (events = rifts that you can more easily ignore), but it seems like they’ve taken the next step and made a massively single player game. Certainly one could make an effort above and beyond the normal to meet people while rolling around the world, but otherwise your fellow players may as well not even have names, much like opponents in the World vs. World area.

Yes, more and more I have come to believe that PvE in Guild Wars 2 is just the next step in the arcade MMO, but I am left with a question: do I care?

I used to care. I suspect GW2 is going to do very well, and it’s just going to encourage other companies to push out more in this “new generation” of MMOs where no one ever groups or interacts. That’s not a direction I want for my PvE, so it’s kind of a bummer. I’m partially insulated from this by the fact that I plan to buy Guild Wars 2 entirely for the World vs. World, which provides the inconvenience and impetus for organization and communication that I like in a game.

More importantly, though, as this great post over at Levelcapped reminded me, I’m burnt out on fighting against fun. It’s not for me, but I can understand why (I think) millions of people are going to play PvE in Guild Wars 2. You work all week, you don’t wanna spend your leisure time engaging in social engineering, and you don’t have much time anyway. You just wanna log on and save a farm from some bandits for 30 minutes and feel like part of a larger world, even if the bandits will be back in 10 minutes for the next wave of nameless defenders. I don’t like it, but I get it, and once I accepted that WoW was a fluke and we are unlikely to ever have that kind of MMO singularity again.. aw hell, who am I to say that massively single player games are wrong? Go save your bandits.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a few days, and initially I wrote it with kind of a bittersweet ending. Liore gives up on worrying about MMOs, tired of hype and trying to stop the tide of adults who just want to play an online game and don’t give a crap about socializing or persistent worlds or special effort. I’ll learn to like it and stop fussing.

And then last night I installed Everquest II for a segment for the Cat Context podcast. Five hours later, I was still playing it. Everquest II is hardly perfect, but it is most certainly old school, and it reminded me of all the things I truly love about MMOs. The grinding, the huge worlds with crappy travel options. Houses and complicated crafting and insanely deep alternative advancement systems and open world bosses. Last night I was hanging around hittin’ stuff in the newbie area and some elite owl flew up behind me and killed me dead and it was REALLY GOOD.

I know that the big MMO money and possibly the large majority of players are moving towards a PvE model that is more arcade-like in nature than previous AAA titles. But at least now I know that while I am likely part of a small market, it IS a market, at least there IS a market. Guild Wars 2 might not have turned out to be the revolutionary PvE that I was hoping for, but I think it will be very successful and for now I feel like giving up worrying about it in favor of just having fun. Even if it’s in EQII.

Author: Jessica Cook

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6 Comments

  1. Which was the fluke part of WoW?

    If you are going to say amazingly exploding the number of online computer gamers from what was pretty much a niche to become what is now part of popular culture now, then I agree.

    But even that wasn’t a fluke. Blizzard was *THE* company when it came to game production at the point WoW was released and was coming off the high of the hugely popular Warcraft III real time strategy game (anyone remember RTS games?).

    The only other fluke I can think of was popularising a game with such cartoony graphics at a time when most game were moving to increasing complex and realistic graphics.

    *shrug*

    Maybe I missed something.

    Gobble gobble.

    Post a Reply
    • Indeed I meant the rise of the WoW multiple million MMO monolith. (Yeah, I had fun writing that.)

      I agree that Blizzard certainly knows how to create a good game, which helped WoW blow every previous MMO out of the water. But heck, even Blizzard themselves didn’t know what they were creating at the time, as evidenced by them being so unprepared for the initial rush of players.

      In 2004 the “geek culture revolution” started to gain a foothold, so playing an MMO became more socially acceptable. Cheap household high speed internet access was growing in North America, as was internet use and marketing. (I didn’t hear about WoW from friends or television, but a news blog I was reading at the time.)

      It was the right game, but helped by being in the right time and the right place, in my opinion.

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  2. Hmm…..

    “adults who just want to play an online game and don’t give a crap about socializing or persistent worlds or special effort”

    That’s a little harsh. I preferred the first way that you expressed it:

    “You work all week, you don’t wanna spend your leisure time engaging in social engineering, and you don’t have much time anyway. You just wanna log on and save a farm from some bandits for 30 minutes and feel like part of a larger world”

    I’d love to make the special effort and be a Guild member, raid leader, all that stuff. I did it for 7 years, but it put too much of a burden on my RL. I honestly hope GW2 does a really good job of providing the immersive huge online world that doesn’t require social engineering, and then other games (perhaps SWTOR?) can head in the opposite direction. Then surely we can all get along!

    One of the big things WoW gets wrong these days IMHO is that it tries to be both genres at the same time.

    Still, a very thoughtful post and I enjoyed reading it. I felt even more positive about GW2 afterwards :)

    Post a Reply
    • I fully confess to being a little abrasive there with my phrasing, but I think the meaning behind that sentence holds true. Socializing and challenge are not as important to “massively single player” fans as setting their own play schedule and being able to jump immediately into the action. If they cared more about socializing and persistent worlds and achievement, they’d probably play something else.

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  3. Very interesting, as some people see WoW as the first step toward the “single-player focus” in MMOs, and the continuing evolution in that direction as the biggest reinforcement of progress along this path.

    The problem from a developer’s point of view is that there’s a very vocal group that thinks that any sort of obstacle is bad, and learning from past games means embracing that type of design. It kind of stunts discussion and design possibilities when this attitude dominates the discussions. It is good to see some people embrace the fact that there are times when we do need to encourage some sorts of player behaviors. We’ll see if that’s enough to change the path of current MMO design, however.
    Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green´s last post: The defining moment for Storybricks

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    • Great point. My perception of when MMOs started becoming less social is totally colored by when *I* started being social in MMOs, which was Vanilla WoW. Upon reflection, I’m sure folks in earlier games would feel that the level of social engagement in WoW at that time was definitely catering to a more time-limited crowd.

      It’s turtles and single players, all the way down.

      (Oh, and good luck with the Kickstarter!)

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