Thought for the day.

Did Guild Wars and others get it right? Is it in part why WAR failed? Is the mainstream desire for MMOs actually based around instanced personal content, as opposed to the generic open world content that the genre began with?

World of Warcraft’s LFD tool has many people now levelling their way to the cap pretty much exclusively through instances; Lord of the Rings Online has a large chunk of its population now tucked away in Skirmishes as well as the instanced book, dungeon and raid content. Warhammer Online has many failings, but a major one seems to have been that many players preferred the instanced scenarios over the open world RvR; granted there were many reasons for this outside of the nature of the way the content was partitioned, but it can’t help but be noticed that the instanced game worked, and worked well, where the open one failed.

I wonder if Syncaine’s general lament that real MMOs are a niche market rings true, and that what we are currently experiencing is an evolution of a new branch of gaming which tends towards the instanced solo and small group content that has been available in WoW and other MMOs for some time, but like Guild Wars, is now becoming more prevalent and in many cases the focus of further development of these games at the sacrifice of an open world design.

I have to wonder if Blizzard’s Cataclysm expansion isn’t a massive blunder on their part, because it appears at first glance that a huge percentage of their player base is not interested in open world adventuring as anything other than a way to progress their character to the end game as quickly as possible; when given another viable alternative, as the new LFD tool now does, will there be enough critical mass in the open world zones to make them work for any considerable length of time after release, or will it be a lot of wasted effort on Blizzard’s part to provide new content to the apparently small subset of solo players in their community who are actually still interested in that sort of content?

9 thoughts on “Thought for the day.

  1. Melmoth Post author

    Instant gratification is the key, I think.

    Instanced content gets you straight into the action, with no messing around. No lengthy travelling, no wandering around trying to work out if you’re in the right place, or if these are indeed the precise sub-species of marmot that you’re supposed to be harvesting for spleens.

    It somewhat explains the WoW tourism effect: many WoW players try a new MMO, get instant gratification from the initial levels because most MMOs give you quick, easy advancement in a contained area until you find your footing. At the point where the exploration and uncertainty kicks in, most players quit and go back to the familiar instant gratification that they can get from WoW.

    It’s not to say that there isn’t a desire for traditional MMOs, but the huge mainstream market games such as WoW will primarily cater to the instant gratification crowd.

    If you look at society as a whole, instant gratification and impatience dominate; the demands of the general public on anything commercial are always for it to be faster, leaner and more immediate. Here. Now. Why am I having to wait?!

    Why would their gaming concerns be any different?

  2. Zoso

    Would certainly be interesting if the biggest thing keeping people away from the post-Cataclysm world was their own LFD tool… And of course SW:TOR seems to be heading in a similarly instance-y/NPC companion sort of direction, much to the disgust of certain lunatics, which looks good to me.

  3. pjharvey

    It would be a shame for me if MMORPGs as a genre were considered niche, as the ‘explorer’ side of me still appreciates the world at large. Even flying back from Uldaman last night, across the snow of Dun Morogh, a journey I have made many dozens of times, I still took time to enjoy the scenery and virtual life I was passing over. Travel times may be frustrating occasionally, but the journey can also be its own reward.

    It will be interesting to see how Blizzard redesigns Azeroth after the cataclysm. The level cap is only being raised by five levels, and there must be more enticement to the expansion’s changed continents than the compulsion to level a worg or goblin alt.

  4. Stabs

    Superficially the “boring bits” just seem like gameplay elements that the game would be better without. After all pugging in WoW has now moved on from frustrating wait for a tank and healer to a much more short wait, down to seconds in many cases, and travel to instances is not anything most people would miss.

    However the genre is clearly diverging along the lines of appallingly harsh in one corner (Darkfall and Eve) and superficial and facile in the other corner (WoW). I do think the right game is out there for everyone and the genre as a whole is healthy.

    I don’t think WoW will continue its reign as the best game (arguably) for every type of player. I think for some time it has been a contender for
    – best explorable world
    – best hardcore pve (raids)
    – best casual pve (dungeons, soloable outdoor content and interesting quests)
    – best casual pvp (battlegrounds)
    – best hardcore pvp (high end arena, ganking)

    It really has had a good run as a very strong game but it’s starting to collapse under its own weight:
    – mudflation, gear gap gets bigger and bigger with each increase.
    – horrible economy, meaningless crafting, nothing to buy except fluff.
    – loss of the colour status of gear – used to be exciting to change the colour of a piece of gear from green to blue to purple, now all end game gear is purple.
    – unpleasant community.

    I think Cataclysm will be a big splash, in fact I’ll probably go back for it, but I think they will really really struggle to keep players after it’s a month or two old.

    I don’t think it will have lasting replayability because the exp curve is so fast (and of course players can get triple exp by two-boxing a second account) and alting is dull repetition of the same quests.

  5. Tesh

    Don’t forget that WoW is old. (Or old as far as games go…) The player base is clumped at the level cap, and has been for a while now. As a general rule, people already weren’t exploring the vast overworld of WoW; they had already finished what exploration they were going to do (to get through the leveling grind). They were already playing instanced group dungeons, the new tool just makes it easier to get in and play. It facilitates the existing dominant playstyle.

    Explorers will always explore. I’ve been beta testing Allods Online, and more than half of my time has been just looking around, taking screenshots, poking into the world lore and design. If I were still playing WoW, I’d still be exploring, putzing around with alts and just seeing what I can find in the world. Dungeoneering just doesn’t hold much interest for me in the long run.

    That said, I do think there is a market for a game that is effectively all “raiding”, all the time. It would effectively be Diablo with a faint veneer of persistence via Achievements and a shared lobby. The “world” would be only a tenuous connection between places to play… and could probably even just be an overland map. (Indeed, rather like GW’s map with hotspot shared locations that you can warp to instantly.)

    For example, look at Torchlight. It’s been lauded for being a distillation of the Diablo formula; kill critters, take their stuff, get an upgrade and ding a level, pop back to town to clear out your bags, rinse and repeat. It works because it’s fast, rewarding and pretty.

    That’s what people buy. (Is there really any sense that D3 will be a bastion of world design and storytelling? It’s a loot lottery dungeon crawl at heart, and people love it for that.) Why would it be any different in the MMO genre?

    Now, if we’re talking about virtual world design, well, that’s almost an entirely different thing from where MMOs have evolved (and I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that Blizzard, Diablo veterans that they are, have driven a bit of that evolution). I think there’s a market for a superb virtual world, but I harbor no illusions that it would be as popular as WoW. It would of necessity be a very different animal. Less gorilla, more… platypus.

    I can live with that.

  6. Hunter

    Even Arenanet admits that fully instanced content was a mistake. Look at where they’re moving with guild wars 2, a hybrid style, of instanced content and open world areas.

  7. FraidOfTheLight

    In that respect, Aion may be taking a risk with their model, in that you have to grind 25 levels (20-25 being especially grind-tastic) before you get to your first instance.

    I find that, having played several MMOs, I’m looking for something new and different when I try new ones. Grinding feels much the same in most games; at least with instances there are opportunities to do something a bit different.

  8. Daria

    I’d say no, Cataclysm won’t be a massive blunder. For one people will soon grow tired of grinding the dungeons. The LFD tool just makes the process even quicker, so you can get several emblems a night. When the majority of players can no longer upgrade from emblems it will slow down a bit. Also it just gets boring.

    If you look at the Warhammer scenario problem when they launched, everyone turned to scenarios because that’s where the rewards were. But in a month’s time it grew tiring and people left in droves.

    Everyone has seen the old content numerous times, so by effectively resetting the game, I can see lots of people returning to level up again. That is not to say that there will not be people that rush through it, but what would be the point? It seems the ideal game is one that balances both instanced content and the large open-world exploring.

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