When one thinks of an MMO, usually the first thing that comes to mind is Blizzard’s giant, World of Warcraft. If they don’t outright love the game, at the mention of Warcraft, most gamers have a kneejerk reaction against it. Typically, the reasoning for this is some combination of excessive grinding, repetitive quest design, subscriptions, always online connection, and the fact that you can lose everything if something happens to your account. However, while many of these problems are true in a lot of MMOs, it would be foolish to immediately assume such a thing of all MMOs, as they can be much more than a boring grind.

MMOs are a tricky genre to tackle for developers. They can be addictive games and a great social experience, but they can also be monotonous and irritating. Therefore, when a new MMO releases, it must balance the qualities of being addictive and a good social experience with depth and complexity to cause non-MMO players to want to come back. That being said, there is always going to be an audience that already loves a certain formula and does not want it change, and then there are players that are not as easily convinced to play one. The problem that lingers for MMO developers and publishers is how both parties can be satisfied; this task proves to be daunting for most publishers, and therefore they tend to fall back on their reliable customers. In some circumstances, though, risks are taken and games are born that try to please both the veterans and the skeptics. Zenimax’s upcoming project, Elder Scrolls Online looks to be one such MMO. By all reports, ESO seeks to provide what everyone loves about the Elder Scrolls games by providing an open, sandbox world while at the same time offering a persistent online adventure that can compete with titans of the genre like Guild Wars 2 and WoW. 

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MMOs are starting to stray from conventions set forth by Blizzard’s giant, World of Warcraft.

While it is still unclear if this goal will succeed, it is certain that the project is ambitious and risky, but how will they even manage to grab the attention of the MMO skeptics? I believe this can be done in a multitude of ways, and one way of doing so is removing the grind in the game by changing the quest structure and making the leveling system more like Skyrim. Zenimax is not the only ones taking a risk; Pearl Abyss is also walking a fine line with their upcoming game Black Desert. In a similar fashion to ESO, Black Desert is hoping to be an open-world sandbox adventure that blends facets of tradional MMOs with the sandbox gameplay of Red Dead Redemption.

The problem is, many gamers who only play single-player games may immediately write off these games because of their MMO status, but there are some genuinely good reasons why no game should be written off just because it is labeled as such. One reason many people stay away from MMOs is because of the grind and quest design. To most people, this means that the MMO crowd enjoys performing dull tasks such as “kill x number of y” just to see the level up banner. While this may be true for some players, the majority of players gets irritated at this design choice, too; while some gamers can tolerate grinding, it does not necessarily mean they enjoy it. In fact, this is just why many MMOs have been deserted by their community in the past. Many players dislike how because of the grind, questing feels much more forced instead of being organic. Even for the most patient, the enjoyment of “killing x of something” or “collecting y of an item” can only last so long. However, there are already games out that seek to remedy these errors. A prime example of this is Guild Wars 2. Guild Wars 2 eliminates the sense of grind by leaving you with an open world and providing you with a goal to complete in any order or way. This allows you to stumble upon things in the world in a very natural manner, the likes of which usually seen in games like Skyrim.

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With ESO, Zenimax is hoping to translate the experience of the Elder Scrolls games into an MMO format.

The next major complaint surrounding MMOs is the nature of subscription fees. I admit that I do not care much for subscription fees in games as it feels like a way to prolong the money being taken from your wallet. However, while in many ways a subscription fee makes sense, it is unnecessary. The reason subscription fees exist is to help pay for the management of the game. These fees go towards server costs and paying support staff. Some companies also make a hefty profit off of them, as well, but this does not need to be so. Referring back to Guild Wars, Arena Net has proven that if the players like a game enough they will continue to support the game through micro transactions proving that a subscription fee is not needed, even though the $60 dollar entry fee may not seem like much to a publisher to keep an MMO alive. However, microtransactions must be done correctly, compelling players to want to give money here and there, but keeping them from feeling forced to dump even more money into a game. This is a prominent issue in a lot of microtransaction-based MMOs because they create a feeling of pay-to-win.

Those who hate the always-online connection are the most difficult to appease, as it is the very nature of MMOs. But while being online may seem like an irritant, it is imperative to the game’s improvement. The always-online environment not only provides for a constantly updated, persistent, player-driven world, but also a great social platform that creates a sense of community. Being online allows the game to get better through feedback and play which then allows new content to be dynamically added to the game. This always online environment also allows for an ever-changing world in which there is a huge player-driven economy, such as Eve Online. These games can also be very rewarding and allow for multiple different modes of play. All of which can contribute to an overarching meta game that is not found in the same sense or scale in a single-player-only game. However a game needs to make sure it offers these things in abundance, otherwise there is no point to being an online service.

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Black Desert is supposedly going to be an open world sandbox MMO that incorporates the combat of games like Red Dead: Redemption.

Finding an MMO that fits your style can be difficult, and while this article primarily talks about MMORPGs, the MMO style has been expanding to other areas. The aforementioned Eve Online is as much (or moreso) about creating a functional corporation and building up your economy as it is about the massive space battles that can take place, and Firefall, which is in open beta right now, is taking on the FPS genre. Once you find the game and the genre for you, it is only a matter of time before you are hooked. So therefore, a game should not be written off purely because of its MMO status; instead I urge you to give it a try, and who knows, it may stick with you.

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3 Comments

  • I never got into MMOs, mostly because I’m not a big fan of games that require large amounts of play time to see any sort of reward. I’m actually starting to favor games that can be completed in 5-15 hrs.

    • @Shaan Joshi,

      That’s probably the one crowd MMOs will never be able to satisfy. Large worlds with tiered quest systems pretty much guarantee more than 15 hours of gameplay no matter what.

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