I plan to write several articles in the coming weeks over MMOs as a genre, with an eye towards seeing what can be done in terms of improving the genre. During the analysis, I’ll be comparing MMOs with several other types of games, along with other forms of media and some types of social constructs, such as football leagues and fraternal orders. At some point in here, you’ll also get to hear me blather on about my “ideal” MMO. For the kickoff of Analyzing the MMO, we’re going to take a look at what MMOs do well. Some of this is blindingly obvious stuff for some of the readers here, I’m sure, but it’s important to lay down a baseline, so I beg your indulgence for the first few articles
Massiveness: More than anything else, MMOs excel at getting a bunch of players into a single game. I can’t think, offhand, of any game in real life that allows for as many participants as an MMO, with the possible exception of large SCA wars or Civil War reenactments.
Social Cohesiveness: Possibly the thing they’re second best at. MMOs have vast and strong communities, even the smaller ones. This is true about a lot of the best non-MMO games, both single player and multiplayer, but those communities eventually (mostly) die out. There are still strong EQ and UO communities, whereas, say, the Quake 1 community is relatively tiny. Now, of course, a lot of the Quake 1 community members moved onto other games and therefore other communities, but that’s not exactly the same thing. In addition, this sense of community feeds back into the game, helping to keep people in. How many times have you heard, “I only stick around because my friends play,” or “I’m leaving because all of my friends have left.”
Inclusiveness: The above dovetails into this. Since the MMO is a shared experience that helps to build community, and because even the most PvP intensive MMOs are still cooperative games, and because, ultimately, everyone was once a newbie, even the newest players can usually find someone to mentor them, unless they’re a total jerk. And, hell, even the total jerks have their own subcommunities. Unlike, for example, FPS games, where newbies are seen more as easy kills than new people learning the ropes, MMO players tend to help each other out, and the games are designed, in large part, to foster this.
Ease of Mastery: MMOs are easy. There’s a lot in them, in terms of time spent and (sometimes) content, but the basic gameplay, and even the “advanced” gameplay is just not that hard. As an example, in CoH, it can take a new player around 400 hours to get to level 50. However, the time spent mastering new powers and really improving on skill I would put at somewhere in the 20-30 hours range. If you include character building skills, maybe the 40-50 hour range. The rest is just “fluff” time, for lack of a better term. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, as it means more time for the social aspect of the game, and it makes a relaxing time of it for solo players. That ease of mastery helps to reinforce the sense of inclusiveness.
Addictiveness: This could easily go in the “bad” column, but it’s a consideration that most on the business side would put down as a plus. MMOs are very addictive, and they are that way by design. They utilize multiple development paths, random reward strategies, and a host of other psychological techniques, either intentionally or unintentionally, to keep people in the game.
The conclusion, then, is obvious: the thing that MMOs do, and do very, very well, is to create and foster communities. In most MMOs, there’s not a lot of “there” there. But that’s for part two of our series: what MMOs do badly.