Time-limited servers end, just as I described. While I have not seen the mechanic much in "standard" MMOs, only appearing really in a handful of titles like A Tale in the Desert, there are quite a few MMORTS titles that use it. In fact, some of the most popular MMORTS games out there use time limits in their games. It would seem that many players enjoy the occasional destruction or closing of their worlds.
Would the mechanic work for other games? How can mobile gaming benefit from the short-term servers?
"Many gamers might think that a time limit or a single, achievable goal goes against everything that MMOs are about. MMOs are defined by their permanent nature."
Many MMO gamers might think that a time limit or a single, achievable goal goes against everything that MMOs are about. MMOs are defined by their permanent nature. We play them because they are permanent, at least until they close the doors forever. Giving players one main goal pigeonholes the game a bit too much. MMOs are about freedom of choice.
While all of that sounds good, I think the truth of the matter is that many, if not most, MMO players do pursue one or two main goals during their time. Look at how fast max-level characters appear in brand-new titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic or RIFT. Players want glory, and they will grind through every bit of wonderfully voice-acted material to get to it. Forget immersion... they want to raid.
So would it be much of a stretch to imagine a game that had a definite cut-off date, or a singular goal for everyone to go after? What if the goal was to raise a guild, conquer a dungeon, and truly kill the last boss in the game?
"The excitement that I felt, the electricity in the virtual air, was so much more thrilling than the feeling you get from attacking a mob that respawns endlessly or defeating a boss monster that's been killed a thousand times before."
But is it also possible that defining a game's goal so precisely just leads to more of the same min-maxing and stat-crunching that dilutes MMO gameplay in the first place? It's very possible. I have found that some of the best players in time-limited games know exactly what to do and how to start out. To them, the game is more about knowing precisely how to get ahead at the fastest rate than it is about discovering new tactics. Reading about their work reminds me of watching one of those StarCraft 2 matches. In my limited viewing, they both appear to be run by robots, and the matches are rarely surprising. When you have opponents that are so versed in perfecting the quickest route from beginning to the end goal, competition is more about chance than skill or knowledge.
So there is some good and bad about timed servers. I would love to see standard MMOs experiment with specific, game-ending goals. Those goals seem to work well with the mobile market because they allow for a light at the end of the gaming tunnel, and mobile players are often strapped for time. However you feel about it, it is important to note that timed servers are not for everyone. Though the servers do offer a real sense of adventure and teeth-gritting excitement (and frustration), the finite goals do not allow for the open worlds that we MMO gamers love to explore.
What do you think? Would you play your normal game on a time-limited server?
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.