Since everyone on the Massively staff is obviously an expert in the field of MMOs, I thought it might be interesting to pick the writers' brains and find out what single-player games (and features of those games) they also enjoy.
I play a lot of social games and have found in them a joyful approach to gaming that is often missing from MMOs. MMO players and developers can be so serious. I love games like The Grinns Tale. It's a beautifully designed, charming game that is very simple to play. Nexon has shown just how wonderful social gaming is by making it and keeping it fun.
I have also been loving on my PS3. I grabbed a bundle recently because I knew the games would be dropping in price really fast. Sure enough, I have been able to pick up games like the amazing Walking Dead series for five bucks and other killer titles like the Shadow of the Colossus HD pack for under 20. I used to have an Xbox and was surprised at how much better the PS3 is. Single-player games can teach a lot to MMOs, and vice versa.
I play single-player games alongside MMOs, but I don't usually buy everything that comes along; I try to buy only what I know I will play, and that's usually roguelikes, RPGs, and space 4X. Mods are my primary reason. Most MMOs simply don't have the moddability of the Elder Scrolls series or The Sims or Diablo-clones like Torchlight and Titan Quest, and I can stretch a moddable game for years (I still pull out my modded Morrowind install once a year!). Portability is probably my second reason. I have around 100 paid games on my phone and tablet, for example, and my Steam account is bulging. The downside? Single-player games lack the economies that make MMOs my first home.
I play heaps of single-player games (when I can afford it)! The draw to them is definitely the story and the mood-setting ways they generally have. There aren't many MMOs that can give me the thrilling mood of, say, Hitman: Absolution or something similar.
Understandably, MMO stories are generally rather generic because they need to cater to more people at once. You go into playing a single-player game expecting a certain story or mood. Different strokes for different gaming moods!
I would say that my single-player time eclipses my MMO time by about two-to-one at this point. If another SWG-type MMO comes along, or if MMO companies ever allow guilds to rent out and administer private copies of game servers, those numbers will be reversed.
What do I enjoy the most that's not found in MMOs? I guess a) the immersion factor, which is the primary reason I game and which is actively undermined by the vast majority of MMO players, and b) the level of control I have over the game world. A lot of my MMO time is spent doing tedious progression shitaki that gates the stuff I actually want to do. In most single-player games, I can skip, remove, or otherwise mod the gunk that I don't enjoy.
I do indeed play lots of single-players, although once I transitioned into MMOs in 2004, I noticed that I stopped buying as many single-player titles (and thank goodness -- a $50/week gaming habit is expensive). Right now my single-player gaming lifestyle is contained to either my iPhone/iPad for late-night bed gaming or nostalgia gaming with GOG.com's goods.
I think that these games can have a stronger narrative and offer a solid conclusion. They also aren't just out to pad the clock with loads of grinding, so there's more of a sense of progression (in RPGs, mainly). But I definitely miss the social aspect and knowing that my character will be around virtually forever.
I play a pretty good number of single-player games alongside my beloved MMOs, and there's one thing that single-player titles let players do that (most) MMOs do not: change the world. It's really that simple. In an MMO, no matter how many times you kill that boss, he's always going to be sitting there waiting for the next group to come along and curbstomp his face. No matter how many bandits you kill, you're never going to take back the town they've overrun. In a single-player game, your actions matter. Of course, they only matter to you because it's not like you're sharing the world with anyone, but they matter nonetheless.
Also, I'm going to have to agree with Justin in regard to the narrative structure. I'm a very story-driven gamer, and while there are some MMOs that have interesting narratives, storytelling tends to take a backseat to level grinding and running on the gear treadmill. I prefer stories that have a point to make and that do so in a (relatively) concise manner, and that tends to happen only in single-player titles.
Unlike just about every other Massively staff member, I very rarely play single-player games. And on those rare occasions I do, it is almost exclusively in a multiplayer mode! I am just too social a person; I prefer my gaming to involve other sentient interaction (and no, AI does not count!). I think there is plenty about a number of single-player games that I would enjoy, from beautifully sculpted worlds to beautifully scripted narratives, but if I cannot experience it with at least a friend or two, it's not worth it to me to throw my limited time into it.
Single-player games scratch a different itch for me than MMOs. I enjoy becoming invested in an MMO because of the social interactions and the ability for the game to evolve over time as new content is released. Single-player games can be more immersive, however, and allow the player to affect real change in the virtual world. MMOs attempt to capture this feeling with mechanics such as phasing, but there's always some level of smoke and mirrors at play because bosses respawn and storylines need to be made available for thousands of other heroes. Tomb Raider, Mark of the Ninja, and The Walking Dead have been my favorite single-player games that I've played this year.
I started out as a single-player gamer, so it's part of my roots. I switched over to multiplayer -- then massively multi-player -- and stayed dedicated to that for many years. But now I'm really rediscovering my love for single-player games and what they can offer that an MMO just can't, like a pause button!
Some of my recent favorites include Red Dead Redemption, the last few Grand Theft Autos, Forza 4, the Fable series, Harms Way, State of Decay, anything Mount & Blade, everything Fallout, and a few others.
What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.