Redefining MMOs: Massively Singleplayer?

Last month when members of the Massively team were tossing around ideas for a new series called, "Redefining MMOs," I jumped all over the more solo direction MMOs have taken lately. I wanted to point out that today's MMOs are less about we and more about me. I wanted to list off a dozen or so features I felt were responsible for killing social gaming. I wanted to rekindle the debate over whether or not this is a good or bad thing.

It seems I'm a bit late to the party because two bloggers, Ryan Shwayder and Keen, beat me to it by a few days. Wolfshead also put together a fascinating post on MMO communities, which is only slightly related to what I planned to talk about but still well worth the read.

So, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel here, I'm going to add on to the discussion already taking place. It should be said up front that I'm a heavy solo and casual player, which is a bit strange given my stance on the issue. I'm slightly bothered by the recent trend toward individual content and individual rewards. It seems the line is blurring between singeplayer RPGs and MMORPGs every day. Luckily, a few titles are keeping the dream alive.

Please share your thoughts on page three.

Exhibits A through Z

You've always been able to solo in MMOs, but it was never as viable as it is today. It almost seemed like early titles like Ultima Online, Everquest, and Dark Age of Camelot punished you for soloing. Sure, you could safely grind on lower level mobs, driving yourself insane in the process, but taking on even-con mobs was risky business because death actually had a consequence back then. ("Con" comes from "consider," which is MUD syntax for "Will this NPC kick my butt?")

As both Ryan and Keen point out, you really had to rely on other players to enjoy the full experience of older MMOs. Scratch that. Without other players, you could barely get anything worthwhile done.

Quest directions? Want-to-buy/Want-to-sell items? Take out an NPC your level or higher? These tasks may seem simple for the solo gamer today with the addition of quest location markers, auction houses, and easy-mode PvE, but in the past you needed to socialize with others to get the job done.

Do you remember shared content like NPC camps and dungeons? The notion seems blasphemous in today's MMOs what with their near instant respawn timers and abundant use of instances. Blizzard took this a step further by implementing liberal amounts of "phasing" in their latest World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. This fancy feature gives players their very own unique version of an area.

Remember when you had to manually run from town to town across vast landscapes? MMOs quickly evolved to horse routes and flight paths, but the autopilot mode still gave players time to chat with their guild mates or help out random newbies. Nowadays we have portal spells, teleportation scrolls, and even instant flight a la Warhammer Online.

Speaking of WAR, one of the more stark contrasts between it and its RvR predecessor, DAOC lies with rewarding the individual instead of the realm. The entire DAOC RvR campaign revolved around capturing relics from fortresses, which in turn rewarded your entire realm with special buffs. The entire WAR RvR campaign revolves around sieging a capital city so a lucky few can win Bind-on-Pickup equipment via dice roll.

And what's with the whole Bind-on-Everything craze MMOs have adopted? Not only does it negatively impact the communities of MMOs because everyone is out for themselves, it also hurts in-game economies and alting.

Alting or twinking may seem selfish at first glance, but realize that new blood in the lower ranks really adds to the social dynamic. It's pretty difficult to retain new players if your early levels are ghost towns because everyone is focusing entirely on their mains.

Additional pressures on alting are unnecessary grinds and vertical expansion, a practice that usually introduces mudflation. Ironically, these also make players focus more on themselves instead of others because they feel the need to maximize their login time.

As you can probably tell, this list could go on and on. I think we've successfully pointed out several key features hurting Massively Multiplayer gaming, so let's answer the question: "Why are we leaning more toward the singeplayer experience?"

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