Where’s All The Multiplayer?

I checked out a post from MassivelyOP (kinda hard not to just called them “Massively”, but there ya go) recapping a PAX East panel on “Where Did the Multiplaying in MMOs Go?”, and was going to write a comment, but I then remembered that commenting on those sites is usually a Bad Idea. I have this warehouse-sized space, so I might as well fill it up instead.

The one central thing that I believe has killed multiplayer in MMOs isn’t LFG tools, or trivial content that doesn’t require grouping, but actually the players themselves. And certain other game design decisions.

I’m going to lay this blame at World of Warcraft’s feet, but not because of their “dumbing down” of their content that allows a player to solo to the cap. No, the real problem is their carrot of loot loot and more loot, and the rise of achievement culture.

What WoW has done is to put two opposite situations into the same game. On one hand, we have the personal goal. On the other hand, we have the “multiplayer” aspect. The personal goal will drive players to selfishly work for their own betterment; the multiplayer is present because it’s part of the name of the genre, and little else.

“But wait, jerk,” you say. “You can’t run dungeons or raid alone! The game is designed for you to need people.” True statement, you gorgeous reader, you. But players work really hard at not having to actually play with people while playing with people, through guides. A guide tells a single person where to stand and where not to stand, what abilities to use, and when, and they’re based on roles people have chosen through their selection of their class. This is why the Holy Trinity works: it’s “guide-able” to the nth degree, removing the need for people to put thought into their group time.

Usually when people bemoan the death of multiplayer aspects they’re comparing what we see now to what we saw ten years ago when EverQuest was the top dog. During those days, people hadn’t yet gotten it in their heads that if one person wrote a set of instructions, everyone could just auto-pilot their way through the experience without so much as a kind word. To hear old guard EQ players tell it, the whole point of playing was to socialize, not to rage against your similarly mute party members when another person gets the loot drop you were hoping for. In essence, it used to be about socializing, and now it’s just about working for your own benefit by minimizing the risk.

Risk versus reward. That’s what you’ll hear people claim when they talk about the evils of P2W cash shops. If you can just buy what someone else has earned, that takes the sheen off of the achievement of those who “earned it”. But the achievement isn’t much of an achievement when all one has to do to earn it is to paint by numbers. Part of the joy of success comes after the trials of failure, and since guides ensure that failure is reduced as much as humanly possible, any feelings of success are disingenuous at best. You can’t really be proud that you’ve earned anything if you memorized a guide to do it.

And bringing it back around, the reason why people memorize guides isn’t entirely to remove failure; it’s also to make sure they don’t get yelled at, which is why the players themselves are responsible for the death of multiplayer aspects. There’s not an MMO player alive that’s escaped being called out for doing something or not doing something that some loudmouth expected them to do (or not do). If you know what’s expected of you — meaning which keys to press, and when — then you’re going to escape retribution. But mess up, and suddenly you’re the sole reason people in the party didn’t succeed. It doesn’t pay to ignore the guides and achieve through trial and error any more, so folks rely on guides now both out of fear of being the weak link, and to maximize success for themselves. You have a better chance at success if everyone performs according to plan, so it pays for everyone to know the dance before they step onto the floor.

MMOs have become slot machines, when what people claim to want is a poker tournament.

The answer is, of course, really simple: Don’t use guides. Don’t demand that people use them. Take the time and learn something for yourself. Embrace failure. Be ready to fail, and be willing to learn from it. From there, communicate. You’ll need to if you want to get past the first room because while you’ve gleaned knowledge from one point of view, someone else will have learned another part of the puzzle. Put them together under your very own powers — and not those of some random internet author — and I bet it’ll cure what ails the community.

One Comment
  1. As a former hardcore raider, now a dirty casual, I agree with pretty much all of this.

    The end result, for me at least, is a weird form of MMO ADD.

    It used to be that friends leaving a given game was a sure for way for me to lose interest as well. However, I am now discovering that even with friends still playing a given game, forcing myself to stay involved and interested is a real task.

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