While grand visions of huge open worlds with tons of gameplay options are appealing, there’s something to be said for playing a smaller game that offers an experience that’s better customized for your interests.
And maybe MMO developers are starting to realize that’s what players want, too.
Take Guild Wars 2, for instance. It’s going to have a huge PvE world, an open three-faction PvP world (WvW), structured PvP, and all the other things you expect in a first-rate MMO, such as crafting and mini-games.
GW2 is trying to attract a very wide range of players: players who like PvE, PvP, crafting, role-playing, charr-baiting, etc. In most people’s minds, it’ll do a fairly good job and, by sheer count of numbers, could be the most successful MMO of the year.
That’s long been the goal of MMO manufacturers – and really, of most people who operate a business – get as many people as you can to try your product.
But as the old saying goes, you can’t please everyone all of the time, but you can please some of the people all of the time.
More recently, we’ve seen MMO games, and MMO-like games, that only concentrate on one aspect of MMO-style gameplay. They’re not necessarily trying to draw in huge numbers; rather, they’re attempting to lure specific fans, ones who only want a certain, narrow type of game.
If you’re trying to please “some of the people all of the time,” maybe that’s the way to go. And being able to concentrate solely on one type of gameplay undoubtedly makes development easier and quicker, as well.
If you want three-faction PvP in an open persistent world, you can play Guild Wars 2… or you can play PlanetSide 2. That’s all PS2 does, so its devs can focus entirely on that experience without wondering how it will affect the non-open PvP aspects of the game.
Or, if you want structured, five-on-five PvP battles, you can play Guild Wars 2… or you can play a MOBA, like League of Legends or SMITE. That’s all those games do, so those devs can focus entirely on that experience without wondering how it will affect the non-structured PvP aspects of the game.
There are a few MMOs out there that are more strictly geared for PvE or crafting, with little or no PvP content – and, again, they can better focus on those kinds of MMO gameplay without wondering how their game’s mechanics will be used or abused in PvP.
ArenaNet doesn’t have that luxury. Neither does Blizzard (for World of Warcraft), Trion (for Rift), or BioWare (for Star Wars: The Old Republic). All of those games offer the “full” MMO experience, which, while fulfilling to some players, can also drag a game down as all the parts have different needs and need to be balanced against each other – sometimes with unexpected results.
My point is: Maybe MMO devs would be better off going for a smaller audience and catering to their more specialized needs than trying to capture millions of players with a “comprehensive” game.
This isn’t always a practical reality, especially where licensed games are concerned. Take Star Wars: The Old Republic, for example. Maybe you really like the PvP and wish there was just a SWTOR-like PvP game out there?
Would LucasArts license “The PvP Star Wars MMO” to one company while licensing “The PvE Star Wars MMO” to another? Further, might they license “The Space Combat Star Wars MMO” to another company? Or “The All-Jedi Star Wars MMO”? Or “The New Republic (i.e., Luke/Leia timeline) Star Wars MMO”?
If the example set by Star Wars: Galaxies is any indication, the answer is almost certainly “no.” But why should it be? Outside of the MMO realm, there are plenty of Star Wars-themed video games, developed by a number of third parties. Why should an MMO be any different?
It’s probably because we see single-player video games as being temporary entertainment, something you play for a few months before moving on to another. Thus, you can have three Star Wars console games come out in a year and not have any of them appear to “compete” with one another.
The same can’t be said for an MMO. If Galaxies were still running, it would definitely bleed off some small number of potential fans of SWTOR. That’s LucasArts competing with itself, which is not a good idea, unless the games were so radically different as to be seen as not being in the same genre.
That, I think, is what CCP Games is doing with EVE Online and DUST 514. EVE itself is a highly specialized game; it caters to a certain type of MMO player, and CCP is fine with that. They know they won’t ever pull WoW-like numbers, but they know that the players they do get will be incredibly devoted to their unique, custom-tailored experience.
If EVE is the MMORPG branch of the “New Eden IP,” then DUST is the MMOFPS branch, meant to appeal to a (mostly) different crowd. CCP likely couldn’t have just made another MMORPG set in the EVE universe, even if it was different in many ways, because that would have eaten too heavily into their existing fan base. Instead, they made a totally different kind of game.
With an increasingly finicky MMO consumer base and cash for new ventures being harder to come by, there’s a very good chance we’ll see more focused, “smaller” MMO-type games, like DUST 514 or PlanetSide 2, that may lack all the features of the full-fledged MMOs of the past but will instead cater to a specialized crowd.
What do you think? Would you like to see more singly focused MMO games? Or do you prefer the “all-in-one” approach to MMO design?