Last week in another column, I commented (and not for the first time) that MMOs should be finite; that a game narrative should have a decided endpoint, stopping long before its servers are crowded with uber-levelled, PC demigods that fart lightning and glow in the dark. While it’s clear that not everyone agrees with me, (power to you, variety is the spice of life after all) I’m more interested in those that didn’t quite understand what I meant by finite and consecutive games. It’s a happy coincidence that I also write this column about Independent games, because I think this is an area of the market for which Indie game companies are uniquely suited.
But first, allow me to explain what I mean by “finite” and “consecutive” games.
To me, this one is pretty self-explanatory. A finite MMO should have a specific beginning and a specific end, with the middle being as much of a sandbox or theme park as it pleases the developers to make it. This isn’t so much about a level cap, as it is a specific end game. Players would go in knowing that this wasn’t going to be a WoW, or an Eve, or an EQ, but an enclosed experience that they can budget both time and money for. (Call me crazy, but I think there’s a market for entertainment that takes its audiences needs into consideration.)
Now, I think some of the aforementioned confusion comes in when some people hear “finite” and think “limited”, or even “short”. In those cases, it might be helpful to think of MMOs in terms of TV series. I would argue that the most compelling TV series are finite, and created to be so. (Babylon Five, Avatar the Last Airbender, the currently running Game of Thrones, just to name a few.) Then there are the open-ended shows, the ones that just go on and on for years, until they’ve long outgrown their original premise and plot. They may begin as dynamic and engaging, but eventually end up lumbering along under the ever-increasing weight of additional narrative, cast additions, retcons, and other attempts to remain relevant. Viewers lose interest and the whole thing eventually collapses into ignoble cancellation.
I’m not saying that they all end up that way, nor am I saying that all open-ended MMOS end up that way, but there comes a point when even the most ardent fan sours on the whole thing.
A finite game is one that allows the players to find a satisfying place to call it a day and walk away. Maybe they might decide to play again, maybe not, it’s their choice.
Closest current example of a finite MMO? The original Guild Wars. (I haven’t played enough of GW2 to make a judgment.)
This idea is a little trickier, but the one I think that (because of its structure) Indie companies would best be able to capitalize on. Think of consecutive games like books in a series. Each one is self contained, but it refers to the ones that came before, and builds up to the ones that come after. Each game is also shorter than a finite MMO would be, again allowing players to budget time and money for the experience.
Players can choose to play in as many or as few of the “books” as they please, but finishing one would allow for the retiring of that character, and the creation of a new character (perhaps the previous character’s offspring) in the next game, with a few legacy items thrown in as a bonus. Each game would be a new story with new friends, challenges and even worlds, but with the same game mechanics. This would shorten the UI learning curve after the first game, and give players that familiar continuity, without being the same old thing with a new level cap.
Indie companies, often having smaller budgets and tighter crews, could reap huge benefits from this kind of incremental system. By reusing the same mechanics/engine, after the initial launch, new games would, in theory, be less labor intensive.
The closest example of a consecutive/generational currently available would be the solo game, Rogue Legacy. The main differences obviously being that it’s not an MMO, and each generation is part of the overall game, rather than a stand-alone game in itself.
Having defined both, let me stop a few of you (you know who you are) from taking to the forum with torches and pitchforks: I AM NOT ADVOCATING THAT ALL MMOs BE THESE KINDS OF MMOs. Not remotely, now hands off the keyboard already.
What I am saying is that there is room in the market for a variety of MMOs to fit the needs of a variety of players. Face it, there are a LOT of us out there, more than could ever be encompassed by one narrow demographic. Personally, I don’t like how “helpful” many game companies have become; so helpful in fact, that they’re helping me right out of actually playing, by doing everything for me. But plenty of people like that and that’s okay. There’s room for the autopilot game, just as there’s room for the casual browser sim, the linear themepark, and the eat-or-be-eaten permadeath sandbox.
So there we have it. Could the future hold finite games that a person might finish in six months, or a guild might finish in a year? Does it have room for consecutive or generational games that release a new installment once per year to an eagerly awaiting public? Let’s have a discussion about it in the comments. And remember, play nice.
Read more of Lisa's Independency columns: