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Player Versus Player: Do MMOs Need More Danger?

Column By Christopher Coke on January 23, 2014

Welcome back to Player Versus Player, the column where MMORPG writers collide to debate the issues you care about. Day Z: one million copies sold in four weeks. Rust: 150,000 copies sold in two weeks. These are games that, even by developer accounts, are broken and unfinished, still in alpha. Yet, players seem to be clamoring for their chance to take part in their harsh, kill-or-be-killed worlds. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the MMO community has taken these ultra-difficult sandboxes as their own. Do players want more challenge from their games? Do they want real risk and real reward or is accessibility still the name of the game? Join us as we ask: do MMOs need more danger?

Day Z and Rust are only two games in an ever-growing movement toward survival-gaming. Our authors come to the forefront each on one side of the fence.

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The stances:

MMOs need to be more dangerous: MMOs need to take a cue from their less massive brethren and ramp up the danger. The days of “accessibility” are over. Players want more.

MMOs should stick to their guns: The MMO community might like punishing games but not when they’re MMOs. Make these games too hard and players will move on. History shows it.

Arguing each side:

Chris “Full Loot” Coke: Chris is a columnist for MMORPG and believes that MMOs need to step up their game. Players want risk, not coddling!

Bill “Schmay Z” Murphy: Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com and believes the believes in challenge but not driving players away.

FIGHT!

Chris: When I look at Rust and Day Z, I see the unlikeliest of heroes. The MMO industry has been telling us for years that we don’t like risk and that any loss will send us crying for the hills. Bullocks. When I look around to actual MMO players, I see guildmates, commenters, veterans, and total newbies writing about their latest adventures with big old smiles on their faces. MMOs need more danger because we like danger, even if the experts say we don’t. It’s time developers start looking at us from the outside in. We’re more than bar graphs and analyst charts... Day Z and Rust prove it.

Bill: I agree with your sentiment. The era of the many-flavoried niche MMO is upon us, and difficulty comes with that. But I’m not of the mind that DayZ and Rust are ideal examples of that. Permadeath and an losing items do not difficulty make... those make danger. And danger is something we’ve lost in a lot of MMOs. That’s what needs to come back. 

Chris: Looking back to the days of EverQuest and Ultima Online, I don’t remember those games being particularly difficult. The die-hards can argue with me if they like, but that’s something we need to keep in mind, and something we’ve already wrote about. There is a difference between difficulty and danger. Danger is what made those games so compelling. You were in danger of getting PK’d. You were in danger of missing out on an item if someone else grabbed the spawn. You were in danger of being robbed if you left your house unattended. Without the risk of loss, would any of those games have held our interest for so long?

Bill: I’d argue that the danger of loss and losing everything are two very different things. I believe in danger for an MMO, but having your corpse looted, or getting killed by completely random strangers just isn’t my cup of tea. Niches are going to be a big part of the next generation of MMOs, and there are plenty to fill. But the reason games like EQ and UO held us for so long was multitudinous. Mainly though, they were all we had before the great MMO boom of the 2000s.

Chris: One of the most common criticisms of the modern MMO is that there is no reason to explore. I would reframe that, because lots of games have given us reasons -- but maybe the answer is that exploration itself is no fun. Death is meaningless. There are no wilds to be dared. There is no risk to stepping outside of your comfort zone, and when there is no risk, exploring becomes a tour of the scenery. That’s not what explorers want and tying in achievements only makes it a checklist. Without the danger of meaningful death, how much can a war-torn game world even mean? Look to games like EVE or Darkfall Online and you will find exploration with the same exhilarating thrill of yesteryear.

Bill: I have to disagree here... how easy is it to explore a world if you’re constantly fearing death from someone? I like PVP as much as the next guy, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for an explorable world. What is necessary is solid design, lore, and reason for being (possibly redundant to lore).  I want to feel connected to the world, and I want to see places of interest everywhere so that I’m begged to try and climb a mountain, not herded through several paths to get to the next hub.  That has nothing to do with danger or difficulty, but everything to do with better design.

Chris: If I’ve made it sound like I’m advocating full loot, that’s because I am -- or at least partial. Day Z and Rust are so popular because at any moment you could lose everything. That, my friend, is the essence of high adventure. And death isn’t so bad! Games that utilize full looting place much less of an emphasis on actually acquiring gear. Getting back on your feet is often as easy as reloading and visiting a bank or a vendor or asking a friend. Not like the raid treadmills of most games. But you still don’t want to lose your gear because it’s lost. This is a system where you don’t want to die but it’s still fun if you do. It makes encountering other players more exciting, questing, traveling from town to town, dungeons, all of it. Ask any Day Z player. Ask any Darkfall player. Danger is the key to a memorable experience.

Bill: Partial loot... I can get with that.  I think you should be able to spend currency (in-game of course) to protect certain things too, as a form of money-sink in that case. I like stuff breaking, decaying, and all of that too. It helps with the economy, and also helps players stop rushing in without thinking. So... yeah. Agreed here.

Chris: If MMO companies want to make an impact, maybe the first place they should look at is impacting us. Players will twist and flail but here’s the thing: sometimes players just don’t know what they want. MMORPGs aren’t about instant gratification (at least not solely). They are about long-term goals and overcoming challenges. They are the hero’s journey of insurmountable challenges surmounted. But how is that possible if you’re unwilling to impact the player?

Bill: Players don’t know what they want, and neither do suits following sales numbers.  Get players involved in a game early, let them play it, and they can tell you years before you’ve spent millions if you should even bother keeping on with a game.

That’s all from our debate team but something tells us that you have an opinion to share. How about it, do MMOs need to be more difficult?

Christopher Coke / Chris has been an MMO player since the days of MUDs. Occasionally he likes to pontificate on the subject. Read him every other week in Player Versus Player and in MMORPG’s The Tourist. He can also be found being offensive on Twitter: @gamebynight. Your game is wrong!

Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy


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