The evolution of the "massive online game" has been an interesting one to track over the last decade plus, never more so than in the last few years as traditional MMORPGs became bogged down in the theme park mentality and seemed unable to get out from under the looming shadow of World of Warcraft. We have witnessed the rise of the MOBA, the MMOFPS, the MMORTS and more.
Enter the Age of Survival.
In The List today, we'll take a look at why games like ARK: Survival Evolved, H1Z1, Rust, DayZ and the just announced Conan: Exiles are so wildly popular. True, many have been half-baked or bug-ridden. But there's an undeniable charm to these games, and we think it's only a matter of time before some AAA studio with bigger pockets invests in a truly AAA experience. Heck, maybe Conan will be that game. For now, let's talk about why they seem to be so revered even if they're divisive.
Runner Up: Faster, Less Expensive Development
One of the things that we're seeing as survival games begin to dominate many of the best seller game charts is the seeming ease developers can turn out a decent game. A prime example is The Repopulation. With development on the MMORPG delayed for having to move to another game engine, the team is using the MMO's assets to create a survival game based in the same universe. Funcom, while not using the same assets as Age of Conan, has suddenly announced its foray into survival titles as well with last week's announcement of Conan: Exiles.
What it appears to be, at least on the surface, is that development is more streamlined, doubtless takes fewer developers and is more cost-effective than making a full-fledged MMO.
5. Banding Together...or Not
Players taking part in survival games can choose how they'd like to experience the game world. There is no forced grouping, though in games like these it's probably a good idea to hang out with others. There is no "guilt" associated with "playing an MMO as a single player game" if that's the preferred style.
Conversely, there are compelling reasons for players to band together in different ways. Some will form tight-knit families or guild-like groups that stay together for long periods of time. Some will form loose alliances as neighbors in a settlement, though without the "ties that bind". Still others will form small groups, squads in a sense, that will roam the world together.
4. Meaningful Gathering & Crafting
In many games, crafting is something to do, albeit with some utility depending on the game being played. Ordinarily, it is another time sink for players to participate in when end game is reached. Often, however, gear and items that can be crafted are sub-par compared with things gained from raiding or other elder game activities thereby rendering it less-than-satisfying for many.
With survival games, we see something entirely different: Crafting literally becomes a "do or die" part of the game. It's not to say that all players will become crafters or gatherers of all things (see #5), but there is a real need to gather materials to create clothing, shelter, weapons or to find ingredients for cooking or for growing in a garden or on a farm. Domesticated beasts become important as well.
In short, gathering and crafting have true meaning for the well-being of players. These are not activities to fill time, but are absolute necessities (and fun too!).
3. Huge Niche Potential
We have zombies, dinosaurs, famous literary IPs and others already on the table for those who love survival titles but think of the potential for other, more diverse, types of games. What about mythology? Folk lore? Fairy tales? Traditional fantasy that isn't an MMO or an RPG? Space? In short, there are many, many other ways that the genre can stretch to suit the seemingly insatiable appetite for survival games.
2. Player-Hosted Server Worlds
It seems forever ago that Neverwinter Nights players were treated to a nearly unending list of persistent worlds hosted by players, each with their own rules, pantheons, races and more. Servers could host as many as a hundred or more at a time and role playing on most was king.
A trending feature in survival titles is releasing players to do much the same. Player hosts can choose whether or not PvP is turned on or whether to set specific times when it is available and more. Some games limit the ways that game features and rulesets can be applied, but the potential is there, if not now, then for sometime in the future.
This brings us to the number one reason people like us love survival games: FREEDOM! We can choose how we want to play, how we want to experience the game world, where we want to go, how we want to spend our time. Do we want to be entrepreneurs? OK! Do we want to be gank specialists? OK, go for it. Do we want to become master crafters? Sure, why not?
It all comes down to we, the players, having the ultimate choice in how we want to experience the game. Survival titles give us the truest sandbox experiences to date and it feels good to throw off the shackles of the theme park. They give you tools and let you make of them what you will without forcing you down a simple path to "level cap".
What about you? Why do you like the current crop of survival games? What's your favorite survival title to date? Do you hope more and bigger studios get involved? Leave us your thoughts in the comments!