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Are MMOs Becoming Too Casual?

Christopher Coke Posted:
Columns Player Versus Player 0

MMORPGs have evolved into a mainstream phenomena. More and more people are playing MMOs than they ever did before. The games have become much more user friendly, you no longer need a degree in mathematics to figure out how much benefit one point in Charisma provides over one point in Intellect. However, has this more simplified and user friendly approach been good for the industry or do players miss being able to truly customize their characters?

Player Versus Player is your bi-weekly debate column where two MMO writers come together to debate the topics you care about.

Your combatants:

Chris “The Tourist” Coke: Chris loves sampling a little bit of everything. From Darkfall to Runescape, he’s played it all!

Ryan “The Theorycrafter” Getchell: Ryan being the Theorycrafter knows the importance of napkin math and number crunching.

Ryan: Thank you for joining me once again Chris for another installment of Player Versus Player. Over the past few years now we’ve been seeing a constant degrade in character customization and options. More and more games are removing the player choices that used to exist for character development. Looking back at Dark Age of Camelot, for example,  players had the choice of 18 different races, each race offering completely different bases for the attribute points (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Quickness, Intelligence, Piety, Empathy, Charisma). These choices really allowed players to play the way they wanted. Of course you had your “Cookie Cutter” and “Best Race for [Insert class here]”  pigeon holes but you also had the freedom to deviate from that.

When the Half Ogre race was released it was best designed as a melee class as it had a higher strength stat to start, however because I tend to play unorthodox builds, I was one of the first players to make a Half Ogre Sorcerer, and eventually became one of the most powerful sorcerers on my server. Some people would have considered my Half Ogre a mistake but because of the freedom in choices I was able to make him viable. Perhaps the issue we should be looking at, why are players not allowed to make mistakes anymore?

Chris: Good to chat with you again, Ryan! This is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart. The truth is, I agree. Players should be able to bork their characters. The problem is, I don’t think that ideal holds water into today’s world. We had lots of choices in characters before but hardly any choices in MMOs, if we were a fan of a certain style of game. Developers could afford to trot out “too bad, so sad” from time to time. Today, players will simply move on. To that level, I don’t agree with dumbing down MMOs, but I do think making them punishing is an old way of thinking. As for freedom of choice going by the wayside, well, maybe that is a little bit of dumbing down.

Ryan: You mention how players will “simply move on” but isn’t that due to the fact that every game is so similar to one another now. There is no real investment into the characters that there once was. It is so easy to just grab a MMORPG now and jump in and you know what you’re doing. While the ability to jump into a game is great with the lack of player investment people will just “simply move on”. Perhaps it is more of a double edged sword. Developers creating games that will appeal to the masses yet also make it so it’s easily thrown away. Whereas if they developed a game with complexity yet easy to learn via tutorials / baby step progression, more players would feel invested and less likely to leave to another game.

Chris: Sure, and there’s merit to that, absolutely. But less of this has to do with the casualification of MMOs and more to do with the New Shiny Effect™. A game being too deep is as good a reason as any to dump it after the honeymoon (or never date it in the first place -- EVE). You’d think it’d be the opposite but hear me out. In the last ten years, we’ve become a culture that chases the latest and greatest. You see it from iPhones to MMOs. Just like with cell phones, when the new game comes out and doesn’t instantly outdo your decade of good memories in the last game, you move on to the next big thing or go back to what works. What I’m saying is that World of Warcraft is like an iPhone. That was what we were talking about, right?

The point is, people don’t always move on because games are bad, but because the next game might be better.

Ryan: I’ll agree that the “New Shiny Effect™”is plaguing the industry and I don’t foresee it stopping anytime soon. However, player investment will always bring players back to a game. You mentioned World of Warcraft but it’s a great example of player investment. They use Time Investment as their gimmick instead of Character but it works. Players spend endless hours, days, even months chasing gear or some new shiny item in the game. When another game comes out they flock to it like locusts swarming a crop field. However in the end, the investment has always brought us back to WoW. You’ve been pulled back to WoW, it has a draw on it’s players, not because it’s a good game, but because you’ve invested so much into it. As I’ve been saying, that investment is gone.

Chris: Woah, like locusts? I think you just called WoW players a Plague there, Ryan! Anyway, I think the problem here is that “investment” is a subjective term. We’ve already identified two types with “character” and “time” but both of those really depend on what the player is bringing to the table, too. What you might consider casual, I probably wouldn’t, just based on our life circumstances. There’s a big gap in the spectrum of players out there. I think, because of that, we’re seeing games like Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, and Pantheon come out targeting very specific audiences. Is it really that “MMOs have become casual” or “Mainstream MMOs are now targeting mainstream players?”

Ryan:Not WoW players, all MMORPG players. We’ve all done it, went to a new game to check it out but dropped after the “honeymoon period” is over. I think you hit the nail on the head there with games coming out focusing more on specific markets. In the past and to some extent recent games, they don’t focus on any specific market. They try and make their game cater to the entire market which tends to leave lackluster areas that players are specifically looking for. The PvP players aren’t finding the PvP enjoyable, because it has too much PvE and vice versa. So perhaps it isn’t that MMOs are becoming too casual, maybe they are becoming too broad scoped. That being said, and with Camelot Unchained, Crowfal, Pantheon and other similar “niche” games still such early development they may very well follow the lack of investment route as well. I hope they don’t and bring back the RPG aspect to MMORPG but only time will tell.

Chris: That’s something we can both agree on!

That’s all from us, folks. Let us know what you think in the comments below!


Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight