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Could MMOs Benefit from Less Scope?

By Lewis Burnell on September 19, 2016 | Columns | Comments

Could MMOs Benefit from Less Scope?

“All I want is a focused experience”, said one of my friends. We were chatting about massively multiplayer games and the scope of the genre. Seemingly and in recent years that scope of has grown to the point where developers want to include everything. Take Guild Wars 2 as a prime example, it has dungeons, raids, fractals, structured PvP, World versus World, open world events, living world and seasonal events. It’s a huge amount of content that requires constant attention and most players I encounter don’t tend to do all of it. They’ll focus on specific things they find the most fun in. In my case, it’s structured PvP and World versus World. For close friends, they’ll rarely venture out of fractals or raids.

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It’s entirely unrealistic for MMO players to believe that such a variety of content can be maintained equally and in some respects, it’s also entirely unrealistic of developers to propose that they can. What developers are doing however is casting the net wide in the hopes of catching as many fish as possible (that’s the likes of you and me). There are signs that this approach has worked and is working; there’s no doubt the recent crop of MMOs, with the exception of WildStar, have made plenty of money. Unfortunately and as development costs spiral, the need for constant content updates increases and it’s simply unsustainable in the long term.

The question I’ve been asking myself lately, is do we really need so many different types of content in a single MMO?

The likes of Camelot Unchained and Crowfall, to some extent, have acknowledged this problem. They don’t have AAA budgets, but they have a vision of what an MMO can be specific to their desires and that of their audience. Although they’re both vying for the same crowd (that which loves large scale PvP) they’re still approaching their game design in very different ways. What’s particularly refreshing about both of these titles is that they’re aren’t spreading themselves too thinly. Neither ArtCraft Entertainment nor City State Entertainment are under any illusions as to what they can achieve on their respective budgets. In contrast, seemingly every other MMO to arrive in the last five years throws restraint out of the window in the hopes of enticing all and sundry.

What I find so appealing about any MMO with a reduced scope is the fact there’s a far greater likelihood of focused content updates and fixes, as opposed to what is often - at present - cyclical. Guild Wars 2 regularly drifts from structured PvP improvements, to fractals, then to raids and world versus world. There’s seemingly little order and it could be many months before the specific area of the game you enjoy actually sees improvements. When there’s only one or two areas of a game to play, it would instantly reduce unrealistic expectations from players and allow a development team to drill down, relatively quickly, on where they can improve and expand.

Considering Camelot Unchained will have very little if any “traditional PvE”, there’s immediately huge amounts of flexibility as to how City State Entertainment choose to handle their content and its updates. They’ve instantly sliced away a huge proportion of the genre that causes the biggest headache when it comes to providing sustainable content. Those resources can then be ploughed into balancing classes, balanced, itemization, bug fixes and improving upon what’s already a narrow, but focused game. These are things that typically the most to players and yet they’re often at the back of the queue because development resources are so heavily invested in keeping far too many plates spinning.

The MMO genre doesn’t have to be defined by what we expect of it. In fact and unlike any other genre, it has the freedom to present ideas and content in any way it chooses as long as - roughly - it scratches an itch. I could happily lap up an old-school MMO that focused purely on PvE and tough raid content in the same way I could revel in an MMO that offered little more than realm versus realm combat (or the equivalent). In some ways, such strict content on offer might actually allow me to drift between MMOs more comfortably rather than feeling guilty if I don’t stick to my “main”. Instead, I’m currently presented with a variety of MMO’s that dip their toes lightly into multiple areas without ever truly owning any of them. In fact, I can’t even think of a single MMO that I could unequivocally say “X MMO offers the best PvE content hands down.” or “Y has the best PvP of any MMO!” They’re all good, but not great.

Significantly reducing the scope of future MMOs has to be the answer to the genres ills as it will not only make them affordable (always a positive in the eyes of a publisher) but quicker to develop with far less areas of focus. That surely has to be a good thing, right?

What are your thoughts on future MMOs having less scope? Do you think it could be a good thing? Do you like the fact most MMOs currently offer such variety for a player? Would focused on only one or two core areas appeal to you more? As always, let me know. 

Lewis Burnell / The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOs over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved and long time dead, Neocron.