Thursday, October 23, 2008

Massively Single(?) Player Games

With the announcement of Bioware's Star Wars: Old Republic MMO it seems that the prevailing trend among triple A MMOs is towards a much more singular experience, one in which a player may spend hours in a persistent, online world without so much as talking to another human being. Warhammer Online, whose developers and critics alike, touted the public quest system as a way of making grouping dynamic and intuitive has ironically led to situations where those in groups don't actually interact with each other. Having abstracted away any need to organize a group among other people, the "group" becomes little more than the people who happen to be in a certain geographic area at any given time.

Another future MMO thinking along Bioware's lines is the Star Trek Online from Cryptic studios. Here instead of a companion character, the player has his own companion bridge of friendly NPCs. While not controllable in the same sense that Bioware has hinted its companion characters will be, these NPCs will accompany the player during both space and land exploration

A current example worth considering is Spore and particularly its new space addon pack. Spore was presented as a massively single player experience and in that regard it excels in populating the game with user generated content. The space addon goes one step further, allowing players to create their own quests for others in the space stage of the game, which are then disseminated to the worldwide community of players. You'll never directly interact with another player in Spore but you will benefit from the collective actions of millions of others; and these efforts will in time create more dynamic, interesting content than the largest team of MMO developers could ever hope to achieve.

This idea of more accesible single player experience within a massive world isn't new - Guild War's henchmen system pionered it in the MMO space - but the focus upon it as a game feature, a selling point of the experience, is. Earlier efforts have been presented as sort of apologies for the drawbacks and limitations of group play. The focus on companion characters as an integral part of the player experience changes the social dyamics of gameplay. Presumably your character's weakness demands that you interact with other people, become invested in their stories, in order to advance your own. What happens when its just me, myself, and irobot?


Tesh said...

Chris over here suggests that the PC gaming platform will move to a subscription/verification model. He and I have bandied about some of the implications of such over on my blog here and here, the latter specifically directed at SWTOR and comparing it to Guild Wars' business model.

I think Chris sums it up neatly, and is spot on when he figures that the subscription/authentication model will be the core of antipiracy efforts, at least in the near future and for a while.

The only thing that will make me open to purchasing SWTOR is if they go with the GW business model. To some degree, I still don't like the requirement to connect to the internet to play a game that I've purchased, but if the game has a compelling reason to play online, I can swallow it. Single player games requiring online verification will truly grate on my nerves (I'd hate to verify Titan Quest every time I wanted to play, for example), but if companies can go the GW route and provide "value added" gameplay options, like a MMO-like multiplayer layer, the online aspect doesn't bother me all that much.

Of course, I'm still going to be annoyed that I can't resell the game when I'm done with it. I'd love a GW-type game where the company gives their blessing to (and even facilitates) account sales. There's obviously a grey/black market for such, and if they could capture that demand in-house, not only would they have a new revenue stream, but quite possibly, more players who don't want to be early adopters.

Joril said...

I've also put some thought into the KOTOR MMO, and made a blog post about it.
Thought you might find it interesting :)

TOR might be an alternative to KOTOR3, one more suited to the times and one more lucrative.