Subtitle: Why aren’t more games like MMO’s? (In the Good Ways)
Once upon a time, it seemed as though I would play through my favorite games time after time… after time. I have defeated the Four Fiends instances beyond count, foiled Kefka so often he’s gone sane, and sent Chrono traipsing through time enough that he believes he was born in 65,000,000 B.C. And so forth.
More recently, I tend to play through a game once, extensively, and then put it down. I may pick it back up at some point, but that’s become rare. Mass Effect 2 did cause me to play through Mass Effect once more, in order to import a character… a character now forever trapped somewhere in ME:2 (hint: not the end). But I’ve never once really felt like replaying BioShock, or Oblivion, or Dragon Age, or what have you. Although to be completely honest, I did revisit both Oblivion and Dragon Age, but only because I, ah, had not quite beaten them the first time through. Shame on me.
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that these days I don’t have quite as much time as I did as a youngster. Plus, I can, for the most part, just go out and buy a new game if I want something to play badly enough, whereas I had to save up my measly allowance or wait for an appropriate holiday to get new games in the past. So maybe that’s why I don’t play these new games into the dirt.
I have another theory, though. It’s just so out there, so insidious, that I’ll have to whisper lest the Stonecutters’ surveillance… ah, whatever. Here’s my thought: it doesn’t pay to have your audience replaying an old game when they could be purchasing a new title. In fact, the only games where you would actually want your player base continuously playing your game would be on a subscription basis or certain free to play games.
Which gets me to my MMO thought. I’ll use World of Warcraft as my example, because that’s where I have the most exposure. I was never a “hardcore” WoW player; my raiding career was on the blunted hilt, as far from the bleeding edge of content as possible. And yet, starting with Burning Crusade, I always had multiple max level characters, all with days played. My nominal main had weeks played – that’s weeks of real time!
How long does the average game take to beat these days? I would say ten hours for most games, probably 20 hours for any RPG hybrid, and maybe 30 hours for your straight up roleplaying games. Even on the least conservative estimates, even if you want to say 40 hours (!), that’s not even two days of play.
You can’t even approach max level in WoW after two days.
Now, the idea of one week of actual gameplay (168 hours!) in order to beat, say, Call of Duty makes me go all cross eyed. Of course, some folks will play far more than that on the multiplayer side of an FPS… but I don’t think there’s ever been a single player gaming experience that sniffs one week of legitimate gaming.
Does the multiplayer aspect of the MMO so greatly enhance the experience that we’re willing to spend that much more time playing? Do the dungeons, and the walking, and the auction house, and all the other knick knacks that exist in an MMO take up so much more time than the more straight forward quest of a single player game?
Couldn’t the designers behind EverQuest, or our friends at Blizzard, or even our former dear friends at Square design a single player game that lasts just as long as the non-group aspects of an MMO? (Answer: maybe, yes, definitely not, respectively.)
This all reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from (the movie) Jurassic Park, when Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm states, as only Jeff Goldblum could, “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Maybe game designers do realize they could create a game of absolutely epic length. And maybe they decided that just because they could, does not mean that they should. Which is fair, because I know I, at least, start pining for an ending at around 20 hours in.
But I still think EA has intentionally amputated replay value from the modern gaming library (Dear any EA Representative that might be reading this post: my final sentence was not meant as either an insult or a joke, but, instead, as a comment on the current mood of the modern gamer who is far more interested in blaming companies such as EA as opposed to realizing that the fault lies with gamers’ expectations and demands).
(Dear Modern Gamers: Down with corporations! Viva le Proletariat!)