Can a shorter MMO still be a good MMO… or a MMO at all?

I really do not like adhering to strict definitions when it comes to explaining MMORPGs.  To me, this is a subject that goes beyond just words.   I want to focus on the part of MMO’s that I consider more of a feeling and less of a rigidly defined structure for how these games should operate.  One of the defining attributes that I assign MMORPGs is the idea of time.  I think of MMO lasting months or years and I even associate the longer lasting ones with quality.  Compare that with a game like Zelda or God of War 3 which can last a month or two at most for a serious player.

This is totally my opinion here, but I feel that MMORPG’s should be games that last a long time or are set up so that players can lose themselves into one of many aspects, including but not limited to: Character progression, the habitation of the world, or the social experience over the course of many months or ideally years. There are many “kinds” of MMOs now so I won’t try and lump them all together, but I really feel that longevity is an inherent trait that must be there.

This gets all messed up when a game like DCUO comes out.  On one hand you have a great game that nailed the right kind of PvP and PvE but on the other hand you have a game that, for many, is “a game to fill the void before Rift/Swtor/etc” comes out.  A lot of this is fueled by the fact that DCUO is a shorter game right now with maybe two months of content.   This question was asked in the comments of one of my posts last week: Can a MMO be designed as a short game experience and still be considered ‘good’?

Knowing my thoughts already that a MMO should be a longer, deeper, and all-encompassing experience, I’m inclined to answer that sure, they can be… but they shouldn’t be.  That’s not a cop out, I swear.  At this point I’m just brainstorming out; maybe MMO’s really should receive more focused labeling.  Maybe a game like DCUO shouldn’t be called a MMO (even though it is a MMO, just a short one.)

My mentality comes from my background.  I see MMORPGs through the lenses of someone who was actively involved with the community when the first one came out.  I see the EverQuest’s, Star Wars Galaxies, and Dark Age of Camelot games when I see the label “MMO”. To me it’s just a ‘feeling’ I get when I log into a more virtual world experience that I’ve attached to the meaning of the genre.

What do you think?  Answer the question about whether or not a MMO can be a good MMO  (or rather a MMO at all) if it’s designed to be short and maybe add your thoughts about why or why not you draw distinctions between the EQ’s and the DCUO’s in your mind.

  • I think an MMO can be good, when designed short, but it shouldn’t be.

    I have to agree with you fully, this is the mindset of us “old-school” MMOers. We grinded out content, entertained only by /gu or /as chat, or maybe our group if we were lucky.

    The game wasn’t a theme park, nor an arena, the game was a timesink with a chat room. And in this chat room were friends of yours, online friends, real life friends, both. I’ve met several guild mates from these grinds in real life, and even those I haven’t, I communicate with regularly about real life.

    Then you went PVPing or on some of those very hard old-school raids that required hard work. (and then they dragged on for 8-9 hours). Thats when the timesink chat-room really paid off.

  • A short MMO can be a good game, just not when it charges monthly sub for it. It doesn’t have to be Massive either, just big enough to accommodate the circle of people we want to play with. Sounds like a normal single/multi-player game online, doesn’t it? Plenty of good games like that already.

    Maybe this is a new trend, to make short online games and call them MMOs just because they can support many players at the same time.

  • In the past I have always thought of MMO’s as games that on the one hand give you an opportunity to live in an online world with many other people at the expense of graphics, story telling, and gameplay. Single player games which are designed to last often for just a few months can usually deliver better content because the difficulties of dealing with thousands of players in one world just arent there.

    if MMO’s now come out with these three months games – I would expect that the quality would have to go up quite a bit in order to stay competitive with single player or small group player games (up to maybe 64 people).

    MMO’s also have this painful aspect where you need to almost work hard to get somewhere. In order to justify this sometimes torturous experience, there must be something special at some point. This is why some of these WAR, Aion, etc. games are failing. People realize that the work that is required to get to point X is not justified with what is waiting for them at point X. Nobody would expose themselves to the hard work required if they game was just good for 3-5 months. to counter that, DEVS would have to reduce the work element quite a bit but then we are starting to get into the FPS territory where you get a more or less fully functional character right at the start. Character development is out of the window and it may not even be an RPG at that point.

    In the end, whether this is possible probably just depends on the finances. Can you keep development costs low enough by offering a few months of content and thereby sell enough copies to actually make money fromt he game. In the long term, this may be a losing battle as you have to keep paying for upkeeping your hardware for quite some time even though the bulk of people who will play the game(and the main money flow) have already moved on.

  • Think people are finally learning not to be WoW. So i definitely say yes it can be. SOE has a whole lineup of games that appeal to different niches coming out. No GW2 or Swtor but plenty of games that will sell at a predictable and reasonable level.

    DCUO might run out of content, but is pretty honest up front with what it offers. I am pretty sure they are doing well at building themselves a player base that will resub off and on over the years.

  • The way I’m currently thinking about it is thus: Traditional MMOs are really social constructs above all. You’re essentially creating a giant clubhouse filled with activities, where people can come in regularly and get to know everyone, eventually developing into something of a home away from home. All the amenities are designed to support this – you have sustainable games (penny poker, board games, etc.), a variety of social events that are set apart from the club itself (holiday parties) etc.

    This new breed of flash-in-the-pan MMOs are more like Sci-Fi/gaming/anime conventions, or Ren Fairs, in that they’re designed to be temporary – which brings both advantages and disadvantages. You can plan very different kinds of activities that wouldn’t be practical in a setting that was intended to last many years – for example, you can’t support a merchandise hall or high-stakes gambling at a club with weekly meetings – everyone would go broke. There is still a community, but it operates very differently; the focus is now on meeting a lot of people and having quick, discreet interactions, not necessarily forming lasting bonds or getting to know them. It could also be an essentially isolated communal activity, where everyone is simply alone, together.

    My point being that you can clearly have meaningful social structures that are designed to be temporary and transient, just as you can build social structures that are meant to be lasting and permanent. They just require very different planning and designs…

    I’m not certain that was very clear, but it’s the best I can manage right now. ;P

    I think when GW2 launches we’ll get to see this play out in practice a bit. It seems clear to me that ArenaNet is following the same pattern they did with Guildwars 1: The game is not designed to be played consistently over the long term, but instead for short periods of time with breaks in between; you simply can’t make enough endgame content to keep people busy 15 hours a week without a subscription, and ANet has never tried to do so.

    I imagine there will be a bit of system shock when people expect a “real MMO” endgame when they reach level 80, and are told in response “oh, why not go make an alt or do some PvP?”

  • “where everyone is simply alone, together.” – Random internet person

    That is some awesome quote material Sisyphean 😀

    Anyways can good MMO be short – yes, but if its made as MMO currently are it wont be very successfull, different approch is needed. Intrestingly the approch DCUO is taking with promised monthly expansions is very similar to one other tyoe of gaming – the episodical games, was all the rage a while back ….. still waiting for my Halflife 2 episode 3. No idea why it never took of ?!

  • If DCUO gets monthly content it would have to be some serious amounts of content. As it stands, current content is quickly completed in mass quantities.

    Essentially the justification for paying a monthly sub would be to play each new bit of content. I would be shocked of SoE is able to pull off sufficient monthly updates to justify long-term payment. However, I could see resubbing after 2-3 months off and playing through all the additions.

    It will all hinge upon their ability to support this idea of ongoing monthly content additions.

  • substantial monthly content is unimaginable to me. Without massive copy/pasting from existing content, anyway…

    Look at WoW (which granted, has a pretty small live team at this point as I understand) – they put out new dungeons, what, quarterly? Seems like every 3-4 months to me. Is SOE really going to triple Blizzard’s output?

    Or are we talking new content in the sense that the DLC for Dragon Age was new content – I.e. pre-existing monsters in a pre-existing zone/level, with the only new content being a minute or two of cut scene?

  • They have a lot of content within the DC universe to draw from. That’s a lot of potential content, but the thing is it’s not massive content. They would need a lot of their little content which runs an even higher risk of being unimaginative.

    In the end, this comes full circle to the point I was making in the original post. What if the first two months of play was it? What if DCUO ended there. Would it be a good MMO or not? It would certainly be a phenomenal game.

  • “What if the first two months of play was it? What if DCUO ended there. Would it be a good MMO or not? It would certainly be a phenomenal game.”

    It would be an over-priced console game. $65-$80?

  • Here is a theory for you, though I have absolutely -no- research to back it up, it’s just a thought.

    Perhaps they already have content made and ready to release slowly but steadily, kind of like some of the newer games that suddenly have Downloadable Content -very- quickly after release. This would ensure that their buyers stay for that paid subscription month. Then continue that trend, and as long as you can stay ahead of the curb, developmentally-wise, and can assess whether the game is doing well enough to justify it with more manpower/money/content.

    If a company did it well enough, players would have a reason to keep their subscription month after month, and the company would have pretty accurate data about the profitability and sustainability of their online game.

    Even if this isn’t the case with DCUO, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a company try this in the near future. As long as the company could produce 14.99 (or so) in “DLC” a month, they keep their subscribers.

  • The problem is this…most people play MMOs for an entirely different reason than they play really cool first person shooter single player games. There is an expectation in an MMO that if you put in the time, you can at least gradually work yourself up to a position of at least semi-power. Or semi recognition. Or semi something.

    If you start with an MMO that already has the time factor taken away, you end up with what?

    People don’t play single players with this in mind. They play them to enjoy themselves for a few weeks or months and when it gets unfun they stop playing. In an MMO there is always at least the idea that you can play through the unfun part and it will reward you with more fun later.

  • and @ Cyprus

    People are always speculating that new MMOs have loads of content they haven’treleased yet. In the 13+ years I have been playing them, that has never happened. It’s possible, but highly unlikely.

  • @Sisyphean – Actually it’s been done before. Back in 1999 Asheron’s Call came out and did MONTHLY content. So you’re wrong, it can be done.

    Now you may be saying to yourself, well yeah but I bet it wasn’t suubstantial. Actually it was, it was just as much if not more than the conent EQ was putting out.

    They added quests, mobs, new lore, dungeons and even new land masses on a MONTHLY basis. The other thing they did, which I’m hoping DCUO does as well, is have a continuing story that would usually culminate every four months into some big huge event.

    My question these past few years has been, if AC could do it back when they developed it in someone’s garage, how come WoW can’t do the same thing with all the money and developers they have?

  • AC1 was da bomb. UO and AC1 will always be my two hearties in MMO – even if I don’t play them anymore <3

  • Massively Multiplayer Online. If it’s got that, it’s an MMO.

    Truth to tell, my personal definitions are a little broader, and I’d classify things like MUDs, browser games where multiple people can interact (eg. Kingdom of Loathing, Urban Dead) and games like Guild Wars or League of Legends as part of the family to which MMOs belong.

    Global Agenda is an MMO, Puzzle Pirates is an MMO, they don’t always have to have Everquest-inspired big sprawling Oblivion-like worlds to be considered MMOs.

    Whether or not it is a good -game- is another matter entirely.

    Guild Wars is a short game experience if you just play the chapter narratives, and it’s generally considered good. If we get things like Torchlight MMOs or Diablo 3 multiplayer-alikes, chances are good it will be a short game experience with high replayability, and if it’s polished, it should be pretty popular.

    So if you think DCUO offers a good player experience, just a short one, that’s precisely it. Short, but good. Then go on to quantify why, using examples and anecdotes of what you liked in it.

    And it doesn’t have to even mention MMO as a label. The word ‘MMO’ has gotten too loose in definition over the years anyhow, meaning different things to different people, just like ‘grind.’ Why worry about it if DCUO doesn’t fit nicely into the category?

  • If we ignore the costs , if i can play an MMO that lasts for 2 months and then i’m “maxed” and move on to the next game, i’d say that would be a great if i am actually having fun for the entire 2 months.

    There’s so many MMOs that i enjoyed [initially] , but never actually maxed out…i got bored long before it. Isn’t that just a complete waste? [Even Blizzard have shocking stats regarding this] I’d say there is most likely some statistic out there that most average players punch out of ANY MMO within 2-3 months of constant play. They may return for an expansion, but i can’t imagine majority of casual/average players playing one single MMO for a year constantly. Not even WoW [without taking constant multi-month breaks] .

    So if you have these stats for real [SOE certainly have them] , and know only a very niche selection of players ever squeeze every single drop out of an MMO , why design the game like that? Why not design the game for a 3 month longevity FROM THE START ? . I don’t think gamers are less likely to play an MMO “because it is short” (i’d say it’s hardcore reviewers that are unfairly using this in their MMO-requirement checklist to have “end game content for a year”). Do we REALLY need a year worth of content when the game launch? If the -core- of the game isn’t fun, does it matter if you add 50 zones and 50000 quests?

    Yes, the hardcore crowd might , but the WoW-casual-crowd might even feel it a more suitable diversion [since they are most likely in dire need of a break from WoW ] .

    In fact WoW imho now sits with the problem that going from Azeroth [1-60] -> Outlands [60-70] -> Northrend [70-80] and Cataclysm [80-85] seems more like a PAIN rather than “oooh content that will take months to get through!” . Seriously, i hated going through Outlands [with not a single soul around] this December with a PASSION…in fact it was such a pain by the time i hit Northrend , i felt numb of WoW and quit long before i even hit lvl 80 on my freshly rolled cataclysm char. So i have to ask “what was the point?” .

    In conclusion? Now i’m better off in DCUO because i can enjoy ALL THE CONTENT within a timespan that does not drain one of all life and energy and interest of every playing the game again.

  • I would agree that what many of us old school MMORPG players first realized as an MMORPG isn’t what they are today. Back then, they were much closer to their D&D Pen and Paper roots.

    Today, they are much more about instant gratification and getting to max level ASAP. Hell I played AC1 for almost 2 years on Darktide and the highest my main got was level 72. UO, AC, EQ and yes DAoC were much more about experiencing their game and their world rather than pushing you through content ASAP.

    Oh and UO and AC1 didn’t have any end game raiding. Why? Because they didn’t need it because there was so much to do in their world. I’m really sad that Raiding has now become the integral part of MMO’s. Raiding was never a part of pen and paper D&D and it wasn’t a part of two of the first three MMORPG’s. I would much rather have developers work on more content and have your progression through it take longer than have each of us rush through content to get to max level so the real game can begin.

  • For me a future MMORPG is like Everquest, just better.
    Or like EVE Online, but in a fantasy setting on the ground and just better.

    But, of course, the acronym MMORPG doesn fit here. That’s why I lately try to use the term ‘virtual world’ when I used to use ‘MMORPG’.

    Going along this link, we could also call it MMOVW = MMOVirtualWorld.

    Semantics aren’t easy here.

  • MMORPG should probably cease to be used (hyperbole) since it has become so broad in definition; for us older gamers it means something completely different than for the 7 year-old girl who bought a hasbro puppy from Toy R Us and got a promotional code for PETZ online or any browser “MMO”.

    Labeling a game as an MMO instantly attracts that very hardcore crowd with no life other than video games, a crowd that NEEDS to spend months and years in a single game to feel satisfied and accomplished.

    @Damage I feel exactly the same way regarding content, but that’s our sandbox mentality speaking here. It has become way easier to just sit back on our derriere and demand roller-coaster rides instead of trying to make up the content for yourself. With such focus on delivering tons and tons from the start it is no surprise at all that people, with “phat epics” in sight, rush through the initial content, leveling, exploration, you name it, in order to get the end-game goodies. Thus you pretty much know that no matter how much content you put into your initial release people will still try to speed through instead of enjoying the actual “game”, later complaining about the lack of things to do and how the game ain’t a WoW killer.

    It worked back in the day but I really don’t know if we can relive the UO or Everquest glory days ever again, it doesn’t fit with today’s mindsets and business models regarding video games and MMOs.

  • I came much later to MMORPG’s (like 4 years ago), so for me DCUO is an MMO. Before this time, I did play console and computer RPG’s that you played solo. So I didn’t have the years of acclimation to associate one with the other automatically. To me they are distinct gaming/play styles that can be used together or separately.

    So as you say in the above post, you could call DCUO an MMOVW. I’ve been calling it an “action MMO” because I find elements of action games in it. I don’t view it as a virtual world because you have to port to a hub to go from city to city. I think of virtual worlds as being almost seamless in transition. So yes, semantics aren’t easy.

    Is the game supposed to be short? The word (as we all know) from SOE is that they are supposed to release content monthly. Most of us don’t see that happening because of our experience in WoW and others of this genre, but who is to say that the developers didn’t have content ready to go at launch that they deliberately held back? That would be a pretty smart plan to make sure you can reach that goal of monthly releases.

    If they can’t make that goal, the smart thing would be to not charge people a monthly fee, but just to charge $15 for each release of content. People might stick with the game because they won’t feel cheated of their monthly patch and SOE will still get their money (eventually).

  • @Damage: Actually, raiding was apart of EverQuest (which is quite easily among the first “MMO’s” if we’re separating them from “graphical MUDS”). Nag, Vox, PoF, and PoH were very early raids. The mentality wasn’t there to raid them to get better gear to go raid the next harder place, but the mentality to kill bosses to get what they drop most certainly was apart of it.

    @Jeromai: No worrying going on here, just simple thought. The games in this industry called MMO’s that succeed have always been longer games with larger scopes. The ones that haven’t been capable of producing that longevity fail because they last a short amount of time (WAR, Aion, etc). DCUO comes along and purposely lasts a short period of time but manages to be excellent. Do we create a new name for this type of game or consider it the same type of game as EQ (which it clearly isn’t, yet is a “MMO”.)

  • @Keen – Yes I know raiding was part of EQ but EQ’s game itself granted much more than just people wanting to get to 50 so they could raid. In WoW and most of the recent MMO’s, raiding is by far THE goal. Most people agree that for EQ, raiding didn’t become THE goal until PoP. Before PoP, people did raid, but they did a ton of other things as well.

    UO and AC didn’t have raids though and they were both two successful MMORPG’s but I guess everyone copied EQ because at the time EQ was the most popular MMO. I don’t think that it was the best though, as I think both UO and AC were by far much better games. Since EQ though was #1 though, everyone decided to copy from it instead of the other two good MMORPGS.

  • Totally agree with Damage. Part of the fun with EQ1 was always the experience of the game. Run to HH, Sands giants hunting, running thru K forest, exploring Ocean of Tears, Rep grinding so you can enter Freeport or Neriak.

    I only did Vox once and Plane of fear and Plane of hate a few times. The fun was always about other stuffs. Unrest train. MM multi level aggro. That tree in south karanas.

    In fact I think raids are what started the Work mentality. “be back here every Monday so we can start our progression” spend 4 weeks to learn to kill the same dragon isn’t what i call fun.

    So if they can learn AC1 style im all for that.

    I do have to agree going thru the same missions for the fifth time does get old.

  • I think there should be a distinction. DCUO SHOULD have a lot more content coming down the pipes so I hope it earns that label of MMORPG. MMO’s that only last a month or so, now this is for the “average” gamer, should just be multiplayer games and the ones that have a lasting appeal should be MMORPG’s. I’m a huge fan of DCUO but if a few months down the line I’m bored and nothing new has been added then it will be fail, at least in a MMORPG sense.

  • I prefer a more general defition of MMORPG: many people playing a “roleplaing” type game together. I don’t think the longevity of the game really matters to me as a measure of its success.

    I think at this point in the industry success is really a matter of scale, not necessarily of innovation in the end-game. Cataclysm comes out and realistically, it has provided me just about 4-6 weeks of fun before I found myself asking the same question: is a “rinse and repeat” end-game fun and worthwhile? What WoW has over DCUO and other newer games is more “wash-cycles”: I can repeat raid/dungeon content, I can mindlessly dig so that I can get the elusive alchemy mount, I can pvp/arena my way to new gear, rep grind, etc. It is effectively just a rinse-and-repeat end-game with the occasional gear reward. Blizzard simply has more options for that repetitive end-game. And those options are focused in a variety of “social” groups that I might be part of: guild-raid content, 5-man close-knit group content (dungeons and arena), or plenty of solo-content. I think that’s part of the Blizzard genius: I can almost always rinse-n-repeat regardless of which of my friends happen to be online when I’m on.

    But to Keen’s original question, I say a resounding, “YES!” A game with a solid 2-months of interesting, fun-filled activity/content is a GOOD if not GREAT MMO.

    (And I think DCUO’s smallness is almost and advantage because rolling a new toon feels FAR less daunting in DCUO than it does when I’m staring at 85 levels PLUS to get to competitive gear.)

    The hope is that it will flesh out its content/fun over-time so that it scales out the variety of options for fun.

  • Y’know, I’d actually really like to see MMOs that had endings. You go through the levels, you go through the storyline, you hit the “endgame” and then are able to “complete” it all after a few dungeon runs or small raids. I’m really growing to dislike this style of item progression that plagues games like WoW. I just want to finish it and get some sort of sense of completion.

  • Rift is looking terrible so far so I don’t see anything as a stopgap to that: nice graphics, awful character animation and pure WoW-clone game/interface means it won’t draw people in meaningful numbers. 1-month wonder then the trial accounts will rush back to WoW for the real deal.

    That’s my wine-drunk prediction in writing 🙂

  • @ Intruder

    I just logged into Rift for 5 minutes after waiting 20 minutes in a queue to actually to the server. I saw like 20+ servers that were all High or Full.

    It’s not my dream game, and I must admit that me only playing for 5 minutes might be a bit of a tell, but I did preorder. There is absolutely nothing else if you want something new and don’t want to play superman in tights.

    While it’s not early EQ,there is something to be said about a ton of monsters suddenly spawning and attacking a town/outpost. I know Keen says that’s not truly dynamic or something of the sort, but I don’t remember Warhammer PQs suddenly deciding to move around and kill people. It’s interesting.

  • @Sanz: While they’re not dynamic, that doesn’t mean they’re not fun for a while. DCUO to Rift to SWTOR is probably the progression most people will make. From SWTOR to… who knows.

  • I think a ‘short MMO’ can definitely work, but it can’t charge a monthly sub of $15 for access.

    If DCUO launched as a buy-to-play (i.e. buy the box and play online free) and then in three months went, “If you want to unlock our new Green Lantern expansion, it will cost $15”, I would have found it a lot more acceptable and probably would have bought a copy.

    Or having alternate payment options like Wizard101 could also work for ‘short MMOs’.

  • @Keen – I highly doubt I will play Rift. I didn’t know if I would play it before DCUO came out and I can pretty much say I won’t know that I’m enjoying DCUO.

    After playing in all of the betas for Rift, I just don’t find it as fun as DCUO. The only thing it has going for it over WoW are the many different classes you can be. Other than that, it’s by far the closest thing to a WoW clone I’ve played. I’m tired of them and I’m glad at least DCUO is somewhat fresh and a bit different from WoW and all the recent MMO’s that have come out.

    As for SWTOR, I definitely won’t be pre-ordering it and I’ll wait on reviews as I’m to woried about it being more of an single person RPG than an actual MMO.

  • @Damage: Oh I know. I’m just talking about most people, and especially the crowd that considers DCUO a tide-me-over until Rift.

  • @We Fly Spitfires:
    This is an interesting topic. What I dislike are games that are open ended, but end, because there’s no content left.

    But what I would certainly like is a game that is set to run for 1 year and your goal as a server is to resist an invasion of undead. There is not even a need for a reward. I think it would be a very social and rewarding experience in itself to build defensive structures and explore the land of the undead to strike them where it hurts. You can even put a game master in control of the undead if he has the right tools one (paid) game master would easily be able to create a great experience for hundreds of players.

    I think I even wrote about that some months ago .. let me see … here :).

  • Keen, I think that an MMO like DCUO will get judged long term by how good their team is at putting out new content. The game is naturally geared towards easy episodic content updates. It could pull off what LOTRO was trying to do with “chapters”. If they do that, I think it can be called an MMO. As it is, its a fantastic experience so far. Way worth the price of admission.