Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Playing Single

I love MMOs. I greatly enjoy working together with other people to either beat a mighty computer controlled opponent or another (team of) players. I love the feeling of persistence and accomplishing something that will last and can be witnessed by my peers – even though I know the distinction between virtual accomplishments and real ones. Have you ever dismissed a game because it didn’t have a multi-player mode? I know I have and I know others who do so regularly.
Why would anyone still make games without a multi-player component these days when there are so many advantages to having it and the internet is widely available? I’m glad you asked; here are five good reasons to make single player games:

If you haven’t been living under a rock you have seen people complaining about the difficulty of MMOs. For years many players claimed raiding in World of Warcraft was too hard, now others (like me) call it too easy. In single player games one can just have an adjustable difficulty setting, cheat codes, or a quicksave function. In online games – not so much. Multi-player gaming is all about fairness and often about competition. People don’t generally like playing with others who operate under different rules. Cheat codes, for example, are usually disabled in online games to prevent individual players to gain an unfair advantage. Other settings have to fall by the wayside as well. If you have a look at good old Starcraft you can see that it was possible to adjust the game’s speed on the fly during the game. When you had to make tough decisions or micromanage your troops you could slow down the game and speed it up again in more dull periods. In multi-player you obviously couldn’t do that. Or imagine a Bioware RPG with a multi-player mode. How annoying would a “pause” key be for multi-player?

Dragon Age: Origins, like many CRPGs before it, comes with a powerful editor that allows users to make modifications to the game. Some mods are innocent such as the GNR extender for Fallout 3 which increases the library of songs played by the in-game radio station Galaxy News Radio, or less innocent but still harmless like a nude skin for desire demons in Dragon Age: Origins. Some mods add new content, characters, items, or features to a game and some are simply a way of cheating.
The cool thing about single player games is that all these modifications are perfectly fine. Once you go multi-player, not so much.

I once had a mini LAN party at my place where we only managed to hook up two computers. Two of my friends played Diablo with each other (I can’t remember whether it was Diablo I or II), starting from scratch. At one point one of them cheated by adding some items to his character. Needless to say, the game exploded in a cheat-war and we stopped the whole thing soon after that. Giving players in multi-player games the ability to change their own characters or the world at will? Not a good idea.

A good editor and a good community can greatly improve a game after its release and allow players to tailor their game to their needs. This can only really work in single player games. (Unless you count cosmetic changes such as the mods in World of Warcraft.) Those are a lame joke, however, when compared to the mods for some single player games.)

I’ve been talking about immersion a lot lately because Dragon Age:Origins just does such a fantastic job at immersing me. World of Warcraft doesn’t feel immersive at all, but I think that primarily due to a design flaw. (No real story, lame quests, no characters, etc.) However, even a really well designed multi-player game will have immersion issues due to the presence of other players.
Imagine the 12 year old kid hanging out in Orzammar, talking about your mom, or people yelling “WTS 10 stimpax PST” in Megaton. Even if you go to dedicated role-play servers in an MMO, immersion is hard to achieve. Stories are not coordinated well and the majority of players just aren’t professional writers. You also can’t really have cutscenes or voice-overs when dealing with human players.
Overall, if you want to tell a story and make suspension of disbelief possible, make a single-player game.

When I play games, I like feeling special. In single player games the player is often the hero, sometimes there’s also a choice to play the bad guy instead. Either way, the player character is important, the story centers on her. Nobody wants to be some flunky in the infantry unless that fate entitles them to be the only survivor of a rout and to go on a roaring rampage of revengeTM afterwards. In a multi-player game that is impossible, especially if it’s a massively multi-player one.

One especially bad example of this is the Ring of Blood quest line in World of Warcraft’s Nagrand region. In this quest a group of players goes through a series of gladiatorial combats until they have defeated every available opponent – the winner then being announced in zone-wide chat as the new champion. When the expansion was new and everyone was leveling in Nagrand, you would see a new champion announced every couple of minutes. So much for heroism.

Balance is really the ugly stepchild of multi-player games. If one way of playing a game turns out to be significantly stronger than another, players start playing only that because they would feel inferior otherwise. If you have a real-time strategy game in which one faction is superior to another, battles would start feeling rigged and the game wouldn’t be very popular. In WoW, much of the development effort is spend on making sure that no class is too strong or too weak compared to both the enemies and other players. If you read the official forums you might even think that class balance is the only thing anyone cares about.

In single player games, balance doesn’t matter so much. Mages in Dragon Age: Origins for example are far superior to any other class and rogues play like a weaker version of the warrior. Most people don’t care about this, simply because they don’t have to put up with betters in game. You can play through the game using a party with no mages at all and still have fun. It doesn’t matter so much that there would be a stronger option available to you if you don’t have other players to compare to. In multi-player, your suboptimal choices will be shoved in your face and you might get scorned for them. You might even be kicked out of your guild in an MMO if you don’t play to the standard that guild requires. In single player, none of this matters.

I didn’t name the advantages of multi-player here as this is not really a comparison. All I want to do is point out that being multi-player enabled isn’t always a good thing and that I’m happy that there are still pure solo games around.
That said, I’m sure there are more than these five reasons to like single player games. What are yours?

  • The nude ghoul mods, they burn! I didn't even have goggles!
    Browsing through mods can be dangerous, unnerving business. I had neutral to weirded out feelings about the Gay bar -mod for DA when I saw it, but then it started haunting my dreams!
    Immersion in MMOs tends to feel like being handed icecream, then getting kicked in the stomach. Like Aion, reaching the capital for the first time was kinda nice, the whole questline made it feel like you had a proper story and the other players didn't get in the way too much.
    Then I actually got to the capital, and started suspecting something when my relatively tall char was surrounded by midget women and skyscraper-tall men. I kept on my merry way with the quest, which then turns out to be "Wow, you're a unique snowflake aren'tcha? Now go out and play with the million other unique heroic awesome snowflakes out in the square."
    The whole "You're the chosen one!" shiz bugs me somewhat even in single players, where it can be somewhat viable, but when it's manhandled into a MMO it just turns into nightmare fuel.
    Now I'll go kiss my Bioware-altar-in-the-making while waiting for my PayPal transfer to come into effect (Warden's Keep here I come).

  • Warden's Keep, eh? Fraternizing with the enemy? 😉

    Recent blog:=- Playing Single

  • Just some thoughts one your article:
    -the difficulty in wow is twofold i think. in the arena you get the same tools as your opponent and its a mere skill/difficulty question. assuming reasonable balance (3on3 should okish), the scripted encounters however take away a lot of difficulty and decision making and therefore make the game easier. do you know examples of bosses that are scripted but also have a lot of randomness in there? that might be an interesting way to go.
    cheating can be fun as long as its within borders (meaning achieving something that would be possible within the game right away). This god like feeling is one of the things i miss the most in wow… my char has been quite active and killed soooo much stuff and spend sooo much time on becoming strong… so why exactly do i need other people to kill a simple other human being like khael'thas?
    same as above wow does not give you the opportunity to become heroic in pve since the skill cap is so low. arena is more like it and as soon as you made your e rep fine enough you'll see people tremble in fear and make mistakes once they see who they are facing.
    you are right about that… but with all the effort going into it i still don't get why they can not get it right. I know its complicated but they had many years now to get it right… why do they have to change chars so much with expansions that everything is shattered to pieces i will never understand… why not take it step by step? let character changes evolve and deliver content with the expansions?

    so to conclude… i think all theses things are possible in a good multiplayer mode as well. you just gotta give people options to show them… and farming (sorry buying) a zillion pets is certainly nothing heroic.
    you just gotta give gamers a gamers mmo and not a dumbed down version for gaming nubs.

  • Either you misunderstood me or I misunderstand you. The point about difficulty was that in single player games players can (theoretically) adjust the difficulty to exactly the right level. In MMOs you can't do that – _especially_ not in arenas. As soon as other people are influenced, you can't give one person the ability to play at whatever level they like.

    Modability/cheating: Exactly my point. In single player you get to cheat if that's what you want and to solo if that's what you want. In multiplayer – not.

    Heroism – Some people may get a heroic feeling out of playing arena, most will not. Single player games can make everyone a hero.

    Balance – not the point of the article, but I think the "omg shiny" effect is simply worth more money than "it's all very well balanced".

    Please tell me how these things are possible in an MMO (and in the case of say heroism for everyone, not just the top .3%.) I don't see it.

    Recent blog:=- Playing Single

  • I just wanted to agree with all you wrote there and only stress importance of immersion. This keeps me playing single player games. People read books, watch movies or play games to get inside of something that differs from reality.

    MMO doesn't feet that role but has other strengths like cooperation, value of community (guild that is), reaching ambitious goals might be very rewarding. But it is far from being good for an old player that value that magic old games could provide.

    I still remember myself playing Elders scrolls 2: Daggerfall for example. Low resolution, 256 colours graphics and some low quality sounds but it could make me fall off chair in some scary moments. And there is plenty of such games.

    Other points are absolutely valid as well but the most important will always be that thing which keeps you involved inside of that wacky game world. At least that's my pov.

    A lot of DA:O allusions you made. Yes, decent game it seems, a bit ruined feeling because of DLC issues – Lil do not install that before new patch hits!:D game is kinda bugged because of those de-auth bugs which result of complete reset of questline, player loosing items etc. But those are temporary problems I hope and they will fix it asap. Game is definitely good though.

  • @ Kerri: That exclamation mark-wielding guy at the camp got to me. Truth be told though, he could pretty much be saying "EA compels you!" and I still wouldn't be able to keep away.

    @ Zor: Yeek, my hands are already itching to get back to playing though. So I'm left to either suffer through or risk glitches at a nervous breakdown -level. Hm, this is Bioware though so I'm not too hopeful about the frequency of patches.

  • I think you are right about the difficulty. I mixed up to things. arenas adjust the difficulty to the level that is right for you via rating and in an ideal case good matchmaking. You are however not free to choose the difficulty that you like best.
    The cheating issue was more a general thought about mmos. i did not mean to cheat to godlike level but id like it to be there and to have legit way to get there. I do agree that it is impossible to handle if the game shall be fun for all players. its just something i personally miss an that you essentially only get in single player games 😉
    I was more heading for the direction of which of the things you pointed out wow rudimentary has. Maybe there are ways to incorporate these in a mmo as well. more at least. not to a degree a single player game allows for but maybe to a degree that is at least satisfying. ofc that excludes tecnical things like the pause key but it might be possible to create immersion and heroic feelings in an mmo. keeping in mind that wow is quite old after all a new game might do that better.
    So I do essentially agree with the advantages that single player games have. it was just thoughts that crossed my mind while reading and me having spare time 😉 I'm still w8ing for da :/ seems not everyone has your luck with the fast delivery 🙁

    P.S. the only example of a pause key i know was in starcraft and i think even warcraft 3 still had it. you could hit pause 3 times during a game and the opponent could just restart the game O_o it was extremely rare though that an opponent would w8 instead of just restarting the game.