Category Archives: General Video Games

MMOs Ruined Multiplayer Gaming

Here we are at year’s end: a time to assess the best and worst games of the year. It’s a time to assess where gaming is at, the trends that led us here, and contemplate the next stage of evolution. From where I’m sitting MMOs, fueled first by the subscription success of World of Warcraft and then by the free to play MMORPG invasion, have ruined aspects of almost every multiplayer gaming genre out there.

MMOification

From Call of Duty to Dawn of War to League of Legends, MMO tendrils can be seen in almost every multiplayer game out there. It’s not that MMOs are bad. MMOs are great when their big selling points are confined to their genre. Unfortunately, part of MMO game design involves creating an addictive set of achievement based gameplay elements to keep players from moving between games. Developers see these addictive elements and cram them into their games like square pegs into a round holes. It leads to mashups I never wanted to see.

Grinding Unlocks

Call of Duty Unlocks

MMO Unlocks in Competitive Call of Duty?

A key difference between MMOs and other genres is the emphasis on character skill over player skill. While player skill matters some in twitch based action combat MMOs, it’s nothing compared to advancing a character. Level 80 is better than level 40. It’s just a fact. And that’s fine because these games revolve around the character’s journey. The player is just there to serve as a guide.

In competitive FPS games like Call of Duty or MOBAs like League of Legends the focus is on player skill. Players want to win and lose based on their (and their teammates) accolades. Wins derived from grinding better gear shouldn’t exist, and yet they play prominent roles. Call of Duty has been running gun and ability unlocks for a while now. Their balance has improved over the years to deliver more options instead of more power, but that doesn’t stop the occasional turning the occasional FPS game on its head. I remember an especially egregious example from Battlefront. The DL-44 (Han Solo’s pistol) blew every other weapon away and to earn it, you needed to grind account levels for dozens of hours.

Until very recently, League of Legends used a rune system that would grant veteran players the best stat boosts in the game (which made a big early game difference). While they’ve gone to a more fair system, that doesn’t keep them and Heroes of the Storm from gating off characters against those who don’t grind (or pay money for them). The problem with character unlocks in MOBAs (compared to say, unlocking characters in Smash Ultimate) is that balance is built around certain characters countering others. If you can only afford to play the weaker character for your position, you’re at a disadvantage.

In this current climate, grinding unlocks is unavoidable. Dawn of War III launched with similar unlocks (and removed, but with a lot of damage done). Players level up in Fortnite (wisely just for cosmetics). Vermintide acts as a worse Left 4 Dead that mandates running the same content over and over before seeing anything new. It’s like reputation quests with no other gameplay alternatives.

MMOs made it so in order to play a game, you have to play this shell of a game first.

Watering Down What Defines MMOs

the division mmo lite

MMO or Not?

The definition of MMOs has changed over the years. First you needed a massive world where potentially hundreds could interact. Then you needed at least a hub for hundreds to interact, even if most gameplay took place in instanced areas (temporary copies). Now, as long as character skill matters more than player skill we call it an MMO. I don’t particularly agree with the new age definition that construes Destiny and The Division as MMOs, but I’ll go along with it. That’s how language works. I don’t have a problem with that. I have a problem with affect that has on more traditional MMOs and MMORPGs.

The average MMO now isn’t about community, interaction, world building, unique builds, exploration, or adventure. It’s about advancing character skill. Like I said before, that is what separates MMOs from other multiplayer genres. That doesn’t mean developers should limit themselves to this very narrow vision. Yet that’s exactly what happened with Bless, Albion, and Black Desert Online (2017 and 2018’s largest new MMO releases). That’s why pay to win is a thing – character power is all that matters. These games are absolutely terrible prospects for anyone who wants to do more in a virtual world than simply grind their lives away.

Elder Scrolls Online and Final Fantasy XIV are great, but I want to see a new developer embrace their values. Diving into the niche instead of broadening the scope might not create the next Fortnite, but it can pay out all the same.

The inclusion of MMO-lite-lite games ruined the identity of the genre.

Gacha Gaming

I’m going to keep this short. Gacha gaming is a plague. For those unfamiliar, Gacha refers to all of those loot box heavy mobile games you see on Android and Apple stores. With very few exceptions (shout out to Sdorica Sunset), they are completely mindless drivel that exist solely to hook players into spending money to gamble that they can advance further, faster, or both.

And before they were popular on mobile devices, they were fueling free to play Korean MMOs in the first decade of the 2000s.

Survival Treadmill

rust rock

A Survival Gamer’s Best Friend

Every month there’s a new survival game on Steam. These games have consumed the top MMOs have to offer and regurgitated a zombified mess. The idea is great – live as long as you can in a hostile land. The execution is frustrating – get more stuff first so nobody else can have any stuff. These games revolve around playing non-stop. When you stop playing, other people take away your ability to survive. Taking away your survival leads to death. When you die, you lose everything.

Instead of learning from rogue-lites that death can be a fun game concept, survival game developers eschew that lesson in favor of telling players just to hop back on that gear/level treadmill and try to survive a little longer. Obviously people enjoy this or games like Rust and ARK wouldn’t be so popular. It also led to booming battle royales, essentially condensed survival games. Survival and battle royale games both revolve around collecting gear to deprive others of said gear with high degrees of randomness and chaos. The buildup is simply shorter and the stakes lower. This blurs the line between character skill and player skill in a way that absolves players of responsibility on both fronts. And I think that’s a dangerous line to walk. When people can justify blaming something else for their failures they will, and there is no shortage of things to blame in survival or battle royale games.

As critical as I am of the above, people should play what they enjoy. That’s fine. My opinion is just that. The problem with trends is that businesses chase them to the detriment of innovation and traditional success stories. It also reinforces the entitlement culture gamers have developed over the years. Read responses to any game developer’s tweet if you don’t believe me. “I supported you for 10 years and now you RUINED Magic Turtle Kingdom by adding BLUE HAIR! READ THE LORE! You’re so stupid I uninstall and never support you again.” This is an issue with society at large, but game design continues to move in a direction that feeds player entitlement. Games tell players they earn their wins but aren’t to blame for their losses, and egos balloon as a result.

All of this creates more toxic communities, games developed for the common denominator, less creative character development, and less chances to show player skill. It’s not where I want see game development money heading, but you can’t outrun a tsunami.

Are MMOs really to blame? I think the crash course middle ground of player/character skill was inevitable, so it’s unfair to say “MMOs did this”. Where I think they’re at fault is in their trend-chasing, anti-innovation development methods. They laid the groundwork of expectations between developer and player in a way that has hurt multiplayer gaming as a whole.

Love/Hate Relationship

Despite the MMOification of multiplayer gaming, games are starting to learn and turn the course. Monster Hunter World merged the best of grinding and challenging boss battles into a fun cooperative experience. Though I complained about it earlier, Fortnite adding light base building mechanics, revitalizing arcade shooting, and evolving their map every season really makes me respect it as much as Minecraft (even if I played either one very little).

For a long time MMOs failed to truly evolve or innovate any aspect of their gameplay except that which lead to psychologically addictive grinding or gambling. It stagnated multiplayer gaming and continues to do so despite the occasional success story. The risk of stirring the still lake that is copycat game development often pays off in ways that genuine innovation don’t. Instead, people would rather thousands on GTA Online to play what should’ve been included with their $60 purchase. But people are willing to pay that money, so who am I to blame Rockstar?

The MMOification of gaming may not have been good for games, but it’s been good for business. I guess that’s why I shouldn’t be surprised.


MMO Blogging Dead? No, But…

“blogging about them [MMORPGs] doesn’t appear to be a thing any more.”

Tobold, MMORPG blogger turned general gaming blogger, created waves with this statement. It’s a testament to his legacy in the community though that he is able to create such ripples for a community he doesn’t really place himself within any longer. It sparked defense from several bloggers and a handful of readers. Many clamored that MMO blogging is far from dead, citing a wealth of posts composed every week.

The quantity of posts originating from self professed MMO blogs doesn’t necessarily point to the trade’s life or death. After all, everyone shifts their attention away from MMOs here and there. Tobold points to single player game articles on MMORPG.com as evidence of a decline in this niche field. Here at MMOBro, we too touch on single player games. Does that make this less of an MMO site? I don’t think so. Rock, Paper, Shotgun has had board game articles, but they’re still squarely a PC gaming site. The focus of topics here is still on MMO(RPG)s.

That said, it is true that there are less (if any) pure MMORPG sites out there. The answer as to why is as clear as it is subtle. The proliferation of MMO and MMO-lite games has blurred the distinction between MMOs and MMORPGs to the point where that line has all but faded away. Distant cousins of the genre like MOBAs have embraced growth and achievement mechanisms that made the genre popular in the first place. Now that players don’t have to inhabit a persistent world, nor necessarily grind for growth, MMO populations have fallen.

The reality is that it only seems that way to MMORPG purists and veterans. To everyone else in the world, Destiny occupies the same genre as World of Warcraft. And that means the genre is as healthy as ever. It’s just not restricted to PC anymore nor does it require a hundred players to occupy the same space. MMOs have always been about achievement/progression, online play, and persistent characters. Maybe that wasn’t the intent of developers – but that’s what kept people playing and led to the genre’s massive growth. Without progression, people quit and move onto something else. All of this is why our MMO games list includes a myriad of online options. MMO means different things to different people.

mmo blogging shadow of war

It may not be an MMO, but Shadow of War really feels like one.

All of this trickles down to single player gaming as well. MMOs continue to lay the ground work for addictive feedback loops. Only playing players pay, so developers focus on creating content that keeps players busy without drifting into boredom. You can see these loops implemented into AAA single player titles like Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War. The developers for those games spent so much time copying those loops that they even added loot boxes, but that’s another discussion entirely.

This trickling effect isn’t a one way street though. Features from single player games regularly make their way into MMOs. Perhaps the most compelling of such features is rich, linear stories. Final Fantasy XIV arguably boasts the best storytelling in series history. Most of the game’s story can be experienced without any other players. Despite this solo focus, we don’t look at Final Fantasy XIV as less of an MMO. To many, it’s the best of its kind on the market.

This is why we can’t assess MMOs in a vacuum anymore. Gaming genre definitions have and will continue to blur. What makes an MMO an MMO, an RPG an RPG, and so forth no longer applies in any strict sense. Genre names are only starting points for us to find a product that will fulfill that which we’re seeking. Many video games can provide the same sensations as MMOs and vice versa. Because of that, I think it’s critical that MMO bloggers in fact do not wholly focus on MMO content. The only way bloggers, journalists, and writers can fully explore the genre is by stepping outside of it.

MMO blogging isn’t dead. It’s just evolved.


Longevity of Gaming

Longevity is a funny thing. It’s feels great to dive into a game and really get your money’s worth. MMORPGs are certainly at the top of the heap when it comes to replayability and longevity. Not only is there a wealth of content for one character, but unique classes/races/factions can play quite differently. Is it a good thing though?

In an absolute sense, sure. Value is great. Who hates value? Not me. But there is a point of diminishing returns, and MMO games typically hit them faster than other genres. The loop of “level up, get new items, see new place” gets old quick, especially for genre vets. Now that’s not exclusive to MMOs. Other multiplayer genres like FPS, MOBAs, and RTS also offer a high quantity of repetitious gameplay for one price (excluding loot boxes I suppose). I’d argue only MOBAs really break that mold because different combinations of characters really throw each game on their head.

elder scrolls online new content

Clockwork City, new content from Elder Scrolls Online

Of course, unlike these other games, MMORPGs are in a situation where they can provide a lot of different types of content to alleviate potential boredom. One day you raid, the next you quest, then you craft, and finally you wander into some worldwide PvP. There’s still the benefit of familiarity but with less repetition. This adds longevity and provides players with a warm, comfy feeling to dive into after a long day.

The flip side of longevity is radically unique content that’s one and done. A good example is Pony Island. I promise it’s not what you think, and it’s a wholly interesting experience for 2 hours. The game is fantastic, but I can’t imagine playing it much longer than I did. There’s no longevity, and now I’m back seeking another unique experience. Unless I’m in the specific mood to compete, cooperate, or socialize, unique single player games provide pound for pound more fun than their multiplayer counterparts.  The problem is that after beating Pony Island, now I have to spend valuable time determining what to play next. My backlog scrolls down pretty far, but a lot of those titles turn out to be poor matches. And that’s where the worth lies in a familiar game.

If I decide to boot up Elder Scrolls Online, Neverwinter, or League of Legends I know more or less what I’m getting into. When I boot up a new single player game, I’m just not sure. I might know that I’m playing an FPS like Dishonored or a tactical RPG like XCOM, but I don’t know the intricacies. I have to learn – which can be a lot of fun. But it can also be tiring, frustrating, and ultimately not worth my time if I don’t enjoy it.

I think longevity in games comes down to risk vs. reward. MMOs, other multiplayer games, and some single player games (like Civilization) carry with them a certain sense of contentment. I won’t expect anything too crazy, but I’m also not going to be let down. The risk is low and the reward is moderate. When I load up a brand new game, I might find something that will blow my mind for 5 to 40+ hours (Witcher 3 comes to mind). Then I’m done. Sure, I might replay The Witcher 3 but then I’m just falling into that comfortable routine. Repeating anything will never match your first experience. Games are no different.

So how do you balance the allure of comfortable longevity vs. the desire to experience something new and fresh?

 


Why You Should Invest in Video Games, Like Now

I love video games. You probably do too or you wouldn’t be reading this (but hey, everyone is welcome).

So what if I told you that your passion could make you rich? No, I’m not suggesting you enter the competitive streaming market, sell virtual gold, or start an e-sports career. What I’m suggesting is much simpler – investing. I know reading about money isn’t as exciting as playing a new MMO game, but reading about money could lead to buying more MMOs. So in a way, this post is about playing more MMORPGs and games of all kinds!

World of Warcraft stocks

Want Proof?

If you had invested the cost of a $14.99 World of Warcraft monthly subscription into Activision Blizzard on an annual basis between November 2004 to November 2007, your $539.64 (yes, that’s how much we all spent) would now be worth $5,972. It literally would have paid for itself ten times over. And while Activision Blizzard technically existed as only Activision before 2008, the point isn’t any less valid.

For those unfamiliar with stock investments, they are a great way to grow your wealth. The easiest and most common recommendation for investors is to purchase index funds. There’s no doubt that strategy pays off in the long term. For example, $100 invested into the S&P 500 in 1977 would be worth approximately $2,500 today. By contrast, a savings account at today’s interest rates wouldn’t even earn you $100 in 40 years.

There is a small optimization problem with the index fund strategy. Not only is buying and holding index funds not very exciting, but video game related stocks vastly outperform index funds. Fair warning: prepare yourself for some math below.

Be aware that I am not a professional financial advisor in any capacity and the following information should not be construed as financially sound or professional advice. So don’t blame me if this article blows up your retirement fund, but do feel free to PayPal me some money if this information gives you the means to ‘pay to win’.

Baseline Investment

To really assess the performance of video game stocks, we need to set a few baseline values. For that, I’ll follow the performance details of three major index funds. The S&P 500 is the most common index fund to invest in and provides consistently strong returns. NASDAQ tracks technology stocks and thus is particularly relevant to compare against video games. Finally, Asia is a huge player in the video game industry so I’ll also be analyzing the Japanese index, Nikkei 225. So how have these indices performed over the years?

Let’s take a look at percentage gains from four points in time: one year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, and in January 2000, right before the dot-com bubble burst. Later, we’ll measure these indices against key video game stocks.

S&P 500

1Y: +13.72%
5Y: +75.52%
10Y: +67.5%
January, 2000: +68.04%

NASDAQ

1Y: +23.1%
5Y: +109.25%
10Y: +147.18%
January, 2000: +57.71%

Nikkei 225

1Y: +20.08%
5Y: +122.24%
10Y: +18.57%
January, 2000: +5.71%

Unsurprisingly, the best gains have been over the past five years as the market has only ticked upwards since the United States housing crash bottomed out in 2009. More importantly, it’s a positive sign to see that even investing at the peak of a stock market bubble will lead to long term gains. Even the best investors can’t time the stock market so consistent investments is the best route to leveling up your bank account.

bears-bulls-vs-madden-mario

Bears & Bulls vs. Madden & Mario

Plenty of companies sell video games so it would be pretty impractical to research them all. Instead, I’ll focus on those where their primary business is video games (which excludes publishers like Tencent Holdings) with at least some stake in the MMO market. Without further ado, I present our contenders who represent evidence for fiscally sound investment in video games.

Activision Blizzard is responsible for World of Warcraft. Electronic Arts is best known for their sports titles, but don’t forget that this giant owns Bioware and thus, Star Wars: The Old Republic. NEXON is one of the world’s largest free-to-play MMORPG publishers.  Ubisoft merely dabbles in the MMO market, but everyone has heard of game series like Assassin’s Creed. Square Enix owns and operates the beloved Final Fantasy franchise, which now includes two MMORPGs. NCSoft Corp’s ownership of Guild Wars, Lineage, and more has long made them a major player in the MMO space. Finally, if I’m looking at video games, I’d be hard pressed not to include Nintendo even if they’ve avoided MMOizing any of their IPs (come on, let’s get a real Pokemon MMORPG).

Activision Blizzard, Inc.

1Y: +58.39%
5Y: +457.19%
10Y: +572.74%
January, 2000: +5,027.15%

Electronic Arts Inc.

1Y: +49.92%
5Y: +813.58%
10Y: +130.03%
January, 2000: +479.9%

NEXON Co Ltd

1Y: +105.93%
5Y: +142.96%
10Y *: +149.36%
January, 2000 *: +149.36%

Ubisoft Entertainment SA

1Y: +59.07%
5Y: +831.11%
10Y: +145.65%
January, 2000: +459.6%

Square Enix Holdings Co Ltd

1Y: +23.68%
5Y: +194.59%
10Y: +7.66%
January, 2000: -64.08%

NCSoft Corp

1Y: +44.01%
5Y: +52.28%
10Y: +392.95%
January, 2000 *: +1,047.76%

Nintendo Co., Ltd

1Y: +68.93%
5Y: +320.18%
10Y: -31.64%
January, 2000: +130.44%

(* – Some companies have not been publicly traded for 17 or even 10 years. In these cases, the percentage gains relate to to their IPO date which stands for initial public offering. This will greatly skew the January, 2000 numbers in particular due to the company avoiding the market crash.)

What Does it Mean?

what does it mean double rainbow

These percentages tell us something important, but they’re also hard to wrap one’s head around. For that, we need to illustrate real world cash gains over time. Below you’ll see what gains one would earn investing $1,000 evenly across the three example funds compared to distributing $1,000 evenly over five to seven of the video game stocks (discounting companies that did not exist for the time period).

1-Year Gains:

Funds: +$189.66
Video Games: +$585

5-Year Gains:

Funds: +$1,023.66
Video Games: +$4,016.98

10-Year Gains:

Funds: +$777.50
Video Games: +$2,028.98

Gains since January, 2000:

Funds: +$438.20
Video Games: +$12,066.02 (+$2,514.65 without Activision Blizzard’s massive 50x gain)

In short, investing in video games at any of these four points in time would have netted you gains of 3x compared to recommended index funds. To put it another way, someone who had invested in video games at the turn of the century could today afford 193 more $60 AAA titles than someone who had invested in index funds.

That said, it’s important to note the only period points with losses belong to the video game stocks. While individual stocks can produce greater rewards, they are also inherently more risky. Even while I laud the performance of the video game industry, I would still suggest a heavy mixture of index funds to offset the risk.

Gross Assets to Win (GA2W)

Sadly, paying money to ‘win’ online games is never going to vanish from the industry. But with some smart investing you could be the whale everyone hates. And how poetic would it be to make that money from the very games you play? (Of course investing takes time so until then, here are a few good free MMOs that aren’t pay-to-win.)

This is as far from a get rich quick scheme as you can get. The foundation of investing is built on bankrolling good companies over a period of several years. And at some point in the next ten years, the market will likely crash again. However, given time and smart investments you will see your real world money grow to levels that make virtual currency such as Elder Scrolls Online crowns, Guild Wars 2 gems, and SW:TOR cartel coins a drop in the bucket.

You should do your own research before investing in anything, but hopefully this has opened your eyes a bit (and if so, I highly recommend Scottrade for individual stocks and Vanguard for index funds). And if you’re a teenager who thinks you don’t have enough money for any of this to matter, think again. The sooner you start investing, the more money you’ll end up when you hit “adulthood”, the faster you’ll retire, and the more MMORPGs and video games you can spend playing guilt-free during that retirement.