MMOs, and their huge, multiplayer worlds have been around for years. First coming into our collective consciousness around the mid-nineties, these massively multiplayer online games have gone from strength to strength, and have even started to spread their influence into other gaming genres, with some mixed results. For the positive cross-overs look no further than the likes of Ubisoft’s The Division, Ark: Survival Evolved, or even Bungie’s Destiny, three games that have some degree of persistent worlds that ‘tip the hat’ to the MMO, rather than completely embrace it.
First person shooters are not the only genre to borrow from the MMO in recent times either, from isometric mobile strategy games, to VR fantasy RPGs, aspects of MMOs are absolutely everywhere right now. So much so, that it is difficult to see any other genre as anywhere near as influential across the board. To be fair though, there are some very good reasons why MMO facets dominate the gaming landscape right now, the most obvious is that it is social.
The More, The Merrier
It may seem an eternity ago, but some of us can remember the days of pre-internet gaming. The idea of being able to jump into a world and compete or cooperate with other players was a distant dream, but it was still most definitely a dream people were having. In its infancy there were games such as Mazewar, which initially started life as a rather simple multiplayer game that could be player over a physical serial link, but soon progressed into something more akin to a modern day MMO when the creators made it possible to play over the ARPAnet (a forerunner of the modern day internet). And hence, the modern phenomena of the MMO began (albeit in a rather archaic and simple way).
Fast forward to 2018, and we are currently swamped with MMOs and games with MMO-like qualities. From the the obvious examples of World of Warcraft, to the likes of Roblox and Minecraft Realms, the idea of playing with other people across the web has become something of a norm, rather than a novel facet, and that means on mobile as well as desktop gaming. This is partly down to the fact that social games end up advertising themselves through word of mouth, social networks, and viral videos, so games companies are only too happy to build in multiplayer elements to their games if it is at all possible.
Players too have been buying into the MMO landscape for a while now, and it’s popularity seems to come down to two main factors. Firstly, us human beings love to be social. It is built into us to enjoy interacting with each other, whether that is within our friendship groups, or with strangers. The MMO (and the games that borrow from the genre) scratches the same itch that socializing in the real world does, and as such, provides us with a tangible dopamine hit, much in the same way as meeting up with friends or chatting on the phone can do. For those of us who really do enjoy being part of a group, multiplayer online gaming gives us access to our social needs any time of the day or night, and now that mobile gaming is closing the gap on desktop gaming, we can quench that thirst anywhere we happen to be.
The Battle to the Top
The second aspect of MMOs that draws people in is competition. Similar to the social needs we all exhibit, competition is another area that many of us feel naturally drawn to. From chess to football, or poker to cricket, the human race has needed little excuse to challenge each other in a battle for dominance. Video games have turned out to be a perfect playground for those who want to pit their wits or reaction times against others from around the world.
With such obvious reasons to include multiplayer elements, it should be no surprise to see them included in more and more game-types going forward. With the exception of story-based single player experiences, there are plenty of genres that can gain a lot from becoming a more social experience. Take for example the likes of Plarium, a game developer that specializes in MMO mobile strategy games, that has put ‘social’ at the forefront of pretty much every game they have ever released.. And with their games being mobile-centric, the MMO aspects work exceptionally well as it doesn’t matter whether you are home or away you can still be involved in the gaming world. The recently released Sims Mobile also offers similar functionality, bringing an already multiplayer-laded experience to a constantly connected audience, which is great for those of us who like the idea of MMOs, but lack the time to invest in a more traditional and heavy MMO experience.
A Constant Evolution
Now, there is a case to say that not every game should include MMO elements. Not all games suit them, and others should make sure that they are implemented well before release, rather than being a ‘tacked on’ extra . A quick look at any Elder Scrolls Online forum will show you just how annoyed some gamers can be when their beloved single-player franchise is seemingly polluted by the addition of random strangers. Skyrim fans were all too happy to show their vitriol when ESO released, with a vast amount of voices critiquing the multiplayer aspects more than anything else.
While that particular battle still rages on, it is important to realise that there will be some hits and also some misses. We are lucky to live in a time where games companies can respond to criticism by rolling out patches, and essentially plug any gameplay holes that may have been present in the initial release. This is especially important for MMO-esque games, as ‘player balancing’ is not an exact science, and rather than simply berating companies for getting the levelling wrong, it is a more sensible approach to see how a company reacts to the initial criticism. Using ESO as an example, the game now plays very differently to when it was first released, and according to some fans, has breathed new life into a game that received a lukewarm reception at birth.
So the chances are, the MMO genre is going to get bigger and bigger as time rolls on. It may not look or play exactly like the MMOs you have always known and loved, it may not smell like them either. But under the skin, the life blood of the MMO will be flowing in many an upcoming release. Which, for those of us who love the genre, is a very good thing indeed.