Moorgard makes some interesting observations in the linked post, which started as a response to this post on LotRO at Adele Caelia’s blog (reminder: which needs to be added to my blogroll).
It is true, MMOs are evaluated a bit differently than single player RPGs in terms of the purchasing decision: I do it myself. I started to try to evaluate “why”, and figured I’d post some of my ideas, and request some feedback. (I’d definitely suggest reading Moorgard’s post first, btw, otherwise a lot of the following might not make much sense…)
I started out with the simplistic issue of mere pricing. A triple-A single player game that has just hit the shelves will run $50 or so, and it’s about the same for a triple-A MMO. The MMO also comes with an additional monthly price tag, $10-15 per month, but includes significantly greater content than any single player game. The MMO is, by definition, multiplayer: most single player games also come with multiplayer options these days, but there are usually some pretty strict limits on the functionality available, either in terms of number of concurrent players, styles/modes of play available, and so on.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I lean against the concept that price is the issue here, at least in terms of the core “value assessment”. If an MMO provides you with even just 3-4 months of solid play time, it runs you about $100, approximately the same cost as the two single player games that would have presumably filled the same amount of time.
The “used” perspective
One concept that seems a little more possible to me is a perspective that seems best described by the word “used”. Unless you get into most MMOs very early on, nearly everything has been explored, mapped, timed, and plotted: the entire thing feels “used”.
Now, I’ve always found this to be an interesting nuance of thought, because it really isn’t all that different a situation in a single player game. Two months after Oblivion’s release, I’d imagine nearly every possible position and encounter in the game world had been explored and mapped by some player or another, walkthroughs of the entire storyline posted for all to see, etc. And yet, I had no compunction whatsoever recommending it to someone who was looking for a new game to play. An MMO title, on the other hand… under similar circumstances, I would have thought twice, and then wondered why.
The perspective of a “shared” setting is a potential drawback here, I think. It doesn’t matter that every single copy of Oblivion is identical, because my specific copy is mine, only impacted by me. In the realm of the MMO, a different set of expectations applies. I can tell myself that it doesn’t, it shouldn’t matter… but it does.
For example, I know for a fact that nothing I do is really going to change anyone else’s experience for more than a moment in most of these games. My slaying of the “Orc Chieftain terrorizing the village” is not going to prevent someone from having the same exact experience and achieving the same goal 5 minutes later: that is the way most of these games are designed. However, knowing it just doesn’t make that “used” feeling go away.
There is also the issue of effectively “coming late to the party”. Another reason that there is significant pressure to get into a game early or not at all is simply the fact that many of these games feel pretty deserted in the “low level zones” within 2-3 months of release. This recent post over at Virgin Worlds blog delves a bit (tangentially, at least) into just one aspect of that phenomenon.
Why spend extra for an MMO if there’s going to be almost no one to play it with? Even for the dedicated soloist, part of the draw of the MMO is the _prospect_, the promise of being able to group with others on occasion, to show off, to socialize, to conquer a specific challenge. If everyone else playing is half a virtual world away, fighting creatures that wouldn’t even notice trampling you to dust as they passed, why bother?
The opposing argument is, of course, that it really doesn’t take very long to get to those elevated levels in many games… to catch up, as it were… and then you can start grouping and all that. The question then becomes, but if I rush through all that to get to the point where I can group, haven’t I missed out on something like 75% of the content then?
Abandoning the children
Another possible factor for some, particularly those with prior experience, might be the attachment to their characters that some people feel.
“I’ve gotten my Xanthrax, my half-elf/half-kobold archmage, to the level cap, visited and conquered the fetid bowels of every major dungeon and stronghold in the game, hundreds of hours invested, his name renowned across the lands… and now I’m going to drop him like yesterday’s newspaper, and try this new game over here.”
Easy for some… not so easy for others.
Moving away from family and friends
Another factor mitigating against a more casual switching back and forth between MMOs as the original post proposed is the fact that just because you are ready to move on, it doesn’t mean your in-game friends and comrades will be. It’s a little like moving to a new town… sure, you’ll stay in touch and all that, but it’s not going to be the same.
As Moorgard points out, it’s easier than ever to stay connected to guildies and online friends, new tools come out weekly it seems. Still…
So, what do you think? Other ideas? Am I way off-base, here?