Saturday, August 20, 2016

Massively Single-Player?

I was planning a post about a non-combat feature in MMOs but got distracted by one of my reference points. Richard Garriott is bragging he's going to bring back the '90s with a brand spankin' new feature-packed MMO extravaganza to put all the WoW-clones to shame. Trite "thing of the stuff" title aside, Shroud of the Avatar nonetheless looks intriguing enough, except for the part where it's going to be some half and half mishmash of single player RPG and optional multiplayer world.

First off, that's not new. Nor does it predate the current abysmal state of affairs. Cutscene-laden adventure gaming and other moronic Hollywood envy have plagued online games for some time. The World of Warcraft recipe of the past dozen years runs thusly: a single-player string of missions placed online only to justify constant DRM checking and server upkeep fees, with a tacked-on layer of group content somewhere toward the back, where it won't trip up mass-market customers too terrified of the added complexity and unpredictability of intelligent opponents. WoW-clones are single-player campaigns with optional multiplayer "endgame" timesinks.

Second, there's no such thing as optional difficulty, or at least not in multiplayer. If players can out-compete each other by sitting in single-player mode building up their stats then going online only to lord it over their peers, they will do so. If they can't, they will demand the ability to do so. A multiplayer "option" is only as viable as allowed by the ease and comfort of its single-player counterpart. In a single-player game, far from prying eyes and the shame of public failure, players may sometimes attempt challenges. In a multiplayer game they will take the quickest, easiest, safest route to lording their social acceptability and mediocrity over others, especially (paradoxically) by pressuring developers to turn games into single-player grindfests in the interest of character advancement. Once you open that door, once you break the central concept of all players inhabiting the same interconnected world, once you shift the focus from the world to self-aggrandizement, you'll only keep sliding downhill. See: instancing.

I'll confess a good deal of curiousity as to what comes of Shroud of the Avatar. I'm willing to chalk the whole Tabula Rasa fiasco up to NCSoft's idiocy, being acquainted with same from my City of Heroes days. I never even played Garriott's games back in the day but by reputation alone I'll grant he may have a thing or two up his sleeve. Still, this one "feature" keeps me from investing in SotA. It's one hell of an open door to the new-school degenerate whiny complacent gamer trash that have dragged virtual worlds so far down over the years.

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