How MMOs have ruined single-player games for me

When I graduated college and got a job that offered a decent amount of disposable income (this was before children, of course), my gaming habit exploded. In 2000, I was buying multiple PC titles and PS2 titles every week, and always on the hunt for more.

I ate up games.  I was starving for titles — usually RPGs — that would last for weeks instead of days.  But my ability to buy more meant that I became less patient and less willing to stick with subpar gameplay.  Still, back in those days my video game library was rather more diverse — FPSes, RTSes, racing games, fighting games, RPGs, adventures, and in a fit of delusion, one sports title.

This all changed around 2003 when I got both cable internet (vs dial-up) and City of Heroes.  Suddenly, I found myself transformed into a monogamous gamer who spent all of my time in just one game (CoH, then WoW, then LOTRO).   My interest in other games dropped like a  rock (but didn’t disappear entirely, mind you).  So what happened?  How did MMOs kill my interest in single games?  I know there are a lot of people out there who play both regularly, but other than the rare title or iPhone game, I’ve pretty much been solo-MMO for years now.

It’s not as if the gameplay is that much better than single-player games — in many cases, it’s usually a degree or two less. Single-player titles may boast better visuals and no lag (due to not having to connect to a server and render many additional player characters), have better combat with fancier effects (like slo-mo), and use storytelling devices above and beyond a mere quest text box. This, of course, is not new. This was all true back in 1999 with EverQuest — there were tons of games that had much better visuals, better stories, better combat. But EQ (and other MMOs) offered something that these other games didn’t, and — for me — I think I’ve narrowed it down to two simple factors.

#1 – A Persistent World

One of my biggest frustrations with 30, 40, 80, 100-hour single-player RPGs was that I would sink tons and tons of time and effort into these characters and their story — but it would end.  The character I dumped all of this effort into building up and outfitting and caring about had an expiration date.

This changes in a persistent world.  My character continues indefinitely (or, more accurately, with the illusion of indefinite life until the game was canceled or I chose to stop playing or deleted that character).  My efforts last.  Mostly, I continue to go forward and not backwards.

These worlds usually kept expanding as well, with updates and patches and expansions, offering the promise of future adventures (something that was a lot less frequent with single-player games, if ever).

The days of the “Game Over” screen are waning fast, and  our success in game is rewarded with an extension of life, not death.  Because of this reason, I have difficulties playing a game that I know will end at some point, because I’ve tasted the fruits off the other side of that valley, and found it good.

#2 – Social Contact

I’ve established already that I’m primarily a solo player in MMOs, but I still group, I still participate in guild chat and events, and I really like seeing people play around me and know that they’re there.  I liken it to going to a coffeeshop — you see a lot of people going to Starbucks to sit by themselves, do their own thing, and possibly never talk to anyone except the barista.  If they can make that coffee at home, why go?  Because there’s something about human nature that we want to be near others so we don’t feel isolated and alone, even if we don’t engage with those other folks.

So social contact is really important to me.  How we interact with other players is a matter of preferences and degrees, but to me it’s just great they’re present.  Connection to other folks is what makes MMOs so special, and it’s why we’re seeing a lot more of that in formerly single-player games — people want multiplayer, people want the connection of Xbox Live or other types of chat, people want to form persistent groups.

Happily, these two broad genres are starting to merge together after long years in separate spheres.  It’s why we have a lot more non-traditional MMOs coming out these days (and why everyone’s bickering about what constitutes a proper MMO or not), because people do like persistent and expanding worlds as well as that social contact.  In a recent interview I did with 38 Studios, Curt Schilling talked about how they might even have guilds in their upcoming single-player RPG.  The lines are becoming blurred.

But it might be too late for me.  Years ago, I was a total RTS nut; today, I’m not even tempted with Starcraft II.  I’ve been spoiled — but I’m not complaining.

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21 thoughts on “How MMOs have ruined single-player games for me

  1. For me it’s all about #1. I’m one of those people MMO gamers hate: the devoted soloer. But I love the idea that my characters will keep on going forever…or at least until the game is shut down, which used to *feel* like forever but these days might just be until next week.

  2. I thought this in full until I played Amnesia, a game that would never, ever work in an environment with other people. It’s not a question of, “Am I playing a lesser version of a game with a community?” anymore, but more of, “If there was someone sitting next to me, this game would be crap.”

    But yeah, I find myself asking, “Am I going to play this game for more than a month” if it has a 50-60 pricetag.

  3. You sound like my long-lost clone.

    The last single player game I bought was Half-Life 2 – purchased in the lull between WoW’s beta and retail launch. I loved it – best shooter I’ve ever played, hands down. But that was nearly six years ago.

    The upcoming game that I’m looking at and thinking “that’ll probably be good” is Civilization V. But then.. I’m also thinking “but do I want to buy a single-player game, when there are so many MMOs calling to me?”

  4. Am totally with you – I used to play so many console RPGs before the online gaming world and especially MMOs, opened up to me sometime in 2003. That said, I saved a ton of cash ever since I stopped buying so many new games (and console-related hardware) which is a good thing.

    I agree that it is about the persistent world and community (and bonds) basically always waiting for you. the content changes too, so it keeps us entertained – we patch and get expansions instead of buying ‘sequels’ like it’s done for other games nowadays.

    Other points for me are that MMOs are so much more diverse than standard games: depending on how you play, they can be a mix of multiple genres and I feel like I’m using more and different ‘skills’ while playing them.
    Another factor is immersion, you tend to dive a lot deeper into MMOs on a personal level and identify with your alter ego. Whether we notice it or not, this creates attachment. Immersion of course consisting of many factors, a very intriguing topic. =)

  5. I find that I waffle back and forth between the two. There is plenty about MMO’s that can’t be beat, but there is also plenty that I don’t like.
    I unfortunately tend to play a game too much when I first get it and then burn out on it. Playing games that “end” gives me a good excuse to try a new one. When I need a break from an MMO game, since they are all very similar at their core, I find that playing a different one really doesn’t help. Playing a SP game gives me a break from it all. :)

  6. I followed the same way from PC and PS2 games to MMOs. The last game I bought was Dragon Age Origins and I couldn’t even finish it ! I found it boring and slow and I missed my friends from the MMOs.
    Even if I mostly play solo in LOTRO^^…

  7. Syp you are right on here. I too used to play single player games and now only MMO’s. I just don’t have the time or the interest for those other games any more. There is too much to do in Lotro, much less anything else. To me the community is what brings me back. I love grouping and playing with my kin. It is a blast!

  8. World War 2 Online (mmo)changed my gaming habits in a big way. In November 2002 the mac version came out (play on a PC now) and I have been an active player and monthly subscriber for 92 months and counting. The social aspect is amazing. Our in game squad is very active and on squad night we have 20+ online. We use TS to communicate while in game. Players from the US, UK, mainland Europe, Australia, Canada, etc. Squad mates that I have never met in person but are very good friends. We help each other out through job loses, sending packages while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan (all are back now with several serving 2 tours of duty), sponsoring events with donations, and we even have a fantasy football league. The game has such a tight community (allied and axis) that then when there is a lose in the player base we have a memorial in game and the name of the player is added to the in game memorial.

  9. I agree those two reasons are what make MMO games so great to me. I always get sad when I finish a RPG, it’s done and I can play it again but it doesn’t have that lasting feeling.

    Ok, sure you may play WoW gear up out the ‘wazoo’ and beat the LK but there will be another expansion and you can still play with friends or work on other things.

    Or in Everquest you can keep working on aa points, faction, gear and so on. It’s nice to have reasons to keep playing games.

  10. It’ the carrot. I try playing “other” games from time to time, but the only thing I can really think about is that I could be progressing my character in my mmo of choice instead of “wasting” time playing this single player game. It’s really horrible too because I really do like and want to play some single player games, Civ 5 as mentioned above, being one of them.

  11. I’m with Mojeaux. THe carrot of constant progression, makes me feel like I am wasting time when I play single player games. I played RTS games mostly , bgere starting in WoW. Now even playing WoW seems a waste when I have stuff I could/shouls be doing to level in STO.

    Plus, I play mostly solo but like the comraderie of my guild (also doing their own thing, mostly ) and occasionally getting together knock out an instance or mission.

    I think it is also about a shared experience. Because online you’ll always find people who understand your interest in gaming, at whatever level you play. In the real world, at my job, I interact with relatively few people who play or even are interested in the same things that I am (both RL and game-related).

  12. I whole heartedly agree with you and I know exactly why. I have a virulent case of autophobia and so your number 2 reason becomes my main reason mmos have ruined single player games for me. On rare occasion I will find a single player game that is so well written that this factor is alleviated to some extent but that is rare.

    Yes mmos have ruin single player games for me just like Christian Bale’s tirade has ruined the Batman movies.

  13. I’m the exact opposite. Playing WoW (which I still play) has made me swear off ever playing another MMO.

    Since I started playing video games it’s been mostly a solo-effort. I’ve always loved RPGs I could sink 60 hours into. When my friends were all playing multi-player Goldeneye I was wishing they would go home so I could play the campaign mode.

    The persistant world in my opinion is one of the weaknesses of an MMO. Sure there are patches and expansions but it’s always the same game. The same combat, same abilities, same art style. It gets dull. I don’t like that the game never ends. With a non-MMO, I have my fun then reach the endpoint with a feeling of satisfaction that I have finished it. With WoW that can’t happen. The game becomes a giant timesink, devoting time to grindy activities to what end?

    The social aspect is both the best and worst part of WoW. The main reason I still play is that I play with a great group of people that I don’t want to abandon. On the other hand, WoW has introduced me to some of the scum of the earth. It also forces you to be dependant on other people (and them depend on you) for most of the content, which can be very frustrating.

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  15. I’d be a lot more interested in MMOs if they had persistence, but not permanence. As in, you can keep playing in the world, but the world changes, largely based on character actions. (Not talking Second Life here, think more “Legend of the Five Rings” where the devs change things every release based on player actions in aggregate.)

    Even so, considering that I work in games, it behooves me to be familiar with way more than a single MMO. I play a LOT of different games, and getting sucked into an MMO with subpar gameplay just isn’t smart.

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