Do MMOs ruin single-player franchises?

Last week, EA actually confirmed what everyone had been expecting, that The Sims 5 is very much in development. Kind of has to be, considering how old The Sims 4 is at this point. But what wasn’t quite expected were some not-so-oblique hints that Sims 5 will include multiplayer or some sort of online play. In fact, The Sims Online — the MMORPG that ran from 2002 to 2008 — was mentioned a couple of times during an interview with EA’s CEO.

Personally, I’m all for this. I think it’s a natural progression for the series to step online — or more online, I should say, considering that the current Sims community does a lot of online connecting and sharing of created content. It’s a very social and chatty community, and I can see multiplayer neighborhoods (if done right) being right up many people’s alley. And since I do love MMOs, I’m all for seeing more pop up in the market.

However, not everyone was quite as pleased with this quote…

Yes, there be some really, really grumpy people out there who are having kittens at a possible multiplayer Sims. We should mention that actual details of if and how this would work in a game haven’t been shared, it’s merely the specter of online play that set off an emotional wail among some fans.

I parsed a lot of the responses, and it seemed like those who were dismayed by this news shared the same sentiment: “I like the game series as it is and don’t want to see this kind of major change to the format. Also, microtransactions suck but buying a million stuff packs is A-OK.” In other words, if there has to be change, it should be small, incremental, and completely in line with what came before. If a franchise is single-player, it should ALWAYS be single-player.

A few choice quotes from YouTube’s thoughtful comments section:

  • “I fear that multiplayer would force everyone into the same play style”
  • “For me, making sims and households is a form of escapism, and I really don’t think I could adjust well if the game was just randomly turned into a multiplayer platform.”
  • “If there are micro transactions I WILL NOT purchase the game. End of story.”
  • “I remember when Sims 4 was announced and they mentioned that there would be a strong online element people were furious but it turned out to be the gallery and now we can’t be without it.”
  • “How can I make my own world if I have to incorporate online strangers into it?”
  • “I respect some people may want a more MMORPG feel and it can be fun sometimes if the game grows a bit dull to play with friends. As along as the multiplayer feature isn’t forced for everyone and optional then I’m okay with it.”

Again, we don’t know how this would work. Or even if EA is being serious about this or just testing the waters for some sort of alternative mode. But hearing the reactions and reading into it the sentiment that MMOs ruin a good thing, I have to ask myself… is there some truth to that?

We don’t have to go far for a good example to fuel people’s fears. Fallout 76’s move online was handled so poorly, with minimal social features and a horrid cash shop and a laughable subscription. The trade-off for online play meant that some key features, such as VATS and reloading save states, had to be changed or cut entirely. And that trade-off never seemed worth it because Bethesda didn’t think the multiplayer through enough.

If EA required all Sims 5 players to always be online and always be subject to interaction with other players, then there will most certainly be issues. It would be too harsh of a trade-off, cutting out the ability to pause/speed up the game, build at one’s leisure, and the like. But I think there are many ways an online Sims could work, mostly by being a hybrid title that would be MAINLY single-player but feature a multiplayer neighborhood that would let you import a house and characters (that you created in your own space) and then have them run in real time in that pocket dimension.

It’s all in how well or poorly a multiplayer version is crafted from a largely solo series. It can be done well — just ask Final Fantasy XIV or World of Warcraft. It can be done poorly. But all of the time it will raise a lot of anxiety among fans before the final product is seen and experienced.

7 thoughts on “Do MMOs ruin single-player franchises?

  1. Scopique February 11, 2020 / 9:05 am

    SimCity

  2. Tanek February 11, 2020 / 9:57 am

    In a word, yes.

    Not to say they are bad games themselves, but when a game goes from one format like singleplayer or co-op into “MMO”, it does seem to ruin the future of what came before.

    Yes, World of Warcraft was wildly successful as an MMO, but if it did not exist would there have been a Warcraft IV strategy game? There seems to have been talk of one, but the only thing since WoW is a “remaster” of Warcraft III almost 18 years after its last installment.

    Elder Scrolls Online. We were told it would not affect the possibility of another Elder Scrolls game from the singleplayer franchise line. And yet in the last decade all we have seen is the re-release of Skyrim over and over and over. Oh yeah, and a few generic seconds of flyover with “The Elder Scrolls VI” pasted over the end. Even that clip is nearing its 2nd birthday.

    I think ESO is one of the best MMOs out there, but no matter what was said in the lead-up to it, I don’t think there is much question it had a big impact on the singleplayer line. (And that’s if TES6 is even singleplayer.)

    Torchlight Frontiers. I played the alpha and I liked many aspects of the game. But it, too, would have changed the Torchlight franchise. There are parts of the design I might miss now that it will be Torchlight 3 instead, but the “MMO” is not one of them. It never really did that well anyway and I suspect many of the people who are ditching it now that it is “no longer an MMO” hadn’t really played the alpha and are mourning their *idea* of a Torchlight MMO rather than the reality. I was very happy to read about the design shift and the ability to play offline.

    Always online.
    Live service.
    Roadmap.

    The days of the singleplayer, offline capable, moddable games may be coming to a close. If the franchises could continue on two tracks, one MMO and one SP or co-op, I think that would be great. But as things stand there is little evidence any company actually does it. So yeah, having a singleplayer franchise go MMO does, in many ways, ruin it. You might get a great game out of the deal, but don’t expect to ever see the last two books written once HBO made the series. Wait. Scratch the last bit. That’s a whole different format-change rant. 😛

  3. Asmiroth February 11, 2020 / 10:00 am

    I think it has more to do with EA’s atrocious track record with online games. The only way this will work is if EA has a tax structure on player-generated content. Second Life figured this model out 15 years ago, fingers crossed EA can get it right here too.

  4. Nick February 11, 2020 / 12:07 pm

    I mean, even citing your example of World of Warcraft, which is arguably a high (and low) point of the franchise… it did effectively ruin the Single Player version of it, as it hasn’t existed since it came out (save a shoddy remake of an old game).

    The same thing could be said for The Old Republic, as it effectively killed what should have been a sustainable franchise. Yeah, the game churns along, but the single player version of it has been DOA since it came out.

    With the Sims, and EA specifically, they have given us zero reasons to trust them to make… anything. Even looking at the cost around just playing the current version of the Sims makes me skeptical they could put in a game without loading it down with so many transactions as to make it predatory, let alone just EA being EA…

  5. bhagpuss February 11, 2020 / 1:15 pm

    Why not make two games, one single-player, one multi-player? With forethought surely there would be huge synergies that would mean the cost would be far less than developing two completely separate games. If Minions of Mirth could run as both a single-player game and an MMORPG using the same content and the same client over a decade ago, there’s really no excuse for much larger companies to manage something similar.

  6. Shintar February 11, 2020 / 3:25 pm

    The commenters above have a point that multiplayer versions have a way of stopping the development of any more single-player instalments dead in its tracks, but to me honest I don’t see how that would be such a bad thing for the Sims. One of Plumbella’s most popular videos is in fact one where she explains why the 16-year-old Sims 2 is still better than Sims 3 or 4 to this day. EA stopped innovating with that franchise long ago and has just spent the last decade re-relasing the same game with prettier graphics and some features cut out. At least a multiplayer version would offer opportunities for a new direction.

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