Dual-Wielding MMOsOctober 26, 2008
And yes, that title is mostly so I can post a sweet John Woo picture. Two guns! One dude! Many bullets!
In the middle of the recent WoW Dev-vs-WAR Dev fracas (that is, actually, the first time I’ve ever written that word in my life), Mark Jacobs said to Games Industry, “One of the things about MMOs is that people play multiple games… people may play WoW and they’ll play WAR and maybe even a third game at the same time.”
This struck not just a few people as odd. The MMO genre is unique in that it’s designed for a “monogameous player” (as Tobold put it), because profits largely stem from ongoing subscription fees. MMO companies don’t sit down at their weekly meetings and go, “Let’s make a game that people only want to play three hours of a week and be satisfied that they’re getting their money’s worth and exploring all the content.” No, MMO companies pay contractors such as drug dealers and the makers of Little Debbie snack cakes to come in and spill all they know about getting people addicted so that they never want to give it up — and never want to go elsewhere for their supply.
MMOs reinforce single-game loyalty with features such as guilds (you don’t want to leave your buddies, now do you?), rewards that favor sizable time investment (raids, city capture, grinds) and even so-called veteran programs (where you get free goodies based on how long you’ve been subscribed). The longer you play a game, the deeper your “roots” become, and the more you invest in your characters — time investments that even game-weary players are reluctant to relinquish (which makes it difficult to move on to a new title). Players are also conscious — or so I’d like to think — of the price tag of each month’s play. Getting 60 hours of good gameplay a month for $15 seems like a pretty good deal, especially when compared to paying $50 for a single-player game that nets you 20 hours of gameplay. Yet throw another subscription in the mix with the same available play time, and suddenly you’re paying $30 a month for the same 60 hours. Not as good of a deal.
So is it realistic or silly or downright nuts to assume that players will dual-wield MMOs as easy as splitting their time between any other hobbies? My instinct, born of experience, is to say no… but a no with a “perhaps” attached. I guess it depends what demographics and types of players you’re looking at. Mark’s in the game industry, and from talks I’ve had with devs, they absolutely delight in playing games all over the place (and have no problem dual- or triple-wielding MMOs). Your average high school or college student or unemployed/work from home guy with time and money to burn? No problem. Why not enjoy the company of a few games? Some of the MMO bloggers you read are downright proud of how many titles they tackle simultaneously, which sort of puts me in a state of awe and fear when I read their articles. For the rest of us, it’s a stickier proposition, but not impossible… just tougher.
There are quite a few upshots to being subscribed to multiple titles at once. As Mark was alluding to, it means you don’t have to choose between vanilla and chocolate — you can have both. You do have choice every night — get a little burned out with one title, and immediately switch to another. You can feel the smug sense of satisfaction that you’ve risen above petty pedestrian fanboy struggles to appreciate the wide palette of gaming discovery that lies on the horizon.
Some MMO companies, like Sony, even actively encourage multiple-MMO subscriptions… so long as they’re all to the titles under their roof, as with their Station Pass. In a year or two, if EA decides to go this route and offer a simultaneous subscription to UO/WAR/SWTOR for one price, you can bet your sweet booty that I won’t be alone in sampling this product.
Personally, I’ve always had a difficult time dividing my attention between more than one MMO. I like being loyal to a title (sometimes resulting in fanboyism), I enjoy hanging with my guildies regularly, I feel like I get a good deal for my dollar, and I’m not pulled between titles on a given night — or burdened with guilt that I’m not getting things done in Game A when I’m partying down in Game B. I think it requires a more casual attitude toward these games to be able to flip between them, and yet ironically demands more of a hardcore gamer attitude that you’d WANT to play more than one.
That said, I’ve dual-wielded MMOs in the past and probably will again in the future. There’s no shame in it, and I’m devoted to sticking with WAR for a good long while, even if I double-dip into Champions Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic (huzzah!) or even (gasp) World of Warcraft. Maybe the fact that I’m less hardcore about my gaming time than I used to be has matured me into a player that’s satisfied with not being the best, the first or the coolest, but just a guy who likes to adventure wherever the gaming is good.