Do We Expect Too Much From MMORPGs Now?

I’m not going to weigh in on the “Is Champions Online Worth Buying?” debate that seems to be the hot topic at the moment amongst all of the bloggers. I’m still on the fence with it – I’m enjoying the open beta but, due to the fact that I have to move apartment soon, I’m still wondering if I should buy it or save my money. Regardless, reading a lot of people’s comments about Champions Online got me wondering if we just expect too much from our MMOs now.

Although I primarily play MMORPGs, I still keep an eye on single player PC games and console games (I’ve always had a console ever since I was a kid and now currently own a PS3) and buy several a year. My non-MMO acquisitions within the last 12 months include InFamous, Dead Space, Street Fighter IV, Little Big Planet, Sins of a Solar Empire, BioShock and Mass Effect. I spent between £30 – £50 ($50 – $75) on each of them and enjoyed them all thoroughly, yet when I look back on to how long I actually spent playing them, it wasn’t a huge amount of time compared to any MMO. For example, Dead Space only takes about 12 hours to complete and Mass Effect was completed and finished within a week. This short amount of game time doesn’t seem to bother single player or console gamers in the slightest yet a MMORPG gamer would shudder at the thought of handing over cash for something that would only last them one or two weeks.

Even the “worst” MMOs I’ve played (Tabula Rasa, I’m looking at you) probably lasted me a good month, with several hours play every day. A month in any MMO is considered very short term yet single player games like Final Fantasy or Oblivion are praised for their “lengthy” campaigns which might take up to 80 hours to complete. I could pump 80 hours into a MMORPG without breaking a sweat. To give you some perspective, my “main” in EQ2 has over 888 hours of played time. And that’s just one character of mine out of just one MMO I’ve played.

Does every MMO need to have long term appeal? Does it always need to be the game that we move our entire guild to and play for the next two years? Can’t it just be a bit of fun for a few weeks, just like any console or single player game?

This is my dilemma with Champions Online. I think it’s fun and I bet it could easily last me a month or so before I got bored. Even if that only amounted to 60 hours of play time, it would be considered decent value for money by non-MMO standards. However, compared to MMORPG standards, that’s a pretty poor lifespan.

So what do you think? Do we expect too much from our MMORPGs now? Can’t they just be considered like other games and be a bit of fun on the side? Isn’t that still good value for money? And most importantly, should I buy Champions Online?

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36 Comments

  1. LithianLord says:

    I don’t think we expect too much at all. When we purchase and pay for a MMO, it is an completly diffrent experience then, say, buying bioshock. When we go to a game store to buy a single-player game, we don’t think “this better last me months!” While MMOs are bought with the purpose of playing it for months or even years. Nobody goes into the store to find a game to entertain them for the weekend and pick up a MMO. That would be rediculous. What we DO expect too much from is the content. No MMOs anymore (other then a game like Fallen Earth) push any boundries of what it is to be massivly mulyiplayer. Look at Aion, just another by-the-books fantasy game. Or look at Champions online, just another City of Heroes. We need to spend less time debating over “is it worth it” and more time saying “why can’t it be diffrent”?

    • Gordon says:

      I just find it curious that people more readily accept paying $70 for a console game that will only last them 2 weeks than paying $50 for a MMO that will last them a month or two. The only difference is our perception and the fact we expect MMOs to last us for months and months and months.

  2. Keen says:

    Every MMO needs longterm appeal. It is an essential characteristic of how they are designed and played. As LithianLord says, we don’t go to the store and buy a MMO thinking it’s going to last us a weekend (heck, I don’t buy one thinking it’s going to last me a MONTH).

    Bioshock and World of Warcraft. Apples and Oranges. Ceasing to acknowledge their differences simply makes no sense when you really stop and think about it.

    Now, you asked for an opinion. “Should I buy Champions Online?” My answer is no, you should pass it up. Looking at the games you list as past purchases that you enjoy, there are many non-mmo games coming out this month, next month, and the rest of the year that will give you more enjoyment for your money. If you need a *new* MMO, I would suggest Aion over CO, given your history with 888 hours in EQ2.

  3. If you’re paying for a subscription and future content down the road, then yes, I think the game should have a long-term appeal.

    That said, maybe you should hold out on buying Champions Online until after you’ve finished moving. Gives you more time to gauge how the game goes from the perspectiive of other bloggers.

  4. Hmm… I think my cvomment disappeared… TESTING.

  5. Aaron says:

    From a gamer’s view, you’re absolutely right. An MMO that only lasts a month can have as much value as a single-player game of similar price.

    But from the view of developers, it’s essential that people want to play for many months. Their financial models rely on it.

    They generally try to accomplish this by creating addiction through achievement gameplay, always hanging carrots in front of the player’s nose. The alternative that never gets tried is to focus on replayability… making content dynamic and surprising, rather than just stringing together shallow experiences. MMOs as they are focus on length, rather than depth.

    • Tesh says:

      “But from the view of developers, it’s essential that people want to play for many months. Their financial models rely on it.”

      Yes, this. Among other reasons, this is why I prefer the Guild Wars business model. They don’t have to string people along with lame grinds, they just have to make a great game that happens to be online. (And in fact, it’s OK that players “finish” the game since then they aren’t still taking up server assets.)

    • Gordon says:

      Ah but you’re forgetting games like GTA IV which have no serious long term appeal yet cost a vast amount of money to make. Perhaps MMOs cost more to make but it shows that games can still be very profitable even with only a short term appeal.

  6. Longasc says:

    It is interesting that I am still playing LOTRO very casually after I intended that it is probably not worth it in the long run…^^

    This might also explain my Aion burnout: It is good, but the more I play it the less fascinating it becomes and I doubt if I will like the endgame. I expected it a MMO that will suck me in for a year. You might be right about too high expectations, and who can really tell after a beta if a game lasts for eternity, which is already a silly idea in itself. But maybe it is true for the Phoenix WoW (hints at Cataclysm).

    Aion endgame seems to require serious dedication and I doubt if I can stand so much pvp – yeah, we westerners have become pussies, you will see more open world carnage in Aion than in nonstop playing WoW Battlegrounds. I also got the feeling they try to hide the wolf with western fluff, in the end it will be a very alien gaming experience for westerners.

    But maybe this is good and exactly what some people want.

  7. Longasc says:

    P.S. 888 hours in EQ2 is considered a long time? I don’t want to reveal the hours I spent in Guild Wars then…^^

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe, well maybe 888 isn’t too bad considering I had that character for a few years. But remember I stopped playing him seriously last year and I could’ve easily kept going with the new expansion and raid content etc. I’m sure plenty of people have pumped in more hours than that in one character :)

  8. Jesse says:

    The monthly fee is the beginning and end of why I expect more from an MMO than other games. Right now Eve is giving what I consider to be my money’s worth for the subscription, and I’ve even got two accounts going right now. Fallen Earth is looking like it will do the same and that is why I’m pre-ordering it. I do have a budget for games though, and I’ll be dropping one of my Eve accounts when Fallen Earth comes out. The next WoW expansion has piqued my interest, and if it looks like they’ll be able to deliver on it I’ll pick that up too. Whether or not Champions will be worth your money is up to you, but I don’t see anything that would make it worth it for me. You can always wait for a free trial.

    p.s. How could you count Tabula Rasa among the worst MMO’s you’ve played? Even with it’s problems, the control point system alone made the game worth playing for me. To each their own I guess, but I consider TR to be one of the better MMO’s I’ve played.

  9. Ogrebears says:

    I don’t think we are expecting enought.

    Most triple A MMo tiles (Biowear, Blizzard, SoE), tend to get 500,000+ people buying the initial release.
    500,000 X 50 = 25 Million Bucks. — Most MMO tend to have more right off the bat.
    Most of those MMO’s have 150-200 thousand people playing them at 15 bucks a month
    150,000 X 15 = 2.25 Million a month
    With a 30 buck expansion about every year which let assume only those 150,000 buy 4.5 Million.

    So first year out a tripple A title will make roughly 52 million.
    And Every year after that 31.5 million.

    That huge amounts of money, almost 100 Million in the first year if you goal is 150,000 subs.

    • Keen says:

      Speaking purely from a monetary perspective, I agree with Ogrebear. When you really think about it, not only do MMORPGs sell well, they rake in tons and tons of money on a monthly basis.

      Too often do we give them a free pass – in fact, too often we pay them to get a free pass – and what we get in return is often a figurative slap in the face.

    • Gordon says:

      Look at GTA: IV though. According to Wikipedia it will have a life time sales of between 16 to 19 million units. At $70 a copy that $1.3 billion dollars which blows MMO sales out of the water. It just goes to show that we shouldn’t expect more from a game because it’s a MMO.

  10. Marchosias says:

    Hmmm. Well I’m going to be buying CO, even though I only get a “luke warm” feeling from its “open beta.” It’s getting a bit better each time I play, more stable and more interesting each time, so I’m sure I’ll buy it, get a month under my belt and see if I want to continue the subscription from there.

    If it’s anything like CoH, which it appears it is, I’ll un-subscribe once the grind really kicks in (probably around the high teens or low 20’s in level). And I’ll drop back in once a year or so to see if they’ve made it more solo-friendly, find that it’s not, and un-subscribe again – which is pretty much the same story for LOTRO with me.

    In the mean time, my long time subscriptions are going to EVE and WAR for now. WoW 2-point-oh holds no interest for me at all. I keep trying to get into LOTRO, like CoH, and like CoH I keep unsubscribing due to its total grindy/non-solo friendly nature. I log into GW once a year to see what birthday presents I have :P

  11. Laslo says:

    I could agree with you that we may expect too much from a game if there wasn’t a subscription fee. In this day and age I expect something other than “just a good time” from our valuable play time. I think I need a game that is engaging and will give me a reason to log on most days, something that is challenging and time consuming for my gaming dollar.
    Currently I am in the same boat as you, I have quit playing WoW again about two months ago and still don’t see a replacement in the near future. Even WoW is no longer on my list with all the changes they make every patch as well as their new philosophy that challenge is not required. Fallen Earth has recently started open beta and lifted their NDA so I did my best to post my thoughts on the game on my blog. Even that game though seemingly quite extensive and time consuming doesn’t quite fit my needs.

  12. SmakenDahed says:

    “Even if that only amounted to 60 hours of play time, it would be considered decent value for money by non-MMO standards.”

    If you approach the purchase that way, then go for it. It’s not like anyone is twisting your arm to pay another month’s fee if you don’t want to, right? If you feel its worth your money then it’s worth your money.

    Overall I had fun with the game, especially once I figured out how to throw things. That was fun. And then there was Super Jump… I love it.

  13. [...] Gordon, from We Fly Spitfires, had an entry that reminded me of what I meant to blog about – the MMO audience… only he isn’t only talking about the [...]

  14. [...] Fly Spitfires posted a good questions. Do We Expect Too Much From MMORPGs Now? And I honestly we are not. Mainly because the amounts of that MMO’s [...]

  15. evizaer says:

    I created a new WoW account recently so that I could reap the rewards of the Refer-a-Friend program with Mot, the other writer at That’s A Terrible Idea. In the 30 hours I’ve spent on this character, I’ve had 10 hours of fun or less. Most of the time has been spent grinding through quests mindlessly, travelling, selling crap in towns. Very little of the time have I actually had engaging experiences with the game that make me want to log on again. The only reason I haven’t given up on WoW is because I’m getting triple XP from RAF. Otherwise, the game is completely not worth my time and money.

    And that’s supposedly the best game in the genre!

    There’s a difference between hours played and hour spent having fun. In a single-player game, I may spend 20-40 hours playing and 90% of that time I will be having fun. In an MMO, it’s more like 10-20% of the time. Most of a player’s time in an MMO is spent on drudgery that’s needed to get to the fun part–then the fun part isn’t even that fun.

    So are we expecting too much? No. I think it’s reasonable to expect and fun and engaging experience throughout the time I play a game, regardless of how many hours I expect to play it for. If you are going to charge me $15 a month to play your game, I expect to contiually get value out of playing the game for months, which means hundreds of hours. The game has to justify my time and money investment and MMOs do a damn poor job of it at this time. The social aspects of the game are responsible for way too many subs that would’ve been otherwise lost if the game had to rely on its merits as a game alone.

  16. Duane says:

    Well, Gordon, Expect some games that give you quite more bang for your buck.

    Right now, We might expect a few too many things to start out with, but eventually sticking with a game gives what you’d expect from a it, considering that also needs to meet the needs of 100,000+ Players. Some expect more, and some expect less, And those that expect more are far more in number.

    I myself don’t mind if a game can’t offer me all the things I want, but it can normally make up for it by providing more features, or even social interaction. If it offers WAY too little, I pass on it until it’s patched, updated or something new comes along.

    • Gordon says:

      I suppose our expectations should just be inline with the scope of the game. It’s possible that not every MMO wants to be the huge, life consuming, WoW killer that others want to be. If that’s the case, then they’re nothing wrong with them being a bit of fun and only lasting a few months.

      • Duane says:

        That, and it really depends on the price-range of the developers.

        WoW is huge, for example, and rakes in millions upon millions of dollars monthly. As such, they have money to hire more mappers, modelers, coders, and the like, to make the game grow fast. There will be a point at which there’ll be a weekly add-on to WoW, I assure you.

        However, games like Huxley will be massive, but entirely free, because of funding from other locations. It’s using a nice engine that puts WoW to shame, and it’ll have no monthly fee or cost to play on PC nor the 360. This might result in a monthly or bi-monthly addon, perhaps even a weekly quest addition or such, but the point being that it will never have a map or fanbase like WoW’s, who fund the game entirely.

        If we expect a miracle-game from heaven, we’ll go out for the subscription, and it’ll thrive for it.

        If we expect an average game, we might play the trial to see if we like it, and then we’ll pay a fee, or not. It might thrive, it might fail.

        Free games are the middle-land in that, amazingly. While they offer so much to so many, the production and upkeep costs that are normally maintained by fees and the like don’t happen as fast, or at all.

        These games rely on microtransactions like XP Bonuses, Game Add-Ons, Expansion Packs, and ‘ Gold Membership Only ‘ access to a larger chunk of land to kill stuff on.

        However, nowadays, larger companies have found what I believe the best thing to happen to gamers. It’s also a lot more time-consuming, and large, but either way our expectations are raised, and no matter what happens, we always enjoy a larger game for little to no cost.

        At one point, MMO’s will reach their point of Solace. They’ll be the most popular thing out. Which ones make it through are the deciding factors, but will we like them?

        Will the good ones die because of financial problems? Or will the bad ones live because people shelled out monthly to keep it afloat, only to not like what they saw?

        That’s what we need to decide on.

        Is scale equal to deciding if it’s good? I say no.

        I’d pay for a game with tiny map area if it meant that it was amazingly detailed, keeping me interested, and if it meant that the developers could simply make that map more interesting over time.

        We can never expect too much, as long as we like what we see.

  17. Dblade says:

    I think the problem is what happens to games that are considered fun for a few weeks on XboX Live with their online modes; eventually everyone leaves except for a few people, the game becomes impossible to play online, and then the server for it folds. It would be hard to justify making effort on an MMO that people will play similarily.

  18. ConAir says:

    When I buy a single player console game I know exactly what I am getting. I have read reviews, seen game scores, and should know what I am getting into for my $50.

    MMO’s are a different animal because the price model is different. I pay the initial money for the box and CD’s (usually a free month as well) and at the end of every month they come with their hand’s out asking for more money.

    Content also changes with MMO’s. Maybe to your liking and maybe not. You never know what you will get down the road.

    For the continuous cash infusion they require I definitely expect more from them. Especially as most are based on a longer time scale. Do I care if the “early” part of Bioshock isn’t great? Not really. I won’t be spending much time there. Do I care if the first 20 levels of an MMO are great? Yes, I will be spending a considerable amount of time on that.

    Not to mention the first few months of an MMO can essentially be “busy work” before you have a character powerful enough to enjoy. There are some exceptions obviously but for the most part this is standard.

    The want me to commit to an ongoing purchase plan then they better be a step above whatever new game is on the market that I could instead put that $15 towards.

    You have used Grand Theft Auto as the console control in your comments. This actually helps make another of my points. I know exactly what I am getting for what I am paying. Your initial purchase makes you the “owner” of the game.

    I may only get 80 hours out of the game right now. I may beat it in a week but I own the game. If a few weeks later I decide to play again then I am not out anything. The initial purchase has given me unfettered access to that game.

    If I decide I want to poke my head back into a particular MMO world I must once again fork over some money. As far as I know there is no real offline mode for any MMO. The only real exception I can think of is Guild Wars but I don’t hold that to a higher standard.

    I own the console game. I rent the MMO.

    • Gordon says:

      Some excellent points there. It really is all about the longterm with MMOs isn’t yet and as you quite rightly stated, you want to make sure everything is perfect because the time investment is so large.

      I would still say that we don’t necessarily need to consider a MMO as a longterm investment though. A player could reach a reasonable level in WoW, for instance, in only a month and then stop playing and paying. The gaming pleasure would be no less than a single player game (unless you want to “complete” the game that is.

  19. Ferrel says:

    I honestly think we do expect way too much out of MMOs these days. When I purchase an offline game for $50 I want to be able to enjoy it for about a month. If I do so I consider it a good game. If I play it past that it is a great game.

    When it comes to MMOs I really do hope that each time I purchase one that it is my next “everquest.” I played EQ1 for over four years and EQ2 for just over two. I’d love for that to happen again but in this industry it just isn’t likely these days.

    I’ve reclassified MMOs as computer games when it comes to my time vs money reward. Generally speaking if I play a solid month after I hit max level I consider it a decent title. I probably got my money’s worth. I can accept that. I even view some MMOs as this.

    To me Champion’s Online was fun. It isn’t “play for six months” fun but it is most certainly a “play for two or three months” game. $80 for three months entertainment seems alright to me.

    The real problem for me is when the first few months of the game are just an extended beta. If the game is basically “defective” in some way I do get upset. In my eyes I should be paid to play then. I do a pretty decent job of QA and those skills aren’t free!

    • Gordon says:

      Right on. $80 for 3 months play is pretty decent value for money – better than buying a console game every month.

      Makes me think that we’re just so demanding with MMOs now that are expectations are so high that we will never be satisfied. I don’t buy a PS3 game thinking it will something I play every day for 3 years, yet I easily consider that when I purchase a MMO. Is that a reasonable thought to have?

  20. [...] been thinking a lot about this very topic lately. Gordon of We Fly Spitfires posted a piece that really encapsulates the core question here, do we expect too much of MMORPGs? On the whole, [...]

  21. Callan S. says:

    Augh! Don’t fall into the “$80 for three months!” false economy!

    If you got to stare at a wall for three months for $80, would you call it great value?

    C’mon, it’s three months of staring for a mere $80 – that’s not much at all! That must be great value!

    Of course it isn’t! Not all play is equal – you can’t just say $80 for three months of ‘play’. If you honestly rate your per hour fun from 1 to 100 in a single player game and a mmorpg, you’ll see that play in each case is quite different.

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