Yesterday I finally got around to trying the Doom 3 (2004) demo. It was desperation more than anything else: I lost interest in the Doom/Quake games when the focus became multiplayer deathmatch.
All the gamers I know, all the gamers I work with, love co-op. We were discussing this at lunch on Friday and Granik made a very salient observation — co-op players tend not to be as visible as tourneying fraggers because you don’t just join random servers for good co-op, you tend to host a local LAN server and/or play with buddies.
Frankly, I think it has been the dearth of good co-op games that has fuelled the rise of the MMO industry. I really don’t think people want MMO games. Don’t look at WoW and say “millions of new MMO subscribers!” No, those are millions of gamers who have been stuck in single-player mode because they don’t love frag play.
All you have to do is look at how players huddle up into guilds and lock themselves away in raids and love it, even though the gameplay becomes tedious and repetetive and grindy. Yet they still love it. Why?
Because it’s co-op play.
Like most of the multi-player PvP games that have lasted – there is some form of co-op play. The problem is that shoebox games have to try and sell as single-player games, and so they have very linear, adventure like story telling which is very hard to translate (apparently) into a multiplayer game without using gimmicks to constrain the player group to the storyline.
MMOs, then, are the lazy designer’s story-telling solution: content is persistent but storytelling mechanics are transitory. In, say, Bards Tale, you might expect to return from a storyline progression to find the town changed with new NPCs or topographical changes. In an MMO, generally returning from a storyline progression leads to a change in the dialog of that single NPC. Maybe, occasionally, one NPC will unlock new dialog from another, but generally things have to remain static so other people can consume their content too.
LotRO took a step forward with this – using iversioned instances of zones that you see as you progress through the storyline and a mechanism to let you visit an older instance for questing.
But, by and large, MMOs limit general storyline development to zone-access and dialog changes. Where the good story telling tends to occur is inside instances. Some MMO instance zones play out a lot like old shoebox co-op gameplay.
Some games waste this opportunity (I hate to say it but EQ2 is a prime example) by simply mashing all the players into single fights and creating a hyper-linear progression. Other games (such as EQ1, WoW, etc) create a far more co-op experience by throwing parallel activities at players. I recall with particular fondness some of the raid encounters in the Plane of Innovation.
I really think its time for some MMO experience to filter back down to shrink-wrap gaming and for some new co-op gaming to emerge.