Posted Mon, Jul 30, 2012 by ricoxg
As Dooms-Day approaches (it's in December, right?), how appropriate is it that we enter the Year of the Gun? Several articles on Ten Ton Hammer have taken a look at the innovations coming to the MMOFPS genre, but we've never really touched on why these games are gaining in popularity. I think the answer can pretty well be summed up by the target audience--adults. As the age of the average gamer climbs with each passing year, it’s becoming more important for developers to rethink their models for success in order to meet the increasing demand for games that aren’t massive time-sinks.
I think many of my fellow OGs ( Original Gamers ) can remember very fondly those days of caffeine-induced delirium as we crawled our way into the thirty-seventh hour of Dwarf Fortress, giggling maniacally over the released lava as it roasted alive those pestilent pachyderms, then only to spend another hour tirelessly documenting the gleeful events for inclusion in the latest annals of the Colony of Boatmurdered. We just don’t have that kind of time to invest in games anymore, though. We’ll give it a shot occasionally, only to be irritated when the kids start pulling away from us in levels and gear. Who has time to grind out levels between responsibilities like spending time with the family and having to work a regular job to pay the bills?
FPS games allow the gamer to jump in and play as little as they like and never worry about being out-leveled by their friends and left behind because these games are distinctly skill-based, with no levels to grind, no raids to attend, and no drawn out farming parties to gather the materials needed for obscure crafting. Thus, there is no need to invest hours of effort into the game just to be competitive and remain that way. All the MMOFPS requires is a moderate amount of intelligence, decent reactions, and a system beefy enough to run the game of choice. As working adults, we have the cash to buy the rig and enough experience to at least fake the intelligence, and two out of three ain’t bad.
First person shooter MMOs , especially the persistent ones, lend themselves really well to busy schedules. A player can log in, play as little or as long as they wish, and logout knowing they’ll still be a match for anyone tomorrow. Where in typical games players invest time in things like just trying to schedule a guild event, FPS games often require no planning at all to enjoy. Plus, because you can come and go as you like, there’s no concern over leaving friends critically short if you have to bail because your wife is making you take your daughter to dance class, or because you got called in due to a system being down.
Persistent FPS games are even better for those of us with busier lifestyles. The typical FPS only takes a few minutes to jump into a match and then about a quarter or half an hour to play that match. Rinse and repeat. But persistent games like Planetside need even less of a time commitment. In these MMOFPS games, there’s no match to join. The player logs in, jumps into battle, and plays as long as he likes. No queuing, no match-finding, no penalties for leaving early. MMOFPS games are like the TV dinner of MMOs--put it in, *ding*, shoot someone in the face.
It’s not enough to just be able to game for a short while and walk away. That time spent has to have some value to it as well. This is something the FPS genre does well since the very nature of the game is to inject as much action as possible into the shortest time. Games like World of Tanks have accomplished this by creating an action-packed gaming experience, with some persistence to give them long-term value.
More Typical FPS games focus on the immediate and, while that might be entertaining, it loses value long-term because it lacks any persistence. Simplistic reward systems and random acknowledgements may have appealed to B. F. Skinner, but many adults quickly see through the thin veneer to the cookie-cutter heart of the programming. We played Medal of Honor. We really don’t care to play it again with a candy-coating.
The biggest draw for adults to MMOFPS games lately is the new economic model, though. Few adults have the time to devote to a game that they did when they were younger, so that monthly subscription to play a game you barely have time for begins to feel ridiculous. The guys over at Wargaming.net have shown just how lucrative and viable a free-to-play model can be, and they’ve hit a homerun with it. World of Tanks is a prime example of an economic model that, while geared for adults, still finds room to pull in younger gamers. The WoT free-to-play system isn’t the first in an MMOFPS, but I think it’s probably the most effective to date.
In WoT the player no longer pays a subscription. Instead, you have the option of upgrading your account for varying periods of time in order to gain some minor benefit to cash and experience earned during that period. During the week, you play on a regular account when you have less time, and then purchase two days of premium for the weekend when you can get more value out of it. Rather than paying for a month of mostly wasted days, you pay for just the time you want and need. The genius of it is that when combined with modest, non-game-changing purchasable items, Wargaming.net has a system that pulls in more money per paying customer than most others.
Some might ask: why not simply go for the straight up FPS over the MMOFPS? There are certainly hordes of titles out there to choose from. The answer is in the complexity of the adult gamer. We’re limited on time, but we still have a desire for more sophistication and depth than most standard FPS games provide. Battlefield was on the way to becoming a solid hybrid worthy of note, but the latest game copped out to the dumbed down, run-and-gun Call of Duty style of play that the under-developed tend to prefer. The matured gamer desires some story to their selected title, or some meta-experience that transcends the mere repeated headshot and offers something more.
Persistent FPS games offer this as well. Whether it’s the immersive story of Firefall, or the quest for total continent lock of Planetside, MMOFPS games tend to offer some deeper story or meta-game that fulfills the adult gamer’s need for complexity. Some of the same Skinner-Box techniques of the normal FPS may still find their way into these games, but MMOFPS games don’t consist solely of those sad attempts at creating a false sense of reward.
Sure, it’s true that there are a lot of kids in the market now who, having grown up in the Halo and Counterstrike generation, are big fans of the First Person Shooter genre. But that demographic has always existed. The difference is that there is an older demographic that is rapidly gaining a significant share of the market-- mature gamers with jobs and families. Because this is the demographic that has jobs, it only makes sense that companies would start setting sights on them. There’s already been a rash of free-to-play games, or games moving that way, and I think a large part of that new direction is aimed at adult gamers who feel that such games give them more value for their dollar. I suspect we’ll see more persistent FPS games over the next several years as games like Planetside 2 and the DayZ mod for Arma II successfully provide concentrated entertainment in scalable doses. The trick will be catering to the busy adult gamers, while still meeting the demand for complexity in either story or mechanics. By providing those things in a single package, the MMOFPS genre stands to expand and develop quite a bit over the next few years.
My name is Ricoxg, and I’m an adult gamer. I don’t always choose FPSs, but when I do, I choose persistent ones.