Convenience stores are kind of awesome, right? Where else can you get fuel for your car, band-aids, headache medicine, copious amounts of beef jerky, beer and cigarettes all at the same place? And within a reasonable amount of time to boot? They’re pretty fantastic. But the design model of a convenience store has its flaws, and those flaws are inherent in MMO’s that follow the same sort of model.
So let me elaborate on what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the MMO’s that try to cast a super-broad net and garner as many different types of players as possible. From a business standpoint, this makes absolute sense. However, from a design standpoint, I feel like the convenience store MMO has hurt the genre.
Consider the example of purchasing food from a convenience store. Sometimes it’s kind of your only real option, but it’s almost universally understood that a pizza from a convenience store hot box is going to be of significantly less quality than a pizza from a pizza restaurant.
Why is that? Well, sure, pizza is a generally simple thing to make, but it also is an equally simple thing to screw up or make mediocre. A pizza restaurant is custom-built specifically for the purpose of making awesome pizza, while a convenience store is spread too thin to really focus on making awesome pizza.
Same thing with MMO’s. The ones that hit too many notes are usually not exactly excellent at doing so, while MMO’s that are focused on one style of play or one kind of design ethos generally seem tighter. WildStar is all over the map in terms of its features and as a result it’s not terribly compelling. One could certainly find something that they like about what it does, but it still falls short of a certain mark. EVE Online is, despite my own preferences, a very well-built game because it was purpose-built. It has focused on what sort of game it is and is a generally richer MMO for its focus.
World of Warcraft, of course, is the outlier here, but then it always sort of has been, so I’m not really folding that in. As a matter of fact, World of Warcraft and WildStar both could be argued that they’re convenience store MMO’s who are really focusing mon making a great pizza but then their coffee ends up being terrible; a design issue that’s stemmed from being spread too thin.
It’s why there seems to be a lot of indie/Kickstarter/small studio MMO’s springing up that are so fixated on one style of game. Saga of Lucimia is all about a group focus. Crowfall and Camelot Unchained are about PvP or realm warfare. Star Citizen is…well, hell who knows.
Consider some of the best MMO’s out now that also have success as a result of a clear design focus. Final Fantasy XIV is a PvE monster with a content cadence that is consistent and expected. Marvel Heroes knows that playing as new heroes is fun as hell so they keep making them. Elder Scrolls Online has been recently very good at giving features that fans of the series would want, and has a PvE design that is getting tighter and tighter.
Even other multiplayer games that are purpose-built show how convenience store design is bad news. Heroes of the Storm. League of Legends. Freaking Overwatch. All games that are made for one style of gameplay and nothing else; Blizzard knew better than to build a second convenience store in Project Titan, and the rubble of that project has spawned another money-printing game adored by many.
Because it was focused.
Convenience store MMO’s are non-committal, unsatisfying and detrimental to the genre. There needs to be more restaurant-quality experiences out there. Thankfully, I feel like we’re going to slowly get that. Which is why I support the games I do and am eager to see more of them arrive. After all, where would you want to get your pizza from?