Skyrim and the Death of the MMO

It feels like I’ve fled the MMO blogosphere, but I’m still here. The reason for the unusual quiet time is, of course, Skyrim, which I continue to play avidly and am in no danger of “finishing” any time soon. It seems like it’s keeping a lot of bloggers on my feedreader away from their usual MMO haunts, too… and even spoiling Star Wars: The Old Republic for a few. The latter is seeing a bit of a surge in interest lately with a beta event upcoming this holiday weekend, to which seemingly everyone remotely interested has been invited. I got my invite but will probably not participate.

One comment over at Tobold’s and highlighted by Syncaine struck a special nerve:

I’m 11 hours into Skyrim, right now (level 9) and boy… coming from WoW it seems I’ve been playing a videogame for small children, really.

I’ve been thinking that over for the last few days. One of the biggest reasons I got into MMORPGs in the first place is to experience a virtual world that could be explored and interacted with. Oh, I like progression and camaraderie as well, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of interactivity and exploration value Skyrim simply dwarfs virtually every MMO out there, even including sandboxy stuff like EVE Online and Fallen Earth. The only MMO remotely comparable to it in this regard is the much-neglected Wurm Online, which really deserves a bigger audience (and a better interface) than it has. Of the traditional, EQ-style MMOs only Vanguard seems to carry a weight to Skyrim, and even there it’s mostly an illusion; opaque systems and a huge world give Vanguard the sense of a bigger sandbox than it is.

These are all good games, and I’ve championed all of them in the past to greater or lesser degrees. But in all of them I have the distinct drive to “catch up,” as if there is greater fun awaiting me if I reach some magical level or other milestone. Only when I do, it’s the same game there too. Skyrim hasn’t been like that. It’s been immersive fun from the start, and I feel no pressure to not screw things up or waste time or money. I’m at the point where I am questioning whether MMORPGs are even a good idea for me – and that’s not just Skyrim talking, but where video games fit into my life. To be sure, I will have more to say about the particulars of how Skyrim compares to MMOs and affects how we perceive them, but that’s for another time – right now I’m talking about how it has affected me.

That sense of “catching up,” even if it’s just in my head (and it is, although I believe it’s a common sentiment,) means that it’s difficult for an MMO to work for me in the same way that Skyrim does. MMOs function best when you can dedicate what is frankly a lot of time to them, and on a predictable schedule. Right now I’m getting a fair amount of gaming in but not during the same times from day to day and week to week, and that undermines the social strengths of an MMO. When Skyrim satisfies another key appeal of MMOs and blows the entire genre off the table on the other… well, I can’t see any reason to be more than peripherally involved at the moment. There’s plenty of solid games but not enough interesting going on.

Certainly, this wears any desire I have to approach SWTOR down to a vestigial nub. I’ll be dabbling in LotRO and Champions Online and EQ2 as I get the chance and as I need a change of pace, and paying close attention as always to what EVE and Vanguard are doing. I am not “abandoning MMOs” so much as reorienting my gaming life around stuff that can be played “sub-casually” without feeling like I’m wasting my time. Until I can find the time to play properly, which almost certainly means two years from May when I finish school. Right now there’s Skyrim – but also Oblivion, which I never got as far in as I would have liked, and Minecraft and Mount & Blade: Warband. There’s a common thread of an open world and a sandboxiness among those games, but I’d also like to delve into strategy stuff again. Stuff with a savegame, where I can have an impact and yet not feel pressured to play or advance or not mess up.

At least until Guild Wars 2 comes out – likely to be late next year. That’s the one MMORPG on the horizon that has me really excited, and the only one I see releasing anytime soon that’s bringing anything new to the table at all. Other projects with possibilities, like World of Darkness or EverQuest Next, are years away, and ArcheAge is a big unknown from where I’m sitting – it could be anything from a world of awesome to hot buttered ass.

8 responses to “Skyrim and the Death of the MMO

  1. I did a blog post based on that quote, as filtered by SynCaine. I also made a relevant comment on a We Fly Spitfires thread.

    The gist is that I play MMOs at least in part because they are “videogames for small children” not in spite of it. And while I once might have aspired to lose myself in an imaginary world, I’m no longer at all sure that’s something I want to do, even if it becomes possible. Most especially not if it’s a world that offers me quasi-adult moral dilemmas to worry over.

    What I want from my time in front of the computer screen has changed enormously since I began playing MMOs more than a decade ago. Back then I absolutely did want what everyone’s saying Skyrim offers, but I think I probably stopped being all that interested in that level of immersion four or five years since.
    Increasingly I find that all I really want to do is run a funny little creature around some pretty scenery doing easy, simple tasks and saying and doing amusing things.

    Whether that really needs to be done on line I don’t know, but MMOs seem to be reasonably good at providing the experience I’m looking for so I’m keeping on with them for now. If someone was to make something with the depth of Skyrim but set in a more lighthearted, childlike world with little or no violence, then who knows…

  2. The problem with games like Skyrim is that, well, despite the sheer amount of content, it’s longevity is shortened by the lack of social interaction. A few weeks down the line and I probably won’t touch it again for half a year, even if I’ve not actually done everything. Atleast until the DLC starts coming out. And DLC can normally be done in an evening or two. With no incentive to redo content like in MMOs.
    Things like Skyrim may see a momentary drop in MMO subscriptions, or provide the impetuous to try another MMO having realised you CAN have fun playing other games (this can only be a BAD thing for WoW).
    I gave up on WoW ages ago, and I’m patiently waiting for SWTOR to atleast give me a few months of entertainment. Perhaps more if friends are made.
    Incidentally, I’m having just as much fun doing Skyrim Articles and Videos as I did MMO Articles and videos. It just feels a bit lonelier not having VoIP banter.

  3. Canazza,

    I think everyone understands that the longevity of single player games is vastly inferior to that of an MMO, but the difference is that in a SPG you are in complete control over what you do and only you are responsible for your actions (i.e. if you screw up and die on a mob/boss, you won’t have 24 other people moaning into a headset.) I completely agreed with Ardwulf on just about every point. I’ve gotten to the points where it’s hard for me not to be critical of any and all time I spend in an MMO (when I’m playing one) and wonder whether I would rather be doing something else instead. It doesn’t even have to be something productive; it can be reading a fluff book, or watching television, or playing with my cats, but if I know that I don’t want to spend 45 minutes crafting boots while I wait for a group to form for a dungeon, I feel guilty for wasting my time. This became more and more bothersome until I quit playing WoW four months ago, and haven’t played another MMO since then. In a SPG, especially one as vast as Skyrim, there are literally hundreds of options for you to pursue at any given time and I can do them just as effectively at one in the afternoon as I can at one in the morning.

  4. I’ve got invited to SWTOR beta too (I guess almost anyone did, right?) but I wont participate. I must admit that Skyrim completely killed any personal interest in MMO’s. The difference is so huge, so “strong”… that I just don’t feel any need to see another online world (I’ve beein in WoW for 4 years). Even if -back in time- I was a hardcore Stars Wars, I feel it will mostly look like WoW with lightsabers and blasters.

    When I wrote my quoted comment “…coming from WoW it seems I’ve been playing a videogame for small children”, I did not want to offend young guys or point out that older players are more mature or anything. It’s just that Skyrim quests, environment, fights and overall feeling (and immersion) are thousands times better, deeper and “more adult” than what I’ve experienced in WoW.

    Skyrim world is very consistent, everything makes sense: people, places, beasts, quests, lore, dragons. Instead, WoW is a game where you can kill a badass boss while being followed by a penguin or a smiling flower. Or a cute fluffy panda. Or a turkey.

    WoW towns are populated by “real” people, in theory. But the reality is… you mostly see chat-spam, alt-tabbed people, level1 bankers and so on. And tons of static npc puppets. Instead, Skyrim tries to showcase a living, breathing world where every npc has something to say, something to share (or hide). It’s far from being perfect, and there are glitches and bugs, yes. But in my opinion it’s a great attempt to replicate a “real” world with “real” events. I did not feel so “involved” since the age of Ultima VI and Ultima VII.

  5. I quite agree with the sentiments of the post. One thing I’d like to see is the death of the “one MMO fits all, one MMO to rule the world and one MMO to take up 24/7 and 100% of gaming time” concept. I think more people are moving towards this, where they’ll play an MMO or two to feed certain niches, interests, fun cravings and switch over to other genres to fulfill other desires.

    I do wonder if that will have any effect in how present and future MMOs structure their game activities. If they’ll continue to cater to a smaller but more loyal and dedicated audience that is willing to invest large structured time blocks that match with others, or if they’ll shift footing to follow their previous audience or find new audiences.

  6. Great post. Something I’ve realized while playing Skyrim simultaneously with a few friends over a Skype call, all sharing accounts of our discoveries and conquests and uttering more than a few “whoa!”‘s… is that there’s a niche somewhere between MMO and single player that really needs to be tapped into. Smaller servers for 2 to, I dunno, 50 players maximum, all exploring a world with the depth of Skyrim, playing cooperatively or competitively. Like an oldschool pen and paper D&D group… I don’t need the 12,000 other players, the grinding, the feeling that I’m not actually effecting the world in any tangible way, etc etc…. Just a few friends and a massive world to explore and effect as we see fit.

  7. WoW has been ‘too childish’ in design for me for a long time….Skyrim is a sight for sore eyes.


    “Just a few friends and a massive world to explore and effect as we see fit.”

    Amen to that. This is also why I wished there was a co-op for Skyrim, but am reluctant to think of an MMO. for that to work, you’d have to let players configure their own servers and keep the population low there. I’ve written on this yesterday and why I think the ‘FPS model’ of player-hosted servers would be the right thing for Skyrim, but certainly not the “WoW way”. I wish this was something we see more of in the future.

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