Is Co-op Gaming King?
“Is the popularity of smaller-scale co-op (games) hurting MMORPGs?” This interesting question was posted on Massively Overpowered today as part of their regular Massively Overthinking feature. The subject was explored by members of the writing team then thrown over to reader comments, many of which were very thought provoking. The subject was similar to one we debated recently on the Contains Moderate Peril podcast. That focused on whether traditional MMO players were now outsiders within their own genre of choice. Both of these discussions are about change and a shift in player habits. And change is frequently unsettling and potentially comes at the expense of something else.
A good MMORPG offers a complex persistent world that can be explored and enjoyed both as a solo player and as part of a group. A decade ago, the genre was very much focused on group run content and I have spent many a rewarding evening running dungeons with my guild mates. These sorts of social activities foster close bonding with fellow players and can be extremely uplifting. Yet raiding culture is by its nature time consuming and requires a lot of organising and commitment. Co-op play in other genres of games can offer the same sort of fix but without half as much baggage.
Running The Rift in LOTRO a decade ago meant everyone turning up on time, with the right gear and consumables. Everyone needed to know their job. Even the most casual of raid groups would have to give up a lot of time and if someone fumbled the ball it meant you got nothing for all your work, bar the fun you had. Teaming with your friends in Overwatch is quick and simple. Within minutes you’re in the middle of the action. You can play as casually or as hardcore as you like. If you fail epically, you still get XP points that can unlock loot creates. Such co-op games may not have the immersive world trappings of an MMO but they offer all the fun without the grind. No wonder so many players gravitate towards them.
I enjoy MMOs but play them differently today than how I did ten years ago. I have written recently about how Sniper Elite 4, For Honor and Overwatch can be great fun when played co-operatively with friends and for me I think this is the future. Co-op scratches that social gaming itch but in a manner that allows you to filter out much of the less desirable elements you find in MMOs. The risk of toxic team mates is far less and you aren’t faced with complex barriers to entry. There’s no need to wait for players to change their gear or empty their bags. Where the MMO player is still martialling his team mates, fifteen minutes after the raid was due to begin, the co-op player is knee deep in action, making the most of their precious game time.
If you look back over the last fifty years of popular culture, you’ll find a long list of popular genres, formats and mediums that have bitten the dust. It is sad but ultimately how markets work. Musicals and Westerns came and went as the most popular movie genres. TV saw the rise and fall of the Variety show. The FPS genre moved beyond the confines of World War II and MMOs evolved from open virtual worlds to tightly scripted and managed theme parks. All of these things happened because the public wanted something else that offered them better value for their time and money. At present, co-op games appear to be king by offering what the MMO genre either can’t or won’t. Developers working with such titles should take note but I’m not sure if there’s time left to fix this.