I had the chance to play several hours of content over a couple of weekends in the demo version of the upcoming BioWare game Anthem. Wow, I had no idea how much I was missing flying around in an expansive and beautiful game world. I have played in many open world type games, some with armored suits, some with flying mounts, some with ground mounts, many just running around on foot, but none of them with the fluid movement of Anthem. But that is content for a different post… I want to talk about how playing MMOs with monthly subs has shaped, and in my opinion ruined, what many of us expect from games that include multi-player content.
I’ve chatted with several people who are waiting to buy Anthem until they hear more from reviewers about the fully released game, or see the “end game” content. I have pre-ordered and don’t regret that choice even after some rough patches in the demo weekends, but concerns over BioWare’s “elder” game and on-going game content didn’t influence my purchase decision. I find it strange that some of these doubters don’t expect to get their money’s worth unless the game keeps them engaged for a long period of time. But then I remember how so many of us are conditioned to pay a monthly fee for MMO games, and it starts to make more sense.
Anthem is not an MMO. It is a hybrid of a single-player RPG blended with a co-operative action game that you can play with friends, but we need to be cautious about placing the same expectations on it that we place on MMO games like WoW or SWTOR. We are buying a game. Any long term game-play we get out of it is a bonus. This isn’t a subscription model, but because of the live services aspect to it, many people are falling into the trap of expecting it to deliver like a game that has a subscription model. The sad thing is, in some ways this game may give us more varied and interesting ongoing content than some MMOs provide, but without charging that monthly fee. I hope Anthem is extremely successful and helps wean me and many of my friends away from the empty promises of games like WoW.
My feeling about most WoW expansions lately has been that I’m playing the same game with a different paint job. The big difference is that I’m paying not only the initial money for the game, but an ongoing monthly fee to keep getting access to the game I bought. As soon as that game stopped being something I was playing with friends, I began to see behind the wizard’s curtain and realize how crazy it was to pay a monthly fee to play essentially the same game over and over again. At least with single player games with co-op modes, I can play the game over and over again and only pay for it once. The gear treadmill may exist in games like Anthem, but at least while I’m “grinding” content to get the next upgrade, I’m not paying $15 a month to do it!
For those who doubt that Anthem will give them enough end game content to make it worthwhile, I say, stop thinking of it as a subscription game that owes you ongoing content! When I think about how many hours of ongoing game-play my friends and I have had from Mass Effect and Dragon Age multiplayer modes, I realize that I got my money’s worth 10 times over from the cost of those games. From playing with friends during the Anthem demo weekends, I’m pretty sure I’ll get at least as many hours of game time with friends in Anthem as I’ve had in the other multi-player BioWare games we’ve enjoyed together. That is outside of playing through the RPG elements of the game on my own.
If you are going to be fair, evaluate the cost-to-benefit ratio of buying a game on whether you’ll get enough value out of playing the game from start to finish once. Consider the fact that you might be playing elements of it for months or years from now, without a monthly fee, as an amazing bonus. It is unfair to apply MMO raid content expectations to a game like Anthem. I worry about the fate of games built for friends to play together if we can’t break free from the conditioning of MMOs like WoW that makes us willing to shell out money every month to play.