Replayability. One of the most beautiful words in all the gaming industry. Right up there with Open Public Beta and Diablo 3. The ability of some games to keep the gamer coming back again and again is an accomplishment. It also makes spending forty bucks for new game a lot easier to accept. At the very least, I want a good multiplayer component that will let me keep playing after the main story or single player campaign has been told.
The ultimate in replayability is perhaps the dream of a very well done massively multiplayer online role playing game. There is no need for strong replay value because you never finish playing the game to start with, but suppose a company put the same kind of effort into the game as Blizzard put into Diablo 2. There would always be somewhere else to go, something else to see, a new monster to kill, a new quest to complete. And when all the known world is thoroughly explored, never fear, new lands are being designed and test. A few months, a few weeks, and the game is as fresh and new as the day you bought it… in the sense of new content anyway.
But as I have written before, I hate to think that the masses of us who play on stand alone machines, without high speed internet and without bottomless wallets for monthly gaming subscriptions, those of up who play mostly single player, in other words, are going to be left out in the cold by the surge of massively multiplayer games in any capacity. I am afraid though, that single player replayability is going to be in for a bit of a slump.
Take, for instance, the dear genre known as role playing games. Diablo 2, despite its never changing story line, has immense replay value for a lot of people. The almost infinite permutations of character design keep many people coming back for more, and the joys of collecting reel in several more. Diablo 2 was just a very well designed game that is a joy to play. It should be the model for new role playing games, right? Of course not. There is a flood of new role playing games coming to market, and the bulk are massively multiplayer. I imagine that if any of these games are as well designed as Diablo 2 was, and offer similar ability to create a large cast of very different characters, then five years from now people will still be playing and discussing that game as well. And the company will still be making money off of it. Blizzard, on the other hand, only made money off of Diablo 2 twice, once with the game, once with the expansion pack.
So, what does this mean? Hopefully, nothing. Hopefully, the massively multiplayer surge will result in the gaming houses realizing that there is only room for a few pay to play games at a time, and that it is much safer to create a niche in the not-online world. It could also mean that making a role playing game with very good replay value is exceedingly difficult (Remember how long Blizzard took to make Diablo 2? Remember how long Neverwinter Nights was in production?). It could mean that, instead of taking the time to get a very good game complete before release, some companies are rushing the product to market as a massively multiplayer, counting on the fact that a promise of new content over time will eliminate any buyer disgruntlement over a lack of diversity or replay value in the core game. A good RPG takes years of work to crank out. A good pay to play can take less time for financial reasons. Once the game is playable, sell it, and let the monthly subscriptions pay the salaries of the designers who add to the game. Much cheaper that way.
And as a result, the industry shifts. RPG replay value is no longer as important in selling RPGs as it once was. Strategy, on the other hand, lives and breaths on replay value. Imagine Starcraft with just the campaign. It is a good campaign, but would anyone still be playing it now? Imagine Civilization 3. There was no campaign until the second expansion pack. The entire game survived for two years on nothing at all other than its stand alone single player replayability. If only Sid would do more in the way of role playing games… Of course, nearly any strategy game allows you to play against people as well as the computer. A good deal of the replay value rests in that fact, that the opposition might just be human too.
And that, my friends, is how we just might save the role playing game from the vicious money making beastie of the pay to play online system. Even though the present situation of the RPG does not seem so healthy, the future, I suspect, is brighter than ever.
Imagine Diablo 3 as a typical Blizzard Diablo game… lots of character types, lots of skills, play alone, play on Battle.net with friends, no fee for multiplayer, awesome game that we will all pay seventy bucks for and still be playing five years later. Oh yes, you can play as Diablo as well as the good guy. If you have ever played Warcraft 3, you know exactly what I am talking about. There is a bad guy… and you play the bad guy for a while. And in multiplayer… imagine being able to play Diablo 2 against your friends… as the monsters. Bloody Foothill runs result in Shenk, that?s me, coming to meet the heroes as they leave the city. Yes, there would need to be a ton of changes to the game to make that in any way shape or form a worthwhile feature. Is it worth the effort? I think so.
The role playing game as we know it today shares turf with the typical MMORPG. They will have to differentiate themselves in some way other than a monthly fee. The well balanced, well designed game like Diablo 2 will need something to separate it from the well balanced, well designed with constant new stuff game that some can afford the monthly fee to play. Some twist will have to be added to grant even more replay value to the stand-alone game. And I suspect Blizzard will once again take the lead in figuring out just what that twist will be. World of Warcraft will be a pay to play RPG. But does anyone think they will not make a single other RPG until WoW is dead and gone? Blizzard will have to find a way to keep two different RPGs alive and well… one with a fee and one without. Blizzard will have to find a way to take RPG replay value to whole new levels.
And maybe Baal can finally give those annoying Barbarians a taste of their own medicine.
Disclaimer: Salem?s Fire was written by Luke Blaize during 2002-2004, and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.