So recently it was revealed that the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) MMO by Bioware will have the option of utilizing NPC companions.  (Check out this video interview for the full scoop.)

Apparently this is the apocalypse and the demise of the genre as well as false advertising as an MMO.  Keen is not the only one that seems to take issue with this.

The main point I pulled from Keen's post was that the inclusion of NPC companions meant that Bioware is developing a single player game with multiplayer options rather than a massively multiplayer online game.

In the other posts I read regarding this (and the dislike for it) I couldn't help but notice a point of view that was being missed…

Why can't it be viewed as a multiplayer game with single player options?

That thought was then followed up with these:

Why does an MMO have to mean forced grouping at all times?

What MMO has forced grouping at all times nowadays?

Storytellers

But mainly what I saw as missed that MY ears latched onto during that interview was the part the NPC companions play in the story.

Dragon Age, anyone?

Story equals immersion.  Your companions will react to your choices…

There are going to be certain characters that will be integral to the Star Wars story, but won't suffice as a simple quest giver.  And some… you just can't expect to create.  So genre destroyer be damned, it sounds to me to be more of a vehicle of driving the story.  Plus, you're more likely to listen to what they have to say than read quest test, amirite?

Anywho, in this post I am going to move forward with addressing the “single player games are trying to overthrow and destroy MMOs” argument.

False Advertising

The argument of false advertising struck me as odd.  See, when I was playing some iPhone games I thought THOSE were falsely advertising as MMOs.  Those games were truly single player.  The only thing massive about it was getting a list of people so your number of mafia members, vampire coven, rock band, army, etc. was bigger.  You didn't actually play with the people you invited to your “group.”  You couldn't actually play with them.  Your game was unaffected by the gear their player was outfitted with.  Their player was nothing but a number for you.

Balance

MMO gamers these days run the whole gambit of playstyles and time available to play.  A lot of us have families, jobs, etc so we have to find balance in our playing.  For some, spending hours searching and waiting to fill group slots ticks away at precious time available to run anything.  (And let's not forget the selection of people that is out there… they range from helpful laidback peeps to whiny uptight jerks.)

Then there's different sizes of groups needed for different tasks.  It's easier to find others to fulfill those roles when they are at the same stage of the game as you are, but you get passed by (or are far ahead) it can be more challenging.

And what about those group quests while you are leveling (especially in WoW)… you know, the ones where you advertise you are seeking a group and the overwhelming response is “lol L2solo noob” or “u dont ned a grup 4 that!!1!!”  Times like that an NPC companion would be greatly appreciated, I suspect.

Solutions

I view the option of an NPC companion as a possible solution to fill a needed slot.  Of course, it will depend on how it actually is implemented.  Overpowered NPCs would be bad, but having them minimally capable would be helpful.

Does this mean everyone will just solo the whole game with their NPCs? Doubtful.

Also, you can only have 1 companion out at your side at a time, even though you may have multiple companions to choose from.  So, no, you won't be able to whip out an entire army of NPCs to fight alongside you.

What it does is open up another door of opportunity.  And you know, you just might learn something while having to work alongside that NPC… something you wouldn't have learned while trying to drudge through content completely alone.

I mean, let's be realistic here, a large majority of MMO (think WoW) is solo until you reach endgame.  Sure, there are group quests, dungeons, etc along the way, but you can complete most of the leveling tasks alone.  If there are NPC companion options, you could even complete some of those group quests along the way instead of dumping them from your log if you couldn't find assistance from other players.  (Or instead of returning when you've out leveled the quest to where you can easily solo it.)

Think of it this way: SWTOR does not have pet classes, so your companion is essentially a pet. You will likely have to manage them to some degree.  And a solo player who whips his companion out will not be as powerful as a group, especially compared to a group that whips out their companions too.

Take Home Message

I know change is scary, but it's the one constant thing in life.  It can break you if you don't learn how to bend with it.  Now, if it was to the point where people were playing and testing out the companions and finding issues with them, that is one thing.  But to get worked up into such a tizzy over hearing the very idea of them?  Personally, I'm looking forward to trying something new.  If all you see is “warning! bad!” try some reframing and maybe you'll find some benefits buried amongst your negativity.  But, I suppose, negativity sells better, yes?

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6 comments

  • I think the most obvious relationship I can think of are hunter/lock pets. They are mostly NPCs and this is just another facet that Bioware is adding. Not to mention some of us don’t really mind the solo aspects to games.

  • Gah, so many things to respond to here.

    Overall, I like the idea of having NPC group members available in MMO games.

    It will depend on how it’s implemented, of course.

    Taking Warcraft as an example (I know they’re not planning it, but it’s a language most gamers speak) – If the NPC players are good enough that they allow folks to cruise through content that an actual group struggles with, that’s not cool.

    If, however, there is a distinct advantage to using real players in the game, but if it’s hard to cobble a group together for some quests and the like, you’re better off trying the npc companions than soloing, I really don’t see how that’s anything but good.

    The REASON games like Warcraft are so popular is the social aspect, this is (at least, I think it is) unquestionable. Allowing NPC group members in gameplay doesn’t negate that social aspect. Sure, it may for some players, but those are the players who think Mafia Wars is a great MMO. =]

    Remember Diablo II? You could hire mercenaries to run around with you. They were useful, but not game-breaking in most situations. You still wanted to group with your friends when possible, and if they died you had to weigh the cost of getting them back against how useful they were.

    Thinking about it (naturally, in the MIDDLE of my comment, where thinking normally happens), I’m not sure where most of the argument against would come from. Is it fear that players would be replaced by bots? That nobody would want to group with other players because NPCs were available?

    …are you that bad a player, that an NPC can outdps/tank/heal you?

    (That last was a little snarky, I’ll admit, but come ON. There has to be something to be said for a human behind the keyboard, right?)

    Besides, I’ve always found NPC companion to be irritating to micromanage and painfully stupid to leave to their own devices. This includes Diablo II, KOTOR, and Dragon Age companions.

    I’d much rather play with friends.

    Though if I’m on alone and nobody else is nearby and I’ve got a few elite quests in my quest log, it wouldn’t hurt to have some mercenaries available to help me out. =]

    (I sort of swayed all over the grid there, but tangents are my specialty, and so much of this would depend on HOW it was implemented, I made some implementation assumptions in order to formulate an opinion. <3)

  • @BBitt – Yeah, I definitely see it being similar to having a pet class. Personally I don’t mind soloing, but apparently some people find this to be detrimental 🙁

    @Tami – Tangent or not, you have a lot of EXCELLENT points in your comment! The biggest appeal of an MMO for me is the social aspect – I can’t get that in a single player game. (At least, not in the same manner)

    Sideshow also brought up a good point while we were chatting about this post, that he likes the economy aspect of MMOs, something else you can’t get from a single player game.

    A lot of it does depend on how it is implemented, as you discussed. I was quite taken aback the past week while reading several posts that were vehemently against it… I see opportunities…

    Also, I agreed with what you said about micro management. Granted, I play 2 pet classes in WoW, but those pets can’t be left to their own devices (not all the time anyway, haha). I would think that ideally people would rather have an actual player fill in, but if needed a companion option is a fabulous solution for a group that can’t seem to fill all it’s slots. And certainly a nice bit of help for soloing, too!

  • I think NPC companions should be mandatory to fill in gaps honestly… We live in a world where randomly grouped players don’t tend to get along and it just flat out hurts when you are forced to group with some idiotic moron that thinks either the group sucks or that he is the all-time WoW MVP and that he is more awesome than should be allowed. (Which usually creates ninjas or my fave type, the LEROY! Jenkins hunter who MDs the idiot in question, runs in aggroing and then FD’s to hearth out)

    I hesitantly bring up Guild Wars, hesitantly because the game was almost borderline a MSPO Massively Single Player Online Game. It was an experiment that needed to be taken and proved some rather interesting facts of how willing strangers were to group with each other over taking an AI bot. It really was nice to have a friend or family member jump in, take over for the chaotic AI that wouldn’t heal you if you payed them to, and get through the quest or dungeon all that smoother.

    NPCs won’t replace human allies, that’s for damn sure but it is nice to atleast have the option to have a bad healer that you can adjust to, rather than no healer at all.

    Another thing I’ve seen is the lack of people trying to actually do Group quests in a Group! Look at the comments for any level 70 or 80 group quest and you will find tons of people posting a strategy on how they were able to solo it. Obviously, people don’t want to be bothered with having to ask someone to, not only go out of their way to help, but also wait, wasting away in the money gutter that is WoW for someone to FINALLY reply!

    Will it destroy the genre? GENRE? There’s only one? I think people need to open their minds and realize that though MMOs are generally good, it’s the differences that make them shine. Each (noticable) game is a genre upon itself, whether it is Warcraft as the megaMMO that is open to new players, Eve the super hardcore seriz bizness space hell or even Champions Online the cartoony super hero game that makes you geek out. Games that have NPC companions as an option will carve their niche and if the general marketplace of gamers like it, they will take over the general market share of MMO gamers.

    Then again, it is Bioware, they may have their doctor come up with a deathray that not only blows up every MMO server at once, but kills every current MMO player in the process. That way when new players come in, they only have one option and will HAVE to pick NPC companions instead of idiotic HUMANS that only make the game worse. And once they have every human in their masteful plot, they will make Life The MMO with 2 Billion NPC ocmpanions, 76 years of gameplay, free to play with mini transactions and over 14 googolplex endings.

    Make a good movie atleast…

  • @Theranos – Yes, yes and yes! I can only assume that the people who are so vehemently against NPC companions are people that consider themselves hardcore and have played these many years with a core group of people – not having to deal with the pain that is random grouping that many of the rest of us are faced with.

    And I would rather have a crappy NPC to fulfill a role than no one at all… or better than someone who’s going to whine the whole time. Like Sideshow says, “NPC companions won’t talk back.” … well they may have game dialogue but they won’t be telling us all that we have to L2P.

    And I like your movie idea… 😀

  • DDO recently implemented rentable NPCs for quests. They actually have been a pretty nifty success, after they sorted out some of the inevitable initial glitches. It’s quite consistent with the MMO thing in my opinion. Lots of games already have pets, and sometimes more than one pet.

    And it’s often compatible with grouping, wherein a set of 3 folks can attempt a 6-person quest, rather than go off on solo projects because they can’t find a full group.

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We are a family of gamers. Mom (Darcy/Syrana) and Dad (Brian/Sideshow) have been gaming for as long as they can remember back when you only had a joystick to use and saved your games to cassette tapes.

They've been gaming together since they met in 2002. Sometime after 2006, they both started playing World of Warcraft and did that for many years. They started this blog, originally called Sideshow & Syrana which has now transitioned to the new Stay-At-Home Gamers site, while keeping all of the original content.

Starting in 2010, two more gamers came along (now known as Princess Boo and Mr. X) and they are now old enough where they both enjoy playing games and watching others play games. They are both excited to have others to watch them play their favorite games. Come along with us and let's enjoy these games together!

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