Things Like Valheim in a Post MMORPG World

I watched a video the other day about how to save the MMORPG genre.  It was an hour reasonably well spent if the topic interests you.


The video brings up a lot of problems and contradictions that the community has long discussed and argued about, such as the importance of community, servers, end game content, and a whole package of other items that will no doubt sound familiar if you’ve been part of the discussion over the last decade and more.

And I will say that there isn’t anything critical that I disagree with when it comes to the discussion.  It is largely a quest to get back to the things that made the genre exciting and fun back in the early days without necessarily throwing out every single “accessibility” feature that has shown up since EverQuest was the booming vanguard of the genre.

The result, which is necessarily a bit vague, can charitably be called a tightrope walk over a pit of knives, suggesting as it does some sort of balance between contradictory goals.

In the end, it seems unlikely that anybody is going to come up with a perfect and sustainable mix of features that will bring back the early joys of the genre, if only because much of what we were willing to put up with nearly a quarter century ago will no longer fly now that we’ve experienced better, easier, or more relaxed versions of virtual worlds.

The novelty of the experience has passed for many of us and, while we want a lot of what virtual worlds bring us, the price we’re willing to pay in what can seem like sheer bloody minded inconvenience is nowhere as high as it used to be.

Yes, you can run a special server now and then catering to the nostalgia of the good old days.  But that is no more sustainable than it was the first time around.  People will clamor for the quality of life changes, only much more quickly as one of the quirks of redoing a game for nostalgia is that the experience runs in fast forward mode because the whole thing is already a solved problem.

I don’t think MMORPGs are dead, but they aren’t going to go back to the dawn of the 21st century in anything but indie niche form.  The mass market voted with their wallets for WoW in droves… and then asked for the rough edges to be smoothed down to the point we have arrived at today and the dichotomy of the whole fun vs effort thing.  In the end we do seem to favor low friction entertainment.

But I also wonder if the edge has been worn of the MMORPG experience by some of the alternatives.

Back in 1999 you couldn’t even run two EverQuest clients on a single machine.  Multi-boxing meant literally having two machines.   So the idea of being able to run your own personal persistent world was out of reach for most people.

That changed.  I think Minecraft gets some serious credit for popularizing running your own world for just you and your friends.  I am sure there are other games titles that pre-date it for that sort of thing, but Minecraft created an industry around hosting worlds, a big enough industry that Microsoft felt it was worthwhile to run part of it.

Minecraft isn’t the ideal replacement for MMORPGs.  It can lack that sense of purpose, which is why I have Valheim in the title of the post.  Sure, you could substitute in something else for it… there are other options… but it is the one that resonates most with me at the moment.

Setting sail

Having your own Valheim server with your friends gives you a lot of what MMORPGs offered back in the day.  A persistent server to share with friends, monsters to find, a major quest to follow in order to win Odin’s favor, a world to explore, bases to build… and you even get that holy grail of online adventures, the ability to change the world and have it persist.

Which leads me to wonder where the future of online gaming in the MMORPG sense ought to be heading.

Valheim is imperfect… and largely so right now because it is incomplete.  It is currently impossible to gain Odin’s favor and win or otherwise finish what you started.

But the promise of it?  Now there is something.  We have twice now spent three months and more going through the content of the game… and in a rapacious manner, throwing many hours into our efforts to explore and move ahead… when it isn’t even half done yet.

What happens when there is a year of content for an industrious group?  What happens when there are multiple titles such as that?

I don’t think the MMORPG is going away.  There is still something to be said for the big game with many people playing in parallel.  But the smaller world, the shared persistent space you and your friends can share… that feels like it has a long ways to go before it seems over populated as a genre.

Of course, that might be why Blizzard is looking into the idea.  Or maybe the devs there just liked Valheim as well.

4 thoughts on “Things Like Valheim in a Post MMORPG World

  1. kiantremayne

    MMOs hold out the possibility of meeting new people – granted, a lot of the turn out to be jerks, but the possibility of making new friends is there. Valheim and Minecraft are for playing with the friends you already have. Socially, they’re very different. I think both types of game have strong potential, as long as both lean into their strengths. For MMOs, it’s being one of many people in the world (EVE, with it’s massive wars and grand scale politics, does this well). For the co-op games, it’s being able to make a meaningful impact on the world without having that screw things up for others, or be erased by their efforts.
    Probably the biggest weakness of modern MMOs is that most of them having a single player story line in which your character is The Chosen One and at the centre of events and ignores those thousands of other players who are all also The Chosen One and at the centre of events. Maybe we’d get a better result if MMOs were more sandboxy and the epic storylines were in multiplayer co-op Skyriim type games.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bhagpuss

    The first half of the post I completely agree with – we have the mmorpgs we have now for percisley those reasons and people who think it happened any other way either have short memories or weren’t there.

    I agree with the second half too, except that I’m not so sure I think persistent worlds on private servers catering for friend groups are really all that similar to mmorpgs at all. It’s a bit like comparing a private party to an arena gig. Perhaps the defining element of the mmorpg experience is that it’s shared with people you don’t know as well as people you do. It doesn’t really matter whether you ever speak to those strangers – just the mere fact of them being there alters the dynamic. I think it was as much the experience of meeting new people who were into the same weird, niche stuff as we were that made those early days so intense. Now the whole world is into all that stuff and you can meet like-minded people pretty much anywhere.

    Of course, that’s not to say the private party can’t a subjectively superior experience. I’m pretty sure if you got invited to a party and the Rolling Stones played it would be a more memorable event than if you were so far at the back of some sports arena or festival that you could only see Mick Jagger on the giant video screens. Maybe the real problem with mmorpgs is that they were never anything more than a placeholder for a more satisfying, intimate experience to begin with.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. PCRedbeard

    “And yeah, players will still complain about anything that slows them down because players want to consume as quickly as possible, but complaining is just what MMO players do. Really, modern MMO players are so goal oriented that they never seem to consider what’s actually fun. Players just chase their goals and hope fun will follow as a consequence.”
    –Neverknowsbest, from “How to save the MMO genre once and for all”

    More truer words of the TBC Classic meta have not been spoken.


  4. Pingback: Are smaller MMOs the future of online gaming? – Bio Break

Voice your opinion... but be nice about it...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s