A Look At Casual MMOs

Find out if casual massive multiplayer online games are worth the five minutes a day you need to put into them.

Casual MMOs seem to be on the rise here lately. The idea is that you only play for five minutes a day (most of them limit you to a certain number of actions per day.) They’re usually free with the option to spend some real life cash to get a boost for your character. And, with the exception of the ones designed for mobile devices, they  are usually browser based.

For those of us unable or unwilling to devote 40+ hours a week to WoW, this seems like a reasonable substitute. I don’t have to worry about falling behind my friends, or  having to rearrange my schedule to play. A few clicks a day and I’m done.

I decided to try out three of these games, to see if there was something behind the concept, here’s my findings… dun dun…:

iMafia (iPhone/iPod Touch) –

I started playing this game a few weeks ago. It’s one of the many “mafia” themed CMMOs for both the PC and iPhone. Of the games I’m reviewing, this has the most amount of gameplay built in. In fact, it requires a bit more than 5 minutes a day. I usually jump in for a few minutes 4 or 5 times a day.

You can choose a class to focus on either PVP fights, PVE missions, or buying real estate. Though, I don’t think it matters which you choose, all it changes is your avatar. Every character has the option to participate in all of these activities.

Gameplay (like almost all CMMOs) is passive and only requires you to press a button. You use money earned from the aforementioned actions to buy items that, in turn, open up more options in the game. When you gain levels, you add skill points to one of 5 attributes, which give bonuses to your character’s action.

The presentation is the real winner here. You can tell it was designed specifically for the platform. In terms of optional purchases, the game allows you to purchase other apps from the same developer, giving you “points” depending on how expensive the purchased app is. These points can be used to purchase bonuses to your character that would be achieved through gameplay given time. If you were planning to get one of the apps anyway, it wouldn’t hurt, however purchasing an app for the sole purpose of getting points is not worth it, as whatever the bonus is, it is not enough to give you an obvious advantage in the game.

My Brute (Web) –

This is the most passive of the games I’ve played, requiring the least effort. I imagine that the game designers had those morbidly obese people who can’t leave their house without the help of a construction crew in mind when they created it.

Step one: Create your character (by typing in a name… that’s it.)
Step two: Click Flight.
Congratulations, you have now achieved the full depth of gameplay provided by My Brute.

You do not control the fights in any way. You do not decide what items to purchase. You do not choose how to train your character. Everything is done for you.

The End.

eRepublik (Web) –

This is the strangest of the games I’ve ever played. And it gives back about as much as you are willing to put into it. The concept is that there is an “e” version of our world. Run and operated by it’s players. It’s part social network, part strategy, part roleplay, part CMMO.

At its core, and how the majority of players will experience it, it’s a simple game. When you join, you choose a country and then a region (a state for us Americans.) You then get a job. You can work once a day (by clicking a button) which nets you some cash depending on your salary, and XP. You then use the cash to buy items such as food, which is needed to stay alive and progress.

However, it gets deeper. A lot deeper. Hold on to your hats: Every business is owned by a player, who sets salaries based on performance.  Every business creates some type of item, or the materials to create an item. Thus a self-sustained market is created. These items are bought by players or the government. The government is also run by players. There’s an election every month for President and Congress which can create laws. These laws control everything from taxes and minimum wages, to peace treaties and who to invade. Countries can invade other countries at any time. The other countries are run by player as well, usually ones that live in said country. Invasion allows countries to own more land, thus getting more income. Wars can be fought by all citizens who live in the countries in question…. and believe it or not, that’s just scratching the surface.

The major downside to this game is that it is painfully confusing at first. There are almost no help documents, meaning that you will either spend more time than you should asking for help, or you will need a mentor.

The complexity might be worth it if your into politics. Most people in the government take the game very seriously, creating pages upon pages of documents for legislation and analysis. Even from a business stand point, there’s a lot of depth. Unfortunately, or maybe rightfully, achieving that kind of success in-game requires a bit more work than a quick in-and-out. Both in IRC and on the forums, this is where the social networking aspect comes in handy.

Overview –

Most of these games lack one thing: a point. All of them have the same reward: gain levels. How is that a reward? How does that justify my playtime?

Oh look guys! The number next to my name is higher than yours! LOOK AT MY E-PENIS… LOOK AT IT.

If I play everyday for a few months, I’ll hit level 100. The people who started a day after me will be 99 and the ones that started the day before will be 101. We will all have experienced the same exact gameplay, and nothing will be different by the time we hit 200, save that our HP and damage will be higher.

But don’t worry, you can spend 5 bucks to gain a marginal advantage!

I like the idea of these games. I like the idea of playing for a few minutes a day and seeing a progression, but that progression has to lead to somewhere meaningful and I need to feel like I’m on my own journey, not the one everyone else is on. eRepublik is on the right track, but it requires so much out-of-game effort to get anywhere notable, I might as well re-install WoW. These are just first-gen CMMOs though, and I expect big things from the genre.

P.S. All these games give bonuses for inviting players, but I refuse to belittle myself to such desperate measures. Pyramid schemes kill.