Autoplay - Boon or Bane?

Autoplay is very common in mobile mmos. Is it good? Bad? Both?


I'm using "autoplay" to encompass both autopathing (where the game moves you from quest location to quest location) and autocombat (where the game fights your fights for you). They're usually found together, but not always.

The Debate

The usual argument against autoplay is that you're not actually playing a game at that point. You're watching it play itself. If you're just watching, why not watch a movie or something with a better story? And that's a fair point. Are you really "playing" and is it worth your time to watch a game play itself?

tl;dr - It depends on the player and the game

For me, autopathing on a mobile game is almost a requirement. Touchscreen controls are ok and navigating to places isn't that engaging. The small screen sometimes makes it hard to even see where the destination is, so having the game walk me to the quest-giver or the next zone is a convenience. Am I missing gameplay? Sure. Am I missing riveting gameplay? No. Holding down W on a pc for 10 minutes isn't super enjoyable, either. That said, I still enjoy games without it. Villagers and Heroes and Toram Online both require the player to handle their own travel and I love those games. Would I love them more if they had autopathing? No, but I wouldn't object to the convenience.

Autocombat is a bit more of a mixed bag. Combat in mmos is often the central part of the gameplay loop and games can make it or break it based on the quality of the combat experience. Why play a game where the combat is out of your hands? Have you ever had a fetch quest where you had to kill far more mobs than you thought you would because of RNG? Or some quests that have you kill huge numbers of mobs (I'm looking at you, BDO)? After the first few mobs of quests like these, how much fun is the combat? It usually ends up boring and repetitive. If you're looking for specific types of mobs that are mixed in with others, you end up pathing your character in ways to avoid aggroing the unneeded ones, essentially working to play the game less. Imagine a game where you could fight the first few mobs and enjoy it and have the game complete the rest of them? Take the controls for the interesting boss fight but the let game handle the trash mobs? There are plenty of pc mmos that I would appreciate that feature on.

Autoplay also allows "second-screening", where the game is doing its thing and you are doing something else. Mobile mmos didn't invent this, but autoplay makes it easier. In WoW, if I was on a gryphon ride, I was probably looking at news. In Runescape, it's common to be doing other things while your character is mining. Those are both forms of autoplay, but don't get the hate that mobile games do. Humans aren't great at multi-tasking, but we still do it; why not play games that allow us to do it better?

Final Thoughts

Some extra thoughts:

  • Autoplay doesn't make a bad game good. There are a lot of trash mobile mmos out there and they don't suddenly become good games because of autoplay.
  • If I can't turn autoplay off, the game is bad.
  • Autoplay is a boon (for me) because of how mmos are designed. Fetch quests and the like are not fun gameplay loops, but mmo design seems to require them. Autoplay makes them less tedious.

I like autoplay and find that it makes mobile gaming more enjoyable. Others don't and that's ok, too. Let people play games the way they want.