Why Are We Playing MMOs?

I’ve been reading various blogs this morning and this post by Keen caught my attention and triggered a couple of thoughts on the subject. Why are we playing MMOs? Why do we drop some of them so fast and why do we stick with others way beyond a point where it seems reasonable?

There are three main reasons why we play MMOs: the achievements, the socializing and the storytelling. MMOs and many other games give instant rewards for all kinds of in-game achievements. It’s part of our nature that we grave recognition and rewards even if they are only given by a machine. The socializing aspect of the game is obvious as well. Humans are social animals and tend to do things in groups and tribes, guilds or clubs. And there’s more to it than just storytelling: The immersion, escapism, exploration, role-playing and the fun from customizing your characters looks, in game housing and even whole dungeons. (See this article by Nick Yee )

According to this article, not all players are built the same. Some are in it for the achievements, others spent their evening in the game chatting and yet another group will move around carpets in their virtual homes until it is perfectly matched with the hobbit painting on the wall. Obviously we will play a new game to find out how it will satisfy our tastes and quit as soon as we find out it doesn’t do it at all, or not as well as the old game, or after a while it just won’t be able to satisfy your needs anymore. You’ve reached max level, all achievements, know in your sleep that a 21/2/18 build is inferior to 23/0/18 for leveling purposes. Or the socializer, troll or extrovert is sitting in the games main hub all night talking to himself without any feedback, because the world has grown stale to most people and nobody feels like talking.

As the Gartner graph posted by Keen shows, an MMO  will go through these phases:

  1. Trigger: “Game of Thrones MMO announced”
  2. Inflated Expectations: “Play GW2, meet hot chicks and win the nobel price”
  3. Trough: “SWTOR has no endgame”
  4. Enlightenment: “Rift has cool features, is well implemented”
  5. Productivity: “WOW, 13 mio subscribers”

As time moves on, competing games will offer new features, like SWTOR’s voice overs, Rift’s and GW2’s dynamic content. If WOW can’t keep up with it, people will move. Should Blizzard come up with feature people don’t like, lets say pandas, people will turn away.

However, and now we are getting more into people issues and toward an answer to the third question, players tend to stick with the things they know. Like old shoes, unfit to walk in the rain with, or an old hoodie with a hole the size of a DVD in the sleeves, people will not leave their game because it is safe.  They know it inside out and know how to get their kicks out of it, even if they have to get higher and higher doses of it to be happy. They fear the new game, don’t know how it will react to their whims. And that’s why Everquest is still around. The game has changed ever so slowly, just enough to not alienate the remaining base of players. And that’s why the frog stays in water that’s slowly heated, but jumps out when thrown into boiling hot water. (so they say, don’t do this at home)

Back to the pandas. I strongly believe that the pandas are scapegoats for the general dissatisfaction with WOW. People have become bored with the game and see the need to justify their decision to leave their partner (game) of seven years. And that’s why they bash pandas, because the real reasons are many fold and much harder to explain.

 

Attribution: Gartner hype cycle and the panda picture are copied from http://wikipedia.org

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One Comment

  1. I enjoyed reading this article; it is very enlightening. I’m the sole developer of Island Forge, an MMORPG that’s all about player-created content.

    I think one component lacking in many MMORPGs is a feeling of personal contribution to the world. In Island Forge you can create your own islands and stories for others to explore.

    Many huge MMO titles focus on phases #1 and #2 of your graph (big ad campaigns to get quick sales). Our focus is on #4 (providing a nice set of features all designed around player-created content).

    Thanks for your insights into the motivations of MMO players.

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