23 Mar 2011

Burnout By The Numbers

It’s ironic that almost a year ago I was writing about the same topic and how to cope with it. Back then, players were complaining about being burned out with Wrath. They’d done everything they wanted to, achieved what they wanted and were ready to throw in the towel. I was as well, which is why I wrote about how I cope with hitting a gaming rut.

Yet here we are, a slim 14 weeks since Cataclysm was released and feeling burned out already. These aren’t just isolated cases either – MMO Melting Pot reports that 75% of all respondents to a burnout article on WoW Insider are themselves struggling with the problem.

So what gives? What turns a loyal fanbase of players into burned out deserters in the space of three and a half months?

A lot of people cite how the difficulty curve has changed between Wrath and Cataclysm, or how they’re having to learn new ways of playing their favourite class. I think that these are partial red herrings – players like to be challenged as long as they feel progress instead of frustration. Progress is definitely being made – we might not be talking about the walk-in-the-park that Naxxaramas was but boss kill counts are creeping up.

Instead I think that the problem is partly due to analytics. Players are now measured on their performance in far greater detail than they once were. We went from threat meters to damage meters to damage uptime monitors to log parsing without a pause for breath. Don’t get me wrong, these tools are great for those who want to be the best of the best. For those who aren’t at the top end of raiding, the information overload and the way it’s being used only serves to frustrate.

That said, I don’t think that raiders are burned out from raiding. The current tier of raiding is hard, but it’s also varied. We have a lot of choice, which means less repetition, which means less burnout. So if it’s not raiding what else is making people log off in their droves?

Simple: ask your raiders what they do when they’re not raiding. Are they running heroics or doing PvP? Are they levelling alts? Are they roleplaying? Are they logging off completely and going to play something else?

The biggest contributor to burnout that I know of is repetition. You get it in all walks of life from your job to your family. Something that you have to do repeatedly day in, day out is going to wear you down eventually. People need variety in their life.

But does Cataclysm encourage variety? A quick look shows that Burning Crusade had 15 heroic dungeons at release, while Wrath had 12 (with 4 more introduced in content patches). Compare that to Cataclysm, which had 9 heroic dungeons at release including 2 refreshes of old ones. Whichever way you slice it, you’ll grow tired of Cataclysm heroics more quickly because of the simple drop in variety.

The second contributor to burnout is frustration. The old symptom of throwing your controller at the TV when getting angry at a console game applies just as equally to PC based MMOs. The only difference nowadays is that we want to reach through the internet and choke the people that fate has thrown us together with.

A game needs to have a blend of different difficulty levels in order for it to be constantly appealing. Having something that is constantly difficult requires concentration and focus, which is only sustainable for limited periods of time. Reasonable breaks need to be possible to allow players to relax and relieve tension. If a game doesn’t provide this then it’s no surprise that gamers look to find it elsewhere. If you find that your guild is only logging on for core raiding hours, chances are they’re spending their relaxation time somewhere else.

The third contributor that I’ve seen for burnout is replayability. This is again a curse of single player games – how often do you play through Portal or Halo 3? Once, twice maybe? These are both examples of on-rails progression paths that deliver great experiences but provide rapidly diminishing returns every time you restart them.

Counter that with something like The Sims or Civilization. For these styles of games replayability was one of the key selling points. I played Civ II so many times it scares me, and I still know people who play classic Civ regularly.

Cataclysm has become synonymous with an “on-rails” MMO for a lot of us. While heavy phasing manages to deliver the great storytelling that we’ve cried out for, it comes at the natural expense of replayability. It’s the same as watching the same movie or reading the same book – you’re not going to repeat it often, particularly at close intervals. As a result, getting all your level 80 alts to the new cap feels more of a chore than a challenge. Also, notice the repetition thing again?

In some respects, Cataclysm is Blizzard’s greatest triumph. But in other crucial areas it lacks those things that just keep people playing. The lack of variation, the “always on” challenge and the lower replay value all mean that burnout is reached much faster.

I have to confess, I’m taking a holiday from Warcraft. In the same way that I’d book myself a holiday if I was burned out at work, I’m currently mageing away on other shores, doing a bit of exploring and meeting new people. It’s healthy for me – I still love Warcraft and I’ll come back and play again but I don’t want to grow bitter and resentful of the game. And when I return, I’ll have a bag full of tales to share and memories to smile at.

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18 Responses to Burnout By The Numbers

  1. Syl says:

    I think these are very good points that certainly hold true for a large part of the players currently burned out with wow. but when I’m trying to apply this to myself, I don’t feel it fits, or rather I perceive the issue of repetition (which is the main issue for me personally) from a different angle: for how long can you play the same MMO? what’s the ‘average life cycle’ of MMOs? at some point they are bound to bore you because they cannot go on constantly re-inventing themselves – they need to hold true to their basic concept and world or the risk is altogether too great for them. so, at some point it’s bound to happen that things feel like a repetition. and I would say 6 years is already quite an achievement, I’ve certainly not played any game for longer.

    I don’t think there’s anything that Blizzard could still do with wow that would get me back to playing, it’s become waaaay too “been there, done that” for me in Azeroth, even raids are the same basic mechanics under a new (recycled) coat of paint. I don’t feel that I’m burned out and my friends who have stopped recently don’t show signs of burnout themselves really – they’re not frustrated or exhausted, just plain bored and over wow. maybe we have simply outgrown it, it’s what I keep hearing from veterans at least.

    I haven’t looked back once since and I have no negative feelings in the sense that Blizzard has ‘let me down’, they really haven’t; I’m just not interested in what they have to offer no more.
    Syl recently posted..Trion introducing coin locksMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      You make some interesting points too, especially the point about content repetition.

      I thought of comparing Warcarft to a long running TV series that people watch for years. Some of the long soap operas have been running for decades, continually entertaining a huge fanbase with the storylines they present. But they’re only producing material for a one hour long show, whereas an expansion has to be able to keep players entertained for many times that.

      Do you think (honest question) that if we changed content from big pushes every 18 months to frequent drip-feeds every four weeks that more players would remain engaged for longer periods? It feels like a season versus box set/marathon argument, and I’m not sure which is best for the player here.

      I do agree with you though, I think 6 years is a long time to be playing any game and Blizzard have done well to get this far. I certainly don’t have any negative feelings towards them. I just can’t help but feel that certain design choices they made have brought things to a rather rapid conclusion for many players.

      • Syl says:

        “…hat if we changed content from big pushes every 18 months to frequent drip-feeds every four weeks that more players would remain engaged for longer periods?”

        It’s funny you mention it, because I had a short exchange with another commenter over at tobold’s a while ago, about the exact same thing. I think a game world would feel a lot more alive if developers released little bits of changes and new content on a weekly or forthnightly base, from simple things like adding quests, to big changes like earthquakes reshaping a map, mob invasions etc. I’d prefer that to huge expansions every other year, also due to the missing ‘rush through’-factor.
        but somehow most developers still think big expansions are needed and also raising the level cap. i’d love to see a different approach.

  2. Masith says:

    I think you make a very good point about blend of difficulty levels. When the new 10/25 shared lockouts were announced I was in general pretty happy about it. I would no longer feel obligated to raid 10mans for badges and gear on my main.

    My guild used to run a 10man every friday night and it was generally oversubscribed. Since cata we have run two fairly successful alt runs and since then have never had more than 4 or 5 people signing. This lack of friday night runs casues the guild to lose some of the social glue that kept people together. Whilst our proper raids are fun people still have to take them seriously and focus, our old 10man runs used to be fun runs where people got drunk and tried to kill each other or kill bosses in weird ways etc…

    This sort of run isn’t possible anymore as any raiding we do is at the same (fairly hard) difficulty level. I am pretty sure this is why people aren’t signing on our alt runs. They want to be able to steamroll through stuff on their mains and relax with their friends not have to focus hard or spend the night wiping on bosses they are used to killing easily on their mains.

  3. Matticus says:

    Strong points, especially that statistical gem around the idea of heroics. If we took the same population we have now in Cataclysm and sent them back in time to do the heroics then, would the same levels of burnout still have occurred? I felt the heroics were much more difficult then along with the different gating schemes that were in placing which involve reputations and getting keyed for stuff. While accessibility is always a good thing, I can’t help but wonder if those gates that were in place might have had a secondary benefit: The carrot on a stick for people to reach for.

    Here’s the flip side of the post. You’ve listed in length what you suspected were the reasons people were burning out.

    What about the factors that are keeping players playing? I’m still trying to figure that out about myself. I shoold have thrown in the towel a long time ago.
    Matticus recently posted..Can a 10 man raid team co-exist with a 25 man raid teamMy Profile

    • Syl says:

      “What about the factors that are keeping players playing?”
      I think the social factor of MMOs cannot be under-estimated here; so many players are way past the stage where they’re playing the game for content enjoyment (the way it is when you start out), they basically play it “for other people” or because they feel somehow ‘obligated’ or needed for their guild. if you ask them what they enjoy or what’s keeping them, it’s mostly the company and once guildmates start leaving one by one, it all comes tumbling down. which is really what’s happening right now in many guilds and it’s frustrating and hurtful for those left behind and feeling ‘deserted’ – obviously also because it causes great issues raidwise (recruitment ain’t easy atm). but not everyone plays MMOs for the same reasons or wants the same out of the game.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Burning Crusade setup was generally better.

      The main reason for me is the reputation requirements to unlock heroic modes meant that as a side effect you naturally geared up. By the time you had the reputation to buy the heroic mode key you’d pretty much exhausted the loot that you’d want from the dungeon anyway. It meant that players weren’t trying to artificially push through the iLevel 329 barrier by wearing gear that was of no use to them. I understand why the change was made but I don’t think the consequences were thought through carefully enough.

      What keeps people playing? Put simply, it’s the people you play with.

      If you’re part of a destructive communtiy (think LFD or /2 on some servers) then you’re more inclined to walk.

      If on the other hand you’re part of a constructive community, you’re more likely to stick around. The benefits of being in the group in terms of enjoyment/reward outweigh the benefits of not being in it. There’s also the support frameworks that build up. Just like good athletes are great at keeping eachother motivated, good players are great at keeping eachother enthusiastic about new content. A lot of that’s down to group dynamics though – something I know little about.

      I think it’s no surprise that good guilds with more substance to them are coping well with Cata, while those guilds that are purely there to organise raid nights are struggling. If all your guild is about is making sure that ten or 25 players are logged on at x time on y day, I think you’ll struggle.

      It feels a lot like work – I think if you have a good “sports and social” ethos as an employer then your employee retention will be higher than if you’re “work work”

  4. Ceraphus says:

    I haven’t seen burnout as much from my guildies, maybe our guild culture is much more casual and we encourage people to do things outside the game, many folks I know only log in to raid, while others have found fun things to do during non-raid times by leveling alts, rediscovering the world of Azeroth.

    However, I do see that the difficulty curve has slowed some players down to where they aren’t raiding anymore, maybe still playing but much much more casual than before.

    I think getting the 2 new troll heroics coming will help to some degree, but there is a decidely lack of things to do except bang your head against raid content, which as compared to WotLK is much less forgiving on mistakes, especially in 10 mans from my opinion.

    10 man raiding is much harder than before and in some instances harder than 25 man raiding for a number of reasons I won’t get into here.
    Ceraphus recently posted..How To- Warcraft Ranged DPS 202My Profile

  5. Trill says:

    I saw a graph once of the life cycle of an MMO gamer. The phase after burnout is “casual raider.” I guess with casual raiding in a bad place, all that leaves is quitting.

  6. Nostalgeek says:

    I tend to agree with you that WoW is prone to burnout. In the past I have felt it about 2-3 months after a release. I always come back but I always left.
    This was due to many problems: my friends being much higher level than me so soloing boring, different time zones….

    This time I’m approaching the game much more casually and I’m still not feeling burnout. I’m only level 65 after almost 3 months, I play maybe 4h a day on the WE and during the week if i’m lucky about 1h a night. So this leaves me with tons of content to do.
    I’ve also joined an RP server this time precisely for these times when I’m bored.

    Also you must realize that not only do you play WoW but you also keep a blog and I know how much time and effort that can take. If you add the burnout of feeling like “you haven’t updated the blog in a bit and I NEED to do it but….ugh” to the regular WoW burnout then it just becomes too much.

  7. Stubborn says:

    I’ve taken this holiday several times. Once was to DDO, once was to Conan, and once was to LotRO. All of them ended with me coming back to WoW for this or that reason. Recently, though, (to very minorly add to the weight of your article) I’ve been feeling something new. Something different from my “need a vacation feeling.” I don’t know what it is, but I doubt it will end well with WoW.
    Stubborn recently posted..Class-based ThinkingMy Profile

  8. Landry says:

    I “burned” out due to real life. A new relationship which is more important to my WoW playtime. Even when I was playing earlier this year I didn’t have time to wait 40 minutes on a random dungeon so I hit level 85 and ran out of things I wanted to do pretty quickly.

  9. Joe Ego says:

    It appears to me that the 80-85 content isn’t as drawn out as earlier levels. While there may be tons of it, players are encouraged along an efficient path. Older content involved a lot more exploration and while it wasn’t hard to get yourself going, it was easy to relax while being lost. The world felt more open-ended. Cataclysm leveling is, in some ways, not much different from an on-rails rpg like Diablo. There isn’t a lot of replayability and, simultaneously, the end game content is challenging enough (in skill and time commitments) that many people won’t bother.

    I wonder how many of these burnt out players have hardly touched heroics and raiding. Just as the top 50 guilds take a break or burn out at the end of their personal progression, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of casual players claiming boredom or burnout after barely seeing end game content.

  10. Dejavu says:

    I think they increased the difficulty of both dungeons and class. All the classes are the same, the variety and roles classes used to have have gone which has some benefits but many disadvantages.
    For example All the healers to me have a faster small heal a larger slower heal an aoe heal and an instant heal etc etc with MINOR differences. They are almost all the same. To play an alt another class seems almost the same. Plus all have an added complexity, there are no simple chill-out have fun classes. Everything is measured in detail to max performance. Personally my biggest hate is watching my class rotation and procs instead of watching the boss fight. Yeah its a balance you have to watch both but I get far more pleasure from watching the fight than watching same old timers, procs etc. I love boring simple classes and focusing on the strat and whats happening in the raid. And no I’m not a really pathetic player (although I do have days I am) In the past I apparently had highest toon on the server I was on and have played classes that have topped meters in both dps and heals. I just prefer simpler rotations complex fights, simpler class complex raids. I think maybe some of the triple spec classes ie warlock, mage or one of each type dps, heals, tank, range, melee should have one option that is easy mode for the fun factor. A viable option that equates to the more complex ones that is not just a social spec but a viable raid spec so people can choose to play a complex or an easy class. I am aware that many hate the boring and love the complex classes. But its about choice.
    I also think this overload contributes to the mass exodus. A challenge has to push our refined known existing skills to the edge giving us that slight push outside our comfort range. If the push is too great if too many new variables are thrown at us too fast we get overwhelmed and the heightened challenge becomes a chore. Throwing both class and raid complexities to us borders on being too much for too many. The concentration required to not feel out of our depth, to keep up with the expected dps, heals etc has made this a chore. Watching rotations, procs … boring. Although much easier now with blizz’s proc graphics and things like power auras, its still an emphasis on maximising our overloaded (sort of) rotations.
    Giving all classes aoe, means often easier content is aoe’d down often a 1 aoe button through a whole instance. Wotlk was boring because every heroic every fight was same aoe through the whole lot. Boss dynamics and fights were irrelevant. I love that Cata has changed that. Now I’m complaining about 1 button too easy but 1 button is too easy but 12 buttons is too complex there must be some challenge but not too much. And lots of choice.

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