10 Feb 2012

Becoming The Nomad

My approach to MMOs is changing. I used to be someone who sticks to a game for several years, but now I consider changing every six months. It’s something I first felt back in August last year, and explored further when I thought there might be a limit on the number of subscription MMOs that could coexist. But is this change a natural thing that all MMO gamers go through, and is it healthy when MMOs are banking on years of subscription revenue to break even?

Back when I started playing World of Warcraft I made a promise to myself – this would be the game I would stick with until the servers were switched off. I was young, fresh and naive in the ways of MMO gaming. I honestly felt that this would be the game for me.

Since then there’s been a few distractions. Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, and Aion have all managed to tempt me away for a few weeks, but it’s never been anything permanent. Even during my time in Rift there was an understanding that Warcraft was still my primary game.

Over the last six months my perspective has been changing. I’ve been shifting my stance from someone who has a primary game with an occasional dabble in a secondary title. Instead I’m becoming the MMO nomad, charting a route through the upcoming releases without any plans to stick to a particular title.

I’ve been trying to work out why my approach has changed to something similar to traditional RPGs. Part of me feels that it’s because endgame content has become stale, that once you’ve experienced a number of raids in one game you’ve pretty much seen how they work in all of them. Instead, I focus on levelling up a character and experiencing as much content as possible. Sometimes I’ll give a game two or three play-throughs, but my desire to really engage at end-game is fading.

I’m also wondering if my previous desire to use MMOs as a social tool is also changing. Instead of having a game in which you’d build a new network of friends every time, I feel that I’m turning to tools like Twitter and the general blogsphere to maintain a network beyond any single game. Although titles like Rift try to plug into this, I’m beginning to feel that the friendships built in-game are all the more transient and temporary.

It’s also bad news for subscription-based MMOs that rely on keeping the numbers up in order to make a return on the initial investment. If a title is relying on half a million subscribers to stick with the game for two years, the financing model starts to fell apart when player behaviour means that the majority will switch to something new inside of 6 months.

This leaves me with two questions. Firstly, is becoming the nomad the natural evolution of the MMO player? Do we tend to stick with our first title for years, only for the time we spend with future titles to become progressively shorter?

The second is if this nomadic behaviour can be countered by developers. Can regular content patches help retain veteran MMO players, or is there something more fundamental about the endgame model that needs fixing? Spinks asks the same question, with a variety of results.

Warcraft and SWTOR have both been fantastic with introducing thousands of new gamers to the MMO genre. But what happens when these gamers grow tired of their existing games and start reaching out for something more? While a franchise or legacy can pull in an army of fresh faces that will stick with an MMO while it’s something new, can MMO sequels from MMO houses pull the same kind of trick?

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