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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13 Responses to Becoming The Nomad

  1. Azuriel says:

    I believe the behavior is both natural and inevitable for most people. Because when you come right down to it, the only reason to stay in a given MMO in the long-term are due to the people you meet, friendships you forge, etc. I came into WoW knowing no one, met some people, and four years later we finally dispersed from WoW.

    And you know what? I have zero desire to go through the “building relationship” phase again in WoW; if I have to start over, why not start over in another game entirely? And then I start questioning why I’d bother making new friends at all when I still talk to the ones I made, except now in Vent or through Steam. Heading into an MMO with no desire to socialize is obviously a short-term engagement, and is something I believe people ultimately will settle on doing in the future after their main social clique dissolves.

    Maybe it’s all anecdotal, or maybe it’s the new normal. I believe the latter.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think you’re right in that gamers are using tools like Vent or Steam for their networks. I also admit that I’m guilty sometimes of treating MMOs as an RPG with an IRC-style chatbox.

    • Liore says:

      “Heading into an MMO with no desire to socialize is obviously a short-term engagement, and is something I believe people ultimately will settle on doing in the future after their main social clique dissolves.”

      See, I see this as the death knell of the MMO genre. If there is no social interaction and you just hop games every six months, how is an MMO different from a co-op multiplayer game like Mass Effect 3? (Or a a single player game like Kingdom of Amalur, even.) Seems the exact same to me.

      What is even the point of an MMO, then?
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  2. Tesh says:

    MMO monogamy and the subscription business model that aids and abets it were simply an aberration of a narrow market. When a market opens up, nomads are the norm. That’s healthy, I figure. It means games have to fight for their share and step up their game instead of cruise along on being big fish in a small pool.
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    • Gazimoff says:

      I agree that MMO monogamy lends itself to subscriptions very well. But if the playerbase is changing to one that’s made of veteran MMO players, do subscriptions still work? Probably not. Then we get into the whole alternate financing model thing and so on 😉

  3. Telwyn says:

    Certainly that has been my experience too, I was ‘true’ to WoW for 2.5 years but then during an unusual summer where I had lots of free time I tried DDO, Warhammer Online, LoTRO, Runes of Magic (and more) and thus my ‘MMO Nomad’ times began. Since then I’ve also tried EQ2X and Rift.

    The problem for me now is that I want to play several of these games ‘properly’ at some point but finding the time to play more than one is pretty difficult. I love having several ‘standby’ games available so I can avoid burn-out on my main game (currently SWTOR).

    I can’t imagine ever going back to only one game again, times have indeed changed.
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  5. Stubborn says:

    What you describe is totally normal behavior. Games are destined to be boring, even big games with many avenues. Given enough time, you will tread them all. I’ve been experiencing the same kind of thing for years, and recently it’s gotten much, much worse. Right now I’m splitting my time between six games that I play for a few hours each week instead of one game I play a lot. I play at least 1 game a day on Magic the Gathering Online, win at least 1 BG on my rogue in WoW, rotate my duty officer missions on Star Trek Online, rotate my crew missions on Star Wars, play Skyrim for an hour now and then, and play a few turns of Civ from day to day. I’ve developed game attention deficient disorder.

    I think it comes from playing so much for so long. With nothing really new available, we get tired of the same transposed games that can’t keep our attention, so we dabble.

    Your second question I think comes down to “Participation Bandwidth,” a term I picked up from McGonigal’s Reality is Broken. Essentially, there is a finite amount of time, energy, and money people will invest in game activities, and with more and more games, each one starves a little more. Eventually, one might appear that’s powerful enough to consolidate a lot of those resources in one place (like WoW did), but it becomes harder and harder the more options players have. End game may be flawed, but more so the entire concept of MMOs. How many worlds can you split your time between while still being “engaged?”

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  6. Ahtchu says:

    I wonder if it is a bad thing if I’ve become a nomad entirely from the genre?
    I feel that the current MMORPG offerings are so void of substance that even jumping between titles is an exercise in frustration. Personally speaking of course, I want to belong to an MMORPG again, skipping and giggle as she takes me on adventures, and I fill her world with life. Until that day comes back around…. =/
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  7. I find myself doing something similar right now – I’m bopping between WoW, STO, SW:TOR, LOTRO and CO, spending a couple days at a time in each, poking as I feel like it.

    It’s actually kind of nice to have the option of doing that, really, and it makes old favourites feel rather fresh when I return to them.

  8. jethro says:

    You are getting old (as a MMO player). Simple as that. The following generations will experience MMOs as new and fresh until they get the burnout syndrom too.

    Means there are consequences for you and Wow with its “old” player base, but not necessarily for new MMO’s. Except they can’t count on just hijacking the established player base of Wow, they need to attract new players

    • Gazimoff says:

      Some would argue I’m getting old anyway 😉

      I agree with you though – MMOs targeted at the mature MMO playerbase need to evolve if they’re going to get meaningful retention. MMOs aimed at pulling in players from other franchises and genres will probably have an easier retention time, but I think need to work harder on streamlining systems and building a community.

  9. Bronte says:

    I played the nomad for a while. Champions Online, LOTRO, EVE Online (though I played that for years and years, just off and on), but at the end of it all, despite all of its problems, there simply isn’t a better product in the market over all than WoW. So for now I am sticking to it.

    I didn’t give in to the SWTOR hype, and I am glad for it. It seems like a good story-based game, but the endgame, PvP and all things that should help set it apart as an MMO are shoddy at best.

    Looking forward to Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World. Let’s see what becomes of it.
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