A Series Of Unlikely Explanations

So my theory, which is mine (and not Anne Elk’s) is that people tend to try an MMOG (maybe from peer pressure, maybe a dealerpublisher offers a free trial, maybe they see MMOG use glamorised on TV), then either hate it and get put off them for life, or become hooked, play that game for a long time, finally get bored, then flit around from other MMOG to other MMOG, trying to recapture that first hit but never quite finding it again.

It’s that old, old story of boy meets MMOG, boy falls in love with MMOG, boy plays MMOG unceasingly to a frankly unhealthy degree for many months, boy starts to tire of MMOG and starts looking around at other MMOGs, boy furtively subscribes to other MMOG (while still logging in to the first from time to time) and secretly enjoys it more, boy unsubscribes from first MMOG, boy suddenly finds the second MMOG isn’t so different from the first after all and rapidly tires, boy moves on from MMOG to MMOG never recapturing that original feeling and realises that first MMOG was his True MMOG, boy returns to that first MMOG but finds it’s moved on, expansions have been released, rules have changed and it’s not the MMOG he remembers, boy is spurned by first MMOG, boy is disconsolately on the verge of abandoning MMOGs for good when, in a hugely emotional finale, a “Classic” expansion is released for that first MMOG returning things to the way they were and boy and MMOG ride off into the sunset to live Happily Ever After.

(Richard Curtis can acquire the rights to Four MMOGs And A Classic Expansion Pack for a small fee.)

(And we’ll ignore the bit after the final credits roll where boy gets bored with the classic expansion pack after a week.)

I got prompted to thinking about it after unsubscribing from Age of Conan and going back to City of Heroes, so I scribbled down my MMOGing history, as per the previous post, and it did seem to suggest an ever-shortening MMOG attention span. Can anything recapture those first joyful stumbling moments getting to grips with a totally new idea, that all those people running around are *actually* *people*, fumbling with strange concepts like “aggro”, that moment when you realise that “grats” is actually a contraction of “congratulations” rather than some derivation of “gratitude” and the party chat around the time people levelled suddenly makes a whole lot more sense? Once you fire up a game, cast a jaded glance at the interface and say “there’s the health bar, there’s the mana bar, there’s my hotbar of abilities, she’s the tank, I’m the healer, he’s the DPS, those are mobile bags of XP and loot, let’s gain some levels”, is there any going back?

So I thought I’d see if other people followed a similar pattern, thanks very much for the responses. I can now confidently conclude, through the Power of Statistics, “yes and no”. (Well, I say “confidently”, based on the sample size and estimated population of players the confidence interval is approximately… erm… 0.00034%, but never mind.) Guido and Elf have a similar trajectory so far (which isn’t guaranteed to continue), but Melmoth, Stargazer and Jon vary significantly.

As it happens I’d been looking at my list again, and my longest subscriptions, City of Heroes and World of Warcraft, are the two games where, at various points, I’ve hooked up with other people, either small groups of friends or guilds that really worked. The rest I either played solo, or found guilds via forums/in-game chat/random blind invite that never quite clicked (the latter cases not being terribly surprising, it’s not a good sign if a guild’s prime criteria for membership is “standing within sight of somebody with invite privileges”, but sometimes you have to give it a shot for a laugh). Maybe it’s not the game so much as the people? I should’ve asked people to list whether they were in regular groups or guilds for the games they’d played.

And then I thought: people, that’s a social thing, Socialiser… Bartle type. Your play style must affect how long you spend in a game; if primarily an Explorer, it depends how large (and varied) the game world is, if an Achiever, how long it takes to the level cap (if such a thing exists) and what avenues for advancement there are after that, if a Socialiser or Killer, it’s all about the people (to talk to/mercilessly slaughter, delete as appropriate). I should’ve asked people to list their Bartle type as well (or an even more in-depth assessment of motivation).

And *then* I thought: that’s not entirely incompatible with Theory Mark I. I might’ve been lucky and started with a game that happened to suit my playing style to start with, or maybe that first game shaped my expectations for everything that followed? I could be particularly impressionable, though. What we need is government funded study of a large group of people who have never played an MMOG, put them through an in-depth assessment of motivation of why they might want to play an MMOG, start them up in a variety of games, then test them again after six months to see if their results change.

And then I thought I’d been thinking altogether too much and I should leave this stuff to psychologists or possibly psychiatrists, so I played a bit of Guitar Hero instead. Oh, is there concrete all around, or is it in my head? Guitar solo!

9 thoughts on “A Series Of Unlikely Explanations

  1. Van Hemlock

    You might be on to (or on) something there. My own MMO history is pretty much identical to Paragraph 2 up there, only I haven’t gone back to my first MMO, but am still wandering.

    I forget my exact score, but am a very high percentage Explorer type. And am a Leo!

    Probably my longest played titles are indeed the ones where I’ve had, or have, regular groups in. I’m not sure that what you need right now, is *another* MMO, but if you do find yourself in Guild Wars, do get in touch!

  2. Zoso

    I’ve made a bit of a stab at Guild Wars two or three times, but haven’t managed to stick at it yet; still, it’s always there, temptingly lacking a monthly fee… (Can something be both tempting and lacking? Anyway.) First, though, that nice Mr Sony has just sent a mail through saying my SWG account is active for the rest of the month, even though it was only a trial, so I might see if I can remember how to fly a Y-wing.

    If we don’t manage anything else before, I’m starting to look forward to Warhammer Online, out of the corner of my eye with a slight squint to avoid being drawn wholesale into the terrifying hype machine, getting worked up into a frothing pitch of excitement then inevitably crushed by disappointment when tedious reality intervenes. Hopefully we can all hook up there, buckled hats and pyromaniac wizards all round.

  3. Elf

    Is your theory specific to MMO games, or does it apply to other genres of games too? I know that I still consider Super Mario Bros. to be the best platform game, and Paradroid and Wizball on the C=64 to be the best of whatever genre they fit in to, and will nearly always think back to them when playing a similar game to the point of firing up an emulator to play them again.

    The main draw to newer games within the same genre has generally been owing to advances in technology. The better graphics and sound of later generations of computers and consoles has been sufficient lure, and the available memory, both volatile and storage, has enabled more involving and immersive games to be created. I’m sure similar factors have evolved in MMOs, although there hasn’t been the huge leap in quality that was experienced from growing up with 8-bit machines.

    EVE Online seems to me to be sufficiently different from the other MMOs that I’ve played that I don’t strive to find the same thrills that World of Warcraft first instilled in me, because they simply aren’t there. Instead, I find different thrills and goals, and the major differences in design are what is attracting me to play it further.

    I can see how playing a game that is at its basic level identical to the previous one will effectively fail, because rather than trying to adapt to the changes in the game it is more attractive to withdraw to the familiar system of the old game, where the same style of gameplay can still be enjoyed.

  4. Zoso

    Hoom. Other genres, good question… I did contemplate them a bit, but was rambling on quite long enough as was. I think MMOs are somewhat peculiar in being intended to last much longer than single player games, for the most part (though that said, I’ve been playing Guitar Hero 3 for seven months on and off, longer than a bunch of MMOs). RTS games, I played heavily for a while (Dune II, the original Warcraft, Command & Conquer), then they just got terribly same-y (build buildings, build units, rush enemy, repeat, still don’t seem to be terribly different); FPS games, though, I’ll quite happily keep going back to.

    And yes, brief EVE and Second Life dalliances apart, I’ve largely been going from chocolate ice cream to chocolate ice cream, which probably isn’t the best way of experiencing new things. But I do like chocolate ice cream…

  5. Elf

    It’s interesting that you write about how all RTS games get repetitive, because I think that is essentially the main point you make about MMOGs. It seems to me that the fundamental aspect of the RTS genre is resource management and that players who are looking for that gameplay will see the appeal in any good RTS game and continue to play the genre. Players who enjoy social or exploration could find appeal in MMORPGs, and other genres appeal to those who are attuned to them. I am drawn to good platformers and driving games, and will happily play a decent type of that game however old or new it is. Can you identify what it is about FPS games that brings you back time and again?

    Sometimes the thrill of a new game is present because its nature is fundamental to the genre, and sometimes we’ll go back to our previous favourite because it simply did things better.

  6. Saylah

    First time reader. I was pointed in this direction by someone commenting on my blog. Very interesting post and associated ideas. I’m high explorer and achiever. I think I happened to land the first time in a game that suited my play-style before I knew what one was or that I had one – that being AC1/AC2. WOW fit the same bill when I ventured there with it’s complete freedom to choose how you level, which as it happens, was also extremely solo friendly.

    I’ve looked since those glory days and have come up short after trying every single major fantasy MMO release – bar none and no dice. These days I’ve given up on the pie in the sky or hope that lightening will strike a third time. I’m really willing to settle for just good enough and a close match to my play style. It’s WAR or bust which doesn’t leave me feeling very reassured that I will have a new MMO to play this year. Wow, this year. What a depressing thought should it not occur.

  7. Zoso

    @Elf – Hmm, you’re right, when I pick up a new FPS I’m not thinking “oh no, I’ve got a gun, I’ll probably have to shoot ten people/demons/aliens, then shoot another ten people/demons/aliens, then…” Then again, it’s a rare FPS that I’d play for more than a couple of weeks, or a month (since UT2k4, at least).

    @Saylah – Verniere-itis sounds about right. I’m trying not to pin all my hopes on Warhammer for fear of crushing it under the weight of expectation, but my inner child from 20 years back gazing at the Holy Text of Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition is getting a bit giddy…

  8. Khan

    I remember the giddy days of both CoH and WoW when those worlds were new and wonderous. I don’t think those days are coming back. When I’ve seen behind the curtain already, there really isn’t a show a game can put on where the little voice in my head (one of them, anyway) isn’t going to be pointing out the mechanics. “It’s another #$%ing kill quest.” “That’s a FedEx quest.” “Ten more points of defense and I’ll be uncrushable.”

    I’m sure WAR will be a great game but I’m not likely to sign up for it until a couple months after release if at all. Right now the game I’m in (LotRO) provides the gaming things that matter most to me (ESAK). I get to explore and socialize in one of the best fantasy worlds ever created. I don’t see WAR topping that. Not for me, anyway.

    Like other posters here, I’m extremely leary of the hype machines of most companies (not just MMO ones).

Comments are closed.