Rick over at /random expressed concern that his longtime guild may not be as hyped for WAR as he is, and that their time together in the game may be rather limited due to general MMO veteran burnout, a legitimate concern for anyone hoping to find the next ‘it’ game to play with friends.
As someone with a great deal of MMO experience, having played Ultima Online heavily at release and MMO gaming ever since, Rick’s post got me thinking about the general idea of MMO burnout. On a somewhat recent podcast, Michael Zenke expressed his jealousy for anyone able to enjoy one MMO for great lengths of time, as he himself was unable to focus on any one game for long. This brings up the question, does the appeal of MMO gaming have a limited shelf life? Do we all reach a point where we are no longer entertained by ‘kill x’ quests, grinding another level, or killing a mob in the hopes it drops the item we desire? How many times can you hit max level in an MMO before all you see is the same formula with a few twists, instead of the rush to explore a new world and see what is around the next corner ?
I think part of what contributes to the burnout is that initially, an MMO is a very different beast than all other games, especially during the initial ‘big three’ era, before Xbox live and all computer games having an online component made multiplayer fairly common. Just the fact that you logged into a world populated by thousands of other real players was new and exciting. Seeing another real player, and not an NPC, run by you for the first time was special, as was the first time you got together with other players to tackle some common task. The very basics of MMO gaming are what hook us initially, but those same hooks exist in all MMOs, and are nothing new the 3rd or 4th time around. Your first group experience in MMO 4 is much different than it was in MMO 1. In MMO 4, you know what to expect, you know exactly why you are in the group, and worst still, you know that joining a PUG could result in disaster; disaster you no longer have patience for. What you and everyone else could once laugh about now generally results in people leaving the group at best and a massive flame fest at worst.
UO was able to get away with a LOT of issue in part because for 99% of the players, just being online was a source of newness and entertainment. When Warhammer Online goes live, what percentage of the players will view just connecting to a server and being in a virtual world as entertainment? It certainly won’t be 99%, or 50%, but will it even be 10%? Regardless of the actual number, it won’t be many, and as a result, WAR and all other future MMOs need to deliver compelling gameplay right out of the gate to satisfy the needs of a far more demanding MMO crowd. In addition, not only does that content need to be compelling day one, it also has to continue at a much more furious pace than in days past. We all want new surprises around every corner, and those corners better come at a far more rapid pace than before. MMO gamers today won’t be logging on to hit a practice dummy for hours in order to work up their sword skill high enough to kill field rats. They want awesome day one, day two, and expect that awesome to continue to deliver for months on end. In many ways, it’s an almost impossible task for today’s developers to satisfy the needs of veteran MMO gamers.
With all that said, is there any hope for all the old whiny bastards like Rick and I? Can any MMO today or in the future rekindle those types of feelings we had for our first MMO? Glass half full guy says yes, glass half empty guy is not so sure. On the one hand, playing with a great group of people in a solid environment will always be entertaining. Playing on a beer league softball team is just as fun today as playing baseball was in high school, even though the feeling of hitting your first homerun will never be eclipsed by another homerun in the future. The actual activity, while still fun, is greatly supplemented by the people you play with. In that regard, any solid MMO with good gameplay should be able to entertain us, as we hope WAR will. It won’t, however, bring the same rush you had during your first relic raid in DAoC, or the first time you tried to run away from a PK in UO. And perhaps our tolerance for the general MMO grind, something all MMO games feature in varying degrees, is a bit lower. To me, that just places an even greater importance on playing with quality people early and often, as without them, that burnout sets in hard and fast regardless of what MMO you are playing.