Breaking down MMO burnout, and ways to avoid it.

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.

19 Responses to Breaking down MMO burnout, and ways to avoid it.

  1. Mikejl says:

    Great read .. upper 30’s gamer here also. Started with DAOC (then on too SWG, EQ2, WoW .. now between LOTRO and trying AoC). I also think at times I may be getting a MMO burnout? Or does it go deeper:
    Am I spending too much time looking for “greener fields” in other MMOs? When I jump into new a new MMO game am I scrutinizing the features bugs, etc.. and forget just how to have fun?

  2. Tipa says:

    I came to that realization ages ago. All MMOs are pretty much exactly the same. I played EQ, DAoC, FFXI, LotRO, EQ2, and WoW, and you know what — apart from details, they all played pretty much the same way. It was the people that made the game fun or not. Given that I play for the people and not to see how game X will put a twist on feature Y while leaving everything else the same, I figure I might as well play the old games until the MMO devs figure out how to make something new.

    I mean, I look at the games I am playing lately — EQ (old game, frustratingly difficult for new players, passionate community), Project Powder (thought this would be a snowboarding MMO, but it wasn’t — still fun, though), and Dungeon Crawl (a game with no graphics! Here’s my 3D model of my main character –> @ DDD <– the three D’s are a wyvern, a hydra and a mottled dragon. In that picture, you can see me frantically trying to get my teleport ring to get me the hell out of there.)

    Modern games tend to try and make things bland and vanilla while pumping up the graphics so they can hide their lack of gameplay. Maybe WAR will be unique enough to be interesting, but I doubt it.

    I have hopes, but I don’t see any fantasy MMOs in the future that do much to separate themselves from the crowd. Just more of the same, with better graphics. Yawn. Fug graphics. Give me a game.

  3. syncaine says:

    Somewhat of an odd list Tipa, especially since those game (DAoC aside if you did RvR) are remakes of the EQ formula. UO was different, Asheron’s Call was different, EVE, DDO are different. Variety exists today, you just seem to really favor the EQ-style MMO, which is totally cool of course, but I could see that type of focus increasing the burnout rate.

  4. JoBildo says:

    If a person can get it out of their heads that an MMO is about the levels, they’ll be fine.

    There’s the rub though.

  5. Manasi says:

    Along with what syncaine wrote one thing I do is try to take various styles of MMO. I like the EQ style as I picked up AoC and have been dabbling some there but I also like the EVE style ( and old SWG for that matter) where you create your own story…diversity is good!

    I strive to never lose sight of the goal; as always is to have fun.

    Lotro I love the story & the environment
    EQ, EQ2 I loved the discovery and the friendly players
    WoW I actually enjoyed the cartoon characters for a time
    I never played UO so that one I am unfamiliar with
    AoC so far the story and the environment are nice..

    All in all 2 things help: 1) Variety of style 2) a game that has no “end point”

    I can switch style of games easily and they require different things form me. Games that have a cap on hjow high you can go…once I get there tend to bore me to no end.

    EVE unlike most has no end game and is extremely complicated and therefore, for me enjoyable.

    Great writing

  6. spinks says:

    For me the main cure for boredom is the lure of meeting new people and making new friends and social groups, and learning a new game. I can see the appeal of being in the same guild for years over many games, but it’s not for me. This does tend to mean that any game has an inbuilt sellby date for me … but I used to find that with MUDs/MUSHes too. The games themselves are not inherently that interesting. Once you have explored the world once, you’ve consumed that content.

    I think the most interesting developments in the big mainstream games right now is how they are handling the social side of things. WoW seems determined to push people apart, with their move towards smaller raids, smaller PvP teams, more soloing, harder tuning that makes it more difficult to group with less well geared/experienced friends, etc. But guilds are one of the most interesting constructs to come out of MMORPGs and I’m still intrigued at how game mechanics can be used to facilitate the social side of things. Well, it’s one of the main things that has me interested in warhammer anyway.

  7. Rog says:

    I hate to say it… Plenty of players spend years in MMORPGs and well, most of the journalists and bloggers instead hop from game to game, giving their opinion about gameplay, features, etc– but looking back at those players that stick with one game for awhile, that’s the ~real~ serious audience of these games.

    I don’t mean to belittle all of us, but are we the ADD kids of MMOs? I suspect we don’t matter as much as we think we do.

    I’ve been trying my damnedest to stay in games longer, mostly due to the numerous friends and family I now play these games with: they don’t get as bored as quickly and I find since I adjusted my attitude and take my time with these games with a lot more patience, I’m having more fun.

    It’s hard to give up the journalistic side of me though that wants to try every single one of these games so I can make charts comparing their features– d’oh!

  8. JoBildo says:

    It’s funny you mention that Rog, because until I started blogging, I was mainly a WoW nut.

    I’d played plenty of MMOs, but WoW was the one I stuck with longest. I doubt that I’d suddenly stick with an MMO if I stopped blogging though. If anything, it’s because I love this genre of games so much that I keep hopping from game to game. I often go back to each of them from time to time, but few have held me longer than 4 months at a time.

  9. Yeebo says:

    For me seeing the little details of design in various MMOs is a big part of the fun. I’m an explorer by nature, and exploring things like advancement, combat, and crafting mechanics are a huge part of that. There are very few MMOs that have kept me entertained once I got over that initial hump of newbiness.

    So far the list of more than a month or two MMOs for me is:

    DAoC because RvR is a lot more fun than raiding, and it was the best thing in town back then.

    WoW because it was one of the first MMOs to actually be a fun game in it’s own right.

    And now LoTRO because I enjoy the storytelling and sense of place. The lifetime sub is also really good for me, because it lets me give in to my ADD and still have a home to come back to.

    In the last year I have also played CoX, EQ, EQ II, and DAoC on the side to keep abreast of new features. All have made great strides, but none held me for more than 2 months (even as a secondary MMO). I’m also planning excursions into TR (just got it a few days ago), post NGE SWG, and DDO at some point. Variety is spicy.

  10. Rog says:

    @JoBildo: I’m not trying to imply that the bloggers implicitly try to up their Googelrank by covering a games based on popularity (well, not all of them anyway, hah). Just that it seems to go hand-in-hand as the same personality types that speculate about games will also move on quicker, or even try a game just to “see what it’s like” that they’re not really interested in.

    You know what I mean I think, where there’s stronger interests in what’s in beta, always looking around the next corner. It’s addictive.

    When I worked full time on this stuff, we’d play different games each week. Literally. At E3 2000 they announced on the PC alone the market was pumping out something like 1500 games per year, that’s migrated to the consoles mostly but still the same thing. I tooootally burned out on that, which led me back to MMOs, the desire to play a game a bit longer.

    And yeah, WoW.. played 3 years solid. Felt very odd as that was a big change in pace for me.

  11. Bonedead says:

    I personally rarely play with friends. Looking back I have mostly been one who hops from game to game after burning out. But once you play them all, then what? For me it was DAoC (my most bestest favoritest gamest everest) and still is. I’ve been playing this stint longer than any other before which is still less than most! I think I’m nearing my 2 month mark on the 7th. Normally I would be going out of my mind, playing CS for a week or EQ2 or Savage 2 or something.

    For me what I see happening is that I want to settle down with one game and start a little home. I want tons of alts at max level with phat loots on em all. For some reason I think the ultimate goal is to be able to be self sufficient and then maybe even create a newb guild and lose all the phats and money because I give it away to kids who quit the next week. For some reason I think I want that and I think I have chosen DAoC because it is basically my “safe place”. Prior to this stint in DAoC it was SWG and for some reason I tried this in SWG as well but it just didn’t last.

    If I was normal, as in, if I was my old self, I would have quit and moved on by now. I feel it sometimes, the urge to play something else just to do it, but I don’t. Instead of subscribing to something else I will just get off my computer and go watch tv with my gf. Then maybe I’ll play the next day, if not, I’ll make myself play the third day (or my gf will).

    Honestly, it doesn’t feel very healthy, but I’m stickin with the one game longer than ever before.

  12. Note says:

    I considered just copying and pasting Yeebo’s first paragraph here because I have approached MMOs in the same way for a long time now. I’ve seen enough of the EQ-style MMOs to have drifted into an armchair designer playstyle. I pick apart classes and play around with interfaces for a month or so before returning to an old faithful (EQ2 or WoW) for casual kicks.

    I dealt with my genre-wide burnout a while ago when I came to the realisation that I don’t have to lose myself in the game for hours on end any more. I seriously enjoyed the hours used to pour into SWG and the like, but when there’s an option to try something new, I’ll take it. Perhaps the problem now is that there are so many MMOs on the market and shinies in development that we can flick between games like non-MMO gamers do; we aren’t tied down to our first or even second love any more.

    Variety is what I look for in my MMO subscriptions now, so EVE (because there’s no game quite like it) and Guild Wars (I love the collectible skill system) have been taking up most of my time. Warhammer will probably be my next ‘casual’ for it’s PVP centric gameplay, but any hotkey-based combat is unlikely to stoke the fire that once burned within me.

    Maybe we are the ADD kids of MMOs as Rog says, but I prefer to think that until MMOs can offer same variety of gameplay as purchasing single/multiplayer games all year round then the burnout is entirely natural. I’m more worried that I stick around for more of the same ;)

  13. Rick says:

    @ Rog – “I don’t mean to belittle all of us, but are we the ADD kids of MMOs? I suspect we don’t matter as much as we think we do.”

    Haha! Guilty. You’re right. I do take my gaming seriously, but, I don’t think I matter all that much. I just know I like to talk about the games, but I do totally agree that my willingness to beat dead horses about MMO’s sets me far apart from most MMO customers.

    Who was it that posted about the silent customers? The ones who never read blogs, never post on forums, they just log in, play the game, log out, and one day stop playing. Was that a Grimwell post about community building? Those are the players that really matter to companies.

    I’ll toss out a number for the sake of argument. I’ll guess that there’s 80% of the customer base who just plays because they like it, and 20% that get really fired up and discuss it far beyond the point of a casual fan. So yeah, I don’t take myself too seriously when I write about all this stuff. I do enjoy writing it, though! And I enjoy talking with the rest of the 20% about it endlessly too.

    I think I’d fall into the Yeebo camp too. I’m an explorer, I like to see what all the games are trying, and I like talking about what I find.

    And Tipa sounds like Richard Bartle! “All MMOs are pretty much exactly the same.”
    Get Zenke to interview you and post that quote as the headline, you’ll get thousands of hits :)

    I think you’re right Tipa, in a big-picture world, most of ‘em are pretty damn similar, which goes a long way toward explaining why we feel restricted.

    @ Note – “I prefer to think that until MMOs can offer same variety of gameplay as purchasing single/multiplayer games all year round then the burnout is entirely natural. I’m more worried that I stick around for more of the same ;)”

    Haha, quote for truth.

  14. Ragnar says:

    I keep drifting from one new game to another, and will sometimes retry over and over games that have been out for a while. I’m the Flying Dutchman of MMO players. In the meantime my guild is thoroughly entrenched in WoW. I can’t seem to stay focused on a character long enough to get him to endgame.

    So I’ve tried and rejected Tabula Rasa and Age of Conan. WAR doesn’t appeal to me. It looks like WoW ugly. My most fervent wish is to find an excellent scifi MMO that’s given as much love and creativity as WoW with a large player base. I’ve tried Eve many times, but can’t bear to go back again. I hope Jumpgate Evolution will be different and good. In the mean time I toil away at my Troll Priest.

  15. Mr. Gamer says:

    Great post.

    I’m feeling the burn too. If WAR doesn’t turn out tho be the medicine we’re all hoping for, I think it’s likely that a lot of people will be exiting the the MMO market altogether. Perhaps the game publishers are hoping that new, young, and unspoiled players will replace the ones that quit?

  16. mbp says:

    Speaking personally I find that I an not just burned out of a particular game or a particular style of game play . I am tired of the whole “heavy duty ” social gaming thing: guilds and raids and guild forums and attendance schedules and what have you. At the moment I just want casual social gaming where you turn up and chat with who-ever happens to be online.

    Taking a wider view I can’t get over the feeling that mmorpgs as a whole are in trouble. You mention the cadre of experienced players who’s expectations are getting ever higher. Where are the brand new players? If it is only the same old bunch who try each new mmo before discarding it even more quickly than the last then MMORPGs are History (c).

  17. Mikejl says:

    This may seem weird.. I think we look to our fellow MMO community to tell us what we should like in some ways. I believe reading (and or posting) blogs on game performance and combat mechanics, etc… reading too many reviews. Actually may kill some of the MMO experience.
    I can read the AoC general forum and walk away feeling depressed. However, I get home and play and have a great time.
    Just an observation

  18. syncaine says:

    I think thats a solid observation Mikejl, but I would also argue that a good experience can be augmented by reading more about it.

    Just like something negative spreads, so does a positive report. A major factor of why people continue to return and try new things in EVE is due to all of the reports about the game.

    AoC is having a rough time as people get deeper into it, and that will certainly be reflected in the forums, where some of the more dedicated players gravitate.

  19. Sarcynical says:

    I’m sad to say this but alot of the time, at least for me, mmo’s have served to grow an alter-ego rather than engage in an interesting story. Just think about how we define ourselves by level, gear and ultimatly “skill” , all without leaving the comforts of our armchair. But you always get “beat” so you hunger for retaliation.

    I’m still staggered how we can spend hours and hours in the arena in WoW, which to a bystander would look incredebly repetive and pointless?
    I’ve done it myself so I’m not bashing, but I think mmo’s just serve our need to not be ourselves for a few hours… or alot of hours.
    Story becomes second to the grind in all mmo’s imo.

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