Bad content burns you out

While talking about the fun curve, Tobold addressed something he and I have been going back and forth on for a bit: do you burn-out on an MMO, or do you quit because the game changed?

Before we go on, I understand that the easy answer is “it depends”, but for the sake of making a blog post, lets continue.

If Cata was BC/WotLK, you would not have quit, right? -Me

I am not certain. It is hard to look into alternate universes where thing would have happened differently. I liked WotLK more than I liked Cata, but maybe that hypothetical “more fun if Cata had been WotLK” would only have made me play a month or two more – Tobold

Tobold wrote more after that, see his blog for the full reply.

Cata caused Tobold (and many others) to quit, while at the same time Tobold (and likely many others) were already growing tired of the formula that is WoW. The Cata changes simply accelerated the path to “not having fun anymore”. And like Tobold says, had Cata been WotLK, perhaps it would have bought Blizzard another month or two, but the same-old feel would still likely have kicked in.

But what if Cata had not only been better than it was, but better than WotLK? What if the expansion had been something like (insert your favorite MMO expansion)? What if, instead of every 2 years, Blizzard released an expansion every year, with enough ‘stuff’ to keep players entertained until the next one?

Isn’t that… the point of the MMO model? (Or was anyway) And more importantly, isn’t that the ideal MMO experience? To have a game that is constantly evolving in a positive way, while retaining the core that got you interested in the first place?

Isn’t that why we all thought MMOs would dominate gaming forever, because instead of consuming a set amount of content and moving on, we would now be in a world that constantly provided us with more content, enabling us to stick around ‘forever’? And, well, isn’t that what happened ‘back in the day’? How long did you play EQ1? How quickly did people ‘burn out’ on AC1? Did anyone EVER see all of the content in UO back when that game still had a dev team?

On the flip side, we have plenty of examples of devs trying to do just that, and instead of adding positive content, they add trash AND screw the core up. Rift in beta vs Rift today will always stick in my mind, but WoW has slowly (or not so slowly, depending on who you ask) fallen off as well for many. Point being, changing the game can just as easily make it worse than make it better, and if you have a good thing, the ‘safe’ play is just to feed people ‘more of the same’ until it stops working, and then you go F2P, shut down, or do something drastic.

The reason I don’t believe that burnout is ultimately inevitable is because we have solid examples to suggest otherwise. I mean, Tobold has played WoW for 6000 hours. Are you really going to tell me it takes 6000 hours to reach burnout? Or was WoW so good that burnout was not a factor until the game itself started slipping? I played UO until Trammel, I played DAoC until ToA, I played WoW until TBC, I played Rift until 1.2. In not one of those games did I move on because of burnout. It did not take years to burn out on UO/DAoC, months for WoW, or weeks for Rift. Time was not a factor; the games changing was what did it.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that EVE, an MMO that has kept its core solid (blowing up spaceships), while at the same time evolving more than most, has seen and continues to see growth, even after 7 years. If Online Excel can do it, why can’t others?

33 Responses to Bad content burns you out

  1. bhagpuss says:

    I listened to an interview with crime writer Lee Child on the radio as I came home from work tonight. His 16th Jack Reacher novel is out tomorrow. Child has never written any other novels but Jack Reacher crime novels and in the interview he said he didn’t intend to, and did intend to write onlyJack Reacher novels for as long as he goes on writing.

    He said that readers don’t go into bookshops and ask when the next Lee Child book is coming out. Nor do they ask for his books by their titles. They just ask when the next Jack Reacher book is coming. He said his readers know what to expect from him and he thinks they should get it.

    This is unusual. Most authors wouldn’t have the patience for this, nor would they submit themselves so completely to the will of their readers. I agree with him, though, that as long as he’s prepared to keep doing it, readers will keep buying it.

    I think the same is true of MMOs. If companies would keep adding more content that was fundamentally the same as currently well-received content they would find that it continued to be well-received for as long as they cared to produce it. Most devs aren’t Lee Child, though.

  2. bonedead says:

    YEAH MENTIONING DAOC WOOOO
    tl;dr

  3. Bobbins says:

    The subscription model is like paying for a new game every 4 mths and I just don’t see the investment in content at even a 1/20 of that. The two new (or recycled) dungeons made me realise that apart from the start of the expansions (which we pay extra for) alot of content is recycled year after year in Wow. Darkmoon faire is getting a revamp after how many years of being out of date?
    I just don’t see Blizzard supporting Wow as much as it deserves. So rather than bad content it was the continuous repeating of content day after day, month after month, year after year. Even the transmogathingy forces people to rerun old raids. With blizzard investing in other projects I can’t see Wow recovering it will continue , of course to generate cash for blizzard for a couple of more years at least until its replacement is in place..

  4. Y||B says:

    To be fair, EQ also had crap expansions … I remember paying for expansion that basically was an ingame-map, also Scars of Velious was not the greatest. Maybe it was because the half-existing competition was even worse?

  5. thehampster says:

    You definitely hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that Tobold had played WoW for 6000 hours previously without getting burned out. The reason players are leaving WoW is because Cataclysm is awful. It would be a kind of big coincidence for so many players to suddenly get burned out at the same time after playing WoW for 5-6 years.

    It’s pretty clear to me that a lot of WoW’s bad decisions wreak of being influenced by marketing exec’s who never played an MMO. They probably used “market research” to determine what “players want.”

    Now that WoW is F2P up until level 20, I wonder if Blizzard will try to count those subs as part of their numbers?

  6. After playing some of the 1-60 and 81-85 game Cataclysm introduced, I got bored and went back and played my resto druid through the end of BC and all of Lich King.

    I wish I could get a break down of hours played after Cata released, but I spent a lot of time in the parts of the game which didn’t get touched by Cata and only really stopped when my druid got close to the end of LK. That makes me feel that Cata has to bear at least some of the blame for me not playing the game.

  7. epic.ben says:

    I think you’re dead on. You conclude with EVE – ironically, EVE has seen it’s biggest slip in years in terms of sub count / players logged in, because they actually went out and did change something in a negative way (the entire Incarna debacle).

  8. [...] Bad content burns you out (syncaine.com) [...]

  9. Drew says:

    Off-topic: Did you do something to your blog domain yesterday that caused it to now appear as Games (Blogs/Wiki) on my work firewall, thus blocking it? If so, can you change it back? :D

  10. Azuriel says:

    “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”
    – Sydney J. Harris

    That aside, I do not think the 6000+ hour burnout theory can be disregarded. I left WoW primarily because my friends stopped playing regularly, but theoretically I could have troopered on solo as I did when I first bought the game. Thing was, Blizzard’s crass, unapologetic grind that was Molten Front was a last straw. 35 days of dailies, on top of Tol Barad dailies months before, on top of having to unlock Therazane dailies on every alt, even the ones that outleveled Deepholm before leaving the starting Cata zones, on top of Wrath grinds, TBC grinds, etc etc etc. In an “aha!” moment, I realized I didn’t care, and unsubbed.

    On some level, I do like grinding; I think everyone who voluntarily plays XP-based RPGs do. It’s relaxing, therapeutic almost. But like another old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

  11. katsuko says:

    Unfortunately, it looks as though EVE hasn’t seen real growth in several months. Its current player activity is at Summer 2009 levels, if not lower, if the data I got off eveoffline.com today is any guide, and might drop further over the next few months unless CCP (the developer for EVE Online) can get players excited about its Winter 2011 expansion. Part of the issue may be general disillusionment among a sizable segment of the player base with the developer’s strategy for the game, which until recently appeared to be focused almost entirely on developing character avatars, with few real resources dedicated to the actual game (shooting spaceships). While EVE’s avatars may be impressive from a technical perspective, they have absolutely no gameplay value, nor does the one room that has been released as the centerpiece of the entire Incarna expansion. Combined with CCP’s public relations debacle this past summer, and it is perhaps not surprising that a number of players have decided to look for other games.

    On the other hand, it may also simply be that there isn’t really much to do anymore for the thousands of players who live in null-security space (the conquerable, player-controlled regions of the game), now that somewhere around 3/4 of that area and its resources is controlled by two coalitions which have no intention of fighting one another.

  12. Tobold says:

    With the help of my readers I found some current EVE Online user numbers. It seems that the “growth” this year was minus 20%.

    But besides that last paragraph, very good post!

    • wloire says:

      EVE just had it’s “Cataclysm” of sorts with Incarna. The entire expansion was a debacle.Finally to make a point players left in droves to make it clear we wanted space content not a single player box to play in. That graph should probably show a cliff rather than a smooth curve turning down.

      I would assume it also incredibly boring to play in a Universe where half the conquerable space is owned by Goons and the other half is owned by Russians.

      • Remianen says:

        The thing about the whole Incarna debacle is that it really doesn’t matter who canceled their account if they were paid up beyond that date. For example, I canceled my four accounts not specifically because of the main point of contention with Incarna (I kinda liked the functionality of CQ) but because it was woefully incomplete, the NX was empty (hell, any game that converts to freemium or adds a cash shop generally STOCKS IT with stuff people might wanna buy ffs!) and just seemed half ass. As much as they hyped how they couldn’t release it until it was “right” and hyped how many iterations it took to get to this point (scrapping what they had and rewriting it from scratch in what, 2007?), it seemed like a big waste of resources that could’ve been used to fix all the broken features they’ve added and abandoned (FW, planetary interaction, etc etc). But, that probably doesn’t matter much to CCP since my accounts are all paid up until December (via PLEX).

    • SynCaine says:

      I suspected as much, given what Incarna was. I was going to mention that CCP is clearly reacting to this by saying they will re-focus on what EVE is really all about (blowing up spaceships), but the post was getting long and I wanted to keep the major focus off EVE itself.

      • SynCaine says:

        And if we assume CCP does turn things around, and gets back to growth, it will be interesting to contrast that with Blizzard and WoW, and how they handle the game post-Cata.

  13. Ephemeron says:

    I’d ask a different question:

    If TBC was Cataclysm, would it make you quit?

  14. Syl says:

    Personally, I still think layer burnout is not only produced by either time or the game, but a threefold issue; game, time and people. as some readers already commented here, they left an MMO because their friends left – or the absence of certain people accelerated the process of burnout. this is an interesting dynamic, because we still have time and/or the game at its core, after all somebody needs to start leaving for some reason, but burnout can actually be produced socially too; it’s basically being handed from one quitter to the next. I think many burnout discussions neglect the social factor which is why I’ve taken this up a while ago. how many of us quit because of others much more than because of time and/or explicit game changes? we’ll never know.

    • Grimm says:

      This.

      When I left WoW it was simply because the group to which I belonged had changed enough that I no longer felt fully a part of it.

      WoW isn’t that exciting a game. People are what make MMOs interesting, and if the ‘people content’ isn’t there, what am I paying my monthly service fee for?

  15. Imakulata says:

    “I mean, Tobold has played WoW for 6000 hours. Are you really going to tell me it takes 6000 hours to reach burnout?”

    Yeah, why not? Are you going to tell me that person who played 6000+ hours is immune to burnout? Sorry but that sounds to me as saying that anyone who lived 100+ years is immortal and have to be killed or suicide or they would live for eternity.

    Also, if I get bored with WoW now, is it because Cata has changed it so much or because it hasn’t changed it in any substantial way? I believe that both answers are valid, that you can have game that feels changing too much for some and too stagnant for others.

  16. Bronte says:

    I understand where you are coming from, and I have quit many MMOs because I didn’t like one thing or another. But in retrospect, I have realized that it was more burnout than anything else.

    WoW has evolved immensely. The WoW of 2004 has but a tiny fraction of all the features, systems, sub-systems and doodads that the WoW of 2011 does. But the formula hasn’t changed:

    1. You race your way to the level-cap.
    2. You gear your way up to raiding.
    3. You raid (x number of content patches)
    4. Expansion releases. Go back to 1.

    Except there is a new step at 3, where you have to gear up from the content of the new patch to raid the new patch.

    All of this is cyclic redundancy, and it gets old very quickly. Unless you are playing with a lot of friends and vary your activities between PvP, raiding, maybe role-playing (not my cup of tea, but hey!), the endless cycle of self-depreciating activity wears you out.

    P.S. Self-depreciating in the sense that each content patch renders the last one obsolete.

    • SynCaine says:

      That’s too high level though. I mean, 1-4 is basically every themepark MMO, yet people played WoW for 6000hrs while they played Rift for a month. People were flocking to WoW in 2005/6 by the millions while millions have left in 2011. You have to look closer at the details (what’s the leveling game like? How is the gear race balanced? What kind of demands do raids make?) to understand why.

  17. Max says:

    I dunno honestly – burnout exists. No matter how good game is you eventually burn out .I never ever played single game for 6000 hours. In fact most MMOs I played were for 3-6 months span. Probably my most played game ever was counter strike (which I played since beta with 1-5 months marathons of hardcore playing)

    You will get bored no matter what .Even if game is perfect (btw I think CS was pretty much perfect, even though CS:S ruined it somewhat)

    Its like with any activity. Heck Tobold wrote his WoW gaming lasted more than average relationship in US.

    Id say if you manage to keep people interested for 500 hours. Its pretty damn good. Anything more than that is gravy and 6000 hours is just amazing customer retention. If anything that means we should learn more from wow :)

  18. dsj says:

    I’ve entered and left WOW many times. I would state that it was not bad content that pushed me to leave the game but the ability to actually access the content being released. I would argue that within the quality standard Blizzard has set (and continues to advance as the industry leader) there hasn’t really been a “bad” expansion. What has changed is the underlying opportunity of the player base to immediately access and experience the content being released. When each player reaches that point where the principal focus of their play is getting stagnant (be it raiding, grouping, solo, other) their personal focus goes to the nearest games that offer them what they seek. That shift in attention is incredibly hard for a developer to reverse. Once you go to another game (especially in a subscription model where you might want to only pay for one game) you may very well not come back. The recent Firelands nerf and coming patch 4.3 is Blizzards attempt to extend content to the players reaching that stagnation point.

    I think a “bad” content release like I and everyone else experienced in EVE just makes that process go faster. If CCP hadn’t released INCARNA and had focused the resources towards FiS (Flying in Space) you wouldn’t see that drop in numbers. You might see decline from the relatively normal “burn-out” every activity gets but not this bad.

    • Beerhead says:

      This Is why I quit wow at the end of BC and could stomach wotlk or cata for more than a 2 week cycle. From vanilla to the end of BC I had almost 3000 hours on my main. I doubt I played 100 hours from that point forward.

      That was my biggest issue. Accessibilty. I might be the minority but I didn’t want to have access to everything. I wanted to WORK towards some things and when I saw some dude in a top guild with better gear and stats it motivated me to work harder and become better.

      My burnout came precisely because developers GAVE me access instead of making me gain it. Oh, the irony.

  19. Jaggins says:

    CCP is a case in point: steady growth until they abandoned their space game with Tyranis and Incarna. I hope CCP can bounce back and capture their previous magic by giving players what they want. Who knows, Blizzard might even be able to retune WoW for more longevity if they haven’t already decided to abandon it.

  20. jim says:

    I played W:AoR until they deleted my RP home.
    I played WoW until they deleted Azshara.
    I played LotRO until they deleted the sub-based business model.

    Some dev’s want change. Persistence is an important part of immersion. Altering the old is no substitute for priding the new. So they press delete and I’m gone.

  21. Robert says:

    I think that burnout and change are both factors. For example I played EQ1 for 6 years. It did change in that time but not to the degree that WoW has changed. I finally became tired of the constant grind and inability to play with guildmates who were more hardcore (thus higher level). I really got burned out on the grind.

    I also played WoW for 6 years before quitting. However, in Wow I was about to quit in Vanilla when BG’s were released and I discovered pvp (game changes and my play style changed). I was going to quit in TBC after reaching level cap on my main and having played both expansion races, when I discovered a group doing old world raids (my play style changed). That gave me a taste for raiding and a chance to see the old stuff I never saw before. I would have quit Wrath except raiding was accessible (game changes kept me interested).

    Cata, however, changed the game for the worse. I did not like the lore, the class changes, the dungeon difficulty, nor the raid difficulty. So I quit. But I was already feeling burned out. Even though the game had changed and my play style had changed, much remained the same. The core is the same, that sense of wonder and exploration was gone. In effect I was burned out on the sameness and annoyed by the “bad” changes.

    What I loved about Vanilla WoW was that it felt like what EQ2 should have been. It fixed/improved on EQ1 without radically changing the genre (MMO version 2.0). The reason WoW has become stale is that the changes they make attempting to “fix” the game don’t feel like version 3 of the MMO genre.

  22. Paul says:

    I didn’t quit WoW in February because I was burned out on WoW-like MMOs (if that were the case, I wouldn’t still be playing and enjoying Rift). I left because I felt personally betrayed by the devs and their changed design philosophy.

  23. browolf says:

    there’s two aspects to leaving the game. One is content burnout, the other is major changes to game mechanics. Wow appears to alienate users on both these counts. Whereas I’ve played ffxi for years because content is VAST and they haven’t messed with the core game mechanics. I do believe the secret of low content burnout is a wide variety of horizontal content.

  24. “Isn’t that why we all thought MMOs would dominate gaming forever”

    Yeah, back when we thought MMOs would be virtual worlds rather than virtual skinner boxes.

    There was a time when people played MMOs/MUDs for huge numbers of years not because of a constant spigot of new areas/gear/loot/monsters. They played because something new happened in the world every day, because players felt like they had an affect on the world.

    There are people playing Threshold RPG (http://www.thresholdrpg.com), a pure text MUD 15 years later. Do you think anyone will be playing WoW in 2019?

    The reason is because the WORLD is interesting and people can actually affect it and be a part of it.

  25. j3w3l says:

    The one thing i dont understand though, with all the profit that wow has made over the years…. billions?….. why is it not the greatest most fantastic game ever since blizzard has the funds to probably make it that.
    if a couple 100million can make you a whole new massive game (ie swotor) what could billions do

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