It’s that feeling you get when a game can no longer hold your interest. Some call it the ‘The 3 year itch’ but it varies person to person. I’ve felt the itch… gosh, I’ve lost count of how many times. The feeling has been most common for me when playing mmorpgs because, in my opinion, the itch is only noticeable when you’re playing a game that requires an investment of time and effort. For the sake of simplicity I’ll stick with commenting on mmo’s.
Common causes of the ‘itch’:
- Exhausting all content (content hard cap)
- Reaching the level cap (content soft cap)
- Guild drama
- The game feels like a job
- A new game comes out that you would rather be playing
All of the above are on my list of reasons why I quit a mmorpg. Most of the time it’s from exhausting all content and realizing I have nothing left to justify my subscription fee. Sometimes it’s the negative social experiences, often from guilds, that cause me to misplace my frustrations onto the game instead of on a group of players. And it’s even possible for the itch to have multiple causes; I quit WoW because I exhausted the content, was tired of guild drama, and it felt like a job.
The longest I’ve gone without feeling the itch is 3 years. I stuck with both EQ and DAOC for about 3 years before feeling the urge to quit. I justify EQ’s longevity because it was the first of its kind for me (full 3d world, etc) but it’s the qualities of DAOC that interest me most. What made it so special compared to the other games?
A few things that fight the ‘itch’:
- Expansion Packs and/or introducing quality new content on a regular basis
- Quality repeatable content
- Community and Social Interaction
DAOC had the quality repeatable content. The entire end-game was centered around taking territory in a never ending struggle for domination between three realms. It sorta had the expansions and new content, although they made some nasty mistakes with it later. It also had the community and social interactions with guilds, alliances, and the intrinsic realm pride. Take away any of the above and the retention rate for any mmorpg will plummet. Eventually that’s why DAOC died out for me; I couldn’t take the 1.5 years between updates back in the day and to have Trials of Atlantis finally release doing what it did to the game was killer.
I find myself looking forward at the mmorpgs in development and thinking about how long I’ll be able to last. Eventually I’m going to feel the itch and quit Warhammer Online. It’s inevitable. But what will cause it? Will it be a lack of content? Maybe. Mythic is planning their game to be ready for content updates over the next 5+ years. Will it be the lack of quality repeatable content? Probably not. WAR’s repeatable content is DAOC 2.0 – I’ll be taking keeps and cities happily for years. Will I lose interest from the lack of community and social interaction? Quite possibly. My luck with guilds blows.
Based on my track record, Warhammer Online will probably get at least 3 years with me. Then again, DAOC didn’t have anything to compete with when I was playing. There are several ‘greener pastures’ that may sneak up on me. But will games like 38 studios’ mmo codenamed ‘Copernicus’ have what it takes to fight the itch? What are they going to do differently? The past three mmorpgs that I’ve played have not held my attention for even 1/3 the time of these “classics”. Vanguard was a few months, LOTRO was half a year, and AoC was a matter of weeks.
I need a sense of security and that state of being where I know I can dig in and enjoy something for a long period of time. A well designed mmorpg is still capable of providing this experience – I know it. Not all mmorpgs have gone the way of shovelware but some are starting to come mighty close.
What I want to hear from the companies with games currently in development is how they plan to address the ‘itch’ and raise the retention rate of subscribers.