Something to Do

I’m always thinking about why people quit MMOs — why I quit MMOs — and trying to discover a way to prevent it.  A very simple notion came to mind: People need something to do.  Even if a MMO is great, fun, and I can’t find a fault, if I run out of things to do then the game ends.

World of Warcraft is constantly placing the carrot just out of reach, constantly providing people things to do.   When I would get a twinge of desire to play WoW, I think it’s because I craved something to do.  When I played a month and got bored, I realize it’s because I did everything I wanted to do.  There’s nothing inherently better about WoW, it’s just that I could rely on polished content.

I’ve said this before, but the reason I quit GW2 wasn’t because I didn’t like the game — I ran out of things to do.  The reason some of my friends stopped playing UO is because they did everything they wanted, and ran out of things to do.

This leads me to conclude that a truly great MMO is capable of keeping people playing.  You’re likely saying, “Duh, Keen” right about now.  If it’s that easy, though, why do I feel like so many games these days lack the content or lack the depth to give that feeling of never running out of reasons for logging in?  Because most are focused on revolving around a story.  Stories are finite, and when they become the focal point they diminish gameplay.   The rest focus on providing the wrong type of content that isn’t self-replicating, and instead of providing enough of it they forget that people don’t want to run the same instance for over a year.

Provide something.  The right something.

  • This is where sandbox games have a chance to really shine. The rise and fall of so many sandbox games tells us that it is a hard thing to execute properly but it has been done correctly before. Whether or not it’s your cup of tea EVE has managed to keep a good amount of players that have been playing since launch and still attracts new players as well. I’ve been keeping my eye on on Pathfinder Online still, and it probably will still be a long time waiting but it seems to be like EVE in medieval setting.

  • Players have to provide the content, good and bad. That’s the only way you will retain people in a meaningful, long-term way. If you can have heroes and villains, not by title but by actions, set by the players for the other players, that is what drives narrative.

  • @Gringar: Agreed.

    @Darkstryke: Agreed. Player input directly affects the self-replicating content I was talking about. Like DAoC’s RvR, it was always different and always there because people were always wanting to fight dynamically to win Darkness Falls, capture relics, and earn RRs which were hard to get. There are many examples.

  • The reason many people find to log in to an MMO every day is their friends/guild. The social stuff is the content. As many newer MMOs come out with more limited avenues for social interaction, those bonds aren’t formed and so people get bored and log out for good.

  • I blame it mostly on the adherence to gear grind design as it has created a defined end point in most mmo’s. In early wow and even eq it worked because the gear treadmill was actually demanding and intensive which created more of a sense of investment to your character . It was also the extensive leveling in many ways too. Here it’s more like a single player goal.

    I also think it’s that most mmo’s no longer provide an anchor point for players in their games be it making claims to their own part of the world, or through social and community means. Having an actual house or shop out in the game world to look after is a huge deal. There is little co dependance on others too as you can always do it all yourself with time. No more making connections and working together.

  • I’ve just posted on GW2 in this vein. The game disappointed me in the varied quality of the storytelling and the tacking on of the gear grind. ArenaNet are now promising us ‘living story’ as more and refreshed content to just play out in the world, but so far the content provided has been glacially slow and not very engaging. They need to stop tinkering with systems and focus on content.

    That’s a big problem with MMO devs I feel – they spend far too long endlessly tinkering with game systems and not enough time just making more content. Sure fix bugs, but otherwise stop ‘re-inventing the wheel’ of your combat and other systems!

  • I am curious if players have the dailies on their list “to do things”. for me dailies is the worst thing implemented ever and the irony is that they implemented it so people have always something to do. The last three months of my wow playtime was because I had to finish some old sets for transmogrification in Vanilla/TBC raids. That was something to do…

    For me the dailies is a game breaker. If the end game has things locked behind boring and retarded easy dailies is the reason to stop playing. It doesn’t matter how important that stuff are, either cosmetic or small gear upgrades. This is the things you suppose to do out of raids or if you don’t want to raid. It is very important these things have no lockouts and be difficult enough to last for long time.

  • @Telwyn

    I keep hearing now days the words “more content” in every corner in every forum and I don’t blame people for this but I blame developers. In a moment of evil I also feel happy that developers managed to screw themeselves on this. The only games that constantly need for content is the skinner box games.

    If the game have enough depth and is difficult and challenging it doesn’t need more content, or at least it rarely needs extra content. I do not remember a single forum post in vanilla/TBC wow like “we need more content” or “when the next raid will release?” and people were never out of things to do without also having dailies to extend the content in a retarded way.

    especially for new games..when a new game is released and people after 2-3 months ask for more content then the game is badly failed for me…

  • The thing that amazes me about GW2 is just how astoundingly much there is to do. Mrs Bhagpuss and I have both played it pretty much non-stop since launch and I think we would both say we have only scratched the surface. I spent most of this weekend exploring Metrica Province, the Asura 1-15 map. It was a revelation. I’ve leveled several character there before but this was the first time I’d really gone everywhere, spoken to everyone and followed all the little stories going on.

    Bearing in mind that I now have seven level 80s, the fact that I’m finding not just the odd novelty in starer zones but hours and hours of very interesting and entertaining content I had no idea existed says volumes for the depth of developer-created content already in the game. Mrs Bhagpuss is finding apparently unlimited player-made content both in WvW and in getting the exact look for each of of her many characters.

    On the other hand, our friend who started with us only lasted until November, by which time she felt like you that she’d done all she wanted to. I’m not sure this is so much about what there is to do in a game as in what you want to do. I’m also not sure why, as players, it matters whether we move from MMO to MMO every few weeks or months or stay put in one for years. Either or both works for me.

  • @ Bhagpuss

    I think you just like being around the Mrs all the time Bhagpuss, which proves my point. MMO’s used to be made for social gamers. When maps were not available or even an option. When you best source of information about the game came from another player, playing right along with you.

    There are now so many places to receive gaming information, that you can be a social outcast and still play the full game to completion.

  • I really think it’s because they dumbed down the leveling mechanic so that everybody is max level in a month or two and then they have to add dailies (which are awful) to keep you busy. Six months into EQ, there were still zones that there was no way in hell I could go into because I would instantly get crushed by the mobs there.

    I also agree with your belief that everybody is going with a storyline approach lately, and once the story runs out it’s all a bit blah.

    Finally, I agree with the person that enforcing socialization made you want to log in every night to hook up with the same group.

  • @Thomas well that’s true ! I’m not so sure when this golden age of no information was, though. I still have two large ringbinder files of print-outs from EQAtlas for maps and Allakhazam for quests and I printed those out thirteen years ago.

  • @John: I think dailies, or content in the same vein, are filler. For some people they provide excellent incentive to log in, but for others (like myself) the daily quests are extremely repetitive. Dailies that reward me for actively going out and doing things my own way, however, are much more tolerable. For example, if a daily quest told me to go out and kill 100 other players in pvp then I would consider that a lot less scripted and prescribed than if a quest told me to go pick up 10 apples off the floor of an orchard.

    @Bhagpuss: I think you have to take into consideration that you play many MMOs at once like a sampler, whereas I played GW2 for over 80 hours in the first month. I did all the same things you described… I just did them in a matter of weeks.

    @Sanz: I agree that the leveling mechanics have been dumbed way down.

    @Liore: Agreed. Friends can definitely make or break any experience. I think this goes hand in hand with the social comments others have made. Social gameplay creates content that I find immeasurably harder to burn through.

  • I think you just suffered a burnout from gw2 from playing too much at beginning. The dungeons are better now since people are more familiar with the mechanics (especially the fractals, which is very fun). More people are coming to the open world to do events ( the end zone got a rework and the rewards from lower level zones are better now). Guild missions that give large guilds things to do and small guilds a reason to communicate with others and get involved in community. progression system in wvw (what happen to you regarding wvw, can’t play due to computer reasons?), I will wait a bit before jump in wvw now though because the recent appearance of skill lag (though not sure how much it affects embray bay since it,s in lower tiers).

    Overall I think you should come back and give it another try (maybe wait 1 or 2 weeks after the patch) and take it slow this time. I think anet really improved the sense of character progression a lot.

  • Comparing something to do in a game like wurm vs eve i think is important. Building a city can be cool, but if maintaining a city is boring as shit then your sandbox fails. Eve on the other hand has a lot more complex interplay between player buildings and use.

  • @Keen I agree. kill 100 players, kill 100 mobs, gather 100 resources…do 5/6 of these generic goals and you will complete the daily. There should be some sort of reward for people who log every day, no one can refuse to this, but the goals must be more generic and less repetitive/boring as you said..

  • One of the problem with content is how fast people eat it. When you play 80hours a week, I play 4 hours a week. That means a game that will be “finished” for you in 3 months, – a 3 monther game – will last 5 years for me.
    I am all in for the “No Grind” philosophy, because no grind for me still take a looong time.

    Content for GW2 is still relevant for me. In fact, I hope the Live Story will not be based on lvl80 story, as I am far from lvl80 !

  • You can see theme parks like WoW trying to tackle this over time by appealing to people’s compulsion to collect. First were achievements, now they’ve added pokemon. I would be very surprised if Blizzard’s new CCG doesn’t wind up in WoW as well. I haven’t played GW2 yet (and probably never will) but I’ve certainly heard enough people talk about “getting all the hearts” to know that if you like collecting things, this is probably a good time to be an mmo gamer.

  • It’s all about content. A studio can only push out new content at a certain speed, and that speed is basically always going to be slower than players can complete the content.

    There are two basic ways that developers deal with this problem:

    1. Grinds and gating – set some goal that requires people to complete the content a large number of times to reach a desired reward. The reward can be anything, but players have to want it. This basically extends the life of content, although with a relatively high risk of burnout.

    2. Player generated content – Rely on the player base to keep things interesting. This can be as a result of ongoing conflict/competition between players or player generated factions, player run events, or player defined goals (eg: I want to take over this nook of the game world).

    And herein you see the major schism between Themeparks and Sandboxes. Theme parks generally rely on option 1 with occasional dashes of option 2, whereas Sandboxes rely a great deal on option 2 with some degree of option 1.

    I like the point you made about story, Keen — in a Themepark, the devs drive the story whereas in a Sandbox the players drive the story.

    I think that, in general, the second strategy is better for player retention. Players will understandably get more invested in a game that they are driving and actively shaping than in a treadmill grind. The pattern that you pointed out regarding losing interest is a chronic problem for themepark games. When you run out of stuff to do, you generally stop logging on until there is something new to do.

    The problem is that option two (and sandbox games in general) comes at a severe upfront cost to developers. Games that rely on player generated content are generally MUCH harder to get into than themepark games. Themepark games have relatively simple mechanics and do a lot of handholding. It’s usually clear what you should be doing. Also, it’s theoretically possible to catch up with experienced players if you are dedicated — particularly when new expansions are released and level caps are raised. Sandbox games, on the other hand, are often much more complicated and leave you with little sense of direction to get started. Some people love this, but once you get past the enthusiast crowd you see a lot of people getting turned off by the intimidating complexity. Similarly, there is always that crushing sense that you will NEVER catch up with the people who have been playing longer than you have.

    Honestly, I think that a truly accessible sandbox game is the holy grail of the MMO industry. How do you make a game that is simple and addictive enough to get mass interest but complex enough to support a deep, player driven long term game plan? How do you give new players a chance to compete without trivializing the time veterans have put in? Any developer who can solve these questions is going to get rich.

  • @Rasli: I have GW2 patched and ready to go. I plan to try out the WvW changes.

    @Ettesiun: I think that’s why there needs to be what I inelegantly call “self-replicating content.” If I can put in 80 hours a month and you can put in 4 hours, wouldn’t it be great if we could both do the same things and neither of us get bored? That’s how RvR was for me in DAoC. I could play 10 hours a week and have as much fun as the guys putting in 40.

  • What we need is dynamic content.

    Right no we walk through dungeon A.. after 1 run we know exactly whats gonna happen next.
    Yeah yeah… big spider after the next turn. “yawns”

    How about different paths every time we play a dungeon? Different minibosses and bosses. And sometimes.. they do not appear at all.
    Random traps.

    You know like the old dungeons and dragons boardgames. The dungeon master laid out a map before hand and filled it with monsters and traps.
    No adventure should feel the same.

    Developers can probably pull it off. But their financial backer knows less efford is bigger profit margin.

  • I think some of the content I read on The Repopulation was interesting about certain enemies spawning out in the world with random abilities and such. I am not really up on a lot of current MMOs but do not think there are many that do this. Most devs its seems are afraid to let go of the tight control they have over things in the name of ‘balance’… perhaps a bit of unpredictability would be good for an MMO.

    Of course I still believe that the only way to really provide reasons for players to keep logging in is to give them the tools and systems to create the content in the first place. The Foundry in Star Trek and the upcoming Neverwinter Nights are great ideas that I think help keep the players engaged in the game.

    Hell, Skyrim and Fallout are not MMOs but I keep both of them installed and am constantly trying out new content from the modding community… I can not say the same about other RPGs like Kingdoms of Amalur.

  • @swarmofseals

    I don’t agree that themeparks rely on grinds/gating. Or maybe they do but lately it is a ridiculously small grind and gate.

    And I hate to keep bringing up EQ but I consider that original game a sandbox. I guess I consider themeparks all the games that come out lately with little paths for me to follow with maps and easy to do quests. There was no path for you to follow in EQ, any story was well hidden, and hardly any quests for you to do. People ground mobs all day long for the most part and it was a freaking grind and there were gates everywhere.

  • Keen, I would suggest you holding off from trying gw2 for couple weeks. Whenever anet introduce a new system there are always some big side effect problems that they will fix a while later

  • This is the exact reason that I find myself playing Minecraft on the same multiplayer server for the last eight months or so. There is a social interaction of course, and that is the basis for any online gaming. But moreso, there is always something to do. Minecraft itself is a huge sandbox where you can do/build almost anything you can imagine.

    We actually have our own modpack set up for the server, a sort of updated Tekkit (Machines + Minecraft = Ohmy) But it is that very ability to do whatever I can think of, no matter how large, that keeps me interested.

    If any MMOs these days were offering that, I know for certain I would be playing them. I guess most of us are just waiting for exactly that. ArchAge and a few others have potential. We shall see.

  • I think you hit the nail on the head with your final comment: “The right something.”

    It is not simply enough to create “new content” but rather the right kind of content to appeal to your playerbase.

    One aspect that you must credit Blizzard with is how diverse their themepark is. There is a proportion of the playerbase that will jump on a new raid, while others will go giddy for new pets to collect or a new rated BG season…. The list goes on.

    Whilst there is a proportion of the MMO market that will play constantly until they are at the top of the gear grind and literally have nothing else to do, I would say they are not in the majority. I would guess that most players get bored long before this happens, or run out of content (e.g: levelling) that is particularly fun to them.

    The fact that Bhagpuss has 7 level 80s in GW2 and I didn’t play long enough to get 1 hopefully illustrates my point.

  • I know you gave up on LOTRO a long time ago and for your specific reasons. Although I have ventured into many other games, including being an original member of the beta WoW gang, I am now moving into my 6th year with LOTRO and am never at a loss for things to do. From the immersive crafting system to the scale-able skirmishes. And for the most part I am not even touching on groups, raids, etc. The storyline (as has been touted in many areas) is true to that was know from reading the books and the amount of side quests while on that journey are too numerous to complete. Not one night goes by when I don’t log in for an hour or two, sometimes to search out a new cooking recipe or to dungeon crawl through a cave of spiders to get to the end surprise.
    I don’t expect people to come back, or try the game based on my words and experience, but I will beg to differ that most games run out of things to do. It is an opinion based on your own game experience, games played, and what you wish to gather from your experience. For me, I am happy with what the developers have done with LOTRO to keep it interesting, fresh, and worth coming back to on a regular basis.