I want MMOs to feel like an investment

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there’s something about EverQuest that I find irresistible.  I love many of the mechanics, and you all know I’m a fan of group-play, difficulty, and social gameplay.  I started to think harder, and during a discussion with some friends one key component was brought up: EverQuest is an investment. The more time I spend, the more I see my character transform, and my abilities grow.  EQ is slow and almost methodical at times. Nothing happens overnight. I thought about it this for a while, and realized I love building something up over time, and that this feeling isn’t limited to EverQuest.  I love putting in effort and seeing results.  I love watching the payoff after weeks, months, years of effort.  That’s why it’s an investment!

I think back on all the MMOs I’ve played these past five years, and almost every single new release hasn’t yielded a return on my investment.  For example, in GW2 I was able to burn through all of the content, max out a character, etc., etc.  While I played something like 250 hours and monetarily felt entirely satisfied ($60 for 250 hours of enjoyment is well worth it), I never felt like the game required any significant investment from me.  As a result, I never felt like I was able to get anything out of the game in return.  Quitting was easy, I was unattached, and I wasn’t leaving any part of me behind when I left.  This lack of investment has been present in many games for me, and I believe it’s directly related to why I can never seem to get hooked.

Dark Age of Camelot’s RvR was a huge investment; I wanted those higher RAs and I loved fighting to get them.  In SWG the drive to invest my time into becoming a billionaire and renown crafter — the best crafter — pushed me to keep bettering my character and investing myself into each day I played.  In UOForever I currently have one of the best vendors on the server.  Even if I wanted to stop playing I wouldn’t let myself because I have invested too much to get this far.  It’s like a weird addiction formula or something.

Bottom line, I feel like a game has to really hook me somehow into investing mental energy, time, emotion, care — and like any good investment I have to see a return on all of that.  It can’t all be done quickly either, because no matter how good a game is there just isn’t any sort of meaningful investment for me if I know I’m done in a couple of weeks.  I want to know the MMO I’m getting into has a really, really high level of involvement.

  • No, you’re right. Games with depth that require players to really build and develop a character over time are inherent to the subscription model. Burn and churn, low involvement games are inherent to F2P models.

    So all joking aside, I want to feel like I’m really building something up and seeing a huge return on all that time.

  • Have you kept.up with GW2 wince quitting……the game is getting phenomenal. I also backed CU with a substantial amount of cash…….when my wife finds out boy will she be mad. I was I. The same boat as you with DAOC. And now gw2s rank system for wvw. Super Fun Box is insanely fun……something you would rather enjoy.

  • Yes, RvR in DAOC and the time it took to get good at it was definitely one of the things that kept me playing for a long time too.

    Speaking of big investments, I’d love to play project 1999 but the whole part about having to use Everquest: Titanium Edition seems pretty pricey. I played some EQ back in the day but DAOC was my first MMORPG and I didn’t have the time to play both. I want to go back and see what I missed but I don’t want to make a big investment and find out I don’t love it.

  • This is why EvE has such a powerful draw for me. It is the very definition of investment = reward. More time mining = more resources, more time socializing in your corp = more ops = more fun = more fights = etcetc. It just snowballs.

    It’s just too bad I can’t really “connect” to the ship. I don’t ever get the full effect because I haven’t ever been able to relate to the damn ships and say “Yea that’s me.” At least I think that has been the issue. Everything else seems spot on, so it must be. 🙁

  • @Tzak: I’ve been extremely busy lately so I haven’t had the time to give to GW2 that I’d like. I need to get back into it sometime long enough to check out the new content.

    @Rawblin: I’m totally the same way. I can’t get past being just a ship out in space. There’s a certain… detachment. However, I can totally see the investment = reward in EvE. The more someone puts into EvE, the more that person will get out of it.

    @Jaxi: Yeah, if you don’t own it, or can’t get Titanium for free, then it’s definitely going to cost you a little bit.

  • The trend I like the least is how you may respec basically for free, meaning there is no customization as you level up. The only MMO I played that wasn’t like this was Maple Story, which features totally irreversible choices about your ability points. However many other flaws that game had, at least it had a sense of reward if you “built your character right” and got to max level. Contrast that with nearly all post-WOW mmos, where you can completely respec and every instance of a class is topographically identical to the other instances, in that they can morph into each other without too much trouble.

  • Once you can buy something instantly in a mmorpg, everything in the game loses value. And I’m not just talking about p2w…cosmetics, emotes, mounts…all of it ceases to matter.

    Mmorpg’s at their best are a true meritocracy, where status is measured by time invested, not rl money spent, and the true value of something is measured by the effort it took you to gain or achieve it…

    Sadly, the genre currently mirrors reality too much for me to provide a true escape. I spend plenty of $$$ in games, I have plenty of rl $$$…but I miss retreating to a place where money doesn’t mean s***.

  • @Jim : I would rather say it is a timocracy ! If status is measured by time invested it is not a meritocracy !
    And for those who have time, it is good ! A game is still a game. It is good that you can play and win with different criteria that real life ! I am not playing for achievement but for fun, but it is great that there is so much game that everyone’s talent can be rewarded ! Fast reflex for FPS, strategic/tactic thinking for RTS, abnegation for old-school MMORPG, etc…

    But one thing that make MMO so great, is that you can build them for so many different player !But as Keen (and other bloggers like Syncaine) says, the problem is you cannot make ONE game for EVERY MMO players ! But you can build a lot of smaller scale MMO !

  • I agree with Jim. Time investment must be the only way to achieve your goals. But of course time investment should not be controled by the developers(dailies,weeklies) but by the player himself. Although, reading on forums nowdays, I have doubts that this system could succeed in the current generation of gamers.

    Its not like I have all the time of the world. I have rl job and rl responsibilities but I also don’t care to be the best and actually I was never the best. But I like to know that everything I achieve in a game through the time I devote on it, will be achieved in the same exact way by the others too. This is what gives value to goals.

  • I’m kind of mixed on this. I like having long-term goals to work towards, for sure. However I also don’t like a game to demand too much of my time. I may actually end up giving it lots of my time, but it has to be on my terms. I don’t commit to scheduled group content for this very reason, because I don’t want a group of other internet people dictating my play schedule.

    “Even if I wanted to stop playing I wouldn’t let myself because I have invested too much to get this far”

    I don’t see this is a good thing at all. It should be avoided. I’ve fell into this trap before with games or even characters that I’ve played for a long time, and I just don’t like it at all. Nowadays I just play what I enjoy and then stop if I don’t like it. If you’re not enjoying maintaining your “investment” then what’s the point? It’s a game.

  • @Fidjit: “If you’re not enjoying maintaining your “investment” then what’s the point? It’s a game.”

    For many people is not just a game but a hobby.You are not enjoy every moment of your hobby time and is not the goal to enjoy every single moment. Imagine a stamp collector…do you think he enjoy every stamp he sticks on his collection?Imagine someone who go for fishing…he is not enjoying every moment.

    I have a friend who go for snowboard very often cause this is his hobby. He also plays a computer game once a week and he is not playing MMO cause he don’t want to invest time onto gaming. He usually pick up something he can have fun immediately.

    There is gaming just for pure fun but there is also a side of it which is more like hobby and that in my opinion is the MMO genre.

  • @John

    Maybe I misinterpreted what Keen said. I understand that you aren’t going to enjoy every moment of your hobby, that’s fine. I play musical instruments as a hobby and don’t always enjoy practising technique, but you have to.

    I read that quote as essentially saying “I would keep playing just because I’ve invested a lot even if I didn’t enjoy it any more”. That’s quite different from your example. That’s like a stamp collector who has lost his passion but keeps at it just for the sake of the collector, or the fisherman who’d rather not bother but goes anyway only because his equipment cost a lot of money and he didn’t want to waste it.

  • I cannot possibly agree with this more Keen. Then again, I’m playing EQ as well (not on p99 but on the “official” legacy server) so I suppose that is to be expected!

    Yessssssssssssssssss x1000

    I have this argument ALL time time. Someone will take to defending F2P, and then their defense is, if it’s only cosmetic, it’s not hurting anyone! In my opinion, cosmetic items hurt MORE because you are constantly reminded that you’re not in a world but in a video game. In a PVE game (which is what I am more drawn to these days), my experience is hurt far more by someone with a “sparkle pony” than if someone paid for experience and power boosts. Don’t take that the wrong way – I am completely against all these things – I just think that the growing consensus, that cosmetic cash shops are a-ok, is a huge problem and it’s completely destroying the level of immersion in these worlds.

  • @Fidgit: That portion of what I said wasn’t very clear.

    If I hate it, I’m going to stop no matter what. If I wanted to take a break for a week, my position as a top vendor would diminish. I still like playing and maintining my hobby, but this particular hobby requires constant daily maintenance that *must* be done. In this particular case, I like it enough that I choose to log in each day and maintain it.

    @Jim: I agree. Sounds like we’re describing the same type of feeling.

  • Well, you can invest into CU now – up to $10,000! Anyway, that is how I approach every MMO – the big question is: is it worth investing my time into this? I believe there are a number of players that think alike which may be one reason why you observe the “rats are leaving the sinking ship” syndrom. Once it seems that people around you are quitting you start to question if it is worth investing more time into it. It is also the reason why I don’t go back and play the MMOs that go F2P. If it wasn’t worth investing my time into it 6 month ago when I had to pay – it is still not worth investing my time into it.

    It also seems like a waste of time if I feel like I am just jumping through hoops and I have pretty much the same journey to the end game as the next guy. That sucks the fun out of it for me. MMOs are definitely an investment and there has to be something in the future that I want – something worthwhile but that is difficult to achieve – it doesn’t work for me to make something easy to achieve (easy as in: it doesnt take that much time, you can grind it out if you choose, it is a short term goal) and then keep changing the goal (as in armor tiers etc.).

  • Great article. Personally I am one of those fairly anti-social MMO players. I like chatting in games but usually just solo. I like Adhoc groupings like Rifts, Public Events and now Arkfalls in Defiance but I don’t get together in regular groupings much just because I never know from moment to moment when I will be on, or how long. I do like to have something to show for the time I spend in a game, be it achievements or a well stalked home like in EQ2.

    I hate to say it but largely I play MMOs as single player games while just enjoying the real life “chaos” so to speak that other real life players bring into a game. NPCs can only go so far.

    I would love to find a great MMO had HUGE, HUGE lands where I could find a small corner to call my own and build a house and all that type of stuff. That would rock.

  • @Keen, Jim and Jenks: Agreed 100%.

    Specifically though, it needs to be a personal investment, not only of time and effort, but of self. There should be some individuality; i.e. I should be able to do (some) things my way, and feel some sense of uniqueness as I play. Also — and possibly more important — there should be a sense that I’m important, that I’m needed, particularly by other players.

    That’s the primary issue with most current MMOs: the content and game-play have become so homogenized that every player essentially plays the game exactly the same way; there’s very little opportunity for players to diverge from the norm. E.g. all players are herded through the exact same zones with the exact same quests, and it’s all been optimized for their current level, and for solo play!. Nobody needs anyone else anymore. And the trend that any character can fill any role, practically at any time (with respecs), further removes any personal sense of uniqueness or importance. Finally, the cash shops are becoming the ultimate insult to injury; nobody is required to invest time and effort any more, everyone can just buy their way to the top. (Although not really a MMO, though it tries so hard to be one, Diablo 3 is particularly egregious in this regard.)

    I think a huge part of the problem now is that too many people, and a lot of developers in particular, think of MMOs as just “games”, like any other, to be “finished” and set aside. Back in the day, MMOs were more than that, they were worlds that players could actually become personally invested in.

  • While I do agree Keen that the hook of these games is personal investment which keeps you from leaving the game. It has a slippery slope of what i would call time wasters just to make you play longer in game and artificially make things harder to get.

    In the early days with EQ and AC so many quests were just pain in the asses just because the devs made it so. Sharing a quest.. ha.. not gonna happen, sit there for 20-60 mins to get that kill to either get the drop you need or whatever. That always annoyed the crap outta me. Not only did it make you waste so much time with lineups of guys there and it caused so many angry encounters in game.

    There are many more examples of this artificial delay but i wont go into them all suffice to say you are correct a proper game has a challenge built in to make accomplishments feel great but senseless time sinks have to be gone. A good example for me is Dark Souls, hard but fair, planning and patience will get you far, takes time but the reward feels so good.

    Current MMOs have to incorporate that challenge into their game and be careful not to incorporate useless time sinks and we have a winner.

  • @xenovore

    Never in my life have I agreed with someone so much. You went straight down the line hitting every nail on the head. I love it.


    I’ve never even considered a Dark Souls like MMO. That would be fascinating, and as a huge fan of Dark Souls and difficult games in general I’d certainly play it. However on time sinks, I disagree. I think time sinks are what separate meaningful rewards from meaningless “loot.” I haven’t played a newer MMO and gotten anything I remotely care about, or have any pride that I attained it. Getting my Magician epic 10 years ago is a completely different story.

  • I saw your comment on the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter and followed you here. 😛

    Glad you ae backing and hope you can convince others via your blog to back Mark Jacobs and his Kickstarter. As a pure crafter, this game promises to offer more than any other MMO out there. You don’t have to be a huge PvP fan to be interested in CU. Crafters will have a game to make a name for themselves. Finally!