How to Entice Players Back to Old MMOs

How to Entice Players Back to Old MMOs

I want this one to be a discussion because I don’t know that I have the answer. Playing Dark Age of Camelot, and previous games like EverQuest again, I run into this barrier to entry: I will never be as good as the people who have been playing for years. That sense of “why bother” infiltrates my mind and starts to block the fun receptors. This idea of people being so far ahead and beyond where I would be if I came in is especially problematic in PvP games.

How can these older games fellowship new players back into the fun?

Should there be catch-up mechanics?

Should there be reasons for people to constantly make new characters?

Do these games need to make sure that there are fun things to do from the beginning?

Games like World of Warcraft do well because there are scheduled resets. Essentially, every expansion is a new beginning. New players can be max level, and the gear is a complete reset for all. I don’t know that this solution makes much sense for all games — especially those that aren’t a gear treadmill — but maybe something similar could be implemented?

The problem stems from being a have and a have not. Let’s say I went and played a game like the modern era official DAOC. I can play DAOC at level 1 and enjoy the experience of leveling from 1-50 even if everyone else is already max level. Where I would struggle is at 50 when I go out to PvP and everyone is months or years ahead of me in the “realm ranks” or “alternate character pvp progression” which yields advantages I would not have on my character. Other people would have the resources to get the best gear, and the advantages are not realistically overcome.

Is this a problem even worth solving?

  • It would clearly be worth solving for the developers, who would make more money, for the existing players, who would have more people to play with, and for the new players, who would have more choice of MMOs to play.

    Whether it’s a problem that can be solved, though, I’m not sure. MMOs that either avoid or minimize the importance of leveling are going to have a big advantage here. ESO with One Tamriel or GW2 with an extremely short level curve and a lifetime level cap are clearly going to find it easier to integrate new players than LotRO, with its vast, slow, sprawling, ever-increasing leveling ladder or EverQuest with its seventeen years of expansions and thousands of Alternative Advancement levels.

    Letting people start at the top with max-level characters is a quick and dirty fix but the sheer magnitude of knowledge required to play such a character can be as off-putting to acquire as doing the levels the hard way.

    One way that does work is encouraging people, old and new, to start over without forcing those who are happy as they are to do it as well. The two obvious ways to do that are new servers, where everyone begins from scratch and new races or classes, where a critical mass of people start over on existing servers. Both give new entrants a window of opportunity.

    That’s something most companies can only do once every year or two, though, with a new expansion or as a special event. And the effect only lasts for a limited time. If there’s a way to keep new players viable at all times in an older MMO I haven’t seen it yet. I’d like to, though.

  • Well, having a horizontal progression system with non-ever-increasing stats or levels already built into its design like GW2 will definitely help.

    But even GW2 has the issue of veteran player history and knowledge being an intimidating barrier to a newer player, as the vet has overall more skill and generally plays better – this has led to two things, vet impatience when faced with a newer player is on the rise and some get toxic, and more scarily, devs seem to be trying to design for veterans to be challenged (or their testers are vets and have forgotten what being a newbie feels like) and the overall difficulty of the game is on the rise – a lesser skilled player can end up walking into what feels like brick wall encounters, constantly dying, while trying to play newer content.

    I do think deliberate resets are a decent way of enticing players back into the fold of a game. I’m thinking of games like A Tale in the Desert with repeated Tellings, or Path of Exile with seasonal leagues where everyone starts from scratch. They do seem to draw lapsed players back for the ‘launch feeling’ though the danger with too frequent resets is that vets might end up with a ‘why bother?’ feeling, if they are repeating the same actions all the time.

    Path of Exile gets around this better with the sheer variety of builds that can be made. It’s possible in A Tale in the Desert to decide to focus on a different high level activity, but the lower level progression grind is usually the same.

    I feel one of the more important design decisions is to have a game where newbies can contribute in some fashion, right from the very beginning, and thus be welcomed by veterans. Perhaps only Eve gets this right (though I don’t really play it, so I dunno how it works in practice versus rose-colored theory.)

    The moment veterans see newbies as a general pain in the ass, a burden, etc. the community ends up being somewhat hostile and hard to break into for a new player and that’s a push factor away from an older game.

    On the other hand, a welcoming community that thinks “the more the merrier” and “one of us, one of us” will immediately hook a new player, give them something importantly contributory to do and be supportive as the new player finds their footing and catches up in skill and knowledge.

  • This issue has not bothered me for a long time. I felt this way when I first started EQ, my first MMO, as I started playing it well after release. Level 50s were still fairly uncommon, but there were plenty of them. I always felt so bar behind and that I would never catch up.

    I started DAoC on day 1. And I thought it would be so cool because I am starting when everyone else was and no one would have this “unfair” advantage of having a several months head start on me. However, I was quickly disabused of this notion as even back then being a single gamer guy there was no way I could keep up with these people and how much they played.

    If I recall correctly, I hit 50 about 6 months after release and with around 35 days /played. A ridiculously inordinately large amount of time for me to put into 1 video game over six months. A full 1/6th of my life during that time. I loved DAoC and I played it a lot. Or so I thought.

    Eventually, I just became reconciled to the fact that I would always be behind in games like this, as I could not devote the kind of commitment to them that others were willing to. I learned to let it not bother me and just be happy with the experience I could have in my own little corner of the virtual universe I was in.

  • Hey Keen. Long time reader, first time poster.

    I think there is a counter in DAoC, especially on a high pop server like Uthgard. The zerg. Sure, your RR1 character can’t defeat a RR7+ character 1v1, or 8v8. But to take down a full group of RR7s, all you need to do is join a zerg. Even a skilled 8 man team is going to have an extremely hard time trying to down a 40 person zerg.

    As to your previous post, I’d actually take Uthgard over Broadsword/Mythic/EA run server any day, even if they rolled out a classic server. An official run server would encourage the use of buffbots, and I can’t blame them. $30/month vs. $15/month; what business wouldn’t like that. But since Uthgard is a free server, they do not allow buffbotting, and it’s a bannable offense.

    • Very good point about the buffbot issue. So good in fact that I don’t really have any sort of idea how to counteract that problem. It would be significant. I would hope, but sadly never expect, Broadsword to ever block their use.