MMORPG Longevity

Time for a semi-serious post.  What makes some MMORPGs last longer than others?  Now, don’t misunderstand me.   I know that most MMORPGs, even the ones with extremely low subscriber numbers, are still around.  As a business, it takes comparatively little overhead to keep a MMORPG going – it’s the startup costs that will kill you.  What I’m talking about is how long a MMORPG will engage you and keep you coming back for more.

Some people will sum it up with the word “content,” but it’s definitely more than that.  Dark Age of Camelot had a huge amount of content (largely because there were three realms, and you had to have stuff to do in each of them), but it faltered and faded when World of Warcraft hit the shelves.  World of Warcraft is still going strong, even through the graphics are starting to look dated.  However, Blizzard has maintained a level of fit and finish that keeps me saying “Gee, that really looks well done.”  Likewise, LotRO has some snazzy graphics, an interface that is both intuitive and customizable,  and an engaging story arc.  So, yes, content will keep you around – if it is polished and presented nicely enough.  A good metaphor is a gemstone.  A raw gem is substantial, but it just looks like a rock until it is cut and faceted by a lapidary.

Let me bring up another example: Warhammer Online.  I liked the game well enough.  The graphics were pretty, and it did have a pretty good story.  However, the story was just too short, and it became obvious to me that it had become a “treadmill game.”  That is, you went off on long instance runs so that you could go on more instance runs and then PvP.  And you’d PvP so you could do more PvP and more instance runs.  Playing the game became it’s own goal.  Likewise with my experience in World of Warcraft, when I tinkered around with some of the Outland raiding.  You raided so that you could do more raids.  Yes, the raid instances were linked by a story, but ye gods… repeating the same raid twenty or more times for a single item, whose random existence or non-existence was not under your control or influence?  That’s a little too much to ask of me.  The token systems in place in various games are a step in the right direction, but only just a single step.  Imagine being told that you’re going to watch a trilogy of movies, but you need to watch each movie a random number of times before you can watch the next one in sequence.  That’s a sure way to lose subscribers.

This post is just going to scratch the surface.  This is a deep subject for a shallow mind, such as my own.  I’ll have to mull it over and come back to it, but thus far, long-running games appear to be: engaging (story), polished (graphics and interface), and not repetitive.

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