By Mark Arsenault
Hi, my name is Mark, and I’m an MMO-aholic. I’ve been trying to stay on the
wagon for almost 10 years now, but every time something new comes along, I fall
off again. They’ve told me the first step is admitting I have a problem. But I
don’t, so clearly I’m not going to be able to extend this metaphor much further.
There is a problem, but I am not entirely sure it is with me. It might be with
the gaming industry, it might be with gamers in general, or it might just be a
differential between expectation and delivery. What is the problem you ask? Well
if you have to ask, you should not have skipped past the article title! What IS
the deal with the high end game?
The industry these days is very active - MMO titles seem to come and go with
alarming regularity. We all know why they come, but why do they go? Why do they
fall out of favor with gamers, and just … fizzle out? Some titles have amazingly
stood the test of time and are still around and amusing players on a daily
basis, despite their relatively simple graphics in comparison to other
offerings. Everquest 1 and Dark Age of Camelot are two of the more popular
examples of this phenomenon. What have they managed to do to entice players to
continue paying their monthly fees, while so many others have failed? I think
the answer is simple – that the developers continue to cater to players by
maintaining and expanding the high end game.
You see, once a player reaches the level cap, they are typically faced with a
limited number of options: 1) start another character, and do it all over again,
2) engage in some Player vs. Player content, provided the game has that option,
3) raid / explore high end content, dungeons, etc, 4) craft for a while, and
wait for an expansion or level cap raise, 5) quit, and get a different game.
We’ve all been at this complicated crossroads at one point or another in our
gaming career, and we’ve all found different ways to justify the logic (or
sanity) of our choices. We start an alternate character with the express purpose
of leveling with a certain friend. Maybe they either just got the game, or they
do not have a lot of time to play which has put them behind “the pack”. Perhaps
the rewards from PVP are godly in comparison to our current set of gear, and we
just NEED to have it. Or hey – the expansion is coming out in a few months, I’ll
craft for a while or go swimming or get a tan or .. or … quit.
OR … how about exploring the high end content that the developers have gone to
so much trouble to construct? With successful, long-running MMO titles, the key
to their success is that they have put as much effort and attention to detail
into the content in the leveling up phase, as they have with the content in the
end game phase. The MMOs that fizzle failed to realize this, and left the
players that had reached the level cap one fewer option to hang around and
continue playing. Obviously, there are financial components from the development
side that come into play here, but more often than not I believe it’s either a
lack of vision, or an underestimation of the expectations of the typical MMO
Clearly though, it’s not a coincidence that certain production houses
consistently deliver games with longevity built in from square one. They
understand the recipe for success, they understand their player base, and they
deliver what is expected. They are rewarded with almost fanatical levels of
loyalty, but more importantly, a consistent level of cash flow which they can
turn right around and use for further development. That’s smart business in
general, and even smarter when dealing with a group of people known for a
wandering eye for pretty, shiny new games.
Titles will come and go, and players will migrate back and forth always looking
to explore something new. That is the nature of our particular beast, and no 12
step program is going to change that anytime soon. When it comes right down to
it, MMOs are entertainment, and gamers are paying to be entertained. Developers
can do whatever they choose with our monthly fees, but if they want to keep us
coming back for more, well they will have to develop more won’t they? Content is
key – keep it fresh, dynamic and exciting, and people will stay longer.
It all sounds simple enough to me, but I welcome your input as well! Feel free
to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your views. I don’t charge monthly
fees, but I will be satisfied with fanatical levels of loyalty.