So, an MMORPG starts out with a target demographic. They add new content at every level of play and tend to keep their players generally happy. But, as newer MMORPG release - Perhaps ones that are a lot like an established game (but maybe do a few things better) - The original demographic begins to fall off. And, it doesn't fall off from the entry level of the game like one might expect. It falls off from the end-game. Where players have seen all that MMORPG has to offer. And, are ready to try something relatively new.
And, when this happens. Extant MMORPG's tend to go one of four ways (sometimes a combination of 2 or more of these paths, that is hit or miss in it's degree of success):
1) They re-focus and dedicate resources to updating the core game and it's trappings (one upping them selves and hopefully in doing so the competition as a way to pull players back). They take deep interest in their community and re-evaluate what they are doing vs. what their players want from them. This is not often something that is done. When it is done. It's usually successful. At the very least it promises to extend the life span of the game at the same level of success for years to come. Runescape has more recently employed this strategy. And, has been benefiting greatly for it.
2) They slow development on their lead title and immediately begin working on a sequel. Or sometimes new game all together. The can see an end in site and they realize that for their situation their is no point in beating a dead horse, so to speak. And what they need is something entirely fresh. This is often a really good option. One that series' like ever quest have employed for years to much success.
3) They change their pricing drastically. Trying to rake up as much money as possible before closing the doors and going out with a bang. This can leave players with a sour taste in their mouth for that developer. But, it is not a position that can't be recovered from later down the line. These are the games that people were either glad they stayed away from or sad that they got taken in by. They are usually mostly forgotten inside a few years of closing.
4) They change who they are targeting as their demographic. They start adding content that existing players are not really interested in (which increase end-game fall off). In an effort to widen their appeal. And, this is where things can start to go bad. This is where End-Game sickness creeps up. And, this is the one I am going to delve deeper into.
They tend not to change the end-game by much. They add to it. Up the cap. New gear. New zones. New monsters. But, they keep it roughly the same in mode of play. Because, the people at the end-game are the most fully invested. And, if they please them. They may be more likely to hold onto the bulk of their income. Until they can correct the situation on the whole.
But, in doing so. They tend to ignore other levels of play. And, that creates a first gap of sorts. A point where the End-Game is almost totally different then the rest of the game. Where the end game is kind of the best part.
And, with progressively raising the bar on what level of play constitutes end-game. They widen the gap between entry level play and end-game. To the point where by mid-level the end game still isn't a thing that is really insight for a newer player.
It takes a while at this point to get to the good part. And, because of that it requires an attention span that the new environment doesn’t exactly command of new players at the entry level to the game (recall that they changed who they were targeting for wider appeal alongside becoming end-game heavy with content).
Because, of this, in following months or years the game sees a lot more mid-level fall off of active players. And, that ends up leaving a even wider gap. One where new players coming in, only have elite players to look to. People who might not be willing to help as much because their situation demands more attention than it would have at lower levels in order for them to progress further. And, people who may not even be able to help as much. Because, of being too far removed from the entry level of play, as to not remember all that much about it.
This ends up in new players being alienated. And, feeling immediately as if they can never reach the upper heights. They have nothing to aspire to as a weigh point to reaching the end game. Also, they have little to contribute that would make them worth the elite players time (an elite player needs higher level materials, knowledge, and support then a new player can assist with).
Hence, there is shortly after, a new player fall off. And, what is left is just a trickle of new players coming in (only the most determined) and working their way up. Just enough to supplement the older players that end up leaving when there is nothing left for them. Maybe they only intend to set the game down and give the game time to catch up on new end game content. But, in the interim they find other games. And, if they do eventually revisit the old title. They often end up not liking what it has become. Because they have a sense of what has gone wrong that they just can't express.
And, remember...The whole time, as more and more people at lower levels of play left. The game will have trended towards producing more end-game content (to bolster the part of the player base that appears to be growing stronger at first and was the mainstay of income to begin with). And, at the point where that part of the player base becomes the majority say in what players want. Content begins to only be made for the end-game.
At some point, most of the game become unplayable. Not just because, most of the game feels like filler leading up to that last little bit...The good part. But because a majority of the materials a new player might collect through leveling won't even sell (except to NPC shops). They simply have no level of refinement in bulk that brings them close to being useful to players in the end game. Much of the items have the market on them fall out. There is no wealth to be had starting out. A lot of people are not interested in helping these new players either (unless their aim is to get to the end game as quickly as possible). And, because The game can't afford to focus on anything but the end-game. The entry level and indeed the majority of the game begins to suffer from bugs and glitches and in general degradation of information that will not be fixed.
And, it is at this point, that an MMORPG has incurable End-Game Sickness. In all reality. It was doomed the moment it took the path of changing who it is trying to please. And, betraying it's core concepts for what it initially set out to be as a title.
Surprisingly though...This does not usually mean the outright death of a game. Some games can persist for years in this state. With a small community of over-invested elite players making the game just profitable to keep the doors open with a great reduced in size development team, who's only focus is on keeping those few big spenders happy enough to stay on board. It's a sad situation. It's depressing to look at from the outside. It's even more depressing to be a part of. For the players. For the former Players. For the developers. For the publishers and everyone else involved. It's like two people handcuffed back to back. each with a key in their mouth and a carrot dangling from a string in front of them. Left alone in a room to die.
And, all MMORPG by the nature of their design (by the elements that make an MMORPG what it is) are carriers of this sickness. It only needs the right set off circumstances and one bad choice for it to go active and ravage all involved. Until every one is left with nothing.
This is something of a warning to players. Understanding how this happens will let you see it happening. And, help you to get out and find a healthy game before you become part of it.
But also, a note to developers and publishers... If you think your game is starting to decline. If you feel you need to do something to turn things around. Weigh your options carefully. Because, a lot of MMORPG have fallen into this special kind of hell. You may have noticed I made no separation between those making a game and the game itself. I referred to them both as the game or the MMORPG. That is because, Developers...Publishers. You are your game. Don't sentence yourself to this.
I've seen this go down first hand. And, while how I think games end up like this is heavily opinion based. In the end there are plenty of MMORPG that find themselves in this position. And, it's also a little different for some games (like Active Worlds). I've played a lot of these (as I am sure many people have). And, it's something that bothers me as a gamer because i feel like it can be prevented by not starting down paths that clearly lead to it to begin with.
Coalescing these thoughts on how this comes about has taken a lot of introspection on my own experiences. A lot of reading on various forums Where people complain about something being wrong with their MMORPG. But, they can't place exactly what. Watching a lot of video's where people talk about what has gone wrong with their game. And, 14 complete re-writes (and one unpublished version of this posted to here) of this blog post in Microsoft Word. I have dozens of hours into this.
So, I hope. Now that I feel it is ready to be read. That I present a rather whole picture that can be relied on in spite of how opinion based it is. And, that someone takes something valuable from it.