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News & Features Discussion  » General: Retaining Your Subscribers

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Associate Editor - News Manager

Joined: 6/28/10
Posts: 16278

OP  1/24/12 12:21:01 PM#1

Player retention, particularly in today's overcrowded MMO market, is something that developers and publishers wrestle with constantly. In our latest Devil's Advocate, we take a look at player retention, what it is and what is going to become. Check it out!

Going chronologically let me first point you to a post by Keen on Keen and Graev's Gaming Blog. Keen points out that for a large number of gamers these days, a new MMO has one chance to make an impression, and that, if the impression isn't good or is otherwise not a perfect, fully-featured MMO experience or world, the average gamer of this day and age is likely to take his money elsewhere.

Read more of Victor Barreiro Jr.'s The Devil's Advocate: Retaining Your Subscribers.

Associate Editor:
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom


Novice Member

Joined: 10/14/05
Posts: 2811

1/25/12 10:18:27 AM#2

I liked the article but I don't really agree with your conclusion.


I was working to much when games like M59 or NwN were first out.   So for me the first MMO I played was Ultima Online and that is the type of MMO I want to play.


Are there any MMO's out that have a similar design?   Sure...   but when EQ first launched the two big MMO's that "most" gamers knew about were UO and EQ.   So let's just slap a AAA game label on them because at the time it would have fit.   The big studio, well supported and well funded games all follow the same basic design and sprinkle a bit of "maybe different" on top.


So games that are currently live... yes some gamers are currently starved for something to play.


If you like the core mechanics of EQ and what those have evolved into.. then you have an entire spectrum of MMO's to choose from.


Tho with The Secret World and a few other MMO's with sketchy details... it looks like there may be some development going the other way.


If you want customers and to retain customers in a saturated market its a pretty simple equation... don't make the same exact game as everyone else.. then try to slap an innovation label on some little thing you did different.   Make a different game... market it as such.. and be realistic in the long term subscriber base you'll have.   The core rabidly loyal player... that will be there for years... and the final part of the equation?   Don't change the game into something they wouldn't have bought to begin with.


*edited note*  I didn't expand on the one comment I made...  some different games.   Saga of Ryzom:  I've tried to get into it and I just can't.   I played EvE for quite a while and while it has a very loyal fan base its not for me.   There are a few other games that are under funded, understaffed and look about the same as UO did in 1997.   UO of course is still around but I don't really like the current version of it... and I'm not really into the emulation scene either.   My comment on some gamers being starved is relative to the fact that for many years no mainstream development company has made a skill system game.. they all stick with the same basics that eq used.   SWG likely having been the last and tho I really liked it and found this site because of it... SWG was very confined in comparison to UO in many ways.

Moderator's on this site allow certain posters to create endless troll threads. Yet "warn" people for giving recommendations... account *pending* deletion because.. why bother.


Novice Member

Joined: 9/22/11
Posts: 3016

1/25/12 10:29:12 AM#3

I will be subscribed for a long time if I play VIRTAUAL WORLD , when my character can build it's fame in community. Where players are connected and dependant on each other.


If mmorpg's feel like game (teleports , cross-sever LFG and grinding "points") I am not connected enough to commit myself for a long time.

Also if I pay sub I expect no cash shop.


Novice Member

Joined: 12/13/04
Posts: 495

1/25/12 10:29:30 AM#4

"Despite what some might say about today's MMO gaming sphere, I believe that we as gamers are pretty well-off these days. We are not starved for choices in MMORPGs, and there are many that cater to various genres and gameplay styles. "

Sorry I don't agree.

The last couple of years of mmo releases have been horrid for gamers.

Yes we have choice, but we have 100 different choices of a different variety of "the same thing".

I haven't subscribed or played any mmo in the past 5 years for longer than a month.


Because I have been playing mmo's for 10 years. I have money to spend - but why level up another character in another mmo that is basically the same as the one I played last month or last year?

I don't even care about getting to max level anymore to see if endgame is any different - because the leveling process for pretty well every mmo is the same.

So why would I think endgame would really be that much different?

If you want me to stay subscribed to a game.

I need to be engaged.

I need to have fun.

I need to be challenged.

I want to be social and make new friends.

I want to have impact, be the hero - reshape events and the world I find myself in.

I want to play the character I want to play, no restrictions. Let me build and customize my character the way I want.

I think Eve is almost one of the most perfect mmo's ever created. If you put Eve in a fantasy setting I would play it and subscribe to it in a second.







Spotlight Poster

Joined: 1/30/11
Posts: 246

Wookiee. Jetpack. Lifeday moomoo. Flying into the SWG sunset on Lok.

1/25/12 10:54:54 AM#5

It's a great article, but the argument that we have a lot of choices is just not right at all.

The choices now are like Pepsi vs. Coke, and both are owned through various holding companies by Sumner Redstone of Viacom, and that's what pretends to be 'competition'. So many MMO's now just aren't MMO's in any meaningful way.

I really wish 'MMO' was an actual industry-wide definition, so that companies couldn't slap it on whatever themepark 5-people max. cashshop grinder they came up with next.

MMO means different things to different people, but things like being allowed to meet in large numbers randomly (500+ for example) and have large open battles (250+) etc, and with options to escape the storylines and canned content and just wander around might be a good place ot start.

By that definition alone, all the MMOs of the last 8+ years excepting maybe EVE and SWG would not be able to call themselves MMOs. Which I personally think is correct, because they're not.

There needs to be some actual 'games' being created, not sales and advertising and marketing with a lightsaber or elves plonked on top of it.

I played in NwN, was part of the Ultimat Online beta test and still have the CD, still have my EVE account, and played SWG right up until the final day last year December 15th, 2011. Those were real games, and despite major mismanagement in the case of SWG they still had features none of the games coming out currently have.

Come up with something even vaguely original, then you will attract subscribers. No really, just come up with some meaningful original content, honestly it's a great place to start. And it's something sorely lacking.


Made History

Joined: 7/11/11
Posts: 6496

Pink, it's like red but not quite.

1/25/12 11:02:07 AM#6

The illusion of choice--18 different laundry detergents, all from the same company (Proctor & Gamble).  Different scents and boxes, but the basic products are identical.

Self-pity imprisons us in the walls of our own self-absorption. The whole world shrinks down to the size of our problem, and the more we dwell on it, the smaller we are and the larger the problem seems to grow.


Spotlight Poster

Joined: 8/23/08
Posts: 694

1/25/12 11:13:03 AM#7

With exception to WoW, the best form of retention is player-made and player-driven content. That alone has much more sustain than adding in a new series of quests. WoW, for whatever reason, appealed to everyone (the jock, the nerd, the mom, the dad, the fatty, and the hottie) and still holds the iron fist - even while being a linear theme park.


Players burn through content; adding in new quests and zones does very little for maximum sustain.

What is player-driven content?

  1. Player cities / Player rival cities / Competition

  2. Variety of social tools, e.g., incentives to use cantinas, inns, taverns.

  3. Endless amounts of apparel - the ability to look unique.

  4. Freedom to explore and the sense that distant places are really distant.


These days, a pure Theme Park will struggle to survive. Moreover, a pure Sandbox will also struggle to survive.



Elite Member

Joined: 1/18/06
Posts: 2392

1/25/12 11:42:51 AM#8

There are choices out there. The problem is that we have this giant main choice (Themeparks) where all the AAA money is going, and a selection of bad choices. "Bad" because mostly they didn't have the money to make something more diverse than a game based on one play style only, and the rest is missing or woefully lacking.


Once upon a time....


Novice Member

Joined: 8/09/03
Posts: 1192

1/25/12 11:48:49 AM#9

Great article, not sure why everyone responding is so butt-hurt about there being no choice in gaming these days, I would argue there are too many options with too little time, not the other way around.


Do I want to play a game like EVE that is slower, but more in depth? Or a game like WoW that is time-intesive, role-playing with character development but a little shallow? Maybe I want a more action-oriented MMO like DragonNest or Vinductus? Perhaps I want a mindless grinder say Red Stone, Aion, <insert Asian MMO here>? Or a group oriented game with very interesting crafting like Vanguard... or maybe I want a... you get the point... You can group similar things together (television, phone, computer, fax machine, radio are electronics) but to say that they are all the same? I call you out.


Two things in the Western MMO market has proven themselves to be subscriber-keepers:


Polish and Content...

"They essentially want to say 'Correlation proves Causation' when it's just not true." - Sovrath


Novice Member

Joined: 10/05/03
Posts: 6721

Gaming should be about fun, not gender equality.

1/25/12 11:52:44 AM#10

Despite what some might say about today's MMO gaming sphere, I believe that we as gamers are pretty well-off these days. We are not starved for choices in MMORPGs, and there are many that cater to various genres and gameplay styles.

I dont know what this paragraph is based on but one would be hard pressed to mention one single big budget MMORPG which focus on virtual worlds, world building and alike. Almost every single one of them have been Themeparks with suspicous similarities to WoW.

Sure you got indy games which strays from this path but like with most thing in this world, you get what you pay for and in this case low budget means worse graphics, less content and more bugs to the extent that it does not matter if it is sandbox, themepark. It is simply a poorly made game.

The MMORPG genre is in desperate need of the Steve Jobs persona. People who are visionaries and are leading in innovation and realises that MMORPGs has the promise to be so much more than a single player game and understands the concept of a persistant ever evolving world. And by that I dont mean monthly content patches but rather that the players are allowed to evolve, or maybe even destroy parts of, the world.

This hand holding and being put in a linear path from point A to B needs to stop. MMORPGs can be so much more than that, heck even single player games, like Skyrim, are more than that.


Novice Member

Joined: 7/07/07
Posts: 275

1/25/12 11:58:39 AM#11

I agree that no successful MMO is truly a finished product as it has to continue to evolve to maintain a  successful subscriber base over time.

Investors don't tend to follow this logic though and neither do many gamers.

First impressions do count immensely and it's why games like AO and AoC  have suffered in the market. Conversely games like DCUO and War which had inconsistent updates and update quality suffer worse because they hurt subscriber loyalty. Both are/were venerable games for their time that suffered from the stigma of  either a poor launch or inconsistent updates after the launch.

What made WoW successful was the fact that it was originally sandbox with themeparks to comemorate level milestones.  "Get to level 16 and you can go do Wailing Caverns" How you got to 16 was up to the player.

It's the subsequent addition of content, expansions, and time that has evolved the game into the pure themepark it is now.

precious328 commented that both pure Theme Park and Sandbox games will struggle to survive these days and  I half agree.

I would submit that it has always been this way... You need a mix of both for the life of a game to make a good MMO.

You need those dungeons that you have to be a certain level to enter or that require fire resistant gear to survive in.

You need that slightly hidden cave that you stumble across while adventuring that has a scrap of cloth in it that opens a questline for you without having blazing arrows point it out for you or a mini-boss that just so happens to live in it.

ThemePark and Sandbox game aspects make 2 corners of the framework needed to make a breathing world people will want to come back to.

It's a shame more developers don't subscribe to this notion.




Hard Core Member

Joined: 9/13/10
Posts: 183

1/25/12 12:49:58 PM#12

Hi folks, Victor here. Just found out my article went up, and saw the comments.

I see the point of those who are starved for an MMO that fits their needs. While there are many more MMORPGs available to play, not a lot of them have something different (dare I say world-like) in their approaches.

At the same time, what some of you are calling an illusion of choice can still be a valid set of choices for many newcomers to the gaming scene. Again, it's a matter of perspective. :)

I will admit though, I'm really looking forward to a game that provides structured themepark content and combines with with sandbox elements like extensive crafting and a vast world to explore. Perhaps Archeage can provide that diversion for us.

A writer and gamer from the Philippines. Loves his mom dearly. :)

Can also be found on


Novice Member

Joined: 5/19/04
Posts: 461

1/25/12 1:31:55 PM#13

For me to stay long term requires a sense of community, that I belong to something greater than self.  In that respect my two best MMO's where DAoC and SWG.  It also helps to have a lot of different choices when you log on other than just combat in my opinion. Housing, entertainment, crafting, player run towns, open sandbox feel all help greatly.  I can't think of anything greater though than defending your relic in DAoC against those dirty Hibbies or evil Albions!  There must be a sense of purpose at max level or I'll make a few alts than walk away.


Elite Member

Joined: 12/28/07
Posts: 695

1/25/12 1:32:09 PM#14

Heh i always thought that most people that had years long subs to the same game had a bit of OCD. :P (No offense intended of course)

And that the people that play for a few months then move on till the next expansion are more the "norm".

I see it like reading a good book.  Sure you can go back and re-read a good book a while later, but can you really re-read that book over and over and never take a break to read another one?

It is more like a series, you read a good book, then move to another book till the next in the series comes out. Then you get that book, and maybe even re-read the first one first before the new book in the series.

I think that my way of looking at things seems to be closer to the "masses" that play these type games, rather than the ones that will get a game and stay in that game for years.

So maybe it is just the Dev's and investors (and a small, by percentage, amount of players) that are out of touch? And maybe are not seeing the market for what it really is. Treat them more like avid book readers who enjoy a book then move on till the next of the series comes out.

We see a lot of folks on forums, that say that they are looking for a single game that will be their perfect game that they can spend years in. I am coming to believe that those folks are just fooling themselves. And are a minority of the actual market.

There are no never ending books, or book series, same as there are no never ending games.  There comes a time in each that most people just have to move on.


Advanced Member

Joined: 7/27/07
Posts: 515

1/25/12 2:09:46 PM#15

Despite what some might say about today's MMO gaming sphere, I believe that we as gamers are pretty well-off these days. We are not starved for choices in MMORPGs, and there are many that cater to various genres and gameplay styles.

Originally posted by Antarious

If you like the core mechanics of EQ and what those have evolved into.. then you have an entire spectrum of MMO's to choose from.


I have to disagree with the quote from the original article above.  Anterious responded and hit the nail on the head.  There are many games to choose from - but most are just variations of EQ/WoW style MMO's.

All I want is a quality PvP faction based MMO that doesn't require me to do structured PvP.

What is there?  Basically nothing since DaoC..    (Warhammer didnt meet this criteria.. )

However, im hopeful with GW2 on the horizon!


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Joined: 1/10/12
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1/25/12 2:29:45 PM#16

the more interaction a games gives its players, the less DLC a game will need.


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Hype (noun)
1. to trick; gull.
2. exaggerated publicity; hoopla.
3. swindle, deception, or trick.

1/25/12 3:07:52 PM#17

If you don't have a clear and deep understanding of what a successful end game looks like, you shouldn't expect retention past the first free month. One-time content gimmicks (such as video cut scenes) aren't going to cut it anymore.

Build a deep and immersive world and let US create the story. Build it and get OUT OF THE WAY, then you'll get your retention.

"Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it. It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever." - Noam Chomsky


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1/25/12 3:15:13 PM#18

Originally posted by precious328

 WoW, for whatever reason, appealed to everyone (the jock, the nerd, the mom, the dad, the fatty, and the hottie) and still holds the iron fist - even while being a linear theme park.


I disagree. I don't think it was mass appeal, it was more the fact you could play WoW on any piece of shit, $300 wal-mart computer and didn't need a "gaming rig" to play. I remember when Vanguard announced the system req's, I went out and built a $2500 PC just to be able to play it. It's predecessors were the same way. UO, EQ and DAoC were all "playable" on just about any PC with a 3d vid card, but it wasn't "enjoyable" unless you had a mid-grade system or better. I had friends who simply could not play some of the games we were playing in the early days, because they had a clunky PC.


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1/25/12 4:29:27 PM#19

Despite what some might say about today's MMO gaming sphere, I believe that we as gamers are pretty well-off these days. We are not starved for choices in MMORPGs, and there are many that cater to various genres and gameplay styles.

There is a plenty of take aways around me, but I don't call what they serve food.


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1/25/12 5:49:31 PM#20

Despite what some might say about today's MMO gaming sphere, I believe that we as gamers are pretty well-off these days. We are not starved for choices in MMORPGs, and there are many that cater to various genres and gameplay styles.



I very much DISAGREE.


All AAA mmorpg's since 2004 are EQ / WoW - like games.  Same design , same mechanics.

Just small things diffrent here and there, at core is same old thing.

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