Taking a break from MMOs is often something I wonder about. As a player, I go through phases every few months. Sometimes I play as much as I can. Sometimes I do not go near my computer. Burnout is something every MMO player experiences at one time or another, yet I don't think developers account for this in their game designs. Every developer says, you should take a break from playing MMOs, but in truth they really want you to play. So my column this week is about burnout and down time. When do you get burned out, and what do you do when it happens?
I have stated many times that right now I am playing World of Warcraft. Last night, I ran a successful Trial of the Crusader ten-man raid with my guild. We did well enough and got some good loot out of the deal. Tuesday is always a big raid night. We'll hit Ulduar on Thursday and continue to try and gear up our new raiders. The event was fun and exciting. Yet, tonight I have no desire to log into the game and do anything. Is that because my goal for the week had been accomplished?
MMOs work on a subscription model and a set amount of game content for players. Sure there are holiday events coming up and little things to do to pass the time, but overall you have a predetermined set of content when an MMO goes live. Gamers are goal oriented by nature. No matter what that goal is, we are all achievers. Whether it is exploring, PvPing, or beating huge bosses, we want to achieve something in our game time. If an MMO has a set amount of content then this level of achievement for gamers will eventually come to an end. Games will try to put expansions into effect and give players more to do, but overall when gamers achieve their goals, they start to go elsewhere.
This break down of the achievements in games eventually leads players to burn out. How many times have you heard people say, "I did that already, I am going to take a break." It is during this down time that I think game companies can do a better job in marketing to players. I am not talking about giving them more content to do. That's the easy answer. I am talking about making them a part of the world to keep them interested for when they return to the game. Sure we have seen player statues and housing, but with all of the social networks popping up out there you would think more MMOs would get the hint and get involved.
Players still want to achieve, even after they have turned off their PC. I know some games have rewards and such for recruitment, but what about game rewards for returning after a long break? Welcome back, you have not logged in for six months, the world has changed, and you, hero, are needed! How cool would that type of message be when you rejoin a game? I think it would be awesome. Imagine a quest chain where you save a village. The village says, we're poor but one day we will repay your service. You leave the game for a few months and come back to find the village blacksmith has made you a new axe! As a player if I returned to this type of home coming I would instantly be interested again. You are not asking players to spend hours of time in playing catch up with the rest of the game. You are simply rewarding them for a triumphant return and giving them a reason to play catch up.
Many people, both gamers and developers, say the "hero" factor is missing in MMOs. The example above is a perfect way to get players back after a break and make them feel like their past game play had a purpose. MMOs suffer from always looking forward and never looking back. This drives the goal oriented gamers, but does not give them anything in return for past play. The marketing by game companies in this area needs to be smarter. Someone will read this article and start a promotion to give piece of crap in game items to returning players because they don't want to upset game balance. That is the wrong approach. You have to appeal to what players like. Just handing out rings to players who return is not the answer. Having a personal welcome and a reward of value (even if it is standard for everyone), will make a player feel good about their return.
I guess I got side tracked a little this week. My overall point is that companies should have a better plan for keeping players and allowing them to take time off. With some of the subscription numbers out there in MMOs these days flagging we're getting to the point where, heck companies would almost pay to have subscribers. Instead of begging, write some smart code with some cool quests to appeal to the gamer in all of us. Remember in D&D when you started a new group of characters and they would run into your old characters who were now heroes in the world? That would be such an awesome concept to bring to MMOs. In fact, that will be next week's column: How to Get Players to Make More Alternate Characters! For now, think about player burn out and down time and think about how to give them a reason to return, in a cool way.