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Matt Miller: Why Do Players Leave MMOs?

Column By Matthew Miller on January 21, 2014

It happens to all of us, it’s probably happened to you. No MMO is immune to it, but some do it better than others. There comes a point when a player stops playing the game, they log off one day and simply never log back in. Usually, a month or so later they will realize that their credit card is still being charged and figure out how to cancel their account, or they might say to themselves that they are just on a break and plan to come back and keep the account active. That’s fine, but the fact remains that they have stopped playing the game for whatever reason, and that reason is something that the game developers would LOVE to know.

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You see, in MMO development there is something called an “exit event”. This is a definable point at which a player no longer wanted to play your game. Developers love to look at metrics of defined exit events in order to prevent them from being exit events in the future. This is exactly why when you go to unsubscribe there is almost always a survey that they’d like you to take, pinpointing your exact reasoning behind why you left. If enough exiting players answer the same way, then the developer knows he has a problem and will do whatever he can to fix it. If the developer has his ducks in a row, when an oft-maligned feature is fixed, then a marketing email can be sent to players for whom that was their exit event. “We changed the way crafting works, come back and see the new system!”

Now, likely you have moved on to bigger and (hopefully) better things, but knowing that the thing that bothered you about the game to the point of leaving it has been changed is hopefully enticement enough to come back and check it out again. Granted, not everything that causes a player to quit can be fixed. If your exit event is “no longer have a computer to play on” then the developer can’t really help you.

Now getting YOU back is not really the primary goal of an exit survey. While they would surely LOVE to keep you as a customer, if you can give them your reasoning why you left, they are hoping to fix that so that current and future customers don’t have a similar exit event. If you don’t feel that the game had good PvP, make sure you tell them that is the reason that you left. If enough people make it worth their effort to improve an aspect of the game, then they would do so, but don’t get your hopes up.

Sometimes the reason for quitting is more than one simple thing, but there is usually the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. This is the one last thing that caused you to take your business elsewhere. This is the actual exit event, but it’s not the full reason behind why you left. That’s fine. If you can, let the developer know that so they don’t but all the weight behind that one reason you stopped playing the game.

There are exit events that are personal to you. You may feel that something the developer feels is small and insignificant is your exit event, and that’s fine. If you don’t like the color pallet available to you when customizing your character, and that is what made you finally throw in the towel, feel free to let the developer know. But also understand that what is a huge issue to you (it caused you to quit after all) might not be a big deal to other players. There is no point in getting upset that the developer “still hasn’t fixed their game” if they haven’t addressed your issue.

Some players’ exit events are due to developers that are too quick to fix the game. I’ve known players who quit because a developer fixed an exploit that they had been using (abusing?) to make their character better/stronger/richer. The game wasn’t the same after the exploit was fixed, so they decided that was their exit event. There’s not really much of a chance that the developer will try to make amends to that player, but if the entire community reveals that the mechanic that was fixed was something that was keeping them around then the developers may search for a way to rekindle the idea of the exploit, just not be as game-breaking as it once was.

So the next time you quit an MMO, or any unfinished game really, consider what was your exit event. If the developer asks you (or you just want to let them know), make sure you have a good answer. Even if you don’t come back if it’s fixed or changed, odds are a fix or change will prevent someone else from leaving, or attract a new player to take your place.

What games did you quit, and what were your exit events? Was it something that the developer could remedy, and if so did you make them aware of what the exit event was when you left? Would you go back if it was fixed? Or was it something that was intangible or a combination of several things?

Matt Miller / Matt Miller is a 23 year veteran of the computer game industry and columnist for MMORPG.com. He was Lead Designer for City of Heroes over five years, and has "seen it all" when it comes to MMOs (but still learns something new every day). You can always reach him on twitter @MMODesigner.

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Matt Miller
In this bi-weekly column, Matt "Formerly Known as Positron" Miller of City of Heroes fame seeks to clue MMO gamers in on the minds of developers, their decisions, and what it's like to craft these massive games.
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