Players take breaks from MMOs. Some are short, and there is no reason to stop subscribing or to uninstall. Others are more on the sabbatical nature. The latter is usually accompanied by some sort of burnout, boredom, or other negative feeling resulting in a far longer break than the usual refresh.
There are reasons to return, and the biggest are usually the game changing, world-expanding expansions. But, I don’t want to talk about those because their very nature is set to get players to return. I want to talk about the free content updates and maintenance updates.
There are varying levels of updates. At the most basic level there are maintenance updates, which mostly fix things and might have some small balancing (read: exploit) changes. These updates are most pertinent to active players. Inactive players seem not to care as much about things that would only affect them if they were playing right then.
The next step up is a balance update. Whereas, maintenance update balancing is aimed at brokenness, a balance update is typically a bigger beast. It attempts to actually balance the classes, PvP, encounters, raids, etc., and the balance update affects many, many mechanics. Like a maintenance update, the inactive players are just not affected by the balance update. Balance is rarely the reason that a player walks away from a game (although it might be another straw).
We finally hit a content update, which is the yummiest of the free updates. This update will include new quests, new encounters, possibly new areas, etc. While this update still will not affect an inactive player, they take notice. This is something new. This update might be something more along the lines of what they wanted to play. This will get players back, and that’s why for big AAA MMOs, they are previewed by newssites and advertised. This is all nice and well, and not really blog worthy.
What I really want to talk about is Turbine’s content updates for Lord of the Rings Online, and why I think they are possibly the best at getting inactive players to return. The best content update in a diku-style MMO will contain progression. I know it’s a shocker, isn’t it. When a World of Warcraft content update drops, Blizzard gives new Tiers of armor and higher power items. Lord of the Rings Online does too with their armor progression in Shadows of Angmar and now Mines of Moria. However, I posit that Turbine has an ace in the hole that makes their progression-filled content updates a little more attractive.
It’s the epic quests. It’s the fact that a story in the IP we know and love is also progressing. Gear progression is almost purely mathematical. Story progression on the other hand, I feel is greater. It tickles the imagination. It gets people’s creative juices flowing trying to figure out the lore that is behind the scenes. And, most importantly it is the next chapter in the book they were reading. This is something that Blizzard seems to sideline more for World of Warcraft, even if their players are interested. Turbine puts the story center stage.
This ace in the hole becomes fantastic when “expansion burnout” arises. Expansion burnout occurs when a developer announces a diku-powered expansion that will inevitably erase any hard work done on the current progression. However, the reason to continue the story remains the same. In fact, one could say, the reason to progress the story becomes stronger because the end of the story is in sight. The end of gear progression never is.
when I was your age, television was called books