Are Single-Game Players Happier?

Five or six years ago I went to a sake-tasting event in San Francisco called “The Joy of Sake”. About 140 sakes. In a few hours I became such a sake connoisseur that the sake I could afford — and used to buy regularly — I now despised. The only sake I now liked was so expensive ($80/bottle) that I never bought another bottle of sake.
Seth Roberts

What was revelatory for me at one point was that there were people who thought of themselves not as gamers, not as MMO gamers, but as WoW players. They are not interested in the genre, in seeing competing implementations, in the next MMO coming out… They just play WoW. Hardcore or casual, this is their game, done, the way some people are baseball or football fans (a perspective that had not occurred to me until I typed it, which suddenly makes “one game” make a lot more sense, although most seem to be “sports fans” who need a group of sports to make it through the other seasons).

Today I find myself wondering if my recent blasé with the MMO world is a result of becoming familiar with too many different ways of doing things in MMOs. No matter what game I am playing, at least half the features will have been done better somewhere else, and the failings of individual games and the entire genre stand silhouetted. Maybe if I did not know better, getting another boss further in the latest raid tier would be fulling absorbing entertainment. But that seems like a critical failure of fun theory.

I am not saying that WoW is a bad game. I’m more saying that if you have never played/studied EVE, you do not know how a game economy (and economic tools) could work; if you have never played A Tale in the Desert, your crafting ideas are probably disgustingly limited; if you are not familiar with WoW, you are probably willfully putting up with the far shoddier implementation that is so common in MMOs. And what has seen cannot be unseen.

: Zubon

[Hello Seth Roberts readers! Pork belly is in the fridge, flaxseed oil (capsules, not fresh) is in the pantry, and we have some lovely videos of faces on the DVD rack.]

30 thoughts on “Are Single-Game Players Happier?

  1. Jason Etheridge

    So you are saying that unless a game does everything perfectly (which almost by definition none do) then it’s not worth playing? It seems you’ve set the bar so high that it effectively excludes everything. Why not just accept a game on its own merits, including the limitations, and enjoy what it has to offer? I play WoW and LOTRO, I played Eve for a while; each game has its strengths and weaknesses. But each also offers a unique experience, which is fun in its own way.

    Crafting a game, especially an MMO, is such a complex venture, with so many systems that could be included. RIFT is a great example of taking a lot of the best features of various MMOs, and doing them right. And yet that game just seems to lack something, making the experience of playing it somehow blasé. Great systems do not the ultimate MMO make!

    Lack of that perfect blend of features probably isn’t at the root of your disenchantment with MMOs. It’s probably that you’re just seeing the underlying commonality–the social engineering utilising our inherent need for progression to keep us playing–and realising how empty it is. But then again, games generally (and MMOs are no different) are more about creating an experience to be enjoyed, without any tangible outcome with real-world meaning. Games can be considered empty in that regard, but that’s the point–they’re fun. Especially when the experience is shared with our friends.

    1. jcsadone

      Agree with most, but I think You’re wrong with “…unless a game does everything perfectly…”. As You said “games generally are more about creating an experience to be enjoyed” and beeing closed in one game, makes You unprepared to enjoy the expirience, because it’s all You know (only exp You know). When You don’t see the difference, You can not value things as they should be. And rest? Rest is personal choice – nothing less nothing more :).

  2. spinks

    I dunno, I really think it’s more natural in a way to focus on one MMO at a time. I always assumed that was how they were originally designed. Plus if you want to take your comparisons to extremes, you’d want to go try every new patch as well as every game to see what it added to the genre. (eg. whatever you think of daily quests and raid instances, WoW does them extremely well WHEN THE DEVS ARE ON FORM which isn’t every instance.)

    1. Tesh

      They do seem to be designed that way… but that’s not the way many *players* play. Therein lies the friction. Especially in a maturing market with more choices…

      1. nugget

        I think it also depends on why the gamer is playing multiple MMOs.

        If you’re searching for the ONE TRUE MMO (or game), you’re going to be disappointed. The more things you see, the disappointed you’ll be, because they glomp together into this unattainable ‘perfect game’. The game that has all the bits you liked from everywhere, and none of the bits you disliked from other places. There’s a name for this, but I can’t recall it off the top of my batter.

        If, however, you’re going from game to game in an (ahem) touristy sort of mindset, because you like seeing new things and experiencing them. If you treat MMO-hopping like travel… I think this leads to a much happier gaming experience. At least it has for me – because I treat MMOs (and MUDs before that), exactly the same way I treat travel. They’re like a cheap, alternative way to see new places, if you like.

        I still love MUDs, and I still like MMOs, and that simmering pot of dissatisfaction that you seem to reference here – this nugget doesn’t have eet. =)

        Edit: Eep Teshness, that wasn’t at you, I clicked the wrong reply thing. XD It was general commentzor!

  3. Azuriel

    So you are saying that unless a game does everything perfectly (which almost by definition none do) then it’s not worth playing?

    I do not see where he says anything remotely like that. It is more like happily eating vanilla ice cream for years, and then suddenly tasting [insert favorite flavor here]. Once you have tasted something better, even if the overall experience was worse (serving size too small, too expensive, waffle cone tastes stale), it is very difficult to go back to enjoying vanilla ice cream on the same level you did previously.

    The moral shouldn’t be about not trying new things or coming to the conclusion that you will never be satisfied again. The moral should be that developers should strive to make less derivative work, less “WoW-clones,” and make something fundamentally different from ice cream. Like cake. Or waffles.

    1. jcsadone

      And now I think I will play and sing along “Waffle house” be David Wilcox all the time XD

  4. ArcherAvatar

    “Today I find myself wondering if my recent blasé with the MMO world is a result of becoming familiar with too many different ways of doing things in MMOs.” – Zubon

    Or… could it be that there are NOT ENOUGH different ways of doing things? To put it another way, when was the last time you felt like you had to *learn how to play* a MMO game you’ve just purchased?

    There have been a lot of blog posts bemoaning the “cookie-cutter WOW clones” some of which is accurate, some of which isn’t… but, perhaps the most insidious effect of that dynamic in the industry is the underlying “sameness” of so many of the MMOs.

    Gaming sites proclaim with enthusiasm how they instantly felt comfortable with the controls and knew exactly what to do in a new game they are previewing, and generally speaking this is viewed as a good thing by most. But one of the appeals of picking up a new game is that it is… well, *new* ya know?

    There is a certain excitement associated with simply learning how to play a game, discovering the ins and outs of it’s strategy, and just *discovering* in general.

    A number of folks have complained about the absence of this feeling in RIFT. They talk about how well executed the game is, or how it’s a “better/newer version” of some of the aspects of other MMOs they played, and yet, somehow very few of these folks are really happy with their experience of RIFT… they speak of some vague dissatisfaction with it… *something* missing.

    Perhaps that *something* missing is the feeling of it being truly new. Too much of RIFT is familiar and comfortable, and not enough of it is demanding that players learn it fresh… the challenge and excitement are missing, even though the game itself is extremely well crafted by all accounts.

    I didn’t know I was tired of “trinity” class systems until I was presented with a really viable alternative… Guild Wars 2. However, my experience of MMOs is not as varied as yours… for example, I’ve never played EVE online but, I’m not really interested in yet another “gank-fest” open world PVP game (I have played a few of those… just not EVE.) I prefer PVP combat with “willing” participants only… more challenging. So, there’s another element I was looking for that The Mists of GW2 sound like they might fulfill.

    Perhaps your solution is just finding a game that actually pushes you a little bit… makes you have to learn something in order to play it… presents even just a little bit of a challenge for you to grapple with. For me the best prospect for that is GW2, and I’m willing to wait for it but, it may not be for you, I don’t know… but it sure sounds like something that is actually *new* is what you’re in sore need of.

    1. Chas

      Agree that the Diku model has to die, but often the problem isn’t that a game is a “WoW clone” but that the incoming player is so used to WoW that the player ignores the nuances that differentiate them. I’ve seen many a WoW player critique a game for not having X or Y or an auction house that supports Z, when such features are unnecessary BECAUSE of how those mechanics work differently. They’re similar enough on the surface to fool a casual glance, but different enough to frustrate users expecting a clone.

      1. Tesh

        It’s a fine line. You don’t want to alienate new players who played other MMOs if you’re trying to poach them, but you need to have enough good unique design to make the change worthwhile. It’s a tricky balance to suss out.

  5. Syl

    I always thought that one big problem in WoW was its “wow-only” playerbase. not in the sense that it’s bad to only ever play the same game, but if one MMO is all you know and is all you base all your opinions and future expectations on, then your insights are limited. I prefer variety, playing different MMOs to be able to compare ways of doing things and understanding the pros and cons of developer decisions. while WoW is probably still the most well-rounded MMO of them all, WoW has big deficits which are managed better in other games.
    WoW has “spoiled” the playerbase in places, or rather blinded them to giving different a go. everything gets compared to it, is either not as good or then a clone. WoW’s not the centre of the universe; or at least it shouldn’t be. it’s keeping the entire market in a paralyzis of sorts and from my personal PoV that’s a bad thing for us MMO players because we’ll keep getting more of the same and same gets old fast.

  6. Sara Pickell

    @Jason Ethridge
    I think you’re confusing valueless and empty.

    Helping Encyclopedia Brown uncover the secrets behind the mystery of the disappearing poodle is ultimately valueless. None the less it’s entertaining, there’s a mystery and some delight in solving that mystery.

    Going back to the beginning and doing it again already knowing all the answers is empty. There are no secrets, no surprises, no delight. You’re just going through the motions.

    The problem is, different people arrive at those feelings at different times. It’s like back in my days of playing WoW, I finally quit the game pretty much solely because I’d accidentally leveled up to 40. Sure, if I “stuck it out” and “sucked it up” there was probably more content that would interest me further along. But at that point in time, in those circumstances, I became completely surrounded by emptiness. I’d already explored the zones, I really didn’t enjoy questing (it broke my immersion more than players dancing naked on the mailboxes), I’d been running the dungeons as my sole means of leveling those last three levels, and in the two things that really caught my interest, tanking 5 mans and pvp, I was reset to the bottom having to work my way back up to the exact position I’d already had.

    Does that make WoW an empty game? No. No more than a mystery is empty before you solve it. BUT once the player’s experience becomes empty, there isn’t any point in trying to argue them out of it. It isn’t something you can disprove or give logical analyses of. The emotions that made it worth it are no longer there for that person.

    At that point, you’re just left to hope that something comes along to either rekindle those feelings or shock you out of the sense of emptiness. The other option is to simply leave all together. It sucks, but that’s how life goes.

  7. Silvanis

    I think the biggest issue with Rift is that it feels like they came up with the rift concept and then went “okay, how do we build an MMO around this?” and decided to copy/paste WoW.

    But more to the point, why hasn’t anyone created an MMO that looks at the industry as a whole? We don’t we have a game that uses a player-driven economy like EVE (or at least a frickin auction house history???), with crafting similar to ATitD, and sickkicking/mentoring inspired by City of Heroes or Final Fantasy 11? What about a combat system that uses combos (Aion does this, but it’s 3 levels deep at most), or has party based chains (again, FF11 and LOTRO to an extent)? How about a game that assumes you’re one of the millions that have played another MMO and thus raises the bar?

    The developers and publishers need to stop obsessing over WoW and look at the rest of the MMO market to draw inspiration from, then maybe us grizzled veterans can get legitimately excited for a new MMO again. (There’s a lot to be learn from WoW in terms of polish and accessibility, but it’s not the messiah that people seem to think it is.)

    1. Randomessa

      Well, not that it came up with all of the features you just suggested, but I’d bet that’s why GW2 is causing such a stir; because it seems to be examining MMOs from the ground up and taking stock of a lot of features MMO vets take for granted. So, yeah, cross-profession combos, and sidekicking, and a few other features here and there.

  8. Jeromai

    Wow. Typically Zubon to pack so much into a short post. Prior warning, I’m going to meander into two comments because this resonates with a book I’ve been reading recently. Quote below, summarized from various chapters:

    “Wanting better is among the oldest principles of nature… Our expectation system spurs on all the wishes of which humans are capable. We are programmed always to want the best there is. When we have it, we quickly get used to it, but we strive for it nonetheless, and at almost any cost… The goal is not to have positive emotions that endure; all that matters is to trump whatever it is we’ve gotten used to.

    But we all desire novelty. Where there’s no change, there’s boredom, one of the experiences that we tolerate least well of all… people whose curiosity is easily aroused for a certain subject or a particular person readily become curious about almost anything else. [Yet] People’s needs for novelty vary. One person will stay loyal to the same company until she gets her gold watch, while someone else tries her luck elsewhere every few years… A hypothesis currently attracting interest postulates the existence of another dopamine receptor that influences how much stimulation a person needs.

    Wanting and liking are two different matters. Positive feelings come about in two different ways: when we want something, or when we’ve gotten something that gives us pleasure.”

    The Science of Happiness – Stefan Klein

    Also see The Science of Happiness and Mob-Slaying for other interesting excerpts.
    http://doublebuffered.com/2008/02/28/18/

  9. Jeromai

    From my reading, happiness is broken up into two major components. Anticipation (wanting better and wanting more, and wanting newness aka a search for novelty which trumps boredom) is a system linked with dopamine. This is the reward system that is so easily hijacked into addiction. The eternal search for progression and advancement and more and better gear that can sometimes feel pointlessly empty. Aka Wanting.

    (Supposedly, the dopamine system is what drives our lasting memories of good experiences and overall learning though.)

    Enjoyment (the actual sensual experience, flow) is a system run on opioids, such as endorphins and enkephalins which induce a feeling of well-being and dynorphins, whose precise function I’m still foggy on. This is more the positive feelings in the moment sort of thing, the ‘runners high’ that blocks any pain. Aka Liking.

    The two are often linked. But one can want without liking. And one can like without wanting.

    Seth Roberts hit massive variety and novelty when tasting 140 types of sake. Coming back to a few types of sake is bound to be a downer in terms of not having more, and boredom with the old sake, as well as possibly lower quality taste experience from affordable sake = less overall happiness.

    His choice of response was to no longer buy affordable sake because he was already spoiled by knowing there was much better sake out there. But when you do something similar to monkeys, The Science of Happiness says, by offering them apples at first, and then raisins (which they like a lot more than apples), and then going back to apples, their dopamine neuron arousal first sank below its normal resting level – a sign of depression. “After a while though, the raisins were as good as forgotten, and the cells behaved as if there had never been anything other than apples, nor as tasty.”

    People can also modify their choice of response and perspective a lot more than monkeys. He could have chosen to buy the expensive sake less often to treat himself once a month or year or whenever. He could have settled for the not-so-great sake if he just wanted the alchohol buzz more regularly. While sulking and choosing not to have any at all is a valid response, it’s more of a glass half-empty kind of perspective.

    So… single-game players, multiple game players and MMOs.

    It could very well be that single-game players have a lower need for novelty than multiple-game players. That would explain why they stick to one MMO happily. It could also be that they simply haven’t had the opportunity to try other games and discover they like them too, broadening their perspective.

    As for multiple-game players, the choice of response is up to them. Anticipate the ‘perfect’ MMO in amalgam in search of happiness, keep searching for more novelty in search of happiness, or focus on enjoyment of the gameplay itself in search of happiness.

    My personal belief? Why not try all three, hedge your bets and shoot for even more novelty that way. :) I am a terrible novelty seeker when it comes to games though so my personal belief is a tide colored. Plenty of Steam indie games and counting, lots of novelty and new learning, lots of chances for gameplay flow to balance off a decently polished MMO nicely.

  10. Jeromai

    Or maybe in game terms. Anticipation = Wanting = Winning. Enjoyment = Liking = Playing.

  11. bhagpuss

    After five decades on this planet, nearly all my favorite things are roughly the same things that were my favorites the first time I encountered them. Being exposed to numerous iterations rarely affects my preference.

    Consequently I feel assured that, should I ever be in the position to taste 140 Sakes it is highly unlikely that any of them would replace in my affections the Sake that had originally decided me on liking Sake. I would be able to appreciate the objective difference in quality, but it would be unlikely to outweigh the subjective value already accrued.

    Consequently, Everquest will almost certainly always remain my favorite MMO. I will, however, almost certainly continue to enjoy, if to a slightly muted degree, all MMOs which remind me of Everquest.

    I’m not a gamer and I’m proud to be easily pleased.

  12. mbp

    When it comes to games I am a serial monogamist. When a game grabs me I will immerse myself in it to the exclusion of all else. I will trawl forums and fan sites for strategies and war stories just to extend my immersion. This period only lasts for a short while however before boredom sets in. The longest I have ever stuck exclusively with one game is six months and most games only hold my attention for a matter of weeks.

    In single player games my enthusiasm nearly always lasts at least the length of the main campaign so I can move on with some feeling of completion. Multi player games are more problematic because I rarely stick around long enough to achieve anything of significance in the game.

    To get back to your original question – it is a type of question I often ask of myself. “Wouldn’t it be better to sick around to enjoy some high end raiding?” or “Wouldn’t I get more out of multi-player shooters if I stayed with them long enough to learn the maps?” Ultimately the answer always boils down to this: “I am bored of this game already why would I want to keep playing it more?”

    On the plus side I don’t think my gaming promiscuity has turned me into a game snob as you seem to suggest. I am actually very tolerant of faults in games as long as they have enough good stuff somewhere to keep me entertained for a while. If a game has a lot of faults I may tire of it sooner and move on more quickly but I tend to wear rose coloured glasses when looking back and I always remember the good bits.

  13. lumin

    I like this post.

    I often wish that we could go back to the 80s and 90s of video games when we weren’t overloaded with so many options. Back then I remember my Nintendo Power magazines were falling apart because I would read them over and over again, focusing on one or two games that I planned to ask for from my parents for Christmas (sometimes 8 months away).

    Back then, I would purchase maybe 2 video games per year and play them for hundreds of hours. My dad had a rule that I had to beat my game before I could buy a new one. Now, I’m lucky if I can play a game for more than a few days before seeing something that “seems” better.

    Today, we are bombarded with new gimmicks and fads in games that constantly entice us to lose focus on what we are currently playing. In the fast-paced gaming world today, it’s extremely difficult to appreciate a single game because we’re always exposed to the “new, latest and greatest” thing.

    I seriously envy those that need only a single game to make them happy. Most games are really no better than the last, when you think about it, so why do we continue to buy new ones?

  14. The Ogre

    “I’m more saying that if you have never played/studied EVE, you do not know how a game economy (and economic tools) could work”

    Yes. EVE provides a very valuable example on how to *NOT* implement an in-game economy for any game that doesn’t want to remain small and niche.

    1. Zubon Post author

      This is low-grade trolling, not an argument. EVE has subscription numbers and growth that non-WoW MMOs would kill for. And the reasons why people are not playing EVE rarely include “I can’t figure out buy orders.” If you want the softcore version of those tools, compare the CoX consignment house to other games’ auction houses.

      Seriously, with A Tale in the Desert right next to it, you went with EVE as a niche game?

  15. Brise Bonbons

    In my opinion the problem is not – as an example – that WoW does dungeons great but flops on crafting and PvP; it’s that WoW more or less demands the entirety of my gaming time, leaving me with no opportunity to play games which specialize (and excel) at PvP and crafting. Not only could I easily spend all my gaming time on WoW and still be behind the curve, if I avoid the parts of the game that I don’t think are good/fun, it hurts my effectiveness!

    In contrast, being currently MMO-free not only is my time spent more efficiently (and less is wasted on padding), but my experiences are more varied *and* more tailored to my exact tastes: With TF2 I can jump in and just play the sorts of PvP I want – large scale cart-pushing, small scale king of the hill, whatever I feel like – rather than being stuck playing the “daily BG” I hate. Then when I want to make things I can swap over to Minecraft and play a specialized crafting game, rather than just watching a bar fill up on my thirty-fifth dire wolf sausage. Heck, I might even have time after that to play some Din’s Curse or Desktop Dungeons and scratch my dungeon exploring itch.

    I suppose my point is that there is room in the MMO market for smaller, more focused MMOGs that aren’t trying to be an alternate-life/full-immersion experience. I think there would even be a market for a game which focused entirely on being a sandbox-style virtual world, dropping the pretenses (and gameplay-padding) of leveling, combat, and gear grind.

    Dunno, maybe that’s just something I want, and most people just want to check into one theme park and be done with it. :)

  16. TyphoonAndrew

    I’m an almost single game player. I’ve tried eve, ran screaming from DDO and LoTR, and looked enough at Rift, Conan, and Warhammer to know that WoW was a better game for my taste and therefore not worth changing from.

    This was not always the case though. Before I played wow I played a wide range of games, and was always buying new ones. Not because I was keen to experiment, but because I like a narrow band of games and wow is in that band. There is no reason to pay for a new game when the current subscription is doing the job.

    Add to this the investment of time in terms of what has been achieved, and it is hard to argue with wow as a fundamentally good offer.

    But it has its flaws too. Like I said, they do the things I like well, and I tend to stay away from the aspects of wow that I dislike (pvp, pet and mount collecting to name two).

    In terms of getting all the features, I actually think it is better to do less features very well, than do every feature in an average way. A narrow and loyal market segment can be widened, but it is very hard to grow wide when you’re not already doing something to retain customers.

  17. semantic

    The “I’m a WoW player” has nothing to do with game features and everything to do with identifying yourself with a community. Its success is less about keeping people interested in finding the answer to the question “what am I doing now” (although it does a bangup job of that), and more about keeping people asking “OK gang, what are WE doing now”.

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