Reason to Return

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

12 thoughts on “Reason to Return”

  1. I agree. My only problem (surprise surprise) is that I don’t like running into those “group or die” walls. Why? Many reasons, most stemming from Nisse’s cavern in DAoC, but others that come from elsewhere. For instance, I’d love to read where the story goes, but oh crap, where’d my team go? See, I’m a big dumb gorilla, and I read slow. Then there’s the whole, “why aren’t you playing your class the way you’re supposed to?” Man that one sucks. Talk about a low blow, here I am thinking I’m amazing, then some twelve year old wrecks everything I’ve got going for me.

    But anyways, yeah, LotRO has a great story and WoW sucks, I agree.

  2. I think the Asheron’s Call updates do it one better: they are/were more frequent and kept many people from unsubscribing in the first place. If you are getting a free content update every month or two, hey, stick around.

    Turbine and Paragon Studios (City of Heroes) have both been extending the time between patches, which I expect to create bigger peaks and troughs. As an increasingly occasional player of City of Heroes, that means that I come back less often, perhaps once or twice per year.

  3. One thing you do find with the storylines is that if you’ve had to miss a previous part, it’ll affect how attached you are to the whole thing. (This is one of the reasons that I think it’s very smart of them to make the earlier epic quests soloable.)

    It’s like with a TV series, you might really like it and watch every week then something comes up iRL and you have to skip a few weeks … what can they do to persuade you to get back into the swing of it?

  4. @bonedead: Turbine is working to add solo options to those “group or die” quests, specifically the epic book quests, so you may finish the story with group or without.

  5. btw, I have to note: when Blizzard pull out all the story stops, they knock Turbine into a cocked hat. They just do it so very very inconsistenly that you can’t rely on it. I love WoW but it does drive me so very nuts sometimes :)

  6. I usually leave MMORPGs because I simply grow bored of them – bored of the gameplay, bored of the world, whatever. Why I return is more interesting. I usually return because an expansion brings in enough new content to excite me again and allows me to get kickstarted back into the game. Of course small changes can help me too and the best example of that is 3.1 Patch for WoW in where they introduced dual specs – it’s essentially let me play my characters in a new way.

  7. I do sometimes get lured back to old MMOs by content updates. CoH most recently, was very interested to see how player generated content would pan out. Also, EQ II when they added Kunark and the ability to play an evil pixie. I will likely sub to WoW for a month just to get my old dwarf his epic mountain goat when the next patch goes live (why in god’s name I care about what mounts my toons have in a game that bores the crap out of me I could not tell you . . .).

    However usually it’s because I’m curious about a game I used to enjoy. I like to stick my head into old games like EQ or DAoC every couple of years and see how they are getting on. Been meaning to stick my head into the modern SWG for quite some time as well, but haven’t gotten around to it. My usual pattern is to run around as my old characters for a while, mess with any systems that have changed or been added, and then remember why I burned out and quit before I get charged for my second month.

  8. I’m weird (ha ha, how’s that news). I don’t think I’ve ever returned for a feature, or a set of features. I usually, I’d say 80% of the times, I return because I’m bored.

    Of the remaining 20%, I did return to Burning Crusade only because I was interested in seeing the zones (and I returned like shy of a year after Burning Crusade went live even!). I did stay for Northrend because my main character had been running really interesting RP arcs from a long time back that tied a few things to Northrend, so there was that.

    I returned to Guild Wars because I had -some- free time. There were no new features that called me back because, well, there were not really any new features period after EotN other than the recent Zaishen challenges (and we’re not getting into this again, Rav :) ).

    Very, very, very rarely I’m called back by features or special offers. There are games to which I won’t ever return no matter how many features they pile (two come to mind, CoX and LOTRO), and there are games which simply by offering new areas for me to look I’ll be right there (ex: WoW and GW).

  9. The other great thing about LotRO’s Epic quest chain is that you don’t have to do it all in order. For example, you do have to do the first six Books of Volume 2 (Moria) in order, but if you haven’t finished them you can skip ahead to Book 7 (Lorien) if you want. This is particularly helpful if you can’t find good groups for the harder parts of the first six Books.

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