I deftly evaded the siren song of the Dark Side (for now, even with Grandma Christmas Cash burning a hole in my pocket), and decided to reinstall Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO). Me and the Tolkien MMO go pretty far back, and except for Guild Wars, it ranks as the number one MMO for time played in my book. It is number one if you don’t think Guild Wars is a “true” MMO. Anyway, I have been taking a long sabbatical from the game since the Mirkwood expansion and the Free-2-Play (F2P) switch. It was not the game’s fault by any means. The Mirkwood expansion was excellent, and as I was a lifetime subscriber to LOTRO anyway, the switch really didn’t affect me. I just seemed to have wandered off somewhere near the beginning of Volume 3, Book 2 as the Grey Company headed south.
My return was horrible to be frank. When I logged back in I was beset on all sides by system mailings, announcements of new achievements I had somehow started, resets to all my legendary weapons, and a new trait / stat regime. It was bad enough that I was in the middle of a book, with tons of other quests already started, in the beginning of a region I didn’t remember while staring at a virtual cockpit of skills. Like a strange, albino gangle creature emerging into sunlight, I just blindly stumbled around for awhile until I found something to kill. It took me way too long to kill the enemy (as I, in the madness of things, had forgotten to up my legendary weapon’s DPS because it had been reset), and frustrated I logged off.
All I wanted was to start playing. Was that so much to ask? I didn’t want to think about all the chores I had to do. I would get to that. There was no easing back in to things. It was a sheer cliff wall of activation energy facing me.
Thankfully my current guild leader, a close friend in real life, offered to “fix” all my traits, legendary items, etc. so that I could get to bashing things quick. He was more than familiar with the captain class, and he offered me a drop or two of advice. Then it was done. It felt like he had swept away all the bad energy and gotten me quickly back into playing. It was nice. I had a great time in northern Enedwaith after that. I am looking forward to the many adventures to come.
This problem of getting fun-destroying information overload when finally returning to a game seems endemic to MMOs. With a subscription-based MMO at least the player has the monetary resolve of pushing back through the learning curve (with new twists) since the fee has already been paid. The same goes for expansions of any MMO and the energy that surrounds them. In a straight-up flat-fee or F2P MMO there is less motivational energy coming from the wallet. The motivation comes from community and fun. Given that I had been long-time-gone from the community, all to be gained at the moment of re-entry was fun. I had no fun until glorious guild leader “fixed” the wrongs.
I would love to have access to some heuristics and see what the statistics are on re-entry burnout. I know I have experienced re-entry burnout plenty, but usually it is because I become awash in all the negative things that made me leave in the first place. LOTRO and Rift both had this burnout, and Rift even had the wallet energy going for it. Feeling the grind upon re-entry speaks pretty bad for the MMO. It takes longer for those wounds to heal. This is honestly the first time I nearly burned out from information overflow destroying fun, and it makes me wonder how common it is. Perhaps most of the developers bank on returns occurring around moments they control, and I was merely a statistical flier.
The crux of this is the standing question how much time is expected to be used doing non-fun things upon re-entry in order to do fun things. Is it a give in for our MMO genre that work is simply part of how things go. Players “work” to get “fun” and this is no different. Thoughts and condolences are welcome.