About a decade into the MMO genre, we have started seriously discussing MMO tourism and have settled on the idiom of a “three-monther,” which implies how long you will stick with that game. Of course, as in most online game blogging, Jessica Mulligan wrote about it years ago in Biting the Hand: the four-month point was where games either died or took off. I am wondering about Sturgeon’s Revelation: a game you can happily play for years is an outlier, and most games you play for a few months then move on.
My college gamer friends almost perfectly followed that pattern. Single-player games you typically played through once and put away, and multiplayer games lasted almost exactly three months. An expansion pack could buy you another three months, so there were two three-month stretches for the original StarCraft. Asheron’s Call? Three months. Several Age of Empires games? Three months each. I think one of the Monster Rancher games was stretched to three months as people experimented with builds, strategies, and CDs that yielded special monsters. Our group skewed RTS, but I think that speaks to the consistency of the time frame.
The longest lasting game was Settlers of Catan. That never gets old, even with multiple games per night: extreme outlier. We played some pen and paper games. How often did we shake up campaigns or change game masters? Every three months or so.
The structure of American academic life lends itself towards that, and the large number of student gamers contributes to trends. Semesters last about four months, so you have a couple weeks to settle in, your group plays, and then you have a large break for exams and vacation. It is a natural stopping point; your momentum is spent, so switching to something new is easier. If you are not a student, you might be a parent to students, and their schedules affect yours. If neither, there is probably still some seasonal variability to your life, peaks of business or of outdoor activity. Our planet is conducive to three-monthers.