Monday, September 6

What's your MMO life expectancy?

No I don't mean whether you expect to be playing MMO's into your dotage or if you think you'll be able to achieve the Survivor title in Guild Wars 2.

I'm thinking about churn, and how it has changed, sped up over the years.
When I look back about five to six years ago I would be playing a single MMO for six to ten month straight.
I think it's safe to say that this has been roughly halfed since then. Most MMO's I've tried since have lasted three months (including the first 'free' month). Another thing I've noticed is a higher rate of coming back to MMO's.

Not counting crap like Archlord and RFO of which I didn't make it through the:
  • Guild Wars: 10 months actively playing, several revisits of days/weeks.
  • EverQuest II: 6 months active then moved to Vanguard, 4 revisits of one month each.
  • Vanguard: 9 months, two revisits of a month each.
  • Lineage II: 4 months, two revisits of a month each.
  • Anarchy Online* 3 months, 3 revisits of one month each.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online: 2 months, 2 revisits of a month each.
  • Lord of the Rings Online: 2.5 Months, one revisit.
  • Eve Online: 1 Month, 1 revisit.
  • City of X-es: 3 months initially, several revisits, one of which lasted 4 months
  • Tabula Rasa: 2 months
  • Warhammer Online: 2 Months (and half a year in Closed Beta which was more fun)
  • Age of Conan: 6 months, then two retries of one month each.
  • Aion: One month (barely)
  • Fallen Earth: 4 months of wich 2 months active, one month semi-active, one month inactive.
  • Second Life: Intermittent visiting for over a year.
I probably missed a title and there's several F2P MMO's like RoM, Allods and Free Realms I gave a shot but those universally failed to keep me interested. There's various reasons for the different times I spent in game. Sometimes I liked the game but didn't connect with the community at all (DDO, FE) sometimes the feeling of grind started within the first month (Aion, Tabula Rasa) or sometimes other stuff got in the way. So don't take the length in-game as an indication of how well I liked the game.

What I'm getting at is that I see a shifting trend from playing an MMO for six to ten months in 2004-2006 to playing three months or so after launch then revisiting occasionally since. Actually I revisited the 'classics' as well, so maybe that's not important. If an MMO I'm interested in were to launch October first, I expect to be cancelling my subscription around New Year's Eve as a result. While working at Spellborn I learned that the average churn at the time was six month. This was 2006 and that seems to match my MMO playing habits at the time.

Now my questions for you are:
  • Do you sense a similar trend in your playing habits / those of people in general?
  • Why do you think that is?
  • Do you think MMO deisgners are adequately anticipating this trend or causing it (inadvertently?)
* not counting the $5 a month year long subscription I'd forgotten to cancel


  1. Of course I have my own ideas about this but my own play patterns over the last decade are coloured by two periods of unemployment during which I had nothing better to do than play MMO's and I'm more interested in your thoughts right now than my own. Especially from our Beta Whore and the one who's been (knowingly) subscribed to a single MMO for about four(five?) years now. A viewpoint from the moderates would be interesting too.
    And for once I think I'll find it easier to postulate my views in a response format than a Wall of Text *glances up*

  2. Do you sense a similar trend in your playing habits / those of people in general?


    Why do you think that is?

    You have to wade through the ocean of crap in order to find a gem worth spending your time on. Sometimes, the crap isn't as immediately apparent.

    Do you think MMO deisgners are adequately anticipating this trend or causing it (inadvertently?)

    I think they're probably the cause of it, but in order for them to stop causing it, they'd have to stop making MMOs altogether. It's like single player games. You take the ones that seem like they'll interest you and more often than not lately, it seems you'll get one that wasn't what you were expecting.

  3. Maybe crap is too strong a term. Of the games that seem appealing, once they're tried, they turn out to be not so appealing.

  4. Hey Fractured. Thanks for your contribution. I'd like to wait for at least one more individual's response *looks meaningfully at the Beta Whore (who isn't in the middle of moving house like our resident Old Skool fan)* before I dig in with my own thoughts and reactions :-)

  5. Ok I'll bite, albeit briefly.

    Back in 2005 we had a far more restricted choice than we do today, you found the one MMO out of the 5 or 6 that suited you best and stuck with it, the last few years has not only seen a big rise in subscription models we've also been innundated with a mass of translated F2P titles. The genre has become much more disposable. It's easier to think that game X has X mechanics we enjoy while game Y has Y mechanics we enjoy, so we can flit between the two, neither grabbing our attention fully. The MMO population is also split more widely making communities less likely to stick with each other through migrations to other games.

    BP is also right about the amount of crap, that makes us jaded too, we aren't the excited newbies we all once were.

    I played GW solidly for 3 years, I spent another year dipping in and out and curently only log in to visit events and get a guild fix :)

    AoC I played for two months at launch, rage quit, returned a few months later and had a lovely year of full time play. I don't play AoC at all now.

    There are far too many other titles that I've spent around a month playing, far too many to mention but I will mention Atlantica Online as being the only F2P title that kept me playing for a few months and still resides on my machine.

    You can't ever capture that feeling from your first MMO so, even though GW2 looks great, I doubt I will play as religously or with as much zeal, I could surprise myself.

    Over exposure has made me feel much more 'throw away' about MMORPGS, the popularity of gamers forums has also had its impact I'm sure, less about community and more about ego and which game will kill that big elephant in a small increasingly over crowded room.

  6. The house moving person here! Although I am not moving yet. I got the keys, woohoo! But I am off in India, and was too busy or tired to respond earlier.

    I think you brought up a great topic. I definitely have noticed I am not as hooked on my MMO as much anymore as I used to. I think it has mostly to do with the community. But it doesn't fully explain it. The gameamp days really fueled my MMO joys. The ability to talk about your adventures definitely made me want to hang around longer.

    But either me, the games or players visiting forums have changed to make it uninteresting for me. Fallen Earth actually had a nice forum. But after a while my relax game play made me the ancient noob on a forum ruled by achievers that knew all the efficiency answers.

    In all MMOs the end of play comes when I wonder why I am there. What am I playing for? It is never about reaching top level. So it is more about stepping into a different world. Living a virtual dream.

    In City of Heroes I can still do that. Because game and players allow me that make believe. During my revisits of old games (Anarchy, Vanguard, AOC, Fallen Earth) that feeling almost instantly hit me. What I am there for? The world moved on, and I don't belong anymore. So I quickly leave.

    I have been thinking lately if any MMO could still grab me. Maybe the make believe bubble the MMO world should create for me doesn't work anymore. Maybe I am just too jaded to run around killing those 10 rats, or even those more elaborate quests. It is still about progress, keeping up with friends, xp, money, moving from A to B. So as long as the genre sticks there I will be done fast.

    Personal life has something to do with it too. I am quite busy lately. Leaving less time for gaming, which makes it also harder to get into an MMO where other players move on way faster and leaving you feel left behind.

    In general people are less patient with games. The large number of games does make people jump from game to game quicker. But that shouldn't really effect since I don't really play with those players.

    MMO designers are not directly impacting the shorter life span. It is a larger cultural thing. The MMO designers are standing still. The next generation players have a lower attention span as won't enjoy what we went through 5 years back. Those that do have that attention span already did so, and won't do it again. Or they didn't play and will mostly likely never an MMO as we knew them.

    A bit of a here and there write-up. But I am getting hungry now. Maybe I'll elaborate more later.

  7. Did some more thinking on this. The shorter life expectancy is a fact. Everything suffers from this. Whether it is a problem or not is kind of irrelevant. Society, which include me (and the rest of you too, I guess *grin*), just doesn't want to hang out in a game for too long.

    So game designers should use that to their benefit. MMO's can't count on thousands of players to stick around for years anymore. So don't try to make a game for that. Make a game that has a great short term social interaction. We should al be able to jump in, find friends, or make friends, almost instantly, and allow everybody to play/team/fight with each other throughout the short lifespan.

    I think the way they have done it in WOW now with the dungeon finder is not the way to do it, since there is just no community at all anymore. League of Legends kinds shows communities can thrive although that is no MMO.

    The game designers and the marketing folks should figure out how to make something that will keep people excited for a month or two, maybe three. And make it in such a way players will come back again in half a year for second serving, and third, and fourth.

    In most MMOs you are lost and of sync with the place upon return. That needs to be changed. One thing I think is needed is a much more powerful character creation process that allows you to create a completely new character/personality.

    Also much faster turn around on areas and quests. And that is hard of course. Nobody has the time to create entire new landscapes. And if they keep it simple it will just be changing corridors. But he, I just play games. They will have to figure out what will stick.

  8. First of all,
    my apologies for my late pickup on this topic.
    I wish I could claim busyness as an excuse.

    I think we all see most of the reasons:

    The berth of choice is wider these days, so where you'd stick with an MMO through slumps in the past you're quicker to jump ship these days.
    This berth of choice is ofcourse a problem in itself a problem as the nr of quality MMO's hasn't increased that much. There's a lot of pulp that you try for a month but know from the first time you launch it that it's not going to last.

    Aging/Life: We're all growing older each day and our lives change, generally making for fewer hours available. It's going to be interesting to see what happens when our generation hits retirement age (if we're allowed to retire by that time of course).
    Due to time constraints even the more hardcore or old skool players amongst us are forced into a more casual playstyle while at the same time MMO's are geared to a younger audience with more time and disposable money.
    This also affects the social aspect of our gaming. Staying in a game through a slump because of the friends you made is something we're less inclined to do as well.

    I'm not too convinced about Geek's 'popped that cherry' argument. While I generally agree with him on that you can't get that feel back of your first MMO, I recall a similar investment in Vanguard as I had in Guild Wars. Of course, in both cases I was unemployed for most of the duration so that may skew my point of view.
    I had both more time and less disposable income during those times :-)

    So how are Developers playing in to all this? Well first of all I think we moved past the year when MMO's launched that had WOW hit the scene during their development stage and didn't have time to adjust their design to it. The year of MMO's launched that did try to adjust their system because of WOW, the year of MMO's funded in the wake of WOW's success and finally the year(s) of MMO's that tried to add soemthing new again.
    Ever since WOW launched, it's naturally been a major impact on the scene. This brought in a lot of money, in the form of investors. A lot of that came from Hollywood. Soon after WOW the sharks entered the MMO water. Is it really any wonder that the last year and a half has seen several block buster MMO's? By that I mean MMO"s that peak much like a summer action-movie and are all but forgotten three months after when the next one hits.
    THe question in my mind is, were these really meant to succeed or are they throwaway games intended to be cash cows for a month or two frim the very beginning? I don't think the MMO market is the right market for that kind of game, but these are the same people who get those shoddy movie IP games published a week after the movie hits the theatres. I do hope I'm either wrong about this or that the trend doesn't continue due to high risk factors.
    Luckily most of these sharks jumped onto the Social gaming bandwagon, which sadly has had the effect of otherwise good development houses aiming thier arrows in that direction as well as some houses trying to facebookify their next or current MMO (Yes, looking at you Activision/Blizzard).

  9. Phe also mentions a worry about MMO's still being able to capture you now. MMO's tend to be more gamey and more cookie cutter these days. Without wanting to go down the road of ten-mile-through-snow vs Exclamation-maks-above-heads here, I do think the Win On Rails method of most MMO's these days makes it harder to dispense disbelieve and get caught up in the World of the game. This adversely affects the longevity of said World in my mind and heart.
    There's another aspect I think, and it may be that GW2 or SW:TOR will provide that. I think we're waiting for the next level. Dare I use the word Third generation MMO here? I mean every game and their dog has been tauting to hail in the next generation of MMO gaming ever since WOW lauded in the second generation. But really what we've seen is a maturing and perfecting of the current model. Those of us who've been around for the birth of that 2nd generation, or even partook of the first are ready for the next level. While the Wolfhead's of the world yearn back to the Romance of that first generation (while at the same time not renewing their EQ-1 or UO accounts) I think a large nr of MMO gamers are getting a little tired of the 2nd gen stuff.
    GW2 and SW:TOR are both trying to reach that enxt level. Of the two I currently have more hope for GW2. Not that I think SW:TOR will not be an awesome game, but I think it's sitting a bit askew on the MMO side of MMORPG. Mythic is going to do a Neverwinter game and specifically stating that while it'll be online and multiplayer it won't be an MMO. SW:TOR is more or less the same breed I think.
    The other reason I have more hopes for GW2 is that ArenaNet's boss is NCSoft as opposed to Bioware's boss Electronic Arts. NC hasn't jumped on the social gaming bandwagon in the same manner Amercian publishers have. Oh, if you dig around I'm sure you'll find a Korean equivalent of Farmville with the NC logo on it. But there seems to be no requirement to Facbookify GW2 yet. Electronic Arts on the other hands has had a clear presence in the last few Bioware games, especially in the way they make money an while SW:TOR will probably be the less social game (internally) I wouldn't be one bit surprised if it will have an interface with social networks.

    Darn, that's what you get when you come back to a topic late, you mix in other thoughts you're having. Hope you guys don't mind too much :-)

  10. Tangential thought: If the life expectancy is shortening like this, it's in the devs' best interest to front-load their earnings. It really is a surprise to me that more MMO devs haven't tried the Guild Wars business model.

  11. Hey Tesh, very good point.

    I remember from my time with Spellborn NV a mostly incredulous scoffing at Guild Wars' business model. The general impression was that ArenaNet would die within a year or would be on Life Support from Mother NC Soft. Mind you, this was far from the most professional outfit and one that walked away from their own NC Soft deal.

    I think the mistake most outfits make is looking at the GW model as missed revenue from a lack of subscriptions. As Geek kindly pointed out in another thread, GW has sold over 6 Milion units to date. Not all of those were for the full price, but even if we round it down to 5 million boxes at 30 dollars for ArenaNet, the revenue's very comparable to a 300K subscription game running for 3 years. That's nothing to snear at and we know Arenanet has been succesfully suplementing their income with extra character slots, vanity outfits e.t.c.

    I'm also thinking that a GW model, with a preset lifecycle of say 3 years would be great for something I've long dreamed of. progressional MMO's. You bring out a game, with an expansion every 6 months. These expansions forward time as well. Meaning, each expansion is en episode leading up to a climatic event. It's repeatable gameplay for six months, then the new chapter plays out after the climatic event. (think of the searing of Ascalon for an existing example). Using instancing technology you allow people to play the chapters at their own pace. After three years, the story's done and you put the game in maintenance (die out) mode, while setting up a new game. Don't throw the original game away though. In six years from now there's a new generation and if you slap a new engine on the same story arc / game play you can rehash it at full price with half the cost. Heck, how many people would pay full price for a slightly tweaked original KoToR or even Baldur's Gate series with current day engine? Those game platforms don't lend themselves for an upgrade, but my dream platform is :-)