Are MMORPG makers screwing the pooch?

I think the gaming companies that are putting out Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are really making a mistake. They’re doing very well at generating lots of revenue with the current generations of games, but they’re getting all of this profit now at the expense of losing a lot more profit later.

MMORPGs are designed from the ground up to be addictive. They make the majority of their money through monthly fees, so the whole goal of the game is to get the player paying month after month and never to stop. To do that, the game must be addictive, and it must have a progress treadmill with a peak that the vast majority of players (over 99%) will never be able to attain. Let’s use World of Warcraft as an example, because that’s the last MMORPG that I played. Gaining your first level literally takes about ten minutes. But by the time you get near the level cap (which was 60 when I was playing but is 70 now), it takes many, many hours, possibly even days, to gain a single level. It’s diminishing returns to the nth degree. And once you hit the level cap, you’re simply transferred over onto a different treadmill. Now you aren’t gaining levels, you’re gaining rare items and PVP ranks, and that takes even longer. Gaining PVP ranks takes days of fighting other players, while getting the rare items requires involvement in massive, dozen-player raids, in which it often happens that someone plays for days and doesn’t even get a single rare item.

So World of Warcraft, and more recent MMORPGs like Lord of the Rings Online, are very good at keeping their subscribers by keeping their subscribers addicted. I must admit, it was very difficult for me to stop playing World of Warcraft. The only reason I quit was because I have a very low threshold of boredom in games, and the long, slow endgame treadmill just wasn’t fun for me. But millions of Blizzard’s subscribers don’t share that same safety net as it were. They’re still playing the game, and many are playing for far too many hours per day than is healthy. Many realize it, but they just can’t drag themselves away.

At least MMORPGs don’t stick around forever. Sure, they don’t really ever seem to die completely (even the original EverQuest is still running), but they do fade away. World of Warcraft is already two years old. If you look at the engine, it shows. There are many fundamental aspects of a large application that simply cannot be changed, and eventually, nearly all of the people who currently play Warcraft will cease playing it as it slips into obsolescence. And here is where I think the MMORPG makers are screwing up: once players reach end of life on the old generation, they’re not going to allow themselves to upgrade to the latest generation of the drug.

What former Warcraft-addict, who only manages to quit by virtue of the game’s community shrinking and unraveling, is going to go play the newest, even more addictive MMORPG? It doesn’t make sense to me. I know I have an addictive personality regarding these kinds of games. Which is why, after I kicked the Warcraft habit, I’m never allowing myself to get caught up in another MMORPG ever again. I know I would enjoy Lord of the Rings Online a lot, but because of my experience with Warcraft, I’m not letting myself play it. And I think a lot of other gamers will find themselves in the same situation. Warcraft will die in time, as do all games, and I think a lot of players will realize what a bad experience that was for them, and they simply won’t play any newer MMORPGs.

Think of an alcoholic recovering from an addiction to drinking a pint of Jack Daniels every night. Is he going to go right out and start gulping down merlots? Hopefully not, if he knows what’s good for him. No, if he has any sense, he’ll refrain, cold turkey-style, from all alcohol. Alcoholics just can’t handle drinking in moderation; it inevitably ends up going overboard, so the only solution is to abstain entirely. It’s the same thing with MMORPGs. People who realize what is good for them will never play MMORPGs again once they break free from Warcraft.

And that is how the MMORPG developers and publishers are shooting themselves in the feet. By concentrating so much on milking the maximum amount of money out of this generation of MMORPGs by making ridiculously addictive games, they’re turning gamers away from the genre, for life. World of Warcraft is now synonymous with loser nerds who never get out of their houses and take the game more seriously than real life. Its image is ruined. It’s tarnishing the rest of the genre, and rightfully so, because all of the other games in the genre are made with the same goals in mind and have the same effects. It’s a shame too. MMORPGs really are something special, but the whole genre is dead to me and many others now, for good.

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