I’m in an interesting position right now in my MMO gaming in that I’m playing two at the moment, one as an old, grizzled veteran and one as a bright, naive newbie. Essentially, I’m in two different stages in these games, which got me thinking about how different our viewpoints are depending on which stage we currently happen to live in. At first, I thought that perhaps these “stages of MMO gameplay” might equate to the stages of grief, but after further reflection decided that that was a rather poor comparison, as those stages are all leading up to the acceptance of the reality of an event while these stages represent your particular feelings toward an MMO depending on a variety of factors, which may in fact never be completely represantative of reality. Experiencing these stages is a personal thing, and while we all experience them to some extent, the intensity of, and length of time in each stage can vary greatly.
These stages remind me a bit about the hype cycle developed by Gartner as a way to explain the life cycle of a particular technology.
In the Gartner cycle, a technology goes through a certain amount of hype and disillusionment on it’s way to eventual usefulness. In the MMO Player lifecycle, we experience a series of highs and lows until we reach the point of either apathy or contentment. Much like the Gartner cycle, we don’t all go through all of these phases, and some spend more time in certain phases.
In my “stages of MMO gameplay”, the first phase is hype. This phase actually occurs prior to game launch and can be missed entirely by a late adopter, but is generally present for nearly all early adopters. Hype is purposefully orchestrated by marketing firms and departments in order to get the word out about a pending game launch and to sell as many copies as possible either ahead of time or around launch. Hype can last as long as several years, but generally picks up a few months prior to launch. From the player’s perspective, hype is that phase where content consumption increases. News, posts, podcasts (it always struck me as odd how many podcasts launch, and sometimes even fade, prior to the subject matter being available), Alpha/Beta videos, application for beta access, and crowdfunding campaigns all occur during this phase. Currently hype is somewhat in flux due to the propensity to “sell” unfinished games. Hype works best when players have not seen the product and are free to speculate and build the product up in their own minds.
Admittedly, this is probably the phase that I’m in for Guild Wars 2. Everything is new and exciting, From the game systems to the development team, this MMO can do no wrong. The online world is your oyster, yours to explore and learn. You notice all of the little niceties that you wouldn’t have thought to expect. You tell your friends about the game because you’ve discovered something unique and worth sharing. You think about the game when you should be doing other things, and it can sometimes interfere with those things. There are some downsides to this phase. Since you don’t know very much about the game yet, you’re also in the ‘newbie’ phase, but usually your love for the game itself allows you to shrug off such labels. Oh, if you could only stay in this stage forever.
This is the period when you start to notice little things that could be improved within the game. A system tweak here, an icon there, a UI improvement over here. Generally speaking, you trust others to dictate game direction, be they more experienced members of the forums, a player council, or the game studio itself. This is because you enjoy the game quite a bit and they’ve done a great job to this point! You may make a few suggestions in game communities, but the moaning and complaining of the more seasoned members is sometimes off-putting. You wonder why they still play the game at all, considering the amount of complaints they log.
Larger Overall game concerns
During this stage, you’re starting to see areas of the game that could use some big improvements. Major systems that don’t work well together, balance issues, inconsistencies. You’ve been playing long enough now that you’ve seen some curious decisions made, and some of your favorite developers released from their jobs. Some of the things that you loved during the honeymoon and petty grievances phase have been changed, the excuses for which seemed a bit flimsy to you. You know most of the game inside and out. You get more heavily involved in the community, partially because you’re more well known anyway and partially because you’d like to help provide feedback that gets incorporated into the game. You may be a content contributor, a blogger, a beta tester or even a player council member by this point. You’re still playing a lot but the honeymoon phase is a distant memory.
Panic over direction of game
You saw it coming a mile away. That change in the latest update, the one that you warned everybody about (multiple times) has fundamentally changed the game you once loved. Guild members have stopped logging in. Your own constructive forum posts have taken an alarmingly negative turn. Newbies are replying to your forum posts, asking you why you still play the game if you hate it so much. What do they know? They haven’t seen what you’ve seen. They weren’t around during the good old days, when the game was better. Before they stopped listening. Everybody you know is moving on to other games, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The studio has announced an update, but you could care less. They’ll probably just screw it up, anyway. All of the best devs were let go by the 3rd or 4th round of layoffs, and these new “systems” being developed are little more than window dressing for an aging game. You’re logging in less and less and have discontinued your community involvement in order to preserve your sanity, or because you’ve already said your peace, or because you’re sick of being called out for your negativity. Perhaps you posted a scathing “I Quit” message, or just quietly faded away. You dip your toes into several other MMO’s, hoping for a return to the honeymoon phase. If you’re lucky, one may stick and you can start the phases all over again. If not,
It’s been a while now since you put down the game. You heard a soundtrack or saw a tweet or spoke to an old guildmate which brought a wave of nostalgia rushing back. Perhaps you’ll log in again, just for a little bit, to see if any of the old guildies are still around. Maybe you’ll ride back to your starter area and listen to the music, or watch the newbies practicing their skills. Maybe a less impassioned, more measured approach will allow you to enjoy your old game again. Maybe.