The extraordinary rise of the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) during the early 2000s was an exciting time in gaming. Being able to adventure and interact with players in a self-contained gaming world is an exhilarating experience that unifies players from all corners of the globe in the quest to slay epic dragons and claim their legendary loot. However, gamers who are well versed in MMOs know far too well that the personal price to deck out their avatars with all the gear, weapons, skills and in-game currency can leave them debilitated and eager to leave the world behind.
Since the core structure of an MMO remains relatively the same, recently released games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic or DC: Universe Online have fallen victim to the same successes and pitfalls. There is generally a surge of purchasers and subscribers on the first day when a new and polished MMO comes out. However, the initial appeal wears off once the cycle of killing and collecting becomes too arduous.
While the gameplay mechanic is a large issue, resulting in the burnout of a player base, there is also the problem of content creation and content available. World of Warcraft (WoW) had an issue with this when they first released their expansion Wrath of the Lich King. The expansion injected new life into Warcraft and set record sales with 2.8 million copies on its opening day. Even though it did have many quests and new zones to explore there was a glaring issue for players once they hit the level cap of 80. There was only one significant dungeon available for players to conquer for several months. This limited amount of “endgame” content left millions of players with no dungeons to crawl or loot to fantasize about. Inevitably, the game devolved into the repetitive questing, leveling up and killing of the same monsters that players knew all too well.
The greatest strength of an MMO lies in the interconnectivity between the game developers and player base. MMOs are continually evolving and getting better as time passes due to the symbiotic nature between the two. In order to gain revenue and keep gamers paying subscriptions, changes or additions to the game are dictated, wholly or partially, by the people. The creators must acknowledge this and cater to it since it is their livelihood that is at stake. That said there are ways to tackle some of the issues that currently plague the genre.
The prevalence of having players pay a monthly subscription has to go the way of the dinosaurs. Games not named World of Warcraft take severe hits when it comes to the notion of having to pay for a game that has nothing to extend the experience. Once all of the content is consumed or repetition has taken its toll, players tend to leave in droves. The free to play or Freemium model, which allows people to pay just for what they want and not more, is a refreshing approach since it has injected new life into games like Age of Conan, DC: Universe Online, Champions Online and many others that had their subscriber base diminish after release. By allowing gamers to flood their intricately crafted worlds without an initial or steep payment investment, it created a huge pool of gamers that pumped life and money back into their worlds. Purchasing in-game comforts such as extra character slots, bag space, hats (Team Fortress FTW) and cosmetic items is a viable option for gamers. Guild Wars 2 is a blockbuster game that uses this model and currently thrives in doing so.
MMO content cycles have quite a bit of downtime from one to the next and larger patches do not necessarily justify the wait. Managing new content is not an easy task by any means. However, if developers were to alter tactically their cycle and amount of releases, they would have much to gain. By creating smaller yet meaningful content monthly or bi-monthly, gamers would always be engaged with something to look forward to.
Staying afloat in the world of online role-playing games is a challenging venture for any company to undertake. The initial adoption and first impressions of an MMO are pivotal for success. Creating an easier access point by establishing a free to play environment brings in potential revenue and lets the gamers enjoy the fruits and labors of those who work so hard to create them. By riding that wave of success and incorporate more frequent content patches, companies can keep a gamer happy and satisfied. Nothing signifies happiness more than whipping out that sparkly new two-handed sword and putting it through its paces on the nearest lowly wild boar.