Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Financial Incentives And WoW Daily Burnout

Recent thought-provoking posts have got me pondering whether MMO's got to the mixed place where they are today because the people making them were not sufficiently careful in what they wished for.  Specifically:
  • Rohan wrote a thought-provoking post over the weekend suggesting that communities are too focused on business models.  As exhibit A, he noted that even the notorious WoW forums largely stick to complaints about the actual game, while non-subscription titles like SWTOR have forums full of threads complaining about the business model.  
  • Psychochild is continuing his discussions about how MMO's are losing their stickiness, why players may be to blame, and how the resulting impact on revenue may also be rendering the genre financially unsustainable.  (Scott Hartsman is also making this case 140 characters at a time on Twitter - someone buy the man a blog?  :)) 
The example that has me thinking is the controversially high number of daily quests in the current WoW expansion.  Many people defended these "optional" daily activities at the expansion's launch, but even the developers are acknowledging in hindsight that the model they created may have contributed to burnout.  How did this "mistake", if it is one, happen?

A sidenote to Rohan's business model thread is that WoW's business model has changed relatively little since its launch over eight years ago, or indeed even since the older MMO's from the decade prior.  The game makes money when people stay subscribed, people cancel their subscriptions when they run out of stuff to do, so clearly the answer to the question is to provide an unending supply of stuff to do.  The reasoning is sound but apparently misdirected. 

As Psychochild notes, the virtual world style MMO's of last decade were a different beast.  These products emphasized long-term goals over short-term fun and community over convenience.  On paper, the daily grind brings people into the game every day and thereby increases their interaction with the community.  In practice, the sheer repetition of the daily grind de-emphasizes community - people burn out and are forced to lean more heavily on strangers to fill out their required daily groups - and instead emphasizes repetitive gameplay that will always struggle to compete with a crowded marketplace including increasingly deep and online-enabled single-player games. 

In short, Blizzard may have gotten exactly what they asked for - people who ground dailies, scenarios, dungeons, LFR, pet battles, etc until they couldn't take anymore.  Worse, because the only financial feedback in their model is to quit the game outright, the only feedback they got was when they started losing subscribers by the millions.  Under a non-subscription model they might have gotten the message that people were getting tired of dailies before people were irreparably burned out - or at least made more money off of the players in question before they left. 

Funny how our spending habits may mirror our response to in-game incentives - it's much easier to get what you ask for than what you actually want. 


Anonymous said...

With WoW, I'm going to argue that a lot of the people who are complaining about daily-led burnout would have burned out of this expansion by now anyway.

There has to be a point where you ask "OK, what exactly type of PvE endgame activities do you want that won't lead to burnout over a multi-month period, or break guilds up, or whatever?" And I'm not sure anyone has much of an answer to that. Even if we take a sticky game like Minecraft, porting that into an MMO wouldn't work because how many people play Minecraft for more than 6 months solid?

Psychochild said...

To be fair, I am trying to look at this from what developers can do. If you think of MMOs as waltzes, both developers and the audience are dancing, but it's up to the developers to take lead.

I think you're right in that developers are not spending much time really considering the consequences of design choices. This is part of what is motivating the last few posts I've made, an attempt to really look deeper into player motivations and what keeps them interested in a game.

I'll politely disagree with Spinks, in that I don't think burnout is necessarily unavoidable. I think a lot of game design decisions means that games tend toward burnout. In particular, I think there's been a shift in focus on fun rather than satisfaction, to put it in terms of my latest post.

I think that developers need to look more at what gives players satisfaction and how that can keep them from just burning out. But, I think satisfaction is much harder to design for. And, I'm not sure that the existing audience had much patience for it, especially given the hyperfocus on short-term "fun" that has driven WoW in recent years.