“It’s more fun to be around people doing a somewhat fun activity than it is for me to be alone playing great content.”
And that just about sums up MMO player economics. No matter how spectacularly designed a city, area, or entire MMO is… no one will want to play it alone. The plethora of cries for “solo” content says more about people wanting to play alone in the general vicinity other people, rather than truly alone. All other features aside, the ultimate deciding factor in long-term success is both the strength and size of the community which supports it.
MMOs currently have the lowest barrier to entry of all time. The overwhelming majority are free-to-play without even a box price. Plenty of them are browser-based, so they don’t even require a major client installation. City of Steam doesn’t even require an account, letting you log in with just your Facebook account. The barrier to entry is basically ground level.
The barrier to commitment, however, is much higher. Consider a free-to-play title. Even though you can try out the world, and essentially start the game without the slightest obstacle, think about the time commitment it would take to “get to the real game” starting from scratch. When most MMOs were subscription-based, once you payed for it, you had essentially committed fully. Since the switch, the expression of commitment is rather vague.
Now that money is no longer an issue, I find that MMO players today have to carefully budget their time between the myriad of massive titles. Even if a new game is totally free, people may still not pick it up simply because there’s no more time for it. You may try out the first few levels, but do you really want to dedicate all that time to throw yourself into the game with wanton abandon?
For most titles, the answer is NO. Sure, it may have almost as much fun stuff as whatever else you’re playing has. But unless it’s overwhelmingly better, and your friends are willing to move with you, you won’t make it past the “trying it out” phase.
We no longer ask, “Is it worth subscribing to?” but, “Is it worth committing myself to?” instead.
My wife recently started playing WoW as her very first MMO (she’s already a gamer, just not an MMO gamer). To be honest, I’m rather envious of the pure wonder that she feels as she explores a brand new world for the first time. What’s especially interesting though, is what she did when the trial account capped her at level 20.
All the way up to level 20, she followed the quest hubs and did the standard progression. I was surprised at how she ascribed much more magic to the game then there actually was. For example, when she realized that hunters could tame animals, she immediately tried to tame a Moongraze Stag to be her mount. She was rather put out when she discovered that she couldn’t tame animals as mounts, and the Moongraze Stag wasn’t even tamable as a pet.
But then something happened I didn’t expect when she hit the trial cap at level 20.
I expected her to finish up a few quests until she’d done all the level 20 ones, get bored, and be done with the game. But such was not the case. She went exploring. For DAYS. She visited all the areas that she could safely travel to, and all the major capital cities. And when those ran out, she started peeking at higher-level areas, sneaking around enemies. Eventually she stumbled on the Borean Tundra (68-72) on accident, and loved the colors and theme of the zone so much that she had to try exploring it.
After a while, I asked her which experience she preferred. The “1-20” experience, or the “stuck at 20” experience.
No contest. She liked the latter.