Breaking the Bond: things that disrupt a player’s MMO experience

Cynwise writes this week about ‘The Tyranny of Classes’ and wonders what happens when a class you once loved doesn’t feel right for you any more. Maybe it’s because your raid group has a greater need for a different role and you are tired of being the unwanted umpteenth melee dps and really really want to feel needed by your raid group. Maybe it’s because various patches and changes over the life of the game have just changed how it played.

Players I know who have switched mains for raiding or PvP seem to go through certain stages of anguish over this. Every time someone drops a pure DPS to tank or heal, it’s always emotionally complicated. <…> Sometimes it works out well – the new class is a better fit than the old one – but even then there are questions of discarded mains, of emotional attachments which need to be resolved. Rerolling is a tough step to take.

Or maybe your class took some nerfs and another class now performs that role better. It shouldn’t matter as long as yours is still good enough but other players will tend to ram it home to you all the time that the blood death knight is a zillion times better of a tank than your warrior (example picked at random) and how much easier things are when the DK can make raids. And before you know it, you feel unwanted and wish DKs would get nerfed into the ground just so that people would appreciate your efforts more.

I honestly think that for a lot of players, this is their first personal experience of discrimination. People judge you on external attributes that you can’t easily change, such as your character’s class. And it’s not fair because it isn’t your fault you weren’t prescient enough to roll the current overpowered class; you are just as good as those stupid DKs with their overpowered abilities, and why can’t anyone appreciate the great stuff that you can do, even if someone half asleep could do it better on their paladin and with fewer key presses too.

Cynwise is wondering why allowing characters to re-class is such a bugbear for MMOs. I’d say that role/class being fixed is a staple of RPGs because it stops everyone from rolling a tankmage and keeps some diversity of flavour in the game. But the fact is, players often have an emotional link with their main character. If that link weakens, the player feels less of a connection to that character or maybe loses the will to play it altogether, then their link to the game is disrupted.

There are other occurrences that can disrupt a player’s link to a MMO. Having your guild (or raid group) implode or friends leave is one of them. Another is having new content arrive that you feel forced to do for progression, but hate (ie. if a game that had been mostly PvE now ‘forces’ players to PvP for their upgrades). Another might be having the payment model change. Another might be burnout, which typically happens over a period of time, but there might be a single disruptive event that gets a player to realise they are burned out.

Any of these disruptive happenings offer the player a chance to change how they play the game: find a new guild, roll a new alt, learn how to enjoy a different playing style. Or they might just decide to leave and try their luck in a different game.  Because changing how you play may involve a lot of effort and energy – joining a new guild and getting to know a new crowd for example can require a lot of emotional energy, especially if you are naturally quite introvert.

One of the comments on Tobold’s post yesterday rang true with me.

MMO players have a career. They get into it, they play for a few years, burnout, spend another couple of years looking for a new MMO that will do it for them again, and then they wander off and play other games. Whether this is because of the demands of life, family, and career, or they no longer respond to the endorphin release of new gears and levels depends on the guy. But the number of people who are willing and able to play these things for decades is very small.

Disruptive events are likely to move a player along this career trajectory because they encourage change. When do you start looking for a new MMO? When something has disrupted your connection to your last one, perhaps. This is why nerfs are more dangerous to a MMO community than buffs, people don’t enjoy having their characters nerfed even if it was regarded inevitable.

When I think of issues that have prompted me to switch games or stop playing a game, I come back to guild/raid issues and burnout, and changes in game philosophy via patches, but also to classes simply not being what they were when I made my original choice.

What changes in MMOs have you found most disruptive? And did you decide to change or quit?

Quitting vs taking a break

There are two types of gamer – and by gamer I mean people who would list gaming as one of their main hobbies. And this is valid across different sorts of games; board games, RPGs, computer games, etc.

1. One main game at a time. You might not actually get married to your current game of choice but your involvement is very deep. You probably spend a lot of time thinking and chatting about the game when you’re not actually playing it, whether it’s about running guilds or scenarios, or reading blogs or mailing lists.

2. Lots of different games on the go, possibly with a common bunch of friends.

If you are a type #1 like me (although I have bursts of type #2 and I think I’m drifting more that way with age also), then sooner or later you’ll get familiar with burnout. That game which has been an important part of your life for months/ years/ etc just … isn’t any more. Maybe it’s because the community has changed, maybe your life has changed, maybe something else caught your attention, maybe the game itself changed.

The first time, it may take you awhile to realise this has happened. People are resistant to change, especially when it might affect their social network, and moving on will leave a gap.

But does moving on have to be a permanent thing, or is it more like putting the old game on the back burner for awhile? I’ve done both before, and a lot of it comes down to the emotional situation you were in when you left, plus the state of the game/ community when you are thinking about returning.

Taking a break from WoW

It’s probably been obvious from the content here but my sub to WoW ran out a few weeks ago.

I’m not writing a long and impassioned post about severing all my ties to the game because I think it’s quite possible that I’ll go back sometime. It just won’t be in the foreseeable future. This did make me think about the difference between quitting a game for good (“I’m never going to play this again!”) and not making that final decision (“I don’t want to play it right now, but maybe sometime in the future…!”)

Clearly, developers would prefer the latter because it means that the people who were just taking a break can be lured back. It may not be until the next expansion but they’re still potential customers. And this is particularly key in F2P games because there’s no subscription fee to act as an extra barrier for returners.

On the other hand, we know how big a factor the social networks in games are in keeping people playing. By taking a break, even a fairly short one, a player is probably breaking off those social networks. No raid guild, for example, will keep a spot open for more than a few weeks (if that). Many players have short memories online and if you take a break for over a month or two, you may log back in to find that you are remembered by a few, but things won’t be the way they were before.

Why take a break?

For me, taking a break from a game is when I still like the game itself but I just don’t want to play it any more. It’s when I still like the guild but the burnout means I can’t bear to log in.

It’s not you, it’s me. Or maybe it is you (if you are the game) but I could forgive you in future, I just need a break. I don’t know what would have to change to make me want to come back. I just know it isn’t something I’m planning any time soon right now.

I’ve been through this before with WoW, personally. When TBC launched I was playing in a 40 man raid guild. It dissolved messily over a few months, and I was so invested in the guild (I’d been a class leader) that I just wanted to get away from the whole scene. I think I took about a year out, and when I did return, it was with a different server/ faction and I was astounded at being able to reconnect with my old guild (pre-40 man raiding on alliance, I mean).

It’s happened before, and it could happen again. So it’s goodbye, but not a final burning of all the bridges. I’ll miss my guild more than they’ll miss me; they’ll still be running the same instances and raids, chatting in gchat, working on guild achievements – just with one fewer grumpy person who was half burned out to take part. But then again, I have other things to do, games to play, people to meet. I wish them well.

Because this isn’t the first time I’ve taken a long break from a game, I had a rough idea what the issues might be in returning later. Those are mostly:

  • Can you pick up your old social network or is it time to start again? This is particularly tough for raiders. A casual raid group might be able to find a spot for a returning player, but you can’t rely on a more progression minded raid doing the same thing. This is especially true in a 10 man raid where they won’t be so big on having substitutes and rotations.
  • And can you catch up with your old character or would it be easier to start again? Blizzard are trying to make it easier and easier for a returning (or new) player to catch up with the current endgame, so as long as you don’t mind LFD, chances are that this won’t be an issue in WoW.

For example, I haven’t used realIDs in a big way in WoW, but once I decided I was taking a long break, I did swap realIDs with a lot of guildies and in game friends. It’s a practical issue at that point. If/ when I go back, they may be on different alts or in different guilds but I’ll still be able to touch base. It’s not quite like going cold into a new (or old) game where you don’t know anyone or can’t find anyone you know.

Plus I know I will want to play Diablo III when that comes out, and it will be cool to be able to chat to my WoW friends on when that happens too.

Have you taken a long break from a game and then returned? What issues did you face?