Tobold's Blog
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Are we still having fun?

Wolfshead runs a blog on which the post range from brilliant but grumpy to just grumpy. His latest brilliant but grumpy post is about tackling player inertia, in which he takes the 2008 WoW zombie invasion event as example to demonstrate how much MMO players hate change and anything unpredictable.
Over time we willingly trade the feeling of wonder and excitement for the security of the daily grind and the routine. We become like the cast of Cheers. We show up in our favorite MMOs each night, occupy our virtual bar stools and embrace the insanity of tedium and repetitiveness.
This leads him to the conclusion that if Raph Koster's Theory of Fun is correct, and we are having fun by learning things, we can't possibly have fun after having settled down into a routine of daily repetitive tasks. So the big question is:

Are we still having fun?

Right now the answer appears to be no. I'm not playing any major MMO at the moment, spending my time with single-player games and small niche MMOs instead. I've seen various reader comments on my blog from people either still playing but grumbling about it, or not playing any MMO and loudly proclaiming hate for them all (Which makes a MMORPG blog a strange place to hang out). The most positive excitement I hear nowadays is about games that haven't even been released yet. It is easier to find somebody saying nice things about Aion or SWTOR than somebody saying nice things about World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online or any other existing MMORPG.

And not only are we not having fun in the existing games, we also strongly resist any proposal to change them. Just watch the players recent reactions to the various changes that patch 3.2 brings to World of Warcraft: Every single one of them has been blasted as bad by the players.

But if we look beyond the world of blogs, comments, and forums, an explanation dawns: The games themselves are still full of millions of players, apparently still having enough fun in the game to not quit it. If unhappiness about MMORPGs were widespread, shouldn't the user numbers be dropping? So the alternative theory to "MMOs are not fun any more" is that the people who are having fun are so busy playing that they don't find the time to hang out in blogs or forums; while the people who stopped having fun also stopped playing, giving them more time to complain about the existing games, or to express hope for the future games. People writing on forums, blogs, or comments are not representative of the average MMORPG gamer. And increasingly the writing sub-part of the MMORPG community is far more negative than the non-writing part.
I have a great time playing wow four nights a week for three hours after work and before going out to various other activities. I run a guild that is 5th - 7th on my server, with a small but great core of players. Lots of real life friends, and genuine online friends.

The new raids hit a great balance between challenging and fun, with lots of hard mode content to keep us busy and working for months to come. By the time we have cleared it all the newest patch should be right on the horizon.

Nothing wow is doing bothers me, they know what makes their game strong and are playing up those aspects.
Well, I sometimes do some quests in Guild Wars, no longer play WoW and usually play the really good offline game Mount & Blade.

Besides that, I complain on MMO blogs and wait for the "MMO revolution" to happen.

I have played too many MMOs that I can get enthusiastic about the next DIKU MUD flavored MMO that is hyped left and right (e.g. Aion). Rather the opposite, a grumpy MMO veteran.
I stopped playing WoW but I'm not going to say bad things about it. Simply said, I can consume the content (new areas, 5 men dungeons) much faster then Blizzard can create it. So I've done all content except for Ulduar. But I need more to keep having fun. So I'll just wait until the next expansion.

Right now, I'm just playing single player games which is fun too. I might try out a new mmorpg one day. But I think it'll be some time until I find one that is so much fun as WoW is.
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People can have fun in different ways. His conclusion is obviously stupid (sorry).

This is a good example that a game needs to put you into the right 'state of mind'. If a game makes players do thing A they will become used to it (or stop playing). If you suddenly force them to do thing B they will complain.

If, however, you make clear from the start that surprises can happen this might work very well. The trick is that the same person can like thing B or not like thing B depending on whether he is in the right 'state of mind'.

An example.
If you try to improve your gear in WoW arena and expect that the improved gear will help you to win more and lose less, you will be disappointed: Except for the top 0.001% everbody always loses 50% of the time in this system.
If, however, you take pleasure in seeing your arena rating raise, arena might be fun for you.

All Blizzard has to do in this example is to manage the exspectations.
The 3.2 announcement actually made me renew my subscription. It's a well known fact that the largest part of mmo forums population are the whiners.
it's a good question.

i very much enjoy playing parts of WoW (raiding) and i enjoy the social aspects of hanging out with friends while we're not actively raiding.

i don't think i could honestly say that i enjoy the game itself while i'm not actively taking part in the challenging content. i don't like quests (daily or otherwise) and, while i'm happy to run lower content to help friends the enjoyment there is social not game-based. i get some sense of achievement from playing the meta-game that is the auction house but that isn't the act itself but the results - like levelling up you're watching a number get bigger to show that you've achieved).

however, there is plenty of content that i do enjoy that i have yet to experience. my guild has done all the ulduar bosses except the last one but we've yet to work much on the hard modes.

so, why don't i just do the stuff i enjoy all the time?

because of the social aspect. my guild is ostensibly a social guild, not a raiding guild. we raid as much as we can but it basically boils down to 2-3 nights a week. i could leave and join a raiding guild but i don't want to leave my friends.

blizzard have done an excellent job making plenty of content which i do enjoy. if i spend time in game doing things i don't enjoy it's because blizzard also put the tools in their game to allow me to find a social environment which i deem to be more important to me than enjoying the game itself every minute i play it.
"So the alternative theory to "MMOs are not fun any more" is that the people who are having fun are so busy playing that they don't find the time to hang out in blogs or forums"

This reminded me of the early AoC days. The forums where swamped with people telling eachother how they were going to cancel their subscription. Agreeably alot of them did, but the forums where swamped with QQ along time before the playerbase died down.

Reading post after post about how tha game you are playing is "dying" or is "over the top" when you still find it enjoyable, is just frustrating. And I understand how the active playerbase would simply ignore the prohesized death of their favourite MMO (like they did in AoC), after all - it will just get you down.
No. And thats why cancelled my MMORGP accounts (WOW, WAR) a few months ago. Unlike many (?), i dont feel the need to see this decision justified or convince others to make the same decision and quit also (this behavior is imho the reason for a lot of the negativity on forums). Also i just dont have anything bad to say about the games, they just dont entertain me anymore. That said im still interested in the MMORPG phenomenon and will probably check out the Next Big Thing when it comes around.
Whoa that is too funny! I just wrote an article on this exact topic yesterday. Maybe I owe Tobold an apology for calling him out as one of the chief "WoW is Dying" doom-sayers. :)

My post expresses what I think are the causes of all such whining:
Actually, Nils, Wolfshead has mentioned more than once in previous articles that yes, if the game were geared up front to be a more dynamic experience, the whining about change would be vastly reduced. He doesn't often get into theoretical MMO design, though, preferring to pick apart existing MMOs. He's well aware that "managing expectations" to incorporate change from the beginning would be a better way to go in this regard.

Such could even be seen as the backbone of his previous article, suggesting that players need to be the ultimate content in MMOs, since they are more dynamic and make change a constant factor in the game.
Oh, and while we're looking at the "happy and not writing" players and calling them evidence that WoW is just peachy, what about an even larger group? The "not playing the game" group, and why they are where they are.

It's dangerous to assume that anyone not complaining is perfectly happy (just as it's dangerous to assume that those who aren't playing wouldn't be happy doing so). The sub model (and WoW especially) bank a lot on inertia and habit. Citing sub numbers is an extremely binary state of affairs, and tells us little about whether or not those players are having fun.

Also, as Larisa over at PinkPigtailInn notes, new buckets of epics aren't the same thing as content... but the reward driven gameplay is strong in WoW. If people are still getting rewarded, it's easy to decide that's a low level "fun" that has nothing to do with whether or not the game is actually fun to *play*.
If I wasn't having fun with my MMO I would be doing something else with my free time, plain and simple. I'm having fun in WoW while also eagerly awaiting SWTOR.
I renewed my subscription to WoW because of 3.2. I'm loving what WoW is doing with PvE.
I wonder why I stop by too since I don't play any of them. I guess I still like to think about them, as they were once a major part of my life. It's also relatively easily to analyze them, since they are much simpler and self contained than real life.

The happy chaps aren't complaining, that's true. But a lot of why people stay is because they just don't know what the hell to do with their time if they quit. When I quit WoW, I suddenly had massive blocks of free time to fill. Finding something to fill that time can seem a bit difficult.

I think MMOs as a genre is getting set up for a major shrinkage really. The great MMO Extinction of 2010--- I called it here first. There's a few million casual gamers who will never play another mmo besides WoW, and once they quit they will be gone from the genre forever. And a few million of them are due to start retiring soon. It's like the baby boomers, but with shamans.

All this ennui people are feeling--- that's because no MMO, no matter how great, will excite and titillate like the first one that caught your eye. That is a large part of why no MMO has really taken off since WoW. It's like being in love; the first time is always the most intense because its new.
I'm pretty much in the same boat as alf. Ulduar is still entertaining. The Coliseum looks to be entertaining. I enjoy playing with friends and participating in challenging and entertaining content. Once we finish the hard modes in Ulduar (still to do: Hard Vezax, 1-keeper Yogg, Hard Mimiron) and Algalon, the next batch of content should be here.

I'm not having fun in MMOs anymore, but I still play. I really can't tell you why. There's the hope that I'll eventually get back into socializing and find a casual guild I can have fun with, but that doesn't seem likely.

As it stands, I only play WoW because I feel dedicated to it for 4.5 years of paying, and I have friends I still want to say hello to now and again. But yeah, it is a lot like Cheers, in that I log on do the same few things and log out feeling as though I am wasting my time/money.
@ Toxic:

The UO people thought the same way .. a few years later Everquest and then WoW came along.

The are ups and downs, but for every down an up is just around the corner.

If you consider all these trade/economy elements for example that could be added and interweaved with PvE dungeons/raids and (Open)PvP BG PvP, Arena PvP it just needs one single developer to actually produce a polished game to push MMOs even higher in public attention then they already are.
The problem isn't with the games as much as we'd like to believe. The problem is our expectation that the game can entertain us (basically) forever. That's not a reasonable expectation and it doesn't serve us well to foster it.

The $15-a-month model instills this idea that the game has to continuously prove itself worth its time. Perhaps that's the flaw. If you weren't paying $15 per month to play WoW (and if you didn't have hundreds of dollars invested in the game, let alone the thousands of dollars that your time is worth), would you be upset that it hasn't engaged you as long as you'd like it to?

Besides that, I complain on MMO blogs and wait for the "MMO revolution" to happen.

That's quite a coincidence, because I recently posted an article about what I think the MMO Revolution entails. You may find it worth a read.
I hardly play wow any more, the content just got stale. And I don't raid, so that's off.

But Eve is still fun ! And it's the only growing mmorpg still after all these years. I guess a more sandboxy environment can do that to a game :).
Wouldn't most of us get bored of anything over time? Even sex can get boring at times.

In a game like WoW you have to make your own fun sometimes. You can find things to do if you look.

I like my approach. I play for a few months, get tired of it, quit, and then resubscribe a few months when I get the itch to play again.

If another MMO comes out that is as good as or better than WoW, that game might finally pry me away from WoW for a lengthy amount of time. As it is, these niche MMOs just aren't interesting enough for me to devote the time to them that gets me anywhere. A new MMO experience isn't going to be good or even interesting just because it's new.
We actually have very little idea what the on-vocal group thinks. I don't think "they still subscribe to wow" is enough evidence to say they are having fun. I'd bet the majority of complaining bloggers and forum posters are still paying for their subscriptions.
I posted there under my main handle that the problem is really penalties. You settle into a routine to avoid penalty, usually because the penalty is strong enough to deter new conduct. If MMO's didn't penalize the player as much for playing, you'd see less routine and more dynamic content.

Otherwise you tread water, if you are lucky, or actually lose progress if not. No one likes that.
I can only speak for myself. I continue to have fun in WoW and the changes that 3.2 brings are welcome. I'm a bit of an odd one though, I thought the zombie event was a nice change of pace and a fun diversion.
Eh its a bit of a different situation. The broadband explosion brought a bunch of people online for the first time over a couple of years. With that technical hurdle leaped, the number of people who could actually play a game like WoW skyrocketed. Now that the gold rush is over, the outgoing churn is higher already (or will be soon) than the incoming. Recipe for a bit of a crash.

Which isn't to say that MMOs won't be profitable or continue to develop and grow. It's just that shed a lot of people for a while. Maybe the next big bandwidth leap will allow MMOs to jump past the technical hurdles that make MMOs kinda gimpy in terms of gameplay and another MMO will rock the gaming world. But as of right now, I think the mmo genre is kind of in the winter of its discontent for now.
I'm still having tons of fun playing WoW. I even wrote a post a couple days ago about why I'm still playing.

"Every single one of them has been blasted as bad by the players."

Well, yes, there have been people that have complained about the changes, but there will be people that complain about anything. Also, there were people that were very happy about the changes. However, the unhappy/angry people are usually more vocal than the happy/placid people.
Isn't this a proverbial truth?

People satisfied with their experience have no reason to speak out against anything, while the people dissatisfied have all the reason.

Not to mention people speaking out against the dissatisfied only get marked up as "brown-nosers" or sheeple. God forbid that people on both sides could have a valid point.
I've looked at the 3.2 changes for WoW and I see them as positives. Players think they are bad, or message board posters do?

I think one of the things that happens is that players that at one time enjoyed the game and no longer do feel a sense of betrayal, and want to lash out.

Maybe, the reason they no longer enjoy the game is because they've played it for several thousand hours and grown tired of it. That seems natural to me, and not the game letting them down.
Makes one wonder if humans can develope a resistance to the previously commented dopamine, or if the theory of fun is actually more social than Mr. Koster gives credit.

I think there is a big difference in actually having fun, and "thinking" or forcing yourself to believe that you are having fun, which is why I quit WoW after 4+ years.

I dont subscribe to the notion that I'm a machine and a slave to the dopamine cycle attributed to the risk and rewards events in a game like WoW, but rather that I have an innate ability to exercize free will and determine what is fun, why it is fun, and for how long it will remain fun....for me.

What I find interesting is the seeming disagreement that occurs when you compare Raph Koster's Theory of Fun, to the archetypes that Dr. Bartle describes in his commentary on MMO's. The disagreement arises due to the direction that games seem to be taking towards eliciting a "cinematic feel good" experience where the risks are perceived, and the rewards neverending in a sterile no-risk PvE environment.
It sounds like you assume that the millions of people playing WoW are the same people month in, month out. Don't discount the massive churn rate. Millions of people are not happy with MMO's, millions of people are ragequitting... and millions more taking their place.
My wife and BFF and I co-led a guild in WoW, they left a few months ago (they are explorer types), I'm still playing and having a good time. For them it's insane to level yet another character to 80. For me its a way of doing something different. This time I'm doing zangamarsh, blades edge, netherstorm and SHV. Last time it was Hellfire, telokar, nagard. Point being, *I* am still having fun. Obviously Tobold isn't, and that's okay. Fun is a state of mind which differs from person to person. From time to time I do stop playing wow and do something different; another game or other things IRL. But i keep coming back, and there is always something new. I haven't done BGs in years, I haven't done arena since season 2, I never did argent tournament, never did ulduar.

So there are still many things I want to do, and I'm having a blast leading a wonderful guild. We are running kara on sunday. Just becaause. Ten 80s, it won't be a problem. We do things because they are fun and different, not because of the epic loots. When I have seen everything, i'll stop playing. But until then, i'll still log in.
First time poster and now a daily reader.

I have been playing LOTRO for a few months now while taking a small break from WOW. One thing I do notice is that when you play WOW you start to nit pick at different things. Until you start playing other games and realize that WOW is doing and done stuff that other games can’t. One big thing for me is that people complain that no one runs instances at lower levels anymore and its one big race to highest level. True, but in WOW I found I could at least find a group to run instances after maybe 15-20 min. Now on the other hand in LOTRO lets say, there’s really no way to queue for an instance other then a specific quest and once you don’t the quest no one want to run the instance no more. I asked my fellowship this and they said that im pretty much dead on that once you run it once why go back. Unlike wow where you want to keep running the instances. To me this makes WOW fun as it breaks up the flow of play, Running instances, questing, and pvp at any level.

The other thing I mentioned it the whole "race" thing. Is it "fun" to race to the end? Some people like it some people dont. I found people complain about WOW is one big race, but playing LOTRO I found its the exact same thing.

So after playing LOTRO for a bit I have to say that I had much more "fun" in WOW then other mmo's. The only thing that bothered me and made me have less "fun" in wow was the community, which a good guild can make that go away.
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