Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Intelligent discussion on burnout

The purpose of intelligent discussion is to arrive at some sort of consensus, even if it is just to agreeing to disagree after each side having made clear its point. Unfortunately that sort of consensus doesn't really happen all that often in the MMO blogosphere. Thus any occurrence is notable, and especially if it happens between Syncaine and me. While we might still disagree about the relative degree, we do agree that there is some sort of burnout happening simply with time, and that burnout speed can be modified by good or bad changes to the game.

The interesting question Syncaine asks is whether it would be theoretically possible that a MMORPG adds content and positive features at a speed high enough to keep players from ever reaching burnout. Syncaine is more hopeful there than I am. In fact, I don't find his examples very convincing. On his question "How long did you play EQ1?" my answer is "19 months", and that isn't terribly long, even if that makes it my second-longest time I spent in a game. And I think he is mistaken claiming EVE continues to grow. As far as I know EVE Online has started to decline in user numbers and activity since the Monocalypse debacle of Incarna earlier this year. I'd be grateful if somebody has a link to solid data about that.

I also believe that even a game with a continuously growing number of subscription isn't proof of player burnout not happening. As Blizzard themselves said, there are now far more ex-WoW players than current WoW players. A game can grow if more new players join than old players leave, and still have next to no original players left after a few years. The MMORPG you play forever might be an utopia for Syncaine, but I haven't seen any indication of that really happening over the last decade.

Stabs posted his links on EVE player numbers in the wrong thread. But it appears that I got it right: this graph shows EVE concurrent user numbers dropping by nearly 20% from January to September this year.
It seems ridiculous the concept that a game could be burnout proof.

In my personal experience, additions to the game tend to have diminishing returns. Two additions to a game might have the same theoretical level of approval in my mind, but when one is 6 months after release and one is 6 years after release, the first will undoubtedly entertain me longer.

I think this goes a long way toward fueling nostalgia, honestly. I can look at updates I liked in classic, burning crusade, wrath of the lich king, and cataclysm. If I scrounged around long enough, I could find ones that, objectively speaking, I can agree are the same level of positivity added to the game. But early on those were more valuable toward playtime.

Heck, I can look at updates in cataclysm now that I have quit the game that look great, that I approve of, and still don't give me an urge to start playing the game again.

Honestly, it's just the way of things. Doing the same thing for a long period of time tends to take the fun out of it, but it is not that the inherent objective fun of the activity is decreased, it's just that your exposure to it breeds familiarity which hurts your subjective level of fun in doing it.
Having nothing to do with the game, I can only play a certain game type for so long. No matter how good they are or how much content they throw at me, I just don't want to play MMORPGs for 12 months out of the year, but I do periodically come back to the genre.

For several years, it has been WoW that I have gone back to when I felt the desire to play an MMORPG again. With the direction WoW is taking and the upcoming options, it does not look like that will be the case going forward.

However, I think WoW proves that you can have a large pool of "off and on" players for an extended period.
Sorry Tobold.

In the interests of tidiness this is what I posted:

Regarding Eve's figures some bloggers have done research :

And this forum thread discussed the PCU being beaten in January of this year:

The main anomaly has been that this summer's expansion did not see the traditional rise in users. Which is fair enough as it implemented a very unfinished avatar based system that just about no one is having fun with. To all intents and purposes Eve players didn't get an expansion this summer (unless you are one of the twenty players who really wanted to wear a monocle).

Otherwise the game seems to be plateauing out after a long period of sustained growth. If this winter's expansion is popular it may go back to growing again.
Eve Online may have declining numbers, but it has one thing going for it that no other MMO has (well except for Perpetuum, but who plays that?). Every skill you have in the game does not go obsolete or change with the release of new content.

4.3 is radically changing the Holy Paladin mechanics, for instance. And T12 will go obsolete. Juxtapose that against the fact that I played Eve Online in 2003-2004 and skilled up to an Iteron Mk-V, the most capacious industrial hauler. I went back to Eve in 2008, and sure enough, the industrial had the same utility and I was immediately recognized in the corporation as a useful member (even if it was for just hauling goods/ore).

I think a major portion of WoW burnout can be attributed to the cyclical nature of the MMO. Everything happens in a tight little circle. You raid, you PvP, you hear up, and then you repeat the cycle with each patch until it is expansion time. We are creatures of habit, so be sure, but come on now, this is getting ridiculous.
Everything you ever wanted to know about EVE's population:

To take a glass half empty approach, that's a pretty terrible looking chart; the current population freefall (not even breaking 40k players on weekdays) is the deepest inter-expansion trough since summer of 2009.
4.3 is radically changing the Holy Paladin mechanics, for instance. And T12 will go obsolete.

That skills/gear become obsolete is one thing that encouraged (or, at least, failed to discourage) me to leave WoW early this year. If you don't care about the story, and aren't having much fun, there is no reason to stay. Nothing you miss will matter if you ever decide to come back.
Others have posted links to good data regarding EVE numbers. However (as one of the ones who un-subed the alts and is skill flipping the main) I'll point out that there is still no competition to EVE with what it does. Provided CCP does re-orient themselves, I'll probably be back. They haven't yet reached a SWG NGE moment.

It should be noted that veterans have a disproportionate effect in EVE online - they're the ones with 3+ accounts and if they vote with their feet, it shows up pretty quickly. And they're the ones CCP pissed off with the latest debacles. Should CCP get its head out of it's nether regions, a lot of the vets could (and probably will) be back. Heck there's still nothing else like EVE out there. Perpetuum needs to grow some more, and what else even attempts to come close? A good solid stay outside of EVE for a while to recharge the batteries is probably what the doctor ordered anyways.
My opinion is that burnout in "fun" activities is inevitable.

Games are a bought, consumed and discarded. Look at the boxes of your old video-games or board games if you don't believe me :)

A more interesting question if it's is possible to burnout on an entire game genre. The problem is defining when two games are "same group" or not: seen from the outside all computer games are identical: you look at the screen and press keys. But ask WoW and Rift fans and they'll be able to tell you how completely different the two games are :)
Forever is a pretty long time :)

But consider this: if I had told you in 1997 that you would play the same game for 6000 hours, would you have believed me? Relative to how long you had played any single game up to that point, 6000 hours would seem like 'forever', right?

I also think breaks are 'natural' in a way. Things happen, be it some other game comes out that you try, some personal stuff comes up, or you simply need a breather; sometimes we take breaks.

But breaks are very different from quitting. Perhaps it's something like this: burnout = break, negative game change = quitting. Might be another post actually...
I think Burnout is very different from boredom.

As Bronte said for Eve (as compared to WoW), "Every skill you have in the game does not go obsolete or change with the release of new content."

Many people get burned out from wow because of the obsolescence treadmill. Every Tier is a new race to keep up your iLeveL. I rarely hear of people burning out the same way in other MMOs.
Burnout is the term for long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. The fact that this is a common problem for MMO players is a sad commentary on the psychological hooks the game use to keep people paying their subs.

People don't burnout cause they run out of content. Very few people complete all the content that a game has. Burnout comes from the emotional realization that you are chasing a illusion. Intellectually people know it's just a game. But emotionally, they think it matters, at least when they are in hardcore mode, spending 30 or 40 hours a week on the game.

When you come to recognize on an emotional level that you are damaging your real life in the pursuit of yet another tier of fake crap that will be obsolete in 18 months or less, that is when burnout comes. That's when the idea of going on yet another raid makes you want to pull out your hair. The slow-motion quitting that most burnout victims go through is mostly because they don't know what else to do with their lives.
"That skills/gear become obsolete is one thing that encouraged (or, at least, failed to discourage) me to leave WoW early this year."

Not to derail this into yet another "why I left WoW" discussion, but I agree with this. Gear used to last through an expansion, now there is essentially a full gear reset with each patch.

After seeing the raids once, I don't see any reason to keep grinding out weekly kills for gear. By the time they release the next raid tier, they will gift you all the gear you need anyway.
I think I’ve butted heads before on this topic, but seriously I can't stand the nostalgia card being pulled. I don’t know why, when I see someone say nostalgia it’s like they are telling me all my found memories of a game are a lie. I just don’t buy that.

I played EQ hardcore as an Enchanter for 5 years with very few breaks. I played WoW for about 2 years with no breaks, then sort of off and on. I haven’t played WoW in over 6 months. I burned out on EQ and I actually left at the beginning of an expansion, one I considered fun for the few weeks I played it. I just couldn’t continue to play the same game anymore. It wasn’t that I had no social life or a job, I in fact had both. It was due to the fact that gear would be obsolete soon because in EQ that didn’t happen. It can happen with anything, it is often said that variety is the spice of life and when you focus on one MMO for too long you will burn out.

Now for WoW, yes my real life made playing WoW for any extended period of time impossible. I’m married with kids now. I don’t have a flexible schedule. This means that as soon as I complete my gear to the point that I COULD start raiding I typically quit, as I don’t have time to dedicate to raiding.
Think of it this way. Marriage is currently only about 50% "burnout proof". And in Marriage, there are many barriers to exit including a lengthy and difficult divorce process, fear of being lonely etc...

Now take an MMO. There are plenty of other games to play, theres no barriers to exit other than having to log in and cancel your subscription. Games are like marriage in a sense that they have to keep reinventing themselves in order to keep the relationship afloat. Only problem is that an MMO is married to millions of people...all with different points of view and different directions they want to see the game to go in. Pleasing everyone forever is simply not in the cards.
This November I'll have been playing EQ for 12 years. I most recently logged in this week.

I've played EQ2 for 7 years and am currently playing about 20+ hours a week.

Vanguard I've played for four and a half years, last logged in last week.

Currently playing Rift, since launch, logging in most days.

I could go on but at the obvious risk of tedium I won't. If I liked an MMO once I will always like it. I don't burn out, although I do take breaks from time time. Only the continual increase in fascinating, enjoyable new MMOs to be tried diminishes my time spent in any given MMO.

I think burnout has more to do with personality than with external factors like content or changes in gameplay, unless those are very radical indeed, like the complete cessation of all new content in Vanguard for over a year or the NGE in SWG.
1) I experience burn out because of different, albeit interrelated, reasons.

a) I've done the same things too many times
but there are MMO specific reasons
b) another reset - I spent 50 hours getting T17 gear and decide it is pointless to grind up T18
c) They changed it to much. I know longer like my ship/class/spell. TBH, it is frequently the emo rage resentment of "why did they ..."

The main point is that a MMO with too few changes risks a). But too many changes risks b&c.

Me not logging in after computing I need 5 * (2*150+3*125) = 3,375 MarksOfTheWolrdTree for my main toons is "Burnout"

I submit that a lot of people quitting raiding in Cata was for the design of the raids and guild perks as opposed to what I would call "Burnout"
I don't play anything right now, but I think it's fair to say the only game I never burned out on was UO... The only reason I left is because the game was simply not even close to what it was when I started playing.

I don't know why it was that UO had no burnout for me but ever since, I've suffered it in every other MMO i've tried.
I can't believe how much I'm agreeing with Syncaine all of a sudden, but he's absolutely right that there's a big difference between simply getting "burned out" from raiding too much and "permanently quitting" because the game itself just isn't interesting.

Many players got "burned out" multiple times during the 5-6 years they played WoW. But, they usually just stopped raiding for awhile and eventually came back.

Toward the second half of WotLK and especially after Cataclysm was launched, people are permanently quitting because the game isn't as good as it used to be.
Real MMORPG's aren't just games, they're social communities. Therefore, never burning out is possible because there's no reason that you have to get sick of interacting with your friends and other people.

However, when the game is changed so that you don't have to interact with people anymore . . .
The best you can hope for is releasing a new game every five years and hope that everyone migrates to your new game.
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