Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Attention deficit disorder

Keen is noticing that people are slowly already leaving Guild Wars 2 and sneaking back into World of Warcraft. The Noisy Gamer collects data on hours played in MMORPGs, and sees Guild Wars 2 still in rank 1, but down 13 percent, with WoW on rank 2 going up by 1%. I made a bet with a reader from Brazil that in two weeks his data on the first weekend after Mists of Pandaria release will show WoW back on rank 1.

I think the key to all this lies in a remark Keen made, although he didn't mean it the way I'm interpreting it: "Why? What is Blizzard putting in the punch to get people to leave a game that just launched 3 weeks ago — a game way more unique than any themepark launched in the last 7 years." The thing is, Blizzard didn't put anything in the punch. In fact I am pretty certain that any other major MMORPG launch would have had exactly the same effect on Guild Wars 2. People aren't so much "drawn like moths to a flame", as Keen suggests, but rather a month is about the time it takes them these days to get bored of a new MMORPG.

If you look at "a game way more unique than any themepark launched in the last 7 years", you could agree (or disagree, and I know some people would claim TSW was more unique), but still say: Well, if this is the most unique major MMORPG launched in the last 7 years, it still looks surprisingly a lot like the games from 7 years ago! At the end of the day, after a few hours of Guild Wars 2, what have you actually done that is so fundamentally different from what you are doing in World of Warcraft? The presentation is different, and I sure like location-based quests more than quest hubs. But ultimately I'm still killing 10 foozles for a quest reward and some loot. I still target a mob and combine some auto-attack with some abilities with cooldown on my hotkeys. I still solo quests, group for dungeons, and do some PvP. Guild Wars 2 isn't different from World of Warcraft to the same degree that A Tale in the Desert, or EVE Online, or Puzzle Pirates are different from World of Warcraft.

Yes, everything works slightly differently in GW2 than in WoW, and we could discuss for hours how the changes that Guild Wars 2 made to the genre are innovative improvements. But fact is that you don't need to learn any new skills to play Guild Wars 2. Your character is controlled in the same way, the basic combat tactics for the various abilities are the same. It isn't as if you were playing a completely different game. As Raph Koster would say, you "grok" Guild Wars 2 in a month, and then it isn't much of a learning experience any more, not so much fun any more. Unless there is a game which is radically different, this will be the future of MMORPGs, holding out attention for just a few months. And that includes Mists of Pandaria.

One of the blogaratti veterans said that a game company could not change the shape of the customer graph - all they could do is try to stretch and elongate it.

It may be that the launch date of MoP was not completely coincidental.

Could this be the downside to the Buy Once (/troll and then P2W with gems) business models. I heard/read many pundits say they were telling their friends "why would you not buy it, no sub ..." I.e. someone who buys a game knowing there is a sub is more committed to the game than a B1 customer. If a bit of if not marketing campaign then at least hype is no sub, then you are kind of emphasizing to the customers that there is no real cost to drifting off. Certainly if you need to free up time, you will pause the B1 game not the sub. The risk to any business is that most "be backs" do not return.

ADD is not as big of a deal if the company has a business plan in place that expects it. If you budget for increasing subs until you pass WoW, it shall not end well. If the future is ADD, then what little I know is that Trion seems to have a codebase/developers that can generate content pretty well. If the market demands nimble, Blizzard is in trouble. If one can overlook the fatal flaws, this may be something else CCP got right: predictable 6 month expansions.

P.S. Wildstar at least mentions the word crafting in their PR. Reality I suspect will be less interesting. (BTW, MMO sites gush about the 3-faction and world PvP of DAOC and the crafting in SWG: if these games had these awesome features, how could they not have been successful?)

But if you really want innovative, my current hope is 0x10c.

P.P.S.: I thought about opening this with "/troll does anybody still write about GW2?"

I'm not sure that the blame is on the players. MMOs became like FPS: you can "finish" them in a few weeks. Gear isn't interesting since they reset it, content is faceroll, maybe some reaction time twitch.

You couldn't finish EQ2 in 3 weeks. You could of course stop playing EQ2 after 3 weeks (or 3 hours) if you didn't like the game.

But now you can LIKE the game, find it fun and awesome and still stop playing after 3 weeks simply because you reached game over.

The reason MMOs live so short is that they aren't MMOs anymore, they are FPS-es with a very shallow character progression.
I think a big percentage of the people leaving GW2 are not returning to WoW. They are singleplayer gamers who are just too casual to aggressively play.

So usage is falling but that doesn't mean that GW2 will not retain a significant portion of the "real" multiplayers.

I have quite a few friends that play MMOs and online games (like Diablo 3) as single players. They log in occasionally and play for a few hours but if there's a new Skyrim mod, they forget about GW2 for a couple of weeks. So it is a case of ADD in a way, but there's more than WoW competing for attention.

The spike in WoW is people like Tobold going back before the expansion. Even I de-froze my account and I don't think I'll buy MoP until I see the pet fights :)
I've already quit GW2, although not going back to WoW.
Why did I quit? It's too hectic, too complicated (PvP) for a casual gamer. I absolutely don't like those "events" where I'm supposed to leave everything I'm doing right now just to accompany some merchant through a swamp with dozens of other players.
GW2 feels like a constant rush, and I feel like I'm getting "content" put before me where I sometimes just want to explore, look at the landscape, chat ... whatever.
I think I'm rather the "quest"-type of player: get a quest from someone, kill the 20 mobs, go back, get the reward. I can do all this just as quick or slow as I like.
GW2 to me - as a player in my mid-forties - feels like a game for the young.
Regards, and keep up the good work with this blog - my favorite!
Great post Tobold

It has become abundantly clear that the majority of modern mmorpg players are no longer prepared to play one game for more than a few months.

This doesn't mean the end of mmorpgs. It probably does mean the end of subscription mmorpgs and it may mean the end of free to play grind fests (hopefully). However everyone seems to overlook the obvious fact that GW2's business model doesn't require players to stay around for years. They make most of their money up front. If people play the game for a few months and move on Arena net is still happy. Better still if people move on having enjoyed their stay - that means they are likely to come back and buy the inevitable sequel.

The other company who seems to understand this is surprisingly enough Aventurine. Bringing out a new game so soon after their first is a master stroke in my opinion.
I refer you to Syl's recent post at Raging Monkey's. For me, at least, how long I spend in a game depends on how strongly I can imagine myself living pleasurably in that world. The Tyria of GW2 is somewhere I would happily move to tomorrow, so chances are good that I'll still be playing GW2 this time next year and probably in five years from now. Azeroth, on the other hand, was an interesting holiday trip but not somewhere I can imagine settling down.

Also, as rifstalker points out, both the commercial and gameplay models of GW2 make it nigh on impossible to know how many people have "stopped" playing it, or if they have when they might start again.
I agree with you tobold...although for me the reason people are leaving is not so much that the game wasn't so different but most of all posts like this that are all around the internet. Every game have this. I remember in Swtor had exactly same bad the MMO community is and the bad players need to go back to wow, e.t.c.

Every new MMO last years had those defenders that had 100000 posts on the net stating that the game is perfect and if you don't like it you belong to the bad wow community. These posts affected a lot why people leave. I could ignore a lot of flaws from new games, but what I cannot stand is being attacked by fanboys on forums or see other people being attacked. At the end this loud minority in every game someday make me hate the game itself and want the game to fail just so they get punished and stay alone in their game.

Somehow, companies must hold back their fans because they do much more damage than someone might think. Already, reading this post from reddit it made me hate it. They try to blame players if they don't like something in the game.

"Your playing the game wrong (this one is the best XD) ? Your so spoiled you wont even recognize quality anymore ? Just because you cant do anything relevant doesnt mean theres no endgame ? There is no best class/build, you cant appreciate true balance ? Theres no grind, your just playing too much ? This game has just launched, how can you expect it to be any good?"

Now, I love GW2. It is a quality game and I think it is already made that 54 euro worth. But do I think is perfect? Do I think it delivered exactly what promised? Do I have the right as customer to express my feelings on the game and what I don't like about it?
I cannot edit my previous post. I said in previous article that I give wow 2 months and I really think this even now. MoP comes out, people leaving from GW2 (not all) and play wow for 2-3 months max and then what?

We will wait the next big thing?maybe it will be time to discuss about Titan again? Or it will be the worst time of MMORPG the last 10 years?
Like several others, I'm not sure this is a "disorder" at all. People simply move on once they feel they are done. The lack of a coherent community certainly contributes to that.

With GW2 though, I'm not sure that's the whole story. I bought GW2 earlier this week. I've been playing it a fair bit but certainly not enough to pass judgment on the game as such. However, several of the basic gameplay functions strike me as a bit "off". Like the controls: I understand that they are supposed to feel fluid, but I just get a spongy feeling from it. Camera control and other things are similarly imprecise. Same thing with many models: it is a very pretty game, but the details sometimes seem to fall apart. There's just a little bit of polish lacking on the build quality, if you know what I mean.

Now, I realise that I put up very high standards here, but it seems to me that these kinds of things are those that you experience constantly in a game. They are as important as quest structure, combat system etc – because they are with you all the time.

By comparison, I just resubscribed to WoW. I feel completely lost in those game mechanics now, since I have been away for a year and a half and they redid the whole thing. But those basic things really do work.

At least this consumer feels that he will stick to WoW, again. This is something that you have addressed many times before, Tobold: how polish "just works". I still believe you.

Of course, I'm old – that may well have an effect too. I really don't like the in-your-face "pay us more money" in-game prompts.

Oh, and Giannis: I understand what you are saying about people defending a game too intensely, but do you really think that enough people actually read what those fans write to really have an impact on sales? We're talking hundreds of thousands if not millions of people being influenced here, and even a famous blogger will count their readership in the thousands (if I'm not mistaken).
Thanks for that reddit link, it's a shame that his rant kind of overshadows some of the other things he says:

"Why can't we as an MMO community take the attitude we bring to FPS games, RPG games, and apply it to an MMO? Too many damn players feel like the only thing that motivates them in an MMO is the "carrot" of gear always being held out in front of them (and don't know what to do with themselves without it) "

1) They've been trained in MMO's to work towards rewards for so long that you aren't going to change that.
2) I'm unaware of any other genre where spending 20 hours a week, every week, is considered normal. Or where that 20 hours is so often spent doing repetitive tasks through a boring hotkey interface. This is going to sound like an old man argument, but back when I was consistently in the top 100 Tribes players (circa 1999), it took me six hours a week to get there. I was a bit unusual in that, but still. Since it was a skill based game I didn't have to spend my whole life on it to do really well.

If it is really true that the player base is getting more and more restless and unsatisfied, it means that more and more of them are ready to hit the exit. MMO players have a career, and the late stage of that career is hopping around from MMO to MMO hoping to find something that will get the dopamine pumps going like their original MMO used to. That phase can last quite a while, but it's sound like a major portion of that population is getting pretty close the terminal stage in their career.

The mass market MMO is the nerd fad of the 2000s that is winding down as we speak.
You know, I have limited time to play games, and I like a lot of games, so that time gets spread pretty thin. I've only sunk 10 hours into GW2 since it came out, but I fully expect that I'll have a couple hundred hours in GW2 by this time next year. However when I leave it I go play other games that I can pick up at my like WoW are not causal friendly in this regard, and I'm sure a lot of people like me have bought into GW2 because it fits the criteria we need for a pick-up-and-play on our own schedule and not the artificial schedule of a sub game.
The funny thing is that Nosy Gamer numbers don't show the players that GW2 lost returning to WoW. Sunday, 16 September 2012, GW2 had 68,968 hours played and WoW 25,665. That puts the -13.2 % (GW2) and +1% (WoW) in perspective.

We are seeing GW2 going to a plateau after the initial hype, something that happens to all MMO. But take note that GW2 yet have more than 2 times the number of hours of WoW. I am not sure how much GW2 numbers will fall, but seeing the coments at this blog and the fact that a lot of bloggers are discussing GW2 features (yet?), my guess is that the plateau will be higher than WoW numbers.

We too can note that while the MoP launch is close, the WoW numbers are not growing so much (1% is growing?). It was for woW numbers get growing now that the expansion launch is close, players were to be preparating their toons for MoP now, seeing the new features and skill trees. Anyway, we will have a better perspective next sunday, that will be the last weekend before MoP launch.

That figures can change at MoP launch, but seeing the reaction after Theramore I doubt it. Cata was more of same and it was a disaster. MoP is again more of same and this time will be the real catastrophe.

But this time WoW have a strong competitor...

@João Carlos: Actually that is what I was saying, that the GW2 would have gone down anyway, and would collapse with any new release, nothing to do with WoW.

But while I understand that you are a great fan of Guild Wars 2, I would like to ask you to be a bit more differentiated in what you say about World of Warcraft. Otherwise you just appear as a simplistic WoW-hater. Cataclysm had a lot of problems, but funnily being "more of the same" wasn't one of them. If Cataclysm would have been more like Wrath of the Lich King, it would have done significantly better.

As it was, Cataclysm "innovated" into strictly linear zones which didn't allow you to skip any quests, and thus killed the open world experience. It reversed the highly popular WotLK heroics into a more elitist version which was inaccessible for most of the playerbase. And it failed to provide anything equivalent to do for those who hit the level cap and were NOT planning on hardcore raiding.

As far as I understood it, Mists of Pandaria changes the Blizzard philosophy for expansions again. This expansion seems to be far more targeted towards the casual player, with pet battles and farming for example. It offers scenarios for those who can't manage the tactics of the holy trinity, and heroics are presumably back to Wrath of the Lich King difficulty level.

I'm not saying that this will succeed in keeping players for much longer, but just saying WotLK = Cataclysm = MoP is far too simplistic and suggests a lack of knowledge and detailed analysis.
Is it attention deficit disorder, or is it simple boredom?

As you pointed out, the games really aren't THAT different from each other. Once you are past the eye candy, it is basically 'more of the same'. And I'm not sure how to change the 'more of the same' part with current technology - there are only so many ways to control an avatar and experience a virtual world with a keyboard and mouse, as viewed through current video monitors.

It think that it just takes people less time to realize the games are just 'more of the same', once the eye candy wears off, because they have played so many and recognize the patterns.

They are getting bored faster.

I think devs are seriously underestimating what it will take to hold their customers' interest nowadays. Lets see if 'Pokemon' is enough.


News are traveling much faster than someone thinks. I have 6 rl friends that haven't bought GW2 yet and they get informed by me, the yinform me about other things they read on internet, we can share things in Facebook. If I get a negative experience from a community I can transfer it to 5 people and then they can transfer it to other 5 and so on..I am not saying that this is the reason those games lose subs but it is something that you cannot ignore too in my opinion.


Maybe because we see games more as Hobby rather than pure fun. And in a Hobby you always create goals to reach and you always want to be efficient. Is not like you go to a cinema to see a movie just for the pure fun. this is how I see it by the way :)

Also the aurthor of reddit post did that to defend GW2, while GW2 also have carrots too he refuse to see..even leveling is a carrot..level 80 is a carrot to reach, 40k+ karma for a single piece of gear is a carrot, 65+ runs in hard mode dungeons for a set is a carrot, legendary is a is funny when the aurthor see the carrots in other games but he cannot see them in GW2
The group I game with feels less obligated to play GW2 because it lacks monthly subscription. BL2 just came out so everyone is playing that and fully intend to come back to GW2 when they are done.

I think that GW2 will have a better sustained playerbase over the course of the coming year than most MMOs that have come out recently... but unless they can get these customer to use the cash shop it doesn't really matter how many hours these people put in.
Is this a feedback loop?

Reading the comments, then I think a business executive would decide to increase the budget for PR and advertising, especially pre-sale PR, ads & Beta. Since there is no free lunch, something else needs to get cut. So make a smaller game and especially one with minimal or at least smaller end-game. E.g., it seems like if one fewer person was hired to develop end-game content and the money was spent on pre-game & launch PR & ads to try to get 2 mill up to 2.1 mill sales, that would be more profitable.

Front load the game (i.e put much more effort into things people see the first week/in beta not on-going endgame) which leads to short player stays which results in more front loaded games ...

Which in the long run is bad for the players and the companies.
Gotta admit once I've got my level 80 and 100% completion on world map and storyline done I'm probably going to drift back to Mabinogi.

My dude there is just too strong to let go. Plus, I feel the combat system there a lot better! ^_^
I think this is why I was so enamored with Wizard 101, because it was so different to WoW. Unfortunately, just as with WoW, EQ, LOTRO, and every other MMO out there, once you get past the different combat system, with W101 there is also the ever present grind.

I played W101 for almost 2 years after quitting WoW. First with a 1-year sub, then buy purchasing a bunch of in-game credits (legitimately, through KingIsle) for the same price as a 1-year sub but which allowed me to buy permanent access to every zone in the game. So I have a lifetime sub to W101 and I enjoy popping back in and playing from time to time, just as I pop into my free WoW starter/trial account every now & then, but neither game holds any lasting appeal to me, not any more.

I think it's that I've finally seen the man holding the stick to which the carrot is attached, and I've realized there's no point to the grind because it's only going to be reset every 12-18 months.

MMOs need more than just an end-game, and I don't mean PvP, because that's an end-game in itself. MMOs need something within their world to make you feel a part of it, and not even LOTRO with its player housing manages that because it's "Instanced" player housing. Your house isn't on Main St. in Hobbiton, it's out in the boonies, so nobody strolling down Main St. will see your house and stop and do a Keanu Reeves; they have to visit the correct Instance to see your house, and unless that player is another Housing buff that's just not going to happen.

I think the reason WoW is staying #1 is not because it's a fantastic game, but because it's the game everyone is playing, and because all your friends are playing it that's what you want to play, too.

TLDR? Want a soundbite?

WoW is the Facebook of MMOs.
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