How To Avoid Three Monthers

by on October 1, 2012

Yep, the “Three Monther” debate is still going – but interestingly, the discussion has now moved into ways to create MMOs with longer-term appeal, with two really constructive, interesting posts.

First up, Syncaine shows the other side of his blogging nature as someone who’s really passionate about MMOs as a genre, with this fascinating piece on how, in his opinion, a games company can avoid – or profit from – the “three monther” phenomenon -

“Consider these two stark contrasts. In GW2 you have access to EVERYTHING your character can do combat-wise at level 30, which lets be really kind and say takes 30 days to reach. In EVE, you won’t be able to sit (forget flying well) in one of the biggest ships (Titan) in the first 177 days, assuming you do NOTHING but straight train towards that (and completely ignoring how you would actually acquire one).

The question at hand is not which method you would prefer, or which one is more ‘fun’. The question is simply this: out of the two options above, which one sounds like it’s designed for a game that the devs expect you to play long-term, and which one is designed to be played in a short burst?

Of course for the 177 day training to be found worthwhile, everything else around it must also work to some extent, and in EVE it does. I’m by no means saying that long-term retention is as simple as extending the ‘grind’ and calling it a day. As I’ve said thousands of times now, long-term retention design is HARD. Really, really hard. But hard does not mean impossible, and under the right conditions, long-term retention done well can yield WoW (12m subs). Most likely it yields EVE (400k subs). Maybe if you really go niche it yields Darkfall (100b subs). So long as you properly identify your market size and deliver something for it, you can be successful on a variety of levels. Not everyone (anyone?) can be WoW, and that’s ok.”

There’s some very good advice here, and I hope that the people we don’t know of who are sitting in meeting rooms right now designing 2016′s MMORPG offerings are reading and taking notes!

Meanwhile, Keen and Graev take a different tactic – looking at the origins of WoW, and what it did to succeed -

“Blizzard did exactly what they needed to do with World of Warcraft back in 2004: Make something unique that addresses a need in the market. As this article points out, Blizzard’s success is not magic. GameIndustry thinks it is hard work setting World of Warcraft apart. It’s not hard work at play here; No, it’s good work. Success is enjoyed because WoW is unique.

Back in 2004, WoW was unique because it was different. Today, it’s unique for being the best and most innovating leader among its clone army. You see, despite what the GameIndustry article says, WoW is indeed an outlier deviating markedly from other members of the sample. Among many other reasons — and I do mean many – a major factor in success then and now is uniqueness.”*

This is a short piece but an interesting one. One of the traps of MMORPG design theory is that it’s easy to take the current state of a game – or the entire field – as being representative of how it has always been. Particularly in the case of WoW, we’re starting to see how untrue that is, and how important an understanding of the game’s evolution is to study of MMORPGs as a whole.

What do you think? Are there reliable, repeatable ways to build a long-term MMO these days?

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other posts from these categories: General MMO Interest,World of Warcraft

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tesh October 1, 2012 at 10:42 pm

I still say that long term play isn’t necessarily the golden chalice that devs even really care about. Money drives the business, and if you can keep making games and selling them, you’re doing OK. Long term customers aren’t always playing the same game, though they may be paying the same company.


nugget October 31, 2012 at 3:41 am

Tesh is right on the money about the money. That being said, long-term play isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, if the system is built from the ground up to support it.

I’ve played Forsaken World for about a year (with a 6 month break in there somewhere), and I still don’t even have one max level character yet. In an 80 cap, my highest toons are 78 and 77, though I have quite a few 40-50-60-70s floating around. But as in Eve, the system works from the ground up. 77 is when you can wear all your gear – there isn’t any level 80 gear (I think), and the talent trees are set up so that usually by 75 or so, you have all your key talent points in place, and the last 5 are more or less gilding the lily. Equipment upgrades are slow and steady (or fast and steady if you pay a bundle of cash, and I mean a bundle), and the base piece of equipment is just your starting point. And it all works really well.

I’ve had friends ask me why I bother with this game, if after a year of play I don’t have a max level character yet. Particularly since I’ve told them that were I to play my 78 every day for 8+ hours, I’d still take at least a week (or is that two) to get to 79.

The answer is, I bother, and I like the game because it’s set up from the ground up to be long term. It gives a feeling of slow, steady progression that’s inherently satisfying, because that levelling bar isn’t the only way you’re improving your character, and gear isn’t a major upgrade that you put on and forget about while salivating over the next major upgrade. Gear, gems (to embed into gear), extra stats and abilities (via something called soul power) all having different slow-and-steady rates of advancement along with the talent points you get from levelling, so you’re always working on something and seeing small improvements – which in turn stops things (at least for me) from turning into a kind of gasping crawl towards the next lonely milestone.


Hugh Hancock October 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Great comment! Personally, I suspect the times I enjoyed playing WoW the most were when I’d yet to reach level cap. It’s easy to forget that levelling, once upon a time, was actually the game in WoW, and still is in other MMOs.


Tesh October 31, 2012 at 5:59 pm

It’s still the best fun I have in MMOs. When I run out of places to go and new things to try, the game is as good as done.


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