Much commentary has been made on the addictive components of MMOGs, particularly regarding the item looting system most MMOGs incorporate. In short, the grind-based reward system, compounded with random drops, is what emulates the carrot-on-a-stick for the proverbial geek racehorse. It’s the time tied to the grind, however, that compounds the disaster of addiction, because not only do gamers want the loot that’s just out of reach, but looking back, they want their time commitment to have meant something, even for gear they’ve long since replaced. Sadly, that kind of Ã¼ber-reward is unrealistic, because no MMOG will last forever, and ultimately, most players will leave even if the MMOG in question does last longer than expected.
For example, games like Meridian 59 went black years ago, and though Ultima Online and Everquest are still around, who wants to play them? The hangers-on are generally not players who can’t see the improvements made to the genre by newer games, but rather players who feel they need to justify their time spent on these games by playing them more. In other words, many gamers feel that their time investments were for naught if they leave their highly-developed characters behind, as they can’t take their characters with them.
This phenomenon poses a huge problem for upcoming MMOGs, because if they are only slightly better than, say, World of Warcraft (WoW), they won’t manage to draw many of WoW’s players away; the average gamer will rather keep their character on a “baseline” game, rather than start from scratch on a game that is only marginally better than the baseline offering. This makes it extra hard for a MMOG developer to attract existing MMOG players without offering either a revolutionary feature, else a feature that is vastly improved. Potentially, this means that developers will indeed focus on significant improvements to certain mechanics instead of playing it safe like Blizzard, but in the meantime, we should expect many a game to die a slow death because it fails to counteract the sheen of a new WoW expansion.
Ultimately, MMOG developers can help maintain their fan-base by creating games with longer expected life-spans, like EVE Online. By slowly changing the game with new features, developers can offer more than just vertical expansion. If this fails, developers can incorporate character transfers to MMOG sequels, even if the transfer involves a specific transmutation of character/gear abilities to the new, improved system relevant to the sequel. If Blizzard plays their cards right and announces, say, WoW 2 when a competitor is finally proving to be a threat, Blizzard can make game-jumpers re-think a switch if one of WoW 2′s features is a character import from WoW. A more thorough lock-down of players is unlikely to be seen with any other MMOG feature short of drastic innovation.