World of Warcraft

Why MMO Burnout Is a Thing and How Companies Can Avoid it

Everyone gets burnt out on a game once in a while. First, you want to play all of the time; you have to get that new item or you just want to play with your friends. Weeks, months, or years go by until you just don’t want to play anymore. Even the thought of logging into the game makes you feel ill. You are completely burnt out and don’t know why. So why does MMO burnout happen, how can you prevent it, and what can companies do to make it a thing of the past?

Join me as we look through all of the causes and find out who is most to blame for this phenomena.

MMo Burnout -Users

Too Much Content

The first thing that will push players away is having too much content. This may seem a bit weird, as we all love having a lot to do, but there is a kind of soul crushing despair that comes with having absolutely no end in sight for any of the things you want to do. Games that have achievement systems will often have a huge number of achievements, but they are broken down into categories, and if you play for a few hours a week you can usually finish at least one category before the next iteration of the game comes out.

The MMO burnout that comes from having too much content is usually really fast and extremely wide spread. It has taken out entire games shortly after they have launched, leaving players who do enjoy the endless grind on servers with next to no population. Often these players feel like they won’t be able to make a dent in the game and that their play time doesn’t matter. There is nothing less than putting in thousands of hours into a game and still feeling like you haven’t even scratched the surface.

MMO Burn-Out - Too Much Content

This also takes away the motivation to try from most people, especially if even the top players are struggling. One of the most motivating things that people experience is seeing a high level player running by and showing just how far you can progress in a given game. Taking this away can make it seem fruitless, and like there is nothing to attain.

This isn’t a very common problem but it is one that has plagued a number of games that had great numbers at release and then quickly lost momentum. It has killed off a few games that people were extremely excited for, but a number of good companies have been able to turn their act around and prevent the MMO burnout that so many people were feeling at the start.


Game Company Responses To This Idea

Most companies now know that you need to have a good schedule for content and that you need to give players time to complete objectives. This is one of the reasons that most events in games last a least a week, with 1 day events being mostly a thing of the past. Players are given time to experience a game without feeling pressured, and players at all levels are left feeling that they matter and are able to shape the game world around them.

This helps prevent the dreaded MMO burnout by allowing players to become emotionally invested and giving them something to look forward to when they have a bad day at work or feel like they just need to get away for a bit.

This also gives game companies the perfect excuse to split games up into multiple installments, to drag out raid tiers, and to heavily promote new expansions. This gives players a timeline to follow but also ensures that people lagging behind are still able to enjoy themselves. It’s quite profitable for game companies and also helps players more than one would imagine. Each and every decision that slows down content is more revenue, but it is also a leg up to players with less time to play.

MMO Burn-Out - Too Little

Too Little Content

One curse that seems to constantly bring down games is actually the opposite of what was just discussed. Instead of having too much content, games often have too little content, letting players finish off a game in a matter of weeks and leaving them with nothing to do. Sometimes there is still side content available but the main means of progression or gearing has stalled, which leaves players to feel like they have wasted their time playing the game.

This type of MMO burnout is one of the hardest to recover from, as players are much less likely to pick up a game they feel they have completed. An MMO should almost never feel complete, unless the game is going to shut down. When a player feels like they have completely conquered the world that has been offered, they move onto the next game without even a look back.

This is why so many game companies pay analysts to see how much content they should offer and to time events that will keep players interested. Many games have holiday events that add new challenges in during periods when players usually have the most free time, keeping progression at a steady rate throughout the year. Holiday events are great, but they are a lot more important than we think.


Game Company Responses To This Idea

One of the bigger MMOs around actually ran into this problem with its last expansion. World of Warcraft learned the hard way that no one is too big to fail and found that players are completely bloodthirsty when they are angered. The first few tiers of raiding for the Warlords of Draenor expansion were somewhat exciting, but then players found that the waiting time between new content was too long. There are a huge number of websites that go over just how much time there was between different tiers and how little content was provided. The end result was the MMO giant hemorrhaging subscribers, something they still haven’t recovered from to this day.

The next expansion was filled with promises of content coming much faster, and a huge number of new options were added as well. So far it seems that they are doing well on its quest to lure players back into the game. However, it was a costly mistake, and some players wonder if recovery is ever going to be completely possible.

This is just one example of a time when too little content has caused players to experience MMO burnout, but the story is almost always the same. Players find that the content provided is boring, doesn’t offer them a challenge, and is no longer fun. They are no longer playing, they are merely grinding forward until they can find a new game or until content is released. If new content is released before they throw in the towel, the inevitable will be staved off, but any lapse in content will just cause the same feelings to come back, costing the company a good number of subscribers.


Extremely Punishing Reward Tiers

Another problem is games that have extremely punishing reward tiers when items can be bought or earned. When it feels like only an elite portion of the game can ever even dream of getting mid to high tier items, it can be extremely frustrating for the majority of players. Instead of feeling like time put into the game will amount to something, players are left feeling like they barely matter.

There are games where people are willing to grind up points one at a time with a hope of getting the 2 million point item after a few months, but those players are few and far between. Sadly a large number of companies seem to bank on these players, pointing out those options as “proof” that they aren’t pay-to-win and that grinding is a viable alternative to their cash shop.


Game Company Responses To This Idea

Many companies offer to discount points, or even offer high drop-rate weekends. These weekends are often on a regular cycle, giving players a chance to see when and where they will happen. This allows players to plan for them, stock up on the items they need, and to get the equipment that they really want. However, the intervals between different events will usually ensure that the number of players buying from the cash shop or working in their off time to grind out points doesn’t go down. Overall, it just helps prevent MMO burnout by ensuring that players feel valued and like they can build up a community.

Many times this will coincide with sales that help players who buy from the cash shops as well. In this way, companies take away a large part of the resentment that often builds up when people do invest in a game and feel like their investment is not being taken seriously. This ensures that a happy and healthy player base is maintained, and that they don’t have to worry about resentment causing issues.

This is actually one of the biggest reasons that many pay-to-win games actually succeed. Players feel like they have a choice and the companies are good at ensuring that just enough content is kept within reach of all of players. This may seem like it would actually go against the ideals of a pay-to-win game, but it is a genius strategy that helps prevent MMO burnout while ensuring that each and every player feels like they are being treated with respect and the attention that they deserve.

MMO Burn-Out - Poorly Moderated


Poorly Moderated Communities

Many of us love playing MMOs because of the interactions with other people. This comes down to the sense of community we build when we are playing and to the expectation that our community will stay intact over time. I often hear stories of people who don’t really care about a game anymore, but who still play to enjoy time with their friends. I also hear stories of games where the community was fragmented and unable to communicate well; these are the games that generally do not last, leaving behind angry players and short-lived hype.

This is why all MMOs need to work hard at ensuring they have good community building tools. These tools can include forums, live voice chats, guild options, or even server wide and customizable chat channels. These tools ensure that the community feels they have ownership of the game and that strong friendships can be forged through these tools, helping to maintain a strong player base. After all, a game is useless without a strong player base to keep the economy, pvp, and questing sectors vibrant.


Game Company Responses To This Idea

Most companies are already aware that this communication is vital, seeking to capitalize upon it by limiting trial account communication, offering extreme customization within guilds, and promoting contests that bring players together instead of pitting them against each others. These companies often ensure that lines of communication to them are also left open, allowing players to shape the direction of the game. Ragnarok Online is famous for this, using its community managers to host events that bring new and old players together for important events. These events often inspire new players to stay in the game longer and also reward long-time players for their time spent in the game.

Open chat channels have also been used to great success. The original Trade Chat and Barrens Chat within World of Warcraft are legendary for their huge numbers of users and the experiences that people had within these channels. Without being told to, players created communities similar to many online chat boards that influenced the subject of different chat channels and eventually led to the creation of different channels within the game. One of the best examples is the creation of the “Looking For Group” or “LFG” tool that started as a communications channel and evolved over time.


Community Impact On Games

Overall, communication is the lifeblood of any MMO. Whether you are yelling at your teammates over the microphone, logging into a voice client to try another raid, or chatting in guild and getting to know each other, your communication is what holds together a game and inspires others to stay as well. Players have proven that they can police their own communities, reporting and shaming toxic content to keep an environment that appeals to the majority of players. This cohesion on the part of players is something all great MMOs should strive for to ensure success of their games.


Closing Thoughts

Most of the responsibility to keep players interested in an MMO falls on the game company, but there is a fair amount of pressure on the community as well. These two elements are two halves of the same coin, and treating them as separate ideas might be one of the more damaging things a company can do. Players are the literal lifeblood of games, and ignoring their needs and likes is one of the best ways to ensure that the player base is completely lost or that loyal players burnout.

While it would seem that overplaying a game would be the biggest problem that most people would run into, the biggest issue is often the player base becoming angry and restless. As gamers we often look to the titles we play as escapes from reality. Jumping into a game that is going to do the exact same thing in our off time isn’t high on the list of priorities. This is why companies are so willing to go out of the way for customer satisfaction and why so many games morph from what they originally started out as to completely different concepts.

It is an extremely good thing when a company can admit its faults. Whether the company chooses to fix this with a new expansion, a complete overhaul of major elements, or just by implementing small events that let players know they are appreciated, the overall payoff is the same – preventing MMO burnout before the game is forced to fade into obscurity.

Everything from the community involvement to how obvious game developers are with their desire for money can play a huge part in the way that players respond to challenges that come up within games. If pushed too hard, players do break, and they take with them the lifeblood of any good game. This is a viscous cycle that often takes down great games before they really needed to end.

There is currently a trend where game companies are beginning to listen to players and try to cut off problems before they occur. This is being praised by many players, and that seems to be working out well for companies. As time goes on, MMOs just seem to be getting better, and maybe someday MMO burnout will be a thing of the past.

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