Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's all about the retention

What's the point of spending 4+ years building a large scale MMO if you can't hold onto your players? With so many MMOs to choose from these days, the most important design factor should be the retention rate. There are many things that contribute to the retention rate of an MMO, but the biggest by far would be the game play itself.

In the past different game companies have tackled retaining players with different strategies. Blizzard used an insanely long leveling system as well as a bunch of really hard end game content. Their strategy was to always give players a goal upon logging off. There would always be that slightly better item, or that incomplete challenge that would leave the gamer unsatisfied and needing return. Ever wondered why in WoW high level players were allowed to run around and gank lower level ones? It would encourage the lower level ones to level more and seek either revenge or protection from it ever happening again. Blizzard's strategy has definitely been the most successful to date, however I can't see it working particularly well in the future. Gamers are waking up to the fact that endless grinding for bare minimum reward is a waste of time.

New retention strategies will be coming into play and I think they all revolve around convenience. The ability to log on and do what ever it is you want to do in the game with bare minimum effort is the key! There are a lot of people with very little spare time, who want to get into the MMO scene but can't invest the time. One issue with making a game convenient is balance. You can't make certain aspects of the game more convenient than others, or else everyone will flock to that. WAR is a prime example of how convenience imbalance can cause major problems. The majority of people only play scenarios for the leveling convenience. I recently read a brilliant article over at NecroRogIcon explaining why convenience is the trump card on all other aspects of game design. Definitely worth a read.

Some other contributing factors to gamer retention are pricing models, rapid game patching, customer service and of course a fun game with copious amount of content. Using a subscription based pricing scheme is risky. If the game launches with a bunch of problems, players are going to cancel their subscriptions within the first month. Let's face it, which MMOs don't launch with problems? Snafzg had a great idea about extending the initial subscription period included with the purchase of the MMO to 90 days instead of 30. I thought this was a brilliant idea, as the more time a player invests into a game, the less they want to leave. I think moving forward, a non subscription based pricing model will have a better success with retention rates. It allows players to change between MMOs with minimum hassle. Very appealing to the casual gamer, just look at Guild Wars.

Rapid and responsive game patching is another key element to keeping the crowds. If a player has a problem with the game, but can see it being fixed in the near future, it will help to keep them from leaving. Good customer service also goes a long way.

The MMO game industry is still young and lessons are being learned every day. New MMOs are popping up all over the place and old ones are hanging around. With so much to choose from, the gamer needs a reason to stay and it can't be the endless grind factor anymore.


Nimgimli said...

MMOs as a genre are young as you point out, but retention problems are even younger in a way. Back when we moved from UO to EQ to AC to DAoC, MMORPGs were coming out pretty much one at a time. When a game launched it had a pretty good window of being 'the new kid on the block'.

Plus back then the technology was bounding forward, with every game looking a lot better than those which came before (and most people enjoy nice graphics).

Now with so many good looking games running, and so many new ones coming out, retention has got to be a much larger problem than it was a few years ago.

Great post, thanks!

Elementalistly said...

I agree. And more than this, I really want a game that gives me a reason to stay logged in.
My biggest issue is I know what will happen when, and how and what quest goes where when, etc.

Right now, I have canceled all of my MMO's.

I know what they will offer, no matter which one I install.

I did a huge post on what MMO's could learn from Fable 2 as an example.
Things are always going on, always changing, that if I leave, something cool may happen. So, I will play just a little longer to do this or that...

That is the whole issue with MMO's.

Too much is static.

Spawn rates, Spawn locations, static prices, static NPC's.

Once an MMO changes what happens when I do something (maybe SWTOR?), I think I will be out for now.

Time will only tell if this monkey is off my back.

Thallian said...

I think WAR is convenient, if you enjoy scenarios as I do, but I sympathize with those who are tired of them. Also, no MMO game has ever been as addictive as WoW as far as gettign you to have a reason to log back on. Lotro is convenient though and very nice to take at my own pace (very slow) since I have a lifetime account. Guild Wars could be that too if they improved their game some more for the second one.

mbp said...

Great Post Crimson and thanks also for linking to that great post from Necrorogicon.

The current time sink based mmo model is undeniably addictive - both to players who are stuck in the grind and to game companies who get addicted to the ongoing stream of monthly revenues.

However I think that as soon as someone comes along with a new game that offers similar levels of social gaming enjoyment in a more player friendly "convenient" package grind based gaming will go the way of the dinosuars.

Anonymous said...

Here here!

You're spot on about the convenience factor, games are meant to be a welcome diversion from the real world for as long as I feel like it, not "Oh crap I just got home from work and now I've gotta spend 6 hours in a raid and I'd better not make any mistakes or everyone's night is ruined".

openedge is spot on about the staticness. It's sooooo old school. I really don't even think most current MMO's deserve to be labelled a "persistent world". Sure, they persist when you log off, but since they constantly reset no actions you do actually persist there.

It's kind of like, the world exists, but you're just a ghost who can barely effect it.

Crimson Starfire said...

Yeah the good old days of MMO are long gone unfortunately. New games don't have the luxury window to become established like they used to. Good retention strategies are becoming more crucial, especially since each game is looking more and more like the previous.

That's a seriously good point about there being too much static. The next gen of MMOs will be dynamic, but unfortunately they are still many years off. SWTOR may have some dynamic aspects, but I'm guessing the majority will be static. I'll still be checking it out though.

I always found Guild Wars to be most convenient of all the MMOs. You could log in and travel to anywhere you wanted with a few clicks. You could do PvP with minimum hassle. Hell you didn't even have to level up a char, you could just create a PvP one.

I actually only found the Necrorogicon blog a few days ago. The author has some really good posts on there. Definitely one to keep reading.

However I think that as soon as someone comes along with a new game that offers similar levels of social gaming enjoyment in a more player friendly "convenient" package grind based gaming will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Yup they will and personally I can't wait ;)