Content Explosions are Overrated

Ravious writes today asking whether content explosions are still the best way to introduce new content to an MMO. By explosion, he means, of course, the traditional method of delivering large patches every six months. This is the model most AAA MMOs opt for, but, as he points out, there’s a much wider array of choices in the gaming market now. When this delivery method became popular, it was during the time of Diku MUDs and it must have seemed like the best option for dangling that eternal carrot before our noses.

While it’s undeniable that big patches and expansions draw people in, it’s also true that there are extended periods of burnout and boredom before they actually launch. In WoW, the pre-expansion doldrums are a well known phenomenon. As Ravious notes, new mechanics, such as the ICC time-locked dungeons, are small steps forward to help temper the problem; it extends the life of the content without actually having to add anything new to the game.

Today, however, I think the better option lies in the slow drip. To be honest, I’ve always wondered why MMO companies are content to let their players sit bored between updates. When EQ pioneered the patch patterns of today and yesterday, there really weren’t that many options. Now, though, it’s much more likely that a player will simply drop WoW, or whatever game, to play one of the other myriad options available to them — most, even, without a subscription or client fee. As a developer, that should ruffle some feathers. While it might seem counterintuitive to want to lock a player into a single game, when you’re operating on a subscription model, that’s where the incentive needs to go.

My solution would be to implement a new quest line every week. Nothing big, really, but it would have to be thoughtful and fun. Not everyone wants to run heriocs all the time. This would give every player in the game something new to look forward to every week and a break from the routine they’re probably set in. I honestly don’t understand why this isn’t being done already. It could probably be done with a single coder/storyliner. If Orion can rework the entire Lone Lands in a couple months, I’m sure another developer could make up a five-quest series.

Really, each content method operates on the same principal: keep the player looking forward. Many games do this very well. What we need to get at, though, is options. Players shouldn’t be herded into a single playstyle for too long. That’s the main cause of burnout. Slow drip is about satisfying that anticipation and, in my mind, will always win out over quarterly patches.

But, keep the yearly expansions (/agree Ravious). All fronts assault and all that.

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