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Every Game is a 3-Monther

Update: Added a bit to my paragraph on subscription games to clarify the point I was trying to make. Keen also has a fair response that acts as a good counter-point.

A while back, Keen coined the term “3-monther” in regards to MMOs. It’s apt and pretty darn descriptive of how MMOs players tend to move from game to game. When taken figuratively, it’s an answer to a question we all ask: Does this game have legs? Or perhaps more accurately, can this game be my new home? When a game is a 3-monther that answer is no and that this isn’t the “one.” The problem with the term is that when it’s taken literally, the answer never changes. Every game is a 3-monther. I’d like to look at why that is.

The first thing to look at is who we’re asking. When a blogger makes a declarative statement like “yes, this is a 3-monther,” even when they hoped it wouldn’t be, nobody should be surprised. A blogger isn’t a player, they’re a commentator. It is in their nature to look at things with a critical eye and pick them apart. Players don’t do that — at least not in the same way. It’s also in their nature to always look forward, to see promise and to seek excitement. So when a blogger gets 90 days, that’s actually a pretty good sign. When they’re sharing the game’s problems and are ready to move on, take it to heart, sure, but it’s also probably a good idea to recognize a few things. 1) They probably hit the game pretty hard (harder than it was meant to be hit?); 2) They’re most likely not the target audience anyway; and 3) They’re looking for something most of them will never ever find again.

On these points. One, normal players do  not play for two hours a day, every day. They do not buy each new MMO just to compare it to the last. There is a reason things have become more casual and it’s not because the hardcore is increasing in numbers. Two, since most bloggers aren’t all that casual, there’s a good chance the content was designed for someone decidedly less hardcore than themselves. And three, like anyone hooked on anything, they are always trying to relive those first experiences. It won’t happen.  What they’re looking for is a way to make everything new again with years of experience sitting in their back pocket. Sound likely? There is a high to newness and they’ve lived it and lost it by the time they start to blog.

These also are true of many blog readers, too, which is pretty evident the more readers we all get.

When a blogger declares a game a “good 3-monther” they are actually saying it’s not the complete reinvention it’d take to be any more. What does it take to make something new again unless, well, it’s actually new? And we don’t like new, not that much; new is scary and unproven (*cough* TSW sales *cough*).

Take Guild Wars 2.  Is it a fantastic game? Yes. It is also a 3-monther? You bet. The vigilant reader can actually see this happening first hand just by clicking through the links on my sidebar. People get excited by conventions being challenged because we know something’s getting stale, but when it becomes apparent that it’s actually just a game and not an answer realization sets in. And bloggers look ever forward.

The term 3-monther is apt, sure, yet it’s use also ignores that times have changed. You know what games weren’t 3-monthers? The ones you didn’t have a choice but to stick with. Mario on the NES. Everquest and Ultima and DAoC. Games of a time when there weren’t options, either by virtue of a smaller market or a smaller wallet. As it happens, a lot of bloggers are twenty-somethings like myself. When we got into this genre, we were teenagers, probably broke, and with only a few games to choose from on our dial-up internet connections. We picked one, had experiences as only teenagers can have them, and stuck with it. A decade later there are dozens, hundreds of games to choose from, and one is a whole lot like the next (compared to the differences of yore). And we have more expendable income to try them all.

We have great memories of epic yesterdays. Memories of times when guilds were brotherhoods, maps were huge, battles were fought and enemies overcome, and that these games were worlds we could feel alive in. There is truth to that but there’s also truth to this: We’re the ground floor generation. WoW introduced gen2 and they really don’t care much about “worlds” or “immersion” or this whole sandbox vs themepark debate. Everything that’s come since WoW has ushered in gen3 and they want action combat and reactivity and scale. Soloability has carried through, too, and probably always will. With such definitive clashes in expectations, it’s no wonder that no one game satisfies everyone, bloggers least of all.

Claiming a 3-monther also ignores that it’s probably okay to get a quarter year for your $60-90. If you buy a single-player game, you’re lucky to stay interested for even one month. That’s the product of having options. New games are always coming out and players will always look forward to them. What we have is yesterday’s news by the time the next game is announced. I’m okay with that. If Guild Wars 2 gives you three months of entertainment, that’s a better value than most of what you bought on your Xbox this year. Without a subscription fee, you’re free to walk away until they fix what you don’t like or add more of what you do. (And it probably means more than complaining).

Sub-games are another issue. By design, they should strive to break beyond months in terms of content generation (ala RIFT) but surely they all begin as 3-monthers. Let’s put that to the side for the moment. In this day and age, if a subscription game can still be looked at positively after 90 days, they’ve got to be providing enough new content or relying on players to keep things fresh, in which case the developers have transitioned into successful maintenance and expansion. Exactly one game has pulled that off since WoW, so it’s safe to say that modern theme parks just aren’t very good at that.

How about EVE? It may do well as a subscription game but, hey, EVE is EVE and we’re better off not comparing this herd of cows to that horse. Then again, what games aren’t 3-monthers? Those where you’re forced to engage with other players. Call of Duty, Battlefield, League of Legends, EVE … these have no definitive end because players supply the competition and motivation. Not very good news for solo players, I suppose.

Where do you find a game that’s not a 3-monther? The game with lasting power is the one where you can find a place to fit in with other players and continuously work at something. In WoW and RIFT, that’s raiding or PvP. In Guild Wars 2, it’s WvW. Maybe it’s RP for LotRO. It really doesn’t matter because the game with legs for me might be totally different for you.

No game is going to hand you the past. If you’re willing to work for it and find your niche, and can be flexible in getting there, you might just find that a game being a game is okay… and care a whole lot less when other people nitpick.

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  1. Tesh

    With my schedule for games (>1 hr/day), I get fantastic value out of something like a Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea. MMOs are good value too, at least if they sell content instead of time. There’s usually a ton of places to go and things to see in a good MMO.

  2. Scopique

    Solid. Totally 100% solid analysis from top to bottom.

    I had some random other thoughts, but can’t get em coherent, so I guess nevermind XD

    Awesome post!

  3. spinks

    It isn’t all about fantastic value though. I get fantastic value from buying a huge sack of rice, but sometimes I want fresh veg or chocolate too.

    I think part of the three-monther thing is a state of mind. But also, I bet the average sub length for a sub game even when they were more standard was never more than 6 months. People who are able to play for longer than that were always a minority.

  4. Keen

    Obviously I disagree. My reasons are too long for a comment, but you can find them in post I wrote today. I see the angle you’re coming at this from, but I think that’s a very narrow-sighted vision of how games can be made.

    The whole point of the 3-monther was to show that times HAVEN’T changed. Players still demand quality, imagination, uniqueness, and more general speaking, value. When they do not find those things, they move on.

    I’m not familiar with your MMORPG background, but for me, as a player very much in the thick of things back then, I can say with absolute certainty that I had options. I chose my games to play for -years- at a time because they were unique and provided me with things to do for years at a time. I haven’t changed… if I ran out of stuff to do back then, or I got bored, I quit. That’s WHY I left EQ. If a game’s design was terrible, I quit. That’s why I left DAOC when ToA came out.

    Anyway, a more detailed response can be found at my blog. Good discussion!

  5. Doone

    I think the most salient point here (and there are a few) is that times change. That’s really what the “3-monther” monicker boils down to: a view that this game will not be played by for longer than 3 months and this is due to the assumption we make about that group. For bloggers, I think it’s something like you explained above. We’re gamers and not generally the casual sort. To use myself anecdotally, I probably play *some* kind of game at least once daily, even if it’s for 20 minutes. I just love games. But all that time at the end of each week doesn’t go exclusively to one game (not usually) so I straddle the line between game consumer and gamer. I like to think what ultimately sets me apart from that “casual” is that I have a vested interest in seeing games prosper into the future. And that’s a whole other perspective to take into account when defining the “3-monther gamer” in itself.

    But the fact that times change while our minds don’t literally comprehend it gets us every time. I think many have taken to calling this nostalgia, but I think it’s a misnomer :)

  6. yonobae

    Thank you really a lot for the fantastic details. There’s definately alot to understand and as I appear about I maintain hearing diverse points of view. Some that are very wise and other folks that are quite unbelievable. I’ll return with some far better feedback and an belief of my individual soon after I feel assured plenty of to kind an view value stating.

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