To every MMO, churn, churn, churn…

If you don’t get the title, go here =>

Anyway, lately there’s been a bit of buzz in the gaming social network realm about people canceling their Wildstar accounts. I guess enough people did this and shared it to cause a spike in curiosity about why “everyone” is quitting (and I put that in quotes because of COURSE not everyone is quitting).

I don’t know why people are surprised by the exodus (is that too strong a word?) from Wildstar. What would be really surprising is if a new ‘hot’ game hit the market, “everyone” (that word again!) signed up and stuck with it. A surge of interest followed by a drifting away is normal for a new MMOs these days.

And why not? There are a TON of great games out there and more coming every day. And one of the basic truths about our species is that we’re curious. We’re always looking for something new to investigate. Why did “everyone” (now it’s just getting funny, right?) run out and see Guardians of the Galaxy as soon as it hit theaters? Because it’s better when it’s new! Why? There’s no reason why. It’d be the same movie next week but it wouldn’t be new! If you don’t like movies you can make the same analogy with a new restaurant, music…whatever you’re into. Many of us are excited when something new in an area of interest we enjoy comes along.

So we flocked to Wildstar. Hell I played it and I didn’t like the beta. But I played it because it was new! (Granted I only lasted two weeks.)

The point being, playing an MMO seriously requires dedication to that one game and means more or less ignoring the multitude of other awesome games available. Who wants to do that? So we play the new MMO hardcore for a few weeks, then get a little distracted and start to play it more casually. Then since we’re playing casually we either run out of things to do or stop making progress, at which point we think about that $15/month fee and decide it isn’t worth it. So we quit. And of course we announce that we’ve quit, though why we do that is the subject of another post (once I figure it out). We rarely announce that we’re quitting free-to-play games but I guess that act of hitting “Cancel” on our sub feels more concrete than just drifting quietly away from a free-to-play game.

But what about the people who stick around? Well I don’t know, really, since I’m never the one who sticks around. But I have a theory. The people that stick to that one game are the people who are more socialite than gamer. They play MMOs because they enjoy the company of other players and they have a group of friends that play. I know my one time of playing an MMO seriously was vanilla WoW when I was unemployed and living alone and a little bit lonely and I’d log in and start chatting and laughing with my friends and the game hardly even mattered. The game was just the glue that kind of held us together… it was busy work to give us an excuse to spend all night chatting.

I think that’s part of why so many people go back to WoW. [Sidenote: World of Warcraft saw a drop of nearly 1M players in three months, says Activision Blizzard] WoW is like the universal language of MMOs. “Everyone” (ha!) has played it so getting friends to go back isn’t difficult, and WoW has been rolling along for so long that it’s comfortable and easy to slide back into. Because after hot new things, what we like most are well worn, comfortable things. I’ll posit a theory that most of the people who go back to WoW are social gamers; as a dedicated solo player I never feel the slightest urge to go back.

What’s hastening the churn even more these days, I think, is that after bouncing from game to game for so long, and losing track of friends with each bounce, we’re seeing clumps of players gathering together on voice chat servers just to gab even while they’re playing different games. So we’re starting to lose that “Well I’m not really feeling this game but all my friends are here so I’ll stay” stickiness. (After all it’s not like we often actually play together even when we’re in the same game.) So maybe you’re playing WoW and Jane is playing Wildstar and John is playing FF XIV and I’m actually just watching TV, but we’re still all chatting. Basically we’re heading back towards AOL chatrooms only this time using voice.

So that’s my theory as to why “everyone” is leaving Wildstar. It’s just the natural order of things. There’re too many options for gamers to ignore, and socializers don’t really need to be in the same game any more, and the reason “everyone” starting playing in the first place is because “everyone” loves the smell of a shiny new game and all our friends were going to play. Plus there was HYPE!

The good news for Wildstar and every other MMO publisher is that we gamers travel in herds and 6 months from now Wildstar will be the Flavor of the Month because they’ll announce something new to catch our attention, and we’ll all head back in there for another 6 weeks. And of course there are still the folks that fall outside the quote marks of my everyones and who have found a second home in Wildstar (and probably an active guild of friends) and who will be long-term dedicated customers. Every MMO that’s still around has that group of people (else the game wouldn’t still be around) but they don’t all jump on Twitter once a week to announce they are still playing, so we don’t notice them.