Lifecycle of an MMORPG
All the serious players begin the very day the game releases and work non-stop until they’re at the highest level in the game. Casual players and those who begin playing long after the date of the game’s launch are left in the dust.
It may take weeks or it may take years, but eventually players find themselves at cap level. They have mastered all available tradecrafts and have the best equipment in the game. They have joined guilds and made strong alliances. In cases where MMORPGs have made the mistake of relying on a player-based economy, players have found exploits and become incredibly wealthy while leaving nothing on the market that’s of any use to anyone. That’s the problem with Type A personalities when you can’t look them in the eye.
Once the mad rush for the cap is over, boredom sets in, and then shit starts.
Not all games are designed like this, but a goodly portion of MMORPGs are divided along faction lines. If you’re playing for the good guys, you queue up on your HUD for a match against the bad guys. Or vice versa. When choosing a server to create a character on, you must decide which side you wish to take. Then you stick to it. Over time, servers become unbalanced, with more players choosing to take one side compared to the other. This is because players wish to win at PvP as opposed to having fun. Ideally, each side in PvP only wins about half the time. But now that there are far more players on one side, that side wins by sheer numbers almost all the time. The losing side becomes disillusioned and stops playing. The winning side has no one to beat anymore, so they stop playing as well.
It’s at this point that game developers step in. They respond to the loss of player subscriptions by offering to transfer characters to a server of the player’s choice for a small fee. The deck is quickly reshuffled by players looking for the edge in a fashion contrary to developers’ expectations, making the imbalance worse until developers step in again and forcibly balance the servers. Players become angry at being told what to do or, even worse, having their guild members strewn across several servers, and some stop playing in protest. To hardcore MMORPG players, pride and respect are everything. They will brook no perceived disrespect, even from the people who made the game.
Developers, many of whom knew something like this was going to happen, release an expansion pack. New quests are made available. Better equipment can be gained. New tradeskills can be mastered. And the cap level has been increased, causing a flurry of activity for several months as players work to reach that pinnacle once more. This temporarily increases monthly subscriptions.
But another problem arises.
There are no new players joining in. Developers find they are catering to the long-time players only. New players are deterred from the game for several reasons. They are frequently abused by long-time players, who have become territorial and xenophobic rather than seeing new players as a chance to increase the lifespan of the game they play. They also end up alone. If all the old players are consolidated in high-level zones, the vast majority of the game’s zones are empty, meaning new players are forced to solo much of their way up. In some games this makes it impossible for the new player to level at all.