The Daily Grind: Do MMORPG studios worry too much about player retention?

    
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Back in March, we used a Richard Bartle blog post to discuss retention in MMOs and how developers could up their stickiness factor. But in rereading it, I notice that most of us took as a given that MMOs want to increase their retention in the first place. And I’m not so sure they do anymore.

What studios actually want is to make money. For subscription games, sure, retention is equivalent to direct and obvious money in the bank. But for free-to-play and buy-to-play games, it’s not quite so direct. Presumably, roping players in, bringing them back again and again and keeping them playing for years, increases the likelihood that they will buy something. But instead of spending resources trying to make that happen in MMOs, why not just spend resources on, say, paid DLC and expansions, which you know a sizable number of people will buy flat out? And who cares if they leave in between as long as you got their money?

Are we not already seeing that exact model for non-subscription MMOs? Do MMORPG devs worry too much about player retention?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Little Bugbear

New content pretty much always helps with bringing people back. Less players are willing to pay subs nowadays. So my guess is that more studios will start releasing smaller (expansions, DLC, patches, etc) content more often to keep the player base.

Personally I prefer buy-to-play options so the studio gets some money up front with a respectable cash shop (if there is such a thing). I hate feeling guilty about paying a subscription and not getting to play much that month (I feel like my character is being held hostage). = )

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Michael

Keeping your current players invested is far more valuable then attracting new players to the game. If your current player base is happy, they will attract new players for you anyways. Revamping the new player experience, leveling “experience” (questing flow,rewards while leveling,ect), and the like is a waste of time. Every MMO that has done it has never reaped much from it. The big things that attract new players are word of mouth and big hooks like free level boosts and huge expansions.

There are very few exceptions to this. The big ones that have been around a while like WoW and GW2 don’t really have to worry about it since people always go back to those games anyways. They could produce content with the idea that players will come and go.

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Arnold Hendrick

It is axiomatic that cost of retention (keeping existing players) is WAY less than cost of acquisition (finding new players). Anybody working in mobile games knows this, but it applies to PC and console games as well.

Monetizing existing players is also cheaper than monetizing new players, since new players have to become “hooked” enough to continue subbing or purchasing DLC/etc. Frank Gibeau’s surprisingly successful improved-monetization strategy for Zynga (see http://www.pocketgamer.biz/interview/66342/zynga-ceo-frank-gibeau-too-early-to-declare-victory/) proves that paying attention to better monetization of existing customers (like Poker and CSR2) will produce a profitability, even if it lacks glamour and glory for developers

Of course, long term, new products and new customers are necessary, since even the most venerable cash cow will eventually die of old age (as WoW is demonstrating). The trick, as always, figuring out the best way to “milk” a cash cow to keep paying players with the product as long as possible. Crass cash grabs will repulse players and hurt retention, while value-for-money offers will create happy, returning customers.

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Dread Quixadhal

They should be worried about it. Both SOE and Actiblizzard switched their focus from player loyalty to attracting new players a while back. We know what happend to SOE/Daybreak as a result. We also know that Actiblizzard used to have 12 million players, and now has somewhere less than half that.

The thing is, your loyal long-term players are you advocates. Sure, new people will always show up, dink around, maybe spend $5… and then move on to the next shiny in a few weeks… but the old players are the one who tell all their friends “Hey, new expansion in FOOBAR! You guys need to come back, because it’ll be awesome!”

No amount of advertising money compares to rabid fans dragging their friends and co-workers into your game so they can spend money.

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Theodrax

I would think totally free to play games would need to worry about retention. They don’t get anything from DLC if they aren’t selling it. I’ve been playing Secret World Legends recently and, as far as I can tell, if they can’t convince people to stick around either as “patrons” or continue buying outfits and lock box keys I don’t see how they’ll make any money.

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Adri

There are some games that are so awful that you leave and never come back. But there are also those games you play for a while then you do something different but you still have the urge from time to time to go back and enjoy the things you enjoyed last time. A game doesn’t have to entertain you FOREVER and EVERY DAY .. 24/7. It’s not possible especially in long-term games like MMOs. Successful and long-living games like WoW have player who started playing the game as students and are now parents or having a business .. or both ;)
You also see funerals, marriages and other events in game because of it.

I think as long as I still want to log into a game with no bad aftertaste the devs made something right. But maybe it’s just .. us. Our lives change more than a game does.

Clinging onto players is like clinging onto a significant other .. you are going to more likely lose them than keep them.

TLDR: When you as a developer know during the development period that you can’t hold on every player forever you are doing the right thing. Trying to convince player (new or old) with EVERY POSSIBLE game option will more like shoo them away.

Veldan
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Veldan

I feel like this is especially true for all those obnoxious login rewards, especially the ones like B&S where you had like 3 of them that could only be claimed with 1 hour in between so you either need to play for 2 hours a day or log in multiple times per day. That kind of stuff really is more likely to make me quit than log in more.

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Adri

Yeah that’s true. Login rewards don’t make me want to login more but less. Especially when those “rewards” are more or less useless or you have so much of those items that you can easily suffocate your whole guild in it. Even the ingame economy can become broken because of those (now) worthless items.
Login rewards may be interesting or helpful when you are a very hard-core casual with only a few hours per week. For people who are really engaged into the game and are able to spent a lot of time in a specific game it’s more of a burden than a gift to even collect them …

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FreecczLaw

Not in any way. MMORPGs nowadays are not built for player retention. They are made to make you hopefully come back every now and then for a week and that is all that matters. They don’t make the game for you to play continously. FFXIV is a great example.

As per usual I will say that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just wish there was more variety.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

I was curious about total market size for P2P vs. F2P markets.
Source: ad2Games.com https://www.ad2games.com/insights/the-global-pcmmo-market-2013-2017-infographic/
Source: SuperData https://www.superdataresearch.com/market-data/mmo-market/

The amount of money generated from F2P vastly eclipses the P2P market, worldwide and state-side. I find the difference in dollar amounts interesting ($28b in 2016, vs $19b in 2016), but with the F2P market still booming across the board in terms of revenue I think we can make a few, relatively safe assumptions:

The most important assertion to make here is that our experience is not the standard experience and we are on the ‘bleeding edge’, the forefront of industry trends in MMOs, by virtue of being the most invested. So while I think we can see the MMO renaissance dawning,
most of the MMO gaming world is still very mired in the reality of the F2P bubble.
The F2P market is not the best in terms of predictability, as the bulk of players tend to zerg from title-to-title. As we’ve seen with lots of F2P games that release numbers, revenue tends to fluctuate pretty wildly between major releases. The same is true of subscription games, but the peaks / valleys there tend to be less dramatic. It’s hard(er) to predict stable revenue in a F2P model, which is why we see scorched earth dev practices – they might not get another shot, so they try to get as much money as possible every release.
While it looks like a great deal of money is being made, I would guess that it’s a great deal of money across a small number of F2P games, while the majority of F2P games make up a minority of the revenue. I would wager the Lineage and LoLs make up make up more than 50% of the revenue, I think this skews the numbers on the viability of the F2P model.
Competition will continue to intensify between developers for player dollars. They will become increasingly concerned that you spend your $1 dollar with them, and not with someone else. This will shift the focus dramatically from scorched earth development practices to player retention practices among the smaller developers who represent a smaller amount of the total revenue.

All of that is really to say that while player retention NOW isn’t a big deal for most developers, I think it will become a HUGE deal in the very near future, and we’ll see lots of incentives to stay playing from F2P developers to increase revenue and retention to maximize revenue. Every sales person will tell you its easier to sell to an existing customer than a new customers.

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Anstalt

You might want to check your sources again. Neither SuperData nor Ad2Games classify MMO correctly. SuperData are pretty terrible in their analyses and consistently get things wrong, they are simply good at collecting data.

Ad2Games I don’t know much about, but from your link there is a disclaimer in one of the infographics that says “In this infographic MMO games include genres MOBA, RTS, RPG, FPS/TPS, Sports/Simulation, Action/Adventure, Resource Management”.

They include nearly all genres, certainly all the big ones, in their definition of MMO! How absurd is that?! Its the equivalent of me saying “Microsoft phones are selling really well because Apple, Samsung, HTC, Huawei and Lenovo combined are selling well”. I mean, MMOs may or may not be doing well, I don’t know, but neither SuperData nor Ad2Games are giving me the information necessary to make that judgement.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

I specifically said that I was not making any judgement about classifications of MMOs because it leads to pointless bickering about what ‘really counts’ which isn’t productive.

As for the disclaimer at the top, I took MMOs to include those subgenres, which could account for the disparity in revenue, but *shrug*. No matter how information both Ad4Games and SuperData have (or don’t have) it will always be worlds more data than anyone here has access to. Additionally, much of the “SuperData is wrong” is actually centered around people disagreeing with their asserts based on anecdotal evidence (whether justified or not). ANYROAD, the actual numeric are ancillary to my overall point that a small number of games garner a large amount of revenue, and that player retention will become a greater issue.

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Anstalt

I re-read your OP a couple of times, can’t see anywhere where you said you were not making judgements about classifications.

Also, the disclaimer is not about it including sub-genres, it is about including other genres completely. They include sales of Call of Duty in their statistics about MMOs. They include sales of Total War in their statistics about MMOs. They include sales of Assassins Creed in their statistics about MMOs.

This is why their report states that 70% of total global revenue spent on computer games was spent on MMOs. It is just wrong. No matter what way you look at it, their conclusion is flat out wrong.

The same applies to SuperData. Their data collection is obviously superior to everyone else, but their analyses are quantifiably wrong. First, there is the fact they categorise wrong. Second, just look at their predictions for the future. You can go back and read their predictions and compare it to the market now. They’re wrong every single time.

Now, bear in mind at no point have I said the data they collect is wrong. Were I a games developer, I would still pay SuperData £1000s to get access to their data, but I would make sure I ran my own analysis. So, I would want to know what the size of the MMO market is like, which means I would need to include games like WoW, but exclude games like LoL.

Sadly, nobody out there has made that sort of data or analysis available for the public, and not enough people question these flawed infographics. Everytime some says something like “The MMO genre is dying”, someone will link to infographics like this thinking it is evidence to the contrary, but it just isn’t. We don’t know how the MMO industry is doing.

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Does not check email

There is neither brand loyalty. Developers and players are on to the next thing.

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Castagere Shaikura

The old ways of mmo’s is gone now. The old pre wow mmo’s were so different. They were about being social. All those games had role players everywhere and not on some separate server. Dev event happened all the time. Today your lucky if you see a dev playing ingame. They would just get swamped with complaining about something or someone acting like an ass. People played mmo’s back in those early years to play with other PC geeks. Wow was a good and a bad thing for the genre. Today’s mmo’s have turned most people playing them into asses because of the way todays mmo’s are setup.

The raid thing was a large part of it too. The devs deciding if you want the best gear you have to raid for it. So forcing people to do something they don’t like doing is never a good thing. Then after raiding it was the good old useless achievements and dailies. i look at modern mmo’s and wonder why i don’t last a month in any of them. Then i think back to 2000 when i loved mmo’s so much that i once had 3 subscriptions going at once and loved it. I just don’t like whats happened to the genre. And i blame the new players as much as the devs for it.