Massively Overthinking: The problem with MMO ‘dailies’

    
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Longtime MOP Patron and friend of the site Avaera recently posed us an intriguing questions about daily login rewards in MMORPGs.

“Recently my game of choice, Lusternia, switched to a model of giving out free cash-shop currency to players who complete a set of dailies. The stated intent is that it should take any player on average two hours of effort, for which they can earn up to about $10 of item store credit per day. This general concept of incentivising ‘dailies’ for rewards, or even just logging in over consecutive days, is also increasingly common across the genre more broadly. Personally, I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that players are encouraged to commit anything even approaching multiple hours a day, seven days a week of their time to repetitive gameplay activities or else ‘miss out’ on significant character rewards. Even the consecutive daily login systems seem to reinforce behaviour which to me could be considered borderline addictive. What are your thoughts on the ethics of so directly rewarding players who commit significant time every day to a game? What makes these systems a positive model of rewarding constructive engagement with a virtual world, as opposed to exploiting consumer psychology or reinforcing unhealthy player behaviour for commercial gain?”

Let’s tackle the topic of dailies pushed to abusive extremes in this week’s Massively Overthinking. Is this a problem you’ve noticed, a pet peeve you despise, or no big thing? Is this gonna be the next problem we face, or has it always been there? And what are the best and worst examples you can think of?

Andy McAdams: Dailies, as in tasks I can complete once a day I actually generally enjoy. Doing my Cooking dailies and Jewelcrafting dailies in WoW’s Wrath of the Lich King always felt fun to me and I enjoyed it. I also don’t really mind the just “login and get a reward” deal like Elder Scrolls Online runs, and Guild Wars 2 system is generally OK too. But aggressive extremes trends in dailies is concerning definitely. And I said in my Lawful Neutral piece on Stadia, based on the business models for streaming services where developers are paid per-minute that you are in game, developers are going start using more draconian methods to get you to log in and keep you logging in. I wouldn’t be surprised to see things happen like cutting the rewards in half for dailies, and making dailies happen twice a day to incentivize people to log in more than once a day to get both “opportunities” on the dailies and increase the general feeling of FOMO.

I think it’s going to get worse, and once gamblingboxes are regulated into the oblivion they rightly deserve, less reputable developers will be looking for ways to capitalize on time played. There’s not a doubt in my mind that adapting abusive practices to the concepts of dailies is something that’s going to come up for us again and again. We could eventually see things like content unlocked through total /played on a character, or requiring X consecutive days of login. Or random drops that get better the more consecutive days you login. Like most systems, it’s ripe for abuse, and if the industry continues its march toward “pay based on time-played,” I think it’ll be our next gamblingbox moment.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): It seems to me that dailies have morphed into something they were never really meant to be. The first dailies I really remember weren’t quests but rather “power hour” in Ultima Online – you got bonus skill gains your first hour logged in every day, so of course everyone did just that. I remember terminal missions in Star Wars Galaxies being capped at 10 a day, sort of reverse dailies, to stop people from flooding the economy with cash. And then I remember that style of content taking off even more in WoW-like themeparks where the daily content was really meant as something fresh to do every day when you’d run out of other stuff to do, when the “real” questing and dungeon content was spent. Dailies didn’t start out as the thing you logged in for, though that’s eventually what they became as everyone started focusing on doing “the” battleground and “the” dungeon of the day.

Since then, they’ve spun out into (at least) two categories: daily logins (log in for your reward, or play an hour doing anything for your reward) and daily content like what Avaera is describing. I don’t mind the former at all, and I don’t mind the latter when it’s as it is in Guild Wars 2: there if you want it, but no big thing when you don’t. I do mind the type of dailies that require absurd time investments with such major rewards that the dailies are basically the core of the game. It does prey on addictive personalities, but I think my principal objection is to the pathetic, low-effort nature of that type of game design.

I will say, separate from that, that “consecutive login dailies” are obnoxious and studios should stop doing that. Stop making your game an overt checklist and chore ffs.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I was almost sure this was an easy question for me, but the longer I ruminate, the stickier this wicket becomes. I kind of feel like I maybe was manipulated in keeping up with login rewards and doing my dailies in plenty of games, but is it really manipulation if you enjoy yourself?

I guess that’s the question that has to be answered, and of course that idea of enjoyment is wholly subjective. I don’t stress about hitting weekly caps or clearing dailies in Final Fantasy XIV, but the Dauntless Battle Pass definitely keeps me chasing those juicy carrots. In both cases, I adapt my enjoyment based on what I want from my time in-game, and even those urges change day to day; we’ve all had days when every launcher icon on the desktop just doesn’t appeal.

I guess it’s a manipulation that I agree with, but then I also am the person who likes pre-flight checks in Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen or finds enjoyment in Farming Simulator 19, so maybe I’m the worst person to ask.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I really don’t mind dailies in any form, as long as they’re optional. Things like time-gated rep grinds required to progress are really frustrating, but if the game wants to give me daily goals and then reward me for meeting them, I don’t see that as that as that different from the typical MMO “do quest, get reward” gameplay loop.
I’ll admit that it gives me a certain amount of anxiety when I can’t log in to The Elder Scrolls Online and get my daily login reward or event tickets. But it’s no different from the anxiety I get from not being able to log into a game that I’m subscribed to. I’m effectively throwing money away if I don’t play this game today! Yet you don’t see many people talking about the subscription model reinforcing addictive tendencies.

I think that just about anything can become an addiction for someone, and dailies certainly don’t discourage those tendencies. I don’t want to belittle that. But I don’t see dailies as being more problematic than a lot of other things in MMOs that we don’t tend to view as bad.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Like many things in life, dailies can be fine — and even fun — in moderation. If they’re giving you a helping hand toward a goal you want to achieve (i.e., a reputation level with goodies or unlocks that would be difficult otherwise) or have a hard stop on them at some point (i.e., a series of event dailies or dailies that culminate with a single reward without any need to do the dailies past that), I’m generally OK with them. But when dailies spiral out of control, consuming players’ limited time every day with a bunch of “DO ME FIRST” objectives, then they can drain your interest, enthusiasm, and patience for gaming. They can quickly turn into a burden that will sour you on a game or even trigger the dreaded burnout. Because of this, I keep any personal daily interaction as limited and necessary as possible, usually only cropping up during even seasons.

Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): I appreciate daily login rewards – low effort, but it is enough to get me in game for a moment. The typical dailies I am usually fine with as well. Albion Online has a pretty good system where you will get rewarded basically by doing whatever task you want. That type is perfect to me. The reward for completing the daily is a nice bonus but I don’t feel it’s a “must do.”

So, hearing about the daily reward from Lusternia kind of makes me shiver. “Only” two hours for cash shop currency, yikes. As Avaera says, they are basically requiring a minimum commitment of two hours of the game per day. Then if you actually wanted to play the game to do x, y, or z, you’d be spending several hours of the day, every day, in the game. That would burn me out so fast. It’s no wonder we see legislation overseas to curb gaming addiction.

I can easily see this as something that more and more studios will pick up and do as well. I might not like it, but if it keeps the games running and cash flowing without impacting the game’s balance, I suppose I can’t complain too much. It certainly isn’t a way I would spend my available game time, though.

Tyler Edwards: I have nothing against daily login rewards, but I do find them surprisingly ineffective at getting me to log in regularly. Either they’re not good enough to be worth the trouble, or they’re too good and logging in every day starts to feel like a chore, hastening burnout.

I look more fondly on daily quests, but those have to be handled carefully. I have some serious mental scaring from some of World of Warcraft’s daily grinds. Dailies work best as an optional way to grind out some extra rewards. They should not be a path to exclusive rewards, and they should definitely never be required to advance the story or remain viable at endgame.

I think my favorite daily incentive is the “first win of the day” bonus you see in games like StarCraft II or Heroes of the Storm. Give me a quick, fun task to complete and a juicy bonus for doing it, and I’ll come back every single day.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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