Massively Overthinking: How we deal with burning out of MMOs


Back in August, MOP’s own Justin wrote a piece on his Bio Break blog about moderation in gaming that resonated with me. He described his initial crush on World of Warcraft in the first couple of years of the game, when he was playing WoW and only WoW, and lots of it – right up until he wasn’t.

“But then one evening, I crashed. I had been doing the same thing, over and over again, logging into the same game, night after night, and I hit a wall. I hit burnout so hard and so quickly that it actually frightened me to an extent. WoW was my gaming life, and I had nothing else. And if I was burned out of WoW, what else did I have?”

Consequently, he changed his outlook to focus on “diversity and moderation in gaming” – both in terms of the games he plays and what he does when he’s in them.

So this week, I’ve asked the MOP writers to Overthink burnout, and not just on a conceptual level. Give us an example: When has burnout hit you hard, and what did you do to overcome it?

Andy McAdams: I get burned out on a pretty regular cadence, it seems like. The most recent example was probably Final Fantasy XIV for me: I really wanted to want to keep playing because I loved my Free Company, and while we have a Discord, it wasn’t quite the same. But it started feeling like a slog to log in, and when I did, I didn’t actually want to do anything in the game. I stalled out the MSQ after Hades; dungeons were all so formulaic at that point that they stopped being engaging for me. Around the Massively OP watercooler, one of the other writers called FFXIV “the movie that sometimes has gameplay,” and I couldn’t shake the comparison.

Ultimately, I ended up just taking a break from the game. But prior to that I’d spent a lot of time in other games, mostly Switch or other single-player games. I tried to divvy up my gaming done across a bunch of different games, vis-à-vis Justin’s gaming approach, but with less rigidly defined timeboxes. That’s worked for me in the past, but this go-round it didn’t. I eventually ended up cancelling my sub and made the jump to Fallout 76, then Elder Scrolls Online for a bit, then Guild Wars 2, and now to World of Warcraft, where I’ve settled a bit for the time being.

In most cases, my solution to game burn-out is to become an MMO-nomad for a few months before settling someplace else for a bit and starting the process all over again.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Probably the worst burnout I felt came after Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, and even Glitch and Zentia shut down all in the span of like a year. Looking back, I can see it was a really bad couple of years for me for gaming and other things. Reclaiming time to play after having kids and regaining my health and settling my work balance situation and then finding replacement games were all the things that helped me return to actually playing for keeps instead of just dabbling.

But this summer, I did some stuff in SWG Legends that really ran me into burnoutville: I ramped up my crafting output to a spot where I was seriously stretched too thin, and that was making me not want to play. I’ve been taking a break from my sense of obligation to my vendors and spreadsheet, playing other games the last month or two, and it’s worked. See, it’s way too easy to fall into thinking of these big epic online games as definitional to our lives, that we have to play them hard until we collapse. We all need to stop doing that, to stop letting the games have that kind of influence. Properly identifying the whiff of burnout early ensures we change up our routine before we get so grumpy that we never want to go back.

If I can make a goofy analogy: Believe it or not, there’s actually a proper way to care for candles. I mean, sure, you could just light them and let them go until the wicks burn themselves out, yes. Sometimes that will work and you just move on to the next candle, which is great if you have a lot and don’t care about wasted wax. But if you trim the wicks after the first light, make sure the wax pools evenly, don’t let the candles burn too long or too little, and put them out without blowing ash everywhere? Well then not only will your house not catch fire, your ceilings not turn sooty, and your glass not explode (<3), but you’ll actually get a ton more life and smells and enjoyment from them while they’re actually burning. MMOs are the same way. Just, you know, with less wax.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX), YouTube): I find myself burning out of my favorite games faster and faster lately. And that’s not just the genre. In general I’m starting to feel burned out from gaming. I think it’s because I’m ready to move on with the next stage of life: I’m going to be a father soon so I’m really excited about that. But it’s also changing my perspective on gaming. It’s not something I should be doing as much anymore because there’s so much work to be done, and I’m the only one that’s going to do it.

This isn’t to say that I don’t play games anymore. I want to do more than just play games. I want to make content for them, write about them, and ultimately make my own. The desire to not just simply be a consumer trumps my need to play the latest and hottest games.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I think my hardest learned lesson in burnout was when SWTOR was still newly released. I was in a guild with a bunch of friends and desperately wanted to have my Powertech up to snuff to join them in whatever endgame encounters they were planning. So I spent literally 12 hours in a sitting getting through to level cap (which was a lot longer then than it is in SWTOR now).

Shortly after I completed my grind, I felt literally physically ill. I couldn’t stand to play SWTOR again, let alone any MMORPG. It took me about a week to recover from that.

So yes, Justin’s advice absolutely rings true. Taking small bites of various MMOs and even playing things wholly divergent from the genre is vital to at least lessen burnout if it doesn’t halt it entirely.:

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Burnout affects me most in two forms: One, when I feel forced to grind for something I really want, and two, when I have too much to do in too many places and feel obligated to keep up so I try to (always to my detriment). For the first, I don’t mean working for something — I mean mindlessly throwing yourself at the same thing over and over and over for weeks and even months on end. Even fun things lose appeal when overdone, and unfun things just get unbearable! I get so sick of a game by the time I finally reach the prize that sometimes I can no longer stomach logging into it. So really, that backfires because once I hit a burnout from a game like that, I never find the joy in it again, and I pretty much lose real desire to play. For the second, just trying to do so much in so many games just makes me lose the desire to play because obviously I ultimately fail and it stresses me out. I certainly don’t need more stress in my life!

To combat burnout, I have been centering my attention more on eradicating feelings of “needing” to play a game because once I hit that threshold of it becoming a necessity or chore, it has already lost appeal. Mind you, that’s even for tasks and things I really want to do! Sometimes, even building or decorating houses has to be set aside because I need the break. Instead, for the last few years I focus on just playing what feels enjoyable for the mood I happen to be in or for the time frame I have. Let’s face it, I really don’t have as much time thanks to health and munchkin. If I can have that variety I need in one game, great. If not, I can dabble in a bunch of other games. I’ve also been learning to curb my guilt for not playing more/doing more/getting better gear or whatnot. It’s OK to not enjoy something right now, and I don’t need to feel badly about it. I am better about being OK with “missing out” on things now.

Point of note: I never once felt burnout from my favorite sandbox game where I could play for more hours a week then I’ll even admit. Because there was much to do and variety, not to mention community and RP. You can’t burnout when you are having a blast! So, I make sure I am having honest-to-goodness fun most of the time. If I’m not, it’s time for a break before I end up permanently severing my ties.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I’ve hit burnout a few times, mostly recently with Guild Wars 2. Almost every other game I’ve been more of a visitor than a true full timer. Although I was very into Warhammer Online when it was still fresh. After its first big update in the desert, the RvR began to get stale. Actually thinking back on it, I think it was the lack of cosmetics that finally drove me away. The good elves just had such trashy-looking gear, so I moved on. Well, that and the class balance.

But, yeah, I’d say I’m currently in a burnout too. Once COVID-19 hit and GW2 kept pushing forward with releases but without the voice acting, I realized waiting for that to be added back in was the best choice for me. I think I did the first sans voice acting update and it just had no life. I didn’t actually realize how much I loved the voice acting until it was gone.

So while I’m in burnout mode, I keep trying different games. I’ll put some time in Crowfall and I’m trying out New World now. Mostly though I’ve been smashing through some single-player metroidvanias – games that I figured I’d like but “didn’t have time” for.

I think that’s the best choice. No reason to play something you aren’t enjoying. It is about having fun after all. If it starts to feel like a drag but you keep playing through it, you’ll probably just end up hating the game. Instead do something else with your free time until it feels right to return.

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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