When Lord of the Rings Online kicked off its head start in April 2007, little did I know that I was logging in for what would prove to be the first of many, many years of play in Middle-earth. Oh, I had hopes, but there’s no way I would have predicted or assumed that the game would be here in 2023 and still roping me into its detailed universe.
So let’s look at this subject today and a few of the solutions that I’ve found. Call it “burn-out insurance” — some strategies that help keep a player from one day logging out in disgust or weariness and never coming back again. And even if you don’t play LOTRO, these three tips help in any game you might call “home.”
Make “variety” your watchword
It’s just how we’re wired, I think. When presented with a giant buffet at a restaurant, after a few visits we’ll almost always go for the same few safe and familiar choices. Give us a lot of options, and out of necessity to avoid feeling overwhelmed and lost, we’ll narrow those choices down to a handful and then build ourselves a quite comfortable rut.
And aren’t we often like this in MMOs? Some of it is our fault and some the way the devs try to channel us toward certain activities over others, but the end result is a routine that goes from comfortable to poisonous if it’s pursued too long.
The answer is as obvious as it is difficult to actually do, and that is to pursue variety in one’s gaming. Yes, this can mean switching between titles (which I do), but also changing things up within a single MMO. LOTRO is replete with options that aren’t just your typical questing and leveling, and it’s pretty healthy to take a break every so often to engage in these other activities.
For example, for some time now I’ve made it a core practice to rotate between alternate characters (usually two or three). This keeps me from spending too many consecutive days in any one zone (especially gloomy ones!) or with any one class. I may not progress on any one of these as quickly as I would if it were the only character I played, but I stick with it a whole lot longer.
Beyond character rotation, there are so many ways you can introduce variety into your LOTRO diet. Take a day to roflestomp some intentionally low-level dungeons. Go cosmetics hunting (or shopping!). Clear out deed logs for virtue XP and LOTRO Points. Run through the Bingo Boffin quest series. Do some missions or challenge yourself to a delving. Start a new character on a higher difficulty level. Max out a reputation in a zone. Craft to your heart’s content. Decorate a house. Dip into festivals and other sporadic events. Be a tourist and go lore-hunting in a zone.
Throttle engagement up and down as needed
When I look back at any hobby or pursuit in my life, the times when I’ve flamed out hard are the ones when what should’ve been a side activity became an unhealthy main obsession. As fun as it is to chase the highs of gaming — as in, “I’m totally hooked!” or “I’m addicted!” — this isn’t sustainable and can have adverse effects, especially if and when I hit that day when it’s suddenly no longer interesting to me.
The way I started to look at this is to get past an antiquated MMO notion that you have to be “all in” on a game if you’re playing it. It doesn’t have to become a second job or substitute life, after all. And as tastes and enthusiasm levels fluctuate in other areas of life, so too with gaming.
Instead, I’ve adopted the technique of throttling up and down in MMO engagement. By that I mean that I continually monitor my interest level, available free time, and burnout potential, and I adjust how much I’m playing based on that. If I’m having a really good time and feel like I’m on a hot streak, sure, I’ll throttle up and give LOTRO some extra hours here and there.
But if I start feeling like I’m doing the same-old, same-old, if there’s nothing that’s really grabbing my interest in the game, or if there’s nothing new on the horizon, I may throttle down my time — going so far as to skip days or even give myself permission to take a month off here and there. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this can be especially true when it’s toward an MMO that you left on good terms (rather than burnout).
Invest in the social scene
OK, before you grimace and engage in some reactionary “don’t tell me to group up!” rhetoric, hear me out. I’m not always the most social person myself. Like probably many of you, I’m on the introverted side of the spectrum, quite content to “play alone together” for much of my MMO time. But it’s presumptuous to assume that introverts and soloers don’t appreciate and even occasionally crave social connection.
Anyway, what I wanted to say for this third and final tip is that the social scene is key to providing a “stickiness” to an MMO that can’t be replicated with cold systems and progression treadmills. The human factor is one of the most defining characteristics of MMOs, after all, and it manifests in many ways, from people running by to global chat to the economy to well-oiled teams pushing into raid content.
Isolation isn’t good for human beings, and if we’re to spend hundreds of hours in a game, it’s not good to condemn ourselves to solitary confinement. In some way, shape, or form, it’s beneficial to connect to the social scene as a further buffer against burnout.
Even lurking quietly in kinship chat is a social connection of a sort. It’s fun to see what others are up to, hear advice traded back and forth, and be encouraged in journeys. But when you go beyond this level of passivity, there are plenty of ways to invest into relationships and experiences that quests can’t give.
LOTRO is famous for its social scene, from costume contests to band performances to player-run events, and it’s never a bad idea to take a break from trying to race to the top of the leveling ladder for a spot of freeze tag, a poetry reading, or a bar crawl. When you make friendships and have a good time hanging out with others, you tend to grow more attached to a game and less likely to become bored with it.
Those are my three main pieces of advice, but I’m certainly open to hearing yours! What techniques do you employ to keep burnout at bay?