Massively Overthinking: MMOs and ‘fresh piece of gum’ syndrome


Back in March, MOP reader Exarch Cathedra posted a comment to a Daily Grind about daily logins and sticky MMOs that caught my attention, and not just because it was a cute pun.

“If I care enough about a game that an inducement gets me to log in it will generally prove sticky, especially if I haven’t played in a while, reminding me of what I enjoyed about a game, but it has a ‘fresh piece of gum’ syndrome, it only lasts until I hit something that reminds me of why I’m not playing anymore, and then the burst of flavor fades,” Exarch wrote.

I wanted to talk about “fresh piece of gum” syndrome because first of all, what a good metaphor for this, and second of all, it’s something we don’t talk about very much when we talk about “sticky” MMOs: sticky for how long?

Let’s dig into it for this week’s Massively Overthinking. Talk to me about the MMOs you’ve returned to but couldn’t quite make work because the “burst of flavor” from returning faded and you left much sooner than you anticipated. Are some MMOs or MMO content types just better than others for holding your attention longer than a week – or longer than a month? Which MMOs function frustratingly like a “fresh piece of gum” – the upsides followed by the downsides?

Andy McAdams: I know raiding doesn’t do it for me. Raiding is like chewing the piece of gum that you chewed before and saved because you should probably be on Hoarders and expecting it to be something different than a slog to chew as you vainly hope to find an unchewed pocket of flavor.

The games that keep me coming back and enjoying it are the ones that always seem to have something I can do. But if I had to pick the one that gives me the “new stick of gum” syndrome, it’s FFXIV. I love the game, and I love so much about that game, but when I start hitting the 54,390,325th cutscene when I have only 45 minutes to play and I just really want to be an active participant in the game in the limited time I have, I get super frustrated.

Guild Wars 2 does a little better. I love the classes, the combat, the world; the lettuce people are still my favorite fantasy race ever. But eventually the lack of guided direction gets to me. I don’t always want to follow the beaten path, but I want the game to let me know it’s there. I’ll frequently set a goal for myself (like unlocking skyscale in SOTO), and I’ll achieve it and then go, “OK. Dunno what to do now.” And while I’m trying to figure that out, I just randomly port around Tyria aimlessly. I’d love to have a goal to follow when I don’t personally know what I want to do next but don’t want to do nothing.

Elder Scrolls Online is similar to GW2 for me in that I love a lot about it. But then I get tired of everything looking as if it hasn’t been washed in several decades. It looks like it’s covered in a layer of grime that I really want to clean…and can’t. Combat in ESO gets to me too because it starts to feel so samey so quickly to me.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I really do love the gum metaphor; it works so perfectly. Sugary gum is a huge blast of wow and then it’s hard and unpleasant super fast and rots your teeth! Sugar-free gum is mellow and chill and lasts longer and doesn’t wreck your enamel but also doesn’t give you that sugar high you were wanting.

I think Guild Wars 2 might be the epitome of the fresh piece of gum MMORPG for me. I deeply love this game, so I go back when ArenaNet adds new maps, I don’t think twice about preordering expansions, and so forth. And I play them and I have fun, and then I get past the “midgame scrum” and I bounce right off the wall of the game’s current endgame. There’s no sticky for me left once I burn through the sugar. It has been happening to me for years and years now in GW2, and I’ve come to terms with that just being how it is. GW2’s endgame is not built for my type of brain, and that’s OK. In a way, it just frees me up to play more games. I do the thing I like in GW2 and then go play something else until more of the thing I like is added.

(Incidentally, I wrote this before reading and compiling everyone else’s answers, and I find it endlessly entertaining that a bunch of us mentioned GW2 – but for entirely different reasons.)

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): To extend the analogy, I’ve played plenty of games that were Fruit Stripe and others that were Wrigley’s Spearmint: MMOs that absolutely fall in the latter category would include EVE Online, Albion Online, Embers Adrift, and Black Desert, while the former would include Guild Wars 2, Star Trek Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Pondering those lists a little more, I see it would appear that sandboxes – or the ones that claim to be the Right and True Way of the MMORPG – are almost immediately reviled by me at varying speeds, while most themeparks have a bit more staying power but eventually fade, or I can chew them longer, if you prefer. That fade is mainly because the endgame stuff sucks or the combat is just too boring or the community pushes me away.

But then there are plenty of other MMORPGs that are Bubble Tape – nice, long, and plenty of flavor, and even good enough to buy again to keep on enjoying the taste, with Final Fantasy XIV being the best example for me personally. What makes this a good gum is it hits all of the notes I want in an MMORPG: combat is good, classes are fun, the community is outstanding, the story is phenomenal, and the endgame things I take part in are engaging enough that I actually want to go further than I usually would dare. That’s some good bubble gum, y’all.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): A really good story can take me on a journey. The problem, of course, is that most stories struggle to be very good. And secondly, it’s difficult content to keep developing at a steady pace. After an expansion drops with some good story bits, I’ll chomp that stuff up. But then it’s done, and I’ll log off until the next bit returns. Very episodic, but not very good for long-term health, I don’t think.

Really good PvP is my main course, but it’s just been so long since I’ve played anything that I really, really, really enjoyed. It must be me because I just don’t have the patience to wait for developers to figure it out. I rarely even want to try a game that didn’t click more than once. I might just be approaching these games with the wrong mindset for what the larger pool of gamers want to play.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I don’t relate to this very strongly, but I suppose I have had this experience with Guild Wars 2. Whenever I return, I’m once again entranced by its beautiful art style and the freedom of its explorative gameplay, but the luster wears off within hours.

Even after a decade plus, it still feels like the game has no clear design vision. The horizontal progression and open world gameplay screams sandbox, but the devs put all their resources towards the most rigid, linear themepark content imaginable, be it fractals and raids or the story chapters.

Normally story would keep me invested in games, but the writing in GW2 is just so bad (and increasingly reliant on knowing GW1 lore) I can never bring myself to get invested in it. And exploration, the main thing I do enjoy in the game, eventually becomes a chore because all the higher level zones have insane mob density and respawn rates, with enemies that won’t stop CCing you.

I had a fair bit of fun playing GW2 with my friend, but that was mostly because of her rather than the game itself. It’s still a game that does a lot right, but as much as I want to, I can never get myself to stick with it.

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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