The Problem With MMOs Is The Investment

You’ve probably heard the phrase “the problem with MMOs is the investment” or something similar said a million times by now. Usually, it’s said by people who seem to think that others don’t want to invest in MMOs. It’s said by those who think their time is better spent elsewhere. But I’d like to posit a different hypothesis: People want to get invested in MMOs. The problem is that, once you’re already invested in a specific MMO, it’s hard to invest yourself in another.

We all know that MMOs take massive investments of time. It can take dozens of hours to reach the level cap, some games offering grinding as the only path to leveling up. Once you reach the level cap, you will spend upwards of dozens of hours on individual bits of content as you attempt to get that one drop that you need. It can be a painstaking process.

In order to get to a point where you can justify doing that much work for a single game, you have to become invested in the game world. Somehow, the game has to convince you that it’s worth spending time in. It could be anything. The combat could have a combo system that you really like. The game world could be rendered in a way that draws you in. Perhaps you actually like the characters in the game’s overarching story. Maybe you’ve created your own story for the village you’ve built. Whatever the case, that crucial moment where the game draws you in has to happen.

The problem with MMOs is that it’s always a combination of smaller parts of the game. It’s usually the exact way a game is done that draws you in. You could say the same about many single-player RPGs, given that the core differences between them are usually story-related, meaning that you get invested in the exact characters they provide, but it’s a bit different with MMOs. With MMOs, it’s never something as obvious as the characters that you’ve become invested in. Maybe the combat feels slightly more fluid. Maybe the costumes are slightly more to your liking. Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that it was your first MMO. But something has caused you to like this game more than the one before it.

Then you play the game for months, maybe years. You become exceptionally invested in the game’s world, in the exact way it plays. You become attached to it. Then, one day, disaster strikes. Maybe a core mechanic has been altered significantly. Maybe the game has stopped being profitable and it shuts down. Regardless, you can no longer continue playing it.

You begin searching for a new MMO, playing every new one that comes out. You might try dozens and not find one. Eventually, you give up and search for a private server for the game you used to play, hoping that one that emulates the era you’re accustomed to exists. But why? Is it because all newer MMOs are bad? No.

When you become that invested in a game’s world, playing for months or years on end, you’ve slowly become accustomed to the exact way that the game is. You can’t play other games because it’s hard to adapt to a game that’s almost the same, but not. You’re constantly going to be tripping yourself up, expecting something to be the way it was in the last game. Something will always feel slightly off and it will bother you until you end up quitting.

And so I’d like to posit that the problem with MMOs is the investment, but that the reason that it’s a problem is that they’re designed to be played for years on end, but they often don’t last for years on end. Players become invested to a fault. They only want to play that one game. They don’t want new games; they want the same game. This is why private servers are popular to this day. This is why people who play one game for years on end become MMO hoppers and can’t find another game. These games become somewhat of a home for them and they’re always going to be just a little bit homesick.

I've been playing MMOs since back in the day when my only option was to play Clan Lord on the family Mac. Since then, I've played too many MMOs to count. I generally play niche, sometimes even bizarre, MMOs and I've probably logged the most hours in Linkrealms prior to its current iteration. Currently bouncing between a few games.