Keen coined the term 3-monther to describe MMOs that only keep people entertained for 3 months at a time, then take a massive dip in subscribers (or simply players). His recent topic on how not all games follow this trend is divisive, to say the least. I certainly disagree with the permanent nostalgia he has for EQ and DAOC.
My thought on this is simple. Nearly every single game available today is an MMO. If you can play multiplayer and with multiple people at once, then it’s by definition, an MMO. Diablo 3 is an MMO, Dungeon Defenders, Call of Duty, the list goes on and on.
Way back when UO launched, there were a grand total of 1 other MMO available to play: Meridian 59. Remember that first to market topic I keep coming back to? UO’s success is based on this theory. When EQ launched, DAOC, SWG and finally WoW, there was no competition on the market. UO was a PvP gankfest where you could lose all your work in a flash. People jumped ship as soon as a “carebear” option became available (also the cause of the sharding of Trammel). EQ was a hardcore PvE grind with next to no content. You killed the same bears for 4 levels, which could take 8 hours or 8 days. Plus you needed a group to do it, which could take an hour to make if your friends weren’t online.
DAOC was a PvP realm game with next to no PvE, so it drew a specific crowd. SWG, at launch, was an amazing sandbox but it had massive imbalances. Without direction, people simply wandered without direction. NGE turned it into a themepark and it killed the population. WoW, at launch, was a solo-friendly, content-rich, PvE game that drew massive crowds. Up until then, it was next to impossible to find a game where you could actually accomplish something in 1 hour. Most other games, you had to wait an hour to get started.
You can see, there was next to no choice back then as to what game you wanted to play based on your playstyle. Hardcore PvE? EQ. Hardcore PvP? DAOC. Sandbox? SWG. Casual PvE? WoW.
Let’s count the number of casual themepark MMOs today. WoW, Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, RIFT, Star Wars Online, DCUO. That’s ignoring the F2P market, which has dozens of options. You can put your money anywhere.
All that to say that in today’s massive gaming market, you are near guaranteed to find a game you like, with an online component, at most every 3 months, if not faster. Heck, I’m in the middle of Borderlands 2 and Torchlight 2 right now. XCOM in a couple weeks will suck me in too.
The 3 month game is here to stay. MMOs can hope to keep people for longer but they will need to do the following:
- Aim for large box sales and a retention point of 25% or less.
- Release content at most every 8 weeks
- Concentrate on the core playerbase, they pay your bills
- Use the F2P market to decide which content your players want.
Success is possible in this new reality. RIFT is a prime example. So is DDO.