Here’s my theory, and catch me if I’m wrong. The typical gamer is easy to please on the short term, hard to please long term. Halo, CoD, Batman – pretty much any console game has a ROI period of a few months at best. Rarely are any played past the 1 year mark. MMOs on the other hand, typically only get into the black after the first year.
While I love Rocksteady’s Batman series (really, it’s amazing), I can’t see myself playing it 4-8 hours a week for a year. Only RPGs ever reach that height of game time and that’s due to massive grinding (I have over 200 hours in FFX over many years). This is one main reason many games now have RPG elements – not so much for the customization but for the stretch in longevity. If CoD had no gated content with multiplayer, there would be a whole lot less players after month 2.
So, MMOs require some RPG element to gate content and stretch out the life of the game. Any game that does not do this, that gives access to everything on day 1, goes out of business on day 2.
MMOs need to make that RPG experience both rewarding in terms of goal but rewarding in terms of activity. FPS games do this well through bite size pieces of adrenaline – combat lasts 10-30 seconds at a time but there’s always a risk of dying. Hackers/cheaters break this experience though, so you do have massive bans from time to time. Typical PvP MMO don’t have cheaters, they have system abusers/exploiters. When you’re not beaten by skill but by some mechanical fluke, you’re less likely to continue to engage. UO failed to address this issue properly and lost a lot of people because of it. EvE has problems with this as well, since it’s a mob mentality. When it’s 100 vs 2, then there’s not much fun there. EQ took away the PvE zerg strategy because of this. Really good PvP is not static and each experience has enough nuances to make it different from the pervious. It also makes you a better player. Bad PvP has you mashing all your buttons. The rewards are certainly motivating but the actual ACT is motivating as well. There should always be something new as you’re working against 100K+ brains.
PvE content in general needs a risk/reward system as well. If you never have the chance of losing something, then the actual act is meaningless and only the goal is a reward. You then pick the most efficient route to get to that reward. Once you have it, then there’s zero reason to participate again. Eg: why go run a dungeon again if you have all the loot? Achievements were an attempt to solve this problem, especially those that say “stand on one leg and talk like a chicken while surviving the dragon’s breath”. It made you experience the content in a different light. Still, once complete, why bother?
Good PvE has you gaining skill and situational awareness. You should encounter different pieces of PvE abilities and be able to adapt on the fly to counter them. You can mess up a couple times but too often and you’re cooked. Bad PvE has you pressing the exact same buttons over and over again. The catch here is that there’s going to be a point where you’ve learned all you can and the devs can’t think of anything new as you’re working against 50+ brains.
A quality experience is defined by the journey and not so much the outcome. We could all say we’re going to take a trip to Vegas and back but how we get there and what we do once we’re there will give us vastly different experiences.