It’s Okay to Grow Up

When I was a wee one, I enjoyed watching Casey & Roundhouse and Sesame Street. They were great shows with silly humor that also taught kids a lot of important lessons.

But great as they were, at some point I stopped watching. I didn’t need to hear songs about the alphabet or counting to ten anymore; I had already learned that stuff. So I moved on to different types of programs.

I have a question, though. Why didn’t those shows change their format to grow with me? The characters from Sesame Street could all be in their 30s like I am, cracking racy jokes and teaching me about 401k plans and enlarging prostates. I mean, the show has changed a lot, introducing many new characters over the years, but it hasn’t changed to suit me. What gives?

This is essentially the same question a number of veteran MMO players ask, especially after spending years in a particular game. They say things like “Blizzard better wake up and change WoW, because giving us more of the same old thing won’t keep me logging in.” But these folks have forgotten why Sesame Street has remained vital for so long.

As we all know, there are always kids being born to whom Sesame Street will be fresh and new. The audience is constantly being replenished, even as older children stop watching.

Despite the complaints from certain veterans about how WoW isn’t doing enough to satisfy them, the subscriber base keeps growing. Players leave WoW just like they do any other game, but the subscriber base keeps soaring. Why? At least in part, it’s because the game stays true to what it is and maintains its core focus, even as it tries to find new ways to embellish and expand the ways it does so.

Significantly revising WoW in an effort to hold onto a single generation of veteran players would be like evolving Sesame Street to keep a single audience for decades. It might work to some extent, but doing so would change the core of what brought people to the experience in the first place. The farther you get from that core, the greater the chance that you’ll lose the people who originally bought into the vision.

(Insert your NGE reference here, SWG survivors.)

Of course every MMO developer would love to retain its audience for a decade–and indeed some players have stuck with UO or EQ since the day they launched. But devs are also realistic about the fact that churn happens; old players leave, and hopefully you get enough new ones to replace the ones that are gone. So far WoW and EVE have done a pretty good job of building positive growth, and lots of other MMOs have been able to retain enough of an audience to maintain insane profitability for many years.

Look, it’s okay to admit to yourself that you’ve outgrown a game. It happens. Take a step back and realize that maybe it’s you that needs a change, not necessarily the game. WoW is what it is, and maybe you just need to move on to something else. It’s not uncommon to change our favorite foods, TV shows, and authors every so often, so why is it so hard for some people to take the same view toward MMOs?

We’ve all seen those epic “this is why I’m quitting and why the game is gonna go to shit without me” posts from players who assume that if they don’t enjoy a game anymore then there must be something fundamentally flawed with it. It’s like posting a tirade about how the introduction of Elmo was the last straw, and Sesame Street is sure to crash and burn without you watching it.

Sure, one day WoW and Sesame Street will both go away. After all, everything ends sooner or later. It won’t be because you or I move on, but because alternatives arrive which will offer similar appeal in a format better suited for the new generation.

And that’s okay; it’s how life works. Just ask the Romans.

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