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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Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

21 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Grow Up”

  1. Best. Post. Ever.

    However, I do think that developers of MMO’s have been in a design rut lately and this is why a lot of veteran MMO gamers are becoming disillusioned with the genre.

    A genuine shift in design needs to occur so we don’t have to have feel like we have to grow out of a game.

    Hopefully that day will come sooner than later.

    Of course, now I have a gagillion Sesame Street songs stuck in my head that can only be purged with massive amounts of mindless faction grinding and potion chugging.

    Thanks for nothing. ;)

    Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive)

  2. My complaint is different… Why can’t they stay the same? I loved EQ. And if EQ today was the EQ of… say, Velious, with maybe the Planes of Power, but not with Luclin (because Luclin was a horrid expansion), I’d still be playing it, and re-playing it. But the EQ of today has changed so much that it isn’t EQ… its not Sesame Street, its like turning to the channel to watch Sesame Street and finding some other show there instead aimed at a different group of kids… EQ of old was aimed at EQ players… EQ of today is aimed at WoW players.

    Why did they have to change?

  3. It reflects much of what I’ve been thinking lately. I’ve been unsatisfied with games I have liked in the past, perhaps it is a matter of outgrowing them and I didn’t consider that. Thanks for the insight!

    Very good stuff here, how long did it take you to come up with that? :)

  4. You and your intelligent analogies. That makes way too much sense, I choose to disbelieve such a concept!

  5. To grow up and move on, you need something more grown up and different from Seasame Street to move your interest on to.

    And there’s the rub.

  6. The question that pops up then is when people have grown from the Sesame Street and Teletubbies MMOs, can they find MMOs suited for their “age”? Who chooses to make MMOs for other age brackets?

  7. My experience with online-gaming is quite different. The fundamental difference between MMOs and other forms of entertainment is the multiplayer aspect. I’ve quit WoW 3 separate times for at least 6 months at a stretch and in each case, weather coming or going, it wasn’t directly due to the game, it was due to the people. Before you judge me as the kind to “take my ball and go home”, the circumstances were much less melodramatic: A key person or two fell out of the regular gaming group (be it a toasted graphics card or real life getting too busy) and the game couldn’t sustain the remaining gamers on its own for very long (a month at most).

    Come to think of it, I saw the same thing with EQ, UO, Quake (I,II, and III), IRC, and multi-line chat BBSs.

    An online game really is what you and your friends make of it. That social dynamic is something Sesame Street can’t offer (which is probably a good thing for the show =D).

  8. If EVE Online is the next developmental phase of MMOs after the WoW crowd, I’d like to call a giant do-over. All day long I design UIs and manage databases… EVE Online is largely managing a database (the economy) and UI management (the entire game). Unless you get involved in the message boards and politics, EVE Online is just. not. fun.

  9. I’ll have to agree with jason about EVE. I’m playing EVE right now, and I’m moderately enjoying it. But, it is in no way a logical “graduation” for World of Warcraft players. It’s wholly different in almost all aspects.

    A logical WoW-graduation game would be something like going from Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) to The Dark Elf Trilogy (R.A. Salvatore). Then graduating from Drizzt, you might find yourself reading Elric of Melniboné (Michael Moorcock), though the line there is less clearly defined than the former example.

    What you’d really need for a true graduation MMO from World of Warcraft would be a more complex and “all growed up” fantasy game — not boobs and blood like Age of Conan, but something deeper both in theme (content) and gameplay (mechanics).

  10. Not to derail, but if all you’re doing in Eve is quests and trading… you’re missing a big part of it. I don’t play, so take this with some portion of salt, but my friends who do all spend their time flying around together blasting ships to smithereens, letting those who enjoy it do the building/mining/etc. for the “guild”.

    About the post, I agree, for the most part, though I wish it weren’t so. I’ve recently given up on classic MMO’s, simply because they take too much of my time when I play them. I’ve found others like– web-based MMO’s — can be a good deal more fun per minute spent playing.

    All that time in EQ, DAOC, EQ again, WoW… it just seems silly to have to spend so much time to get to the “fun” parts of these games. I used to tell people, “if it’s not fun, why are you playing?” I finally took my own advice.

  11. Some friends and I created a shit-talking motto for when we were not playing so well during our high school basketball games. It goes like this:

    “It’s not the game that sucks…it’s you.”

    And that’s what you’re saying here in a nutshell. While that’s not always true, and games do suck sometimes, a game is, as you say, what it is.

    Most power gamers…a group from which I’m retired as made evident by my early exit from AoC…learn to play a game for what it is. We learn the rules that are stated and unstated, and we play the game.

    We don’t sit back and wish a game to be a certain way. While others are doing that, we’re studying the way a game is and learning how to make due. That’s the fun for us. Serious game issues aside, of course.

  12. Amen. Well said. Grow up. Move on. Get out of your comfort zone. Figure out what makes a game fun for you, and go look for those games. There are a ton of MMOs on the market – some large-scale commercial (like WoW, WAR, LOTRO, etc.), some on a smaller scale, some free, some indie, etc. Nothing wrong with playing a game for a few months, and switching to another when it gets boring or you’ve grokked the pattern. Eventually, you’ll narrow down the type of game you like playing or you’ll realize you just love change and figuring out new games or both.

    I’ve always been boggled by complainers who make no secret that they HATE a particular game, but refuse to leave, and/or only want to play an exact clone of it. Ten years ago, I had friends on a diku-type SMAUG mud who loathed it, but wouldn’t branch out to try other types of MUDs – no, they only wanted to play other SMAUG muds, and then sulked when it wasn’t as good as the original. Present day is no different. If you’re tired of the “holy trinity” sort of MMO, then why are you running around whining that you can’t be a “pure healer” in some other game?

    The more things change, the more people stay the same. Guess it’s fear of change.

  13. Very interesting observation! For new players the current batch of MMORPGs is a lot better than what I played as I started, UO and EQ.

    But it definitely did not keep up with me, and I feel not TOO OLD with 32 years! It is about time that someone thinks about the mmo addicted kids that have grown up and designs a MMO for elderly people for them. Not so much kidding, I am dead serious.

    The x-th deviation of the EQ formula just does not do it for me anymore.

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