Research Paper Investigates Gamer Loyalty to MMOs

Research Paper Investigates Gamer Loyalty to MMOs

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A university study claims to have discovered the secret to player retention.

Online games are nothing without a loyal following of active players. Despite all the changes the genre has been through since the dawn of Multi-User Dungeons, the biggest challenge to developers has been attaining that critical mass of dedicated gamers. A recent study from the University at Buffalo School of Management explores the age-old problem, and it has concluded that online games need to increase feelings of character ownership and player cooperation. Science says so.

"Most prior research has focused on the addictive nature of these games," says Lawrence Sanders, professor and co-author of the study. "Our study looked at how to make them more competitive in the marketplace." This was done by following 173 MMORPG players and observing how different gaming strategies impacted the players' loyalty to their games. "The graphics and technology behind the games have improved over the years, but developers haven't made much effort to understand what makes MMORPG players really commit to one game over another," Sanders explains.

The study focused on two strategies of player retention. The first observed that player loyalty was increased when gamers were given more control and ownership of their in-game character. Sanders advises that one way to do this is to "provide equal opportunities for any character to win a battle." The second strategy found that cooperation between fellow players through guilds helped to increase loyalty and social identity. Sanders urges developers to "build more selective or elaborate chat rooms and guild features to help players socialize."

It's no secret that online gamers are drawn to the games their friends are playing, which means that maintaining player loyalty is crucial for game developers. Sanders notes that a 5% increase in customer retention can result in an increase in profits of up to 95%.

The suggestion about battlefield equality goes against traditional laws of MMO group dynamics, but Sanders may have a point. Guild Wars 2 was praised for its unconventional design. Likewise, a strong community is the reason Star Wars Galaxies still has a dedicated cult following a year after its servers closed, while The Old Republic just went free-to-play to attract more players. Game developers, take note.

Source: University at Buffalo

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So it's not just crack: it's crack that cuddles with you afterwards.

Tips for any starting mmo:
Step one. ADVERTISE. Many never get off the ground because no one ever hears of them.
Avoid pay to win model. Keep the cash stuff cosmetic.
Let the grind and reward match. Adjust rates as necessary.
Do not separate your playerbase.
Make the tutorial adequate but not overwhelming.
Let players host private areas from their own computers/servers/etc so that they will feel that the game will continue even if the main company loses financial interest.
Let players admin their own area.
Focus on story along with combat.
Do not necessarily make combat a requirement to progress. The RP crowd tend to be crazy loyal once they pick up a good pace.
Make the thing be able to run on decently older computers while having higher graphic levels for those with better hardware.
And finally with the most important rule of all...

LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERBASE, and not just the few people you know who play it. Read the forums, play the game.

The guild thing holds some merit. I think the reason I stuck around for so long in WoW was because of my guild of 4 years. Raided hardcore for 2 of them and the last two were just casual fun and hanging with the only online friends I've ever made.

I mean I love WoW as a game but my guild kept me around for sure.

I think they misunderstand "cooperation between fellow players". It's less cooperation and more 'i want to play with friends'. People wish to play with others they know. Therefore, to improve your game, either have everyone playing your game (impossible unless you are WoW and own everyone's soul) or make it easier for people to get to know each other and for them to do things together. Its a similar idea but not necessarily the same thing.

Sounds like pretty obvious stuff to me, but maybe that's because I've been around MMOs a lot since I first joined WoW in 2006 (I think it was anyway) - Even when I've not been playing them, I've known people that are.

I know someone that uses WoW as a chat tool when not raiding due to friends he's made in his guild, and I'd be willing to bet that it is something that is quite common.

It makes me wonder how well integrating Facebook with an MMO would be received - Completely optional of course. I reckon it would get very strong reactions from people that are against it due to not liking Facebook, but could work well if you could use in-game chat to talk to people on Facebook. Let's face it, it would then allow you to chat to people on Facebook without having to tab out (or rely on a second monitor / phone / whatever), which alone would make it alright. I'm sure there's other benefits that could be had as well.

Hey, a scientific explanation for why us City of Heroes players are all terribly upset and scrambling at the moment. We thrive on the control and cooperation...

This research sounds interesting and I do agree with it due to my own personal experiences, especially when it comes to the community of a game. If I had the money, I probably would've continued to play WoW if some of my friends stuck around and if the community didn't become so divided on the most trivial things. There's also a matter of the company not being up to snuff, but that's probably something to discuss for another research project, lol.

in other news, gamers were found to be one hundred percent more likely to finish a game when the game was "fun". experts are still deciding what qualities this designation of "fun" entails.

So a successful MMORPG should have good RPG elements and good Multiplayer elements. Wow, the clues kinda in the name there guys.

Why choose one game over another? Because you're friends are playing it. That doesn't even have to be multiplayer games.
Age of Empires, Command and Conquer, KOTOR, Heroes of Might and Magic, Worms, Halo, Medal of Honor Rising Sun/Allied Assault: All games I bought simply because my friends liked them, and I didn't buy Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow when a friend told me it was crap, but I rectified that when I got Chaos Theory for my birthday.
That's why my friends at school all played Runescape, and are still hooked on World of Warcraft. That's why half my university spent their afternoons on Farmtown (the game Zynga copied and pasted to 'create' Farmville) and Bloons Tower Defence, despite most of them never touching another game in their lives.

You buy games because the community you spend time with tell you it's good, not because of flashy adverts, not because of music video tie-ins, You see others having a good time with a game and you decide "I'm going to have a good time with that game too."

And I think that if an MMO wants players to be loyal to it, it has to be loyal to it's players; treat them fairly, don't squeeze them for every penny, don't mess around with released content they had to pay premiums to unlock etc.

DC Universe Online is alone proof that they've got a point. The gameplay itself was decent enough, even though most of the voice acting was terrible and you ran out of content to explore in no time whatsoever, but all the social features in the game where so cheap, bare-bones and clunky it was hard to really feel any kind of connection to the game or to other players. It was just terrible in every way possible, which in turn made it really hard for people to get together (even though we seriously did try, haha) and I'm pretty sure that even two years later it's still terrible and void of just about everything people have been literally begging the developers to add.

I really liked the chat system in World of Warcraft, for instance. Call me crazy, but one of the things that got me playing World of Warcraft for years was that the game's visuals and chat system gave a believable illusion of actually communicating with other characters. They were physically there, they were turned towards me so obviously talking to me, they were showing body language while talking (either through simple animations or written emotions) and the chat bubbles clearly showed that the dialogue was in fact coming from them. All of those things are really simple elements by themselves, but put them together in the way World of Warcraft did and you've set the stage for a system that people can 'project' their presence into and communicate through. There's a reason why role-playing in World of Warcraft is still a booming fad, despite all the bad-mouthing it gets, all the claims of developers neglecting that part of the community and all the regular announcements that the community is dead. The chat system is just that solid and it's just that easy to feel like a part of the community through it.

But if the chat system in World of Warcraft is like hanging out with your friends, the chat system in DCUO is like holding a conference call with a network of computer terminals out of the seventies. And holy crap did it hurt the game right away after launch, haha.

DugMachine:
The guild thing holds some merit. I think the reason I stuck around for so long in WoW was because of my guild of 4 years. Raided hardcore for 2 of them and the last two were just casual fun and hanging with the only online friends I've ever made.

I mean I love WoW as a game but my guild kept me around for sure.

Definitely. I'm also pretty sure that at least two of my four years of playing it were solely due to the felicities of swearing at the 24 other people in group with you for not doing their job =)

Yes, Its a borderline "Capn Obvious" thought to suggest that in game socialization helps retain real life membership. I dont think anyone doubted that. Actually I almost do find that surprising. The way WoW developed and the impact it has had on the entire MMO genre, socialization is a dead if not already dying aspect of MMOs. At one time, people would talk in MMOs and willingly discuss anything. Engage in role playing, tell jokes to each other, make observations about the game or other games. However in WoW and its spawned doppelgangers, discussion, socialization and conversation are basically lost arts. Replaced with laser focused discussion on gear, tactics, event planning and all other manner of Srs bidnit, So I find it really REALLY hard to fathom people are still finding themselves held together by socializing ties that bind when socializing has in effect long been dead and replaced with production factory mentality.

However, personal control? No. MMOs would never have gotten to the place they are now if Personal control was a major deciding factor. This is a misnomer.

What keeps players playing in this case, is character relevance. If you are a level 50 capped toon in TOR and have been since March, having all the customization and development options they have added since then is NOT keeping their player base up.

No, players need to feel like there is still something left to do. Something worth their attention. Once they no longer feel vested or engaged by the content, they will be more likely to loose interest and stop caring. Once you no longer care how your toon develops, it becomes a question of "why should I bother?"

It also goes further too. Again pointing to TOR. Part of the reason it essentially ground to a halt, despite all the good they did to attempt to innovate, and how seamlessly all the story aspect is woven in, the simple fact is that it will always be counter immersive because of the nature of MMOs. If you add voiced over pre rendered cut scenes, you essentially create a disconnect between the player and their toon. It does not feel as if you are playing your own story, as much as it is simply watching someone elses story unfold. That was one of the true principles in MMOs that seemingly has long been lost. The ability for the player to enter a world and essentially create their OWN story in that world and even if only in a minor inconsequential way, have some sort of impact on that world.

Thanks to the design and mechanics set forth by WoW, and all that have since copied and emulated it, that not only no longer exists, its basically no longer possible for it to be a characteristic of MMOs.

So, not fully agreeing here. Some might have been true at one time, but MMOs have evolved into something far different and in my personal estimation far less enjoyable.

I'm loving Star Wars The Old Republic, but it is indeed harder to socialize in that game then others. There's no CHAT BUBBLES. Chat bubbles are an awesome thing to have. When my character says something, she just continues standing stock still and the words appear in the upper left. She doesn't animate. She doesn't really talk.

Makes roleplay kinda hard.

Little bits like that add to the "Disconnect" with the game, and make me feel indeed that I have less ownership over the character.

DugMachine:
The guild thing holds some merit. I think the reason I stuck around for so long in WoW was because of my guild of 4 years. Raided hardcore for 2 of them and the last two were just casual fun and hanging with the only online friends I've ever made.

I mean I love WoW as a game but my guild kept me around for sure.

A-are you Felicia Day?
I'm just kidding.

Folji:
DC Universe Online is alone proof that they've got a point. The gameplay itself was decent enough, even though most of the voice acting was terrible and you ran out of content to explore in no time whatsoever, but all the social features in the game where so cheap, bare-bones and clunky it was hard to really feel any kind of connection to the game or to other players. It was just terrible in every way possible, which in turn made it really hard for people to get together (even though we seriously did try, haha) and I'm pretty sure that even two years later it's still terrible and void of just about everything people have been literally begging the developers to add.

I agree with all of this. I was excited to get a copy of DCUO for free (When it went f2p about a year ago) and I just couldn't get into it because of all those reasons.
It was a great idea and I really wanted to like it, but I couldn't. I think I've only played it three times ever since I got it.

OT: I really don't have time to play most MMOs although I wish I could. One kind of MMO I played only because I already had an account was zOMG from Gaia Online. I loved the fact that your was created by you from scratch. You want him to be naked and weak a box on his head? Good! You want him to look like Cloud Strife? Okay. You want him to wear a thousand belts and 50 pieces of garment while riding a tiger that has wings? Sure!
On top of that, the game gave the same weapons to everyone and it was up to you to level them up. So everyone had a fair chance at winning.
The chat system was good, for the most part. I mean, at least we had chat bubbles. And on top of that, I could play in real time with the friends I've already made on that site.

It had also some flaws and it sucks that they're still struggling to come up with a big update to continue with the game while the players get tired of waiting and abandon the game (Myself included). But that's what I thought about when I read the article.

SWTOR is free to play in name only I saw the page that shows what you get when you opt for free to play, you don't even get the main story line in it

 

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