In a recent open-ended set of questions, I asked players whether their motivations for playing MMOs had changed over time. Initially, I was interested in seeing whether certain motivations tended to lead into others as a player spent more time in a particular game. For example, do achievement-oriented players become more and more competitive as they get tired of PvE elements and turn towards PvP?
As I started going through the player narratives, it became clear that many players do go through changes in why they play over time, but that it was more complicated than simply one motivation turning into another. For example, the following are very typical of the "play trajectories" that respondents described:
In the beginning, I was excited to discover new things and was mostly playing solo and loving it. Later I was more drawn to instances and having a fun guild. Now I have come to a point where what I want is to be in a 'serious' guild in order to do high end instances and raids, as well as hone my PvP skills and participate in PvP competitively. [WoW, M, 25]
I first started playing WoW because my husband wanted me to try it out. To my surprise, I actually liked it. I quickly learned that I was very good at making money and I really liked loot. I also started out as a solo player. Now we play together and are always grouped. I used to never do dungeons and now we have a group that does one every Friday night. [WoW, F, 30]
These narratives often blurred the boundaries between well-defined motivation categories, yet at the same time, it was clear that a general trajectory among players was being hinted at. Moreover, there were several points in this trajectory that many players described in very similar ways. Thus, it made sense to abandon framing what was happening as motivation changes and to think about the narratives more broadly as player life-cycles or play trajectories.
In the following pages, I'll lay out what the full trajectory looks like, from entry to burnout and possible return. It's important though to realize that many of the linkages of the trajectory are dependent on the game and how easy it is for players to move through different parts of the trajectory. And of course, many players drop out of a game without going through the entire trajectory because there wasn't enough to keep them going.
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