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Player Life-Cycle

General Observations

As I mentioned earlier, the full trajectory isn't something that every player goes through. It's a rough map of the potential player lifecycle. Oftentimes, players drop out in earlier parts of the trajectory, and many players who burn out don't recover.

While the lifecycle stages seem to hint at certain well-known player motivations, this is not to say that player motivations are strictly defined by the stages. Instead, the most sensible way of thinking about this is that motivations interact with the stages. For example, an introvert at a party may appear more outgoing than an extravert in a classroom, but personality and situation are still independent concepts. In the same way, a player in the Mastery stage may appear more social than a player in the Practice stage even though their underlying motivations may be the same.

There were several other interesting trends.

Broadening Play Motivations

It was interesting to see over and over again how players began to enjoy play styles they weren't interested in when starting the game, whether this was players discovering the joy of PvP or getting into higher and higher level raids.

While we hear more and more often that it's other people that keep players in the game, it's also important to understand that those social groups also come to have a role in pushing players along the trajectory.

I never thought I would belong to a guild, much less wind up being guild leader. I always said I didn't care about my epic; now I'm working on my 2.0. I never wanted to raid. Now I raid three days a week. I think it's because my friends in the game have all moved in that direction and I want to be with them. [EQ, F, 60]

Switching Gears

Of course, the trajectory differs by game depending on the game mechanics and in particular how easy it is for players to "switch gears". For example, if PvP is only available on a different server, then it's very difficult for a player to explore the competitive aspects of game-play, whereas designated PvP areas on an otherwise PvE server (such as in DAoC or WoW) provide an easy shift to PvP.

Landing Spot and the Slippery Slope to Burnout

There were two consistent patterns worth noting. One was the comfortable "landing spot" that the casual guilds provided for players who found the grind boring but had developed enough of a social network to maintain interest in logging in the game. Many players ended their narratives by describing that landing spot. They didn't see the need to grind endlessly and were perfectly happy where they were.

The second pattern was that players moving beyond that landing spot had either recently discovered serious raiding or guild leadership, or more commonly, were expressing the symptoms or past experience of burning out. This burn out seems almost inevitable as the rewards from high-end raiding (or leading a large guild) require a disproportionately higher amount of effort that isn't appealing to all but very serious players.


Posted on October 14, 2007 | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)


Very interesting article. I was one of the WoW players who burned out, badly, although I never got to the hardcore endgame; when I hit 70 I realized I could never enjoy the end game due to a lack of time along with a feeling of disconnect I was experiencing with the really "dedicated" players. I ended up leaving, and found new turf to explore in Guild Wars, which provided a more relaxed (casual) game model for me to enjoy at my own pace. I can see myself eventually exhausting GW down the road, and moving on to a new MMO at that time; I do not think I am the kind of player who can re-tread old and worn turf, I suppose.

Posted by: Nicholas Bergquist on October 20, 2007 7:35 AM

As far as I can admit, for a year and four months I'm in Ran Online (the Philippine edition of a South Korean MMOG -- naturally a standard grindfest), ploddingly slow to play on weekends because of other personal commitments, and everyone else -- most of them 10 years younger than I am -- frantically try to get to the top. Of course, in that rat race most of those guys (and the girls) who don't have the time and money to grind 24/7 do crash, burn and drop out of the game, them going emo, yelling "I quit" and sell their accounts underground to some rich kid who wants to do a Texas jump to the endgame... but silently I have the last laugh, the foresight and the satisfaction, because I like to play the game casually at a comfortable, reduced-cost pace as if I'm having my weekly paintball session or a round of basketball on the street.

Honestly speaking, I end up wondering if my fellow players -- grinding like crazy, obsessed about the golds, the drops and the power -- could answer this crucial question: are they satisfied?

Posted by: Oneesama on October 22, 2007 8:54 AM

My brother and I are probably on the End-game casual stage, but probably not on quitting anytime soon. We only attend the so-called siege/guild war times, and I alternately use various characters so I won't be burnt out easily. Yeah, we only have mid-level gears, but we are pretty much on par with the high-level geared players

Posted by: Whistler on October 22, 2007 10:43 AM

My wife and I recently re-started playing again also, although we still have many RL comitments to uphold. Having been part of that serious raiding guild, raiding 4-6 days a week, grinding for mats, or content to explore future expansions, we essentially quit playing when the necessity to log on conflicted to much with RL issues - soon after everyone else started leaving. When we returned, after about 1/2 year, 80% of the people we once cherished as friends had moved on to other servers or quit. Now we just play to play together...

Posted by: Thomas on October 22, 2007 4:34 PM

I think there is a connection between accomplishment and the ability to discuss the game with friends. When my husband and I had friends in town (with lots of time), We played WoW, Counterstrike, Starcraft 2 and Final Fantasy XI seriously, hoping to become the best there was. We discussed the mechanics of the game away from our machines for about 1/4 or 1/5 the time we played. We played together in groups of 3 to 5 people as often as we played alone. Now we live farther away from each other, work longer hours, and rarely have such talks. Mechanics discussions are difficult on vent, with frequent interruptions, and slow to develop in forums. My husband, friends and I still play, occasionally, and much more casually.

Posted by: April on October 24, 2007 4:53 PM

My path is similar to the others - I went from "casual" (EQ -> AC -> FF XI) to "hardcore" (raiding in WoW mainly) to "casual" again (recently got back into WoW with my girlfriend and some other friends).

It's nice to see a lot of what I saw and experienced written down and analyzed. I look forward to your other posts.

Posted by: Richard "Pocky" Kim on October 25, 2007 10:03 AM

Neat article! I think this is a valuable insight into the psychology of players and I might try to gauge 'good fits' for new folks into my guild based on knowing what stages they may have already been through at what their comfortable 'landing spot' is.

One reply to comments: Hey April, I have to presume you meant Starcraft, as Starcraft 2 isn't out yet. I sure wish it was though! =)

Posted by: Rihlsul on October 25, 2007 10:07 AM

Very accurate. Thanks for doing all the research and sharing it with us!

Posted by: Rusty Lloyd on October 25, 2007 11:51 AM

Thx for the article.
This is all about my game experience.

Posted by: on October 26, 2007 1:59 AM

This article rings very true to me. I played PSO (Phantasy Star Online) through 3 versions for a total of about 5 years. It was a much more relaxed game more focused on the grind, with no big end game raids, with groups usually being casual and small. It was a game that I kept playing for all the friends in it.

I transitioned into wow with my then boyfriend, after finally having my final burnout on PSO. The game started very casual, much the way PSO had, with small groups and making friends. I did lots of pvp and we took our time leveling and the game was shiny and fresh.

By the time we hit 60, the casual guild we were in merged with a real raiding guild, and all of a sudden I had all these people who were counting on me to show up to raids to heal. I loved it, and I was addicted to 'phat loots' and making my character better.

Being a raider became being an officer and a recruiter, which meant more obligations. And a few months after that, drama lead to a guild split, where somehow I found myself the new guild leader. By this time the obligations had made wow a job. I got on, I healed instances, I beat the pavement recruiting people to the guild, I tried to hold things together, but nothing could stop the drama from rolling in.

In the end DRAMA(all caps) and work-like obligations caused my burnout with wow. The guild fell apart and disbanded, and we took a three month break.

My current boyfriend finally convinced me to get back into wow by rerolling the opposite faction and starting fresh, and things are going good. I'm actually excited about getting to the cap and joining a nice casual raiding guild where I don't have to be an officer, and can just have fun again.

Posted by: Michelle on October 26, 2007 6:22 AM

Fascinating article, thank you for doing the research and sharing your results. I see myself and many of my friends & guildmates reflected in so many of these stages of progress.

Something I found interesting was your choice (or the availability?) of quote sources for the Social Leadership section. Every other progression point contained quotes from at least one WoW player (sometimes all quotes were WoW-based), from a variety of age ranges. The Social Leadership section, in contrast, was entirely non-WoW, and entirely age 34 and up. I wonder if there's something to that?

Posted by: Talia on October 31, 2007 12:48 PM

I can somewhat relate to this article, but I think you need to vary your data. I see most of the respondents you get play WoW, or EQ, or GW. Well, these days, a lot of people are into F2P games exclusively because there are so, so many of them now, whereas before, P2P was the standard.

When I was young and poor, I couldn't afford a monthly fee and spent many years on F2P games. Now, I'm giving P2P a try for the first time and I have discovered that they are a very different kind of beast. The mindset of the average player is totally different, it's almost like I'm trying MMOs again for the first time.

I would very much like to see more comparison between the psychology of the F2P player, and the P2P player. I think it would bring up some very interesting contrasts, especially regarding burnout, because in many F2P games, there is no level cap or end-game.

Posted by: ceta on November 2, 2007 2:27 PM

Interesting qualitative study

Having been a day one MMORPG player (back in 97) I have been both a player and an outside observer of the game .
I suggest that there is a quantitative relationship between the evolution of a game's sociology and the lifecycle of the product (game) .
What has always stricken me (especially in level based games) was what a HUGE waste of work was done on the world's design .
Indeed if you trace a graph representing the distribution of the population in the levels and follow it through the time , it looks like a wave rolling (very fast) from 1 to whatever the level cap is .
There is the biggest difference between RL where the distribution of the population among levels (age) is roughly a static Gaussian while in the game it is a steep wave rolling quickly to the level cap .
That has important consequences on the social structure within the game .
It is like a civilisation where there would be less and less children and more and more very old people .
90 % , then 99 % then 99,9 % of the game's content becomes useless because it was designed for the virtual children and there are none anymore .
That's why rerolling to extend the game's enjoyment is not really a solution because there is hardly someone to play with you on the lower levels .
If somebody had played EQ , try to get in Norrath if only for one day and you'll understand at once .
The places filled with life and adventure that many fondly remember (like an old man fondly remebers his youth) - Oasis , Rathe Mountains , North Karanas , Freeport , Burning Woods etc are completely empty and depressing .
Norrath or 99 % of it feels dead .
That's why the social structure in the game switches from the one of a schoolyard to the one of old generally bored people .
The analogy holds untill the end .
What else is a burn out than a virtual death of the character that has been "living" in the virtual world ?
The extensions and add ons are only a costly therapy to avoid the unavoidable , the end of the life cycle of the game by its (virtualy) overaged population .

Posted by: Tom on November 5, 2007 2:16 AM

Great article. As for myself, I'm an MMO Vet in general. I've played GW, got a few 50s in CoH, and have a 70 in WoW. I know all about this since I've seen it and experienced it but it's very nice to have it laid out like this and to see it from this perspective. Mainly when I get burnt out of one MMO, I move to the other. I might spend a year or so playing WoW, then move back to CoH for a year but I've also managed to keep in contact with people from each of these games, to always stay on top of things and to keep in touch with the great friends that I've met. Some others might not have the ability to be in this situation, switching between MMOs, but I feel if you really want to keep yourself stable with this game genre, you need to be proactive from becoming a burn out.

Posted by: Nate (Jinx) on November 5, 2007 7:51 AM

Nice article, now I know what to avoid =) It seems like most of the cases of burnout results from raiding or "serious" guilds in which the game begins to feel like a second job shortly there after. I wonder if the virtual "burnout" could be comnpared to burnout in real life that happens as a result of job drama, stress or extreme materialism?

Posted by: Lovelace on November 5, 2007 2:08 PM

I a comment about this though. I find that there can be a stage where a player gets bored with the game but sticks around helping other players. My last few months in WoW were like this, before I quit the game I spent a lot of time helping other players, and before I quit I gave away a large amount of my gold and items to random passers by.

Posted by: Penguin on November 7, 2007 5:20 PM

Nice article, there's defintely some quality stuff in there. I did find it interesting as well that the social aspect portion was almost all non-wow players and that most were in their 30's. I also wonder if there is something to that. I myself have experienced many of these I played SWG for 4 yrs as my longest running and went through the cycle not once but twice when I was first in it, quit, came back and then cycled through it again. I also played about 20 other mmo's during those times and many did not even make it through cycle one....aka DnL.

Posted by: Ag on November 11, 2007 12:48 PM

Chilling. ;) That's exactly the cycle I went through. I started WoW to play with RL friends, and I eventually ended up raiding 7 days a week, 6 hours a day. I quit for a good two months, but I'm back on WoW now and am firmly casual.

Posted by: Katherine on November 12, 2007 12:33 PM

I beta-ed wow, and raided up to naxx. Worked hard. Burning Crusade ruined all that hard work. So I noggenfogerred down to troll village in winterspring and logged out. Sold my T3 Lok on ebay for 500 and quit for 5 months. I re rolled a shadow priest and casualed him to 70. Recently quit. Never joined a guild knowing it would suck up my time, and my wife is not a gamer (immune to fear *)All hard corers now-all your work a waste of time when Lich King comes out. It never ends.

Posted by: ix on December 2, 2007 1:22 AM

Excellent article. I think it hit many good points in so many ways from a study point of view rather. I found myself related to many of those steps.

My story (short): I started with FFXI and played for 6-7months. Eventually, I gave up on that game because it was tough getting a group. I've even tried many high party desirable classes (white mage and bard) but even then it took a while to get a party going. So I got into WoW during stress tests. I ended up rolling on many new servers so I 'd have a fair "chance" to get to 60. After a while I gave up on that and then just decided to level up a character 60, I did that. My class was not desirable, then I rerolled a class that was. Then BC came out, and rerolled a NEW class and finally hit 70. Then I got another class 70 and got him raiding-ready-gear. I joined a guild that offered "fair" chances to get into raiding but I found out that unless you know them (in real life or for a long time), the chance to get into a raid are minimal. That night it hit me...why am I so angry? I looked at myself in the mirror and asked ... is this really worth it? I calmed down and this weekend didn't even launched WoW. Yeah, I replaced it with another "drug" by playing non-MMO games. However, I found myself easier to put down those non-MMO games than WoW. This weekend my car broke down and I got the flu...yet I feel like this is the best weekend in such a long time. I thought my RL job was the one responsible for my stress. But today, I actually felt good (I have the flu still) and have been very productive.

I'll never go back to FFXI because I think of the grindfest and how crazy it is to level up a character. This day I asked myself how in hell I did that for 6-7months. Once wow is out of my system, I'll be asking myself, how in the hell I wasted 3 years of my life playing that game.

My goal is to detox myself. It won't be easy but I got my gf's support and my own. Besides my baby boy is due in 3 months, so that will be another good distraction from MMOs. The MMO joy was great while it lasted though!

Posted by: Jose on December 3, 2007 10:42 AM

That's life..some people are consumed by acquiring wealth and seeking greatness. Those folks sometimes find, that the top is a lonely, unsatisfying spot to occupy. Happiness ingame is like life..unless you become a shallow dry well..full of goldpieces...and "all dressed up, with nowhere to go". It is comical how closely the real and virtual worlds parallel.

Posted by: Zermata on December 11, 2007 10:01 AM

It was surprising at how this article accurately described many of the same things that I've gone through. "Cycle" is very appropriate term: having played WoW since open beta and engaged in serious competative raiding in the past, I found myself burned out and eagerly rerolled with a friend on another server. Now, some time later, I find myself still on that new server eagerly exploring the newer content in large raids on multiple characters, but there may come again a time when I start to feel burned out.

Fortunately, there is always the social aspect of the game (particularly roleplaying) and my position of leader of a guild to keep me otherwise occupied and to ensure that I'm not just logging in each week to raid. I've enjoyed assuming a leadership role, especially in view of being thought of as a source of information and assistance, especially with our neophyte members who are still in the initial stages where everything in the game is shiny and new to them; I'm able to recapture some of that feeling through their eyes and enthusiasm.

Posted by: Cynra on January 10, 2008 10:49 AM

Wow, that cycle is perfect. I'm probably at the end of the cycle now in the casual area, which is why I play Tabula Rasa (doesn't require you to join a guild at higher lvs and do raids). Anyway, I noticed almost all the quotes are from WoW players. I hope future articles can have more variety.

Posted by: Disastorm on January 15, 2008 11:07 AM

I'd say that these observations (and the results that you've put forth) are quite on par with the events that I've been through in each MMO I've played.

Posted by: occulte on January 29, 2008 12:00 PM

I've been through most of the stages you mention while playing FFXI. I never really burned out or got heavy into Endgame, but I knew so many people that had burned out that I have always made an effort to not let the things that burned them out affect me.

A lot of my friends burned out and quit, but I always was making a lot of new friends and had personal goals that I was working toward, so I never really burned out. I also get sent out of town for work a lot and don't bring the game with me, so I get a lot of breaks to let any frustration that I might have dissipate.

I miss my in-game friends who have left the game, but we have developed many RL friendships that have surpassed any expectations that I ever had when I started playing. Now, some of those same people who quit are talking about coming back (I have maintained our old linkshell website even though it's been disbanded for almost a year now).

I don't know if all of those guys/girls will be back for sure yet, but I predict that they will pretty much be of the Endgame Casual mindset from the get-go, even if they have to start a new character from scratch. I, of course, will draw a great deal of pleasure from helping them along the way and will likely even level some job that I don't really care about just to be with them.

Posted by: Aramina on March 30, 2008 5:29 AM

I think, in WoW, player vs player is the easiest area for casual end-game to do well in. Arena teams do require some dedication, but games don't last nearly as long as raids. A 1 hour battleground is considered to be very long and arena battles rarely go over 10 minutes, as opposed to 3-6+ hours for a raid.

I myself play WoW... I started as an undead mage with friends who eventually quit, and due to some bad gold management I decided to re-roll a gnome warrior. After a while I got sick of that character (and faction...) and decided to give the mage another go. I remembered how fun mages were to play, and it just so happened that I chanced upon a 70 who was quitting who gave me a few hundred gold and I was back into it again. I am still playing that mage, who was 33 when I started playing him again; he is 68 now.

I level very casually. I do alot of PvP which allows me to build up rested state. This means that the actual levelling part of the game is very short and when I hit 70 I should have enough honor to buy most, if not all, of the gladiator's gear. Free epix ftw!
Sergeant Chenyueh - level 68 mage - Darrowmere

Posted by: Elmo on March 31, 2008 1:12 PM

As a WoW player myself, Ix's comments were interesting to me. Maybe it's an obvious statement, maybe not but it seems that when a game like WoW (or other MMOs) change game play significantly with a new expansion, the people who worked the hardest in the previous version seem more likely to eventually suffer burnout.

In the time since release, the goals of WoW changed with each subsequent patch and most dramaticly with BC. I would venture a guess that the content patch/expansion element of MMOs contributes to burnout. Mainly because the game that one buys is not necessarily the game they will be playing in three years. Certain classes initially start with one role while leveling and in end game they have to conform to game mechanics they were potentially unaware of.

And as Ix noted, when new content is released, often times the hardcore raiders/players suffer the most because they have put forth more hours and they are often disappointed to see that the pieces of gear they worked so hard for are now easily obtained.

Interesting topic, I am also curious what the life cycle of other MMO players is since WoW is my only MMO experience.

Posted by: Kat on April 6, 2008 6:32 PM

I love this article. I am experiencing burnout right now, I am tired of seeing the same stuff over and over again. I think MMO's should try a new method. The endgame "gear grind of deat" isn't working for me and many others I know. I think i will try a game that is in beta development. I miss the times when the WoW (current mmo i am playing) was just fun and there was so much oppurtunites and possibilites. Now it's just like I am walking on a straight path with no others to take. And than the worse aspect of it is at the end, all that work will be for nothing. They will just make more gear, more stuff i need to grind for, more time wasted. I think i will try to play casually in the future. Casual players seem to more "stable fun" if that makes since. I am so burned out it's not funny. The only thing that has been keeping me from destroying my account is the time i spent in it. But i have already deleted all the characters on my account except one and i think i will do that in a week. I am probably the definition of burned out.

Posted by: Zeke on December 9, 2008 7:55 AM

Hey and thanks very much for the article, I was passed the link from a friend ingame and quickly passed it on to more people once i had read it. I couldnt quite beleive how accurate it was to how my game life has been in several games over the past few years. I am definitely past the burnout stage now, After leading raids and guilds through instances for months on end i really do find myself only logging in to see friends close friends in a small social guild where we have great fun but with none of that pressure, Completely casual. I really dont get the satisfaction i once did and i am kinda glad about that now, I couldnt see at the time how it was effecting my real life. Like you said above...It becomes a job in a way.

Once again, Thankyou for the time and effort put into this it has changed my view yet again on this subject and many of my friends ingame also.

Max :)

Posted by: Max on June 4, 2009 1:04 AM
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