I don’t usually claim to be particularly fickle, but I’ve become more and more aware in the last couple of years that novelty really is a great part of the attraction in MMOs. It applies to most games, of course, but since we don’t tend to play single-player games for months or years, it’s less important there. By the time the novelty wears off in a single-player game you’re probably done with the game anyway.
Maybe it’s part of the reason so many of us are getting more jaded. It’s not just the novelty of a given new title that matters, but the experience of MMOs globally. Most MMO gamers I know agree that few experiences compare to that very first MMO you played, or played “seriously” — in my case Asheron’s Call, but it can be EverQuest, WoW, whatever. All subsequent games we play will never be as unknown, exciting and terrifyingly fun as that very first one.
Ultimately, most MMOs — at least the ones I’m familiar with — come down to a few core gaming principles. It’s that old kill-loot-level thing; and while the actual kill process may be slightly different from one game to another, it really tends to boil down to learning what keys to hit and in what order. For some people, that learning process is interesting and engaging in itself; for me, the novelty tends to wear off after a few weeks.
I’m not a raider, so learning what combinations of keys to hit in conjunction with X other players isn’t of any great interest to me. Once I know the basic ways to kill something — and those ways don’t really change for 90% of the content you’ll face — there’s not much more to be learned and thus not much more enjoyment to be had out of the now-flat learning curve.
I’m also not a PvP player, and I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should be. In the last few years I’ve noticed that for many people the lasting attraction of an MMO is the ability to play against other people, who at least aren’t as predictable as AI-controlled mobs and static spawns. But even so, doesn’t the sequence of actions taken in order to defeat even a live opponent tend to become the same? From the outside that seems to be the case: I’ve seen a lot of forum posts where people complain that PvP is a variant of rock-paper-scissors: Class A can beat Class B who can defeat Class C who can kick Class A’s ass. Once you know how to defeat a given class (or build in a classless game like Fallen Earth), most of the time you’re going to use the same tried-and-tested combination of moves to defeat it.
In most games I tend to end up crafting a lot, and that has a reasonably lasting entertainment value for me since it’s not so much the process I enjoy as what you can make and how you get the materials. As most of you know, I’m a confirmed harvesting junkie — which is true of me in Fallen Earth too, by the way. But again… even with crafting, stuff is fun to make the first time and becomes less so as you become more familiar with whatever it is you’re making.
So what do you do when the novelty wears off? Find something else to do in said game? Move on? Accept the lack of novelty and find other avenues of entertainment in the same game? Novelty isn’t, after all, the only criterion for enjoyment of a given game, but it certainly seems to be quite a large part of it. The act of learning is — at least for me, and for quite a lot of other gamers I know — enjoyable in and of itself, so when you first start playing a game you know you’re going to have fun because everything is new. Once things start to become familiar, you have to start working a little harder for your fun.
Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. I guess that’s just as true in MMOs as it is in relationships.
Write to Dear Ysh if you’d like some MMO advice. For RL relationships though, you’re on your own.