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1:24pm on Wednesday, 15th January, 2014:

Lessons from MMOs


So many of the things we see going on in the online games world, we've seen before in MMOs. We know how they'll pan out.

For example, MMOs have collections of instanced content that players can enter in groups of typically four to six for a honed, well-curated experience. In order to stop players running instances repeatedly and farming them for loot, developers use a system of cooldowns. If you complete an instance, you can't run it again for 18 hours, say.

What happens, of course, is that players run one instance then while it's on cooldown they run another, then another, and so on. In The Secret World I generally have 4 instances and 6 scenarios (that is, procedurally-generated instances) on cooldown. Other players do the same thing for raids (which tend to have longer cooldowns), but will switch between MMOs while waiting: they spend an evening or two raiding in WoW, say, then while the WoW raids are on cooldown they'll raid in SW:TOR or whatever.

To summarise, if you can't run one instance because it's on cooldown then you run a different one, and by the time you've run out of playing time then the first is back off cooldown. This tactic makes eminent sense, and it's standard practice among high-end MMO players.

Now some casual games use a similar mechanic for monetisation: you want to play, but there's an energy budget and when you run out of energy you can't continue. The developers hope that you will pay to buy some more energy (that is, to remove the cooldown). Indeed, players do that in sufficient numbers for this to be a profitable exercise. However, from what we see happening in MMOs we can deduce that as players develop their tastes and increase their level of sophistication, when their energy runs out in one game they will simply move on to a different casual game that isn't on cooldown. They'll keep several balls in the air at the same time. This will inevitably lead to a reduction in the efficacy of the energy mechanic as a means of raising money. Players will simply wait out the cooldown playing something else.

I thought I'd mention this idea because I've been intending to use it in a talk since about 2011, but no-one has asked me to give a talk into which it would fit. As it's lost much of its impact over the past few months, I thought I'd blog it before I forgot all about it...

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