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Soapbox : As Time Goes By - MMORPG Dynamic Lifestyle Adjustment

February 8, 2006

My level 37 Blaster, Vanille Ice, is languishing on the City of Heroes Triumph server. I imagine him sitting on his frozen couch, twiddling his frosty thumbs and wondering where his crime-fighting days went.

My level 34 Barbarian Warrior, Atalanta, has been stranded in South Karana for over three years now. She had a moment of hope, a while back, when I logged on to demo EQ for a client. There she was in her resplendent Crafted Armor, aching for adventure. I had her kill a couple of Aviaks and then camped. I have not returned to relieve her tedium.

Like many Gen-X gamers, something called “Life” happened and cut into my game-playing time. I can carve 15- and 30-minute blocks out here and there and, once in a blue moon, find time for an all-out binge. While my EQ days may be over (sorry Atalanta), I would like to play more CoH. Every so often I patch my client to stay up to date, but never quite have the energy to click ‘Next' and take me down to Paragon City (cue Guns and Roses).

Why? Even though I have time to knock off a couple of missions and get a few steps closer to the next Arch Villain, the prospect of facing those ten empty experience bubbles is too much. I get my next power at 38 and I really want that delicious kid-in-a-candy-store feeling of perusing the racks (Frozen Fists? Acrobatics? Invisibility?) and making my selection. But I can't overcome my inertia.

City of Heroes

A while ago I figured I could earn a bubble or so a week without too much trouble. So in 2-3 months I could expect to level. By 2006 I'd actually be level 40 and closing in on my first Prestige Power. Yes! Well, actually, no. It's 2006 and I'm still shelling out $14.99 month for the privilege of parking my character. Since I'm in the business, this is a tax write-off and justifiable as “research”. However, I imagine more typical players would have pulled the plug by now.

Every year MMORPGs are getting more and more player-friendly. Worlds of Warcraft is light years away from when I had to run a near-naked Atalanta through Everfrost, at night, looking for her corpse in a snow drift. Now while that had a certain inherent drama to it, it lost its charm pretty quickly (listen to “Has Anybody Here Seen My Corpse?” at

What new feature is going to get me (and others like me) back into the game?

You've probably heard of “Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment”, or having the game adjust itself on the fly to better conform to a player's competency. What I want is something a little like that, only I'll call it “Dynamic Lifestyle Adjustment.”

To be fair, game designers and developers have certainly been asking themselves the question, “How can we keep a 5 hour/week player engaged in a game while the 40+ hour player is running laps around them?”

The venerable UO had the Power Hour, where bonus experience could be earned during set intervals. World of Warcraft provides an experience bonus if your character rests at an inn (the bonus earned when you play the next time). But these don't go far enough.

Here's what I'd like to see: instead of Vanille Ice and all the millions of unused characters sitting on their collective tookuses, why not imagine that each day they venture forth and do some low-level crime fighting (orc slaying, etc.) just to, you know, “stay in shape”. Now this workout wouldn't actually happen in any way visible to players logged on, but these characters would earn nominal amounts of experience each day. And in three months time, presto, a new level.

I'm going to posit that my new power just might kick-start me to playing more regularly and get me to 39 where my contacts will start giving me missions again, which leads to 40 and being achingly close to 41. Here I might slow down again, but in a couple months of some playing and some “working out”, I'd achieve that goal. With 50 finally on the radar, I'd almost certainly be subscribing for another year.

Taken to the extreme, of course, you have Progress Quest ( But I'm not talking about getting +48 Plasma Breastplates for doing nothing (and then auctioning it off on eBay). I'm suggesting that one way to keep marginal players playing (or at least paying) is to make them think they're getting something for their money. Believe me, if that new power was ready to be picked and played with, I wouldn't be looking at Microsoft Word right now.

I don't think character farming is an issue either. For one, the advancement would be too slow to make much of a difference for those with a profit motive. Even an account that allowed a user to have, say, 100 characters across all the servers, you'd have 100 8 th level characters after two years…with no gear. That'll buy you a cup of coffee after eBay takes its cut. And the issue could be completely quashed by only allowing one designated character to “workout.”

Here's another idea: use win-back marketing. Game companies know (or should know) the signature usage patterns that indicate a waning interest or loss of playing momentum. There must be a metric somewhere that defines the average length of time a player will pay to park an account until the plug is pulled. E-mail special offers to that customer. Give them a temporary power or assign their character a special quest.

Give them a reason to hit the ‘Next' button.


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