Massively multiplayer online games are rather unique as far as video games go. Self-proclaimed gamers don't necessarily play MMOs while MMO players don't necessarily care about video games, as if MMO subscribers are a separate breed of gamer all together. This generalization is not surprising, however, when we consider how much time someone must put forth to MMOs in order to progress. MMOs bank on such dedicated players and their continuous participation -- hour after hour, day after day -- more than any other type of video game. So the developers have to construct a solid product that succeeds at drawing players in, and much like a spider's web, refuses to let them go afterward.
Thus, player addiction means profit for the studio and publisher. If you're still trying to claim there's no such thing as video game addiction in this day and age, you may as well be arguing against the existance of global warming. While researchers have definitively proven there is such an addiction, countless gamers have also acknowledged the unforunate phenomenon as well.
There is no official guide out there for studios that are trying to create the next most addicting MMO, but if you look at the existing MMO titles out there, they all seem to follow a very distinct model. There are various ways of hooking players, and not all games utilize the exact combination; yet overall, their methods are similar and overlap in more ways than one. So if you're one of those forward-thinking individuals trying to cash in on this recession-proof market, here's a nifty synopsis of underhanded tricks and other things to keep in mind.
- Always include elves and some kind of anthropomorphic race where the males look more incredibly badass than the females, who for some reason will always still have the same body mold as humans. Everyone likes elves and furries, there's just some odd unwritten law that demands it. Lonely guys who will either make a female elf to stare at, perhaps as a substitute to hentai or porn they'd otherwise be throwing the money away on, or some kind of badass furry to express their inner greatness. Surprisingly, the sexual exploitation of female elves won't drive female players away, as many girls in MMOs also make elven characters. Don't ask me why, I don't see the attraction. You'll also find that a good chunk of the elven male population in any MMO consists of female players. I'm pretty sure it's the same sad mentality behind guys creating (elven) female avatars -- eye candy.
- Include dungeons and other prime raiding environments. Make sure the bosses are ridiculously overpowered and require a coordinated team of 20 or more players. Searching for competent teammates to fill the ranks always takes up more time than the raid itself, but this doesn't deter players. They'll run in time and time again, no matter how many times they're wiped out. Kind of like watching a insects fly into glass windows -- over and over again. These activities ensure your subscribers spend an obsene amount of time in game, and everyone knows that time is money.
- Speaking of time, grinding is the core of any decent MMO. Set the level cap above 50 (some games soar past 100) and expand the experience threshold for each new level. This way, leveling becomes a grind, but players will put up with it just to access end-game content. Adding features like professions and weapon proficiency will also drag out the grinding. Think carrot on a stick!
- Constantly update and patch the game with arbitrary bug fixes and class changes that will throw gameplay completely off balance. Just for the hell of it. Players will complain on the forums but for whatever reason, they still refuse to quit.
- Hold special in-game events for your players, like holiday quests and items. No matter which part of the world your players are from, they'll appreciate seasonal events for holidays like Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine's Day. You can mess around with the names and traditions too, or make up new ones according to the game's lore.
- Money. That's right, you've got to figure out how to suck your subscribers' wallets dry. Getting players to pay up doesn't actually require established addiction either, as seen in the case of Blizzard's World of Wacraft. The game and expansions all have an initial retail price, but then Blizzard goes beyond that to charge a pay-to-play fee. World of Warcraft fans will defend this business tactic, saying the money is needed to maintain servers, employees, yadda yadda, whatever. You know what that monthly fee really does? Force even non-believers to play just a little longer. Mobile phone companies generally require consumers to sign contracts when they purchase their phones, binding customers to their payment plan for a specified period of time. Similarly, WoW subscribers can choose two methods of payment: pre-paid time cards or automatic payment via credit card. The pre-paid cards go for $30.00 and include two months' worth of play time. There's no option to pay less for less time. Sure, Blizzard isn't forcing you to play consistently for two months, but who likes to waste money? Once you've paid for the two months, you're probably going to make the most of that $30.00 you just tossed, right? If you go with automatic payment, your credit card gets charged each month and cancellation requires that you call customer service, where the operator may or may not give you a hard time. Luckily, that's more trouble than most people are willing to go through, considering gamers are at a point where switching discs during play is just too much work.
- Free games that cost nothing to download and play can offer certain incentives like special gear, mounts, or items to players who don't mind forking over some money just so they can feel special in the game. Just go to your nearest Best Buy and look for the case where all the pre-paid game cards are kept. You'll find credit or points for even the most badly-drawn low-budget games, like AdventureQuest or Neopets.
- Sell merchandise of terrible quality at unbelievable prices! You can even bundle the items with in-game perks like those listed in the previous bullet point. Take a lesson in bundling from NCsoft, who often includes Guild Wars promotional codes in gaming magazines.
- Social interaction presents another important aspect of MMOs. Some people view them as flash chat programs, and a lot of players use them as such. Few people will start playing an MMO on their own because quite frankly, that's just boring. Regardless of whether someone starts a new game with friends or not, they'll inevitably make new ones as they play by grouping up, joining guilds, trading gold and items, and so on. When other human beings become involved, a sense of obligation develops, and potential quitters might think twice because they'll wonder if they are letting down their in-game buddies or worry about losing contact.
Make sure you know your target demographic. At a glance, a loyal (addicted) MMO userbase consists of the most useless, socially inept sacks of shi-... er, poop grown out of this defunct industry. The easiest prey are social rejects who just don't get along with others in real life. Or maybe just a bunch of bored college kids. Younger children aren't off limits either, as online gaming becomes the new hip activity for the younger generations. Give them a few weeks to a couple months, and those unfortunate souls will be reduced to walking paragons epitomizing everything nerds get teased for. Of course, the said teasing just makes them more defensive, thus more resistant to recovery.
Tragically, addicted players may have once been perfectly functional human beings, filled with limitless potential and life, marked only by an unseen predisposition to addiction that made them more susceptible to the allure of MMOs. Like with any addiction, the addict will not improve unless he or she can see the unpleasant truth and accept what they have become -- empty vessels who seek some sort of fulfillment from a game that has no end, doing little more than draining away their money, time, and vivaciousness.