Why is player retention so hard?
The first year of your game’s release is important, a stepping stone that lays a foundation on how well known your game will be. Hypothetical: In the first year, more than five million people play a game you developed then it more than doubles after only two years! Great things to come right? You’re on the up and up, but a realization must be made, how do we keep these 12 million people playing? That folks is where my starting point is and that’s player retention.
World of Warcraft, during its early years, boasted player numbers that were incredible, like I mentioned above, this is probably what was going through the mind of everyone at Blizzard Entertainment, obviously, the next step in making more aware of your game is to go and recruit celebrities you wouldn’t normally associate with an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), let alone a game.
These advertisements came when the game was seeing a huge influx of players to the game, remember earlier? A harsh reality must be dealt with – how do we gain and/or keep more players than we are losing? Now, I am not here to present ideas on how to fix or improve this issue, but I would like to present two arguments that are discussed within the community quite often during every expansion.
World of Warcraft has always been a big commitment, it isn’t easy for a new player to walk in and navigate the world without some sort of assistance outside of the game, I’ll present side A, using the example of my friend (who I will refer to as Jess), they bought a month in World of Warcraft and after nearly two weeks still hadn’t gotten to max-level even with a 100% experience boost.
Jess’s main complaint is that the leveling in World of Warcraft favors those who already have a vested interest in the game. Heirlooms are a big problem in World of Warcraft, offering experience bonuses to those who wear them, on average, a player with heirlooms can get 45% additional exp, wearing just this gear, as well as the current in-game event of 100% additional exp. in total a whopping 145% additional exp. overall and that isn’t even adding exp. potions which can add an additional 300%, bear in mind that potion only lasts for 15 minutes, but if you are a person with interests in World of Warcraft and time dedication to get these things, you ultimately set yourself up for an easier time leveling other characters.
After explaining to Jess that I would dedicate characters to just leveling with them without heirlooms, I found myself in a strange position – leveling as a new player, although I have a somewhat detailed understanding of where to go and when, my leveling progression was almost the same as my heirloomless friend.
Jess also makes the point that they only have to reach level 15 to be able to enter dungeons and, at that point, they have no need to quest in order to level as after every dungeon they gain one level, this means, on average, all they would have to do to get max-level would be to complete 105 dungeons. This number isn’t entirely accurate, during the later levels you will need to do more than two dungeons per level. However, this is where the argument is made, the game in its current iteration is not new player-friendly. New players, by themselves, face a daunting uphill battle during and after leveling.
This is where we address what Activision Blizzard has decided is the best way to somewhat even the playing field for all players new or old when it comes to leveling.
A feature was introduced to the game called “world-scaling” this is where enemies, instead of having fixed levels as you would expect, change their levels to reflect the player interacting with them. This feature only goes so far and with what Blizzard is going to do next to expand this, I will go into more detail later. I’ll use another friend in this argument – I’ll refer to them as Bill. Someone who is on the opposite side of the fence to the previous argument. They bought a month and have been investing more and more time, far more than Jess, after discussing what made them want to play it more, the differences will start to show a running theme.
My main question to my friend was “what has encouraged you to play more?”
“It’s not that I was playing more Robert, it’s that I had a group of people, who actively play the game, I can ask questions to them and get help, not feeling out-of-place, the feeling of community starts with your small group within wow and then as you become more and more knowledgeable of the game, you become more confident to enter into things that require just that extra bit of class knowledge, or knowing the best routes to take within a dungeon, having a group of friends that actively play the game encourages this learning while making the game fun. However, going into a random dungeon with a random group of people can be well, scary. This is because these people assume you have the same knowledge as them, so when a mistake is made it can be hard to learn what was wrong, so you end up copying other players and not knowing why they are doing it.”
After discussing what Bill thought of the “world-scaling” they said that the feature was great, they could see old content and enjoy something that looks stunning, but felt disappointed when all he had to do was the first chapter of an expansion and then move on to the next one because they were already too high level for the area. The “world-scaling” is limited, Blizzard plans to make it so that you can choose what expansion you want to start in, and your level progression be linear to that expansion’s storyline.
So this is where we are, the game’s new player friendliness can be viewed as these two arguments, One encouraging group-play that motivates to push players to play more, the other presents the knowledge gap and the time commitment for a solo player too much, to keep them within the latest content.
Where does this leave me? Well, I have been playing World of Warcraft since the game came out. I’ve been in and out of guilds, played it casually, played it 12 hours a day, deleted characters, made far too many characters, but I still come back, my retention to the game stands firm. I’ve seen friends leave, rejoin, and still, it comes back to this one issue, they can’t get hooked into playing solo, playing with other players encourage you to then go out and play solo.
I like what Blizzard is going to do with leveling, it has the chance to bring players who have left back, gives new players the chance to experience new content, while not neglecting old content. I fear, however, that new players’ experience will be overlooked when endless progression systems become normal in the game. Players who can get max-level quickly have an advantage, getting them further up the ladder, discouraging new players from even attempting it. Blizzard needs to focus on rewarding those new to the game with more, creating that player retention, hopefully sparking another love for the game.
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To round off, one thing I would like to point out is that although this issue is confined to World of Warcraft itself, this system is reflected in many other walks of life, when you invest time into something you want something to come of the work you do, so even though Blizzard may have endless progression systems in their game, at least they are trying to fully even the playing field before players reach that endless system and for this, as a veteran of World of Warcraft, I don’t mind stripping off the heirlooms, playing at new player pace and enjoying each storyline as it was intended.
What do you think? What games do you come back to? Tell us below!