MMOs Gone Fallow

There’s an old concept in farming of letting a field go fallow every few years — that is, giving the field a “year off” of being plowed, planted and harvested.  Instead, the field is left alone, and during this time it regenerates, replenishing nutrients and whatnot.  Because of this, the field doesn’t go barren from constant use, but is good to go a year later.

This concept is not a bad one to translate to the area of MMORPGs.  To extend the metaphor, we are “farming” MMOs (not to be confused with instance/raid/gold farming) for enjoyment, newness and excitement.  The bounty is rich at the beginning, and depending on how we play the game — if we grind too much, if we switch up our daily routine with varied activities, if we get into an active guild — the MMO can keep producing for us for some time.  But sooner or later, it happens: burnout.  The field has gone barren; everywhere you look is tasteless drudgery, more of the same, a dearth of entertainment.  It can hit suddenly, it may come about gradually, but it’s a disappointment when it happens no matter what.  You’ve spent a lot of time in the game, invested into your character, your guild, your achievements, and your final reward is… this?

I loathe burnout.  I hate how it makes me dislike a game that I used to be passionate for.  I despise that “lost” feeling when your main game suddenly drops out from underneath your feet.

And so — why not be proactive?  Instead of waiting for burnout to come to you, why not let your MMO go fallow every so often as part of a master plan?  Some folks rotate through MMOs daily, jumping in and out of multiple games during a week, but many gamers are monogomous (or, at least aspire to be in theory).  So other games don’t usually enter the equation unless burnout happens or a really hot title catches the eye.  But what if we actually planned to play games for a set amount of time, say a month or two, and then take a month off — and here’s the catch — even if we’re still having a good time in the game?

Instead of milking it dry, leave a few drops in the tank.  Give yourself something to look forward to returning to, instead of dreading ever touching it again.

Of course, this is far easier said than done.  For one thing, it’s not typically in our nature to stop doing something that we enjoy, particularly something we enjoy, have invested a great amount of time into, and have developed relationships with others while doing.  So maybe this is an impractical idea, but people who purchase lifetime subscriptions — say to LOTRO — appear to be able to let a game go fallow for a little while and return to it more often at a later date than just give up on it altogether.

18 thoughts on “MMOs Gone Fallow

  1. pitrelli December 8, 2009 / 10:42 am

    Yup I think the way around my burnout is to have two subs running, in my case WoW and Fallen Earth.

    WoW is for hanging out with friends and having mindless fun whilst Fallen Earth is my thinking game and when I have more than an hour to sit down and get my teeth into it.

    I kind of cancelled my sub to WoW because I was playing Fallen Earth so much but in hindsight its probably better to have both running 🙂

  2. Fuzzy December 8, 2009 / 11:07 am

    I learned about fields going fallow from “Lords of the Realm II”. Who says games can’t be educational? 🙂

    I used to think EVE Online was revolutionary in this respect. Play for a few months until you get bored, then unsubscribe and come back once your character learns a few more skills during the downtime, which should hopefully unlock more things for you to do. “Wow,” I thought, “those guys at CCP really think about the long-term player experience”.

    Turns out that “learning skills on an inactive account” was a bug instead of a feature. C’est la vie.

  3. Jomu December 8, 2009 / 11:18 am

    i don’t know how people can play so many mmos at one time, i would get burnt out faster (instead of prolonging it, due to variety) 😉
    i think fallen earth is the only mmo that intrigues me at the moment… ‘someone’ should have more blogs about it… 😉

  4. lonomonkey December 8, 2009 / 11:32 am

    I’m on mono Fallen Earth since last week end and should reactivate WoW at some point because of RL friends… but that may be a while down the road.

    Personnaly I always have a few console games I play along MMOs to prevent me from burning out

  5. Daxius December 8, 2009 / 11:43 am

    This is exactly why I want WoW to offer a lifetime option with Cataclysm. Ive been playing off and on since launch and this is the first time I’ve played for more than 3 months at a time. I think my cycle this past year looks like a crop rotation.


    Ive always thought that maybe instead of $15 a month(672hrs) I could instead pay $17-20 for the same amount of hours to be used whenever. I mean its not like these companies don’t track that time data after all.

  6. angrygamer09 December 8, 2009 / 11:52 am

    Some of us stick to it and don’t really jump around though. This is usually a case for casual players that don’t get too far in each game.

    Me I am busier than hell in the MMO of my choice, especially with patch 3.3 today and the chance to get some new gear

  7. canazza December 8, 2009 / 12:03 pm

    I know all about this. I’ve burned out on lots of MMOs.

    WoW at first, then I took a whole year out towards the end of Vanilla before I went back again (about 3 months into TBC) and browsed the MMO Spectrum. Of all the games that kept me interested beyond the trial was CoH (a game I also went back to).

    I played the MxO trial back then too (Sadly no longer with us), DDO (it was, honestly, not worth the money back then, good to see it back up though), LOTRO (I loved the music making, but it was too similar to WoW otherwise) and other less memorable ones.

    At the moment, despite my love for FE I’ve foregone it until I burn out of WoW again. So it’s WoW, and an MMO that shall not be named for legal reasons that’s on my playlist at the moment 🙂

  8. Tesh December 8, 2009 / 12:21 pm

    This is precisely why I like lifetime subs, free-to-play games, and most especially the Guild Wars model. Subscriptions really do demand monogomy, which breeds discontent. Not in everybody, but often enough to be a downside to the model.

  9. Brad December 8, 2009 / 12:42 pm

    I wish I hate thought of this plan before I quit WOW in August. I miss my friends and guild, but not one thing about cataclysm excites me. I played from vanilla on through, and if I never touch my characters again, it would be too soon. I just lost all love for the game. It is sad really, and I am nervous to start a “love affair” with another game, so I am a bit adrift now. There was a time I thought about taking a break, but now it is too late.

  10. Blue Kae December 8, 2009 / 12:50 pm

    As one of those gamers with a lifetime subscription to LoTRO, I have been bouncing between LoTRO and EVE for the past year, although I’ve not planned ahead about how long or when to play either game. I’ve noticed that occasionally I will play both evenly, but more often I have a preference for one over the other and may go months without playing one of the two (not counting logging in to EVE to train).

  11. Fuzzy December 8, 2009 / 1:57 pm

    *applies this approach to relationships*

  12. curbmerchant December 8, 2009 / 3:45 pm

    I think the thing that becomes hardest is when, like so many people have uttered, they actually miss their friends. Some people do form gaming relationships and a month or more absence can make it tough to keep those relationships alive. However, this is why I love ideas like meet-ups, where people who play together online actually get together and hang out. I guess it could be a little awkward the first time, but why not really bring socialization back into the MMO and take that MMO to the bar, park, BDSM convention, or whatever.

    I personally enjoy rotating my MMO’s (and games in general) simply to keep things fresh. Sometimes a story can really grab you and you play nothing else, but that’s rarely the case in MMO’s, so switch-hitting is fun. I’m replaying WAR now and am enjoying it again. I think I actually want to see WoW one more time, but after so many years I’m afraid my memories may be sullied…

  13. kaozz December 8, 2009 / 5:17 pm

    Very well said. Sometimes you just need to walk away and take a breather. I have two subs going much like pitrelli. Although one is getting played much less than the other!

  14. We Fly Spitfires December 8, 2009 / 5:47 pm

    Interesting concept although I’m not sure people who agree or do it. I think that a lot of MMORPG play is both habitual and “all” or “nothing”. The idea of slowing it down without burning out just seems… crazy 🙂

  15. Grimfire December 8, 2009 / 6:31 pm

    This is a great idea. I burnt out on swg and jumped into wow at launch. I played wow for 12-15 months and came back to swg and had a blast until the nge. As for taking a break while still enjoying yourself in game, I suppose it good to deny yourself at times. I’ve never been able toput this into practice though. I’m currently expecting another child and have taken time away from mmos and it’s been quite refreshing.

  16. Jeromai December 10, 2009 / 7:18 am


    I’ve gone through two major burnout cycles – my first was a MUD where I pretty much did everything wrong in terms of curing burnout. Cared too much, got into major screaming fits/rants with devs (imms) over missing features/content, powerleveled characters to the point of nausea just thinking about the leveling game, especially after the exploits I’d been using got fixed and rate of leveling slowed dramatically, raided too much, living life at odd hours in order to show up on time to multiplayer events, emotionally invested too much in gear to the point of being fearful of losing a piece of it ever, linked skill at the game to ego and self-esteem to the point of heart-pounding frustration if I ever lost or something went in a way I didn’t expect it to go. Overstayed the game years after actually having burnt out and exhausted content.

    Needless to say, I can’t actually ever bring myself to play the game again, after having finally walked away and burned all bridges. It’s good only for nostalgia reminiscing and old guild ties/friendships now, as a chatroom.

    These days, I’m far happier bouncing from game to game, playing each game as far as they catch my attention, be it singleplayer or MMO. Some last for days or weeks, others longer.

    City of Heroes caught me on the rebound in 2004 and we had a great intense affair for four years before burnout snuck up on me. Still a great game, but playing it daily had stopped being as fun as before, and was progressing to being boring. This time around was a much more amicable parting. I simply acknowledged that I’d drained it of all content, learned all its ins and outs and played most of the character roles I wanted to play.

    And then I stopped playing it. I’m still maintaining the subscription because I want to, but if saving money was a concern, then it would be canceled.

    I don’t know about planned stops in a game when you’re still in the midst of enjoying it, but these days, I’m quite sensitive to the point where I’m about to stop enjoying the MMO. That’s when I swap around to another game. It helps to have a hard disk full of alternative options – singleplayer or another MMO.

    I suppose it’s harder if you’ve built up emotional ties to something, or are afraid that you’ll fall behind your friends. Personally, I’d look askance at the game’s design, why am I still playing a game that is forcing me to log in even when I’ve stopped enjoying it?

    And also at your friends – if they were really friends, they’d understand burnout and encourage you to take a break so that you could come back again refreshed without hating the game forever when you do finally hit the breaking point.

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