It’s a tale as old as time, a tune as old as song — the migration of ex-WoWers back to Blizzard’s land. I speak specifically of my fellow bloggers, who (like myself) have gone through repeated cycles of playing WoW, breaking up with WoW (“for the LAST time and I mean it, REALLY!”), spending months in other games, and then finding themselves one day reloading WoW.
We’ve seen it so many times that it’s not even worth a single eyebrow lift. We play WoW, we leave WoW, and some of us return for another go. What gets me is that a lot of returners tend to then say the same two things:
- Upon just returning: “Hey, this is actually pretty fun — I didn’t expect that. More fun than before, even! Why’d I ever leave?”
- Two weeks later: “Oh, that’s why.”
But obviously there’s something there, something difficult to define but nonetheless present that makes it so easy, so seductive to return. I mean, heck, even Snafzg — the man who told me he was swearing off MMORPGs forever — is now back in WoW, and that is a miracle of some reckoning. So why do we keep returning?
I have some theories. Of course I do. I’m obnoxious like that.
Theory the First: Nostalgia
Nostalgia is a powerful process of the brain in which good memories are slowly but wholly purged of any negative associations. We remember great things in the past, but usually those memories are altered to forget about any warts or farts that came with the events.
Given enough time away from a MMO — particularly one you liked, one you played a while, one that might have been your very first online RPG — and you’ll start to forget the bad stuff. You’ll forget the frustrations, the limitations, the bugs, the negative community attitudes, the slow pace of content patches, and your brain will be left with a pristine alternate history of your game. Once you latch on to that nostalgia, it almost becomes like a virus that reprograms your entire attitude — you can’t believe you ever left! You had a good thing going and you gave it up for whatever current buggy, frustrating MMO! You need to go back, and stat!
Theory the Second: Impatience
If I was to tally up the virtues of MMO players, I sincerely doubt that “patience” would be anywhere on that list. We may be a passionate group with loads of spare time on our hands, but that doesn’t mean we like waiting for anything. We hate waiting for releases, we hate waiting for patches, and we certainly hate waiting for games to improve.
This is why — on the whole — players are a lot less likely to give newer MMOs a fair shot (defined as “more than the initial month following release”) before passing judgment and uninstalling that obviously still-in-beta crap. This is remarkably different than the earlier days of the genre, where players learned patience the hard way and would stick with broken games because there weren’t a lot of alternatives.
Say what you will about WoW, Blizzard threw a level of polish and dependability into their product that we still don’t see in newer titles. Couple that with a mountain of additional content since 2004, and there you have a high standard — maybe an impossible one — against which subsequent titles are measured against and found wanting.
I don’t think we give newer MMOs as much of a fair shake any more, and if it hasn’t become a worldwide phenomenon by its sixth month, then many of us are more than willing to pitch it into the trash can and go back to something that has done this.
Theory the Third: Connections
Sometimes it doesn’t matter as much how you feel about a game in particular as it does how much you care about the people playing it. We might have left WoW, but our friends and family and former guildmates might still be there — online relationships that are dangling into the abyss until we come back to pick up where we left off.
On the flips side, sometimes we return because a spouse or friend or group of friends make the decision to do so together, and you get swept up in a social movement of sorts.
Theory the Fourth: Substitute
I see this a lot as well, where someone returns to WoW not because they want to play it in particular, but because they’re waiting for a future game to launch and they need something reliable and familiar in the meanwhile.
So am I off? What do you think?