MMOs and the peer pressure effect

Here’s a weird thought I had the other day: What if WildStar was, er, wildly popular right now? Same game, same patches, nothing different from Carbine’s end, but what if there was a much larger and more prominent community about it these days? If everyone was talking about it, if it was getting more coverage on Twitch and YouTube — how would that change things?

In other words, if nothing was different about the MMORPG itself other than increase activity and numbers with its community, how much — if at all — would that persuade you to play it or return to it?

At least for myself, I think it would matter a lot.

The “community question” is one that you see a lot in general MMO discussions when people are asking about certain titles or looking for recommendations. Players generally not only want an MMO that matches their playstyle, but one that sports an active community. Nobody wants to get seriously time invested in a dying game (real or perceived), and conversely, a lot of people want to belong to a surging movement. It’s exciting to be part of trendy games and to share in that excitement with others who are talking and playing. We want to be uplifted about our involvement and feel as though this game could last forever.

In all of the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve noticed — and felt — the pull to certain games when a lot of us are talking about them, when there’s big movement happening (launches, patches, events, expansions), and when the game’s popularity is on the rise. The games change and rotate with a few remaining pretty consistent in the top five. But that positive peer pressure exists and it’s a real factor in influencing players’ decision to jump into a title or not.

I kind of think that this is a shame, that games should be played and enjoyed for what they are, as we do outside of the MMO genre. But that’s the “massively” at play, and it’s a double-edged sword for our genre. It’s the inescapable factor of the community that’s intertwined with the games and the culture of this hobby. It’s terrific and also frustrating when it doesn’t swing toward games that you think deserve the spotlight. It can feel thrilling when it pushes a game to the top, and it can be terrifying when it cascades a game into oblivion.

I mean, look at the late great Marvel Heroes. It had a marvelous peak in popularity around 2015 and even into early 2016 with so much going for it, but then it lost that momentum and the positive peer pressure fell away and dissipated. Just about nobody was talking about it this year, probably because Gazillion was busy shooting itself in the foot and licensing issues and other nastiness going on behind the scenes. The school of fish darted away, leaving a few stragglers behind while everyone else went to seek more lucrative gaming grounds.

It’s hard not to be affected by this peer pressure, especially when it comes to wanting to play games that have been abandoned or are nowhere near the zenith of the popularity that they once were. It’s really odd playing DDO these days, because outside of a very small and tight-knit community, nobody is talking about it. I remember how it was scorching hot in 2009 when the whole free-to-play thing happened and how DDO had its 15 minutes or so in the spotlight as an MMO that a lot of people played and took seriously.

But that’s how the life cycle of MMOs go, and barring unexpected surprises (of both the good and bad variety), there’s a pretty predictable pattern.

9 thoughts on “MMOs and the peer pressure effect

  1. I am not sure that really constitutes peer pressure… I mean, unless people are coming by and literally telling you that all the COOL people are playing game X and only losers play game Y. Well, okay, that does happen, but it rarely comes from anybody who I would find influential enough to get me to change games. In fact, being a bit of a stubborn goat, that can often harden me against a game if done badly.

    But, yes, success leads to success and popularity can snowball and infect your social group. I doubt, as an example, if I would have been as all-in on Warhammer Online had the blogging community around me not be completely ga-ga about the whole thing. I recall how enraged some bloggers got when I said anything even remotely negative about the game. You guys!

    Of course, we all know how that turned out.

    As time has gone on I have found myself less and less influenced by that however. No doubt the shrinking of the local MMO blog group has contributed to that. And, of course, there is the distinct lack of new ideas in the MMORPG realm. Why play the latest WoW clone when WoW is still better in most ways? But the enormous Warhammer Online collector’s edition box on the floor in the corner of my office also glares at me when I think about running off after the latest new and shiny thing. It reminds me that, sometimes, the imagining is better than the having.

  2. There’s a lot of truth to this. I feel a big pull to WoW right now with the recent news, despite not playing for years. Heck, I’ve been mostly single-player for many months now, but recent events either have me putting on an eyepatch or a Stetson. We’ll see if that lasts.

  3. Good post, Syp. It’s a tricky one. I’m waaaaay too old to feel any real “peer pressure” when it comes to video gaming. If I was going to, it would be along the lines of “why am I doing it at all?” rather than “am I playing the right game?”

    I do mostly play what I want, when I want, but what I want is definitely influenced by what I read or hear people talking about. For example, I logged into SWL yesterday almost entirely because I happened to read both you and Telwyn blogging about it on the same day. That was enough of a push to get me to make the effort. Ditto when everyone was going on about WoW around Blizzcon a few weeks back.

    It’s not so much that I want to be doing what everyone else is doing – more that if no-one is mentioning an MMO at all it’s all too easy to forget it even exists. Shintar mentioned Champions Online recently and I did a bit of a double-take – I’d completely forgotten that one even existed. And yes, just that one mention did make me consider – if briefly – downloading it and seeing how it was these days.

    The thing is, there are are a LOT of MMOs. There are probably more active MMOs right now than there are bloggers in the fandom to write about them. Given that most people only play a handful of MMOs concurrently it’s inevitable that the huge majority will never get mentioned at all.

    In the end, though, I would definitely advise anyone to play what they feel like playing and not to worry about the game being “dead” or “on life support”. I was looking at MMO lists yesterday and there are still so many MMOs I remember from a decade and more ago that are still running. I do think there will be a big extinction event for MMOs one day but there’s no sign of it happening right now.

  4. Fish are always attracted to the shiny new lure. I think once hooked the game has to have something to keep the fish on the line. There has to be good game play. Story, character building, a feeling of being invested in your character. New games tend to be focused on latest graphics and shiney character models and editing. Once the eye popping character is built and the beautiful new world is stepped into there is nowhere to swim to. Old games like DDO don’t have the latest shiney lure but it is still fun and interesting. A lot of the quests are well written and the exploring areas are a nice alternative to questing. I have noticed on Canith server last few days a lot of new level one characters and some really big new guilds I have not seen around before. Perhaps it is the new expansion or people returning to warmer waters. As far as peer pressure it may get people starting a game but lasting friends made in game keep players, and you only need a handfull to keep going.

  5. I guess it seems funny to me to think that we *shouldn’t* care about the size, stability, and character of the community in a hobby that is basically social. It’d be like buying a house without paying attention to the neighborhood.

  6. DDO still has a relatively large community – enough to release a third expansion to considerable sales. Standing Stone Games wouldn’t have made the investment in Ravenloft if it didn’t know there were enough players to make the expansion’s production profitable.

  7. I feel this topic, especially the active community size element, a lot when trying to get groups in games that I play without a pre-made group. Advertising for groups for ages and not getting anyway was the standard perhaps in years gone by, but it is hard to ignore that some games have resolved this through changes to their systems. I played LOTRO earlier in the year but found it very difficult to get groups for dungeons, which rather put me off leveling as I didn’t want to out-level stuff.

    It’s hard to ignore just how ‘buzzing’ games like Guild Wars 2, WoW or ESO are – partly because of their playerbase size but also because they take different approaches to breaking down server barriers and getting players to see other players more as they play.

    I would like to play some more Wildstar again at some point, but there are so many MMOs on my plate, at the moment a new injection of content (e.g. expansion) is usually what draws my attention to a particular game.

  8. But you pick your own peers. I was very involved in the EVE community, but after I quit, I lost contact with it. It’s still there. r/eve,, EN24, podcasts, blogs, everything. I just don’t see them anymore, which isn’t different from non-existence for my decision-making.

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