Why Do You Play MMORPGs?

I’ve never questioned why I play MMORPGs before. I always just played them because I “enjoyed” them without analysing it or wondering why. I starting playing my first MMORPG 10 years ago and since then I’ve played one almost every day of my life. Some I played for years and some for weeks but I always just played the way I played and never thought much about who I am or why I do it. Until now.

I started this blog six months ago and it’s been an amazing experience for me, educating me in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible, mainly through the communication and interaction I’m having with other MMO bloggers. I’m learning new things all the time about the gaming genre I love so much and also understanding more about my fellow players. One of the things I’m starting to understand more deeply is motivation.

As much as I hate these sorts of abstract terms, I guess I’m what many would consider a “social” player. I’m not driven by the need to be the ‘best’ or to conquer the game or to achieve a certain target. I just play because I enjoy playing and I enjoy playing because of the fun I have with other people – real life friends, guildies or random strangers. For me, it’s the social interactions that define the experience.

However, I’m starting to understand more about other people’s drive in MMORPGs. I always thought it was a pretty black and white thing but now I’m learning it’s actually a whole lot more complex than that. Some people are driven by pure socialising, some by exploration and wonderment, some by achievement, some by competition and some by the challenge of overcoming the odds. There’s an infinite amount of motivation out there, all backed by equally strong and worthy arguments.

Having playing MMORPGs every day for 10 years may make me knowledgeable about them but I’m learning that it doesn’t make me qualified about them. I can’t actually make any qualified statements about the ‘right’ way to play or the ‘wrong’ way to play or how a MMO should be conducted in order to make it ‘right’. That’s the wonderful thing about the genre – they are online worlds full of thousands and millions of players, each with their own unique drive and passion. All I can do is voice my opinion about the genre and try to make sure my motivation doesn’t cloud my judgement too much.

I want to learn more about MMORPGs and more about the people who play them. I love growing and learning and developing and seeing new views and perspectives on things. So please, educate me. Why do you play MMORPGs?

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  1. Myrix says:

    For me its the social aspect, much like you said, the simple idea that I can be part of a community. I can share my experiences with friends new and old, or even complete strangers. That’s just always interested me.

    Then there are two other more aspects of it:

    First, even if its just an illusion, MMOs give me the sense that what I’m doing matters more than it would in a single player game. I say it’s an illusion because ultimately I will quit the game and the hours I put into it wont matter, but at the time it seems like it does. I can work hard on something in an MMO, and even if I quit for a few months, when I come back that effort is still significant and it might help me along the way to whatever my new goals are. In a single player game, I feel less inclined to put hours into it unless I’m just really loving the story or the gameplay. I know that once I finish the game it’ll be shelved and that’s that, so unless I’m getting some kind of valuable experience out of it, I won’t play it for long. I find that I’m unable to just sit and play games anymore (Guitar Hero for example) because I want to feel like I’m earning something. Good single player RPGs I can still play because I look at them like reading a book – I’m getting knowledge and expanding my mind by experiencing the game, so it feels worth it.

    The second aspect that keeps me playing MMOs is one that I’m a little ashamed of: I want other people to see my achievements. If I do something awesome or get a cool item in a console game, I don’t feel as excited about it anymore because no one sees it. In an MMO, I can stand around in town and show off. I know it’s a little juvenile, but hey, the feeling is there.

    I’ll draw a comparison to Final Fantasy 10. I was in high school when this came out and played it heavily. I eventually put the time and effort into getting the ultimate weapons for each character. I did this because I wanted my circle of friends at school, who were also playing the game, to see that I had done so. I didn’t want their envy, they were getting those weapons too after all, but I wanted to be a part of that, to be just as good. If I hadn’t been in that circle, I probably wouldn’t have worked for those weapons because I had already finished the game and the story, I wouldn’t have cared.

    MMOs give me that sort of circle. When I get something cool, I know that people are going to notice it. I find this somewhat addicting, and it drove me to be a very hardcore raider for basically 8 out of the 11 years I’ve played MMOs.

    Those are the reasons that immediately come to mind, but really I think it depends on the type of game. EQ and WoW nurtured those reasons in me by being very achiever-oriented games. Deep down, I’m actually an explorer and get more joy out of just being within an engaging, immersive world. It’s just that no game has really catered to that type of player inside me, while nearly all of them award the hardcore achiever.

  2. Tesh says:

    The reason I play any game is because it’s fun and interesting. The social aspect of MMOs is a very, very minor influence on why I play, and most often, it’s only relevant inasmuch as it affects how the game is played mechanically, or how a location in the game world is presented.

    Taking WoW as an example, I like the WarCraft IP, and want to explore the world that Blizzard built. I want to take screenshots and analyze how they do their modeling and texturing. I want to see their game design, and how it actually plays. I want to see where they take the lore. None of that requires other players, unless I’m specifically looking to understand how open dungeons behave (as few of *those* as there are in WoW) or other grouping mechanics. This is why I say that I’d pay fair money (one time, not a sub) for a completely offline single player WoW, and play it like a single player RPG/dungeon crawler (with optional multiplayer)… and I’d love it. Ditto for LOTRO, EVE or EQ.

    Perhaps paradoxically, I’d play a different breed of MMO for different reasons. If there were a DIKU-free MMO that were built entirely around economic interaction and a “living world”, say an EVE or Tales of the Desert that allowed you to make a difference in the world, and didn’t charge a sub fee, I’d probably play it precisely because it offered interesting interactions and lasting decision making. That’s largely how I play Puzzle Pirates, since their microtransaction system is very kind to my very scattered schedule. (That I love puzzle games helps, though.)

    The WoWs and EQs of the genre just don’t offer enough reason to play with others for me to sub to them. If they were offline games with optional online (or LAN) multiplayer, like Diablo 2, I’d be far, far more likely to play them. (Hence my interest in what Torchlight winds up doing.) I should offer the caveat that raiding might be interesting to me, but again, not for the cost of a sub, and certainly not for the time it would take to grind up to raid-prepped status. If it were just something I could do with some friends once a month or so online as a free module to an offline game I purchased, or even as a GW-like single-shot monetized “raid pack” bit of content, I’d probably do it and have a blast.

  3. Tesh says:

    Oh, and that’s also why I’m looking forward to what DDO does. Monetizing “modules” of the game for online play with friends (and killing the sub fee requirement) is one of the few things that actually gets me to give an MMO money. Wizard 101 did that with their Access Pass system, and I’ve given them more money than I’ll ever give any subscription-only game. WoW, EVE and WAR are interesting, but not at the price they are asking.

    SO… perhaps there’s a tangential question to be asked: Why would you play MMOs if the money wasn’t a factor?

    For me, it’s because the game itself is interesting, and because MMOs offer multiplayer options that you typically don’t see in other games… but mostly because the game itself and the game world interest me. The multiplayer I can live without if the game is interesting. If all it offers is multiplayer, or if that’s the bulk of the gameplay, I’m not going to be very interested.

  4. Beej says:

    I’m working on a series of posts right now on this very topic (or one incredibly close).

    At base, I suppose you could say I play for both the social interaction as well as meaningful progress. I play single player games for the story, but I never feel the need to get the best items or anything like that because they don’t matter. Everyone who plays will be able to do the same thing. MMORPGs give me the opportunity to actually impact the world in which I play (or at least give me the impression that I do) with quanitifiable progress that seems to “mean” something more than just a “YOU WIN!” screen after the main boss.

    The social interaction thing is the most important, I’d say. I play WoW only because I have friends there. I like other games better, but my friends don’t, so I want to be social and keep up with friends who live far away. The overall WoW community is nowhere near as good as the other MMOs I’ve experienced, but the cliques and small groups are really where the interaction occurs, and that’s where WoW excels.

  5. Andrew says:

    I got carried away in the comment box here, so expanded my reply to a full blog post:


  6. You might have seen these before, but if you want some other concepts of why players play online games, here are two great resources:

    Players Who Suit MUDs a landmark paper written by the esteemed Dr. Richard Bartle. The paper covers the four types of players he observed: Achievers, Explorers, Killers, and Socializers. Bartle expanded this in his book Designing Virtual Worlds.

    The Daedalus Project by Nick Yee. Contains more empirical evidence collected from surveys. It used Bartle’s work as a starting point. I think there’s a bit of selection bias based on the games he chose (notably EQ after it was several years old), but he has data whereas Bartle only used observation and speculation.

    Personally, I’m like Andrew: I play games at different stages in my life for different reasons. I played MUDs in college because the concept of a game I could play with people from around the world was just cool. It also touched the game designer in me I had been ignoring for a while once I got the opportunity to start coding on MUDs. I would probably not be a game designer without MUDs in college giving me some practical work.

    These days I play remain social with my friends and to explore game mechanics in games that I might be able to synthesize into interesting gameplay for the projects I work on. I don’t play much for “pure enjoyment” anymore, but I still manage to have some fun. :)

  7. Sharon says:

    I played MUDs for many years before venturing into graphical MMOs, and I’m with Brian and Andrew, in that my reasons have changed along with my stage in life.

    I started MUDding because, like any form of entertainment, it was escapism from daily responsibilities. In college, I especially enjoyed being able to play in worlds that I was fond of from books, like DiscworldMUD or Lost Souls MUD (which pulled a lot from fantasy literature.)

    Later, I enjoyed coding new content in MUDs and spent more time writing and less time playing. I liked hanging out in the basement lab of the computer science building, MUDding with the guys between CS assignments. There was, and still is, a culture to gaming. I’m part of the first generation of computer gamers. ;) Now as a mom and wife, I play MMOs to hang out with my friends, and for intellectual stimulation. I’m a theorycrafting, spreadsheet-loving geek and MMOs feed that.

  8. spinks says:

    I was commenting on Andrew’s blog that although I did try MUDs, I thought they were very tedious. It was cool to play with other people but they were just … not that interesting to me. Then I discovered MUSHes and it was like a revelation. Games need players to bring them to life (in a RP MUSH, there are no NPCs, every character you meet has an actual player behind them).

    I find programmed NPCs with their canned stories rather dull. Sometimes they can be amusing, or interesting storytelling devices, and a really well written plot can get me to engage with them but I don’t play MMOs to interact with NPCs.

  9. Gordon says:

    Wow, thanks for all of the awesome feedback! It’s amazing to see how everyone’s motivations vary and it really helps be build a better understanding of the industry and genre. I love the variety of gamer that’s found in MMORPGs, it’s truly what makes the genre unique.

  10. Jeremy S. says:

    I just made a post about a book you may be interested in reading.

  11. SmakenDahed says:

    Basically, it’s my prefered form of entertainment. It’s cheap. Easily accessible. Convienent. Often fun, even when things aren’t going right.

    Oddly enough, I tend to have more fun when things don’t run so smoothly.

  12. Infonut says:

    I’ve heard of WOW and MMMORG’s, but I’m not quite sure what either are. I quoted your post on my blog (family friendly links and comments welcome). I usually play games that reward me with cash or prizes, but I could use input on this very popular genre. Please comment on my blog – as I said links to family friendly blogs and websites are welcome.

  13. Mike says:

    I play for two reasons…

    1/ To explore! Going to different MMO’s is like travelling. New worlds to see, place to visit, people to meet. Each one is unique and different.

    2/ To socialise! I like recruiting, running instances/dungeons and grouping.

    As a player I can’t change the world, but being part of a great guild, running in a raid team makes me feel I’m having an impact on other people’s lives. As a founding officer in my WoW guild I’ve given a lot to the people in my guild. It’s been going for *four* years now with the same core of people.

    Ultimately I play MMO’s for the community.

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