Why People Play Massively Multiplayer Online Games?

The first 3 reasons that come to my mind are:

  • Collecting items & experience: many (most?) massively multiplayer online games focus on collecting all sort of items, and getting experience. Some (most?) people love to collect stuff.
  • Exploration: Some MMOs are truly massive and offer tremendous opportunities to explore the world. Just think of World of Warcraft – there’s loads of places to visit.
  • Other people: I suppose it’s pretty straightforward reason: people play online because other people play online too. People want to socialize and belong to something.

These were the first 3 reasons I could think of.

What you think? Why people play MMOs? If you play those games, why is that?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. If people say it’s addictive because of the reptition, well, there’s repetition in life too. If things go as planned, it’s the same story each day. Work is the same. In fact, some jobs are even more repititous than the mmorpgs i’ve played. Have you ever worked at a factory on a conveyer belt? You know, the product is moving and you have to do something like pick it up or put it down or put a stamp on it or wrap it up or…? Anyway, life is full of repetition. So if someone is addicted to it in a game, they’re probably addicted to it in life too.

    Greed? Could people be addicted to the greed and competition? Well, same story. Those things exist in life too. In fact, the founders of our economy considered how greed would fit into it and capitalized on it. And we all know what competition does in sports and business. These kinds of things are like necessary evils in life.

    I think mmorpgs are like life, but with training wheels. They’re like a sandbox where we can be other things and try things we wouldn’t in real life. The goal is to see what kind of circumstances we can get involved in and what we can create. It’s like a kid with his army men.

    And therein lies the danger. People can get hooked precisely because they’re so much like life. They get so hooked that they forget that their body has not evolved to sit this much and it needs food, water, securty and shelter.

    Anyway, I could go on, but I’m bored already.

  2. The only problem with my statements is… if it’s so much like life and someone gets hooked on it, is that a good thing? I’d argue no it’s not because the human body needs exercise. It has not evolved to sit down 16 hours a day. Furthermore, it needs food and water and security and shelter. You can’t get those things if you sit down all day. So, generally, maybe being like life is not such a good thing, even though people might like it for that reason.

  3. I think people like mmorpgs because they’re like life.

    I know that sounds silly, but they’re a lot like life…

  4. I play MMO’s for the first two reasons, and IN SPITE of the last one. I love a good story, and, failing that, I love a well-built world with a rich history where I can make my own story. MMO’s deliver that. I suppose a third reason would be because, for $ome reason, developers now think that every damned thing has to be an MMO. That’s where all the talent and effort is going, so if I love a well-thought and well-built game, that’s where I have to go as well. If there’s a crowd when I get there, then I tolerate it.

  5. A massively multiplayer online role-playing game is a genre of computer role-playing games in which a large number of players interact with one another in a virtual world.

  6. Juuso, I’ve asked myself this question many many times… Honestly, I think the three reasons you mentioned are actually the less important ones. There has to be something more to it than that to get people coming back month after month.

    Simple example outside MMOs: Diablo 2. I recently installed it again, and every few days I ask myself: “Why the heck am I playing this? What do I get out of it?!”

    And I don’t think boredom or distraction can account for it either. There are so many things one can do away from the screen (well and at it for that matter) that can fulfill those requirements.

    @Cray: Addiction is the easy answer. Like Juuso then asked: what causes that addiction?

    This may sound rather exaggerated, but I really think that the reason so many people play so many games for so long has something to do with something very fundamental to human life. (Cue dramatic music.) Creativity? Imagination? Control? Adventure? Maybe it’s a Gestalt; a holistic emergent experience that is far more than the some of any of its namable parts?

    Whoa… :D

  7. Addiction. The other reasons don’t even matter when companies hire psychologists to make their games as addictive as possible to certain type of people.

  8. Thanks! But I shouldn’t really be credited for someone elses work ;-)

    Every MMO designer on this planet should read and understand R. Bartle.

  9. Okay, there seemed to be many moderated comments – which now got accepted. Check out them all now… :)

    Good points Scurvy & Dundil.

  10. @Juuso: [quote]yeh, but what makes these simulations so interesting that people all over world want to play them?[/quote] -> I think the huge amount of possibilities that this games offer. When I started playing WoW it was an awesome experience “discovering” the game. But it turned to be a huge turn off that when I traveled for exploration I got to places that were similar in social/quest/functionality that the other places I have been.

    @Ollie: I agree. In my case, in WoW, I hated the fact that Blizzard ripped off the “not honorable kill”. This could have let the game to have another dimenssion leting the player manifest a “dark side” or “light side” even in their own faction.

  11. @juuso: Heheh..did I sound bitter? Didn’t mean to there. I enjoy MMO games as much as the next player.

    Another aspect might be the attraction of your avatar being able to accomplish what you can only dream of accomplishing in real life.

    Maybe you suffer from some mental health problems, or are perhaps even physically disabled or you live in an area where you’re a visible minority. In an MMO, you’re automatically given the same obstacles / rewards that are presented to everyone else. Other avatars don’t treat you differently on first contact social exchanges (unless of course it’s a pvp realm and your avatar is a mortal enemy of the other dudes’ avatar).

  12. @wazoo: yeh, but what makes these simulations so interesting that people all over world want to play them?

    @Iain: Good points. I see that in your games there’s possibility to “restart the game” (after couple of months), while other game seems to continue infinitely… I suppose that gives nice possibilities to choose from.

  13. Well, with running two browser based mmo’s, I can tell you it is very like being the government at times.

    The problem with making changes is that you try to listen to the player’s ideas and then try to fit that into reality. Quite often the two don’t mix :-)
    Plus the general noise to signal ratio is high, you often don’t notice reasonable suggestions from players for all the people who come up with stupid suggestions.

    Back to the original question, I think quite simply people play MMOs for the same reasons that they play single player games plus they like the social experience plus they like the idea of progression and persistence. The idea that things will still be there after they log gives a sense that the game world is real and will continue to exist whether they’re actually playing or not.


  14. In fact, all of these reasons are only one: people like to be different (and better) inside the mass.

    Collecting is not the important part, but having unique objects. That makes you different and better, because you have something nobody else has.

    Exploration is not the important part, but to have enough options to become different. The problem with little universes is that everybody knows everything very fast, so to be different on them is difficult. If you have a very very large universe, so only 1% of players have visited a specific place, belonging to that 1% means to be different (and probably better), no matters what happens with other parts of the map. So, it is not to explore, but to have possibilities.

    Interact is important because you can be part of something and you can compare with it and with others. People like to play with others, but they like much more to be the best of them. You cannot demonstrate you’re unique if you’re alone (courious, uh?).

    So, at the end everything is the same. People like to be different in the mass. Having what nobody has, moving where nobody does, living what nobody has lived…

  15. MMO’s are created by those who study human addiction patterns and attempt to replicate them to create the “perfect” addiction environment / simulator.

    the graphics do not matter. I could be a dwarf paladin entering molten core for the 405th time to burn down Ragnoros, or I could be a Jaffa heading through Goa’uld territory to make it to a Chappa’ai..

    It’s the same game with a different skin.

    In the end, the goal of an MMO is the Skinner Box: an environment / simulator in which the subject believes to be making real progress and gains…when in fact, he’s not.

  16. @Sargon : Good point on that ‘reaching jedi master status’.

    @CaesarsGhost: “Same assholes, new scenario.” :)

    @Ollie: I take it you either have spend time playing or developing MMOs… very nice insight. Like Jake already pointed out – very nice point about “censorship” thing

    @Katherine: new things regularly – that’s very true. people like all the new stuff. Also good points about perceived value – that’s very important marketingwise.

    @Uorp: Leveling indeed is one important feature of MMOs… but come to think of it: it works fine for singleplayer games too…

    @Travisuped: True, there’s indeed different type of players out there.

  17. Different MMOs, different reasons.

    I was curious myself to know a bit more about the people playing my game so I just asked them to do the Bartle Test and share the results: http://forums.golemizer.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=610

    You’ll see that there’s a lot of explorers in Golemizer which I guess is not as dominant in other MMOs. Another MMO might have very different results just by the nature of it.

  18. When I think of it, I think of the three you mentioned. But I split the third in halves.
    You’ve got the socializing bunch, that hangs out and chats it up with others.
    And you’ve got the competitive bunch, who want to dominate and be the best.
    Both halves require other people to be present.

  19. All very insightful thanks. Also interesting the idea of admins and developers being seen as police and government.

  20. A perception of good value for money. MMOs usually add new things regularly, and of course “experience may change with online play”. Rather than the static experience of a single player game, there is always something new and exciting to do in your MMO of choice. So you can get more out of an MMO than a single player game, therefore it is perceived as being better value for money.

  21. Oh, and another thing I have oberserved very often is that the relationship between..

    players and GMs/admins is like between citizens and police
    players and creators/producers/company is like between citizens and government.

    Often the “government” doesn’t listen to its players and decides something that makes sense from their perspective but upsets their “citizens”. People go complain on forums and are moderated and kept down by admins and moderators until the government can’t go on ignoring complaints (because their citizens leave and stop giving them money).

  22. – exploring huge new worlds and their inhabitants
    – finding a community, fighting together and achieving goals together
    – taking part in a universe you really came to love through previous games (Warcraft and Warhammer for instance)
    – raising a character until he is strong, then starting over with a new one
    – belonging… wanting to be part of a big community of people who like the same things you like

    Some other reasons I can think of

    – gaming the system to earn money (gold farming)
    – spoiling the game for others, causing mischief
    – feeling of achieving something that has a meaning
    – filling the void once you get addicted
    – compensating lack of real life experiences and adventures
    – having a place where you get to be someone others look up to
    – playing a game where you get to win with the strengths and talents you possess

    In my opinion, MMOs are big worlds and apart from the systems unique to each individual game, it’s the same as real-life… they are huge ecology and economy systems and that alone makes it natural for us to live in there, to create rules and etiquettes to live by and so on. The player is still a human and he will act like one in-game, too. :)

  23. I would like to talk about an interesting figure I have pasted on my wall. I don’t remember from where I got it but I’m sure is from one the game design books I bought.

    It states that there are 2 types of people that plays MMO’s:
    1) People who enjoy acting.
    2) People who enjoy interacting.

    It also states 2 types of MMO’s:
    1) World oriented.
    2) Player oriented.

    Of this, we get the following result:
    – A player who enjoy’s acting and play in a player oriented enviorment (or game feature) are called: Killers (PVP, etc)
    – The other players that also enjoy acting but play on world oriented game/features are called: Achievers (PVE, leveling, items, etc).
    – If the player enjoy’s interacting and likes to play in a player oriented enviorment, he’s called a: Socializer (Guilds, chat, city’s, trade, etc).
    – At last we have the players that enjoy interacting and a world oriented enviorment/feature, they are called: Explorers.

    My 2 cents. :)

  24. SOME MMOs are escapes from real life.

    Same assholes, new scenario.

  25. I agree with the leveling up part and collecting items.
    I might add that some people like PvP.
    A reason that got me start playing it is that I thought I could be come a really known, or really powerfull jedi(SWG).
    But then I realized I am just another little ant out of the thousends out there.

  26. I used to play MMO for the reason above, and because it’s an incredible user experience!
    But now i’m more into developping multiplayer games, it’s a step above that \o/

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