Between WildStar and Lord of the Rings Online, it would seem that I tend to pick games based on the number of players fleeing their servers. Maybe I’m just cursed, as I also made my MMO home in Guild Wars 2 and SWTOR during their respective periods of post-launch contraction. Maybe I’m an anti-hipster; I like things after they’re not cool anymore. In any event, there comes a time in every MMORPG’s life cycle when its playerbase will shrink. It’s inevitable, but it doesn’t have to mean the game isn’t fun anymore.
Look For A Good Guild
Find a guild of like-minded loyalists who love the game for what it is and it won’t matter what the server population is. Some of the best communities are in older games because the people there are there because they love the world, not because it’s the trendy new thing.
Don’t Resist Server Mergers
I’ve been a part of several server mergers, and they’re a huge pain. You lose that super cool name you logged in at midnight on launch day to jump on, you have to rebuild your house, you have to try to wrangle all of your guildies back together (and inevitably lose a bunch of them). Even more tragic is that, over time, servers develop distinct personalities, and mergers destroy those unique sub-cultures. That said, in the long run, mergers are usually the best thing for a game that’s shrinking. If I’m a new player and I don’t see a single player the whole time I’m on, I’m not likely to stay. Merging servers down gives players the best chance at having someone to play with, and will ultimately be the thing most likely to help the game live as long as possible. I really wish more players would see this and stop criticizing the people who have to make these tough decisions. Granted, we’ve seen many developers go about it in frustrating ways, but ultimately their goals and our wishes are in alignment: to keep the game running.
Besides, resistance is futile.
Fewer players means less money, less money means fewer developers, and fewer developers means a slower release cadence. Having less content to explore is simply an unfortunate reality. Also, I can think of a lot of glaring bugs in many games I play that have gone unfixed basically since launch. SWTOR’s occasionally backfiring blasters (literally, blasters firing backwards) and WildStar’s characters sitting sideways in chairs spring to mind. They aren’t game-breaking, but they’re there, and they’re simply not a priority for those games’ limited development teams. But which would you rather have, chairs everyone can sit in properly or a new zone? Or, perhaps more relevantly, fixes to the zones already in the game?
If You Love The Game, Show It With Your Wallet
Every game needs money to stay alive, and the smaller the MMO, the more vital it is that each player contributes something so they can stay afloat. Subscribe, buy cash shop fluff, click some ads, whatever you can afford to do to help the game. It’s strange that, in this free-to-play-centric genre, so many players seem to take pride in the fact that they’ve never paid a dime for hours upon hours of entertainment in one of their favorite games. I know I’ve fallen prey to this mentality myself, especially at times when I don’t have much money, but, especially in light of recent events in WildStar, I have felt more and more generous toward games lately. I’m still not overly fond of lockboxes and similar cash extraction tactics, but I’m a lot more willing to buy cosmetics in a good, free to play game than I once was.
Playing a smaller game can still be frustrating. There’s really no way around the fact that the auction house will be spotty at best, low level group content will be impossible to find a group for (aside from begging a high level guildie to come in and roflstomp everything while you watch), and everywhere but the main hubs will be ghost towns. That said, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from rooting for the underdog, and, as previously mentioned, I’ve found some of the best communities in smaller, older games. Just because it’s not super popular anymore doesn’t mean it’s not fun anymore.