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Learning curve - silent killer of online games

Online Games Bay

Online games come and go, with introduction of modern technology that allows game clients to use high definition graphics, the lifespan of online games if quite often much shorter than the time is needed to make one. Why? Because of the silent killer called learning curve.

Learning curve - silent killer of online games

Learning curve in online games is an important factor that sunk a lot of new titles that just entered the market. To explain it in just few words learning curve is the imaginary graph that shows how people are improving their performance in game with time and experience. The new title pops up on the market, people are joining the game, for all of them the rules of new reality are still a mystery, so everybody is equally bad at it - that is what makes the new games so exciting.

After a while some of the users decide to quit the game, either because they did not liked it or they just found another title that suits them better - it is completely normal for new title to start losing users after few weeks on months. But at the same time among those, who stay there the fraction begins to start - firstly into casual players, hardcore players and the middle ground players. Casual players are those, who do not invest much time into game, they enjoy it from time to time and, obviously, their learning curve is gonna be almost flat - they do not spend much time in the game, so they will not improve their much with time.

On the other hand the hardcore players are those, who can spend lots and lots of time every day playing the games - they will learn all the details of the game mechanics, they will experiment and they will try to figure out the exploits of the game mechanics. Once they find the way to gain advantage over other players the next wave of users will drop from the game, because they will not be able to keep up with the learning curve of the hardcore players.

And that is where most of the games begin their final downward spiral - hardcore players are getting better and better, while rest of the players are more and more disgruntled and simply do not enjoy the game any more. In most of the cases those, who love the game the most (hardcore players) are those, who are killing it. Why? Because without the middle players and casual players most of the online games are running aground - they just can’t find any new players, while the remaining hardcore players are not always spending much money on the game.

The biggest problem is once the game gains reputation of being full of hardcore players new users simply start to avoid it, which is understandable. If you want to learn boxing you would prefer to have your first fights against novice boxers, not current world champion. And that is why the increase in number of users is often very hard to achieve for established titles. New players join the game, get bashing from hardcore players, and simply leave not to be seen again. What is worse it is not their fault actually - for them to gain enough experience and skills to match the hardcore players would take a lot more effort than if they join at the game premiere.

Some of the titles managed to keep up a lot of players by splitting the users into levels and tiers, but it works only if they were smart enough to keep the users separated. In games like World of Tanks or War Thunder you can play in low tiers to learn the basics, but the experienced players use the access to lower tiers to gather some resources (like experience points or money), so the hope for new players is again cut short and soon they will have to learn fast how to dodge the bullets or they will quit the game.

Learning curve is the silent killer of online games if the creators do not understand how to manage the users (and most of them don’t) - dozens of online games are opened every week or every month and most of them last less than 2 years (and I’m talking about AAA games, not indie project), which only sounds like long time, because it takes about 2 or 3 years to make such a game. This means that if they do not attract a lot of players at the premiere their future is rather gloomy, because during the lifespan of online game the number of users usually goes down, not up. What is more it takes a lot of money to make AAA game, so you have to cover all of that costs in short time, otherwise your bosses and accountants will have some harsh words with you.


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