Persistent, virtual worlds fascinate me. There's something mind-blowing about the simple fact that they exist without us. They evolve over time; refining rules, adding new areas of the world to explore, and new goals for players to achieve. That evolution makes them feel like a living entity rather than a static stage for events, and makes MMOGs unique among video games. The successful evolution of a persistent world is important because it is the key to retaining its player base. As long as players can consume new experiences and grow their avatars they'll keep paying their monthly fees to the publisher. If handled correctly, that influx of cash can be used to further develop and enhance the virtual world. It's a cycle of success breeding future success. Players continue to play and developers continue to grow the world.

As game worlds evolve and grow, player expectations expand as well. We look for refinements in avatar class structure, new quest content, and new lands to explore, among other things. The more we continue to play in our world of choice, the more time and effort we invest in our avatars. We work hard to obtain gear and levels and become more powerful. As we level ourselves up we build memories of our play experience. We join guilds, make friends, and take down rivals in PvP. The memories of all these play experiences grow fond and we become further and further attached to our avatars and the world in which we play. In short, we invest ourselves heavily in an MMOG in a way that we don't invest ourselves in other games. They become second homes to us.

But new virtual worlds pop up frequently. They all compete for their share of that sweet revenue stream. This year we'll see Age of Conan, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, and Mythos (among others). Their potential for genre innovation and new content will inevitably pique our curiosity. Many of us will try out one of these new worlds. However; more often than not, moving to a new game means leaving the old one, or giving up a substantial amount of time in the old world to invest in the new one. Given an infinite amount of playtime this might not be an issue, but for most of us time is a precious commodity. Leaving an old world and old friends behind can be rough. As games evolve and continue to improve, leaving them seems to become more and more difficult. How do you kick an old game (and avatar) to the curb when you've invested so much of your time and energy into it?

Although I have been known to do it, I find if difficult to try out a new MMOG unless I've already quit an existing one. I just can't see spending $50.00 or more on a game, plus monthly fees, when I know that I'm still invested in an MMOG I'm already playing. Part of it stems from the fact that I'm cheap (another reason I love Dungeon Runners), but part of it is linked to that difficulty in severing connections with the existing game. A friend of mine, however, is the complete opposite of me. He is always willing to spend the bucks and invest the time to try out a new game for several months. Typically, that's about as long as he'll play most MMOGs. He'll give it a shot and if it doesn't hook him right away he has no qualms about abandoning the avatar he's just invested months in creating and growing.

A few months worth of time may not mean much to some people, but it does to me. Even though my main character in Everquest only made it into his thirties, I had a really tough time leaving him. I thought about the time I ran all they way from Freeport to Qeynos when I was way too low level to attempt it; and survived. I thought about the time I'd spent dodging those awful, high aggro sand giants while trying to grind on caimans in the Oasis. I thought about the excitement I'd felt the first time questing in the dangerous home of the Crushbone clan of orcs at low levels. I thought about falling to my death from the tree-city of Kelethin again and again. All these experiences I'd had, and all the experiences I knew I'd never get to have were all rumbling through my mind as I made the final decision to abandon my characters and begin a new life in a new game. Even though I wasn't nearly as invested as players who had maxed level and run raid content, I still felt a sense of loss. I felt like I was throwing away hours of time I'd invested in this character. I'd never experienced that sensation when playing a single player game. I guess I always knew that if I wanted to play through a single player game again, I could. It'd be like picking up a book I'd read once and reading it again. But virtual worlds aren't guaranteed to exist for an eternity, and neither are our avatars.

After Everquest I moved on to Dark Age of Camelot where I played in the Midgard realm with a skald and a thane as my main characters. As soon as I started playing Camelot I knew I had made the right decision to leave Everquest. I absolutely loved the Arthurian themes and the way the classes worked. I also loved the RvR system that Mythic implemented. I remember leading "beat squads" of fellow Midgardians through the RvR battlegrounds and laying siege to the central keep. My rag-tag pick up group loved me so much as a leader that when I finally died attacking the base of the keep they spent half an hour attempting to resurrect me before finally succeeding. I had a blast palying DaoC, but it wasn't that long until another game wooed me away. Letting my characters go this time was even more painful than when I'd left Everquest. This time around I'd actually formed some decent friendships in Dark Age of Camelot, leveled multiple characters much higher than in Everquest, and generally enjoyed the experience more.

Although I enjoyed a brief stint in City of Heroes, the next game that stole my heart was World of Warcraft. Of all the MMOGs I've played thus far, Warcraft has been my favorite. From the cartoony graphics to the classes and PvP elements, everything was so polished and well designed that I remember enjoying every second of my experience in the open beta test. And for the most part, that fond feeling has continued throughout my experience in WoW. For the first time in any MMOG, I've actually reached some end game content, have been in multiple guilds, and formed amazing friendships. I'm more invested in WoW than in any MMOG I've played. And yet, I know that eventually, just as with all the other previous games, something will come along and pull me away from WoW. Letting go of my WoW characters will be excruciating for me because I've played the game for over three years. That's a lot of time and effort invested into my avatars.

I'm curious how the rest of the MMOG community feels about this issue. Am I just a sappy, sentimentalist or a cheapskate? Probably both, but I want to know if any of you out there have had a hard time letting go of the characters you've invested so much time and effort into creating. It's true that an MMOG is "just a game", but I can't help but feel like I'm saying goodbye to a friend, or euthanizing a family pet when I finally cancel a game subscription. Once my characters finally experience the big sleep, I hope they dream of electric sheep.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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