MMOGology: There's no place like Azeroth

I was running my daily quests for the Shattered Sun Offensive this week when one of the officers from our guild popped online. He said he was back from a session with Age of Conan and was having a blast with it. I asked him if he liked the combat mechanics – he did. I asked if he liked the quest system – he did. And he was, of course, impressed with the shiny new graphics and level of detail in the game. So naturally, my next question was whether he planned to give up World of Warcraft permanently to make Conan his new home. His answer? "Nope."

I guess his response shouldn't have surprised me, even given his enthusiastic praise of Age of Conan. It seems like World of Warcraft operates as many gamers' home base. They might leave for a while to try out a new MMOG when they inevitably burn out on WoW; but most eventually gravitate back. The return might be in anticipation of an expansion, it might be that the gamer misses his guildies, or maybe it's the old, comfortable game mechanics. Whatever the reason, many of us can't seem to escape the black hole that is WoW; and maybe that's partly because we don't want to escape.

I know that there are definite exceptions to this trend; those gamers who cancel their WoW accounts and never look back. But for many of the gamers I know personally, something always pulls them back to WoW and hooks them again, usually for several months at a time. Even when they're playing another MMOG they often keep their WoW accounts active to check in on friends, run a random instance, or do a little PvP. Which makes me wonder, are multiple MMOG subscriptions becoming more common?

We've known for quite a while that WoW dominates the MMOG landscape. According to WoW has 62.2% of the MMOG market share as of April 2008 and it has yet to show any signs of decreased growth. Granted, these numbers do not appear to take into account the recently released and very successful Age of Conan. Still, I doubt the figures are that far off. Given WoW's high subscription numbers and given that there are many other successful MMOGs out there, does this mean that many gamers are paying multiple subscription fees for multiple games?

Back in ye-olde-Evercrack days it seemed pretty uncommon for gamers to play more than one MMOG at a time. In my case, I was devoted only to Everquest. There was a very brief period when I played both Dark Age of Camelot and Everquest, but I think it lasted a week or two. It was essentially a transition period during which I was "testing the waters" of DAoC. After that I made my decision to move to DAoC and stay there. In my opinion, DAoC was clearly the better game. There was no doubt that I was ready to leave Everquest behind. I went through a similar transition period when moving to City of Heroes, and again when moving to World of Warcraft.

Maybe part of the reason for these solid transitions from game to game was because there weren't as many other MMOG options to compete for my dollar. As time progressed, so has the quality of most MMOGs. These days there are dozens of solidly built, fun MMOGs out and available for play. That alone may be the reason why more people are signing up to play multiple games. In the case of myself and several of my friends, we've got subscriptions to both World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online. Our time spent in either game depends on guild activities, in game events, and personal goals for our avatars.

It may also simply be that the next "big thing" has yet to arrive. Once a new killer application bedazzles the masses, we may see another giant migration of the gaming community to a new virtual world. It's obviously been tough to top Blizzard's formula for success, and I think that until someone manages to do that, we'll continue to see this trend of "dabbling" in multiple MMOGs with a constant hovering around WoW. Then again, perhaps the trend of multi-MMOG subscriptions will persist even when WoW is replaced.

I'm curious to know how many of our Massively readers have multiple MMOG subscriptions; even if they are with free games like Dungeon Runners or Mythos.
This article was originally published on Massively.