An MMO dies when its population no longer reaches critical mass.
There is a point in any multiplayer game where the world suddenly feels barren and empty. And then suddenly people start disappearing even more rapidly, and then the game boils down to the most dedicated of fans only… and then you’re stuck with just those people forever.
It’s often very sudden. Your game is just cruising along, losing a few hundred people per month, and then suddenly the number of people leaving your game goes through the roof! It doubles, triples, quadruples all of a sudden.
The first instinct is, “OH MY GOD THE LAST UPDATE RUINED THE GAME!” and then there’s panicking and freaking out. The level designers are saying “I told you we needed to add three new instances each month, they got bored and they’re quitting!” And the systems designer is thinking, “I must have done the math wrong when I redid the taunt aggro system! Where’s the error?! I have to find it so we can hotfix!” and the producer starts yelling at the marketing guys because obviously the ad campaigns are less effective this month…
Odds are everybody’s barking up the wrong tree. This is one of those places where being on a live team gives you tunnel vision — it’s nearly impossible to see the big picture when you spend your day creating the tiniest details. But odds are, you need to step back and fix a really big problem. If you’re losing critical mass, there’s only one fix. You need more players on each world, STAT. If you have an expansion coming out in a month, maybe you’re going to be okay. Otherwise, you have to bite the bullet and merge worlds.
For the record, EQ2 needs to merge worlds. I know what the ramifications are in terms of publicity. But the fact is that there are fewer and fewer players of the game every day. The expansions help certain level ranges (either the <40 range or the > 70 range) but there are virtually NO people playing the game between 40 and 70. It’s a black hole where people disappear forever, and it’s not about lack of content. It’s about lack of critical mass.
There are plenty of other games that need to merge worlds, too. But EQ2 is the one that is closest to me, since I like EQ2. I would love to be playing it nightly, but it’s too dispiriting to live in a world where there are only 20 other people within 10 levels of you. Especially given that my character class, like over half the others, is only really effective in groups.
Don’t let a game die because you can’t see the big picture. If you don’t have critical mass, nothing else matters until you fix that.