How Do You Decide What to Do in MMOs?
Players Give Their Verdict


To anyone who’s known me for any number of years, you’ll know I’ve played three MMOs with any consistency – in this order: SWTOR, LOTRO and FFXIV. Although I have always found I can only play two at a time. I’ve also trialled a few others just to get a taster of the many online games on the market these days. No matter what I’ve played, deciding what to do in MMOs has always been a challenge for me!

This is because, no matter what the online game, there are so many things you can spend your time doing! And because of their worldwide appeal, the reasons people play vary wildly; what one finds relaxing someone else may consider boring. What one player thinks is engaging, others see it as overly-difficult. So I figured I would ask: How do you decide what to do in MMOs? Or, at least, what do you focus on when you play?

Patreon Crew Responses

Before throwing the net wider, I asked my Patreon Crew what they focused on when they played games online. Here are their (trimmed but otherwise not changed) responses.

C & GOur overall enjoyment of a MMO is mostly driven by 1) story content; 2) world development (geographic, visual, historic; culture); 3) cosmetics / housing; and 4) Generally how much fun we have playing the MMO1.

RudaI…have little free time, so the pressure to make the best use of my time to play often overwhelms me and as a result I do a lot of ineffective things…A great help in mastering my chaos are the guides and advice posted on the Internet, thanks to them I am able to control the chaos a little and organize my time in the game, I try to do things in order, e.g. first when my mind is fresh I focus on quests and the story, and leave daily, deeds etc. for the evening.

MarkI tend to work towards getting any epic related activity sorted first and once that’s done it really is down to how I feel when I log in. Exploration is regularly high on my list though, I love exploring the world that has been created. For years I’d burn through quests without stopping to look but avoid that now at all costs.

SalvoI want to experience every class and combination, so I have a ton of alts…and I have been gravitating towards the games that offer me some more human interaction – like dungeons and raids – but I don’t have the luxury of playing often to “get raid gear” to be invited into some of this content in the games I play.

Setting Up the Poll

Democracy Poll IconI used the Democracy Pollexlink plugin, which allowed users to suggest answers I may have missed. To try and make the question as inclusive as possible I attempted to list all the main features I could think of in the MMOs I have played. Even then an early voter had to add “PvP” as I had forgotten it! Then I asked respondants to tick no more than five of their top MMO activities.

To prevent any subconscious bias in the order presented, I ensured they were listed alphabetically. The last mechanism I put in place was to attempt to send a tweetexlink with MMO hashtags and I know I didn’t get many! Lastly, where results had the same number of votes, they are ordered alphabetically.


No poll is perfect and so I have to acknowledge the following limitations:

  1. I likely missed some features or reasons people play their online games.
  2. My primary (and largest) audience is via Twitter. So, it is likely that the results reflect more of the games they play, rather than MMO gamers as a whole. From those I regularly interact with it is a lot of LOTRO and some SWTOR gamers (I have dear friends in both camps!), with a few others here or there.
  3. While I asked people to retweet it, and I aimed to post when people would be awake both in UK and USA, it’s possible it didn’t reach people in varying timezones.

Okay, caveats aside, let’s look at the reasons people play online games and how they decide what to do in MMOs!

Poll Results

The Numbers

Main Story
53 (14%)
World Exploration
53 (14%)
43 (12%)
36 (10%)
Side Quests
28 (8%)
24 (7%)
Character Development (“Head Canon”)
22 (6%)
Group Content (Raid)
13 (4%)
Housing (or Equivalent)
13 (4%)
In-Game Reputation Factions
12 (3%)
Learning Different Classes
12 (3%)
11 (3%)
Group Content (Small, or with NPCs)
11 (3%)
10 (3%)
Community Events
9 (2%)
Socialising (outside of content)
9 (2%)
Generating In-Game Currency
5 (1%)
3 (1%)

In total 81 people voted, giving a total of 367 votes. On average then, a person gave 4.5 votes each. People usually gave 3-5 answers. Which shows some of us focus on more features than others!

The Top 5 Themes

To make this simpler, I’ve grouped the above results and here we have the top five “themes” of MMO features voted for.

1. Immersion

Immersion: the intense story in LOTRO showing Pippin running from a Nazgûl
If the game’s primary story, its world design and the lore foundation it is built on are the top three priorities, then immersing their players in their worlds must be the first focus. The tales told, creatures and plants made and the history within them must be believable enough for people to want to play.

Yes, your story matters, but if the world that it takes place in looks bad, then the story alone is unlikely to keep some players there.

2. Character Appearance

Character Appearance was high on the list of what to do in MMOs
Even if you’re a starting adventurer, young Hobbit or Jedi Padawan, you don’t want to look like you’re on a trainee’s budget! This is actually a challenge for games, I think, when it comes to newer players. You cannot assume all of them will be able to buy good-looking outfits from the money store. And, to be frank, usually the early quest rewards gear is horrible2.

Newer players will also have next to no in-game currency either, meaning they cannot afford to buy things from the P2P markets. Dear MMOs: take a long, hard look at low-level gear appearance3!

3. Non-Core Content

SWTOR has tons of non-core content like GSI Missions
I was intrigued to see Side Quests (but not dailies) ranking so high. This is because I often see people in game chats asking how to level up quickly (though why, I don’t know). Some people sprint, mount-up, fly around at such a pace that I had assumed people wanted to get through the main story and onto bigger and “better” things.

But I’ve found side-stories can be just as immersive and the interactions just as personal as within the main questline. Side quests also provide rest and respite from the main story – to be a dogsbody for a day!

4. Non-Combat Features

Crafting in Minas Tirith in LOTRO
One of the reasons MMOs have such wide appeal is that you can choose what you want to do. Adding up:

  • Crafting & Gathering
  • Housing
  • Community Events (either put on by the games or the players themselves)
  • Socialising Outside of Content and
  • Generating In-Game Currency

amounted to 60 votes, or over 16%. This shows that not everyone wants to be in combat all of the time. And MMOs cater for that.

5. Imagination

Of Glinmaethoir and Galadriel - LOTRO FanfictionI write LOTRO FanFiction sometimes, but I am always thinking about my characters’ preferences. It was good to see votes both for “Character Development” and “Role-Playing”. Having a core story is great, but don’t let the game dictate who your character is in themselves.

Not only do we care about how our characters look, but we want them to be what we write in our own heads too.

Yet Role-Playing Alone is Low

Despite many MMOs also being classified as MMORPGs, actual role-playing is rarely done, at least among my 81. The important thing is the games give space to RP as much or as little as you like.

What Do I Do in MMOs?

As someone who has a poor attention-span and is easily distracted, I often find myself asking “what should I do?”. I call it “choice overload”. What’s worse is when I start several things in one session, then wonder why I’ve not rested properly! However, the recent character plate feature in FFXIV helped me think through the mental priority order for me.

Community Events

One of my LOTRO Questing Duos, Ayrthir and Glirheryn
Whether it’s the latest LOTRO Festival Calendar entry kicking off, or the FF14 launcher telling me a new FFXIV event is now on I nearly always stop everything else to take part.

Talitha'koum - Toast Emote from the SWTOR Hutt Feast Event
Yes, I even made a brief stop-off back in SWTOR when they first held the Hutt Feast event (which is mostly non-combat).


One of my FFXIV Miqotes Weaving /  Crafting
A small caveat here. When I used to play SWTOR this was not high on my list4. However in FFXIV and LOTRO you are actively involved in the physical making process.

As both allow you to gather while over-levelled and one gives you a skill to render you invisible to enemies while gathering, it is a really relaxing way for me to spend hours at a time in games that I love.

Side Quests

One of my LOTRO Hobbits doing a Fishing Side Quest in Forochel
I am as much invested in the side quests as the main story. I call them micro-interactions. But very often, you get insights into the state of play in the area that you can easily miss from the main/epic story. Some even have rewards you cannot get elsewhere too.

But side quests can often be done when I’m in high pain or when I need to be interruptible.


My main SWTOR Twi'lek exploring Alderaan
Though I usually do my exploring while on a quest, quests can be easily interrupted by a view or ten! This one’s from SWTOR, but I’ve done the same in LOTRO and FFXIV. What’s the point in games making immersive worlds if we’re just there to tick things off a to-do list?

That why I like to sometimes share #StopAndStareexlink moments on Twitter.

The Main Story

My main LOTRO Character during the Main/Epic Questline in Gondor
In terms of how the game impacts your view of your character the main story (called the “Epic” in LOTRO) is where its at. In games with cutscenes, some of your best moments and quotes to screen-capture are held in that narrative. And, let’s be honest, you have to do it to some degree to unlock more sidequests! But that’s why I like them – I enjoy the main story (maybe not the combat!) but then it’s good to get a breather afterwards with some fetch-kill-and-carry jobs!

TL;DR Deciding What To Do In MMOs? Whatever You Find the Most Enjoyable or Rewarding!

At the end of the day, what people do in MMOs boils down to personal preference. I left off “levelling” as an option because to focus on that still involves prioritising what source of XP you’re going to achieve it with. The great thing about MMOs is you’re not limited to one kind of activity, which is why they work so well for me with Fibromyalgia. I can do something that fits my current pain levels.

So, when you’re deciding what to do in MMOs, I urge you to do this: play in a way you enjoy. If it feels like work (that you don’t enjoy that is), change the balance of features you’re engaging with. The idea of gaming is, or should be, to have fun!

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  1. They went on to say “What drives us to look for another MMO is usually ever-increasing fight content complexity and locking end-game progression behind more difficult combat instances.” Fight-complexity is something that has driven me from playing MMOs myself, actually.
  2. I do remember SWTOR redesigning all their starter planet gear a while back, and it made a huge difference
  3. This is a discussion for another time, because although I hate low-level gear looking bad, as your fame (and wallet) grows so to do your possessions and clothes, so there is a tension between immersion vs vanity I guess.
  4. This is because your companions do your crafting rather than you. And you can do some of the gathering yourself, but not all

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