The trending examples provided by the recently released Aion and Fallen Earth continue, and some interesting if not entirely unexpected observations can be made. Today’s topic is player reaction, and how it differs when comparing a niche game (FE) versus a mass-market (Aion) game.
The quick take is this: An average mass-market game is a slow burn, while a niche game is a black/white type of deal.
Niche games are niche for a reason; there is a small group of people who really, really like what the product offers, and then everyone else looks at the same thing and goes “wtf is fun about THAT?” That’s the black/white aspect of it, as very few people will look at a niche product and just go “eh, that’s just ok”.
On the other hand, a mass-market game is DESIGNED to appeal to as many people as possible, and the best way to go about this is to play it safe and avoid any black/white reactions. Some people may dislike generic questing, but very few players will outright avoid a game because its leveling gameplay is focused around MMO-style questing, and many players will feel ‘comfortable’ progressing in that manner. Mix together a few ‘safe’ gameplay styles, hope it comes together, and bam, mass-market MMO.
And now, a few months later, we are seeing how the two styles progress. The ‘slow burn’ is starting to sink into some Aion players, as what was initially considered comfortable is now ‘more of the same’. Executed at a top-notch level, ‘more of the same’ might be good enough, but anything less than spectacular and the feeling of burnout is only accelerated. Since you drew from a mass market audience, the majority of your player base is not heavily invested in what you specifically offer, and so even the smallest excuse to leave might be taken. If you are bothered by something in Aion, you always have WoW, LotRO, WAR, EQ2, AoC etc to fall back on. Sure each game is a bit different, but all more or less achieve the same thing, just in different flavors.
On the other hand, for the niche that Fallen Earth caters to it’s basically the only game in town. Sure the jump animation might not be spot on, or you might run into a bug or three, but if you are part of the niche, you will take that bug and ten more before you leave FE and make the switch to a mass market game. FE would have to do something drastic (Trammel, NGE) to push away those it caters to. At the same time, those who are just now trying FE (for free) are having a tough time seeing what all the fuss is about, having read blog after blog gushing about it (it also does not help that the niche is likely highly represented among bloggers). That’s natural, because remember we are talking about a NICHE product, and its niche because only a small subset of the gaming population finds what it offers appealing. That the majority will find a product like Fallen Earth lacking is not a shot at the game (directly anyway), as they never were the intended audience anyway. When your niche starts taking shots, well then you better start listening.