Splitting the genre in two

September 27, 2012

Let’s move past why GW2 sucks and onto a bigger topic; why so many recent MMOs suck, shall we?

Chris thinks all MMOs are good for 3 months or less, and that’s just how things are today. Keen has a pretty solid counter, but it raises the question that will (hopefully) clear the air here: are you looking to play a game for a while, or not?

Because I think that really cuts to the root of the issue. In the ‘good old days’, I think the vast majority of MMO players WANTED to get sucked into something long-term (group 1). Much of the original hype behind an MMO was that it was an RPG that never ended, and that is EXACTLY what people wanted. New Ultima game but with unending content? Hell ya! Take my money!

Today not everyone is on the same page. There are a lot of players who DON’T want to get sucked into something long-term (group 2). They WANT a 3-monther or something to do for a month and move on, and nothing short of a miracle (WoW) is going to change that.

One group is not more right than another, and however you arrive at either group is an unrelated issue (got old, more money, kids, whatever).

What does matter is that the two groups are looking for very different experiences, yet are being lumped into one group (MMO players). Worse still, studios are designing games with the impression that they can design content for the short-term group, and expect long-term retention. SW:TOR is the latest poster-child for this, but it’s just one of many such failures. And make no mistake, these games ARE failures, because the target they are aiming at is WoW, which prints money not because it sold a ton of boxes, but because it RETAINED millions of players for years. EAWare expected SW:TOR to RETAIN at least 500k subs, and at one time the expectation was 1m+. They sold a ton of boxes because group 2 wanted something new. They failed because solo-story content does nothing for group 1, and even if it did, group 1 is just not that big.

Both markets, the short-term ‘MMO’, and the original model, are viable. EVE is an undeniable success, DESPITE the fact that it’s a niche within a niche product (non-IP Sci-Fi with no avatar). CCP is successful because they understand who their market is, and they design the game around the long-term retention of their core rather than the short-burst of group 2 (Incarna aside). Misleading talk aside, GW2, much like GW1, will likely do fine because the model is not around providing long-term entertainment, but rather just a short burst every now and then.

This also clears up the F2P vs sub aspect as well. F2P ‘works’ because a tiny subset of your entire base is willing to pay enough to subsidize everyone else. That’s why so much of the design around a F2P is aimed at catering to that tiny minority, or to convert some of the unpaying masses into cash cows. By contrast, the sub model is designed to provide enough content for the long-term majority, in the hopes that most people will stick around and play/pay.

And if you combine the intent of group 1 or 2 with the business model and content design around a game, you have your target.

Developers are doing a decent job catering to group 2. There are countless F2P titles that are good-enough to play for a month, and occasionally one will get some cash out of you. Those that don’t, shut down or get their support slashed, but even the most marginal titles end up surviving in one form of zombie mode or another.

Designing a solid title for group 1 is much harder, in part because it’s so different from the rest of gaming. Instead of just making sure the current content is fun once, the devs must consider how the content will play in a year, or for the 100th time, or when someone with 1000 hours plays alongside someone with 10. That’s hard. Just as EAWare, Mythic, Turbine, or any other studio that has tried and failed. Maybe the original big three were really lucky, or really good, or understood the market better than most do today. Regardless, it worked then, and it continues to work today.

The extreme example of success in group 1 is WoW, but that’s misleading if you buy into the fact that WoW’s success was as much good timing as it was solid design. Make no mistake, 2004 WoW was very well designed, but that’s not the entire story IMO.

Regardless, it’s unlikely that we will see another WoW-like success. Far more likely is someone hitting EVE-like numbers. And again, CCP is making very good money off EVE. But that’s happening because they understand the size of the market, in addition to how best to cater to it.

You can’t spend $300m today because you predict 1m+ subs. It’s not going to happen. Plan to get 100k with a solid title, figure out the budget to make that happen, and good luck. And let’s not kid ourselves, with 100k subs you can make a VERY solid game. Maybe you won’t have all your dialog voiced by professional actors, but you won’t be limited to Pong-like graphics either. Spend smart, spend S-mart!


Out-voted

June 26, 2012

A box-only game is successful if people buy the box. How they feel about what’s inside the box after the sale is only important if you intend to start or maintain a franchise. If this is a one-off game, whether you sell a million copies because you created a great game or because you had a great marketing campaign does not matter; at the end of the day you sold a million copies.

The subscription model collects equal pay from everyone, and is successful when enough people continue to pay. The plus side for consumers is that if you sell a box and the content sucks, you are going to fail under the subscription model. The downside is that if 10k people REALLY like what you are doing, it’s still only 10k people and you most likely have failed (unless you aimed at 10k). The other factor here is that, for the most part, one sub is just as good as another, so the goal is to just get as many as possible.

The F2P model makes its money off a tiny subset of players, but those players end up paying far more than they would/could under other models. The model is successful if that subset buys and buys often, rather than how many people in general find your game interesting. You could have the world’s greatest game, but if the cash shop is a ghost town, you have failed as a F2P game.

I write the above (again) because, to me, gaming is going down a very dangerous trend in terms of ‘wallet votes’.

The first model is not perfect. Games could and do often sell on pure hype. How many terrible, terrible movie tie-in games have sold in the past for no reason other than having a trendy name on the box? And no matter how much you hate that Superman64 game, you still bought the box and effectively told the devs behind it “more please”.

On the other hand, positive word-of-mouth could lead to better sales, and high review scores ‘mattered’. While it still happened (ICO), overall good games sold well, and developers had solid reasons to make quality titles. A sad trend of “good original game, lots of crap after” happens, but hey, at least the original was worthwhile.

The sub model should be familiar to everyone here. The obvious advantage is that box hype won’t save crap (WAR), and solid titles can earn their teams far, far more money than just a single box sale. CCP is able to do what it does not because EVE is an amazing game for all, but because EVE is an amazing game for 100-200k people who pay CCP hundreds of dollars a year, every year, ‘forever’. Under the box model EVE would have long since shut down and been declared a massive failure, while WAR and SW:TOR would be considered great success stories.

The other big advantage here is that not only must a quality title be delivered, it must be maintained. If a year goes by and your MMO falls behind, or goes in a negative direction, players have a direct way to inform the company that they do not approve (unsub). Games that are well maintained and innovate while staying true to their core are rewarded, and as a player that is the ultimate win/win when it comes to the MMO genre.

The big downside, especially from a company perspective, is that each vote is limited to a set amount of money. Super fans can’t (reasonably) vote more by spending more, and if the core of your title has a somewhat limited market, your updates might only go as far as they need to in order to maintain, rather than push the boundaries aggressively to really make players extra happy.

F2P allows for that super fan vote. Or rather, it ONLY cares about the super fan vote. Left at just that, it should be the ideal model for true gamers, right? The more you and your niche love a title, the more successful you can make it while also getting more out of it.

Unfortunately reality does not align with theory. Current-day F2P games, for the most part, sell power (because power sells), and games that sell power become competitions of spending rather than of skill (or even time). By design, a game that sells power is inherently flawed IMO. The devs are too motivated to put walls in front of you that you can spend to climb over, or ‘encourage’ PvP to be determined by he who has the bigger wallet.

What really worries me is that, even if the above is accepted by most, it only takes a few to justify peddling F2P goods. 95% of people can recognize a poor game that sells power as something not worth paying for, but unlike the other two models, the 95% does not matter. If that 5% is buying, the game is a success. Furthermore, in order to KEEP that 5% spending, devs must keep giving them a reason to do so. If the 5% all already have the sword of $25 doom, then you better have the axe of $40 godslaying coming tomorrow, even if that axe drives away scores of the 95%. You never counted, so you leaving is a non-factor.

I’ll go one step further; I believe those who spend heavily in F2P games are generally dumb gamers. They are the types who want to level faster even if it means they burn out sooner. They are the ones who use god-mode codes even when god-mode just means you need to pay for another game sooner. They are the ones who read a walkthrough before playing a game, all while complaining about how easy and predictable everything is.

The crux of the problem is that now, with F2P, the dummy vote is the only vote that counts, and while long-term that might not be sustainable, long term and quarterly financial results don’t mix. If your favorite MMO shuts down because it sold one too many power items, you can bet that the company behind it has already reallocated resources to the “next big thing”, and the only ones really screwed are those who wanted to play the game that was originally pitched, pre-F2P ‘conversion’.

(Which is not to condemn F2P overall. F2P can be done right (LoL), and the results can be a massive win/win for players (more content) and devs (way more money than box or sub. But F2P done right is, as of today, sadly rare.)


Yes yes, but how much for The One Ring already?

June 26, 2012

When did Turbine change its motto to “Bend over loyal players and take it”?

First $70 for a LoTRO expansion, and now $50 for DDO’s? Oh and be sure to pick up the half-orc race for just $20. So much for that whole ‘micro’ transaction thing huh? Damn.


Bucket of rage

June 20, 2012

Random ranting incoming:

One ‘awesome’ feature does not an MMO make.

“TESO is a copy/paste puddle of fail, but feature X looks interesting”. A cute gimmick feature can make an iPhone game worth the buck and download. It won’t get people to subscribe to your MMO for years.

You know what feature separated Asheron’s Call from Ultima Online? Everything. Why was DAOC different from the previous big three MMOs? Because it was, from its roots to its end-game. Way too many MMOs today look identical in all aspects but one or two, and yet devs are surprised people are ‘burning out’ at an accelerated rate. Combine this with the MMO model being one of KEEPING people interested, rather than just GETTING them interested like a single-player game, and the failtrain is pulling into the station earlier and earlier these days. When people can write off your game after your first interview (SW:TOR , TESO), you might want to reconsider some things.

Three faction PvP is the new MMO cure-all.

Can we stop this already? Yes, after DAOC everyone was asking for three faction PvP instead of the two-sided stuff that WoW and its clones were doing. And yes, it’s sad that it’s 2012 and we are just now getting titles coming out that may have it. And yes, in general 3-sided PvP is better than two, but already the concept has been screwed and cheapened.

You know why factions worked in DAOC? Because you had ugly dwarves vs hippy elves vs asshat humans, and most people could identify with one side and hate what the other two represented. DAOC had three factions, who happen to fight over stuff. Hate keeps people logging in and bashing doors or space structures. Fact not opinion™.

It’s not “three faction” PvP if you take your only ‘faction’, split it evenly into three groups, and have them fight off in a corner and then come back to hug it out. If there is no buy-in or hatred, it won’t work long-term, and long-term is kinda the goal here.

Stop talking about your game years before its release.

If your release date can still be counted in years, stfu. If I can’t play your beta in a few weeks, I don’t care, and consider your title 100% vaporware. Feel free to prove me wrong, but do so quietly. Dominus, Copernicus, Embers of Cearus, DF2.0, the list goes on. Any intern with Google can create an awesome-looking list of MMO features. Before they deliver anything everyone is always convinced they not only know what previous titles did wrong, but how to fix it. And of course, come beta (if beta ever comes), we find out that 99% of what you said all these years can be summed up as “bears bears bears” and you just released a horrible version of WoW.

Bonus points to those who, after their MMO is shut down, continue to talk about how amazing their MMO was. If your game was worth a crap, it would not have been canned, but obviously whatever it was you were showing to those with money did not look nearly ‘awesome’ enough for anyone to throw you a few bucks.

Double bonus because no one can ever claim your ‘awesome’ feature was in fact trash, since you never made it far enough for anyone to see. Your e-rep is safe, yo!

Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is about as trendy right now as updating your Twitter or Facebook was yesterday. And while the general concept is cool (vote with your wallet), can we at least get projects that have SOMETHING completed before you ask for money? Like I’m pretty sure if I copy/pasted by “PvE MMO design” post into Kickstarter today, I’d have a million bucks tomorrow. And I could probably hit two million by copy/pasting some obscure MMOs art and making a ‘dev video’ talking about how my combat system is the most “fluid, lifelike, immersive” system ever, and how my housing/ship/war/econ/political system has the depth of a full-on sim title, all within a “massive, unique” world. STFU or start your beta.

In totally unrelated news, I finally finished my Baldur’s Gate 1 game, and having started BG2, I still can’t believe the same company behind those games made SW:TOR. It’s like Grey Goose releasing a new flavor called sewage water. Just disgusting.

Also BG1 is a better sandbox than most ‘sandbox’ titles today, but that’s another post.


Help a noob out

June 7, 2012

TAGN has a fine overview of the latest expansion for LoTRO, and specifically the money Turbine is asking for it. $70 seems outrageous for an expansion, especially when you consider that certain MMOs give them out for ‘free’, but that’s a different topic. Not to mention that if people are paying $70 for expansions, charge them $70 until they stop.

What is interesting is that Wilhelm has little motivation to really splurge because he is so far behind the content curve. In a way, Turbine adding levels to LotRO as ‘fast’ as they have been has hurt them with this particular customer.

Sell him a character already!

They already sell The One Ring and other gear in the item store, why not characters or just +1 level potions? Much like WoW, any kind of lore-based reasoning has long since died, and with an aging game that, while far from dead, is not exactly lighting the genre on fire, why not let people like Wilhelm easily come back and experience whatever content at whatever level they want?

Especially under the F2P model. You don’t have the ‘what if they consume content too quickly’ concern since you are not collecting a monthly sub, and really where you make most of your money is on impulse buys from people who see something they want RIGHT NOW. By selling levels, you introduce lots of RIGHT NOW situations. Just add more gear to the cash shop and bam, moneytree.

If you are going to go F2P, go big.


The more things change…

March 1, 2012

In a sign of the apocalypse, Keen is playing Darkfall again (100% joking, everyone should be playing Darkfall (unless they are playing EVE)), which brings about the old “I’m playing Darkfall until the minute something better comes along” comment we often hear. Darkfall sucks, but it sucks the least amongst fantasy sandbox games (insert Democracy quote here).

Now one could say this is because no one has really bothered to make a quality fantasy sandbox, and so Darkfall is only alive (for three years…) until someone bothers. Sure Mortal Online and Xyson have come out (do we count Fallen Earth here? No, ok), Wurm and ATitD are still out, but shhh. The moment someone bothers DF is dead!

Another popular comment to make here is that fantasy sandbox MMOs are niche and not an area worth pursuing. Yup, only Sci-Fi Excel sandbox MMOs can get 400k subs after 8 years (most successful MMO not called WoW, no big deal), and a fantasy equivalent has no chance. Niche yo. The big money is in themeparks, as clearly demonstrated by… well that one game use to make a lot of money! Ignore that all the other AAA themeparks to come out after are now in the F2P minors selling you the One Ring or wings. They ships (and maybe sold) a million boxes, and only cost about 10 or 1000 times the cost of DF/EVE to make. Success like you read about (in the PR release, telling you that a day after going F2P, F2P-based sales are up 100%. No wai! Still waiting on the follow-up PR release telling me how growth has continued…)

Of course maybe, just maybe, the reason Darkfall is still online, a sub game, with its original servers still up (all two), is because it’s good at what it does, and that what it does is not nearly as easy to get right as people think? Naw, that can’t be it, right? That maybe the fundamental ideas behind the game, ones Aventurine copy/pasted from UO rather than EQ (if you want to do the whole ‘EQ was the original themepark’ thing), work a bit better at this whole “MMO retention” thing the sub model and the genre was built on? Crazy talk.

When I wrote that the genre is finally emerging from the dark ages, part of that is the ability for developers, those talented and those working for EA or SOE, to finally be given the chance to produce something that is not DoA. Post-WotLK WoW is trash, and no matter how talented the dev team, being tasked to copy trash is still going to result in trash. It might have a cool soul system attached, it might have a great fantasy IP, or it might be fully voiced, but at the end of the day you built off of trash, and no amount of good ideas or tweaks is going to change that foundation.

And so now, finally, after 7 or so years of repeating the same mistake and seeing the genre come to a grinding halt in terms of innovation (CCP aside, of course), we are starting to see signs that real MMOs might start getting made again. Be they in the indy space (Pathfinder) or the ‘AAA’ space (GW2), finally the core is not being built on the solo-hero trashheap that everyone was convinced worked so well if you only did X or spent Y.

So hopefully in 2012 or 2013, we do see a game or three that comes out and is that “better than DF” MMO. Maybe then AV won’t have the luxury of not updating the game for A YEAR! Maybe finally as much effort/resources will be put into refining that formula rather than racing to the bottom of the ‘accessible’ failheap, and we end up deciding which MMO to play on merit rather than buying a box and praying the content lasts until the next one ships.

It’s happened before, after all, but not many were paying attention (or had internet) back then.


The MMO dark age is ending

February 29, 2012

Former MMO blogger Tobold (I still say I won that bet) is polling his readers about how long it takes them to hop in/out of an MMO. It’s a funny read as usual, especially the comments.

A comment a made over at Keen’s blog applies here, so I’ll just copy/paste myself:

MMO blogging would sound a lot different if the year was 2004, and we were thinking back on the last 7 years of the genre, rather than 2012 and the last 7. Hopefully the 2019 7 year review is a bit better.

And what we see over at a casual site like Tobold’s is exactly this; WoW players bored of WoW. And they believe that the MMO genre is only that; solo-hero themeparks that you level through and then grind gear with bots/randoms. It’s sad really.

Of course those who have been playing MMOs, who know the genre goes a wee bit deeper than Azeroth, understand the fundamental flaw here. Long-term, themeparks are boring, but themeparks (as they stand today) are borderline MMOs at best, and so it’s not surprising that players don’t stick around for months on end in what is essentially a single player game. SW:TOR is blatant about this, but its peers are not all that different. I love Skyrim, but long-term it can’t compete with an MMO no matter how great of a job Bethesda has done, and Skyrim is one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.

And before you suggest that it’s the players who have changed from 2004 to today, take a look at MMOs that have remained MMOs. EVE is 8 years old and doing better than most. Darkfall is three years old, and despite not getting a real update in about a year, still has an active population and a sequel/overhaul on the way. Wurm Online has its population (with a recently added server). Are people really going to be that surprised if GW2, assuming it delivers, retains players beyond the 3-month themepark burn? Looking outside the genre, how long has LoL been the most popular game out? How many people are STILL playing Counter-Strike or some older version of CoD/BF?

The belief that today all players only stick around for a month or three, regardless of the game, is blatantly wrong. Certainly a subset do, as Tobold makes pretty clear, but that’s just a case of aiming at the wrong target audience. That the recent crop of MMOs, cloned from WoW, are only worth playing 1-3 months, and attract the Tobolds of the world, well, yea, that makes sense. People burning out from SW:TOR in weeks rather than months was predicted by anyone with a clue years ago.

Assuming the themepark trend is finally past us, and the realization that WoW is an anomaly based as much on timing/luck as design has sunk in, the MMO genre should return to being an interesting place going forward.


Great games are not great MMOs

February 15, 2012

I’ve often commented that I believe a part of WoW’s success was a perfect storm scenario. I’d like to add one additional factor to that formula: My-First-MMO-ness.

For many MMO gamers, WoW was their first title. This is a very powerful aspect, because the first time you are exposed to ‘genre norms’, they are new and exciting to you. An average auction house is still super-awesome to the new guy because the very concept of a massive multiplayer auction house is new to them. If you are playing your 3rd MMO with an auction house, it’s not that impressive anymore, and you are far more likely to notice the faults (or just differences) than someone new.

What this ultimately means is that the new player has more ‘content’ to explore before he gets bored, because literally everything is new to them. The MMO ‘vet’, on the other hand, is only going to notice or focus on the new stuff, and most of the other stuff is old news and has already been mastered.

SW:TOR is, by most accounts, a good game. It’s just a crappy MMO. And even worse, it’s also identical to the MMO most people have played. This does not mean those who play SW are not going to have fun with it. They will. But the length of time they have fun with it is going to be very limited, not only due to the solo-focused 4th pillar, but also due to how similar it will play/feel for many, and that is fatal for an MMO.

If SW:TOR had launched in 2004, rather than WoW, its future would look a lot brighter. It would still be crippled by the 4th pillar, but most of its players would not consume the total content nearly as quickly, and things like an auction house, battlegrounds, questing, raiding, etc, would all still feel new and interesting. But SW:TOR launched in 2011.

And this is not just an issue for SW, but for all themepark MMOs that stick too closely to the WoW formula. If WoW itself launched today, players would consume it far, far faster than they did in 2004. And again, whether a game is good or not is not really the issue. Skyrim is (IMO) a far better game than most, but I’m done with it after 60-100 hours. Which is perfectly fine for Bethesda, because they got my $60 and will likely get more when they release DLC. But SW, and other themepark MMOs, don’t survive on that $60. They survive on collecting $15 a month for months/years.

The other aspect leading the industry astray here is current-day WoW vs 2004 WoW. The 2004 version (along with the perfect storm scenario) is responsible for 10m subs. The current-day version is aimed to milk that. If 2012 WoW launched today, it would likely perform far closer to SW:TOR than 2004 WoW. It’s not a bad game, but it’s a horrible MMO. The social hooks are not there, the incentives to repeat content are weaker, and the rate of content consumption vs production is more off than it was in 2004.

But unlike SW, WoW today has that massive base, has years of older content, and is no longer expected to grow or even sustain itself long-term. Blizzard is doing what they can (giving out D3) to slow its decline, but decline it will. Blizzard’s focus today is positioning Titan to replace WoW. BioWare is not at that stage with SW:TOR, nor are any of the other themepark MMO studios that released or will release games soon.

It seems that today, the focus for many is to create the best possible game, rather than the best possible MMO. Again this would be perfectly fine if the financial expectations were adjusted as well, but they are not. SW:TOR is not Skyrim in terms of business models, but they are pretty damn close in terms of game length/retention, and that’s crazy.

If the goal really is to create an MMO, a game that will live or die by how well it entertains players long-term, then long-term content is a must, and the only real long-term content is repeatable and/or player-driven content. The quality of your one-off content is, in many ways, irrelevant here. No matter how awesome something like your new player intro is, that content is only going to be consumed once. It being fully voiced, fully animated, or with the world’s greatest scripting is not going to be the difference between someone playing your game for one month or five years. How long they remain entertained by the repeatable stuff is. Figure out how to make that entertaining-enough to play for months/years, and you have yourself an MMO.


Skyrim 2.0, ELO, lies

February 1, 2012

First, how good does the Skyrim Creation Kit look/sound? The Steam integration part might be the biggest leap in gaming since Rift introduced us to MMO 3.0! Too bad for our genetically inferior slaves (console players) since won’t get this, but hey, if god wanted you to have nice things, he would have given them to you. Take the hint.

Next, file this under example #246234 that ELO in LoL works. As soon as Aria learned to play more than one champion, her ELO went up about 200 points. Weird how that works huh?

Also in a sign that she is becoming a true gamer, a few days ago she glanced at the old 21” monitor she use to play on and wondered how she ever used something so small. It’s not long before she demands a gaming-grade mousepad I tell you (for the record those work).

Finally if your MMO dev tells you they will never do something, start planning for exactly that to happen. First Turbine backtracks on selling you The One Ring, and now Trion is positioning Rift for the F2P minor leagues. What’s next? SW:TOR releasing content that’s not fully voiced? Is nothing sacred in the genre!?


What’s a man to a king, what’s a king to a god, what’s a god to a non-believer?

January 27, 2012

My post about the 1% in F2P games did not finish my thoughts on that topic completely, and hopefully in this post I can bring all of this around and wrap it up (not likely). The predatory nature of the model, and how it influences developer focus, are very important aspects, but equally important are the options players have, and how their voice might be heard.

Compare the LotRO cash armor incident with EVE’s monocle fiasco.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that selling items of power (be they BiS or not) has a little more impact on a game than selling an overpriced fluff piece, right? And long-time LotRO fans have every right to suggest that their game is heading (plummeting) down a slippery slope. This is especially true in a game like LotRO, where supposedly the integrity of the IP is so important. WoW has always had its fair share of silly crap, so sparkleponies almost make sense, but LotRO was a pretty serious game in terms of respecting the IP.

Yet it’s CCP and EVE that changed course and listened to player demands, while Turbine further insulted their players with some weak-ass explanation of why selling The One Ring is not that big a deal.

EVE, because it’s a sub-based MMO, is ruled by the majority (more on this in a bit), while LotRO is ruled by the 1%. The only way Turbine is going to pull the cash gear out of the shop/game is if the 1% not only refuses to buy it, but also stops buying everything else. And like I stated previously, sadly the 1% are not exactly die-hard MMO purists or hyper-invested in the future prospects of that MMO. They show up, grab all the candy, and leave when they overdose on sugar, only to be replaced by the next ‘child’ with too much money.

About EVE, and sub MMOs in general: While CCP’s goal is ultimately to get as many subscribers as possible, this is by no means accomplished by catering to the casual majority at the expense of the die-hard minority. Again, one SynCaine is worth 30 Casual-Calvins (formerly known as Casual Billy). And not only that, but one SynCaine keeps those 30 Casual-Calvins playing for months/years, where if left to their own devices the Calvins would “run out of content” in a month, while also failing to attract a single friend. If you want to see what happens to an MMO when you drive away the hardcore to cater to the casuals, take a look at current-day WoW, and Blizzard scrambling to replace the churn rather than attempting to retain players. If you are a current-day WoW player, what does that stance by Blizzard tell you?

The Jita riots in EVE were not organized by the Calvins, but in order to be effective the casuals were herded over and told to shoot the pretty structure. And then when the content-drivers started to unsub, it did not take long for their flock to follow.

CCP’s hand was forced because of the sheer number of lost accounts, but those losses were not driven by a lack of catering to the casuals. Hell, Incarna was the most direct attempt from CCP to do exactly that, to ‘break EVE out of its niche’, and while certainly not perfect, it did somewhat accomplish its goal (casuals love dresses after all). But casuals don’t make EVE an 8 year old MMO that is still growing. They never have, and they never will.

Consider the CSM. If there was ever a “let’s listen to the super-hardcore minority” program, it’s the CSM. It’s a collection of players that not only know the ins and outs of a very complicated game, but have been around said game for years. They have no doubt poured THOUSANDS of hours into it, and are willing and able to take large chunks of time out of their lives to fly to another country and talk about it for DAYS straight with the devs. And yet upsetting the CSM to the point of protest is/was the single biggest mistake CCP ever made, and all it took was selling a fluff item. Not gold ammo, not even lower-tier ‘noob help’ items or catch-up potions. Nope. Fluff. Dumb, zero-impact fluff (yes, this oversimplifies the whole issue, but this post is already too long).

It’s also disingenuous, and IMO outright silly, to suggest that when the devs cater to the die-hard minority, they must do so at the expense of the casual majority. Back when I played WoW, all you would hear from ‘casuals’ is how Blizzard needs to stop making more raids that ‘no one’ will ever see, and focus more on the ‘fun fluff’ that casuals can’t get enough of. That since ‘only 1%’ all of players defeated a boss, that content was ‘wasted’ and did nothing for the vast majority of the players.

Of course all of this was happening while WoW was growing at an astronomical rate, and pushing what an MMO could do in terms of a subscriber base further and further. It was also during this time that the die-hards created the UI for WoW, created its first PvP system (town invasions, NPC leader raids), and created all the guides/websites/podcasts that further expanded the popularity and growth of WoW. This was long, long before Mr. T or Chuck stepped in.

EVE in many ways is very similar. Non-EVE players love to point out that most pilots live in Empire as some sort of evidence that PvP does not matter, or that EVE is successful DESPITE its neg-sum PvP. And those who play EVE or at least are able to comprehend a bit of it understand why this is laughable. Why the minority that fights over 0.0 space drive the game. Why people like The Mittani ‘matter’ a whole hell of a lot more than Casual-Calvin ever will. And most importantly, why listening to the CSM (in moderation of course, and still doing their jobs as game designers) is not catering to the minority, but doing what’s best for the game, which in turn is what’s best for everyone playing.

To bring this all the way back around, compare how that mentality, of doing what’s best for the game leading to success, compares to doing what will get the 1% to spend again. Is it any surprise that CCP is motivated and rewarded for putting out something like Crucible, while SOE is pouring resources into coming up with the next ‘wings’ mount? That Turbine is willing to upset a large section of their playerbase just to get a few to buy mid-level gear?

Now both models work. Zynga after all was worth something at some point, right? But pure business model aside, as a player, which game would you rather play? The one getting updated in order to make it better, or the one with an ‘addictive’ shop that is able to lure in the 1% ‘kids’?


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