One of the justifications from Trion concerning nerfing difficulty in Rift was to allow Dungeon Finder groups to complete them. That statement contains a lot of value when broken down, and directly relates back to the topic of accessibility and its effect on MMOs.
The obvious take-away from the above is that the average PUG group is worse than the average pre-made, and can’t complete the same content at the same rate. I think most everyone can agree on that, right? But what’s interesting is that Trion, and Blizzard, see this as a problem that needs to be fixed, and not only that, but a problem that MUST be fixed even at the expense of the pre-mades, among other things.
Now one of the great ‘hooks’ for any MMO is the social aspect; you log in to hang out with your guild, and you are willing to do content that might not be at the top of your list just to help out said guild. This, in essence, is why raiders run raids dozens if not hundreds of times. This, also, is why raid content is the gift that keeps on giving from a design perspective, and why it’s far cheaper to produce then solo content. Helping your guild progress by improving your character also gets people do to crazy stuff like grind out rep just to get that 1% upgrade, or collect a silly amount of mats to prepare for a raid. Notice that the last two examples are in fact solo content, but the motivator is social/guild-based. It’s also solo content that takes a lot of time without a ton of dev work (when compared to something like a long quest chain with extensive use of phasing or in-game movies).
The Dungeon Finder removes that social need. You can ‘solo’ group content now with other random people, never needing to really socialize, without building those bonds that will get you to run something even if you already have all the items/rep/whatever from it. The dungeon finder does a great job in turning group content into solo content, and not just from the “I need 4/9/19/24/39 others” aspect, but from the “why am I running this” one as well. It also does a great job of killing that secondary effect of improving your character just slightly for the guild, which in turn kills a ton of long-grind solo content for many. Pretty crazy huh?
But the damage a dungeon finder inflicts goes deeper than that. Without it, the only reliable way for a player to run group content was to join a guild. Sure, you could join PUG groups through chat channels, but that was not always reliable and somewhat of a hassle. Trion/Blizzard identified that hassle and solved it with the DF, which in that regard they succeeded. However, that hassle was an important tool used to drive people into guilds, to get them to actually be social and commit to something rather than remaining in their own little solo-hero bubble. Trion/Blizzard provided a tool to eliminate one of the major hooks that keeps people subbed. Oops.
“But SynCaine, lots of people were leaving the game rather than joining a guild, I saw it on the forums! That’s bad business! Money rules you drool trollolololl”
Oh, were they? Pre-dungeon finder how badly were WoW sub numbers struggling? Was Rift seeing a mass exodus pre-DF (I know, short timeframe, but still) How massive was the population explosion once it was added for WoW/Rift?
Oh. I see…
“Well, um… the world economy also crashed! Yea! People can’t afford high-priced luxury items like $15 a month entertainment that’s worth hundreds/thousands of hours.”
Excellent point. Silly me. Off to that $11 2 hour movie I go.
Going back to Azuriel’s PvAH post, deep in the comments section he asks if, had WotLK not happened and Blizzard had released another BC, would WoW have reached 16m subs. 16m sounds like a silly-high number, but if in 2004 someone had asked me if WoW would reach multi-million sub numbers, it would have sounded silly-high as well.
“But SynCaine, MMO burnout is natural, WoW is really old, it was bound to happen no matter what Blizzard did!”
I know, just like it’s bound to happen to EVE ‘soon’. Oh wait, EVE is older. Hmmm. Well whatever, everyone just mass-quit over that fluff item you can buy in-game or for a million dollars. Nevermind. EVE is dead, moving on.
The truth is we don’t know. But what we do know is WotLK and onward sub numbers struggled for a game that, until that point, continued to grow far beyond any reasonable expectations. If what Vanilla and BC did was so bad, and what WotLK/Cata did was so good, why are the numbers so backwards? Just doesn’t add up, does it? Even if you want to 100% dismiss that raiding and difficulty had anything to do with growth, clearly SOMETHING changed to cause the growth to stop and the decline to set it, and I’m just not buying that magically a lot of players all ‘burned out’ at the same time and, at the same magical time, the market hit it’s cap in total player interest. But if you believe in magic, good for you!
On to another thing Azuriel mentions in his comments section, that Blizzard’s Bashiok looked at metrics and to him they suggested that players wanted more accessible raid content, so they gave the players just that. As Nils was quick to point out, metrics are just numbers, and interpreting them correctly is not always easy.
That all players want to see the ultimate big bad sounds pretty damn obvious to me. Of course everyone wants to experience killing the Lich King, the dude is on the damn cover of the expansion!
The real question however is what happens if they can’t do it? Do they leave? History suggests they don’t. Most players did not kill Illidan in BC, or Onyxia in Vanilla, and again, the stats show players were coming, not leaving. Everyone with a pulse (basically) killed Arthus, yet I missed the “WoW has reached 13m subs” announcement, so what happened?
To me this goes back to my original point about accessibility; players think they want it, but the devs have to be smart in how they give it. The DF is, in many ways, a knee-jerk reaction to players wanting to see content without ‘committing’ to a game and forming those social ties that, ultimately, will keep them subbed long past the point of having enough content to justify the sub if they were only looking at things from a solo perspective.
Trion’s 1.3 update is another example of this: they made it easier to acquire certain gear that, prior to 1.3, was only available from expert/raid rifts. They solved the problem of players not having access to that gear by, in a roundabout way, killing the need to run expert/raid rifts. Anyone care to guess how that change is going to play out long-term for retention and overall total content? Again, knee-jerk and short-sighted. Oh, but I’m sure the metrics suggested that not enough players had ‘access’ to that gear, and that players wanted that gear ‘real bad’.
Those damn meddling metrics! (Yes that’s a Scooby Doo reference to end a blog post. You’re welcome).