‘Dumb it Down’ is dead

This post is sparked by Loire’s post about the Overwatch beta, specifically this line:

The “simplified genre” idea is successful because it opens up games to a much wider audience, including the still-massive World of Warcraft audience.

Certainly back in the day, gaming was this obscure, hard-to-get-into niche that nerds in basements wasted hours with. It made sense to take that and make it easier to get into, just like it made sense to take the relatively hard-to-access EQ and release the more accessible WoW.

I think we might already be past a tipping point here however. Look at the most successful mobile games to date; Clash of Clans isn’t a simple game (in fact its far deeper/harder than most games once you get into clan wars), nor is Boom Beach. If Blizzard or anyone else released a ‘simpler’ CoC, I think they would lose more people due to the lack of depth than they would gain by being more accessible.

In fact, I think we already have the perfect example of this in action; League of Legends is the most popular game out right now and has been for years, and Blizzard released the more casual HotS, yet HotS is an afterthought in the MOBA market, and many players see it as an overly simplified gimmick-fest. Technically HotS has the Blizzard polish, uses all of the Blizzard IPs, and had the marketing push of a AAA game. In short, it has failed to gain traction not because it’s a cheaply made game or has crippling bugs/flaws, but IMO it has failed because the average gamer views LoL as accessible-enough, and anything lower is overly simplified. Blizzard lost more gamers than it gained by ‘dumbing down’ LoL.

I think this trend is only going to continue as gaming becomes more and more mainstream, and the ‘average gamer’ goes from someone who is relatively clueless to someone with years of gaming under their belt and who is looking for something with real meat to play. There will always be room for the bottom feeder ‘click and watch’ games like Farmville, but that group of uneducated gamers will continue to shrink into a smaller and smaller minority, while the expectations of the ‘average gamer’ will continue to rise and mature.

‘Dumb it down and polish’ was a successful business model in the past, but times have changed, thankfully for the better.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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9 Responses to ‘Dumb it Down’ is dead

  1. “…most successful mobile games to date…”

    I don’t think Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, or Big Fish Casino, which should also fall in that category, are necessarily proving your point. And how many players are actually going into clan wars versus just pottering around and assaulting goblin villages solo for fun?

    I see where you are trying to draw the line, I am just not seeing enough data points.

    • SynCaine says:

      I wouldn’t put CCS or even Angry Birds in the same sentence as Farmville. They aren’t CoC, true, but they aren’t Farmville either. The casino apps I almost put in a different category, since casino games in general have been popular for a lot longer than videogames have existed.

      I think the war population in CoC is large (as in, millions of active players). I don’t have data on this other than from attacking others to farm on my two accounts, in two very different trophy ranges, and seeing all of the people in clans above level 1 (war clans). It’s pretty rare to see a clan-less player or someone in a lvl 1 clan.

    • Delpez says:

      As it happens, I do have some indirect data on war participation. I keep track of attacks made on my and some of my family members’ villages – just for reference, these non-war attacks for loot and/or trophies are called raids. The raids I captured comes from a range of Town Hall (TH) 6-10 bases. I’m assuming that anybody lower than TH6 is either new, or tried the game and didn’t like it. You can reach TH6 in a couple of weeks without spending a cent or much effort, so I’m only looking at active players TH6 and above.

      I tracked the number of war stars these players have secured for their clans, and only 1% have not secured a single star – they are either terrible or just don’t war! Almost all those players were TH6, so some of them just haven’t started warring yet. In the TH8-10 range (where most active players end up after about 3 months), every single player who raided also had more than 100 war stars, and the average was 270. To give some context, players in Supreme Cream average around 2.5 stars per war, so it’s clear that every single player I captured raiding also warred a lot. At TH7, 90% of players had more than 30 stars, which is also a lot considering that this is the first level where you can seriously contribute to a war effort.

      So basically, almost all players I’ve captured raiding are also warring, and they are warring a lot. The only other potential player demographic is those that don’t raid and don’t war, but I would argue that they are not playing either. There are only a small number of goblin bases, and they run out pretty quickly (a couple of hours per TH level). Just farming collectors cannot keep up with other players raiding your base, so you won’t have enough resources to construct buildings or train armies; inactive in other words.

      Note that I’m not making any claims to the significance of these numbers, but from hundreds of attacks on TH7, 8 & 9 bases the data certainly indicates that almost all active players also participate in wars. The high number of war stars in the TH8-10 range also indicate that they take it quite seriously.

    • Bums says:

      I think the spark which initiated blizzards success was the fact that all their games were easy, but had a high skill dealing for people who wanted to take it serious. Beyond that they had some magically incentive which made almost every one want to improve.

      In many ways thus is essentially the soul of every popular competitive game today.

      Blizzard isn’t making those games anymore. That is not to say blizzard games aren’t popular, but they’ve lost the ability to keep people investing in them for fun.

  2. Shandren says:

    Hmm what is the criterium of success here. I have no clue how many players/how much revenue heroes of the storm has but I was under the impression that it was doing quiete well for itself. Not LoL-well, but not too shabby. It obviously didn’t knock LoL of the piedestal, but i sincerely hope that wasn’t the goal.

    About many players seeing it as an oversimplified gimmick, the same was very much true about the “older” MMORPG players thoughts of WoW at the time (not saying Hots will go like WoW). Just saying, what the “older” MOBA players think of hots might not be indicative of how Hots is doing.

    I think i might also be with Wilhelm in thinking that maybe a lot of CoC players don’t really war at anything close to the tactical level of your clan. CoC is really a rather deep and tactical game as you say, but tbh I doubt that even close to half its playerbase actually notices that depth.

    On whether your main point holds, that the “dumbing down and polishing as a succesfull business model”-days are over… I think there might still be a few genres left, but i very much hope that we dont get another iteration in later generations. Contrary to you I actually like Hearthstone for instance (its no mtg for sure but its nice as what it is), but I would dread seeing a dumbed down version of it :-P

    shandren out

    • SynCaine says:

      Well HotS not being a top MOBA goes back to my point about Old Blizzard vs New Blizzard. Old Blizzard didn’t release games that were footnotes, they released games that defined genres. With Old Blizzard, Riot would be worried about HotS and it pulling players away in significant numbers. Under New Blizzard, I doubt Riot even keeps an eye on HotS.

      Large, established companies that once produced hits have a harder time going back to producing something average than a new company or one that is recovering. The budget over at Blizzard was, in part, based on expectations like WoW, Diablo, SC, etc, not on a mobile title struggling to remain in the top 20 or a MOBA that’s just a genre footnote, and I think a large part of why HotS is a footnote is because its just too dumb of a MOBA title.

      As for CoC, again I don’t have solid numbers for war players vs not, but the fact that CoC has that depth is still something. HS for example doesn’t. Watching the world championship in HS was once again a joke. Same for HotS. So lets say only 50% of the CoC population goes to war (which I think is a crazy-low estimate, but still), in HS/HotS that 50% has no deeper option. CoC will retain that 50% as people get deeper into the game, HS/HotS will lose them because there is no depth.

      ‘Dumbed down’ isn’t just about the first hour of play, its also about the 100th. CoC in the first hour is far more accessible than HS/HotS, but is far, far less accessible in the 100th. That’s a huge part of great game design, and something that is forgotten or discarded in the ‘dumb it down’ design of New Blizzard.

  3. Izlain says:

    I think Blizzard definitely shot themselves in the foot for taking the crown and dumbing down games. It worked wonders with WoW, but further offerings don’t seem to have the longevity, nor should they, given the superior products delivered by competitors.

    I don’t think Blizzard is hurting for money, mind you, but I imagine they’re starting to wonder what they need to do next. Then again, they might be making hand over fist with their smaller combined offerings. Hearthstone burned me after a while. HotS was garbage from the start. I still enjoy D3 and SC, but they aren’t exactly forging into new territory anymore. I’ll give Overwatch a shot but I’m not holding my breath for a phenomenal experience. Overall, Blizzard seems washed up.

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  5. Matt says:

    I think the sunk cost factor has something to do with HotS vs LoL. I don’t play either game, but I do play HS and another card game would have to be worlds better at this point to cause me to switch and start over.

    How well is HotS doing anyway?

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