MMOs and target audiences

A commenter on Tobold’s recent post about the future of raiding (note to self: feminism and posts about whether raiding is dead always get lots of responses :) ) as an end game encapsulated something that has been niggling me about WoW over the past few months.

Someone (I think Krisps, sorry too tired this morning to read through comments slowly) commented that after all was said and done, the Cataclysm raid model was perfect for their guild and playing style so obviously they were pleased with it and hoped that Blizzard stuck with it.

And others commented that they had preferred Wrath because raiding in that expansion had been perfect for their guild and playing style. (This was true for me also.)

And it occurs to me that there is an element of spin the bottle in who Blizzard will decide is their target audience inbetween one expansion and the next. The game that was perfect for you in one expansion might morph into something that can’t keep your attention or your guild together in the next, and largely players accept this as the price of entry. If you don’t like it, you can always leave.

And yet, there is another view of MMOs which is that they could be providing a range of activities catering to a wider range of players and preferences. I do think Blizzard have dropped the ball on this in Cataclysm to some extent – they cater for ultra-casuals very well, and solo players who like pet collecting. Tight-knit 10 man raid guilds (or 25 man) are also catered to pretty well. I’m not sure how the PvP scene is at the moment but there are certainly options for arenas and battleground play. So there is definitely a lot there.

But there’s still the notion of the expansion having a target audience. It suits some types of players more than others, and they aren’t really fighting hard to keep ‘the others’.

Maybe it’s because Rift is so new and I’m nowhere near the level cap but the game feels more forgiving for different playing styles to me right now. There are certainly activities for casual guilds to do together, plenty for soloers, and collectors, and people who like instances. It is entirely possible that all mature MMOs tend to settle out the playerbase into something less flexible (some more hardcore, some more focussed on endgame, etc) and then devs decide which segment to focus on.

For sure there will be some kind of target audience. A military MMO like World of Tanks is looking at military buffs, probably mostly male. Lord of the Rings Online was always expecting a different type of audience.

For all that, I think I prefer MMOs when there is less notion of a target audience in terms of gameplay and more of a “something for everyone” and the simple reason  is that I might feel like doing different activities when I log in for the night. If I’m stressed, I want to do something chilled out. If I want more of a challenge, then I’d like that option too. The tyranny of WoW’s model is that endgame raiders (if they’re in the right sort of tight knit guild) will tend to log in for raids at fixed times and … that’s mostly it.

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20 thoughts on “MMOs and target audiences

  1. I prefer MMORPGs that were created by a team that wanted to make a fun, focused game. Seems obvious, but is not.
    If you start to think in the terms of being attractive to many people, you run danger to create disconnected minigames. Which minigame is WoW is really fun on its own?

    I think what’s fun in WoW is the coregameplay; the fighting of whatever. That’s why it works. But it would be much better if there was a focused game idea behind it, not some 10 disconnected minigames.

    To maximize sub numbers, however, you should always try to make a game that appeals to as many people just enough to pay the sub – no more.

    • But WoW is a virtual world with minigames in it and they are mostly disconnected already, aren’t they? Or at least hierarchical, you complete one to unlock the next.

  2. I prefer looking at it as play styles, rather than player types.

    So instead of saying that Blizzard has a target audience of raiders, pvp’ers, solo’ers etc, I think it makes more sense to think about what people DO in the game, and to make sure there’s a reason and enough content for players to find more than one thing entertaining (to find more than raiding worthwhile). You say it pretty well yourself, sometimes you feel like relaxing, other times more action.

    However, I do think the notion of -how often- people do stuff in the game, makes more sense in the target audience frame.

  3. You know, when they say they want to offer ‘something for everyone’, I sometimes have to wonder. In WoW’s case, while they are faarrrr from being ‘dead’ or even ‘close to dead’ or anything like that, there ARE people leaving Cataclysm who were there a long time. (Our guild had to do 2 10 mans the other night due to enough people being on holiday we had trouble getting signs-where it used to be even people on holiday would be no problem.)

    They’re getting new players, but they’re losing old. Not all old but I’d be kidding myself if I said ”No one has quit WoW in the past 3 months.”

    I can’t help but think about the saying(which I live a lot on when I do my writing, fiction, designs and stuff):

    ”I don’t know the key to success, but they key to failure is trying to please everyone.”

    Somewhere, in making the game playable for ultra-hardcore, to mount collectors, to people who go around and fish, to hardline PvPers, they might have tripped up here. The biggest reason I hear about high end people leaving right now settles around ”too watered down.” There’s the big PvP/PvE divide that sees them finally trying to separate how abilities work once in awhile but still plays tug-o-war with one another.

    I have to say-I’m surprised Blizzard went as long as they have been trying to please everyone. Usually when some form of media is trying to please everyone at once it goes downhill very fast, so they have been managing to keep it going damn well I think. (I’ve been Rifting more than WoW-ing as of late as well myself. I log on to raid in WoW, or gather flask mats for cauldrons, and now RP me and my friend’s old war buddies together a couple times a week.)

    With Rift, I have 2 characters with about 20 different playstyles. :D Hell, it’s rather funny-my husband even likes Rift over WoW-and he’s really casual. Why? For him, he might be casual, but he likes a measure of challenge in his casual. In Wow, if you solo, you aren’t really getting challenged anymore. He was finding the inability to die and feel railroaded kinda boring. In Rift, people can actually, you know, die while questing.

    I’m definitely not trying to doomcry or anything since I do feel that WoW is still very much alive, I just have concerns that their ‘trying to please everyone’ is starting to bite them in the ass a bit.

  4. To me, the issue is that WoW pulls somewhat of a bait and switch. For 200 hours, you do mostly soloing with optional grouping. For another 100 hours or so, you do dailies and forced grouping. After that, you have only the two extremes: raiding or super-casual activities such as achievements and pet collecting.

    I am with you, I prefer a game to offer different styles of play, because I don’t just want to play one single way all the time. However, I think WoW does offer that. Their failure is that they force you through each style of play one at a time, and then you are done with it.

  5. The problem with this is: Where is the middle ground between raiding and alts/collecting? I would say that Heroics are this middle ground, but this I clearly not good enough for some.

    And many people have said on this thread and Tobold’s that they want content that is both relaxing AND challenging. Of course, what is relaxing for some might be too challenging for others, so how do you balance this?

    Blizzard can’t create infinite content. They have made raids harder so that they stay relevant for longer – not like ICC where everyone ha it on farm for months before any new content came out.

    • I guess I just find it interesting that even among raiders, some people find that different expansions are more or less perfectly tuned for them. It kind of highlights the task Blizzard have with the raid game. And even with ICC, I don’t think everyone ever had the hard modes on farm at all.

    • “I would say that Heroics are this middle ground, but this I clearly not good enough for some”

      The problem that Heroics are not positioned this way by Blizzard. It is a stepping stone before raiding. It is not a middle ground mini-game. It doesn’t have self-sufficient progression or accomplishments aside from a couple of gimmicks. There is lack of scaling. There is not much storyline supported by quests on par with what vanilla or TBC had.

    • Krisps: except that when content is too hard, people have a tendency — now being demonstrated — to quit immediately, rather than after a long period of farming leading to boredom. Frustration is not fun for a great many people, and works directly against what I consider to be the central value proposition of the game (which I will explain if there is interest).

  6. It’s funny how the genre may have come full circle from the first mainstream MMO Ultima Online. That game was a sandbox virtual world where the developers knew going in that players would surprise them. It was a virtual world designed to support a huge variety of playstyles with no concept of a “typical player”.

    From there we’ve moved, one small step at a time, to something almost as specific as Football Manager 2011.

    And all in response to player driven demands. I guess it’s partly because in a free for all sandbox where people can do whatever we want we’ve shown that what a large proportion of us want is to be dicks to other people.

    • Stabs, that and a lot of people want to sit back and say “entertain me” – sandboxes are hard work.

      This, I think, is what will kill SW:TOR in fairly short order after launch. The game is promising new levels of “entertain me” and I don’t see how they can possibly put out quality story content as fast as players are going to churn through it. And when they run out of story, there are going to be some very disillusioned players finding that it’s back to killing ten womp-rats… or worse, that there isn’t even any kill ten womp-rats to occupy them until the next batch of story content.

      • That’s a very good point about sandbox games. You really do have to put in more effort to keep entertained. Or … do you?

        I think this is kind of an interesting point because if you end up in a social group where the leaders are really really organised, then mostly all you have to do is keep showing up and taking part.

        You see the same thing with raiding (although raiding pretty much encourages strong leadership) where some people will consider that finding a suitable raid guild or a group of 10 closeknit friends who want to raid is trivial where for others it’ll be so difficult that they eventually give up. But not everyone in a 10 man group was equally involved in organising it, some just were in the right social group to get involved. (Sure this might have taken work, or they may have lucked out.)

        So if devs can encourage guilds to form with the expectation of strong leadership and lots of organised events (aside from the question of how many people actually want to spend all their online time organising things for other people) … a lot of people could theoretically get entertained.

  7. “feminism and posts about whether raiding is dead always get lots of responses”

    You make me want to write a post entitled “Feminism has Killed Raiding”.

    If only I could figure out a half-way logical argument for that. The comments would be amazing.

  8. Pingback: A Thought On Sandbox Games « Tremayne's Law

  9. I think what is really turning people away from WoW is the vastly changing gameplay between expansions.

    I’d been playing since early vanilla and have seen the odd twists the each expansion brought.

    Vanilla was good for the casuals so long as they didn’t want end game raiding… that was reserved for the truly hardcore guilds.

    TBC brought us something more balanced, you still needed to be rather hardcore in the beginning for early raid content, but the reg/heroics got everyone trained for what was to come in raiding.

    Then Wrath hit and threw all that out the window and catered to casual players… running a dungeon? Just AOE everything. Doing a raid? Yep… same answer. Don’t want to raid? We got you covered with dailies.

    Now we have Cata, and it feels like something between vanilla and TBC. Raiding isn’t really open for the casuals, and the gear grind almost feels like what the vanilla raiders needed to do for raid consumables… it wasn’t pretty then, it aint too fun now either. I’d expect that raiding will open up more for the casuals as they get rep/badge gear, but the fight mechanics will likely crush them.

    I’ve been one of the hardcore vanilla raiders, took a step down to mostly hardcore in TBC and found that Wrath was kinda fun when you had *gasp* casuals in the same raid as us hardcores. Cata has turned me off of WoW though.

    The wild swings between gameplay is too much, you need to have split personalities just to cope with it

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