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.