Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Paying to Keep the Casuals Away

Alright, the title of this post sounds terribly elitist, let me assure you that I have nothing at all against casual players. What I do dislike is if games are modeled to fit their tastes and not mine simply because there are more of them than of me. Especially MMOs, like World of Warcraft, tend to cater a lot to larger groups of (potential) players, removing game elements that used to be very interesting to smaller groups. This is a smart business decision as more paying customers are surely a good thing – but what if the minorities simply paid more?

The real world is full of examples of niche products financing themselves through higher prices. Even grocery shopping gives you the option of going for the cheap mass market food or paying more to get something special. Me, I would absolutely pay double the normal subscription price for an MMO if that would guarantee me that it is tailored to the needs of players like me and ignores the potential of raking in more players by improving accessibility or what have you. Doubling the income per player should allow a company to operate just as well as they do now with just half their player base which should allow them to simply show the finger to the masses on the official forums.

As I said, I have nothing against casual players and I wouldn’t mind them playing the game as well. The intention of an increased monthly fee would not be to keep those casuals out, but to allow the game’s developers not to care about them. Every paying subscriber would essentially pay for an additional player that would play the game if it was less ‘hardcore’.

And really, would segregating the player-base according to taste be such a bad thing? Ideally it would be without the monetary difference, of course, but I fully understand that the mass market of casual(-ish) players is just plain bigger than the small group of people who want their games hard and in-game success to be (virtually) meaningful. So I’d be willing to bite the bullet and cough up some additional cash if it meant that I would get an MMO that’s made for players like me. How about you?

  • The niche idea is not new. But I think it is about time that MMOs find a golden middle way or that the supposed “niche” MMOs become more successful. Right now we have too many family friendly MMOs that can be compared to perfectly save theme parks:

    No or only a marginal penalty for death. Mobs that die to autoattacks. Regular attendance of your daily quests guarantees you the most epic gear ever. If you did not play for a while, you will get bonus “rested” XP and stuff. Nothing is really hard or dangerous, even the illusion of difficulty is very thin.

    Yeah, I would like a MMO where combat is hard and dangerous. Where I have to learn and try harder. Where I can actually die and fail. Where my gear can be stolen, lost or it simply decays/gets worse over time. Instead of getting obsolete through gear progression and resets.

    There is pride and excitement in doing well when survival and well being are not guaranteed. That is what I am missing from modern MMO design.

    The trend really seems to be to cater to everyone, the lowest common denominator. And I am sad that this still works. This does not work for movies, music, books, no form of entertainment so far has decided to settle for the very lowest common denominator only.

    I dunno if paying extra is the answer, or if it is not more a problem of designers believing they have to go for a potential customer that can barely hold the mouse.

    I personally think there are a lot more people who would like that. And I am sure they would play a game they like, even if it would cost more. Price would not be the deciding factor.

  • I’m with you: some developer should create a game and chrage twice as much for hardcore players, if it would keep these elitist jerks off the grid.

    People always talk about how WoW is “casual friendly”. The content may be, but the player base has taken up the gatekeeper duties by falling back on the attitude that your gear represents your ability. The whole e-peen culture allows the casuals to play their game, and the elitists to play THEIR game…all within the same game.

    I think that your idea of doubling e fee would certainly keep people out of the game. Seriously, do you really think that 2x the current norm would be an attractive proposition, especially if it were explained that it was intended to accomplish what you propse here? They might as well just say “pay twice as much for a fraction of the community!”

    Usually I hear people saying that people play MMOs for the multiplayer and community. You may not always like the community, but no player is ever 100% pigeonholed. Casual players may decide to ramp up their game, and the more involved players may decide to take it easy.

    Erecting an arbitrary gate to create some kind of exclusive enclave would damn the game from day one. Yeah, these games are out to make money…they’re a product. But if there’s one thing that all developers and publishers SHOULD know at this point in the evolutiom of the genre, its’s that word is worth more then a larger monthly fee. I think your overestimate the number of players out there who would be willing to pay 2x as much for your dream experience.

    Instead, developers have turned to creating niche games. Charging twice as much is a slap in the face, but creating a game that appeals more to hardcore players through mechanics is a “softer” way to target a community, and in the end, more effective. A lot of casual players won’t evenk think about going near Darkfall, for example, but I’m sure there are a lot of current players who will never go back to other games, and are happy that it’s reputation keeps weekenders away. Same with EVE. Simply making another WoW clone and then upping the monthly fee just because of the popularity of WoW (which is ironic, wouldn’t you say?) is not the answer.

  • Are you sure that the hardcores have bigger wallets and are more willing to pay than the casuals? Having a well paid job can be one thing that prevents you from going hardcore. If you’re targeting this “rich” audience you might want to stay accessable? It takes a market study to tell of course. I’m pretty sure Blizzard are looking into this as they do their secret market surveys.

  • Here’s my reply, long form:

    It got too big for a comment box.
    Andrew´s last blog post ..Misplaced elitism and a future MMO

  • I’m glad that my post sparked so much interest, but there’s one little thing that i didn’t mean the way some of you might have picked it up as. I don’t actually propose to use money as a barrier for casuals (whatever that may be) to enter. I simply suggest that a game company could create a game that is aimed at more hardcore players and make up for the money that apparently costs through increasing the subscription fee. I would be paying the developers to keep the casuals away (or, more appropriately, to not let their wishes influence the design decisions too much.)

    This would, by definition, not be a wow clone. It mustn’t be darkfall either because hardly anyone will pay money for a bad game. (By production standards, not even considering design decisions.)
    scrusi´s last blog post ..Paying to Keep the Casuals Away

  • That cracks me up. So what you’re really bemoaning is that everyone else is getting what they want at half the price you’d be paying if you were. Why not just send blizzard twice your sub fee every month and then at least you’ll be in the same boat as all the other players?

  • @Earley: What I’m “bemoaning” (actually not so much in this post, but in general, yeah) is that I am not getting what I want from MMOs and that that is partly because there is a focus on another, potentially bigger group of players. That is absolutely fine from the companies’ side (more players = more money) and great for those players who are catered to. Me, I’d be willing to pay more to make up for the fact that there are less of me around who would be willing to pay.

    Let’s take a real world example – say a specialized book on experimental physics (or really any field of science). Have you seen what those things go for? If there were lots of people interested in them, it would pay to sell them for much less money. As it is though, the publishers need to at least recuperate their costs for creating the low amount of books that will actually be bought. If it wasn’t for the high price, these books would never be written at all.

    I’m simply offering the same: I would pay more if that got me into an MMO that I actually like.

  • I so totally do not get Earley’s point and fear he missed the point of the article totally.

    I still hope that MMOs get not reduced to games for vegetables. Or casuals. Whatever we would like to call the huge group of gamers that are currently pandered to.

    People are not that dumb. They are also not that hardcore. Gamers can learn and overcome challenges.

    I am afraid it is utter disdain of the MMO designers for their gamers and a lack of ingenuity on their part. Can we really expect fun game design if the designers feel they have to design for a supposed horde of morons?

    Deep and complex game design does not mean it must be inaccessible. And easy accessbility should never mean the game has to be shallow!

    If we go so far to say the movement rules of various pieces in chess are unnecessarily complicated and confusing, then we are in real trouble and can forget about more engaging MMOs.

  • Have you considered getting into free-to-play games? When the economics of a game are based around a (casual) 90% never spending a dime and a (hardcore) 10% funding the game, then trust me, you see the developers focusing purely on the hardcore players.

    After years of WoW and trying many other MMOs, I’m currently playing Atlantica Online, and while it has its problems, it is definitely a challenging and competitive game.
    Carson´s last blog post ..Community through labour

  • wrote about that – (Emasculation of MMOs, 2 articles). The current notion seems to be that MMOs need to be easy and rewarding to cater to a very large crowd of people.

    Maybe you are quite right. Let the niche players pay more -> but also deliver them what they want. It gives them the satisfaction of being in somewhat elevated and exclusive company! It works for many other industries, it works for cars, wine, food, and not to mention fashion.