Topic-icon Brad McQuaid On MMO design and the Target Audience

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4 months 3 weeks ago #46056 by Kazara
Kazara created the topic: Brad McQuaid On MMO design and the Target Audience
www.pantheonmmo.com/content/blogs/151/180/want-went-wrong-wo-w-wo-w-killers-or-a-general-lack-of-guts

Thanks for the kind words and encouragement! Much appreciated. Although I don't think the entire future of the MMO genre is resting on our shoulders, I do believe we are at a significant crossroads: are we going to keep trying to make uber-expensive WoW-Killers, going mass-market, going least common denominator? Or are we going to recognize that within the huge 15+ million player gamespace that is online gaming, especially MMOs, that there are therefore LOTs of different types of players, many of whom want very different things out of their MMO experience than others? Should we keep dumbing down these games trying to make sure we appeal to everyone by doing everything gamers could ever want but at the same time removing anything that couple possibly turn off another segment of players? Should we keep pouring all of the money into the same pot, trying over and over to come up with an MMO that makes everyone happy all of the time?

Or should we instead choose a target audience, a demographic within the greater online gaming space, and make the best damn game we can for that group? Can we be strong enough, bold enough to say out loud: "this game is, by design, NOT for everyone"? I mean, so many other industries and genres get it. Dark Souls makes no apology that it is NOT a casual game. Toyota when announcing their latest 4x4 truck does not make apologies that, from a high-speed handling perspective, this truck by design is NOT meant to compete with the latest Ferrari?

That's the big hump I think the MMO genre really, really needs to get over. In the 'post-WoW' world the genre really moved towards trying to become even more mass-market than WoW itself. Looking at WoW, Vanilla-WoW (the game that was released) is a lot different than WoW is today. Some of that is natural evolution, polishing, the implementation of new features, races, types of content, etc. In other words, all good stuff. But then some of it is merely a result of Blizzard trying to make WoW appeal to an even larger group of gamers -- even though they were already, by leaps and bounds, the most popular and profitable MMO on the face of the earth. But even Blizzard eventually realized the folly in all of this. Blizzard likes to go big, and they can go big where and when they want to. They've earned a great reputation and, because of past success, they can pretty much devote the funds to make a new game anywhere they want. For a while they were making a 'sequel' of sorts to WoW, although I'm sure there were quite a few changes in terms of setting, gameplay, mechanics, etc. The game was called Titan. And it was cancelled when Blizzard realized they they'd already grown the MMO gamespace about as far as anyone could... they could either decide to specialize and focus future MMOs on specific audiences, holding true to what that audience wants and enjoys, or they could move along and dominate other computer and video game genres. As a large, extremely successful game developer I don't think focusing on smaller groups and specializing multiple smaller games fit into their overall corporate strategy. So if Titan wasn't going to significantly grow the MMO gamespace like WoW had, their choice was to cancel it. While that sort of bums me out and I feel for those who worked so hard on it, I also respect the decision. They'd reached a point where if they continued to try to make their MMOs more mass market that the games themselves were simply going to cease to be MMOs anymore. If you go down the long road of eliminating anything that defines the MMO genre because it might be something some player doesn't care for, where do you end up? Where does that road eventually lead? Well, I think we can already see quite far down that road -- check out the mega-expensive but likewise mega-watered down MMOs that have come out post-WoW. After all of that time, money, and effort the result has been MMOs that really aren't MMOs anymore. Some people don't like to have to interact with a community, so remove the community. Some don't like to have to find others to group with, so remove grouping. Some people don't have the time to go after and earn powerful yet rare items, so make it either so all items are easily obtainable or make it so the rare ones can also be purchased for real money. Some people don't want to have to play months or even years to play through a character to maximum level, so decrease this time and effort and make the game a quick rush to the 'end game', allowing people to bypass most of the content by jumping to whatever that 'end game' is supposed to be, or even perceived to be.

The result has been games that lack the depth and game elements that make MMOs 'sticky'. MMOs and their predecessors, text MUDs of the 80s and 90s, long ago identified gameplay elements, mechanics, content, etc. that compelled their players to stick around. Real friendships were formed. Shared experiences occurred. People worked long and hard building up their characters and the items he or she possessed. A lot of pride and real value was perceived by players and therefore they kept playing months or even years. The result were vibrant and evolving virtual worlds people would subscribe to playing. And when the content started to grow old, the development teams would either revamp old content, giving it a refresher of sorts, or they would add on new content -- new continents to explore, new races and classes to play, and new ways to advance your character. People loved it. EQ, one of the earlier MMOs, peaked at 500k subscribers and made over a half a billion dollars in profit for Sony. The Final Fantasy games came next and were very profitable. Lastly you had WoW, and, again, even though after awhile they started dumbing things down, if you look at the title in its entirety it's been a very enjoyable, compelling, polished game and also an incredibly profitable venture.

But then we've also seen the results of taking things too far, going too mainstream, and losing track of what really makes these games tick. Indeed so many attributes of MMOs that defined what an MMO was were deleted that it's debatable whether many of these newer games are even MMOs in the first place. Regardless of names, however, what's undeniable is that they've become less sticky. No longer did they keep people interested month after month, year after year. No longer did they create communities and environments based on interdependence -- where your success could only be achieved if you worked well with others, worked as a team, shared experiences, etc. The entire subscription based revenue model, in fact, was almost obliterated off the face of the earth. At first some people claimed that gamers had somehow magically changed and no longer wanted to play games for months or years. Or to have to invest time and effort into character advancement. Or to be 'forced' to become social and actually make real online friendships.

But the truth is that with every generation there is pretty much the same breakdown into what genres and styles of games people are interested in. MMOs were never for 'everybody' any more than an FPS or RTS was for 'everybody'. But for the people who did enjoy them, what was wrong with acknowledging this fact and then getting your butt in gear and making the best possible game for them that you could? Choose your audience. Determine the resources you'll need to make a game they'll truly love and enjoy. And then commit to creating just that. That's where we're at for the moment, especially with MMOs (although one could argue RTS games are in a similar if not worse state). Developers are finally realizing that the answer isn't somehow designing a game that everyone in the world would enjoy but rather to choose a healthy demographic and go after them with everything you've creatively got. With Pantheon we've chosen to focus on PvE and making the E in PvE matter a lot more than it has for some time. We've decided to attract gamers who love to team up with each other and take on the AI -- cooperative gamers who want more than session based games but to work together in a truly persistent environment. We've decided to go after people who want to explore and experience vast handcrafted worlds with compelling storylines and quests. We've targeted the online gamer who when they experience something emotionally intense would rather experience that with other people -- that, to them at least, experiencing challenges and even overcoming them together and as a team provides for much more memorable shared experiences -- memories and nostalgia that just doesn't naturally occur in single player games or even in online games where the other players you encounter you really never have a reason to get to know.

And there are other MMOs out there focusing on different target audiences -- PvP-centric games, more storytelling and RP games that contain both online and offline experiences, and much more. We think this is great and that there's room for all sorts of MMOs. And even for those players who do want an online game but not one that takes time, or is difficult, one that is more casual and where making friends is truly optional -- we think it's great for those games to be undergoing development as well. The only difference is that there are already plenty of MMO-lite games like that -- already many that have been launched, and then many more still being worked on. And from a business perspective it really doesn't make sense for us to go and try to compete in an already well-served segment of the MMO genre. Rather it makes more sense for us, both from a business standpoint as well as a personal one, to go after the under-served segments and make MMOs that appeal not only to our target audience but also to ourselves.

-Brad McQuaid

And the Deep State whispered to Trump “You can’t withstand the storm”, to which Trump replied
“I am the storm”

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