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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

How Powergamers Made, and then Broke, the MMOG Genre

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday December 30 2009 at 9:10AM
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There are two basic kinds of game players; those for whom the most important aspect of the game is winning, and those for whom the most important aspect of the game is playing. For the former, the end-game is **the** destination; for the latter, the journey and not some final goal is the most important.

One might also very loosely define the first category as hardcore players, and the latter as casuals.  For those whom winning is the most important thing, getting there first or among the first "means", to them, that they win. Burning through any new content first is, to them, the major goal of playing any MMORPG.  These hardcore players tend to be much more focused and involved in the game, and in talking about the game, and in populating forums about their game, than casuals. This focus on the game leads them to take positions in the industry; hardcore players tend to become the developers and the fan-site gatekeepers of the industry.  The hardcore treats gaming like a career; the casual treats the game like a hobby, and so the former tends to drive the functional path of the genre as it develops, because theyr'e the ones that end up in positions to make decisions about the structure of future games.

The hardcores brought an energy and enthusiasm into a genre that quickly exploded in popularity, but then hit what appeared to be customer base wall a couple of years after World of Warcraft was launched.  Although many  millions of people play games online, like hearts or poker at community sites, those people were not gravitating towards online MMORPGs. It quickly became apparent that online MMOGs were competing for the same base of players. After World of Warcraft, few new players were being lured into the western MMORPG market.

The reason for this is simple; virtually all MMORPGs are essentially the same game with various minor tweaks here and there, like better graphics, more character customization, wings, pets, real-money stores, pvp, etc.  Since the bulk of western developers were culled from the powergamer mold, they essentially all think alike, and basically perfected their powergamer-oriented game with World of Warcraft.

Now, some may argue that WoW is not a true powergamer game, but here's my perspective: the powergamer developers built and revised WoW over the years around a fairly simple maxim: alienate as few powergamers as possible while appealing to as many casuals as possible thereby maximizing profitability. Second to that is: throw in whatever other games offer that seem to appeal to significant players if possible so that WoW players don't have to leave WoW to get the "stufff" the other game offers.

 The reason new MMORPGs can't compete with WoW when it comes to size of player base is simple: all those other games are simply revised versions of WoW.  They offer no significant reason to start over or go to  a game that might fail and be a waste of money, when playing in Azeroth is money in the bank.

So, why do developers keep trying to sell us on WoW variations instead of trying something fundamentally different? Why do we literally have hundreds of MMORPGs out there and maybe one or two is functionally different from WoW? Is it because they wish to copy WoW's success?

No, the simple fact is that virtually all developers and idea men that gain entrance into the arena of game development must go through the same gatekeeping process, which means they have to be powergamers and have  a powergamer mentality, which in turn means that they can only imagine games that are WoW-like; roles that fulfill group functions, groups that have access to content that can't be accomplished solo; raids that can accomplish content that can't be achieved by groups; a linear path of progression towards a guild-raiding end-game comprised of exclusively superior rewards and content, all centered around career-level investments of online time.

To the powergamer, this is what an MMORPG "means", and playing the game any other way, or for any other reason, is so alien to their thought process they can only muster contempt and ridicule for anyone that talks about offline progression or equitable solo rewards.

The powergamers that brought the necessary energy and commitment to the MMORPG genre to get it started have become the entrenched system, guarding the gateways and pumping out one failed attempt to draw customers away from WoW after another, becoming so desperate that they even offer their games for free.  That has worked to some extent, but it is pushing the game industry into a certain business model that a lot of gamers abhor: the cash shop. It's hard to call a game with a cash shop a game, isn't it? It would be like Green Bay buying yards in the middle of a football game.

And so the MMORPG genre is stalled out, not because there is no more room for new, different, successful games, but because the powergamer oligarchy cannot imagine outside of their theme-park, linear progression, end-game, group-oriented,online- time-centric box. If they could, then we'd have true sandbox games, classless models, solo-oriented games, and offline progresion models ... but the fact is that we don't, and the reason we don't is simply because the developers as a whole can't fathom that people unlike them would play a game for reasons entirely foreign to their mentality.

coldandnumb writes:

Amen. I could not agree with you more. I hope a lot of people read this and stop for a second to see the truth of everything you mention here.

Thu Dec 31 2009 12:30PM Report
blackjack131 writes:

so true. I miss my first week of ultima online...like viewing the world through a child's eyes.

Thu Dec 31 2009 11:15PM Report
Onitora writes:

@ OP - Foooooooor sho! 

Sat Jan 02 2010 3:54AM Report
Beyorn writes:

Bravo

Sat Jan 02 2010 9:52AM Report
zereelist writes:

 I think Blizzard might prove you wrong in your last statement with their next MMO.  Im also confident SE can make a refreshing new MMO for both casuals and hardcores in FF14.

Decent read, but after the first few paragraphs it turned into "WoW broke the MMOG"

Sat Jan 02 2010 12:26PM Report
Meleagar writes:

WoW didn't break anything; an entrenched powergamer mentality producing formulaic titles bulit around the same principles pretty much perfected in WoW is what has broken the genre.

You can't make an MMO for both casuals and hardcores because hardcores require that their playstyle be rewarded with significant, exclusive content.  Casuals deserve a game designed to meet their needs exclusively, and not as an afterthought or an attempt to lure them into the game.  There are enough games that cater to the powergamer style.

Sat Jan 02 2010 8:04PM Report
trieditall writes:

@zereelist - I must have read it differently.  Seems the author Meleagar is saying that WoW is end game for devs who want to make a mass appeal game.  I want to believe this is not the case, I hope there are some dev's out there who will break the mold and actually deliver a game with content that does not require level grinding.  Maybe a game that even powergamers will actually enjoy from the begining is possible.  If they truely want to promote group play then there should not be such huge difference of abilities between the lowest and highest levels, but should rely more on tactics and strategy.

Sun Jan 03 2010 2:32PM Report
Amathe writes:

The mmo definition of "winning" needs to be reoriented to break away from the current rut these games are in. WoW and most of the other mmos are really "Dress Up Barbi Online."  I am better than you because I have nicer clothes. Look at my new tier whatever shoes ...

If you want a different game, you have to decide what game behavior you intend to reward and in what way you are going to reward it.

One thing I would like to see more of, for example, which a few games have had some success with, is a meaningful selection of non-combat professions. Not mere window dressing, but ones that are a vital part of the online world and that earn player respect.

I would also like to see more rewards for discovering and unlocking the arcane secrets of a game's lore, and for solving in game mysteries.

There is more to a fantasy world than merely busting heads for better clothes, and one of these days someone is going to tap into that in a sufficiently meaningful way to open up a real alternative to the paint by numbers design we keep seeing over and over.

 

 

Sun Jan 03 2010 7:50PM Report
seferz writes:

... You ask for something perfect, yet this cannot be done, because we as a whole, are not perfect.

You must look at every aspect that goes into consideration, such as money or time. Their are many different types of games, for different types of people. Single player games are more for the casual player, as you can pause, save, go back and restart or reload if you made a mistake, that world is solely yours.

You want an online game where lower and highest levels are barely different and rely on tactics, skill, and strategy? There is one already out, its called online chess.

Final fantasy online has many game lore things that you can unlock by doing missions, even doing missions to learn the secrets of a profession so you can learn to become a dragoon, or a summoner...

In Dark Fall, skills are everything, any profession you choose, smith, miner, etc they have huge impacts as they are the ones who make the equipment that you will need to buy. And no, they are not magical containing godly power, they are simple equipment that with different material, makes the strength of the items differ. And it doesn't have auto-targeting, you actually have to aim.

The fact is, no game is perfect, because we are not perfect. Many possibilities of a perfect game fly out the window because of cost, time, and possible glitches that many players seek to use to their advantage, which they use for themselves, spread around for free, or sell to make profit. Because we as a whole, are not perfect, games will never be.

WoW, dont get me wrong... but I am sick and tired of people talking about WoW, that game is old and im surprised people still play it. I have searched for the perfect game, and still have not found it, because it does not exist.

If anyone were to make a game like .hack//sign, that would surely replace "WoW" as the top game.

Sun Jan 03 2010 11:26PM Report
Reianor writes:

Want a different version of the same story?

Casuals broke the genre. I'm not talking about people who don't mistake a game for a second work, I'm talking about people who mistake shiny cover for content.

The current "stagnation" on idea front is a result of a simple truth - it takes more than ideas to make games.

The vast oceans of "easy customers" shaped the industry. We are used to paying as much as we do, and those who we pay are used to being paid as much as they do for same "quantity" of work.

To make something for quality a developer will have to increase his resources. That means either having his workers work more for same price or having his subscribers pay more per month. And none of the two sides will agree.

Developer is already placing much on his ideas - a whole company can be at stake, making games isn't cheap. And to boot he needs to please a customer base which is tired of "the usual" games, because with effort devoted to quality and new ideas he isn't going to "hit the masses", and to get a team that is going to work for an idea, because those who work for money are more likely to work on a "railed" project, as it is a better return of investment.

I'm not saying it's impossible, it's just damn hard to work for your money when your competition doesn't.

Mon Jan 04 2010 5:06AM Report
Maglama writes:

@Reianor: So it's Casuals vs Hardcore, eh? Don't be an idiot. Casuals don't play MMOs enough to ruin them. What a stupid reply.

Mon Jan 04 2010 8:10AM Report
taloshz writes:

As someone who has been around since the very first MMO's. I can say this post  is yet another attempt to make WoW something that its not and keep egging on the community. Lets be realistic WoW was designed to attract the causal base.  If it was designed for both then the raid zones would be alot harder.  I enjoyed WoW at the start also but like most true powergamers bailed on it fast after destroying the end game and realizing it was never intended for us. If you think I am full of it go play any of the other games or take a look at say everquest2 forums and the like . A majority of the complaints in those games raid forums are complaints about it being too hard and why is this not like WoW.  Powergamers would never say that. Casual gamers might. As for casuals killing the market . I think it was more a beat a horse to death then them. How many times can you do the same storyline. WoW just made it happen sooner.

The revival I hope is in the new wave which are not related to  dragons and those stereotypes. The future is in horror mmos scifi mmos even  shooter mmo's. Like someone said above if someone came up with a hack mmo it would be more popular then WoW. I feel maybe it might if done right. The big problem mainly now is all the game industry has WoWgoggles they want to have the next big cash cow so they keep making the mistake of following that same template and putting a spin on it. I really hope some of the new MMO's being worked on try to break that mold before the MMO  genre itself dies. I know people may have different ideas of a powergamer now but I guess I am alittle oldchool and think true powergamers would never petition to make things easier.

Mon Jan 04 2010 10:13PM Report
Meleagar writes:

taloshz,

If WoW was designed for casuals, there would be no raid zones, and certainly no content that was exclusively obtainable via raids.

As I said in my post, WoW has been developed to appeal to as many casuals as possible while alienating as few powergamers as possible. A game that is built for casuals means that the entire content of the game is available to the casual playstyle.  Sitting down and playing 4-6 hrs at a sitting for a necessary total of 40-60 hours a week in necessary raids to obtain end-game content is not a game designed for casuals.

Because the game requires powergamer-investments of online time to achieve exclusive, superior content, it cannot be said to be designed for casuals.

Tue Jan 05 2010 9:03AM Report
trieditall writes:

@serferz - Chess is a great example for skill and strategy.  Although I believe we are talking about mmo's here.  The equivilent mmo to chess would not allow for the casual player.  I see your point that the game I describe is probably impossible to make, but I can still dream...

Tue Jan 05 2010 11:30AM Report
sfc1971 writes:

@Meleagar

What you are describing is the carebear or weak power-player.

All content should be available to all. So everything should be easy enough for the poorest player. It don't matter how incapable you are at playing a game, you should be able to reach the end.

How far do you go? Content should not last for more then an hour? Half an hour? 5 minutes? Someone will always complain it is to much. 

The real casuals accept that they cannot play all parts of the game. If you don't want to take part in large long raids, then large long raids are not for you, it is idiotic to suggest a game should be launched that has NO content more then half an hour long because it would die. The casual players you describe do not make a game. 


 

 

 

Tue Jan 05 2010 3:31PM Report
Meleagar writes:

Sfc1971 is a good example of the kind of mentality I'm talking about; one that cannot conceive of an online game that isn't fundamentally constructed like the scores of other MMOGs already on the market, where casuals are supposed to be satisfied with whatever they have the online time to accomplish, and nothing but disdain for anyone who doesn't accept his game model as what everyone else must accommodate.

Ini sfc1971's mind, there aren't even enough people around to populate a game designed specifically for casuals; if you're not a powergamer of some sort, you're not playing online games at all.

That's the mindset that is generating WoW clone after WoW clone, and why the genre is currently broken and in need of new direction.

Tue Jan 05 2010 5:17PM Report
infofront writes:

I agree, Meleagar - though I raise an eyebrow at the prospect of  offline progression in the MMO genre. Also, I commend you on your articulate writing style.

Wed Jan 06 2010 8:45AM Report
Vasagralem writes:

I think the next breakthrough of the genre will be one of technology, when the technology is advanced enough so that a combat system that relies in skill rather than button clicking smashing is available then will a new gaming style be born.

I agree with what Meleagar has to say, but am a little confused about the use of the terms casual an hardcore, i consider myself a hardcore gamer because i like to enjoy the game as a whole from the start and to not have to grind levels to an end game to enjoy parts of the game that are unavailable, i like to explore every little corner of the world and find secrets, easter eggs or some unique item that would take me apart from the rest. I think that kind of gamer is a hardcore rather than a gamer that just want to reach end game to do raids and stuff (of which i´ve never done, doesnt appeal to me), that i would call a casual because they do not enjoy the "whole" game. Is not the same i think "power gamer" than "hardcore gamer".

Besides, what Sfc1971 says is confusing, he says "content should be available to everyone": that sounds to me like a sandbox type of game kind of like the gothic games in which you can travel being a level 1 character to try and fight the meanest baddest monster in the world and get whipped out, or have a little luck and strategy and kill the guy, but then says something about that content to have a length of time in which to appear? in which to last? Dont get it.

Sun Jun 13 2010 5:17PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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