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News & Features Discussion  » General: Casual Play: Lowering the Bar

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Managing Editor

Joined: 7/08/05
Posts: 6729

OP  4/12/07 10:43:24 AM#1

This week, Casual Play's Steve Wilson talks about the idea of certain games "lowering the bar" for what we expect from an MMORPG.

I hear frequently that the newer generations of MMOs are lowering the bar. World of Warcraft is one of the games that receives this accusation more than most others. This is sort of odd considering that it has done more to advance MMOs as a genre than any game previously, if you consider the number of players that subscribe to it as any indication of the genre improving. Really WoW did for MMOs what the Star Wars films did for sci-fi. And so I have to wonder what's really meant when someone says the new games have lowered the bar?

Sure there is some elitist pride having been one of the first in on something. I hear all the time from goths upset that Marilyn Manson ruined their rainy parade. Or that hip hop was once hip before it became white and nerdy. That video games were once the sole domain of the hopelessly dateless. Being the first in any of those niches made one an innovator, something that no matter how dorky seemed like it was worth bragging about. At least to others that thought that sort of thing was impressive.

You can read the whole column here.

Jon Wood
Managing Editor


Novice Member

Joined: 3/23/05
Posts: 42

4/12/07 10:54:15 AM#2

Part of me completely agrees with this OP, especially as I get older and things like jobs, kids, and families get more important.  It is ironic, though, that I just got through writing a piece on how the current MMO crop fails to "Capture" me emotionally as the earlier ones did.  I don't know if it is possible to have a casual-friendly game that also engulfs the player into a different world, one that has real meaning and accomplishment... but I know that I long for such a world.

I have no problem with the bar being "lowered" by certain games... how many of us really enjoy constantly jumping over bars on a daily basis?  I don't consider the bar lowered when my car automatically adjusts the windshield wipers or turns the headlights on when it gets dark.  I consider that a good technological advance that lessens my workload.

The part of the bar that I miss is where the Players actually Impact the world in a lasting way.  I don't mind killing 10 rats and bringing their tails back as proof... but man it would be nice to finally get a handle on this Rat problem and work on something else.


Novice Member

Joined: 4/29/04
Posts: 1

4/12/07 11:19:59 AM#3

Well, lowering the bar is definitely on the mark.  Some of us, who have played for a long time, crave a hard game.  I don't believe that just because you play long enough you are guaranteed to reach thelevel cap. 

I would wager that a lot of the core to hardcore players want a game where it does take skill and time to play a class correctly.  WoW really required very little skill, as evidenced by a 6 year old playing it.  We (myself and the people I play with) want an adult game.  I don't believe that is too much to ask for.  The problem is that there really don't seem to be enough of us to constitute a main stream game.  It is silly to say but yes we really do want a HARD game.


I guess the real question is, should video games be one-size-fits-all? 


Apprentice Member

Joined: 8/06/04
Posts: 157

4/12/07 11:23:46 AM#4

It really is a double edged sword, though. As touching as it was to read about Steve adventuring with his 6 year old niece, a part of me wants children to remain children for as long as possible. I want games, especially social ones, to remain accessible, but to delineate more clearly the age ranges that it is appropriate for. There are too many things that a child can be exposed to in WoW that they do not need to see, and escorted or not, it seems grossly inappropriate to allow them to play such games, even if they are capable of mastering the game mechanics themselves. I am reminded of a young player who was essentially griefing me by spamming me over and over again with teaming invitations, until I finally got upset and reported the person, cursing them out in the process. A bit later, the parent of the player sent me a message apologizing for their child's behavior and explaining that it was a reward system they had set up for their child performing well in school. While, again, I thought the idea had merit, I did not consider the reward appropriate to a child not socially capable of understanding how "poking" a person over and over is a "bad thing."

It almost makes me lean to the opposite end of the spectrum, back to a time when the parenting types had no chance in a MMOG, that attempting one would elicit nothing but complete despair and a quick ending of their subscription, because then that time would be turned to more meaningful pursuits such as, oh.... raising their children, maybe? Seriously, all MMOGs are HUGE time sinks, no matter how much you dumb them down, and the easier it is to push the button and get your treat to drop into your food dish, the more often people are going to want to push that button. Since MMOGs have a social element, they need to be held to a social standard, as well, and that doesn't seem to be happening with any consistency. The pursuit of the almighty dollar seems to have minimized any real player base punishment that doesn't involve botting, gold farming, or other activities that might adversely affect their bottom line. Of course, I'm only speculating based on how the griefer population never seems to dwindle, since any harassment issues are always private and the outcomes are never reported to the harassed individual.

I have nothing against successful games like WoW, however. I don't find WoW at all entertaining, and I know I'm in the minority on that. What I do have a problem with is games that introduce a social element and then take no responsibility for it. Yes, we should be capable of self-monitoring our comments, and yes, there are going to be grey areas, but I think it's high time developers focus less on how many people a game will attract and more on making the overall game attractive, in EVERY respect. Speaking of respect, let's begin there, developers. Make it a focal point for the future of social gaming, and leave the undesirable behavior to scripted NPC dialog. Make a game that I never have to worry about Steve's niece being exposed to things that someone her age shouldn't see, and you can make the game as casual as you want. I don't need to crunch numbers to have fun.


Novice Member

Joined: 6/07/05
Posts: 224

Die trying

4/12/07 11:31:28 AM#5
The column was spot on :)
zeronizer Xfire Miniprofile

Novice Member

Joined: 9/26/06
Posts: 5

4/12/07 11:44:16 AM#6
I hope it doesnt go even mm down more.  Im one of those old school geeks and i miss those times. F U WoW

Novice Member

Joined: 1/15/07
Posts: 367

The Greatest Story Ever Told Yours.

4/12/07 11:46:10 AM#7

Steve you really show me your ignorance when you mentioned SWG, lets see they changed the game to be more like WoW and guess what everyone left.

Not everyone wants games like WoW, in fact I'm sick of them. Just look at Vanguard everyone was pumped this is going to be a different type of game guess what they fell into the WoW trap.

Now look at Age of Conan 100,000 have signed up for the beta, lets see there must be a group out there looking for more than what WoW or its clones can bring the table. 

SWG was a Adult game it was a very deep game and yes it took about 6 months just to be able to see how deep a game it was. But it had a 250,000 fan base to build on and they destroyed that. For a easier game that they froced on the SWG community and most of us left.

If you wanted to be a Calmari Swordsman you could be one, But a Calmari was really a made to be a Shipwright or a Armor Smith, actually he could be a Swordsman and a Shipwright !!!

So Stuff it please I am and many others are longing for a Game like SWG deep and with more content. That might be Pirates of the Burning Sea or it could be AoC, or maybe Gods and Hero's.

But I'm tired of of the same old same old EQ/WoW game play.








Hard Core Member

Joined: 8/21/04
Posts: 8060

Logic be damned!

4/12/07 11:50:28 AM#8

I think the reason WoW is so popular is because of the learning curve.

Yeah, the game is really, really easy to pick up and start playing. And for people who only play a few hours here and there, the experience lasts a long time, progressively becoming more challenging.

Only us "hardcore" fools who spend the time/effort to rush up to max level really get a taste of the difficult content. Raids, heroic instances, PVP... all these things are but whispers to the casual player, they'll probably never experience these challenges the same way we do.

I don't think the bar has been lowered. At least not the bar for difficulty/immersion/gameplay. The only bar that has been lowered is that of "barrier to entry" and lowering this bar is one of the genius steps that has led Blizzard to have over 8.5 million subscribers world wide.

I've probably been lurking for way, way too long.


Advanced Member

Joined: 10/04/06
Posts: 853

When you learn that a truth is a lie, anger follows.Grace Slick

4/12/07 11:51:34 AM#9
Originally posted by S4ndM4n
I hope it doesnt go even mm down more.  Im one of those old school geeks and i miss those times. F U WoW
Is "FU" really a mature, thoughtful way to respond?  Or do we have nothing really important to say?

All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
John Lennon


Apprentice Member

Joined: 5/13/06
Posts: 310

There are only 10 kinds of people in the world. Those that understand Binary and those that do not.

4/12/07 12:03:47 PM#10
Wow, Just wow. Not to speak ill of you Steve, the article was quite good but you have opened up pandora's box on that swg comment. Ye ole vets will surely not let you diss the holy grail so easily. I myself being a former triple melee fencer master blue Mon Cal. Some others have hit it right I think there is a place for the easier games but I think harder games have even more to offer.

You see the easier games lowers the bar on entry to the genre to the masses but to me its like playing checkers. Checkers is a really fun game to play with your siblings or friends when your a kid. When you get older you learn about chess and it takes a bit more skill to learn it and adapt to that play style of thinking and sacrificing before you move. When your finally get old enough and have practiced many years they might even call you master.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 12/01/06
Posts: 20

4/12/07 12:16:52 PM#11

Let's not forget that we're talking about games here, games are supposed to be fun. If you don't like one, try another.  I don't feel it's right to point fingers at specific games. It's the industry that churns out the games. Send comments to the game developers.  

I currently play 2 MMOs. I play them with different intents. I play WoW because it is "easy". I can play for 20 minutes or hours on end and have fun and feel acomplished. I don't have to worry about micromanaging stats and skills, I quest and raid and have a good time with friends. The game is colorful and the players diverse. I play WoW after a long day, when I'm just looking to relax.

I also play EVE Online. This game has the "number crunch". There are hundreds of skills a player can eventually learn, some skills even let you learn skills faster.  Players who have been around a while will have many more skills and be able to fly and use more ships and items, thus giving them a pleasing social status. EVE is a balancing act in which the player has to try to train the fastest and most effectively. Like that massive battleship you just saw outside the station? We'll, be prepared to spend a month or two training to fly and equip it,and also save up that cash, they're not cheap. I play EVE when I am in the mood for a game, but one that will make me think and work harder. 

I also happen to enjoy them because they are different genres.  I enjoy the fantasy world of WoW and the sci-fi universe of EVE. Do I think the "bar" has been "lowered"? Mayhap in some regards, i.e. companies want more subscribers thus they want their game to be marketable to the widest audience possible. The almighty dollar is a powerful driving force. Who says that's a bad thing? The same thing that drives you from a game to take up another means that 1) You're not playing a game you dislike and bitching about it and 2) You're playing a game you do like, probably with others who are playing it for the same reasons as you!

No matter if you like the "deep numbers" games or the "shallow" games, there is a game for you. Just because you don't like a game, doesn't make it trash. Just research a game before you buy it. Hell, most even offer free trials. There's a game out there for everyone!



Bitter Vet™

Joined: 9/13/06
Posts: 20046

Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions. Pvbs 18:2, NIV

4/12/07 12:29:53 PM#12
I see where Steve was coming from, and WOW hits its target market pretty much spot on.  And although its so easy a 6 year old can play it... a 6 year old will never master the raiding content found at the end game.  So it appeals to a very broad audience, hence the great sales numbers.

But there is a market of games that aren't necessarily "harder"... because that word is hard to define, but contain more detail, require more player thought with regards to character development and generally permit the player to create his own gaming experience, rather than have one laid out before them. 

Let's hope one or two of the upcoming titles offer such an opportunity for folks to enjoy the gaming style they prefer as an alternative to what WOW has to offer.

Arrogant, Condescending, Dismissive, Elitist, "Meany", you speak as if these are bad things?
Still currently "subscribed" to EVE, and only EVE!!!
"This is the most intelligent, well qualified and articulate response to a post I have ever seen on these forums. It's a shame most people here won't have the attention span to read past the second line." - Anon


Novice Member

Joined: 3/20/04
Posts: 54

4/12/07 12:34:33 PM#13
Some of you need to remember why SWG took a hit and was changed. Its playerbase had already took a nose dive and was headed further down. It may have peaked at 250K subscribers but most of the people from the closed beta knew it would not last with all the things missing out of it.

Someone nailed it on the head when they said the ability to lower the first part or entrance to a game is the key. The online game market is saturated with games and when people have to pick one the majority will pick one that has the elements they desire but are able to pick up on the game play from the get go vs. spending months to learn to do anything.

Dumbing down is not really appropriate either. A majority of the hardcore players in every game use macros to make doing things easier. If that isn't dumbing down a game I do not know what is.


Advanced Member

Joined: 3/09/05
Posts: 287

4/12/07 12:51:25 PM#14
The comparison to the Star Wars movies is interesting but misses something.  Star Wars was not a triumph of production -- it was a triumph of storytelling and (god help us, for the time) special effects.  It created a believable consistent world, and a completely classic adventure story within it with strong characters.  And it did it on the *CHEAP* as movies go.

So where *is* the parallel to WOW?  WOW was, in fact, created on the accumulated lore of the Warcraft world -- of which you need know nothing to play the game.  It has minimal storyline, no strong characters.  It was expensive to produce.

Nah, you need to be comparing WOW to Mork and Mindy.  A SF-themed TV show that was cheap to produce and made people smile.  Lots of people.  A show which didn't challenge anyone's brain, but included a few deep witty references to keep the smarter folks in the audience engaged.  A guilty pleasure.  A money maker.  Not great, nor immortal, art -- but it brought in a lot of money for years.

This is the transformation we're seeing.  MMOs have discovered that it's better for the producers to produce My Favorite Martian or Mork and Mindy than Babylon 5 or Firefly.  It's that simple.  Accessibility is not about making the genre "greater" -- it's about making the genre more profitable for the companies that produce the MMOs.

So, what's the state of the art?  This year, it's not about art.  It's not about storyline.  It's about money.

To get an MMO -- a hugely expensive investment -- into production today, you have to pitch it in comparison to WOW.  Your money people will expect it.

So to go back to the movie analogy -- you're unlikely to see a financially successful movie, statistically, that isn't a rip off, sequel, vehicle for an established star, or packaged exploitation film.  At least, not with a decent budget. 

So perhaps what we need to do is compare Sony to...uh...Sony.  Sony Pictures.  And CCP/Eve Online to IFC -- independents with an established track record.  Turbine to...well...maybe Pixar?  Every so often they hit it, and then they run it into the ground, but you pretty much know what to expect.  Sometimes they produce somthing that makes you just shake your head...

But in movies, we hardly ever notice who's *producing* the movies.  Do you excitedly watch a trailer because you see the WB or Sony logo at the start of the trailer?  No, you look for story line, acting, and yes, special effects if it's that kind of movie.  You think, will I like this experience?

MMOs will shake out eventually.  Eventually it will be more folks that the folks here who may look for, say, folks involved in SWG's demise and treating them like poison, or looking for CCP alum as a sign of hope for a geek game. 

My greatest hope is that, like TV, we will grow to a large enough market that diversity can be accommodated.  When we are a big enough market for, say The Sopranos (CoV), soap operas (Sims), sitcoms (Maple), reality tv (SL), Battleship Galactica (Eve) -- and they all stop being compared to WWE (WOW) -- we'll know the genre has grown up a bit.

When an MMO producer can go to funders and say "We have a healthy financial model that will turn a profit with 750,000 subscriptions," then we'll be ok, and "accessibility" will stop meaning "a monster market dumbed down for an economy of scale based on millions of subscriptions and riches beyond your dreams of avarice."


Novice Member

Joined: 1/06/04
Posts: 158

4/12/07 1:11:48 PM#15
Considering the discussion topics that happen in WoW, I really don't think it appropriate for the under-teen crowd.  Try an offline game like Fate where the brainless foul mouthed can't ruin the game for your child.

Novice Member

Joined: 10/20/04
Posts: 44

"You are not a beautiful and unique data packet." -Me

4/12/07 1:59:40 PM#16
Wow, wow, wow....and I don't mean WoW. Come on now you elitists have the wrong idea and personally think that this article was just simply missing a little something. You elitists are snobs and you might as well admit it. And as for this article missing something, its saying that its focusing on lowering the bar, so where is raising the other end of it?. Lets keep lowering the bar at one end and raising the bar at the other. Lets have that giant grey area...lets make it easy for people to start and be integrated into the new world. Lets keep slowly increasing it, and since everyone always has complaints about end game, lets make this very amazingly hard. And keep increasing it so. Everyone can join, everyone can be challenged. Hey in this set of circumstances you might have those immature persons by the butt load but then later on only the elite will be sticking around. You can still have your game.
I couldn't give any economic instances for you but at least you can get and idea of what I'm talking about here. In this article all they're really only talking about by lowering the bar you just have a larger grey area for people to feel more comfortable, you're still keeping the higher end the same.
So for you elitists booing WoW, I fart in your general direction. Its damn well talking MMO's in a different direction.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 4/07/07
Posts: 2

4/12/07 2:00:06 PM#17
While your main thrust in the story is that by simplifying / dumbing down WoW is bringing in new users, is 100% correct – I don’t have to like it!

I’m one of those old Star Wars Galaxies players how loved the complexity and intricacy that the environment offered, as soon as the NGE came and dumbed it down, I gave it a try for a month, and then I was gone.

I’m perfectly content to wait for a game worthy of my time and mental investment, rather than play a game like WoW, and settle for less.


Novice Member

Joined: 1/11/05
Posts: 661

SWG: Jess Youngstar(CIA)-AhaziDCUO: Blue Horizon(CIA)STO: John West(USS Texas)NCC-91836

4/12/07 2:06:34 PM#18

This is a good illustration of why Casual Game play is working.  Good job Steve.


The market needs WOW type games to capture the interest of the common public.  There is definatly a need for that level of game play.  I hope Blizzard's next MMO will be a little more complex to give current WOW players something to "graduate" to in terms of challenge.


The SWG comment was a little untrue but I understood what he ment.  The best that "Hard Core" players can hope for is that each company can get its Casual Friendly MMO that can garner its whole share of the market.  After that, the succesful or larger companies might "MIGHT" try to invest in more challenging offerings.  Looking at this from an investors perspective, its easy to see how WOW hurt the market.  Sad truth is investors don't play the "poisen" they are dealing and could care less.  It only matters if the general public (or largest demographic) will buy into it in thier view.


What can other gaming companies learn from Blizzards example?  Produce one finished quality MMO is better then five mostly functional games no matter the Intellectual Property.


BTW, to the posters so far, good jobs on your comments.  Very Thoughtful.


Advanced Member

Joined: 9/14/06
Posts: 1720

For the Horde!

4/12/07 2:17:03 PM#19
WoW hasn't lowered the bar when it comes to challenge.  That bar was already as low as you could get. in 1999 EQ came out, and that game wasn't more challenging, it just too longer to get things done, took longer to get a party together, took longer to recover your corpse.  The gameplay mechanics are exactly the same. 

MMORPGs in general are not challenging games, not even in the guild leader /raid leader role (of which I have been both).

People are getting time confused with challenge.

If WoW lowered a bar, it was accessibility.

And before you say I haven't played the MMO you consider to be challenging, I probably have.  I had a lot of free time on my hands at one point :p

Still waiting for your Holy Grail MMORPG? Interesting...


Novice Member

Joined: 1/13/07
Posts: 369

4/12/07 2:45:03 PM#20
Excellent article and I agree completely.

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