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The List: Five IPs to Bring in a New Demographic

Column By Jon Wood on October 20, 2009

When I originally sat down to formulate this week's list, I was going to call it - Five MMO IPs to bring in a female audience. Then, I thought better of it. First, because putting a title like that on a list is basically asking for controversy, then I'd spend the next week reading about how sexist I am. Second, because it would have been a misleading title. While I suppose that the demographic most missing from a lot of current style MMOs might be female, I think that there are probably a good number of men who fit into the category as well.

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In order to explain the point of this list a little bit better, I'd like everyone to take a trip back in time with me back to the playground. If you look at the way that children play, there are essentially two kinds. The first, which is more stereotypically ascribed to males, is competitive and often at least slightly combat-oriented, whether it's tag, or the ever controversial cowboys and Indians, king of the mountain or something else. The second, which is more commonly ascribed to females, is cooperative, non-competitive and is explicitly non-combat related often involving group goals.

As of the writing of this article, there are 396 games currently residing on our Game List. An overwhelming number of those games have one, single primary focus: combat. Yes, these games have other features but they are all designed to work in concert with the game's central focus: its combat system. There's a reason for that. It's an easy and familiar focal point in terms of features in an MMO. That and the fact that, traditionally, video games are built around combat systems.

Now, the purpose of this list isn't to rattle off five IPs that wouldn't use any combat at all. In fact, for a lot of these, a combat system would be a nice addition. However, these IPs would not require the developers to make combat the core mechanic of the game and would therefore, in theory, open the genre up to a more diverse audience than currently exists.

#5 The Sims

Now, I know the first thing you're going to say is the The Sims Online was already an MMO, and a failed MMO at that. While this is true, I, and many others, never really felt like The Sims Online properly captured the spirit of what has made The Sims one of the most enduring video game franchises of all time.

One of the major successes of The Sims has always been the fact that it has drawn in players who would never otherwise have considered themselves to be gamers. Guys, how many of your non-gaming significant others play or have played this game with the same kind of fervor that you put into your current MMO? It's likely because The Sims offers players challenges other than to kill the opposition. Instead, it allows players to set their own goals for themselves and their characters, build houses, excel at careers and interact with neighbors doing exactly the same thing. Basically, it's a real-life simulator that's easier to control.

In any case, there were a number of reasons that the original Sims Online failed, including the fact that it became kind of a creepy haven for stalkerish guys to frequent, but I think that done properly, a Sims Online using the most modern build of the game could help to attract a different kind of player to the realm of MMOs.

#4 Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys

The MMO landscape is oddly clear of any mystery genre based games. Once again, I think that probably has something to do with the fact that in classic mysteries, like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys franchise, combat simply isn't an option. There would be significant challenges for any developer who might choose to take on this particular genre. Removing combat almost entirely from the MMO landscape is a difficult thing to do. You have to replace that conflict with something. In this case, it would be mystery.

As the gateway for many of us into the mystery genre, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys would be an ideal candidate for this kind of MMO treatment. It could skew a little bit younger, and would certainly give a bit of a nostalgic pop for those of us who grew up with those series quite some time ago.

In any case, a title like this could certainly serve to bring in a wider audience and introduce a larger number of people to the concept of a virtual world.

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