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In My Understanding

An old school gamer discusses the challenges facing the MMORPG community and it's leaders.

Author: jesad

Understanding your target audience (or, understanding how important I really am).

Posted by jesad Monday October 21 2013 at 4:11AM
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When developing an MMORPG one would assume that it is always favorable to appeal to the widest demographic possible.  When developing the World of Warcraft that demographic consisted of all of the children and adults in the world who, at the time, were interested in playing an MMORPG but who, for one reason or another, couldn't seem to grasp the titles that had come before.

The reasoning ranged from concepts as different as the way the games looked to how easy they were to learn and their system requirements.  Back then, much like in the development of cars, plates, and other items that could be considered "Items of Quality" developers were developing their games for the long haul.  Building them at the top specifications of the most cutting edged computers and hoping that, over time, the playerbase would grow into them.

Two things went wrong with this kind of development.

1. No one anticipated, payed the proper amount of attention to, or understood Intel's business plan.  A plan that in 1999 proposed that processing speed would double yearly until they could no longer make that happen.

2. No one really understood who their target audience was or should have been.

Enter World of Warcraft.  The "accessible" mmorpg.  The folks as Blizzard set out to pay their bills and did exactly that by delivering a game that was not only fairly easy to learn, but more universally pretty, and less hardware demanding.  They understood their target market and made a game for that market to play. 

Also though, along the way, they speckled these forums and others, with legendary tales of their customer service, something that a lot of the current MMORPG players of the time had a lot of issues with, in order to draw in those players that were already playing other games to a place where "someone actually listened."

All in all, and this goes without me saying it, a sound business plan that paid off.  But then, that was back when only a few people even knew what an MMORPG even was.

Nowadays, pretty much everyone has some idea of what an MMORPG is.  Thanks, in no small part, to World of Warcraft, Mr. T, Chuck Norris, and even Curt Schilling.  The World of Warcraft, along with a variety of accessible clones of that product, already exist.  What then should the target market be? 

Should it be the people who like to fight each other? (PVP'ers or "Player vs Player" gamers), should it be the sandbox players?  Those people who don't mind investing an evening of their free time striking an axe against an electrically generated tree?  Should it be the themepark questers?  Those people that will kill 10-1000 of anything in order to feel like they can identify with Bilbo Baggins?  Or should it be the wales?  Those people willing to shell out their hard earned cash repeatedly in order to be better than their peers through each stage of the game?

I have this friend that I made recently.  When we met he told me that he was "into" computers.  We hit it off fairly well and over the few years that we have known each other we have played a few games together.  This friend though, is MMORPG resistant.  And by saying that I mean to say that he doesn't like them at all.  He doesn't even like progression in any way, shape, or form.  And resents many of the first person shooter games (FPS's), such as Battlefield, that require him to "know how to do all of this extra stuff" just to go out and shoot someone in the face.

He even dislikes Gran Turismo for the PS/3, a game that, in my limited and somewhat narrow point of view, is as American as Apple Pie, and something that all men (who consider themselves men) and women (who consider themselves women), and all people for that matter, who consider themselves part of the free world, should LOVE, because he says "It's the MMO of driving games" and because he doesn't want to have to "remember all that junk just to drive a car around the track a couple of times."

But wait!  Before you say "A person like that just doesn't like video games", understand that this guy is single, employed, and owns not only a personal computer, but an Xbox 360, and a Playstation 3 as well.  He even went out and got me my first microphone for my PS/3 when I got it, just so that we could "hang out" while playing games together.

His version of "playing a game?"  Riding around in the multiplayer version of "Red Dead Redemption" doing only the missions that don't require having to come into contact with other people.  He can sit on the back of an imaginary horse for hours at a time and do nothing but look for rabbits in the prairie in order to get his "hunters" title.  When asked what the point of getting all of these titles might be he explains to me that they show up as "trophies" on your account when other people look at it.  When asked who those other people might be, his response is to say me (meaning me, the writer) and his brother.

For the life of me I can not think of one time that I have looked at his trophies.  And I am not sure but I can pretty much guess that if I did, no matter what I saw, I would only be moderately to minimally impressed.  And yet, this is what drives this guy.  And I am sad to say that this guy is not even the only guy I know who is like this.

A second friend, whom I have known since childhood, never did subscribe to the whole MMORPG thing.  While me and other friends couldn't sit in one place without talking about the games we were playing, his story was that he "just didn't have the time to sit in front of the computer all day."  Like the first friend I mentioned, this guy is, or rather spends a lot of his time outside of a relationship.  And just like the first friend I mentioned, he also has owned a computer and a gaming console (in this situation a PS/3).

So one day, after this guy has been in a relationship for about a year, he calls me over to show me this cool game that he has been playing.  Tells me that it is exactly the kind of game I would like and (of course, because he discovered it) tells me that it is the way that an MMO should be.  I go over to look at this game, that is supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread, and the first thing I notice is that I am looking at an Erudite on the screen.  I ask him what the name of this game might be and he tells me that he has no idea.

"Wait....seriously?  You are playing a game and you have no idea what it is called?"

We exit the game and restart it so that I can confirm what I am thinking.  Sure enough it is Everquest Online Adventures for the PS/3.  I explain to him that the reason that he thinks it is such a great game is because it is modeled after the game that the rest of us have been playing for years up to that point, and he explains to me how "if he had known that, he might have tried it out."

The thing is, we were telling him that all along.  He didn't want to hear what we were saying.  He had developed his own opinions of what had been going on and had decided that he could never be, or would never be willing to devote the time towards being, impressive in that kind of game.

The same story has happened with a female friend of mine, my sister in law, and several family members both male and female as well.  And all of them have two things in common. 

1. They are single, not in a committed relationship, and/or eager to have attention focused on them in a narrow beam.

2. They are willing to go out and purchase the technology, but not nearly as eager to use it for any purpose other than to be able to say that they have it.

Rhino is what the tea party calls a "Republican in name only".  Yeah, yeah, I know that Rhino has an H in it that is not being addressed, but it's the freaking tea party, how smart do you expect a bunch of people running around naming themselves after fanatical tax evaders to be?

Gino then, is what I am going to call the kind of person who buys a PC or a console and only uses it to look at television shows (and not even the good ones like Misfits), or to play games at their lowest possible setting.  They are gamers in name only, and they are a faction of the gaming demographic that needs to be weeded out and extricated from the overall herd lest they convince developers, through their monetary gifts, that they are actually someone that needs to be paid attention to.

Like I said, WoW already exists.  If a Gino can't figure out how to log in and make it to a level respectable enough to sit at the table and talk amongst their other more interested friends, it would be pointless to make anything easier as the simple truth of the matter is that they just don't care.

I'm talking my current Gino friend into playing DC Universe on the PS/3.  But since the game takes like 3 days to download, because the PS/3 is designed to turn itself off if left unattended for too long, and the download required for the game will take at least 3 to 4 cycles of this shutdown to complete, and because neither of us are willing to sit over this thing and watch it like a hawk in order to reset the system every time it shuts down (good job WB/PS/3), he has not texted me back in about a week no matter what the subject matter of the text.

All of this to say that the Gino is not your target audience.  But within this world of grey areas, ranging all the way from the completely uninterested, through the Gino, through the casual, sandbox, pvp'er, and all of those other er's, there exists one prime demographic that should be the target of all developers.  And that is the person, like myself, who is willing to try out a game no matter what the genre, interface, accessibility level, or graphics, and if it is good, make all of those other ultra specific, gotta have my cheeseburger at McDonalds without onions, without pickes, with only cheese and ketchup, special little snowflakes, learn it, play it, and most of all, enjoy it!

Because it was people like me who made the people like the ones that World of Warcraft has made millions of dollars catering to, want to learn how to play an MMORPG in the first place.

And I know that I am not a single entity.

At least, not in my understanding.

To understand better who we are, we are....

1. Married, or in a committed relationship.

2. Stuck in the house because we have kids, or a husband/wife who spends too much of our dough for us to afford two cars or to run the streets (or some other reason).

3. The kind of people who are capable of amusing themselves but who still enjoy good, healthy, social interaction.

4. We don't expect the games to work around us in as much as, if it is a good title, we will learn to work around the games.

5. We are the people the PvP'ers spend money to beat.

6. We are the people the Whales spend money to be better than.

7. We are the people the Sandboxers develop OCD to impress.

9. We are casual when we have to be.  Hardcore when we want to be.

10. We are the people that teach other people how to actually play and enjoy these games.  And we are the people that you should be trying to impress because the Gino's and all the other er's are not going to be impressed with you no matter what you do unless whatever you do is directly, and in a very focused manner, especially for them.

And that's just plain impossible.  Ask Abraham Lincoln.


That is all.....


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