What should a "family" game be? That's the question many Wizard101 players have had to ask themselves lately, and the answer is anything but clear cut. While game difficulty disagreements have always been around, it took center stage when Mirage, Wizard101's newest world, made its debut. Littered with cheating bosses, smart mobs, shadow pips, and enchanted spells, Mirage took some players by surprise. In fact, Polaris (the world prior to Mirage) is in many ways the complete opposite of Mirage. So coming straight from Polaris, Mirage could easily be a tough adjustment for some. Difficulty concerns were echoed on the official message boards, Wizard101 Central, and other fansites. However, other players welcomed the change in difficulty and praised KingsIsle for the new challenge. That's where the divide comes in. Wizard101 is supposed to be a "family" game, so what exactly does that mean and where should its difficulty lie?
Defining Hardcore and Casual
Depending on the game you're playing and the community you're in, "hardcore" and "casual" can have different meanings. I personally don't usually like to place people in categories because there are many that simply don't fit or are a hybrid. However, to help illustrate the current divide, I'm going to list some general requirements that I think define a hardcore or casual Wizard101 player.
- Plays the game regularly
- Farms for the best gear
- Enjoys perfecting strategies
- Likes a challenge
- Has a more limited playing timeframe
- Works with the gear they have (usually a time thing)
- Reads guides when necessary
- Doesn't mind a challenge, but thinks that the storyline should be do-able without the best gear/perfect setup
Because of their gaming habits and what they have accessible to them, hardcore players and casual players tend to have different perspectives when it comes to game difficulty.
*Disclaimer: I realize not EVERYONE thinks the same way, so the following may not apply to you specifically. Hence why I usually don't like to place people in categories*
Generally, hardcore players prefer harder content and have the time/gear needed to overcome such a challenge. They believe players are "bad" if they can't get through the content they can, and that casual players should step up. Additionally, because they play very often, hardcore players tend to have a large friend base that can assist them should they have trouble.
Casual players usually don't have the time to farm for the best gear and therefore struggle with the more challenging content. They like to have fun and not be stressed by a game they play in their free time. Due to not playing as often, casual players may be forced to attempt many instances and bosses solo since most (if not all) of their friends are already ahead of them. In general, casual players don't mind a little difficulty, but they think that storyline content should be do-able (not easy) without the best gear/setup in the game. Many casual players think that hardcore players should be willing to sacrifice a little challenge so more people can finish the game.
A Slow Shift
Wizard101 players have noticed a slow but steady shift in the more hardcore direction. Let's take a look back at some of the more recent big updates:
- Azteca (Nov 2012) - Regarded by many people as extremely difficult upon release.
- Aquila (Aug 2013) - All 3 zones can still be a real challenge when attempted at the levels they're designed for.
- Khrysalis (2013-2014) - Released in 2 parts, Khrysalis is a massive world that arguably still holds the most cheating bosses.
- Darkmoor (Nov 2014) - Still regarded as one of the most deadly spots in the game. Essential gear is in this dungeon.
- Polaris (Nov 2015) - A more casual-oriented world. The final boss still gave many players trouble though.
- Mirage (Nov 2016) - Complete opposite of Polaris. Tough fights and very lengthy.
Every major update aside from Polaris seems to cater more to the hardcore bunch than the casuals, but why? Only KingsIsle knows for sure, but I can make 2 educated guesses.
The Hardcore Players Are "Louder"
Hardcore players are much more likely to be active on fansites, forums, and other platforms talking about the game. Therefore, they tend to come across as a bigger majority than they really are. They have a louder voice. Don't believe me? Look what happened after Polaris. I remember seeing a bunch of people saying "Polaris is too easy" everywhere I went. So, naturally, when Mirage came out and people complained, the first thing some pointed out was "well, you thought Polaris was too easy." Well, not really. Generally the people who don't like Mirage liked Polaris and vice versa. They're two very different groups of people. Basically, when one side complains, the other cheers. Both sides are never going to be happy at the same time.
But Vanessa! If the hardcore players are louder, why is Mirage getting an upcoming nerf?! Great question. The simple answer is: negativity is almost always more deafening than praise. Happy with where the difficulty was upon release, the hardcore players have already finished Mirage. They don't really have much to say about it anymore. Therefore, all that's left are the cries of the casual players sharing their stories of struggle. Since most of the hardcore players are already finished with the world, why not now cater to the casuals and nerf it? That allows both groups to eventually finish the content. In fact, KingsIsle has done the same exact thing with other challenging areas such as Azteca and Darkmoor.
An Aging Player Base
Because Wizard101 is a family game, it's very likely that a good chunk of players started playing when they were rather young. The game just turned 8 this past September, so let's do some math. Say someone has been playing this game since its release in 2008, and they were 12 at the time. Fast forward 8 years and that same person is now 20. There is nothing wrong with playing Wizard101 at 20 (it IS for all ages!), but it's not uncommon for people to want to switch to more "adult" games as they get older. For numerous people, Wizard101 was their first MMO, but they have since graduated to World of Warcraft or Guild Wars or any other MMO that you can think of. Might taking the game in a more hardcore direction be an attempt to keep these aging kids playing? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, it's hard to appeal to such a broad range of players. Young and old. New players and veterans. They all want and expect different things. Hitting a bull's-eye for all of them is close to impossible.
Worries for the Casual Player
If Wizard101 continues down the path it has been, I'm not sure how many casual players will be left. Some exited at Azteca, some at Darkmoor, and some will no doubt leave with Mirage. Wizard101 was built with families and casual players in mind, so it's a little upsetting that those are the types of people who end up leaving. However, we'll just have to see how things play out.
I don't think either side is ever going to get exactly what they want. For the game to continue to thrive for years to come, both sides will need to make some sacrifices. Here are two suggestions that have some potential to give a little to both:
- Steady difficulty increase. Both the drop from Khrysalis to Polaris and the hill from Polaris to Mirage were quite steep. Keep tacking on difficulty at a steady pace and you won't catch the community so off guard. This will also give casuals the ability to adjust and adapt to new challenges.
- Focus on do-able storyline content and hard side content. A lot of other games already do this! Side content is optional and therefore casual players wouldn't be missing out on anything too essential. Throw the hardcore players a bone there and keep the casuals busy with the storyline.
So, What Should a Family Game Be?
Well, quite simply a family game should be a game that has the potential to appeal to any type of gamer no matter their age. But that's the wrong question to ask. The real question should be, "How can a family game continue to get harder without alienating its younger and casual players?" I don't think there is an answer. It's a very thin line. One thing is for certain, whether they realize it or not, casual players and hardcore players rely on each other. Sometimes you need to give a little to get a little.