As I discussed last time, casual and social influences are becoming stronger and more prevalent within the MMOG space. This is, of course, a generalization, but one that seems to apply to varying degrees across the entire spectrum. While there are some who decry this trend, I happen to be of the opinion it's more positive than negative overall. Among my reasons for thinking this way, there are three important ones that work together:
Supporting casual play offers access to a larger audience
The main considerations here relate to duration of play. One aspect is the minimum length of a productive play session. What I'm talking about is the least amount of time we need to have in order to make it worth logging in, not counting just popping briefly in to chat, send mail, give something to or get something from a mule, etc.
To illustrate the impact of this factor, let's create an admittedly artificial example of a game where the primary activity is going on a wide variety of raids. Let's also say they're all well-made and great fun, but take at least four hours each to complete, with rewards only given at the end. It's hard to imagine this not limiting the size of the player base. Note that I'm not saying it would automatically be tiny - just meaningfully smaller than if substantially shorter sessions were also available.
This doesn't mean I advocate 10- and 15-minute raids. My gut feeling is that I'd still like even the shortest to take an hour or so, with longer ones available for when I both want and to undertake them and can set aside sufficient time. In addition, since my desire to raid as well as schedule can vary a lot from one month to the next, I'd prefer not to be locked into a revenue model that siphons money from my wallet or credit card, even if I don't play at all.
Mind you, there was a time when I'd have chosen subscription. But that was a different me, the one back when I'd play my game of choice for 20, 30 hours and sometimes even more every week. This brings us to the other key time-related element of casualness, which is average playing time per week or month. The lower this number is, the less it acts as both a barrier to entry and a possible reason to exit. Thus more people can play MMOGs, and once they start, they'll tend to stick around longer. This combination spells audience growth for the category as a whole.
A larger total audience probably means more games will be made, including hardcore ones
Although there's no shortage of offerings in the MMOG space now, especially in the F2P segment, what's more likely to happen as the market grows? Will more competitors enter and be able to establish niches that are large enough for them at least to survive, if not prosper, or will rationalization take place? The latter isn't impossible by any means, but neither is it nearly as probable.
Some of these players will transition into serious MMOGs. If we envision a pyramidal model, the more we can broaden the casual base, the larger the hardcore top section we can build.
The social side holds similar potential benefits and is comparatively under-exploited
MMOGs are social in nature. Or at least that's supposed to be a very important part of their appeal. So it's curious that in general, developers have given increased attention to supporting solo play without adding more weight to the social side to keep the overall balance from shifting?
Socialization is how many people get into MMOGs in the first place, through their friends. It also helps build stronger emotional ties and investment, which aids in retention. But how much improvement have we seen in this area over the past dozen or so years? Not a whole lot. The competitive environment being what it is, this has to change before much longer. And I think it's happening, although we can only see the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
This week's MMOG trivia
Name this popular F2P. Players create characters from three races, the moral, imaginative Humans, the Untamed who embody freedom and peace, and the graceful, pure Winged Elves. Choosing from a range of classes that includes Archer, Assassin, Barbarian, Blademaster, Cleric, Psychic, Venomancer and Wizard, they then all face a common foe, the neither fully dead nor alive wraiths.
Perfect World International, often just called Perfect World, launched in North America in 2008. It's the regional version of Perfect World II, which debuted in China a couple of years earlier.