MMORPGs Need New Blood
Editorial by News Manager Jon Wood
Growing up, computer games were always a huge luxury. My parents could rarely afford to get me the newest and best. I was always one gaming system behind and we always had to wait until games “came down a little bit in price”. I am sure many of you have experienced this or something quite similar. I suppose that is one of the reasons that I still find the MMO industry a little bit mind-boggling. Now, not only are we paying top dollar for a game, but we are continuing to pay month-to-month. The reasons for this are many and varied, but the reality is that it is hard to make an MMO viable in a business sense without the pay-to-play format that has become standard. I understand this. You understand this. Still, there are still a significant number of people out there who just do not understand. If they do not soon come to understand, this genre may not be able to support the ever-growing number of titles (and a fair number of excellent titles at that) that it is producing.
In the past, you could go out to buy yourself a game and have it sit in your library so that you could play it until it became obsolete (and beyond). Today, the pay-to-play format for MMOs means that fans of this genre can only afford to run one or two titles at a time. We should face it, a monthly fee, when combined with phone and internet bills, insurance, car payments, power, oil bills, electricity bills and the like, really add up. Combine this fact with the larger and larger number of games being produced, and it doesn’t take a math major to see that there just aren’t enough dollars to go around. The solution? More players. New players. In short, the MMO industry is going to need new blood if it is going to continue to thrive. This would seem like a simple solution. Surely people will eventually move over to MMOs and come to accept the pay-to-play format. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that stand between the MMO industry and the new player.
We should start our investigation with a question: Why do people play MMOs? There are lots of ways that we could answer that question (and there’s no way I will be able to write them all): story, great graphics, dynamic content, etc. but that does not give anyone a reason to move into a pay-to-play genre. Lots of traditional games meet those standards. MMOs are popular as a genre because of the communities that they create. Whether we log in to meet up with friends, make new ones, fight with or compare ourselves to other players, or even just to know that others are sharing the gaming experience with us, we are drawn to the interactive experience that is provided. This leads us to a second question: If MMOs offer everything that solo games do and more, then why are people still staying away? Pay-to-play, surely plays a role, but we have already discussed that. Let us move on to the less obvious. The first problem is that people don’t really know what they’re missing. Despite the fact that we live in an ever-increasing world of “inclusive interactivity”, where we are moving away from passively sitting and enjoying our entertainment to wanting to be involved, many people out there haven’t made the connections to games. There are quite a few gamers who either don’t realize that multiplayer, interactive games exist, or who feel that they are still difficult to use and clumsy to access. I can remember trying to multi-play DOOM. The frustration I felt then kept me away from online gaming for YEARS. Obviously, those times have passed. It has never been easier to play games online. MMOs are an innovation on and an evolution from that kind of online gaming. The problem is that some people still haven’t come to that realization. Solution: Make people aware. Advertise. Not just advertisement in gamer magazines and on websites frequented by hardcore games who are likely already fans of the industry. Advertise where the highest number of people will see it. Television. Yes, television advertisements are expensive but they WILL draw attention to the games and to the genre as a whole.
The second obstacle standing in between MMOs and new, first time, players is the time commitment involved in playing this kind of game. The idea of a game world that is live, 24 hours a day, and ever-changing can be appealing, but it can also be daunting. If I don’t have a chance to sit down with my PS2 Smackdown! game for two weeks, I know that everything will be exactly as I left it. My character will still be just as strong as he was when I left. None of the other wrestlers will have gotten better and surpassed me in skill. If I walk away from my WoW account for two weeks, my character will be the same, but everything and everyone else has changed. People that weren’t near me last time I logged in are now two or three levels above me. Maybe there has been an update and some changes have been made. It is just unpredictable. This in and of itself could deter some “casual gamers” and keep them away from MMOs.
This brings us to the third, and possibly most confusing obstacle between the average video game player and the MMO genre is the same thing that should draw them in the first place. The communities. As I sit here writing this, I can well imagine the annoyed and sarcastic looks that some readers are giving to their screens. All I ask is that you read on before heading angrily away from this article or to the boards. I know that at the beginning of this article, we established that the communities created by MMOs should actually be a selling point for the games. Unfortunately, when it comes to the MMO industry drawing in new blood, communities are both the industry’s strongest selling point and greatest obstacle. Why MMO communities turn off new players. The answer really comes down to one word: Noob. Let me explain: You see, when you take a highly social environment like an MMORPG and add in a large number of players, what you get in the end is a small, digital society. A digital society that is like any other living, breathing society with its own rules, its own language, and its own power structure.