Saturday, April 02, 2005


Why You Want Casual Gamers

Traditionally, MMOs have appealed mostly to the people who can play them dozens of hours every week. This is not an optimal business model.

Here's the pattern: first you spend years making a MMO and filling it with content. Within weeks, the hardcore gamers have powered through the content it took you years to make, and they're loudly complaining and clamoring for more.

When the genre was not as competitive, you could just release an overpriced expansion pack and make big bucks off these people. Now, however, the industry standard is to provide continuous "free" updates; if you don't, you look bad (WoW). Expansions have to make significant gameplay changes/improvemnts; if they just add new content, people aren't happy.

The most obvious solution is to build a game that appeals to the kind of person who won't "win" the game so quickly. The ideal situation for a MMO is to have lots of happy subscribers and to have nobody online. Of course, this situation is about as real as the ol' frictionless pulley of negligible mass. The closest you can get is having a bunch of subscribers who are pleased with the game but who play only a few hours a week--casual gamers.

Why is this good?
- Lower server/bandwidth/maintainance costs
- Content lasts longer
- Bigger potential market
- Less complaining/bad word-of-mouth

WoW is somewhat appealing to casual gamers, at least compared to other games in the genre, and this (in my estimation) a large reason for its eye-popping subscription numbers. The Sims Online attempted to appeal to this group, but it lacks the necessary instant gratification and arcade action.

EQ2 is starting to try to appeal to this group, but it strikes me that they simply do not understand how. They've been focusing on pleasing the hardcore people for so long that all their experts are not of much use in this area. They need good video game designers, not experienced MMO designers. And the "Everquest" name probably hurts more than it helps among the casual crowd, who know the franchise primarily as something that causes fat, pale-faced geeks to disappear into their rooms for weeks, breaks up marriages, and kills Koreans who play too long.

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