Nils is posting again, and he has a post today concerning the nature of MMOs and those who play them. Specifically, those who play MMOs are people who have time to dedicate to their hobby. A lot of time. Nils gives an age grouping of 10-28 year olds as being the demographic which should be targeted by game developers. After that people just don’t have enough time to invest in an MMO.
I absolutely agree with this, and the further reasoning that MMOs have gone downhill fast since game designers tried to retain players with less time on their hands. Witness the evolution of an MMO that is in actual fact a single player game with a lot of people playing it at the same time. The dungeon finder looking for group option was the first nail in the coffin for this from WoW a few years ago. A bunch of us saw the writing on the wall when that was introduced. The dumbing down of the product was not designed to attract new players; it was designed to try and keep players that were leaving due to not having the time to grind.
And it has worked – WoW’s core numbers have remained steady for the past two years. But the result has been a complete regression in MMO game design. Short-cuts in the game go directly against what an MMO is about. Time is the great leveller in playing an MMO – the more time you put in the better your character will be. This then promotes loyalty to the game, and will guard against players jumping ship from one MMO to another. All short-cuts do is weaken the ability of the game to hold players long term. And a game becomes an endless rehash of old ideas as designers struggle to put out new content that will be chewed through at a relentless pace by players addicted to the instant gratification of short-cut MMOs. Only a game like WoW has been able to stay in front of the curve, due to them having a solid background of money and staff from the glory days of that game. The ultimate example of instant gratification is the cash shop. The cash shop is the polar opposite of investing time in an MMO.
The key concept of an MMO is community, and community is formed when players must work together. Community is strengthened by players not being able to hide; if you prove yourself to be an idiot, a thief, a liar, or a troublemaker then the community will ostracise you. The option of being able to pay to have a character renamed as well as cross-realm LFG finders destroy this method of self-policing. Include time with community and you build a very strong core that players are loathe to abandon as they have so much invested in the game. Witness an event such as the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj. Something similar would just not be possible in today’s world of MMOs. Which reveals the fact that nothing happening in today’s games is memorable. This is only logical, as how can something designed to be chewed through by players hooked to the instant gratification monkey be memorable?
Time invested builds community through interaction with other players which builds relationships and memories. Founded and followed on these principles an MMO can build a core strength of players with emotional attachments and investments in the game. It is difficult in today’s MMO market to think of a game which is doing just this.