Monday, October 8, 2007

Knowing Your Player Base

Anyone that's spent any amount of time in a particular MMO gets a pretty good feel for the type of players that reside there. And if you spend any amount of time reading up on future MMO's and seeing what players have to say on the forums, you can get an idea of what type of player will be playing in the future.

But sometimes companies make decisions that have me wondering if they spend any time at all playing their own game and mingling with players. So many times I've heard that some developers belong to raiding guilds. But this does not represent in most cases your typical player. Do they know who the majority of players really are? Or are they making their judgments by the complainers on the forums?

Putting the NGE aside and going forward, I've been looking at the most recent SWG expansions as well as the upcoming chapter and I'm just really baffled. My experience in both original and current SWG is that it consists of a lot of players who like to do their own thing. Back then people grouped up to get the mission bonuses, but everyone spread out and did the missions solo. We chatted together while grouped, but we were all on our own. Currently, when I'm out and about, about half of the players I run into are on their own. This is not to say there isn't a group presence because their certainly is, but I think the strong solo presence has been forgotten. These latest expansions have no resemblence to the existing content in SWG and the upcoming chapter will be adding yet more heroic encounters. Alienation of the casuals -- it's like witnessing EQ1 all over again.

Speaking of EQ1, I was going to add them to the pot here of not knowing their customers, but I've had a change of heart. Originally I had thought the progression servers were added to attract back the old casual players. And I thought clearly they don't know those players. I was one of them. Why would I go back to a server that raiders would flock to so they can be the first to unlock the content? In a short time, these servers would be no different than the rest once everything was opened up. But then the light bulb went off. I don't think we were the target at all. It was the existing raiders they were attracting all along. It gave them something new to do and I guess it worked.

Another company I think needs to be careful here is Turbine. LOTRO has a very strong pure PVE player presence. I recall talking about monster play in guild chat one day. Turned out my husband and I were the only ones in the guild who had even dabbled with it. The rest of our guild mates had absolutely no interest in it and no plans to participate. This was the case for the majority of players I met in game. However, if you were to read my server's forums, about 95% of the posts are about monster play. Turbine has responded to the complaints by adding some features to monster play. To their credit, they continue to push out content for the majority players but I think they really need to be careful about how much focus they put on PVP. People say it all the time but it often gets ignored -- the majority forum posters do not represent the majority players.

As I said, regarding most upcoming MMO's I have a pretty good idea who their target player is. However, one game I can't quite figure out is Chronicles of Spellborn. This will be a questing-based game with very little experience gained from combat. You will belong to one of five houses and it's been recommended that guild members all belong to the same house as they will all be in conflict with one another. Most zones will not be PVP-enabled; however, from what has been stated recently, you will be required to enter PVP zones to gather crafting materials and access certain content. This type of setup is slightly similar to Ryzom which hasn't fared well. So clearly they are not aiming for the PVE crowd. But I don't hear the PVPers talking about Spellborn. What about the folks in between who want to dabble in both? Most of my fellow bloggers fall into this category and I don't hear them talking about Spellborn either.

Spellborn has a lot of really really neat features. It had been on my radar for a long time but I just don't want PVP forced on me in any form. So who is their target player? I've heard it said several times now that many believe Spellborn will be a sleeper hit. Maybe it's unique enough but I think they need to define more clearly who they are to avoid becoming another Ryzom.

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