Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Lessons have been learnt...

Who'd be a game designer, eh? A month or so into Cataclysm, people are already complaining.

It goes like this:

BC players: "Waaaaahhhhh! Heroics and raids are too hard - WOW sucks and we're going to leave!"

Blizzard: "OK - we've listened to your feedback and made gearing up much easier in Wrath via fast-playing heroics and Dungeon-Finder."

Wrath players: "Waaaaahhhhh! Heroics and raids are too easy - WOW sucks and we're going to leave!"

Blizzard: "OK - we've listened to your feedback and made heroics much harder in Cataclysm, so you need a guilded group to complete them and they take several hours."

Cataclysm players: "Waaaaahhhhh! Heroics and raids are too hard - WOW sucks and we're going to leave!"

Meanwhile, the subscriber numbers have climbed steadily and then plateaued at around 12 million, vastly in excess of any other MMO out there.

So what's going on? Is the player base just a bunch of spoiled brats who will complain no matter what Blizzard do?
I don't really think so. The (rather boring) truth, is that a lot of different people play WOW and they want different things from the game. Some want to test their elite gaming skills, some want to interact and socialise with their friends in a stimulating but not ball-breaking game world and some just want to pwn n00bs in PVP. Even worse, not everybody wants the same thing consistently. Some may want to do hard-core raiding a few times a week and potter about chatting the rest of the time.

Blizzard do quite a good job of providing something for each of these competing player-groups, but it's impossible to design a game that is both ultra-hardcore and casual-friendly at the same time. So the people who don't like the current balance make a huge fuss, Blizzard changes the game in response to feedback, then those who liked it the way it was complain and the cycle continues.

The problem here isn't the game, it's the players. We all need to accept that a perfect game for us isn't a perfect game for everybody else and stop making such a fuss when things don't go exactly our way. I liked the casual-friendly style of Wrath - it allowed me to get into raiding when it would otherwise have been impossible for me under BC and Vanilla, but I also know other people who liked raiding in BC but couldn't be bothered with it in Wrath. You simply can't please all of us.

I'd suggest an alternative policy for Blizzard:

Discontented players: "Waaaaahhhhh! Heroics and raids are too easy/hard/potato-shaped/orange/whatever - WOW sucks and we're going to leave!"

Blizzard: "We're professional game designers. We know what we're doing. You have to understand that other people have different opinions and we can't just build a game to suit you alone, or it would have only one subscriber. There are plenty of other MMOs out there if you don't like this one. Feel free to try them and you'll be welcome back any time you decide the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence."


  1. Nobody ever complains when things are going well.

    The three groups of complainers are, in all likelihood, different groups. (well, there's a common subset that just loves to complain. We have a word for them).

    Seriously, though. People will complain no matter what. There is no 100% complaint-free zone. And the only sample you will get from blogs and forums is the negative. You need to work hard to get to the positives, and then compare.

    Thus far I haven't seen any serious metrics in that direction.

    Take that for what it's worth.

  2. The problem here isn't the game, it's the players.
    And when they don't buy your game, they are guilty, too :)

    Honestly: There is an easy solution. Just make several games with different rulesets. The problem today is that we have one behemoth that tries to cater to them all and no other game that can match the production quality.

    Perhaps that changes this year. I am not especially optimistic, but the chances are better than last year ;)

  3. @Grim

    I think part of the problem here (which also applies in areas of life other than game design) is that the discontented understandably make more noise than the contented and so tend to drive the narrative. It takes a thick skin to resist that. If you do, the cry goes out: "they never listen"; if you don't it's: "they can't make up their minds - they don't know what they're doing".

    I find the idea of a multi-ruleset WOW quite appealing. It would be a lot easier to balance if the rules were simply different on PvP and PvE servers.

    As for the other games coming along, well I've seen too many "WOW-killers" to believe in any particular one. It will happen one day, but picking the specific game that does it is tricky.

  4. The real problem is that people never speak up when they like things.

    For every post out there complaining about something there are ten thousand players who love it that do not post on the forums.

    Lets face it. It is no fun to say you like something but it is a lot of fun to complain about stuff. Venting about the bad makes you feel better.

    Over all, things are fine but not as fine as 12 million subscribers would have you believe.

    Remember, that 12 million number is 12 million since the game started and NOT 12 million active. That just means that over 6 years they have had 12 million people that tried it (that includes all the 10 day free trials even if the people never bought the game or game time).

    If all 12 million people quit right this second and 1 million new players joined (or took a trial) during the course of this year then the next press release would read, wow at 13 million subscribers.

    Don't let the numbers fool you.

  5. @Grumpy

    It is 12M active subscriptions, not just 12M since it started. See
    MMO data for more information.

    I'd agree with your broader point about contented players being quiet, though. This is something that I don't think Blizzard has properly grasped yet - in my opinion they change course too rapidly in response to feedback and would be better placed making tiny steps and seeing the response each time.

  6. After watching the blue tracker on mmo champ for a month, I can honestly say I am really hoping for the day I see a blue write the following:

    "We've been the top dog for over six years. We have ten times the active players of any other game. You don't like it? Piss off and play something else."

    Honestly, Blizzard are the best at what they do, bar no one. The game is in the best condition since I started playing just after TBC came out. TBC heroics were hard, but fun. Wrath heroics were easy, but fun. Cata heroics are considered hard (I think they walk a very good middle ground myself). but fun.

    I don't care about the difficulty, just keep em fun.

  7. I would hate to play a game where the game designers said what you suggested. The game is afterall for the players, isn't it?

  8. Blizzard may decide to stop paying attention to what players want, but now is not the time to do that. Activity is falling off a cliff and RIFT is about to come out. They risk losing large numbers of subscribers.

  9. In some ways it is the game because different groups of players want the same things in different ways. This is caused because blizzard don't ring fence power. If the benefits of raiding were limited to raid instances. People who might not like the difficulty of raids don't feel disadvantaged by not doing it. In endgame you want a broad range of content that satisfies different peoples's desires without having them feel disadvantaged and at the same time should be sufficiently vertical in those ringfences areas to keep different groups happy doing their own things.

  10. How about this for an idea? Have Realms be marked for the kind of players that should play on it. E.g. Realms marked as 'Hardcore' are recommended for 'srs bzns' players. Realms marked as 'Casual' are for more relaxed players who want easier content.

    Then scale the difficulty in those realms, so people on casual realms can do all the content as Hardcore realms, but with much less time and dedication required. Perhaps they can limit the rewards/loots on casual realms so Hardcore realm players can feel like they get more for being more dedicated?

  11. well old topic but I've got an idea..

    we all know open world pvp is nearly non-existent these days. Well the consequence is that all the "mattering" PvP happens in instanced areas.

    My suggestion would be that spells just behave different in these zones. I'll take the example from this warrior-ability, where in the beginning the target lost all armor. It was perfectly working in pve, as you can imagine it's pretty badass in pvp. So blizzard had to nerf it to 40% armor because of pvp issues.

    In my scenario it would still blow away all armor in pve, but when in a pvp-zone it's just 40%.

    Technically this shouldn't be impossible, priests have a spell that has 3 different behaviours, one for each shakra state and one if no chakra is active.

    And then just get rid of the pvp-servers and everyone is happy. at least everyone I care for :P

    The problem with different rules for different servers is that many people like PvP and PvE (me included). This could be a possibility to provide the folks on PvE servers a reasonable PvP-environment.

    Sorry for my english as well, it isn't my mothers tongue ;)