Thursday, May 9, 2013

Remember back in the day? Player Base Culture Then and Now

People change, they row, they come and go. Games do the same. WoW is certainly no different here. What I find interesting is how the player base and attitudes have changed since my return from back in 2011. For that matter, going all the way back to pre TBC days. I here the constant laments of how much mroe difficult it was back in the day compared to now and how the game has gone EZ mode.

I have also heard a ton of doom sayers claim the deathknell of the game due to a loss of 1.8 million players this last quarter. Hmm...that's a huge number and WOULD destroy any other MMO. Ok, the player base has declined. The game is 9 years old. Most MMOs completely die out after about 6 years...tops. For an Elder of a game, I'd say it's no where near life support stage. I've played a lot of lesser MMO's in my sabbaticals from WoW and here is what I find:

~ First 90 days, population boom. People burning through content, figuring out the game mechanics, leveling battle areas into virtual glass ashtrays....

~ 90 days to 6 months; Players have gotten pretty comfortable but the new shinies aren't as shiny anymore. Progression raids have been fullfilled, pvp brackets have been maxed and...what is there to do again? Oh yeah, try out new classes and spec trees etc. BUT...player base starts to go away due largely to discontent of what the product promised vs. what it delivered upon launch.

~ 6 months to Year 1; Die hard niche players and guilds hang on together due to friendships or progression. But, subs decline at this point. Sometimes fast...othertimes slow. But, the first doomsayers make thier mark in the forums. they blame everything upon the dev teams and how no one listens to the players. This creates discontent and foments general toxic attitudes that create forum wars and often turn off new prospective players that haven't tried the game out. Ahhh the joys of the Mob mentality. Now, some companies have money to push out new Xpacs and new content. Of course in thier rush to  push out the content, they innevitably screw up coding and make life hell on the player base. which repeats the cycloe of toxic attitudes.

~ Year 2; Only the die hards remains, but by this time we start to see servers chut down, merge, and game becomes life support for the curious and the few fans. Players will traverse for miles and miles without seeing another face. PvP becomes non existant. Instance groups become rare occurances. Less meaningful content gets pushed out. This is about the mark in my experiences where a game dies off.

Now...World of Warcraft....9 years, new content on reasonable time tables. Not everything appeals to ALL players. But there is enough variety within the game to cater to just about everyone. 8 Million subs still active. For a Grandfather of a game that hasn't really updated it's graphics base I gotta say hats off to the business model. It works. It is still a juggernaut, just a very matured one.

So why all the glum feelings of loss and what not?

In my opinion, it has to do with the changing virtual culture base. It also has to do with folks just plain old moving on. There in lies the key. When we develop relationships, even virtual ones, there is an emotional investment that most people are very uncomfortable tlaking about. Those who have been around have seen thier old buddies move on to other things. And the new player base (relatively speaking withing say Cata to MoP) has a very different attitude in progression, challenge vs. reward and social interaction. Now some may blame this on game design. I don't think that is entirely it though. There is more to it than simple design mechanics exploitation. It is the culture of the people that has also changed. Old veterans remembered long ago glories and how much harder it was to obtain things as simple as a mount. They remembered the difficulty of putting together 25 - 40 member raid teams and keeping them focused. These veterans remember even simple dungeons requiring skill vs. BoA gear run throughs. Yet now, many of these challenges are overcome simply to level fast to see the End Game.

New players want everything now...and FAST. Attention spans have significantly shortened. Get it now or I'm out. And social relationships? What the heck is that? These are some of the challenges as aged as WoW is has to deal with. So there is a cultural clashing here that I feel often isnt mentioned.

In the end, the game has to remain fun for people. I actually had to re evaluate WHY I played and WHAT I enjoyed, player culture be damned. As I write this, I am looking at my toon list which is growing. Some of these toons I have rerolled already, but 3 or 4 are definite keepers.

I love WoW, and though I may periodically take breaks from it, I enjoy what it has to offer. I look forward to the future of the game as it approaches it's first Decade mark. But if you find yourself at a loss, rememebr not so much that you HAVE to do ABC in that order, but to skip and play a bit.

Till next round, I'll see ya out there in Azeroth

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