Hardcore Lacking The Big Picture

In an article over at Polygon about online bully and harassment, these two paragraphs leapt out enough to have Greg “Ghostcrawler” Steet jump on them. The two paragraphs:

"It’s important to listen to fans about what’s important to them, but
it’s equally important to listen to people who are not currently
gamers about why they aren’t playing. Hardcore gamers want a product
that is made specifically for them and is actively unfriendly to
anyone new. They will beg and bully to get this product and then
praise and wax nostalgic over any game that lives up to their
standards even if the company that made it went bankrupt. They don’t
care about keeping companies in business or artists employed. Their
only job as fans is to say what pleases them, and it would be foolish
to expect them to think beyond that. But to cater to those desires
without thinking about how to bring new audiences in and make them
comfortable will ultimately result in a stagnant and money-losing

“I could go on and on about this, but I’m just going to consider one
example: the word ‘noob.’ If you decide to take up almost any other
hobby in the world, you can find beginning classes teaching you how to
do it. If you want to knit, you can go to a yarn store and meet fellow
knitters who will help you get the basics. If you want to play
basketball, you can join a rec center or community league at a
beginner level. And generally, the people already involved in those
hobbies are thrilled to have someone with whom they can share their
passion. But if you want to get started as a gamer, you get told, ‘go
home noob,’ because people in this hobby hate newcomers so much they
turned the word itself into an insult. How are we supposed to thrive
as an industry if we are actively hostile to growing our audience?”

Ghostcrawler went on the record and responded:

The bit about hardcore players not always caring about the long term
interests of the game is spot on.

If you didn’t get it, allow me to paraphrase.

The article author, along with Ghostcrawler, assert that hardcore players want uber-hard games, and the exclusivity to kick amateurs to the curb, but have little concern for the long-term business plan that is a game company. They want stuff that is hard, keeps the casuals (the noobs) out, and they couldn’t care less if it meant the eventual downfall of the company in the process.

By saying this, Ghostcrawler is implying that the changes he’s made over the years has been to broaden the appeal of World of Warcraft, thereby introducing new elements like a flatter difficulty curve to appeal to far more people. Long-term, this is fiscally sound, as (in theory) bringing new players in keeps Blizzard afloat. Here are my responses:

  1. I’d more or less agree with the sentiment of hardcores not caring about the long-term business plan. However, that’s a poor excuse to justify what he’s done to the game as a result.

  2. You can broaden the appeal of the game by flattening the difficulty curve and still allow players a degree of exclusivity. I don’t need to detail it out because it’s already been detailed out in Wrath of the Lich King. It was their most successful expansion to date. Blizzard enjoyed the highest number of subscribers during that expansion. I argued, and will continue to argue, that they struck the right balance with Wrath, and while it may not have made too many hardcore raiders happy, it kept the line clearly defined and many, many raiding guilds enjoyed success in there.

  3. I probably don’t speak for the masses. When I speak for the hardcore, I’m of the few that actually does consider Blizzard’s side, the long-term game plan, the business value that can turned around, and made viable over a long period of time. To me, investing in the casuals was never the right long-term move. GC and company should have known that going in. Yes, you’ll boost your numbers in the short term, but in the long term, they go away…because they are casuals.

Likewise, when I speak for the casuals, I think they often give me a lot of excuses like “We don’t have the time or patience to put up with all of the drama necessary with 25s!” And to that I say,

…well, I made it work. With a wife, two kids, and a career. How little effort do you actually care to put in?

I enjoyed your third point quite a bit. Unfortunately, it swings the other way too. Those same players find themselves falling back into the game in cycles. A buddy of mine is that way. Every expansion, he’d play for a month, take a break, come back, etc. It wasn’t until the birth of his first child that he actually stopped playing altogether.

The idea that appealing to casuals isn’t sustainable, I don’t agree with. I think it’s harder to EXPAND with that model, but some form of growth can certainly remain sustainable. Despite the loss of interest with the most recent expansion, WoW is still one of the most popular games on the planet. In a world where CoD dominates the interwebs and gaming servers, I’m actually surprised there is any room left for MMOs. The gaming culture has become one of ADHD driven casual players who seek instant gratification above all things. Because of that nature, WoW will always have subscribers flopping back and forth. That’s why they pump out expansions: bright and shiny.

Hardcore gamers are much more definitive. Take me for example. I achieved my HWL goals, raided with DoD for a time, but then I had to place games behind me. There seems to be more abruptness.

I think it is perfectly sane and a sound business decision to make a broad strategy shift to build your base. It makes sense. What doesn’t make sense to me is:

  1. Alienating the existing base, and
  2. Betting the farm on a stock so volatile and already proven to die out in the long-term.

Proven how? Look at existing exercises in this dept. The aforementioned Zynga is a good one, but how about the original Star Wars Galaxies? @Ekasra reminded me of this over the weekend. Great start. Great game, everyone enjoyed it / loved it. Then the whiners came out in droves. So…the developers decided to listen to the whiners…and proceeded to drive the game into the ground. There has to be more examples out there where shifting the focus to a casual base has bit the company in the ass.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t money to be made in casuals. But I have to tell you: I have absolutely NO idea what that long term strategy looks like from a business standpoint. Zynga’s business model was built around the “Whale”: a type of player that bought anything / everything in the game. It was through the Whale that the rest of the F2P players were subsidized.

How’d that work out for Zynga?

I honestly think that in more recent times they have widened the gap between the player bases. Heroic raiding now is as difficult as the hardcore spectrum has ever been, while LFR much easier than the casual spectrum has ever been. For example, in DoD we held ourselves to pretty high standards with our progression, especially through BC and Wrath, because even on our short schedule it was possible to be competitive. Nowadays, a more casual guild on 2 nights a week isn’t going to get that deep into heroics. They’re going to find it much more difficult.

The real issue that some hardcore players have is with accessibility and other things the casual players get, such as LFR. They get to see the content. I just wonder why that offends these hardcore types so much though. Even today, there is excruciatingly hard content that only a small percentage of players get to experience. Coming with that content are exclusive mounts, titles, and other things. So they have their challenge, their have their prestige, and they have their rewards that set them apart. What else is needed? For the game’s population to be cut in half without those players altogether? Even more exclusivity?

Maybe it took some iteration to get to this point (read: a LOT), but I feel the game is currently in a pretty good state for both sides of the coin. Sure, LFR diminishing the excitement of seeing a raid to the end still kind of irks me, but that progression and prestige are still present when you start getting into heroics. Maybe the normal mode raiders are the ones stuck in limbo now. These are, after all, the bulk of the true raiding population in the game. I think the current tier pushed us a bit closer to the right direction in that sense because normal difficulty was pretty damn challenging to go through for the average non-LFR raider this time around.

So if the game is in a pretty good place right now, in my opinion, why are subscribers dipping even lower? Simply put, I think it’s because the game is getting old. Many of the casual players who would try the game probably have already, and either still play or have moved on. On top of that, you have other raiders and PvPers whose numbers have thinned out over time and they are only getting some of these players back in cycles, like Kedavra mentioned. I don’t think it’s as simple as casual/hardcore --> killing the game. I just think it’s a case of “this game is starting to age.”

Interestingly enough, from a casual standpoint, I actually got my mother to start playing this after seeing her playing some awful browser-based MMOs and she’s been pretty hooked. LFR each week, dailies, archaeology, pet battling, and so forth. Generally just lots to do for players now and I think that is a generally positive thing. Maybe it took Blizzard too long to get enough things right, but I just really don’t get the hardcore arguments anymore. I question whether the people making these arguments are even doing heroic raiding right now. It would seem some people may only be arguing in principle without being a part of it.

Pandaria has brought a solid raiding experience so far, in my opinion. That exclusive content is as hard as its even been and all of the nice things that have come with clearing it sets you apart from the crowd as much as it ever has.