I’m fairly certain that this post will irritate some people, so let’s start it off right with a quotation from an established blogging shit-stirrer, SynCaine:
“[Transient, casual members] are a nightmare. They don’t show up enough to be reliable for in-game planning. They aren’t active enough to generally follow the flow and social structure of a guild. And at the same time, they will show up sometimes and can’t be completely written off when considering numbers, but often can’t stick around to fully see something through like a siege.”
SynCaine’s post was as much about the number of hours that a person plays each week as it was about their commitment to a game, but I’m more interested in the latter point.
Ever since WoW hit its peak and then started to fade it seems the general mood of both the playerbase and the industry is to move towards MMO design that requires less commitment. Group sizes got smaller, subscriptions disappeared, and content became easier or gained “easy modes” like LFR. MMOs have gone out of their way to eliminate mandatory social interaction (or any social interaction, in some cases) and support a “drop in, drop out” playstyle.
These things are all well and good, but what has the cumulative effect been so far? Obviously my information is anecdotal, but those folks who were sick of WoW and wanted things to better suit the anti-social, transient player? They’re currently.. still sick of MMOs. They played some of the new hotnesses this year like Pandaria and GW2, and now they’re bored and cranky again.
The people who I see playing and enjoying MMOs now are the opposite of the transient player, what Rohan calls the Extended player. It’s the people who schedule a weekly activity, who find a game they like and stick with it, or who seek out group content. It’s the people who have committed in some way to their game.
So here’s my hypothesis: for various reasons WoW got extremely popular and suddenly lots of people were playing MMOs. But that was just a fluke of the times as much as anything. The fact is that MMOs are a niche genre that appeals to a smaller group of players, and the genre is now sloughing off those people who were just kind of along for the WoW ride. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that — WoW was crazy good fun in its prime and online games were still kind of a novelty.)
And let me be clear — I realize that appealing to a wide audience will net the most possible dollars. I’m just saying that I don’t care, and neither should good MMO developers. The vision of an MMO as a commitment-free, socializing-free utopia doesn’t work, as a general rule. The vast majority of people in my own gaming group and in blogging circles who are dissatisfied with MMOs insist on playing them as single player games, and it just frustrates both them and the Extended players around them.
I started out 18 months ago or so believing that playing an MMO without any commitment to anything was possible and perhaps even admirable. Now, however, when Rohan says in his original post that “[Transient players] still need an endgame” my first response is, “No they don’t”. The idea of “Extended vs. Transient” or “Casual vs. Committed” isn’t new, but I’m officially so over the current popular thought that MMOs need to fit both audiences. Make a commitment to a social group or an activity or a hard challenge or whatever, or go find another genre.