Monday, November 14, 2011

On Audiences and Focus

Like many people, I got into the SWTOR beta this weekend. I will not comment on it due to the NDA, and because I save that writing for ForceJunkies, but I just felt like chiming in to say I'm a part of the MMORPG cool club now.

In all actuality, I wanted to talk about a thought that spawned off of the discussion in my last post. Specifically, audiences that games are targeted at. WoW spent most of Cataclysm with a narrow focus (Raids or Rated BG's), City of Heroes is extremely PvE and RP focused, to rattle off two examples.

In fact, let's use City of Heroes as an example. When City of Villains was introduced, one of the touted features was the introduction of PvP. They though, Hero vs Villain, this could work great. Except the game systems didn't work well at all, and certain builds could clean the floor with anyone who didn't have a specifically beefed up build. PvPing without these Flavor of the Month builds was an effort in futility. Numerous patches attempted to remedy this, until one patch both nerfed many builds and marked the end of development on PvP. The devs simply gave up, and haven't added any more PvP content since.

Now, there is a small sect of the game that likes it immensely. There is a much larger segment that enjoys the PvE more. Their second expansion, Going Rogue, has exactly 0 PvP content in it, but plenty of story and Roleplaying content.

Here's where we get into my opinion: I don't think games can truly "Do it all". Not only from a time and money perspective, but from a design perspective. Any WoW player can tell you all about how their favorite class was nerfed because of imbalance in PvP. Yet, theme park games such as Age of Conan, WoW, and as I mentioned, City of Heroes, have all had to make sacrifices in their far more popular PvE systems in order to accommodate the far smaller PvP audience.

Now, this isn't to bash PvPers. I wouldn't want a mainly PvP game to sacrifice in order to please PvE players. What I really want is far more specialized titles. EVE has proven that a niche market, if developed, can be profitable and even grow. Sure, many investors would prefer big name titles that turn a profit soon rather than titles that develop over years, but I'm going to ignore that factor for the sake of this post.

Darkfall fans would likely want to throw me down a staircase for this, but I don't believe we have a solid and polished PvP RPG title on the market. I'd like to see one, even if I'd never play it. Same goes for a sandbox title, or a crafting title. Star Wars Galaxies and A Tale in the Desert are good games in their own right, but one is shutting down and the other was showing its age from the day it was made.

I'm not going to ask why they haven't been made, because I know why. I simply wish to express that I want to see niche titles grow. I'm not a fan of permadeath or things of that nature, but I plan on playing Salem because I want to support development like that. Hell, I'd even go for a non-creepy version of Second Life. Because the internet can be used to form all sorts of communities that don't neatly fall into the games category, and I'd like to know some developer has a vision for that sort of thing.


  1. EVE Online fans might have a bone to pick with you, but that's neither here nor there.

    I agree with you that I'd rather a have many niche titles than a bunch of copy cats. I want to reward experimentation in the MMO space!

  2. I totally agree! I love PvPing in my MMOs (it's how I prefer to level alts) but seeing my characters nerfed in PvE to satisfy PvP balance is really grating.

    WoW is particularly bad for this, as they wanted to have both world-class raiding (sponsored guilds and the like) and Major League Games-level PvP. The two goals are almost opposites for class mechanics!

  3. I don't think games can truly "Do it all"
    I truly am baffled as to why people believe (or designers fail to) balance between PvP and PvE is unobtainable. Quick, napkin-simple example:
    You design PvP. Everyone is balanced within 2-5% of everyone else. No big deal.
    You design PvE. Give abilities that deal with elementals to one guy, daemons to another guy...
    Design with your stringent requirements first (the human mind), and then balance the remainder with a system that you can reverse-engineer (you design not just the avatars but how they interact with the environment). I'm, like, "o.0" boggled.

    I want to see niche titles grow
    Preach it, sistah.

  4. @Anjin - That's why I get really excited over independent studios making games like Salem and glitch. I love the possibilities they can bring to the table.

    @Liore and Ahtchu - I like your example there Ahtchu, mainly because I feel like developers -don't- do it in that order. They build the PvE first, and then the PvP second, which is a weird order given that PvP must have far more restrictions. You rarely see wide-spread complaints coming out of League of Legends for balance, yet bring up a WoW tournament and suddenly we have a whole slew of issues.

    I won't comment how I like my PvP though. That would take up a whole blog post in itself.

  5. I think Warhammer and Age of Conan had the greatest potential to deliver a strong PVP game to the MMO market. But for a plethora of reasons, not least the fact that they wanted to clone WoW, they missed the boat.

    @Ahtchu: I think no game can do it all for logistical reasons and if any can, it's WoW because they have the resources. It's not that it's technically impossible. The fact is, no one can afford to do both and those who try seem to piss both sides off. I think the niche market strategy will prevail going forward and I think we'll all be much happier for it.

  6. @Straw Fellow
    When I get time (might not be for a month or so) I'll try to build a small, more functioning, mock-up of the system I've vaguely described. Would it be possible to request a casual reminder in about that timeframe? =P

    It's undoubtedly gonna be WoW that truly has the potential to make those changes, but imo not because of the logistics. It'll be because of the apologetic fanbase that allows them to perform ongoing experiments until they get it right. I agree that anyone else would be best sticking to a single theme and nailing it. Business 101: dominate your corner of the market, expand.