Monday, October 15, 2007
Please do not continue reading if you are under 18! You have been warned!
Today I'm going to talk about something dirty: Money. And age. And the connection between money, age, and MMORPGs. You might have noticed that most of my reporting is about relatively expensive games like World of Warcraft: $50 a box to buy, $15 a month to play. I'm barely ever mentioning Guild Wars, and don't touch most free-to-play browser MMORPGs. At best I play those for an hour, write a few lines, and then forget about them.
So I was thinking why I disliked these games. I'm not a graphics snob. In fact I liked the 2D colorful manga graphics of Dofus better than the uncanny valley pseudo-photorealistic graphics of EQ2 (I had to switch EQ2 to more comic style alternate graphics to play it). It can't be a question of gameplay either, because there isn't too much of a difference between free-to-play MMORPGs and triple-AAA MMORPGs in that respect. Some free-to-play games are actually more innovative there than the big games. But where there is a big difference in quality is in the maturity of the players. There are too many kids in the free-to-play games, and the result is unpleasant. The more kids you have in the game, the worse is the quality of the general chat, the more you have players disrespecting the rules, and the worse the attitude gets. If somebody judges you as "cool" or "noob" only by your level and gear, he is probably under 18.
I mentioned that the marketing people from Dofus had sent me a presentation of their game with some demographic statistics: 65% of players being 18 or under, and only 7.5% of players over 31. Compare that to Nick Yee's studies on the demographics of monthly fee MMORPGs: He found a third of the male players and over half of the female players are 29 or over, and only 20% of the male players and 4.4% of the female players are under 18 years old. He also found that over 50% of the players worked full-time. The reason for that is simple: Money. For an adult working full-time, $15 a month is pocket change. For a kid it isn't. The kid in most cases need to argue with his parents to be allowed to play a monthly fee game, but he can download and play all those play-for-free games without the parents even noticing. There is a barrier to entry biased against younger players in monthly fee games, and that keeps the community of these games more mature.
Now I am wondering about the viability of making games even more expensive and adult-oriented. No, not by adding sex to them. But I've noticed a trend of some companies trying to make more twitchy action-MMORPGs, and I don't think those will sell all that well to the over 30 demographics. But I could imagine a MMORPG with more tactical gameplay, more thinking, less twitching, more community tools, more "world" elements, in short being more suited to what adults are looking for in a MMORPG. And if that game was good, I wouldn't mind paying a monthly fee of $25 instead of $15. The higher fee would serve the dual purpose of making this more niche game financially viable, and keeping an even larger percentage of kids out. Hey kid, look over there, there is a twitchy action-game, and it's cheaper, go play over there!
[If this post upset you, you are probably under 18. Don't say I didn't warn you!]