Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Mainstream and niche games
If somebody who had never played a MMORPG before came and asked me for a recommendation what would be the perfect first MMO to try, I'd send him with no hesitation to World of Warcraft. Sure, he'll probably have less fun now than we had 4 years ago when there were still people in the old world, but other than that WoW is still the most accessible game for new players. It is the most polished game. And it covers nearly every feature any other MMORPG could have, albeit often in a relatively simple and harmless way. So you can experiment with things like player economy or PvP, but they are optional, and don't have as much effect as in other games. World of Warcraft is the ultimate mainstream game, and that means if you don't know what somebody likes, the chances that he'll like WoW are greatest.
People who played World of Warcraft for 4+ years now often moved on to other games. And these other games are often a lot less mainstream than WoW. Whether that is me playing Luminary, or hardcore players enjoying EVE or Game-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named, or people with other specific preferences playing specific games that cater to those, the games we moved to are often a lot less polished. The have obvious flaws, and are neither as well-rounded nor as accessible as World of Warcraft.
And I wonder if that is not by choice. I *could* play a game that is very similar to World of Warcraft, but I feel no desire to do so. And I'm not the only one, companies now actively advertise having no elves in their game. (There are no elves in Luminary, btw.). By making a game which is strong in one area, like player economy, or PvP, but on a small budget and thus less good in other areas, you might not make the perfect game for MMO beginners. But the MMO veterans will often be able to live with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of these smaller games, as long as they are strong in some nice feature they especially like.
The thing is you can't make a game which is both mainstream and ultra-specialized. Mainstream games have to go for the lowest common denominator, and that means not requiring too much from their players, and not frustrating them too much. Thus mainstream games end up for example with PvP systems in which everyone is a winner, and there is no "impact" of player actions on the world, which could negatively affect other players. Or a player economy in which you can't actually do very much with the virtual currency you accumulated, so those who aren't that business-savy aren't disadvantaged.
So in a way a mainstream game like World of Warcraft is a game where you still have training-wheels on. Of course you can try to beat WoW, and be proud of your achievements in the arena or as a raider. But you need to be aware that there are other games out there in which these activities are a lot more challenging. Even before WotLK WoW raiding was much easier than raiding in lets say the original Everquest, where you'd lose xp for wiping, and in extreme cases all of your gear. Playing with those training-wheels can be a lot of fun, especially if you are new to the genre. But it is completely possible that at some point you know better what features you like and dislike in a MMO. And then some niche game might actually be the better choice. Even if it lacks polish, or has obvious weaknesses, as long as it is strong in your area of preference, it might end up being more fun than the mainstream fare.