Monday, January 28, 2008

Do the most active players shape the opinion of the rest?

A reader wrote me about a comment he had read on my blog, in which someone said that the hardcore players matter because they influence who buys and plays the game. The players who spend the most time in the game, the raiders, are supposedly also the guild leaders, the bloggers, the forum commenters, and so on. The theory is that if Blizzard wouldn't cater towards them, wouldn't spend more development time on their need than their number would suggest, they would leave and take everybody else with them. Do you believe that theory?

I never attributed Blizzard's focus on raids to them wanting to please a small number of opinion shapers. I think the reason is far more mundane, they hired Tigole, who was a big raid leader back in the days of Everquest as their lead designer. Tigole developed the game *he* wanted to play, without spending much thought on what other people wanted to play. If they had hired lets say me, WoW would have a wonderful economy and crafting system. If they had hired Marc Jacobs WoW would have Realm vs. Realm PvP. MMORPGs aren't just one game, they are a collection of many games, and everyone has his favorite.

But because everyone has his favorite and everyone in playing WoW in a different way, I don't believe that there is much of an influence of one group over the others. I do believe that if Blizzard made raiding much, much easier, some hardcore raiders would have all the raid dungeons on farm by now and might quit because there was no more challenge left. But I do not believe that everybody else would follow them. Just the opposite, they would keep playing longer, because suddenly there were all of these easy raid dungeons accessible for them. And I can even argument this assumption with an example from World of Warcraft history: PvP.

Before patch 1.12 PvP used to be just for the hardcore. As there was a relative ranking system, only a small handful of the most dedicated PvP players could rise to the highest rank and get the good rewards. The regular players were condemned to be stuck in the middle ranks forever and didn't get PvP epics. Then Blizzard changed the system and made PvP far more accessible, and with every patch it got easier and easier to get PvP epics. The real hardcore PvP players must find PvP far too easy now, and probably quit. But did that lead to an exodus of WoW players? Not at all. PvP is as popular as never before, and many, many players are in the battlegrounds and arenas for the epics. And they aren't there because they like PvP much more than group play or raiding. They are there because it is currently the easiest way to get rewards. If raiding was made easier, they would go raiding. For every one hardcore player leaving because of boredom, there would be several players swarming the new easy raid dungeons for easy epics. The average longevity of subscriptions would go up, not down. Players are far more easily swayed by in-game rewards than by what somebody says on some game forum.

Is your opinion of World of Warcraft influenced by the opinion of the top guilds?

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