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Casual Play Editorials

Lately I've been writing a regular editorial column for MMORPG.com called Casual Play. The editorials focus on MOGs from a much more casual gaming perspective. I admire that MMORPG.com is letting the column run since it was sort of questionable whether there'd be much of audience for it, casual players afterall aren't know for hanging out at gaming sites. They play and they get on with their lives. The column has been suprising popular however, much moreso than I anticipated.

Casual Play column at MMORPG.com
What Defines a Casual MOG Player?
What Makes WoW a Dumb Game?
Raiding Needs to Die
Solo Content Builds Communities
Lowbies of the Worlds Unite
Other Articles
WoW Two Casual Years Later

What Defines a Casual MOG Player?
Posted at MMORPG.com on November 30, 2006

I consider myself a casual gamer.

And the reaction I get is always the same, I canít be one, after all Iím too invested too be a casual gamer. Its true, I visit websites about games, talk about meta gaming, discuss game mechanics, write about games, and play games more than I probably should, yet I still consider myself a casual gamer. So why do I, and other casual hardcore players, define our play style as casual?

Most frequently it has to do with time. I wish I could spend every waking hour playing MMOs non-stop, being a powerful mage beats the pants off being an ineffectual middle management suck up, or convenience store clerk. Sadly there comes a point in most peopleís lives where they accumulate too many world responsibilities to play as much as they would like. Things like spouses, mortgages and children all vie for that ever important gaming time. I went from putting in 50 hours of week playing X-com to my current state of only having a dozen hours or so a week for MMOs. Not only can I not play as often as I like, but I have to log out immediately when real world responsibilities interfere. This makes raiding dungeon an almost impossible endeavor. Not to mention that I donít have the spare hour waiting for everyone else on the raid to show up. That alone can account for up to half my recreation time on any given day.

There is another consideration too however, that of investment. Just having time to play doesnít mean that someone is going to be serious about it. This can range from being serious enough to put in countless hours repeating the same raid content over and over as a mean to make their character one of the most powerful on the server. Or it can be serious as in learning the intricacies of the gameís minutiae to take advantage of every little detail, like picking a character solely for a half percent advantage in some obscure skill later on. Generally this translates into only doing the things needed to improve your character, like non-stop raiding. The other fluff content gets passed by in the quest to be way ahead of the power curve in relation to other players. The non-invested are far more likely to do silly and non-profitable things, hang out with friends chatting, dance at inns for no reason, and run naked across the world. For them the game is not about getting from point a to b the fastest, itís more about enjoying the scenery along the way. And even if the non-invested have tons of time to devote to playing the still come off as very casual to the hardcore gamers. So not only do I not have time for raids, but Iím not so invested that Iíd want to run the same dungeons over and over again endlessly. The thought of doing that frankly bores me to tears and makes me want to move on to other more interesting (and not necessarily MMO) games.

While hardcore and casual are easy paintbrush definitions of gamer styles, it seems that there is a much broader spectrum than those two categories. Based on reading opinions on our forums, searching for web definitions of casual gamers, and looking up interviews with game designers, it seems that there are actually two axes that define exactly how hardcore or casual a player really is.


The axes on the graph represent investment and time. The x-axis goes from Heavy Investment on the left to Light Investment on the right and represents how much the player truly cares about besting or understanding the game system. Those that are driven to beat the system would have a heavier investment while those in the game to enjoy themselves without being too committed would be on the right. The y-axis goes from Little Time on the bottom to Ample Time on the top and represent how much time the player commits to the game. Those that spend considerably fewer hours, under 10 per week, would be at the bottom of the scale, while those players devoting something coming close to a full time job would be at the top of the axis. From this a few new classifications were added to help further define hardcore and casual players.

Devoted players, these are the true hardcore. This group spends nearly all their leisure time playing and they care deeply about not only reaching the level cap, but having the very best gear in game. They will grind out endless dungeon raids and faction quests in order to ensure their character is equipped with the very best gear the game has to offer. They tend to be very serious players that are not very forgiving of newcomers mistakes or questions. This group represent the smallest group of total game players, although they are more heavily represented in MMOs. Based on interviews it seems developers are no longer as concerned with impressing this group as much as they have been in the past. Although nearly every developer identified that the hardcore players are the innovators the ones that try things out first and help contribute by word of mouth whether the game will be successful or not.

Reservists, these players are serious about their game but may not have the time to play they wish they did. When the opportunity arises they will go on raids but probably only have time to do less formal less organized dungeon runs. They tend to stay focused on quests and things that help improve their character and avoid wasting time on things that donít advance their goals somehow. Many of these players seem to end up in smaller guilds of friends or likeminded players with regular meeting times.

Slackers have the time to play but are mostly there for the ride. Frequently these are the players that are interested in hanging out with friends and socializing. Theyíll run a dungeon if friends are involved but itís not essential to improve their character for enjoyment of the game. Dabblers, the true casuals, have neither the time nor the energy to commit to a game seriously. They hop in when they can and only do what seems interesting to them at the time. They have no hopes of every hitting the level cap and donít care since their time in the world is transitory at best. These players also represent the largest sector of the overall game market, but less of the market for MMOs which typically demand committed players. As the entry bar to MMOs lowers more of these type of players will enter to see what all the fuss is about. Whether they evolve into other types depends almost solely on the gameís ability to engage them from the very beginning, something WoW is especially good at while most other MMOs (UO particularly) have not measured up well. There is no one definition of casual players. The amount of time or investment in a game can make a player a casual gamer, while a hardcore player requires high commitments in both. There are elements of hardcore attributes in both the Dabblers and Reservists, but their playing style will always hinder them from being truly hardcore. Sliding into the casual realm however requires only that a player does not meet all the criteria of the hardcore player.

What does this mean for the hardcore? Simple, you guys are hopelessly outnumbered.

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What Makes WoW a Dumb Game?
Posted at MMORPG.com on December 7, 2006

For many hardcore MMO fanatics simply asking this question is enough to launch them into a torrent of bile and bitterness. Seriously though, what is it about WoW that earns it such a bad rep among those Ďin the knowí players and amateur ludologists?

Right off the bat WoW has attracted more new players than all other MMOs previously. It has also proven that a casual market is willing to pay ongoing subscription fees, something many were skeptical of prior to its release. These millions of new players have proven that the MMO genre is one that can be profitable, insanely so for the games that get it right. For the hardcore this is a double edged sword. On one hand it means that there will be a lot of new MMOs developed, but most of them will be directed at capturing that casual market. However an increase in development over all means more independent and niche games, more opportunities that something will be out there that appeals to everyone.

Just saying that millions of people went to see Titanic or Star Wars doesnít make either film smart. It does however suggest that there was some emotional chord in those films that appealed to massive audiences. Itís easy for film critics to vault Run Lola Run or the Unbearable Lightness of Being up on a pedestal, the same way enthusiasts insist that UO or DAoC are somehow better or truer visions of what an MMO ought to be. In terms of commercial success however itís still the Star Warses and Titanics that walk away with the gold. Blizzard has done the same with WoW, struck a chord that appealed to the masses rather than the art snobs.

There are a number of things that the hardcore find overly simplistic about WoW. Lack of character customization, lack of impact on the world, lack of variation in crafting, and the lack of meaningful penalties for death are just a few that are constantly mentioned. And for the most part these donít seem to offend any but the old school MMO players.

Iím not my character. That there are only a few options for a different look doesnít particularly matter much to me at all. Once in the game Iíll be identifying friends by the name over their heads more than whether their eyes are a paler shade of blue than mine. For the casual player the character is merely the vehicle used to get to the fun. Again it does not represent Ďus.í An odd charge thatís leveled at WoW is that once a player hits level 60 thereís nothing to do but a grinderís game. That might be true if you attach any meaning to your character other than it being a tool. A casual player can easily set one aside and start another taking a look at missed content and new ways to accomplish goals. For the casual player customization is something that only affect the first few minutes of game play, the rest is spent staring at the back of their characterís head.

Impact on the world has the potential to someday be a great gaming element. Right now however all it means is being able to plunk down a house somewhere. And in some games plunking down that house means rent and maintenance that becomes more chore than fun filled activity. Iíve already got a home along with mortgage and utilities I see little entertainment value in having a second online version. When performing missions leaves some impact on the world itself maybe then the casual player can get interested on impact, chances are the hardcore players will dominate it then thoroughly anyway. In terms of world versus game most casual players have stated loudly theyíd rather have an entertaining game.

Crafting has traditionally been the domain of the hardcore. Anything less than a full commitment to it meant a lot of lost resources. The biggest problem with it being random chance of failures and outstanding successes. After all what player in his right mind would pay hard earned gold for a merely average product? This makes every crafted item that is anything less than an outstanding success almost totally worthless. The average products become nothing more than fodder to grind skill and be thrown away. Which is a play style that only rewards the most dedicated hardcore players. Casual players will not only be wasting time but throwing away a lot of resources chasing a dragon tail they never have any hope of catching. WoW simplifies this entire process switching the focus away from a random die roll and back out into the game world. Crafting becomes a meta game about getting the resources from the world. Casual players get an opportunity to try the crafting game without being completely discouraged by having to make the same items ad nauseam in order to get one sellable piece of gear.

Few games actually punish players for dying by making the game more difficult or forcing them to replay entire portions again. So why would this be considered a good mechanic in MMOs? Most players do not have their ego tied up in achievement, in games at least. They are in the game to have an enjoyable time. Penalizing them for mistakes is not terribly conductive to having fun. It can have a detrimental affect on the bottom line by encouraging player to quit in frustration thus losing subscription fees. And the notion that death penalties somehow hinder people from attaining the highest levels is ludicrous. Given enough time, even with the very worst death penalties imaginable, players will eventually rise to the top tiers of the game no matter how terrible the player is. Given the option to simply dust one self off and get back into the game Iím glad WoW went with the more entertaining option.

In the end WoW has indeed simplified some of the core game mechanics considered standard in most other games. Does this make WoW dumb? At a time when most arcade games were getting progressively more complex a little gem called Tetris came along. Its mechanics were simple and elegant and players overwhelmingly found the game fun. Does that make Tetris a dumb game?

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Raiding needs to die.
Posted at MMORPG.com on Decemeber 14, 2006

Raiding has got to be the worst design solution to the problem of end game content. Rather than make the world more compelling designers rely upon the tactic of dangling a few shinies in front of obsessive compulsive players in order to keep the subscription dollars coming in. For casual players this phase of the game is typically when they pack their bags and move on to more entertaining pastures. Like roleplaying, raiding is really a niche playstyle. For longer retention of casual player focus needs to shift from raiding to some other more interesting end game content.

Itís easy to understand why developers fall back on raiding as content. By creating one dungeon with a small change of a very rare bauble dropping, sometimes from a very rare boss, players can be strung along playing and replaying the same content over and over again. While these players keep running this content ad nauseam they keep paying subscription fees. For the effort of creating one dungeon developers have maximized development cost.

As end game content however it really is the wrong direction for all but the most hardcore achiever type personalities.

Players limited by time constraints of real life cannot hope to ever engage in this content. It takes hours to run these adventures. And it can take an hour to get all the people gathered for bigger runs, not to mention days in the case of rare spawns. The gamers that play just for fun cannot arrange their life to fit around the schedule of an online game. If a casual player gets an opportunity to spend a couple of uninterrupted hours playing chances are theyíre not going to want to waste a large portion of that waiting for a group to show. Not to mention only being able to complete a fraction of the content.

There are also serious problems with repetition for most casual players. Those that play for fun are typically looking for unique experiences. Their ego isnít tied directly to the achievement of their character. These two playstyles diverge dramatically. Those looking for unique experiences arenít going to tolerate running the same content over and over for the very small satisfaction achieved gaining an uber trinket. Achievers place their value of worth on the trinket itself, willing to undergo almost anything in order to obtain the satisfaction of surpassing the Joneses. One only needs to look back at the queues for mob bosses in EQ as proof of that. Nor do many of the casual players Iíve met enjoy the highly rigid and ritualized process required to defeat boss mobs. Rather than playing the entire range of their character they are often delegated to performing a few highly specialized tasks. Repetition in content and repetition in gameplay are not compelling mechanics for those just looking to enjoy themselves.

Raiding also encourages serious inequity across the game world. Only those players who are willing to devote their entire lives to the game have any hope of seeing the end level content or acquiring the most useful items. This frequently rears its head in PvP content where even the most mediocre achievers have vast pools of health and mana to call upon. The casual player looking to enjoy this content can wind up frustrated when they die a disproportionate amount of time to characters of equal level. The casual player is hopelessly outclassed not for lack of understanding the game but because the obsessive are rewarded excessively. When this content becomes as frustrating as raiding the possibility of a lost subscription looms.

What could be done to improve the end level casual experience?

The best thing that could be done to make MMOs more compelling would be to make a world space that has meaning. Eve has done an amazing job with this. The zones themselves matter to the players that occupy them. Alliances are formed to prevent other players from intruding on this space. Wars are fought out for control. The world space has a very real meaning to the players. One unique aspect of this system is that it pulls both casual and hardcore players together. The hardcore are essential for long term management while the casual players are the ones that bulk up forces during peak times. DAoC does the same with the battleground having an effect on entire world for the faction that owns them. WoW looks to be headed in the right direction with the expansion.

But really more is needed than just a reason to engage in PvP. Character actions on the world itself need to have meaning. Clearing a forest of bandits should change the world state slightly so there are fewer bandits. Great for the players on the side of law and order, but players of the opposing faction should have incentive to shift the balance back in their favor. Or perhaps a struggle where crafter classes need to chop down trees deforesting the server, while druids, rangers and the forces of nature might have compelling reason to advance the spread of trees. The two sides donít necessarily have to engage in PvP but thereíd be a world state dependant upon the action of opposing player factions.

Random dungeons are a concept that has been explored in single player games but not so much in MMOs. Oblivion and Diablo did masterful jobs creating themed dungeons that were completely random and thus new and exciting for the players. While the core mechanic is one that would be repeatable both of those games delivered the experience of seeming new quite well. Not to mention just a greater variety of smaller 30 minute to 2 hour dungeons and the inclusion of dungeons that can be done solo. EQ in 1999 had an intro movie featuring a lone hobbit sneaking through a dungeon to free his comrades, yet that experience was not included in the actual game itself.

There are a lot of directions that games could go for end level content. Iím not convinced that raiding is the best one for the casual gamers that now make up the bulk of the subscribing audience. A new direction from the current niche content would be a welcome relief.

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Solo Content Builds Communities
Posted at MMORPG.com on December 21, 2006

It may seem contrary but solo content really does more to encourage the building of long term communities than forced grouping.

Traditionally itís been held that solo content hurts MOGs which were meant to be played as group efforts. Many games enforce this philosophy by making the environment more difficult to defeat than a single player can handle. In the teens to twenties players began to discover that monsters began attacking in packs or are tougher than they can handle by a lone player. In order to continue playing the player is forced to seek out a group to adventure with. On the surface this would seem to be pretty straightforward design, players have to group, which forces them to meet other players, which leads to friendships. These forced friendships potentially increase subscription times since most studies have shown that players will continue long after the game is no longer fun if they have friends that they enjoy hanging out with. Itís assumed that grouping is obviously a good thing when in fact itís having friends that lengthen subscription times.

Allowing players to solo is believed to actually hurt the game. These solo players arenít contributing to the community. Instead of tackling the world with others they are out exploring things on their own. Itís frequently said they ought to be playing a single player game instead. But that doesnít take into account the more interesting things that can be accomplished in groups when a solo player chooses. Under the right circumstance adventuring is much more fun with friends. Having to do it with obsessive compulsive know it alls, or someone that insist on getting the party killed over and over, the ultra greedy, or individuals destined to bump heads with the GMs through intolerable behavoir doesnít make the game more interesting. A single player game typically doesnít have the option allowing a player to hang out with friends when itís convenient, MOGs on the hand do.

One side effect of solo content is that it makes the environment too easy for groups. Guilds can rip through content without worry, reaping the benefits of very easy loot and experience. But this is the case in every game. No matter how difficult guilds have always dominated grinding through the environment as fast as possible. Guilds with dedicated, experienced players will rarely find any content too difficult. And if they do they will tackle it over and over until itís conquered. Casual players wonít. When frustration sets in casual players will seek another form of entertainment. If casuals continue to grow as a market segment solo environments are essential for long term subscriptions. Not because casuals donít value some form of achievement, but because they abhor frustration.

One thing all of the above doesnít take into consideration however is the level of frustration for players with limited time. My experience in EverQuest was that it could take up to a quarter of my gaming session just trying to find a group. And if it was a terrible group there was little to do except suffer through the experience. There wasnít enough time to try finding another group. Repeated night after night the experience was one of aggravation, not challenge. It was also the point at which subscriptions to many games were cancelled. Allowing a player to do portions alone without requiring their gameplay to depend on others actually improves subscription lengths. If at level 15 I start finding that the game requires me to group with strangers I donít like chances are Iíll move on. If thereís an option to continue playing solo however I will spend more time exploring the world. And in general there is no downtime to jumping into solo content. Every moment of game time is spent enjoying the game itself.

Smaller more casual friendly guilds also benefit greatly from solo content. Larger guilds have no problems fielding enough people to overcome any content. But for guilds with fewer people the opportunity to field a full group isnít always available. Solo content allows the members of smaller guilds the opportunity for each member to do their own thing while maintain relationships through guild chat. This is a playstyle I personally enjoy daily. Iím able to play within the same world as friends, can meet up with them as needed, but am still free to do my own thing while having conversations with them. This isnít an option in a single player game.

There are also a number of arenas where solo players contribute to the multiplayer aspects of the world. Item sales and crafting are such areas. A solo player can grind out the materials needed and still produce something that is desired by the community, even if the community is not playing directly with that player. That has benefits and side effects that can never be experienced in a single player game with any meaningful context.

One of the biggest problems with forced grouping is that it requires players to play with people they donít like. At one point, when achievers dominated these games that might have been acceptable. The casual player on the other hand is less tolerant of being railroaded into doing things that they donít consider fun. Or forced to play with folks they find annoying. Maybe my experiences are unique, but forced grouping has always led to me being involved very short term with people Iíd never associate with normally. More often not in good ways. And led to much shorter subscriptions.

Ultimately its all about lengthening subscription times. Having in game friends lengthens a playerís subscription time and also builds a consistent community. The question is whether games should force this behavior or give players the freedom to develop their own relations. As a casual player I tend to favor the system that allows me to explore the world at my leisure. As WoW has proven Iíll do this much longer than if forced into groups of people that irritate me. If in the course of exploring on my own I bump into interesting people that I want to group with the game has doubly enticed me to stay. Letting me solo content allowed that extra time so that I meet my own friends rather than having them pushed upon me. I appreciate it as a design implementation much more and will continue playing those games, and incidentally making new friends in them at my own pace. The personal community Iíve made in WoW has lasted longer than all my subscriptions in other games altogether.

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Lowbies of the worlds unite
Posted at MMORPG.com on December 28, 2006

How many people have dozens of different mid to low level characters?

Iíve often wondered how many other players there are out there that are like me. A long running problem I have in massive online games is my inability to stick with one character. I like to try everything, sample every class and combination. See the world and surmount obstacles from every possible angle. And for the most part this has held me back in the traditional treadmill games that are most massive online roleplaying games.

Because of this the level cap has eluded me throughout many games. It took about a year to get my first level sixty in World of Warcraft, and even then that was after the casual guild I was in complained endlessly that they needed a high level priest to join them in battlegrounds. The highest level character I had in a game previous was a thirty-something in Asheronís Call. I tend to hover around the mid twenties in most other games. Every character slot however gets filled with at least one character in their teens. Various friends across different games have even gone so far as to accuse me of being a professional lowbie. It wasnít that given the time invested the level cap couldnít have been reached, but that the prospect of doing the exact same thing day in and day out made online roleplaying games seem more like work than fun. And so I dabbled in everything, mostly at the low end.

To be honest Iíll even confess that players that actually managed to stick with one thing always kind of bewildered me. The single minded determination to grind through everything using the same tricks repeatedly seemed somewhat manic. Obsessive even. With an entire fantastic world out there with differing race, faction, and class content it seemed as if the hardcore players that were the yardstick of success had actually limited their enjoyment to a mere single flavor. Their race to cap and stay ahead the gear power curve meant only seeing a single facet of the game. They loved and argued loudly in favor of vanilla and chocolate to my Neapolitan.

But this fickleness also had its advantages. We may not ever master the upper levels of any class but when fighting others the professional lowbie gets a sense for the tricks that each class has got up their sleeves. And more importantly how often they can pull those tricks. Its one thing to be the victim of a nasty set of skills, but altogether different when trying to use them on someone else.

The professional lowbie also gets to see everything the world has to offer. Content from every race and class gets to be explored. Every starting level quest and their rewards are investigated. Some might say this is not an accomplishment and shows no skill or dedication to a game. But casual gamers, like myself, may find more enjoyment in experiencing something unique rather than tying our egos up in traditional single minded accomplishments. For us the fun is in finding new experiences, overcoming obstacles in a new way, not necessarily being the first to max out our stats or get some uber trinket. We just arenít achiever in the more traditional sense of roleplaying games, not that thereís anything wrong with that.

Some games have taken very interesting approaches to dabblers. Star Wars Galaxies made a huge tactical error (among many many) by limiting themselves to one character. The skills could be changed over time, but the investment was so long that almost nobody wanted to give up skills that had to be ground out over the course of weeks and months. Everyone wanted to dabble without having to grind through the same hoops again. Forcing the players to leave their friends on one server just try something different out was a bad move. One they eventually fixed later by allowing players to have more than one toon. On the other hand Matrix Online had an interesting concept in regards to dabbling. It allows the players to swap skills in and out of the character depending only upon the wants of the player. A player could take a break from gun fu to try their hand as a medic or caster. On the fly, at a whim. With just one character a player could explore all the possibilities of the world, with the exception of factional content. Its really too bad the rest of the mechanics werenít as interesting.

Really itís not about the character itself. The toon is nothing more than a tool to move through the world. You can tell because most people when recounting their adventure stories donít say things like, "My character did such and such and won the day," itís almost always, "I did this thing and did it awesomely," or, "As my puppeteer I did x and saved the day." Almost no one talks about their avatar as a separate entity, the stories of deeds accomplished are always first person with the toon as nothing more than a vehicle to get there. With the exception of roleplayers who fill the equivalent niche of the grade school kids in the corner eating paste.

From my newfound and lofty position of having finally reached level cap I have to wonder, how many others are out there like me, playing a little more than they like to admit but diluting the accomplishment across an entire cast of characters? Whose lowbie characters have little value beyond their ability to offer different ways to solve the same sets of problems? How many people love to have an entire family of characters all fairly low level from spreading the love out among too many? How many people out there are professional lowbies?

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WoW Two Casual Years Later
Posted at MMORPG.com on November 17, 2006

Two years later and I find myself doing something Iíve never done in any other MMORPG, Iím still playing World of Warcraft. As a casual player I should have long since gotten bored and moved on. It only took 6 months with EverQuest, 6 months with Asheronís Call, 3 days with Ultima Online, 3 months with World War Two Online and Planetside, and about a year with Star Wars Galaxies. WoW has not only kept me playing longer than all the others, but kept me active and interested in it nearly the whole time.

And it turns out Iím not alone; millions of other people are still playing as well. People that many of the amateur experts said were not worth pursuing. After all who would want to play a game made for the unwashed masses? Casual players it was believed couldnít be lured into the gaming world in enough numbers to make the game profitable. Besides, they all leave in six months, once they maxed out their character. The Sims Online flagship of the single most successful series of video games ever made couldnít pull in enough casuals to make their game the blockbuster that was envisioned. And while Star Wars Galaxies was lauded as the coming messiah of the MMO market and managed to draw in a lot of new players, it too failed to live up to the expected hype. An MMO for casual players was considered a foolís dream, impossible to achieve with those fickle casuals.

Reviews prior to WoWs release comparing it to EverQuest 2 didnít exactly instill a lot of hope either. WoW was the game for idiots, while EQ2 was praised as the hardcore achievers game. Everyone admired how smooth and flawless WoW was but it was predicted to fail, and miserably so after 6 months. Any idiot could make it to 60 in 6 months, then what would they do? The prophecy was that thereíd be a mass exodus leaving vacant empty servers as the flighty casuals moved onto the next big pretty. And somehow 6 months, then a year came and went with the subscription numbers going only upwards. WoWs so popular that newspaper cartoon strips mentioned it regularly, itís been the main theme of several television shows, and even had a related question on Jeopardy. WoW is the 800 pound gorilla of the MMO world.

Simply said WoW offers something to three of the largest groups in MMOs. The achievers have their endless dungeon and raid runs to collect their armor sets and baubles. The player versus player crowd has world set aside for them as well as battlegrounds. And the casual players have more content than they could ever hope to accomplish in a run to 60 with just one character. And all of it is seamlessly integrated together, smoothly working and mostly flaw free to the cast majority of users. Roleplayers werenít thrown too many bones in WoW. With no houses, no non-combat classes, and little attention paid to anything besides killing critters and each other, thereís just much to mention for the roleplayer crowd.

Probably the most important group to be pulled in were the casual players. The system of interlocking quests that lead new players from the safety of their starting areas then gradually added more complexity as the character, and the player, matured made the world very easy to understand and access. By comparison Star Wars Galaxies initially simply dumped players into its world with almost no explanation of what to do. While this method was great for experienced MMO players it alienated many of the new customers, they simply had no idea what to do, what their goal was, and whether there really was a game involved. WoW guided the player along an invisible set of rails, bread-crumbing them from one area to the next so that they were always in an area whose difficultly matched what the player could handle. The goals may have been simplistic but millions of new players understood them and enjoyed the prospect of doing them with new found friends.

But WoW also offered something that was solely lacking in the MMOs before it, you could play alone and in short session even near the end of the game. All the games mentioned in the first paragraph lost me the moment I couldnít defeat monsters my own level. The moment I was forced to group I lost interest. I painfully remember nights where I spent more time looking for a party than adventuring. And while this may seem like a backwards goal of a game meant to be played with groups of people itís the one element that is most important. Being able to accomplish just small goals on busy days, like work nights, means that I stay in the game. And by keeping me in the game it opened opportunities to meet people that I wouldnít have if Iíd gotten frustrated and quit, like those other games. Allowing me to play solo exposed me to more chances to meet other players that I might want to go crawl through dungeons with, on the weekends for example when I have more time. But Iíd have never gotten there if WoW had followed the old model. By letting players be selfish, and solo inside a multiplayer game, theyíve kept me as a loyal customer that now looks forward to my weekend jaunts when Iíve got a couple of hours to hang out with friends.

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