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Want to see a bunch of guys getting left behind?

Then head over here.

Leaving all comments on agreeing or disagreeing with (some of) the sentiments Syncaine shares aside, I was left with the distinct feeling that this is the type of player that  the MMO industry is forcing out.  And I’m not talking about just Syncaine here, just to be clear, but he represents a type of player that’s become less and less relevant to game designers. Comments like this really sum up how “2004″ that point-of-view really is:

The signs are all over the place; some companies are catering to people with 15 minutes to play, and with only five of those where they can fully focus.

EQ1 had what, a 2000 hour leveling curve? 7xGM in UO was not exactly an overnight process (even with massive exploiting), and grinding to the cap in DAoC was tough, let alone getting high in renown ranks. Hell even WoW in 2004 had a much, much longer 1-60 curve than what most games have today (hi Rift).

 In Global Agenda last night we ran our first two Ultra Max missions. The first one STOMPED us, and the second we did a little better but still got rolled by the boss. It motivated me to play the game more than anything else to this point.

Now look, I’ve waxed nostalgic about how meaningful all those long-standing goals we’re as much as the next guy; been there, done that. I’ve even talked on the Multiverse and expressed very similar ideas. Here’s a simple truth, though. The market’s only followed the money. The average person does not get more time to game as they get older. As husbands and wives, careers, kids, bills, and mortgages enter the picture, gaming time tends to slide until it either disappears  or the classification on your gamer card changes entirely. MMOs are becoming more casual because, you guessed it, we’re becoming more casual. In this case, Syncaine and everyone else upset are the outliers — myself included for the certain opinions I do share. The reason people look at teenagers with free afternoons, weekends, and summers and say “must be nice” is for this very reason: We all have to grow up. Most adults simply do not have the time to play for more than an hour or two a day and I suspect that’s pushing it.

It’s a good thing there are plenty of niche games out there, because I tend to think the days of AAA MMOs trying to simulate worlds are over. It’s a shame but it’s pretty obvious that most gamers have no interest in wildlife scripts and NPC AI beyond what it takes to get to the next level. If it doesn’t serve the gameplay in a way that fits those short, “need to find someway to be satisfying” sessions, it probably isn’t worth the time to develop. Financially speaking, of course.

And at some point, we have to quit denigrating players who started playing a few years later than we did. In 10 years, they’ll have their time to wax nostalgic, too. For now, why don’t we quit complaining about how entitled and “carebear” they are, stop reminding them how easy they have it, and start showing them what this community was about in the first place. Trolls will flourish or fail in the environments we create. Do we make it easy and play the jaded old vets, or do we highlight how poor they really are? Sometimes I think we all need to remember, there is no more boring conversation than one with only one side. Every player deserves respect, whether they started playing in 1999 or 2009. And on the real side of things, did most of them miss anything that was so “fun” anyways? We’re all playing the same games anyhow, because I don’t see many rosey eyed ranters hopping back into UO or EQ1.

I’d like to end with an excerpt from the final comment of the post. It comes from Azuriel, whom I’d never read before, but has made a dedicated reader out of me.

As for the Twitterification, that debate is long-settled by industry metrics: only 10-20% of games are beaten. Even 20-hour ones. I am totally with you when it comes to enjoying an epic experience, but that is an era unlikely to be coming back particularly soon. And why would it? There are enough (free) alternatives out there that the average gamer can coast along in the gaming sweet spot (no grinding, no restarting, no toiling for a win) indefinitely.

Honestly, at this point we’re reduced to shouting “It builds character!” from our rocking chairs.

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  1. Syl

    Hehe, it’s hard to admit but of course true (I suspect that last line is a Calvin Dad quote!). ;)
    I’ve just recently written about an entirely changed reality for this industry, because the player base is “aging” and it’s not just that its never had so many players (with new ones who keep coming), but its never had an audience that grew along and is now older on average. obviously some things will have to change to cater to this more mixed customer base.
    I still hope however, that we will get to play MMOs where there’s a difference between ourselves and the teens, where there’s a relation between time spent and achievement. even if this will disadvantage me slightly, there’s nothing worse for me than getting everything the easy way. I still hope too that future MMOs will bring some of the ‘oldschool feel’ back in terms of roleplaying aspects, lore, setting etc. – having less time doesn’t automatically include that all you care for are rewards and achievements (aka all the themepark MMO virtues). :)

  2. Tesh

    Incidentally, I think we need to note that there’s a clear difference between a well crafted world with fantastic AI and immersive *presence*… and a long level/achievement/gear grind. They can coexist, certainly, but they aren’t the same thing, and it’s wholly possible to have an audience for each separately. They need not even like each other.

    Similarly, there are those (like me) who do find an hour a day of gaming to be a stretch, yet still like lovingly crafted virtual worlds, but have little use for absurd time sinks that gate exploration of said world.

  3. Liore

    “The average person does not get more time to game as they get older. MMOs are becoming more casual because, you guessed it, we’re becoming more casual.”

    Hey, speak for yourself! ;) I have less time now than I did in 2005 when I started playing WoW, but I still enjoy the same kind of games. So I can’t spend whatever ridiculous amount of time I used to at the beginning of my career every day, but that doesn’t mean I want my MMOs to be themepark lobbies I can play for 10 minutes a day. I think the epic experience pendulum is on its way back, honestly. I have seen a lot of people say things like Syncaine posted, and players like us are the loyal, never-let-your-subscription-lapse type.

    Besides, it doesn’t matter how many games are beaten, but how many games are played. I rarely “beat” anything, but I am still as much of a game consumer as ever.

  4. Hugh @ MMO Melting Pot

    Great post. We’re featuring it over at the Melting Pot later today.

    I comment a bit more on this issue in the feature article, but I do feel that there’s a bunch of trends interacting in an unhelpful way right now. At the same time as we’re all getting older, we’re all *learning* – and whilst the trend toward “shorter” might be playing nicely with decreased available time, the trend in difficulty seems to be toward “easier”, not “harder”.

    Gazimoff mentioned Demon’s Souls in his post today, and it feels like one of the reasons that game was so successful was that it bucked the “easier” trend – and for an accomplished 30-something RPG gamer who may well have been playing these games for 25 years, an actual challenge is a valuable thing.

  5. Tesh

    In line with Hugh’s comment, I think it’s critical to divorce difficulty from time sinks. They aren’t the same thing. You can have short, very difficult games (or games with short play sessions). Difficulty and time investment are not synonymous.

  6. Bronte

    Well, the exception to the norm are people like Syp, who’s job requires them to play MMOs. *sigh*

  7. Sam

    As much as I love ‘classic’ MMORPG games like EQ1, I don’t lament the more streamlined and rapid progression that is possible in newer games. Too much time wasted doing menial tasks, or on minute details that don’t add much value to the casual gamer (which is going to be the large majority of players) are redundant in today’s ‘I want it now’ world.

    This article reminded me of ‘Time’ by Floyd – “you are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today”. Unfortunately I no longer have thousands of hours to kill.

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