Chilton and Audiences

From a NYTimes article:

What we’re trying to do now is figure out what our current audience wants,” Tom Chilton, World of Warcraft’s game director, told me by phone last week. “It became clear that it wasn’t realistic to try to get the audience back to being more hard core, as it had been in the past.”

As someone returning to World of Warcraft after a long absence, I find the current direction of the game eminently engaging. As Mr. Chilton said, “We hear from a lot people who used to play a lot that they’re just not at that point in their life anymore, and they want to play, and they want to see the content. But they can’t make the same time commitment they used to.”

What is interesting to me is how they felt that it was realistic in the first place. And the use of “current” audience, with the implication that a prior audience existed but no longer does today. The debate over whether the “more hardcore prior audience” hollowing out was due to lack of attention or was inevitable seems almost academic at this point.

The same MMO with a new community is a different MMO, period.

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Posted on December 21, 2011, in WoW and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. They did figure out what the current audience wants.

    Pandas and Pokemon. Seriously, 12 year-olds will love WoW that much more now.

    Also its pretty much impossible to jump back to hard-core mode from easier mode like they tried with the transition from wrath heroics to cata heroics. That should of been pretty obvious for them.

  2. I always love when people spew out things like “Seriously, 12 year-olds will love WoW that much more now.”, when answering something which very much clearly states the exact opposite.

    Here, let me quote it for you:

    “We hear from a lot people who used to play a lot [....] But they can’t make the same time commitment they used to.”

    Of course they were all 6-year old babies doing hardcore raiding, but now, being 12, they don’t have all that time anymore. Sure. How could I have missed it.

    Hardcore worked/works/will work for a niche: WoW does not want to be niche, but they want to keep the “hardcore look” should anyone really want the challenge. They’re doing a good job of it, adding a lot of fluff (which people seem to like a lot) while keeping a hard mode difficulty level for those who want it.

    BTW you can jump back to hard-core from an easier mode, just be prepared to lose a lot of players, more or less all those who don’t care about hard core (= the majority). In a highly competitive market, like that of today, good luck pulling it off while staying in the millions of subscribers. It seems Blizzard got the message quite clearly with the direction they are taking for MoP.

    • There is a lot of churn in MMOs. Probably at least 85% of the people playing today were not playing in vanilla. So people are always coming and going.

      The people going are people that liked the hard content (they’ve been going since wotlk). They’ve been replaced by kids and casuals with limited time.

      MoP is geared towards attracting more of the 12 year-old kids. They’ve given up on trying to win back the hard-core since that is such a relatively small portion of their player-base now.

      Point is, WoW has become a game for 12 year olds and casuals with limited time. The big raid progression that was the forte of the game back in vanilla and part of BC is dead and buried. Considering how well the game did back then, I can’t see how anyone could argue it was a “niche look” that wouldn’t attract anyone.

      • Considering vanilla WoW was beyond Wrath-level casualness compared to the other MMOs available at the time (solo to level cap? Heresy!), and considering the gaming population that even had access to hardcore-level content has been under 20% for the entire lifespan of the game, I would say your argument is asinine.

        Yes, there has been churn. Most of that churn has probably consisted of the overwhelming majority of the playerbase that was, is, and will always be casual. We know from Blizzard themselves that only a “dedicated minority” even participated in TBC heroics, which means the majority did… what? Not raid, certainly.

        In any case, your use of the “attracting 12-year old kids” anachronism is, quite frankly, embarrassing. This isn’t the early 90s anymore. The average age of an MMO player is 26+, and only ~25% are teenagers.

      • Honestly, I think it’s more a matter of market than game design.

        Right now there’s so much offer, that devoting 100% of your online time to a single game is just impossible, or requires a level of dedication only found in the top-level guilds. Most of the other players, hardcore or not, are playing across multiple games, or are jumping from one to the other so fast that any MMO aiming at great numbers needs to allow the casual gameplay which results.

        BTW there’s still a lot of hard content in WoW, you just have to go hunt for it. When you read the dedication of the current #1 guild, well…. that’s more hardcore I’ll ever be in my life :)

      • That is absolutely true that Vanilla WoW is very “easy” compared to EQ/DAOC/Anarchy online etc. when it came out. I’d consider the comparison of Cata’s WoW to Vanilla WoW to be just as much of a decrease in difficulty as well. My main point being that the leveling game and ease of attaining equipment is MUCH easier now then it was 5 years ago and all signs indicate that it will continue to be made easier and more accessible over the next expac and beyond.

        Most of the churn is casual because most of the players are casual, but there is significant churn for the high-end players well. Anyone that has been in a raiding guild for a long time would have experienced this. Just look back on old boss kill screenshots and odds are a majority of the people in them no longer play anymore. (This churn also ties into the death of 25 man raids due to the 10 mans providing equal rewards for less work as more people opt for the easier route and never make it to 25m to replace the people that leave.)

        And I still maintain that MoP is aimed for a younger audience, the 12 year old kids. WoW is in prime position to pick up all of the young-ins who are ready to graduate from Club Penquin and Wizards 101. The average age will decrease as the population shrinks with the older crowd moving on to more appropriate MMOs for their interest. (Although there may be a growing number of WoW players with kids of their own that can now play it together! Blizz’s secret strategy to entrap whole families in their game perhaps? =O)

  3. “We hear from a lot people who used to play a lot [....] But they can’t make the same time commitment they used to.”
    This comment is, if I am not mistaken, the exact line that you can choose when you cancel your subscription. It is the nicest way there to tell them: I unsubscribe because the game sucks for me right now.
    I would suspect alot of un-subscribers to just choose this option because frankly they do not care to tell them in a 1500 words essay what they don’t like about the game anymore.
    It is kind of weird to see Tom Chilton taking such a survey seriously.

    • That’s not a particularly compelling argument. I don’t remember the full list, but my cancellation page looked like this. In other words, the form itself has changed quite a bit from how it used to look, and I do not believe “time commitment” is necessarily easier to enter than, say, the actual reason someone quit.

      And to be honest, I read that sentence as Chilton heard a lot from people still subbed to the game that they have decreased the amount they play, not that people who unsubbed entirely gave that reason. No doubt they could easily model current player behavior and see exactly such a phenomenon themselves as well (average play session is X, historical trend is Y, etc).

    • You don’t have to fill out that form to be allowed to cancel. And you can’t win anything by filling it out. I would assume that everyone who invests the time to fill out this form for nothing still cares about the game.

  4. Because a really stupid story, like Deathwing’s in combination with super-trivial leveling is too hardcore *roll eyes*. What is wrong with WoW and was wrong since a long time, is the focus on raiding. And this is known for a long time, too.

    Now they seem to focus more on the ‘world’ but add pandas and pokemon. Ridiculous.

    • Yeah, and still if you look at some real-world data, WoW is *still* kicking everybody’s ass. By a large margin.

      The problem is that it’s very easy to post stuff on a blog, but coming up with some realistic ideas of how to retain people when they reach the level cap is not easy at all….. I always read this generic handwaving on “world” “choice” “involving gameplay”. But as soon as you ask details, the answers never come…. Guess why.

  5. I don’t think the audience was ever hardcore. And Blizzard probably knew this (I mean, it’s obvious from server stats).

    What changed was the willingness of the non-hardcore to quit. I think the devs thought the non-raiders were sheep who would continue to send Blizzard money out of addiction even while GC and the rest of the devs laughed at them. Big, big mistake.