New MMO Players Are Old Noobs

In doing the research for the last article, I came across this interesting August interview with Tom Chilton. It is a sort of “past 10 years, next 10 years” sort of interview, but here were the quotes I want to draw attention to:

Q. Each expansion clearly serves the game’s existing audience first, but there always appears to be a secondary goal of either driving new player sign-ups, or winning back lapsed accounts. Warlords of Draenor looks like it’s especially designed to win back lapsed players. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?

A. […] We are also trying to make things easier for new players. We have an improved tutorial. We’ve definitely found over time that the players we’re getting now are far less familiar with the standard MMO-slash-RPG mechanics than the players we got years ago were.

Frankly, that’s the biggest difference in terms of our subscribership. It’s harder to keep the funnel of people coming in to offset, inevitably, people not playing anymore.

So we’re making a lot of improvements there, teaching people how to move their characters, how to look around, and how to turn their first quest in, because we’re seeing that’s where huge amounts of people drop out.

Back in September, I posted a similar Q&A session with Ghostcrawler who basically said the exact same thing:

I’d like to know what Blizzard considers to be the big barriers.
Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a movable camera. (Bashiok)
I agree. So does a lot of data. (Source)

Back to the Chilton interview though, he makes a point about how… well, let me just post it:

Q. Going back to the subject of 10 years, and talking about changes in the subscribership, different playstyles and different expectations, have you seen a shift in your demographics?

Chilton: We certainly have. Our demographic has gotten a lot older over time. A lot of that is because we have a lot of players who’ve been with us for 10 years, and now they’re 10 years older than when they first started playing. Our age has shifted up over the last 10 years.

That has interesting implications in that essentially the playerbase becomes more casual over time. As people get older and have kids and careers, they have less time to spend on playing the MMO.

It definitely influences how we evolve the content and trying to make sure that there are good ways to engage with the game that aren’t massively time-consuming.

Now, it is a pretty well-tread argument that players get more casual over time, for exactly the reasons mentioned: you got older, out of college, kids, more obligations, and so on. But I find it a little weird when combined with the prior quote from Chilton insofar as most of the new players coming into WoW are having issues with camera movement and turning in quests. I mean, unless WoW is literally your first RPG, you would think that most everyone coming in would have experience with similar mechanics from literally any other RPG in the last 10 years.

All of which is leading me to believe that, perhaps, most of the new players coming into WoW are precisely older people who haven’t played many (or any) RPGs prior to this. It could almost be poetic, if the players who started playing 10 years ago (and kept going) are recruiting their now-older non-gamer peers into the game because those are the only people they know. Hell, you can almost imagine this as a geologic strata forming: the MMO layer being compressed by the MOBA layer of slightly younger players, followed by the Minecraft generation.

None of that really describes what’s going on with the FPS genre or console games, but it’s a convenient narrative I’m rolling with.

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Posted on October 1, 2014, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Or perhaps it’s also the younger generation, used to a world of touchscreens and click-to-do-this Facebook games or iPhone apps and click-to-move-and-attack MOBAs, coming in and going ??!? when faced with WASD and mouselook movement.

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  2. I can see movable cameras messing with people. What other genre has this as a mainstay? Trying to think of other RPGs:

    Final Fantasy – fixed camera?

    Elder Scrolls – fixed camera

    Bioware – used to be fixed, but I know Dragon Age’s is movable. Not sure when the transition happened though. FWIW I find Dragon Age’s camera hard to use.\

    Now that I think about it, what is the value of a movable camera in WoW? I wonder why they haven’t made it fixed by default with an option to unfix it.

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    • Presumably for the people who click the hotbar.

      Back when I was playing Wildstar, I briefly looked at a mod that fixed the camera until you did a certain key combo to unlock it. The advantages were pretty good considering you had to aim your attacks anyway. Plus, you get left and right clicks back as keybindings. Never did end up downloading it, then stopped playing. If I ever went back, I might look it up again.

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  3. Maybe I am biased by my years of experience, but WoW’s controls are simple enough that even for my first time they wouldn’t be THAT bad. Maybe kids need to branch out more? Or maybe they should’ve gone through the far worse age of 3D and cameras in the Playstation era when everything was a poor copy of Mario 64.

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  4. I know someone who started playing WoW in his late 40s, a few years back, who hadn’t really played video games outside of arcades in the 80s. He had a son playing, which initially brought him in, but has stayed long after his son left. All the controls and basic mechanics were completely new to him.

    I know someone else that played games but never played MMOs who started playing one with her daughter after she left for college.

    I wonder how often these “get mom or dad to play” situations occur. No way to know, but interesting to think they might be common.

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  5. Maybe facebook is causing people to view games and by extension MMOs in a different light now than in the past. There’s older people playing FB games who previously wouldn’t have gone remotely near any computer game citing it as “not their kind of thing.”

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  6. It may be only anecdotal evidence, but speaking with a co-worker in his mid-to-late twenties a couple days ago he told me he liked MMO games, that he played a browser-based one with mouse-only controls and that while he would like to try WoW and other similar games he was hesitant because of the mouse+keyboard control scheme. So it is indeed a barrier to entry, and even for people that aren’t that old.

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  7. I find all this quite confusing. I’ve been playing video games since 1978 and I actually can’t remember what it was like before the moving camera. The recent wave of fixed-camera MMOS seem really weird to me, unnatural and unnecessarily awkward. Mrs Bhagpuss, who also played video games before MMOs, won’t even countenance playing the new fixed-camera versions.

    Bear in mind I was 40 when I started playing EQ in 1999 and Mrs Bhagpuss was in her late 30s. I can’t remember either of us having ANY difficulty or confusion over the mechanics of it. It immediately seemed sensible and simple and it was eminently easy to understand. What exactly is anyone finding difficult about it?

    Of course, we do both click hotbars by preference. It’s just so much more tactile that way.

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  8. I don’t remember it taking long to pick up the camera mouse control. I’m in my early 50’s and started playing WoW in 2006. I took 6 months off for ESO and a year of Cataclysm for WoT. But, I just learned that I strafe by right clicking this week when I complained to my son that I could keyboard turn faster in ESO.

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