Gaming Middle Class

Gevlon had an interesting post musing about the gaming middle class.

The current situation is this: if you are a time-rich player without a lot of money, there is no better time to be a gamer than now. Just think about how many F2P titles out there that are available. Similarly, if you are a money-rich gamer looking to get their whale on, look no further than damn near anywhere. If you fall somewhere inbetween, then you essentially get the worst of all possible worlds – pwned both by the time-rich players able to dedicate more time than you, and the money-rich players who buy every advantage.

Making things even worse, Gevlon notes the very model seems to squeeze out the middle-class:

The same question can be asked in every monetized game: why pay anything unless you go full whale? Either enjoy the game for free (if it’s enjoyable), or pay enough to be the king of the hill and enjoy pwning “n00bs”. I believe more and more people will realize this and stop paying/playing. Which in turn creates the wrong impression that potential players are either free or whale, making the games more monetized.

I have experienced this several times in the various phone apps I use to kill time. Clash Royale is an example, insofar as you should either be going all-in or not at all. If you buy a little advantage in the form of bonus chests or upgrades from the shop, you will likely be able to leverage that to boost your rank on ladder. Problem is, you then are facing either whales who are less skilled than you but are leaning on overleveled cards, or people who spent a lot of time getting to that rank with their normal cards and are likely better than you head-to-head. Eventually you will settle at your 50/50 skill range, but that doesn’t make the games in which you lost to overleveled garbage players feel any better.

Another example is a gacha-style anime-inspired game that I will leave nameless, as they are all basically the same. While you can unlock new heroes randomly from “vending machines,” there is a special vending machine that only unlocks when you reach VIP level 9. Ranking up your VIP levels is 100% dependent on spending real money buying diamonds, and VIP 9 requires $200 total to reach. That’s right, two hundred US dollars. This is quite literally pay-to-win, as the special vending machine has exclusive heroes much more powerful than anything else.

Nevertheless, I have still spent ~$35 and ~$20, respectively, in both games over the year or so I’ve been playing them. Like many games of their ilk, a “small” “investment” towards the beginning of the experience allows you to remove some obnoxious barriers for the rest of the game. In Clash’s specific case, there was 10x value deal that remains the best deal to date, such that if one was ever going to spend cash, it would be for that.

As noted, the trouble is that the very monetization scheme punishes middle-class gamers, further polarizing the remainder. How would you even focus on the middle-class in this or any scenario?

Well, just ask the WoW devs.

After thinking about it, the (intentional or not) design philosophy behind WoW from Wrath onwards caters almost directly to the middle-class gamer. The time-rich player will be decked out in the best gear either from raiding or grinding, no matter which expansion we’re talking about. The middle-class though, is unlikely to be able to raid very much given inconsistent hours. Enter LFD, enter LFR, enter Badges/Honor/etc.

Many people will try to exclaim that constant gear resets – happening on a patch basis rather than expansion – hurts people by invalidating all the work you did. Guess what: if frequent gear resets hurts you, you’re time-rich. If you want pain, try doing anything useful outside of a progression raiding guild in the Burning Crusade. If you were not cresting the wave of attunements at the right time, you were stuck in the backwash with little way forward.

So, if you want a model for capturing the gaming middle-class, WoW is it (and presumably FF14). Subscriptions to put everyone on the same field, then allow the time-rich to grind/raid their way to advantage, but cap said advantage with things like weekly lockouts and frequent gear resets. Keep the delta between the haves and have-nots at a reasonable percentage. Make progression possible without needing to specifically put a videogame event on your IRL calendar. Season with some whale-bait (WoW Tokens, cash shop) to taste, and you’re good.

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Posted on October 5, 2017, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. The problem with gear resets is that it makes gear upgrades meaningless for everyone but the top raiders who go for firsts. Why bother grinding out or challenging out better gear if it’ll be taken away. Just “hang out and have fun” if it’s your thing and uninstall if not.

    Games are to be competitive. A middle class game is designed in a way that you can’t be defeated by paying more or playing more, just by playing better. Theoretically League of Legends is a middle class game (would be if they didn’t rig it). You sit down, play a game and win if you are better than the opponent.

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    • For a lot (most?) of MMORPG players, it’s not having the gear that is the draw, it is the progression that is most important. It is the sense of getting better and stronger for having played the game that day. Why else do they raid every Tuesday, why else do they run dailies, or LFD, or any of the things involved in bog standard MMO activities? Hell, the standard reward structures don’t really even make sense otherwise – defeating a hard boss grants gear that… makes defeating the same boss easier in the future. Why defeat him again at all?

      Frequent gear resets mean two things: 1) there is always room for character progression, and 2) you are never too far behind the curve. That’s perfect for someone who enjoys the slow accumulation of things, but doesn’t have all the time in the world. “Invalidating” gear with resets is not a bug, it’s a feature.

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      • If I was as time-rich as I’d like to be I’d do a post with a screenshot of my bank vault in GW2, itemizing the dozens -scores – of unused, unopened rewards from doing “quests”, dailies and other bog-standard MMO activities. I could do the same for EQ2 or EQ or Rift or any other MMO I’ve ever played.

        I can’t tell you why other people do dailies or similar activities but I do them because I enjoy doing them and that’s all there is to it. Once in a blue moon I do something because I want the reward but even then it’s odds-on I won’t use it even so.

        I’ve always found the best way to enjoy MMO gaming is to genuinely not care about any of the rewards. Even so, you are absolutely right about progression. That I do take seriously. I can’t say I’ve found myself disadvantaged as one of gaming’s middle class though. Then again, unlike Gevlon, I don’t believe games are necessarily competitive. Some are but MMOs are not among them. If you remove the element of competition then I think the gaming middle class is doing just fine.

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      • The problem is that the optimal way for getting ilvl X is to log out until it becomes baseline. But then why not be logged out some more for ilvl X+Y? The most effective way to progress in WoW is not playing at all. So I didn’t abandon WoW, I’m just winning.

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  2. One missing point in both your reasoning is the strong bias against subscription, when you are coming from the classic game market : I do not want to pay, to have a limited access to a game in the future. I want unlimited access as soon as I pay.

    This is not an issue for everyone, but this explains why people prefer buying their car than renting them, or buying their flat/house than renting it.

    WoW has demonstrated that you can be successful with a subscription, and that this Bias does not touch everyone. But I do not know on any non MMO games that have succeed to pull off a subscription model.

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  3. “WoW has demonstrated that you can be successful with a subscription, and that this Bias does not touch everyone.”

    What shows even more bias is that people will say something like “well, if other games had million’s of dollars in content, then yeah, a subscription might work for them also”. WoW has been doing the subscription model for 13 years now. Yeah, they’ve managed to implement various other monetization schemes in that time that take advantage of all of that content, but none of them affect players directly from a P2W perspective.

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  4. Wow, I couldn’t disagree more – for me WoW has been a prime example of a game that only caters to the extremes for years. Features like LFR are hardly middle-class – they allow you to “see the content” with minimum effort. If you have some more time to spare, you can spend a lot of it on doing the medium difficulty, just to get slightly better gear that will be obsolete again in a month or two. There is no sense of progression when the game pretty much progresses you automatically at a pace that’s only marginally slower than if you had put the extra hours in.

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    • Ah, I see what you’re saying. I’m not necessarily talking about middle class as being “middle skilled.” There is indeed a content gap there, like a lot of games, wherein a former raider might not have anything to do that is sufficiently challenging if they don’t have the time to raid. Mythic dungeons supposedly fill the gap, but I find dungeons particularly annoying these days, let alone ones in which the correct method is to cheese mechanics as much as possible.

      That said, I consider it middle class because it is available should one’s time situation improve. Compare that with other games or early-WoW, in which being behind the curve was a permanent handicap unless one got carried back to the crest of the wave.

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  5. First, Gevlon is a walking example that someone can no-life a game (1000+ Silver league games, 570+ PUBG with zero wins) and still not become even decent. A ‘middle class’ LoL or PUBG player still stomps little goblins like him with ease. The added benefit is a goblin will be around to take the beating far more often than an equally-skilled ‘middle class’ player. Same is true in reverse; a highly skilled player can hit the upper leagues in LoL in far fewer games than the average, even if they only play a few hours a day, because such games reward faster learning and ability vs just purely requiring you to repeat X and Y as many times as you have time to do (like station trading in EVE for example, which is just a player pure grinding against the tedium and nothing else).

    Also post-WotLK is a bad example of success for a ‘middle class’, since it was only after WotLK that WoW stopped growing. It’s better to look at why it did grow when the game wasn’t giving out welfare epics and was so dumbed down even a goblin-level player could raid and not wipe on the first pull. Is it a coincidence that ‘hard to master’ games like LoL haven’t been dumbed down and also haven’t stopped growing, dispelling the myth that you must cater to the lowest tier of ability to retain players? It’s in maintenance mode now, but there was a long time before that WoW was still trying, but they never did go back to what actually worked for them.

    Finally I’ll also disagree with you on the CR example. Would you feel better if you were losing to players with lower card levels 50+% of the time, or the reverse? Because it’s easy to explain-away a loss if they overpower you with card levels, but what is the explanation if they beat you under-powered? To extend that, what if suddenly the ONLY time you win is when you massively overpower a deck or have a direct counter, and consistently lose to near or equal decks? Would you rather that?

    In CR if you are facing higher powered decks often, it means you are above the skill level related to card levels. That’s good. The reverse is not good, especially if we are talking below the top 10% or so, where you are really mixing with the true casual players of a free mobile game. That doens’t change whether you have mid level cards or maxed, other than where in the trophy range you end up settling. Spending in CR doesn’t buy you power, it just buys a temporary trophy bump until the average catches up to you (which today is close to max anyway).

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    • In CR, I would be fine losing to underleveled players, as that is a demonstration that I was outplayed. I’m even (usually) fine when facing a deck that straight-up counters my own – everyone has to make hard choices when deck-building, and there are certain elements I don’t like compromising on, e.g. I put a Furnace in every deck. But when I face someone with a level 5 Princess that my level 2 Log cannot one-shot, that’s when I start to draw a line. Can other, better players beat that? Sure, maybe. I just do not see what is remotely fair about having play so much better than the other guy, just to not lose. It’s a waste of my time. And since there is no possible way that player got a level 5 Princess (at level 11 King Tower) without shelling out serious cash, we’re practically at “Gold Ammo” levels of P2W.

      As for WoW, of course we will just have to disagree on that.

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      • I’m higher than you in trophies on two accounts and I think I’ve seen lvl 5 legends only a few times, so we are talking once in a few hundred games (to say nothing about the skill level of someone with such a card being that low in trophies…) Something like that isn’t going to make or break moving up or down.

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