Reader mail: Casual Gamers and their future in games like WAR

I received an email/contact from one of our readers asking two very good questions.  So good in fact that I decided to blog about it instead of simply replying via email.  The two questions are all about the casual gamer, and his/her place in mmorpgs in this hardcore day and age.

Question #1: Why do no MMORPG’s offer “casual” subscriptions? This would be for us older PvP’ers who have jobs, families, kids, lives, etc., but who also want to be somewhat competitive. Before I got married, I was a high powered cleric in DAOC – but I quit WOW over 2 years ago because I got tired of being nothing but a RP cow. Until I retire (more than 20 years from now – and carpel tunnel will probably limit my gameplay then) I will NEVER be able to spend the time to be even near the midddle of the heap in a MMORPG PvP game. It’s no fun being the whipping boy. Also, I would pay MORE, possibly twice as much, to play on a time limited server – say 16-20 hours a week. What do you think? Isn’t there a market for this?

That’s a really interesting question and intriguing concept.  I believe the biggest reason that there are no “casual subscriptions” is simply because right now in the subscription based games there really isn’t a market for it or reason why a company would want to charge you less than full price.  Yet, oddly, a lot of the gaming industry is moving more towards a casual and user friendly “business” model.  We’re seeing free to play games that offer you bonuses if you pay real money (RMT) that will set you ahead of those who are not paying.  Looking at Battlefield Heroes for example, it’s going to offer experience boosts and bonuses for the casual player like yourself who can only game an hour a day or a few hours a week.

The idea of a “limited” server is actually much more feasible in my eyes.  I think we’re starting to see a lot of people who started playing mmorpgs ten years ago suddenly hitting that age where RL starts to take over and gaming is no longer the #1 priority.   I think we’re still a little ways off from seeing these types of servers springing up in mmo releases, but I do not doubt that eventually we will see “paced” servers or “limited progressions” servers that allow players like yourself to not feel like the whipping boy or inferior because you simply can not put in the time.  There -is- a potential market out there and it’s growing every day.

Question #2: If certain big battles in WAR will be limited in numbers, what are the chances of a casual player getting in on one of them? Will he be looked down on, and ridiculed, by the leet players for taking one of their spots? (I think this is a’ la PotBS).

This is what I really love about WAR.  It’s going to look out for all playstyles without the need for casual subscriptions or paced servers.  I touched on this very briefly in ChaosCast Episode 1 when I said that WAR allows for all playstyles to join the fight and work with their realm to achieve victory.  Open-world objectives like Keeps and towers will not have limited numbers.  You’re going to be able to join up with your fellow players who are sieging and contribute whether you play an hour a day or ten.    Contributing quests in PvE, taking open world objectives, winning scenarios, and all forms of participation no matter how small all contribute to your realm’s chances of victory.

To answer your questions more specifically, the only limited number battles that we have been told about so far are the city sieges that instance themselves into something like 50v50 (forgive my memory, it could be 40v40 or something close).  These battles however will be instanced once they reach their cap.  If you want to participate you simply head over and participate and the game will make room for you by opening another instance.  Each of these instances contribute to a total pool of points needed to take or defend the city.  Example: 70 people want to siege and 75 want to defend – (assuming it’s 50v50) – 50v50 would be the first instance and 20v25 would be in the second instance opened.   I can only guess at this point that they will have elements in place to allow groups to stick together if necessary.  There won’t be any of the crap we saw in PotBS where players get pissed that their buddy didn’t get in because you won the lotto and got to participate.  Remember, you’re part of a Realm in WAR and realmmates look out for eachother.

Thanks for your questions Monty!  I hope you find my answers helpful.  If anyone else out there wants to send in any questions feel free to use our Contact Us page to either send us an email, comment, or IM.  We do our best to reply to everyone in a timely fashion.

  • I actually think some games bend over backwards too much for the casual player – I’d say LOTRO as an example. What we’ve seen in recent updates is 80% content for a casual, someone who only plays between maybe 30 mins and 2 hours a day – housing, fishing, costume systems are an example of this, as well as the ‘exploration zone’ Forochel. The more ‘hardcore’ (though not necessarily totally hardcore) players wouldn’t use any of those features at all, and would rather see PvP improvements or endgame dungeons, but Turbine decided to ignore those requests completely.

  • Actually all the raiders I knew were using the costume and fishing system and checked out Forochel in the first week, after which it(Forochel) became obsolete for them. Some of these features can cater to the casual AND enrich the game for the more hardcore at the same time. Exploration zones really only benefit explorers and casual players but the raiders sometimes use them when they have nothing better to do. Variety is always a plus.

    Its not always a see-saw battle for developer time (though yes they would have preferred more end level pvp and dungeons). As far as instancing the city sieges I on one hand applaud them on how they aren’t locking people out but on the other hand I don’t like canned numbers (no matter how big) so I would have preferred an any on any assault myself.

  • With regard to question #2, I think a lot of this is going to depend on the community.

    Ultimately, a realm will decide whether or not to be inclusive of casual players or to greet them with ridicule. Yes, being inclusive means that every so often you’ll lose a scenario because you’ve got more inexperienced players than the other team. On the other hand, when a realm ridicules casual players, those players will leave for other realms on other servers. Over time casual players become competent at PvP (even if they don’t have uber-gear) and I ultimately I believe that casual-unfriendly realms will find themselves outnumbered (in Open World RvR) by realms that nurture more casual players.

    The question that powerful guild alliances should be asking themselves is: How can we work with casual players to maximize the contribution of those who can only play for 15-20 hours a week. Winning the campaign will ultimately be all about exploiting small advantages; nurturing and utilizing casual players may be one such advantage.

  • Yeah I don’t doubt that the raiders used the updates like clothing, housing, fishing, Forochel, but it wouldn’t have been on their wishlist. They use it to fill time, but, would have preferred addition raids, dungeons, PvP, whatever. Of course, there has to be things to do for crafters in downtime, between organised raids – for some, this might be crafting, others PvP, in WAR it might be PQs. But, it’s gotten to the stage, it seems to me in LOTRO that there’s nothing to do in the uptime! Barely any raids, instances or PvP left that’s fun, as only the casual players have content left to explore.

  • yes I agree it is a problem. It may be time for them to goof around with something else for a while, take a break, and then come back at book 14 when they revamp a bunch of stuff and add a new dungeon and area. Thats what my bro is doing. (Crystal Chronicles on wii ware to be precise)

  • I would love to see a mass poll on MMO players, I would think that it would come out something like this

    50-60% play 3-4 hours a night on average
    25% play more
    25% play less

    Most people are something above the “casual” gamer. They are like a borderline hardcore but not there by any means.

    I feel like companies are missing this, they only think of hardcore or casual when in reality most people are very much in the middle.

  • Yeah I agree I think most players dedicate a certain amount of time to traditional gaming before they consider an MMO. Most truly casual players probably never play MMOs, as they find singleplayer/tradtional multiplayer games enough for them.

  • “. . .they will have elements in place to allow groups to stick together if necessary.”

    Thats nice and all but that sounds to much like WoW Battlegrounds. Premade vs PUG all over again.

  • Lumio,

    I’d have to disagree. I think if you did that poll you’d find that something in the range of 80-90% of players play less than 2 hours a day.

    Demographics show us this to be likely even without any other corresponding evidence (of which there is plenty). The bulk of MMO players are between 15 and 35. Many of the youngest players are time limited by their parents. Most college graduates are time limited by jobs and/or families. The further past the early 20s you get, the more true that becomes. The only likely demographic to play more than a couple of hours a day are college students, and most people don’t stay in that demographic for long.

    We all have a tendency to believe that our playstyle must be in the majority. If you’re a hardcore player and play 8 hours a day you tend to believe most people play roughly around that with a minority playing less. If you play 3-4 hours a day you believe most people play that, with a minority playing more or less.

    I’m more than casual but far less than hardcore and while I’ve met plenty of people like me, I’ve observed far far more who are definitely completely casual.

  • Well if we are pulling numbers out of the air, the average person has about 5 hours of leisure time a day. This includes social activities with friends. So I would put casual gaming at about 2 hours a day, or 15 hours a week. Gaming does not fill your Leisure time.

    To be accessible for “casual” players a game should have things that can be completed in 30 minutes or less from logging on. Ideally you should be able to contribute to the main part of the game and slowly advance. Advancement should take the similar number of hours. So a “hardcore” player will get said item in a few days of real time, where as the “casual” will take a few weeks. Each one spent abou 20 hours of game time dedicated towards that goal.

  • I agree with Gustavef – for a casual player to stay in an MMO, they must feel achievement, even after a short play session. That could only be 30 mins, so it means the game should have
    – no or little travel times
    – plenty of accessible quests with good storylines
    – tangible rewards
    – intuitive UI and gameplay
    Otherwise the player won’t achieve in their short spells in the game, and won’t get enjoyment from it. Notably, WAR would seem to bring these things, as does LOTRO.

    Of course, hardcore players need to feel achievement too, but, generally, as they’ll put more time into the game, they’re more likely to find quests, rather than requiring the quests to be handed to them on a plate, as it were.

  • MMo’s have to cater to the casual gamer. Becoming a casual gamer is like death and taxes. Very few can avoid it forever. Trust me I know!

    We(grown up cats like me) are the first generation of aging gamers. Im in my early 30’s and all my time is sucked up with family and work. But when I do get the itch to play it has to be something that I can get in enjoy for a bit, and out of.

    As gamers get older more and more mmo’s will need to take that into account. The older player base is the one keeping the lights on. We are more likely to play a game with a subscription, and less likely to cancel it when our play time drops, As long as the game is entertaining when we do get on.

    Game design that forced grinding to keep players may have been necessary 10 years ago. But its no longer feasible… Dev’s need to focus less on keeping players busy grinding, and more on enhancing updates and fun gameplay. It doesnt matter how many hours you play as long as you renew your sub every month.

    I always wondered why devs didnt make the game worlds more dynamic. Having a monthly epic world event would be enough to keep people subscribed…

    Uh oh im rambling, maybe I will add some more thoughts on my blog later…

    @keen – nice topic 🙂

  • WAR is still a grind. Heard it from beta testers. The only difference is that you could jump in at a level greater than 5, from what I’ve heard from my luckin’ f***y friends, and still do something exciting in RvR. I wish it was less, but apparently the game is rather gear and character skill based as well. To make the game completely casual friendly, you have to take emphasis off of character skills and gear. I wonder if there is a middle ground.

    It might already be there. The cool thing is that gamers that play a ton would still enjoy such a system. There difference with casual gamers is that they play more. So they should have more of something, but it shouldn’t affect their battle outcomes very much or not at all; unless you include player learning in the mix. Like in the Darkfall Online forums, someone asked what the reward for playtesting would be. Some suggestions were extra bag slots, some item that was slightly better than others, etc. The smart guys came in and said your extra experience with the game should be enough.

    So the hardcore gamers get the $20/month subscription and casual gamers should get like a 1c/minute option and an unlimited weekends for $5-$10/month option. If it’s $5/month, the company loses about 64 cents per month when compared with the $20/month option. If someone plays 1hr/day, paying 1c/minute, the company loses 2 bucks when compared with the $20/month option. That’s if you consider a 30 day subscription period, but isn’t it 28 days??? In that case, they’d lose like $3.20/month. I hope my math is correct, but you get the idea.

    If the scenarios in RvR balance numbers and levels with AI then that would be casual-friendly and really damn cool.

  • Pirates of the Burning Sea has a pretty good way of dealing with letting casuals into epic battles and not just the hardcore.

    Its an RvR game that requires players to use a combination of economics resources, grinding NPCs and PvP to activate a 24 v 24 port battle 46 hours later.

    Everything you do to help flip the port gets you contention points. each point acts as a lottery ticket. 17 min before the battle, the lottery is drawn and the invites go out. Granted a hardcore player will get into more fights, but a casual can always get a decent chance of getting in pretty often.

  • @Gordo: RE Little travel time

    This is a bit of a double edge sword for developers. You want a “Big” world where being somewhere means something. But you should not have to travel far from your current “home” to do something useful.

    Going some place new, should mean something.

    EVE kind of pulls this off. For the most part you can pick almost any system and do anything. Some systems are better for some tasks, but for the most part, you can easily place yourself in a area that will have everything you want/need.

    Moving your base of operations is a major effort. But that does not need to be done frequently.

    The idea is that each “hub” should cater to a large level range and large activity range. Though the specifics can vary from hub to hub. This it is possible for a player to quickly jump on do something for 30 to 60 minutes and pop off.

    Now for a side question, how do you help the “casual” player that likes to group with his friends and not be solo?