Gamers are a strange bunch. We want to have input into the direction of our games, and we decry studios when we feel we’re being ignored. But it must be pretty tough to be a game studio, sifting through feedback on multiple issues, some of it in diametric opposition, knowing that you can’t please everybody. And then there’s the big question: Do gamers even know what we really want?
In a very recent example of missing the target, Carbine MMO Wildstar launched to much fanfare and bravado, promising difficult raids and old-school end-game. The community was delighted, and continued to nudge game development forward throughout the beta testing periods, affirming that MMO players indeed yearned for the days of caffeine drenched raid nights and Cheetos fueled rage. With these rabid fans and WoW-like graphics, there was no doubt that Wildstar would be able to stay afloat using a subscription model, and perhaps even challenge the king of MMO’s itself. After all, it was taking everything everybody loved about WoW – the graphics, the humor, the questing model, and re-introducing the difficulty element that so many gamers waxed nostalgic about.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the hard core…people stopped playing. In fact, by Q4 2014 (just 2 fiscal quarters past launch), Wildstar was selling the fewest copies of any NCSoft game. Two quarters into 2015, they announced plans to convert to a free-to-play game. What happened? Some have suggested that the hard core audience, while niche and willing to pay for challenging content, is simply a vocal minority. Others wonder if Wildstar simply overestimated the number of gamers who would be willing to “switch over” to a game with such a heavy focus on a difficult end game. But I wonder if this was really a case of gamers themselves not really knowing what they want in a game. A return to six hour raiding may sound great in theory, but perhaps in practice we’ve found that our patience and our lives no longer support such a play style.
It’s not just MMO’s, either. I constantly hear gamers complain that we want to see innovation, and that we’re tired of recycled concepts. But, let’s just take a look at the top selling games of 2014:
- Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
- Madden NFL 15
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Super Smash Brothers
- Watch Dogs
- FIFA 15
- Call of Duty: Ghosts
Looking over this list, at least six of the ten are “sequel” type games, which pretty much disqualifies them as being extremely innovative. Super Smash Brothers and Minecraft may have been innovative in their day, but have benefited from unusual staying power. Destiny is a re-skinned Halo. The only game that may claim some elements of innovation is Watch Dogs, but at it’s heart, it’s an open world RPG. If we really want innovation, why do we keep buying games that are carbon-copies of tried and true formulas?
It’s my assertion that what we think we want is not what we really want. We think we want something new and exciting, but we really want something comfortable and easy to jump into. We think we want the same game that we played ten years ago, when what we really want is that feeling that we had while playing that game ten years ago. We think we want something to challenge our views, but we really want something that will win others over to our current worldview. We think we want a challenge, but what we really want is fun.
Perhaps we’d be more content with our games if we were more aware of what we really want out of them!
Uncle Sam I Want You – Poster by DonkeyHotey on Flickr Creative Commons
IMG_0351 by H. E. Smalley on Flickr Creative Commons