Pantheon’s Brad McQuaid elaborates on designing for an audience

    
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Monastic.

Did you know that Brad McQuaid’s Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is not meant to be for everyone? Probably, because the game sort of likes to offer a mission statement to that effect on a semi-regular basis. McQuaid’s most recent post about the MMO industry and developing games counts on that spectrum, too, as it serves as a lengthy diatribe on where he feels the industry went wrong and why the game needs a game with a very narrowly defined target audience.

The core assertion is that changes to the MMO genre have largely been a matter of making the game more accessible to audiences who didn’t already like the genre, and it’s past time for games to be devoted to very narrow audience slices more suited to specific playstyles.

“That’s the big hump I think the MMO genre really, really needs to get over. In the ‘post-WoW‘ world the genre really moved towards trying to become even more mass-market than WoW itself. Looking at WoW, Vanilla-WoW (the game that was released) is a lot different than WoW is today. Some of that is natural evolution, polishing, the implementation of new features, races, types of content, etc. In other words, all good stuff. But then some of it is merely a result of Blizzard trying to make WoW appeal to an even larger group of gamers — even though they were already, by leaps and bounds, the most popular and profitable MMO on the face of the earth.”

Ultimately, McQuaid argues, even Blizzard determined that “if they continued to try to make their MMOs more mass market that the games themselves were simply going to cease to be MMOs anymore.”

“If you go down the long road of eliminating anything that defines the MMO genre because it might be something some player doesn’t care for, where do you end up? Where does that road eventually lead? Well, I think we can already see quite far down that road — check out the mega-expensive but likewise mega-watered down MMOs that have come out post-WoW.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that previous pieces have also stressed the need to explain the game to non-traditional MMO players, so perhaps you can find some interesting takeaways when comparing the points of view.

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Rolan Storm

People came to their senses after WoW fever at some point.

Not that he is saying anything new, in fact the process has been going on for at least two years now: developers starting to target certain demographic with oldschool and/or innovative game mechanic, getting rid of standard WoW model. But I consider very good thing that he declared what exactly they make. Cooperative PvE was Everquest focus and McQuaid is perfect candidate to re-iterate the same core concept with expanded features.

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Chosenxeno .

While people might not like what he’s saying, I can appreciate the fact that he realizes his product is niche. Not realizing your product is niche is one of the worst mistakes a developer can make. Wildstar’s difficulty curve and hardcore mindset(at launch) made it niche without the developers realizing it. “High Difficulty Curve” = Niche whether people want to accept it or not. Brad McQuaid is probably looking for 100k like-minded individuals. I think he will find them. I think he will find them is because a lot of the Hardcore players will try it based on Brad’s mindset. They are building for a specific audience. Which means, the game won’t be shutdown in a month.

Veldan
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Veldan

Yeah, better to design for a specific audience and create a loyal core playerbase than to try designing for everyone and winning the loyalty of noone.

kjempff
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kjempff

Yeah agree. But they are not expecting 100k, at some point they said 20k would be considered a huge success (not sure if they adjusted that number since).

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Sally Bowls

I disagree with the tense in ” eliminating anything that defines the MMO genre ” what is true is defined. But time moves on; markets evolve; products evolve. What something was, what you want something to be, does not change what it is. What defines a 2017 MMO is what defines a 2017 MMO. I don’t see how what MMOs were a decade or two ago is that relevant.

borghive
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borghive

Just because things evolve doesn’t mean that it gets better. A lot was lost along the way in order to cater to the “modern gamer”. I still think there is an audience for this game out there, that longs for mechanics of the older MMOs.

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Melissa McDonald

might just be me, but I get a Han Solo-like “bad feeling about this” when devs just come out and say “this game isn’t for everybody”, however true that actually is, since nearly every game truthfully isn’t for everybody.
But when that point of view is expressed without any marketing grease, it makes me feel like it’s one foot in the grave already. Just my opinion, YMMV.

borghive
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borghive

You might be surprised how many people actually might enjoy this game. I’m currently playing Albion Online(niche game for sure) as I write this and that game is filled with people, not every game has to cater to everyone. There is a market for this game despite what people think. The biggest hurdle will be the polish, that is what Vanguard lacked really. It was a half baked game, if they can put out a some what polished game without a ton of bugs, I bet this game will attract more than enough players.

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Sally Bowls

Yeah “this game isn’t for everybody” does strike me as an appeal to retro-hipsters. But I do think a focus on who the game is for is a good thing. It is one of the things I like about CU. My worry is how successful a company are at reconciling their budget to their reduced scope. I also worry about the players’ acceptance; how common is rationally saying this game has 3% of WoW’s customers and 1% of its developers so I will dramatically reduce my expectations?

borghive
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borghive

I also worry about the players’ acceptance; how common is rationally saying this game has 3% of WoW’s customers and 1% of its developers so I will dramatically reduce my expectations?

Having loads of developers doesn’t mean the game is going to be good, look no further than WoW the last few expansions, they have double the staff, and yet the game sucks more than ever did. Look at FF14, they have a small dev team and they can put out a ton of polished content.

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thalendor

To look at this from the perspective of a different genre, I don’t worry that, say, Pillars of Eternity or Divinity: Original Sin were developed with a fraction of the budget of a Mass Effect or Skyrim. While, yes, I did enjoy the latter two, I enjoyed the former two more simply because they appealed more to what I, personally, like about single-player RPGs. Indeed, I didn’t lower my expectations for either PoE or DOS because of their lower budgets; I heightened them due to those games being targeted to someone who has my preferences. And both games met my expectations.

I am hoping for something similar with regards to Pantheon and MMOs.

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Tithian

You’d think it’s common knowledge that‘not every game is for everyone’, but you’d be mistaken. After launch the MMO locusts will usually jump on a game hoping ‘this is the one’ (pro tip: it’s never ‘the one’) and then bitch, moan, and become salty parasites on social platforms to either get catered to, or to troll. Every. Single. Time.

He knows his design will put off a lot of people (i.e. all people that will moan about not being to solo) and is putting up warning signs.

Veldan
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Veldan

Well, CSE said this years ago, but still their crowdfunding has been enough and CU seems to be shaping up nicely. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not pretending that your game will be awesome for anyone.

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Steely Bob

I’m a real believer of Brad’s philosophy (which is also shared by many other developers in different genres) but I sincerely hope there’s an awareness and thought put into the single point of failure that always haunts these games.

There has to be a means for people to connect other than a simple global chat.

One example might be the role system that some FPS games use now, eg Squad or even RS2 Vietnam, where those who want to lead can occupy a place that those who want to follow can access in an orderly manner.

One of the hardest parts of games like EQ or Vanguard or even vanilla WoW was the massive amount of risk that went into being willing to subject yourself to a group of unknown people, and the huge problems that came with getting involved with the wrong people.

There needs to be a strong system for group and guild finding. Something way beyond simply opting in, something that is descriptive, something that reveals behavior over time like perhaps a ranking system, role achievements, gear requirements, etc. An in depth system tutorial or series of videos would also greatly help as that knowledge would incentivize people to put in the work to achieve being a great player geared appropriately, etc.

Just a thought.

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Avaera

I guess it depends on where you want your MMO to sit on the world-like to game-like spectrum.

If you want to build a thriving, community-focused world where a population of diverse characters leads to an immersive, emergent experience – I think you have to try to include an array of activities and mechanics that appeal to different types of players. ‘Mass-market’ is better, because you want diverse players who enjoy different things and so interact in interesting ways with competing values.

If you want a highly engaging and thrilling action game where the enjoyment of a player is targetted first and foremost, and individual player satisfaction and accomplishment is maximised as a higher priority than ‘keeping everybody interested’, then narrowly appealing activities make more sense. You can isolate a particular player type and try to push all their psychological buttons to make them enjoy themselves and feel like a winner, not bothering to cater to your non-core demographic.

I still think it’s better though in both cases to add more things to do, than not. Really, the problem isn’t mass-market appeal, it’s specific design choices that aren’t good – and that does not include catering to pride, vanity and ego as the primary drivers of player motivations to be encouraged.

Veldan
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Veldan

Well, I think the “thriving, community-focused world” idea itself is in conflict with “mass-market”. The masses don’t want deep games where they have to put in effort to enjoy a shared world. Simply said, they want their hands to be held as they are guided through an interactive cutscene.

borghive
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borghive

Well, I think the “thriving, community-focused world” idea itself is in conflict with “mass-market”. The masses don’t want deep games where they have to put in effort to enjoy a shared world. Simply said, they want their hands to be held as they are guided through an interactive cutscene.

Exactly!

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Avaera

But we are the masses. It’s not us vs them – we’re each just another player type represented already in the wider mix.

There’s a part of ‘the masses’ that want more world-like games, but the argument being put here is that they’ll have to wait for a game that is designed exclusively for their tastes and no-one elses. Which is silly, because who’s to say that people who want immersive worlds don’t also want PvP competition from time to time, or PvE exploration sometimes, or any number of other things.

To suggest that this kind of ‘mass-market’ design that covers multiple playstyles at once is somehow ruining the genre… that doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

Veldan
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Veldan

It is us vs them. You can’t have a casual, low-investment, high-accessability game that’s at the same time deep, challenging and “thriving, community focused”. Those things just don’t mix.

Veldan
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Veldan

The problem is, at least partially, that since video games have become big and more mainstream, they’re all ran as businesses. The best art is never created in a place where mass market appeal, or even making money, is the primary goal. That goes for videogames and other art forms. You end up with watered down products that may reach a large audience, but lack depth and have only short term appeal.

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Arnold Hendrick

I agree with McQuaid’s philosophy 100%. However, after the disaster that was Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, I certainly hope that Pantheon has a staff that can work to a budget and develop efficiently. All development time (and thus money) MUST be spent wisely to get a game project to launch, much less keep it profitable after launch.

Big dreams, combined with multiple “course corrections” that cost extra time and money, are the best and fastest ways to kill a MMORPG. I hope Brad has learned from past experience, since I look forward to playing Pantheon.

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MesaSage

Gotta hand it to the guy for hanging in there and pushing this game out. I don’t know if they’ll make it, but he’s certainly come a long way from where they were not too long ago.

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Mark

While I am quite interested in Pantheon and would like to do this type of gameplay again (at least occasionally), I hope that the financials are set up in such a way that they can survive on the income that comes from serving a niche audience.

Because as much as we like to b*tch and moan about how the mainstream is corrupting our pinky-finger raised, just so, proper MMO genre, it’s ultimately all about what keeps the money flowing in.

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Richard de Leon III

Agreed, without the money the game either closes or stagnates on development.

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Schmidt.Capela

This, I believe, is where a lot of frustration comes from.

The largest budgets — which hopefully translate as the best production values — are to be found in games targeted at the largest possible audience, simply because such a large audience is required to recoup costs of that magnitude; a niche game is unlikely to ever come close to the kind of budget enjoyed by ESO or TOR. This, in turn, means that niche games are likely to be worse, production-wise, than those large but generic games; with less money to spend chances are good things like animation, graphics, sounds, level design, etc, will suffer.

In other words, those that want niche games need to learn to accept they won’t look or sound as good as the generic blockbusters.

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Warking

Players who played games like TSW, EQ and others like Project Gorgon don’t care as much about graphics. Honestly I have to say that I’m at the point that a GW2 looking new mmo that focuses on more group experiences with a cc that is just as good is what I’m hankering for. I don’t need FFXIV level of graphics and honestly with the way that even store bought assets are looking these days *points to Chronicles of Elyria and Ashes of Creation* I’m fine with smaller mmos dropping. I’m also sure that Unity is growing by leaps and bounds to allow for smaller, better looking niche mmorpgs. For every Pantheon that is forcibly being made to look like EQ1, there is a Chronicles of Elyria.

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Raimo Kangasniemi

It depends on the size of the niche. Cryptic claimed, when STO came out, that the size of the niche for STO to be able to go on was 50 000 players. That was before the F2P conversion.

MMOs have run for years, some decades, at niches the size of 20 000 – 30 000 players. It’s just a case of finding the right niche – and getting rid of the mindset that if the game isn’t the next WoW – or, next step on the ladder, the next EVE, it isn’t worth publishing or existing.